Tiny Habits: The Secret to Your Success

Tiny Habits: The Secret to Your Success

What kind of resolutions do you make every year?

I’m going to lose ten pounds.

I’m going to write a novel.

I’m going to declutter my house.

Do any of those sound familiar?

How many times have you made the same resolutions? Two years in a row? Five years? More?

Why do you keep making these resolutions, again and again, when you know you’re never going to be able to keep them?

But. Wait. What if…you could make changes in your life? What if you could make real changes — the kind of changes you’ve been trying to make for years?

When you use tiny habits, it's easy to make your resolutions stick.

That could be kind of amazing.

And that’s what you can do with tiny habits. With tiny habits, you can change your life for the better — and you can do it with very little effort.

That’s kind of a big thing to say, but it’s completely true. In this post, you’ll learn what tiny habits are and exactly how to create tiny habits to improve any part of your life you want.

Understanding Tiny Habits Starts With Understanding Habits

When you think about habits, you might automatically think about good habits, such as exercising regularly — or bad habits, like smoking. Set those aside for a moment, and think of habits as the things we do without thinking about them.

When you get in your car, you put on your seatbelt, without thinking about it.

In the shower, you wash your hair, without thinking about it.

After you use the toilet, you flush, without thinking about it. (Unless you are one of my sons, in which case you leave the evidence of your presence to delight the next bathroom visitor.)

Use tiny habits to make your life better.

You’d have to think pretty hard to remember doing one of those things. You know you did them, but the memory is blurred with the other million times you did them. It’s difficult to identify the specific memory of doing it today.

Those actions are habits. We form them by doing them again and again, until they are drilled into us and require no effort from our thinking minds. It doesn’t take willpower or motivation to flush a toilet (Again, unless you are my sons. This is somewhat of a sore point in my home.) or to buckle up. You just do it.

Using Tiny Habits to Establish New Habits

There are seven people who live in my house, and all of them find it necessary to wear clothing and eat on a daily basis. In fact, many of them want to eat multiple times a day, which means that we have a fairly enormous amount of laundry and dishes to handle.

Some years ago, I determined that if we did not handle these chores on a daily basis, they would quickly overwhelm us and we would be living in filth.

Unfortunately, in order to load dirty dishes into the dishwasher, you must first unload the clean dishes and put them away. Perhaps this is a chore that you enjoy, but I find it tedious and annoying, so I would ignore it for many hours, while dishes piled up in my kitchen.

With tiny habits you can keep your home organized easily.

Somewhere around dinnertime, as my children and husband demanded to be fed, I would… what’s the technical term? Oh, right, I would lose my cool and the evening would plummet sharply downhill from there.

As much fun as this routine was, it occurred to me that changing it might benefit our family. I harnessed the power of the tiny habit.

Breaking Down TIny Habits

First, let’s give credit where it’s due. The concept of tiny habits comes from Stanford professor BJ Fogg, who has written an enormous amount on the topic. This is the “in a nutshell” version.

A tiny habit consists of three separate but equally important parts:

  • The Anchor
  • The Action
  • The Victory Dance

Let’s take a closer look at each part.

An anchor is something you know you already do every day, at a set time or in a specific place.

For example, you might know that you:

  • Brush your teeth in the bathroom right after you wake up
  • Turn on the coffeemaker as soon as you enter the kitchen
  • Hang up your coat on a hook when you come through the door
  • Take a shower when you come home from work
  • Have a glass of wine after dinner

Anchor tiny habits to something you already do.

The action of your tiny habit is the actual thing that you’re going to do. It’s important to keep the action tiny. It should be:

  • Something you can do in less than 10 seconds
  • Something that doesn’t require any real motivation or energy

The victory dance is what you do to celebrate that you did the action you set out to do. It’s a critical — but often ignored — part of the tiny habit process.

Many people find the victory dance to be the hardest part of the tiny habit process, but it’s really, really important. Our brains like rewards, so we need to feed them.

The trick is to find a victory dance that feels natural for you. For example, I have a tendency to whisper-shout “Ha!” or do a little finger dance a lot when I do something particularly awesome, like not forget my keys. So those victory dances work for me — they don’t feel forced, they’re not weird for me, and I don’t feel like I’m faking it.

Some of my students have told me that they:

  • Shake their bums
  • Give a thumbs up
  • Dance in place
  • Flash a victory sign

Here's BJ Fogg talking about tiny habits.

 

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Tiny Habits and The Dishwasher

For a long time, unloading the dishwasher felt overwhelming to me. When I applied the tiny habit principle, here’s what happened.

  1. I set up my tiny habit, using an anchor, an action, and a victory dance. Here’s how I stated my tiny habit:

After I turn on the coffeemaker in the morning, I will open the dishwasher, and then I will do a finger dance.

This is the formula for creating a tiny habit.

  1. I didn’t have to do anything else. By opening the dishwasher, I had completed the tiny habit — I had WON.
  2. When the dishwasher was open, and I was waiting for the coffee to be ready, it became natural to perhaps put away a cup or two. Not the first day — let’s not get crazy here — but, you know. Slowly. Over time. It became a thing.
  1. Within about two weeks, it was natural for me to turn on the coffee machine, open the dishwasher, and get at least the top rack unloaded before I drank my coffee.
  1. After another two weeks, I was at the point where I had the whole dishwasher unloaded before the coffee was ready.

Once I had an empty dishwasher first thing in the morning, it was a lot easier to get the breakfast dishes loaded directly in… which meant that the counters were clear and could be wiped down… which meant that the whole kitchen looked better.

When you put tiny habits in place, it's easy to get things done.

And it all started with a tiny habit.

