Are you a freelance writer looking to increase the amount you earn on every project?
Instead of just signing on for a one-and-done web page or blog writing gig, next time you’re approached by a client, consider adding project management to the list of skills you offer.
Is this really something you, a writer with a very specialized set of skills, could offer a client? The answer is yes—and it’s not as hard as you think.
I first got this idea from Peter Bowerman’s Well-Paid Writer, where the author talks about how he often partners with a graphic designer to create pieces that are both expertly written and designed to his clients – as a single product. I’ve since used this approach and it has worked wonderfully! (I’m also quite lucky to know some pretty talented graphic designers, so it wasn’t that hard to get started pitching the two-in-one model.)
The team approach will introduce you to a broader range of clients, because you and your partner can both work on bringing in prospective gigs. Plus, clients are often highly receptive to this approach because it’s less work for them. They don’t have to act as a middleman between you, the writer, and the designer. Voila! This is the idea of project management beginning to take shape. You’re taking work off the client’s plate by managing the integration of writing and graphic/web design behind the scenes. This might also work if a client is looking for a stable of writers for a project where multiple contributors are needed (to manage a corporate blog, for example).
How to get started – look behind the curtain
If you’ve ever worked in a creative agency, you probably already know what happens once your finely crafted copy leaves your hands. (Hint: it’s usually sent over to the designer’s desk.) The designer then shapes it into its final product, whether that’s a print ad, magazine article, or web page.
If you’re just starting out, or are more accustomed to being a lone-wolf writer (many of us are), the concept of blending your talent with the person who comes next in the creative process might be new. But once you get a few projects under your belt, the process will become natural.
Newbies interested in this approach might even consider asking a trusted anchor client if they’d like to walk you through the steps they take to finalize a piece you’ve written. They might have an in-voice design team or a freelance designer who finishes the work. Once you get the hang of their process, you could then ask if you could take on that responsibility for them in the future.
Why do it?
Simple. Project management translates into dollars. If you quote a client on a final product, such as web pages that are 100% ready to be integrated into their site, you can offer a higher total cost with an additional project management fee built in. You then pay your designer according to his or her agreed rate, and the rest is yours to keep! Or, you can add a line item to a project budget that includes not just writing, but also project management. (As a very broad guideline, I would say 10% to 15% of the total cost of the project is reasonable.)
What is project management?
Project management means different things to different people in different industries. But at its most basic, it means making sure all the deliverables are met, from the beginning to the end of the project. This usually means delivering a single, cohesive piece to your client and taking care of edits based on their feedback. That means you are accountable for lining up the people and resources and delivering (and re-delivering after edits) a final project that meets—and hopefully exceeds!—the client’s expectations.
Here’s are a few pitfalls to avoidBE PREPARED. Taking on the full product—whether it’s a print piece, designed webpage or blog calendar—isn’t something to be taken lightly. It may seem straightforward: simply ensuring everyone does their part and presenting a beautiful final product to the client. But it will take a certain amount of commitment on your part. You will be wearing the hat of an overseer, a leader, and sometimes, an enforcer. No longer are you accountable for just your work, you’re accountable for making sure your other sub-contractors deliver. If they don’t, you need a plan B, such as using a backup designer to pick up the slack if your original one taps out. This likely won’t happen if your designer is trustworthy, but you should be prepared all the same. CLARIFY EXPECTATIONS. Define the scope of the project with the client. When will your role end? What will the final product look like? Define this with your client and, once you’ve both agreed, write it down either in a contract or as part of your estimate (which your client will then read and approve).
Be sure not to take on more than necessary. For example, the client should be responsible for taking the product over and (in the case of a web page or website) making it live, sustaining it, and keeping it running over time.DON’T TAKE ON SKILLS YOU LACK. You are likely not a user experience (UX) expert or website architect—these roles should be filled on the client’s side already, or if not, they may ask you to find someone. Only say yes if you have a reliable contact in mind. When it comes to pairing talent with your writing, try to stick to who and what you know: whether that’s graphic design, web design, or managing a group of freelance writers. BE READY TO MANAGE. Don’t be shy. If you take the 10% or 15% extra pay, do your job. This might mean chasing down your designers to ensure they deliver on time. It might mean asking your sub-contractors for new iterations or versions if they first drafts aren’t ready for client eyes. As mentioned, you need to take accountability for the quality of what you’re turning in: no longer can you pass something off as a “design issue”—they’re all your issues now, which means you will need to make sure they’re resolved.
What do I need?PEOPLE.
In short, you need to know one or more creative professionals. If you’ve ever worked at an agency, you’ll probably already know a few graphic designers or web designers, and possibly some other writers. Reach out to these people to see if they would be available for any gigs that come up. Then, next time you approach a new project ask the client if they have in-house talent they regularly use for web or graphic design. Even if they do, ask if they would be willing to try out your sub-contractor instead, and offer to submit a fully formed piece of work instead of just the copy.PROJECT MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE.This will also come in handy for complex projects. I’ve used Basecamp successfully in the past. It’s shareable, it’s effective at keeping everyone on track, and it’s hella easy to use. But, subscriptions cost $99 per year. For a free alternative, you could also just create a calendar and checklist of to-dos (with names assigned to each one) and share over Google docs for basic management. ORGANIZATIONAL SKILLS. This is also not a strict requirement, but I’ve found it helps to be obsessed with these to-do lists. When you begin relying on more than just yourself, procrastination is no longer an option. Checking your list, and touching base with your teammates, is essential to make sure no one drops the ball when you’re relying on them! In addition to checking in, don’t be afraid to send reminders to yourself and your sub-contractors to make sure deadlines are met. It sounds negative, but I like to think of this as “professional worrying.” If you pay careful attention to everyone’s progress, tasks will get done well before deadline!
With a little extra effort, some strategic thinking and a dash of tactical “worrying,” you can add a powerful sum to your base rates. Good luck bringing in more money!