The One Counterintuitive Way to Grow Your Writing Business

Austin L. Church
January 19, 2017
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To grow your writing business, give some of your writing work to other writers. As counterintuitive as this axiom may seem, test it, and you will experience the truth of it.If you have only you to sell—your intelligence, your creativity, your experience, your available inventory of waking hours—then the growth of your business will quickly bump into a ceiling.Perhaps Hermione Granger will loan you her Time-Turner Necklace so that you travel back in time and bill the same hours twice. Otherwise, you cannot multiply your hours and grow your business.You can, of course, keep raising your rates. (In fact, you may need to raise your rates right now. How long has it been?) But raising your rates as a growth strategy only works for so long before you price yourself out of range of your clients—even the good ones you want to keep. Moreover, you will eventually run into the same limited inventory problem.

You have only so many hours in the day.

Obvious.When your only earning option is selling time for money, you lack leverage.You can only sell each hour, each “product,” once, and because you cannot sell multiple products at the same time, which is possible with books, video courses, workshops, and other products that writers create, you lack leverage and scale.In other words, as soon as you run out of hours, you stop making money.Writers, like other freelancers and small business owners, have trouble disconnecting and taking a true vacation. You can’t help but think about how the silent business engine. Without your hours to fuel it, earning grinds to a halt.Sure, you are your own boss, but in practice, haven’t you traded a nine-to-five job where you can clock out for one where you can’t?Freelancing may give you flexibility, but it can limit real freedom.[caption id="attachment_2102" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]

freelance writers

Photo Credit: Laurie-Anne Robert via Unsplash[/caption]

Do you have talented, trustworthy writers whom you can queue up at a moment’s notice?

Your time is finite. No matter how well you leverage your own productivity or optimize your workflow, you’ll eventually reach the point of full saturation where you cannot, in good faith, say yes to new projects.If you sell past full capacity, your only option is to work longer hours, rest less, sleep less, enjoy the rest of your life yes. In so doing, you open the door to anxiety and stress. You might be swimming in cash, more than you’ve ever had, but you’ll be too mentally and emotionally exhausted to enjoy it.A better approach is sharing the love. By pivoting into the role of Project Manager and Editor-in-Chief, you reap several benefits:

  • You hit the pressure release valve.
  • You still own the client relationship.
  • You can still make a profit, albeit smaller.
  • You can collaborate with other writers.
  • You can give other writers money, which feels fantastic by the way.

Wouldn’t you like to get out of that pickle?

Real freedom comes when you stop trading time for money. The obvious solution to this earning (and freedom) conundrum is to increase your inventory. Sell other people’s time too.Though that sounds an awful lot like servitude, I mean it here in a positive sense. You sell a project, and you subcontract another writer to fulfill it for you. She gets paid. You get paid. It’s a win-win.Do you want to grow your business? Give up control. Surrender. Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard first taught me this truth in his book, Let My People Go Surfing, when he wrote about his M.B.A.—management by absence.Your business's capacity for growth is inextricably bound up in your ability to relinquish control.Let go of the raw production role and embrace the Editor-in-Chief role.

Become the Editor-in-Chief.

You won’t need to offload projects all of the time. You may not need extra help most of the time. But during certain months when clients, old and new, start throwing projects at you—oh, happy day!—you can respond with confidence, “What is your timeline and budget? Let’s knock this out as soon as possible.”Over the years, a number of talented writers have enabled me to scale up during the wet seasons to meet increased demand. Without sacrificing quality or the client experience, I can give an enthusiastic yes.During the dry seasons, you can always go back to doing more of the actual fulfillment work.

Mmm… Math

Let’s say you sell a web content project for $1500—20 hours at $75 an hour.You hire a friend or a junior-level writer to create first drafts for you, and you pay her $50 an hour. She makes $1000. You net $500. That $500 is more than you would have made if you had turned down the project because you were too busy.Completing the project required conversations at the beginning with the client, conversations with your subcontractor, a pinch of project management, and a dash of editorial polishing. You still spend less of your own time than you would have if you had fulfilled each deliverable yourself.All told, you spend two and a half hours: $500 / 2.5 hours = $200 an hour.

  • When you manage the project and pay someone else to fulfill it, you make $200 an hour.
  • When you do both project management and fulfillment, you make $75 an hour.