How Not To Build a Tiny Habit

If you are already planning how you will use tiny habits to improve every area of your life, that’s awesome! Here’s the thing: you have to use the power of the tiny habit wisely.

Here’s what NOT to do.

“After I eat breakfast, I will write 1000 words in my novel and then I will send queries to three magazines.”

No. Seriously, no.

When you’re trying to establish any habit, the trick is to go tiny.

Do not set yourself up for failure by jumping straight into 1000 words or ten pages or three queries.

That’s not how you build a writing habit that lasts, and definitely not when you’re at home with kids and your life is completely unpredictable. It just doesn’t work.

Instead, try this:

After I eat breakfast, I will put my journal on the table, and then I will give myself a thumbs-up.

Your victory dance is an important part of your tiny habits.

Anchor, action, victory dance.

The action is tiny, it will take you less than 10 seconds, and you don’t need any motivation to stick your journal on the table.

The first day or two, maybe you never even open the journal after you put it on the table — and that’s totally fine. It’s better than fine — it’s a WIN, and you have to celebrate it with your victory dance.

Within a few days, setting out the journal is automatic. You don’t have to think about it. You don’t remember getting the journal — but hey, there it is, on the table.

So you add the next step. You write ONE sentence. Just one. That’s it. That’s your WHOLE commitment. And then one day, you really like the sentence and you know exactly what comes next, so you wind up writing for a few minutes. And then you stop and you think, Wow, that was great.

Over time, slowly, you will get to the place where you are writing 1000 words — or even more! — every day, and it will be automatic.

Tiny Habits and the Rest of Your Life

Tiny habits can give you control in just about every area of your life.

If you’re trying to drink more water, eat more fruits and vegetables, or exercise more consistently, you can create tiny habits that move you towards those goals.

Use tiny habits to get healthy.

After I make the coffee, I will set a water glass out on the counter, and then I will high-five myself.

After I make the kids’ school lunches, I will select an apple from the fruit bowl, and then I will blow my reflection a kiss.

After I eat dinner, I will put my workout clothes on the chair, and then I will dance in place.

Maybe you want your house to be more organized, Think about your end goals: do you want your family room to be clean? Do you want the dining room table to be free of papers? Do you want your closet to be neat and tidy?

For me, closet organization was kind of a problem at one time. I was tired of constantly opening the closet to find a big mess of clothes where I couldn’t see anything.

So the tiny habit I made was this:

After I turn on the closet light, I will put away ONE piece of clothing, and then I will do a literal victory dance.

ONE piece of clothing was a no-brainer. Super easy! Every time I turned on my closet light, I grabbed ONE thing, hung it up or folded it and put it away.

After a few days, the difference in my closet was astounding. And now, it’s so automatic, and I usually wind up putting away all the clean laundry when I walk into my closet in the morning, and if I don’t get it all done right then, I definitely finish the task by the end of the day.

When you’re home with young kids, life can be a little bit… unpredictable.

You can have days where everything goes smoothly, but you can also have days where the baby poops straight through to the mattress and you need to wash everything and haul the mattress outside to dry in the sun and spray the room with bleach and then figure out a way to get the bleach fumes out of the room.

Find multiple anchors in your day to ensure your tiny habits get done.

So you may want to look for several different anchors that you have at different times of your day to help combat that unpredictability.

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7 Lies We Tell Ourselves About Our Time

7 Lies We Tell Ourselves About Our Time

Sometimes, you wake up and you think:

Today, I’m going to write my novel and crush that work project and do all the laundry and cook 28 meals and freeze them.

Basically, you think, I am going to WIN today.

And then, just as you have picked up your sharpened pencil, the washing machine makes a weird nose.

Your kid throws up.

Your boss calls with an emergency.

And suddenly, it’s MIDNIGHT, and you’re not in bed, and you didn’t even do ONE thing that was on your list.

Maybe this never happens to you, in which case, please go read The Blog for Perfect People Who Never Have Problems. Here at Successful Freelance Mom, we are all about reality. And reality is that unless my family makes the conscious decision to go naked, we will never finish the laundry.

Time is tricky. It expands and contracts in the most inconvenient ways, over and over again. But we are tricky, too. We tell ourselves all kinds of stories about time.

Often, we believe the stories we tell ourselves.

This belief is what frequently results in our exhaustion, our chronic lateness, our empty freezers.

Here are seven of the biggest lies we tell ourselves about time — and how we can start to change the story.

I don't have time to do anything.

I don’t have time for [fill in the blank].

The local elementary school recently announced a scheduling change — the youngest two classes are finishing the day an hour earlier than the rest of the students. When parents asked why, they were told, “We have a shortage of hours.”

Okay, obviously they mean that they have budget issues and cannot pay teachers for the hours, but the phrasing is just so… common. And so untrue. NO ONE has a shortage of time. We all have 168 hours every single week, and each week, we get to choose how we spend those hours.

Yes, sometimes, there are outside constraints, but let’s be real — and honest. It’s about choices and priorities, not time. You don’t have time to write the great American novel, or writing fiction is not a priority for you? Yeah, it feels awkward and uncomfortable to say that something isn’t a priority, which is why we so often mask it with, “I don’t have time for that.”

Stop doing that. Be honest. If it’s truly a priority for you, you will find the time.

How can I find more time?

I’m putting in the time and I’m still not getting results.

Do you have a friend who tries every new diet? Or one who has been drowning in debt for years? At some point, these people probably started tracking food or spending, right?

Here’s the thing: tracking — whether it’s your time, your food, or your spending — only works if you’re honest about it. If you only write down the carrots and don’t bother to add the french fries you ate off your husband’s plate, the Cheetos you snuck in the car, or the ice cream you had just because, your food log will look awesome, but the scale will disagree.

Likewise, if you keep telling yourself that you’re putting in hours every day on your project, but what you’re really doing is spending hours every day on Facebook, nothing is going to change.

Change is hard, and often painful. But you can’t expect results to come from magic.

Why can't I ever make my deadlines?

I can definitely make that deadline.

If you’re consistently scrambling to meet deadlines, you’re probably telling yourself this lie frequently — but you’re not alone. Daniel Khaneman and Amos Tversky first coined the phrase “planning fallacy” in 1979 to describe our tendency to underestimate the time we need to complete a task — even when we know that similar work has taken us longer in the past.

In our heads, we’re envisioning the best-case scenario. We’ll sit down to write the report, the words will flow easily, and we won’t be distracted. Information will be readily available, people will answer our calls, and everything will go as planned.

Seriously, when’s the last time everything worked out exactly the way you planned it? And yet, there we are, falling for the planning fallacy again and again. There’s a surprisingly easy fix for this time lie, though: every time you need to estimate the time for a project, add a buffer. Usually an additional 50% is sufficient. So, if you thought writing the report would take 4 hours, plan for 6 hours instead.

I work all the time and have no time for anything.

 

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I work over 80 hours a week.

This is one of the most popular lies about time. We all overestimate the hours we work, because so much of what we do can feel like work — even when it’s not.

You might genuinely be out of your hours 80 hours every week, but it’s really not fair to say that you are putting in focused work for all of those hours. In order to work 80 hours a week, you have to be working — working, not commuting, not eating lunch, not in the bathroom — from 7am until 11pm, 5 days a week.

Seriously, if you’re doing that, what the heck is your job? And how do you have time to read this post?

Even better are the people who claim to work 100 hours a week. These people must have an extremely loose definition of work. 100 hours a week is 20 hours a day, five days a week. That means you’re working from 7 am until 3 am. Do you know anyone who does that consistently?

Related question: Do you know anyone who claims to do that consistently? That person is most likely a liar.

I spend all my time with my kids.

I spend all day with my kids.

This is another one of those time lies that feels true. When you are caring for small children, it definitely seems like that’s the only thing you do, all day.

But here are a few truths: newborns sleep about 18 hours a day. And since very few of those hours seem to happen at night, they must be sleeping during daylight hours. Even toddlers sleep 14-16 hours a day. Yes, many of those hours are at night, but toddlers also need regular naps.

Are there exceptions? Of course. Children with special needs, sleep disorders, or other conditions may need more of your time and attention. But if you are truly spending your entire day with your children — and if that makes you unhappy — then you need to change something.

If you love spending every possible second with your kids and don’t want to do anything for yourself, great! You do you. But you’re reading this presumably because you want to have time to write, time to build your business, time to read novels, whatever. So be real: it’s unlikely that you are spending all day, every day with your kids, even if you are their primary caregiver.

If your kids never nap, institute a daily quiet time for an hour in the afternoon. Trade with another mom so you each get one kid-free afternoon a week. Find a sitter for 4 hours a week.

Or, change nothing, and keep everything exactly the same.

I cook and clean all day and I have no time.

I spend hours cooking and cleaning every day.

Yep, when you’re a mom, it definitely feels like you’re cooking and cleaning all day. I absolutely bought into this lie for a long time. Turns out, I was spending very little time cooking and cleaning… and a lot of time playing Words With Friends on my phone, but that’s a different story.

Listen up: there is no reason for you to be spending 8 hours a day cooking and cleaning. Do you live in Downton Abbey? As I recall, they had staff. A LOT of staff. They had people to DRESS THEM.

Anyway, you’re not in the kitchen as much as you think you are. Track your time if you don’t believe me. You’ll find that you start dinner, but then you have to go change a diaper, and then the fourth grader can’t figure out which is the sign for division, PLUS the Girl Scout cookie order was due LAST WEEK, and, like 57 other things that are NOT cooking dinner happen.

So you FEEL like you spent 4 hours cooking dinner, but really, that macaroni cooked up in 8 minutes.

We can fix this issue, but you have to acknowledge it first.

Why does everything always take so long?

I don’t need more than a minute to do that.

Man. This lie. This is the lie of the chronically late. “The kids will be ready in a minute.” “I’m leaving in ONE MINUTE.” “We’re going RIGHT NOW.”

HA.

As the person who is always early, I have spent HOURS of my life waiting for you late people. Here is the truth: It takes a LOT more than a minute to do most things, especially when children are involved.

If you’re telling yourself, I can be out the door in 10 minutes, are you really thinking about how long it takes to strap your baby — who seems to have seven arms and five legs — into the carseat while simultaneously ensuring that your 6-year-old keeps his pants on? Or are you being, perhaps, a wee bit optimistic in your estimate?

If you are honest with yourself and say, It take 28 minutes from the time I say We’re leaving to the time I pull out of the garage, that’s a game changer! If you KNOW that it takes 28 minutes, you can plan accordingly.

Imagine a world where you get to Mommy and Me on time and you don’t have to sneak in quietly while everybody else is already singing the hello song.

This nirvana can be yours, if you are honest with yourself about time.

If you’re telling yourself that you’re going to work on your freelance writing business every evening from 8 to 10 pm, but you are actually spending that time on Netflix or Hulu, maybe it’s time to cancel those subscriptions so that they aren’t an option anymore.

Maybe getting to bed early is important to you, but you can figure out a way to put in four hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Of course, you can always decide that it’s not possible to make any changes to your life. That’s legitimate — but it’s also a choice. If you can’t change one single thing, then you’re not really trying to find time, you’re trying to find reasons why you can’t do the things you say you want to do.

So, what’s one change you’re going to make?

 

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Get a Growth Mindset

Get a Growth Mindset

What would you do if your teenage daughter told you she’s just no good at math?