The numbers can work out in your favor. You may discover that your effective hourly rate goes up when you pay other people to fulfill the project for you.Obviously, there’s a big assumption blundering around the room and upsetting chairs: The reason more writers don’t farm out production is because they need all the money. Without the full $1500 they would come up short on their business and personal expenses that month.

Now we arrive at the Catch-22.

Writing every single word for a client doesn’t leave much time left over for business development (that is, getting more clients). And not proactively meeting new people and winning new clients means that you have a scarcity of clients more often than a surplus. As a result, you must write every single word to keep every single dollar to make ends meet.In the opposite scenario where you hire other writers while reserving a slice of the profit for yourself, you buy back your own time, which you can use to rustle up more projects. You then farm out those extra projects to other writers. You keep a slice of those profits too, and you create a virtuous cycle.

Have I persuaded you yet to hire other writers?

More Projects =

More Profits in Less Time =

More Capacity to Network and Sell =

More Projects

The rich get richer.I can hear what you’re saying:

“Of course if I had too much work I could hire other writers! Don’t be daft, Austin. But I don’t. So I’m stuck in the Catch-22. You don’t have to rub it in, you jerk.”

Let’s break you out of that pickle-conundrum-Catch-22.

Here are some practical steps that I recommend:

  1. First, create a Google Sheet with a clever title like “Writers Available for Hire.”
  2. Put the names of and contact information for any writers whom you already know and respect.
  3. Ask for more recommendations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
  4. Use LinkedIn’s advanced search criteria to search for writers in your network by their titles.
  5. If your personal network doesn’t turn up any leads, poke around on Upwork or scour TextBroker. Add any promising names and profile links to your spreadsheet.

When the writer’s rates aren’t already clearly advertised, you can ask for them pointe blank. Don’t be shy. Make it clear that you’re not doing market research. You are developing a shortlist of writers to whom you can refer work when you are too busy to handle everything yourself.There’s a hidden benefit to starting these conversations now. You awaken other writers to the possibility of hiring you.They can grow their writing businesses with you, and you can grow your writing business with them.[caption id="attachment_2103" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]

grow your writing business

Photo Credit: Markus Spiske via Unsplash[/caption]

What if they try to steal your clients?

Now that you’ve begun assembling your crack squad, let’s address a potential issue: how do you protect your clients?When you farm out work to other writers, you are in effect inviting the enemy into your stronghold. (Now for what it’s worth, I’ve never taken that kind of combative view of my colleagues. I just liked the analogy.)Preventing the odd unscrupulous writer from poaching your clients is a real concern. Some people are dishonest. Given the opportunity, they would go behind your back and steal a client.“What’s she charging you? $75 an hour? Well, she’s only paying me $50. Why don’t I work for you for $60 an hour, and then we both win.”There’s a simple solution to this conundrum: Work with writers you trust, writers who get it.

Hire slowly. Fire quickly.

It’s one thing to lose a client because someone else gave that client a better experience. It’s another thing to lose a client because your subcontractor violated your confidence and undercut your quote.Rest assured, people who do that crap don’t prosper in the long run.Regardless, do your due diligence. Vet subcontractors thoroughly before you give them keys to the castle.You do have a failsafe. Tell your client that you’re training some junior copywriters to help out on your client projects from time to time.As long as you deliver high-quality work on time and on budget, then your clients won’t care how the sausage is made.

Final Thought

Now that you’ve got your roster, your crack squad, use them as an incentive to go procure more projects.Feel free to use my email template:

Hi Fabulous Client,I’ve got a quick question for you: Do you have any needs right now? I’ve been wanting to pivot to a new role, Editor-in-Chief, while I try out a few junior copywriters.I’m looking for two projects for that very purpose. Does anything come to mind?
  • Need any new web content?
  • Blog posts?
  • Email newsletters?
  • White papers?
  • Ads?
  • Social media content?
  • Video scripts?
I thought of you first, and I’d like to give you first right of refusal.I’ll give you a call tomorrow to discuss.Cheers,Austin

Alright. I think that’s enough for one blog post.

In the next one, I’m going to address one last mental hurdle that people have to jump before they can hire well and train effectively.Stay tuned…P.S. If you want the Google Sheets template that I use to keep track of freelancers, then I am happy to share it with you.But there’s a catch. You have to subscribe to my weekly email newsletter where I will give away more stunningly common-sense and practicable advice. For free.So the catch isn’t really a catch.Subscribe here, and hit reply on the confirmation email. Or email me at hello [at] austinlchurch [dot] com, and I'll do it for you.Cheers!