You could say, “Yeah, that’s probably true. You shouldn’t bother with any advanced math classes. Stick to the stuff you’re good at.”

What happened the first time your son tried to tie his shoes? He probably didn’t get it right.

You could have told him, “Figures. You never did have any dexterity anyway.”

Help your kids develop a growth mindset.

Or what about the first time your baby stumbled while walking and tumbled to the floor?

You could have shrugged your shoulders and sighed, “Guess you’ll be crawling down the aisle when you get married.”

You didn’t say any of those things, because you are not crazy.

Instead, you probably told your daughter (with perhaps just a touch of irritation), “You know, if you actually studied occasionally instead of spending all your time on your phone, you’d do better.”

You sat down next to your son and showed him, again and again, how to make the loops, cross them over, and tie his shoes.

And you clapped for your baby, helped up get back up on his feet, and beamed proudly as he toddled across the room.

Why is it easy to encourage our kids to try hard things, to work at them, to put in effort — but difficult to convince ourselves to do the same?

Sure, it makes you CRAZY when your daughter says she “just can’t do math,” but be honest: have YOU ever said something like that?

What is a growth mindset?

I can’t go to Zumba! There’s no way I can do those moves!

I’m hopeless at balancing the checkbook. I just don’t have a head for numbers.

That tech stuff is beyond me. I can never figure it out by myself!

Yeah.

Growth Mindset v. Fixed Mindset: How It Starts

You’re 8 years old. You come home from school proudly waving your perfect spelling test.

“That’s our girl!” says your mother. “You’re so smart!” She puts your spelling test on the fridge for everyone to see.

A growth mindset gives you permission to try new things.

Your mother had the very best of intentions, but here’s what she told you: you aced that spelling test because you’re smart.

Wait, what’s wrong with that?

Well, let’s fast forward a week, to the next spelling test. You got 7 words right. Out of 10. Not bad — but you didn’t get that 100 percent like last time.

And if you aced that first test because you’re smart, what does it mean that you came up less than perfect on this one?

You must not be so smart after all.

Hello, fixed mindset! When you have a fixed mindset, you believe you’re either smart — or you’re not. You have a certain amount of intelligence that you’re born with, and that’s it.

Why is a growth mindset important?

You can learn new things, sure, but you can’t change your intelligence. You’re a certain kind of person, and you can’t really do anything to change that.

On the other hand, if you have a growth mindset, you recognize that NOTHING is set in stone. That you, like your baby learning to sit up and crawl and walk and talk and do math — you also can learn new things, and you can learn them no matter how old you are or how many times in the past someone told you that you couldn’t.

When you have a growth mindset, you get joy from hard work and striving to be your best. You don’t have to be THE BEST, you have to put in effort and do YOUR best.

 

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Growth Mindset: Effort, Not Ability

You’re 8 years old (again). You come home from school proudly waving your perfect spelling test (again).

“That’s our girl!” says your mother. “You must have worked really hard!” She puts your spelling test on the fridge for everyone to see.

On the next spelling test, you get 7 out of 10. What’s the message in your head this time? Huh. I guess I didn’t work so hard this time. Okay, yeah, I didn’t really bother studying for this test, so I didn’t do as well as I could have. I guess next time, I should make a point of actually studying and then I might get another A+.

A growth mindset can affect every area of your life.

You haven’t failed. Maybe you have a time management problem — fitting in spelling words with your busy hopscotch schedule is pretty challenging — but there is nothing fundamentally wrong with you.

If you’re thinking to yourself that there’s NO WAY one TINY change could make that much of a difference, you’re wrong. And science can prove it.

Stanford researcher Carol Dweck tested hundreds of elementary school students across the United States. You can read all about her study — and you definitely should — in her book (yep, that’s an Amazon affiliate link), but the short version is this:

Kids who were told they did well on a test because they were smart (ability) ultimately scored significantly worse than kids who were told they did well because they worked hard (effort).

Some of the amazing findings from this study:

  • The kids who were praised for their effort enjoyed the work, even when it was difficult, and even when they didn’t get everything right.
  • The kids praised for their ability were not willing to try a harder task that might call their intelligence into question.
  • The kids who were praised for their ability lied about their scores.

When Carol Dweck talks about this, she says, “We took ordinary children and made them into liars, simply by telling them they were smart.”

Growth mindset prevents lots of disappointment.

Yikes.

No, seriously. YIKES.

Growth Mindset, You, and Your Kids

When your mom told you that you were smart, she certainly wasn’t thinking, “Ha! THIS WILL RUIN HER FOR LIFE!”

When you tell your kids they’re smart, you’re not thinking, “YES. FIXED MINDSET KIDS.”

We don’t mean to turn our children into fixed-mindset people who are afraid of failure. When we tell our kids, “Wow, you did that so fast! You’re so smart!” or “Whoa, your drawing is AMAZING, you’re such an artist,” or “You’re like a prodigy on the piano,” — we’re just so proud of them, right?

But what our kids hear is:

If it takes me a long time to learn something, then I guess I’m not so smart.

I better only draw pictures of horses, because I won’t look like an artist if I try to draw anything else.

I should only play the easy piano pieces, because otherwise they’ll figure out I’m not that great.

It’s not that you shouldn’t praise your kids. You should! Kids LOVE to be praised. We ALL love to be praised. But the way we praise them matters.

How to praise your kids for a growth mindset.

When we focus on praising kids for “natural ability” or “intelligence,” instead of EFFORT and HARD WORK, we make it really, really hard for them to handle any kind of failure and NOT see it as a reflection of their own self-worth.

If you really want to help your kids succeed in life, the very best gift you can give them is the ability to love challenges. To look for hard things to do. To NOT fear making mistakes. To keep learning. 

And what about you?

When you believe that your ability is set in stone, that you can’t change anything about yourself, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of disappointment. You’ll never try new things, because you might not be good at them, so why bother?

Why launch that freelance writing career? You don’t have the skills. You’ll never get the clients. You don’t have what it takes.

STOP. Just stop RIGHT NOW, because YOU are AMAZING, and you absolutely have the skills to do this. You definitely can get the clients. You totally have what it takes.

Nurture Your Growth Mindset

From today forward, pay attention to the messages you give yourself daily. Any time you catch yourself thinking or saying negative things about your abilities, stop. Really hear what you are saying, and counter that statement with a positive message about your effort.

For example, when you find yourself thinking, “I’m just no good at marketing myself,” change that message to, “I’m going to put in the time to learn how to market myself effectively.”

Remember that change is hard — and it takes time. Most importantly, change requires consistency: you have to work at it regularly.

You won’t abandon your fixed mindset overnight, but with time and effort, you can develop a growth mindset and learn to do just about anything.

 

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5 Myths About Choosing a Freelance Writing Niche

5 Myths About Choosing a Freelance Writing Niche

Wanna be a freelance writer? Sure you do. And that’s super great — it’s an awesome way to make a real living and stay at home with your kids. You can scale your business up and down according to your schedule and your financial needs. You can meet cool people, learn new things, and have a lot of fun — and get paid to do it.

If you want to be the kind of freelance writer who makes money (as opposed to the kind who slowly starves…), one of the very first things you need to do is to choose a freelance writing niche. This is fancy writer-speak for picking the thing you’re going to write about. It’s one of the most important things you can do in ANY business, because when you have a niche, you know who you’re talking to.

Let’s say you have a dog-grooming business. You cater to dog owners, right? So you know about the things that they care about, the questions and concerns they have, and the things they want to know.

When you have a niche, you connect with the right people.

You don’t have to worry about alienating people who don’t have pets, because you’re not actually trying to win their business.

Now let’s go back to your freelance writing niche. Let’s say you’ve decided that you want to write for real estate companies. That’s your audience — you want to connect with Realtors, agents, and other professionals in that industry. You know their lingo, you don’t have to explain mortgages and home decor to them, because they know that stuff cold.

When you are looking for work, you can use your knowledge of the field to create a pitch letter and custom content that impresses the clients you want to work with — and you don’t have to worry what other people are thinking about. You don’t have to consider, for example, whether your aunt Sally can understand what you're saying, because she’s not your target market.

Choose a niche to make it easy to find the right clients.

By choosing a niche, you make your life much easier, and easy is awesome.

If you’ve been hesitant to choose a niche, or if you’ve had trouble choosing a niche, it might be because you’ve fallen prey to one of the many myths about choosing a niche, so let’s take a look at those — and get you back on track.

Myth #1: Choosing a Niche Makes It Harder to Find Work

A lot of new freelance writers are terrified to choose a niche because they think that means they’ll never be able to find enough work. Wrong! Choosing a niche actually makes it a lot EASIER to find the RIGHT work.

Think about it like this: would you rather work with 50 clients who are nearly impossible to please — or with five clients who love what you do, rave about you to everyone, and pay your invoices with a smile?

Kind of a no-brainer, right? Well, when you choose a niche, you make it a lot easier to find the clients in that second group, because you’re looking for people who fit a very specific profile.

Myth #2: If I Choose a Niche, I’m Stuck With It Forever

Hey, guess what? You’re a freelance writer. This is YOUR BUSINESS. That means that YOU make the rules. So if you wake up tomorrow and decide that you HATE your niche, YOU CAN PICK A NEW ONE.

Now, please don’t take this as free license to change your niche on a weekly basis. You can do that — because you can do whatever you want — but try to stick with a single niche for at least half a year. That’s enough time to dig in, get to know people, find great work, and rack up fabulous testimonials, which you can use when you want to transition into a new niche.

You can absolutely choose a new niche if you want to do that. Many writers start in one area — what they studied in college, for example, or whatever they did at their day jobs — and then leverage their experience and client referrals to move into a new niche a few months down the line.

When you’re a new mom, you might want to try your hand at the parenting market, which is vast and profitable. And then, you might — hypothetically — decide that if you have to write ONE MORE WORD about breastfeeding you are going to SCREAM. Ahem. Your niche can grow and change as you grow and change, is the point.

 

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Myth #3: It Doesn’t Make Sense To Choose a Niche as a Beginner

Imagine that you’re a dentist, and you’re looking for a writer to help you with your new website. You find two writers. The first says, “I love writing about all kinds of things! High tech, business, medicine, parenting, food. I can absolutely help you with your website, NO PROBLEM.”

The second writer says, “I work with dentists and orthodontists. Here’s a list of 20 topics I recommend we cover on your blog, and I can also help you create some informational handouts for your patients.”

Which would you choose?

Choose a niche so that you can help specific clients reach their goals.

EVEN if you’re a beginner — heck, ESPECIALLY if you’re a beginner, it’s better to get a couple of clients who need the same kind of work, because you get better and faster at doing the work, you know what works and what doesn’t, and you can make more money for the same work. 

Instead of earning $200 to write a blog post, why not earn $400 — or more — to write the same post? That’s what happens when you specialize. You bring more value to the table, because you know more.

Myth #4: If I Don’t Choose X As My Niche, I Won’t Make Any Money

Man. So many people believe this, and it is Flat. Out. Wrong.

You can make perfectly good money in almost ANY niche. You do NOT have to pick tech. And you shouldn’t, if technology doesn’t interest you and/or you don’t know a lot about it. Think about the things that DO interest you — or that you know a lot about — and start there.

Students in Writing for Money have chosen to specialize in many different fields — natural parenting, food, finance, travel, relationships, pets, and more.

You can make any niche into a profitable freelance writing niche.

Every student who has put in the time and research needed has found work that pays well, regardless of her chosen niche.

Oh, and by the way: you also don’t have to write about how to make money in order to make money. For 15 years, I wrote exclusively for clients and I made around $60,000 a year, working 4-6 hours a day, 5 days a week. I never ONCE wrote about “how to make money as a writer” during that time. In fact, I took a huge pay CUT to start training, because I didn’t take on any client work for about six months.

Myth #5: Too Many Other People Are Already In My Niche

There are a LOT of people in the world. And some of them write about YOUR topic. So, obviously, this means that you’re too late, and you have nothing new to offer, so you should just, you know, give up and walk away.

It's okay if there are other people in your niche. You can still stand out.

NO. That is NOT what you do. Not even a little bit. So what DO you do?

Let’s say that your niche is sports. And let’s say that you personally know five other people who are writing about sports, AND three of those people have already been published in Sports Illustrated (I actually know nothing about sports, so that’s the only sports magazine I know.)

The point is, these other people have experience. And credibility. And you don’t have any of that. You’re thinking to yourself, “I can’t complete with Sports Illustrated!”

So… Why did you pick sports for your niche? Because you LOVE sports. You love EVERYTHING about sports. You PLAY like 17 different sports. You’re on 3 different teams. YOU ARE PLAYING A SPORT RIGHT NOW.

You know what? don’t NEED to compete with Sports Illustrated. There are a LOT of people who write about sports, and there are a LOT of people who need sports content. And YOUR sports content has YOUR unique spin.

Put your own unique spin on your niche to set yourself apart.

Sports is a HUGE topic. You can focus on a specific sport, you can target beginners, hobbyists, or professionals. You can target specific age groups — you have so many choices.

If you feel like there’s too much competition in your niche, then think about getting a little more focused, which differentiates you from a lot of those other people writing in your niche. Think about WHY you chose your niche and what excites you about it. Hone in on that, and rock the world.

 

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How to Write a Pitch Letter (And Why You Should)

How to Write a Pitch Letter (And Why You Should)

Finding writing work online is not that hard. You can find thousands of people who offer to pay you less than a penny a word to write articles, blog posts, and other material. By working approximately 9,700 hours a day, you can eke out an almost-decent living.

Of course, if the idea of writing for less than a penny a word or the idea of working ALL THE TIME doesn’t appeal to you, you can still find plenty of writing work — but you have to go about it a little bit differently.

How to find freelance writing jobs that pay well.

One strategy you can use to find freelance writing clients is to send pitch letters directly to the clients you want to work with.

What Exactly Is A Pitch Letter?

A pitch letter is when you write to a potential client and pitch your services as a writer. You can do this in an actual letter that you send in the mail with a stamp, or via email.

A pitch letter needs to accomplish several things:

  • describe your service
  • get clients interested in what you do
  • convince prospective clients that they need your service
  • provide information that makes it simple for clients to hire you

In a nutshell, when you pitch a client, you’re sending a personalized message that says, “I can solve this problem for you.” That’s it. No problem, right?

Yeah, okay, writing a pitch letter is a little bit intimidating. But it’s absolutely worth the effort you’ll put into it.

Why Should You Write a Pitch Letter?

You should write a pitch letter if you enjoy things like eating regularly, living in a home with electricity and running water, and having money available to buy other things, ranging from iPhones to masking tape.

Find clients who pay well for writing

Seriously, pitch letters get you work. They also let you direct the conversation — you’re the professional, you set your rates, you set your terms, you are not competing against the entire Internet full of writers applying for an advertised job. You’re CREATING the job that you want and explaining why you’re the PERFECT person to do it.

One of the first things students learn in Writing for Money is how to establish smart habits that make it easy to send pitch letters out regularly — daily, or at minimum a few times a week.

Yes, really.

When you get in the habit of sending out pitches regularly, you take a LOT of the pressure off. If you have one pitch out in the world, you’re hanging all your hopes and dreams on one single hook. You’re checking and re-checking your email frantically, and if you don’t get an answer, or if you get a rejection, you’re crushed.

On the other hand, if you send out pitches daily, you have plenty of irons in the fire. Some people respond and ask for more information. Some people hire you. Some people never reply — and you keep pitching.

You keep sending your stuff out there. You show up and put in the work. Consistency is THE KEY to building a successful, sustainable business.

If you’ve sent out pitch letters every day for the past two months and you haven’t had a single reply, then you have a clear sign that something is wrong with your pitch.

Now you have information you can use — you can tweak your pitch, refine it, and send out the new version.

The Best (And Worst) Way to Start Your Pitch Letter

The most important thing to remember when you write and send a pitch letter is that you’re showing up uninvited and out of the blue, so you have nanoseconds to interest potential clients in what you have to say before they toss your letter in the trash.

That’s why you absolutely need to start your pitch with something that really speaks to the potential client. This part of your pitch needs to be personalized and specific.

Send a personalized pitch letter to get freelance writing work from clients.

For example, Your website doesn’t have any information on this super important thing that people in your industry need to know.

Or: The user manual for your WidgetMaster 3000 is confusing. On page 3, you say this, and on page 7, you say the opposite.

If I’m a business owner and someone is pointing out problems with my business, I’m going to keep reading, so you must open your pitch letter with something that will immediately capture your potential client’s interest.

Never, but NEVER start your pitch letter with, “Hi, I’m a freelance writer and….”

Seriously, think about it. Your phone rings. You answer. The person on the other end says, “Hi, Abbi, this is John from SuperAwesomeCompany. How are you?”

Maybe you’re nicer than I am, but I’ve already hung up, because it’s obvious to me that this is a sales call, and I’m not interested.

Do not start off your pitch letter by introducing yourself as a freelance writer. Your letter will end up in the trash.

Start your pitch off right to capture your prospective client’s attention. And then what?

 

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What Information Should I Include in My Pitch Letter?

You’ve seen that it’s important to start by catching your potential client’s attention. But what do you do once you have it? Well, you have to make it impossible for clients to ignore their problems. Most modern businesses understand the importance of having an online presence — but they don’t have time to fill it with content.

So you catch the client’s attention with your opening statement: Your website doesn’t have any information on this super important thing that people in your industry need to know.

How to write a pitch letter that will get you more clients for your freelance writing business.

And now you drive the point home:

The blog at YourCompetitor.com is updated daily. Posts on these 17 topics have over 40 comments each. Several of those posts also have additional content readers can download, and WidgetCompetitor also offers a free email course on how to determine if widgets are right for you.

YIKES! Now Ms. Client is painfully aware that her competition is CRUSHING her, and NOW you can present your awesome solution for her business.

Keep the focus on the client and her needs — like this:

Would you be interested in regular, engaging content on these 5 or 6 highly targeted topics that relate to widgets and clearly show that I’ve looked closely at your website and your specific focus on widgets?

Oh, hey! A specific, targeted solution! NOW you can give a bit of information about why YOU’RE the right person to do the job. For example:

I’ve written about widgets for the last X years. This post on WidgetWorld.com has 97 comments. Here are links to some other samples, not necessarily about widgets, but that show I know how to write in an engaging, conversational style that’s appropriate for a blog.

See how that works?

Your pitch needs to focus on the benefits clients get. The greater your perceived value, the more you are worth to clients. In plain English, you can charge more money.

Here’s another example.

Pitch letter template use this to get freelance writing jobs and freelance writing clients.

Dear Ms. Client:

The user manual for your WidgetMaster 3000 is confusing. On page 3, you say this, and on page 7, you say the opposite.

Do you need help creating user-friendly manuals that will reduce help center and support calls, and make your customers feel they can trust your brand and your products?

I’d suggest rewriting this manual entirely. Here’s a quick example of what I mean:

[Screenshots of A FEW LINES of original and proposed rewritten text.]

If you’re interested in exploring this, please be in touch! I have several other ideas for improving your user guides and manuals.

Thanks so much!

Your Name

By choosing your niche and targeting people in one area, you’ll build up your own expertise in that area, and you’ll get to know the nuances of that industry as well.

For example, you’ll know instinctively that widget owners use certain language when talking about themselves, and using certain other terms immediately marks you as an outsider. You’ll know that the industry standard is this program, rather than that one. And all of that together will help build your credibility and help you land higher-paying jobs.

What Shouldn’t Be In Your Pitch?

Just as important as what you DO put in your pitch is what you DON’T put in it.

Don't include these things in your pitch letter to clients.

Remember, this is a professional pitch designed to sell you as a professional writer. This means that you should not include any of the following:

  • Information about your love of writing. Does your dentist talk to you about his love of teeth? No. Does your mechanic tell you about the cars he rebuilt as a teen? No. So save your stories for your cocktail parties.
  • Information about your education. Clients do NOT care about where you went to school. They care about making more money for their businesses. Your degree from Harvard or your local community college does NOTHING for them. Really.
  • Information about your (lack of) experience. DO NOT TELL POTENTIAL CLIENTS, “I just started working as a freelance writer.” You DON’T need to pretend you’ve been in business for years, but give yourself a chance! Show great samples, talk about how you can help potential clients, and leave the rest alone.
  • Information about you and your life in general. This isn’t a letter to a friend. It’s a business letter to a potential client. So cute stories about your kids aren’t appropriate. YOU know this, but you’d be surprised at how many OTHER people don’t.

Like so much of the work you do as a freelance writer, your pitch letter should not be about you. It should be about your clients: the problems they face, what they need, and how you can help.

 

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3 Smart Ways to Find Freelance Writing Clients

3 Smart Ways to Find Freelance Writing Clients

The decision to start freelance writing feels like it has to be momentous, you know?

Like, in your head, you think, Am I allowed to call myself a freelance writer? I didn’t major in English. I’ve never written professionally. Is this even legal?

How to find freelance writing clients.

You will (probably) not get arrested for calling yourself a freelance writer.

You can agonize over this decision for weeks, wondering if you’ve earned the right to label yourself a writer.

Then, you finally decide that, yes, you ARE in fact a writer, and you face this whole new problem: How to find writing jobs that will pay you money.

Little secret for you: everyone has to start somewhere.

At some point, every single freelance writer has to get that first writing job.

Sure, some people go freelance after they’ve worked for a few years. Maybe they wrote articles for a magazine as a staff member or worked in the marketing department of a company. But at some point, they started at those jobs, and it felt just as intimidating.

Every writer has to write a first piece at some point. For some, that beginning is so far in the past they’ve forgotten the details. For others, the starting point is literally just a few steps behind them.

Everyone starts somewhere — and it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

You don't need anything special to find freelance writing clients.

Here’s a list of things you don’t need to do to start freelance writing.

  • Build a website.
  • Update your resume.
  • Go to networking meetings.
  • Get a degree in English.
  • Get a degree in anything.
  • Graduate high school.

Here is the only thing you need to do to start freelance writing:

  • Clients who will pay you

That’s it. Seriously. There’s no big initiation process, no forms to fill out, no need to spend weeks planning.

So… where do you find these clients?

Well, let’s take a look at three smart ways to find freelance writing clients:

  1. Upwork (and other marketplace sites)
  2. Online job boards
  3. Business directories

Now we’ll take a closer look at each of these methods.

 

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An Upwork Profile Lets Freelance Writing Clients Find You

Yeah, I’ve mentioned Upwork before. That’s because it works. It’s an incredible way to start freelance writing online quickly. You can read a lot more about how to write an amazing Upwork profile, how to build your Upwork portfolio, and making sure that you’re doing the right things to attract high paying freelance writing clients.

Use Upwork to find freelance writing clients.

When you build your Upwork profile, you make it possible for potential clients to see what you have to offer. They can then invite you to apply to specific jobs that match your skills, which saves you lots of marketing time.

Upwork has some membership plans, but you don’t need any of them. You can use the free, basic Upwork membership and get plenty of freelance writing jobs that pay well.

A lot of writers will tell you that Upwork only offers low-paying jobs. That’s simply untrue. I’ve been hired at my full hourly rate of $125/hour many times on Upwork — and there are plenty more well-paid freelance writers who use Upwork all the time.

Upwork does charge a fee — BUT they only charge you a percentage of what you earn from clients you would NOT have met otherwise. And you can adjust your rates to ensure that you are making the money you want to make.

This post won’t go too deeply into using Upwork — because all those linked posts above will tell you everything you need to know. Just remember that you do need to know what to look out for at Upwork and other marketplace sites, and make sure that your profile is all about your clients and what they need — and NOT about you.

Find Freelance Writing Clients Through Online Job Boards

If you want to improve your chances of finding relevant freelance writing jobs that pay well, take a look at some of the popular freelance writing job boards.

Almost everyone loves the ProBlogger job board, and with good reason: you’ll find a handful of high quality freelance blogging jobs here. Companies pay $70 to advertise on ProBlogger for a month. You pay nothing to look at those listings.

Companies that pay to list jobs are typically more serious about paying writers decent rates. You won’t find hundreds of listings offering you the chance to work for exposure. Add ProBlogger to your list of sites to check regularly — you won’t always find freelance writing clients who need a writer with your specific expertise, but when you do, you can apply.

If you can get past the design, Writer’s Weekly provides an in-depth look at a handful of markets each week, and compiles a weekly roundup of current job postings from around the internet. These are jobs you can find in other places, but why not let the Writer’s Week staff put them all in one place for you to quickly skim?

Search job boards to find freelance writing clients.

Another popular job board is MediaBistro. Refine your search to quickly skim through the freelance writing jobs posted here, and apply to any that interest you. You won’t find dozens of new posts daily, but you will find interesting jobs with decent pay rates.

Many freelance writers ask about joining paid job boards. These boards are rarely worth the money you spend on them. They are a GREAT source of affiliate income for the writers who promote them and offer you “special discounts” on signing up via their affiliate links. If you’re paying for access to a job board, you need to get some sort of AMAZING benefit. Otherwise, you’re basically paying someone to use Google for you. NOT a great strategy.

There is ONE paid job board that I SOMETIMES recommend to specific freelance writers who are looking for work in specific niches. I DON’T write public posts about it in order to earn affiliate income — I get paid for freelance writing and for teaching moms how to get started in freelance writing. I’m not interested in earning money by recommending products and services that won’t help you make a real living from freelance writing.

Use Business Directories to Find Freelance Writing Clients

Business directories are awesome. Seriously awesome. With these sites, you can type in your niche or the type of business you want to write for and get a list of businesses in that field. You can find local business directories, directories for specific industries, directories that specialize in businesses of different sizes, and so on.

For example, head over to http://www.manta.com/business and you’ll see this:

You can use business directories to find freelance writing clients

Enter your niche, and then choose “don’t use a location” to maximize your results. When you type in your niche, manta will start to make suggestions. When I typed in “relationships,” Manta came back with some options for me:

You can find freelance writing clients with business directories.

I chose “relationship counseling center” and got hundreds of results. If you wanted to target counseling centers, you could spend some time checking out the various entries. If you chose 20 to look at each day, and set a goal of sending out pitches to 3-5 of those 20 each day, you’d likely win some work within two weeks.

Another business directory is hoovers.com

Search Hoovers to find freelance writing clients.

If you search the “counseling” industry at Hoovers, you’ll be prompted to choose from a list that includes weight reduction services, social assistance, and mental health professionals. You can then run searches for those terms on Hoovers or head back over to Manta to find specific businesses to pitch.

These services have free tiers, and you should be able to get all the information you need without paying for a membership.

You can get super-specific with your business directory searches, which is really awesome, because you can hone in on exactly the kind of client you want to work with. Choose directories that specialize in small businesses, Fortune 5000 companies, publicly traded companies, local businesses, and so on. Pick the business directory you prefer to work with, and use that one to identify clients you want to pitch.

Once You Find Freelance Writing Clients, What's the Next Step?

Now that you've put in the time to find freelance writing clients, how do you get them to hire you? Well, it starts with creating a smart pitch that you can send them. And recently, I held a free workshop on how to get that pitch written and ready to send out.

You can catch a replay of the live workshop!

This is a totally free, hands-on workshop where you'll work on your pitch, following the exact steps described. You'll learn:

  • Exactly how to write a pitch letter that you can start sending out to clients IMMEDIATELY so that you can get work.
  • How to identify YOUR ideal client, and where to go to FIND that client, so that you know exactly WHERE to send your pitch.
  • What you need to know about following up, and how to avoid the mistakes that could cost you LOTS of money.
  • How much you should charge for your work, and how to talk confidently about money with clients.

When you sign up for the workshop, you'll get access to a TWO workbooks. You'll get to see plenty of real examples, and you'll discover exactly how to put all the pieces together.

Sign up for the workshop, and kick off your freelance writing career.

 

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Watch 5 Steps to YOUR Successful Freelance Writing Business!