The Butterfly Effect: Creating an Aura That Attracts Writing Projects

Change is here! Starting today, for the first time in the history of this site, I’m inviting guest posters to contribute to this blog. I’m thrilled to have freelance writer David Geer here today to share his secrets of getting more work. Enjoy!

The Butterfly Effect

By David Geer, @geercom

You may have heard of The Butterfly Effect as a component of Chaos Theory or as the title of a film starring Ashton Kutcher. For the purposes of this blog post, the butterfly effect is an informal reference to an insight taught to children who would like to catch butterflies.

A child who tries to catch a butterfly will soon learn that the task is difficult at best even with a large (and, frankly, quite unsportsmanlike) butterfly net. However, you can teach a child to turn from her butterfly hunting to stand perfectly still and sometimes the butterfly will come and alight on her shoulder.

I think this kind of butterfly effect is a useful illustration of aura: a quality, air, or way of being that you can use to attract things to you. There are a number of practices I maintain to create an aura to attract more writing assignments and projects. Rather than the one practice, it is the confluence of things over time that is effective in bringing work my way. Unfortunately, that is where the similarity to butterfly hunting ends; you will not catch any work sitting still.

Here are some of the habits I practice.

1. Do something for someone in your writing community, whether an editor, publisher, writer, or source, that is beneficial to their work or understanding without mentioning projects or referrals or expecting anything in return.

In her recent book, When Talent Isn’t Enough: Business Basics for the Creatively Inclined, Kristen Fischer published a brief recounting of my success in applying this behavior/practice. As I shared with Kristen for the book, I once contacted the editor of a technology website that I liked. The content was up my alley and I would have liked to write for that editor some day.

We kept in touch over the next year or so. I did not pester him for work or ask him for referrals. I just took an interest in who he was and shared information about technology and common interests. Then one day he wrote me to ask if I would be interested in an introduction to a friend of his at a mid-sized organization who might hire me for some writing projects. I said yes. The introduction led to a string of projects and thousands of dollars in income. My friend had never hired me, but he knew me well enough to recommend me.

2. Develop relationships with people you can help here and there and stay on their radar, not because they can hire you, but because they may know someone who eventually can. Recommend them and help them to get work.

If I am not right for a gig that has been specifically offered to me, I will ask if I can recommend someone or share the opportunity with qualified writers. I may then share the potential gig with one writer, a few, or with a writer member group or forum.

I have a friend I know through a great writer website/forum called FreelanceSuccess who I kept sending leads for work. This work was not right for me at the time. She always thanked me even though I am not sure any of the leads worked out for her.

One day she asked if she could recommend me to an editor of hers who had been assigning her white papers, which can be very lucrative. I said yes and I ended up writing a successful white paper for her editor, who published it and paid me into the thousands for it.

3. Give more than you get.

If I was to refuse every deal where I did not get everything I asked for, I would never doubt whether I got as much as I gave. I would also seldom work. If you want to stand out, give more than you get. If you are going to err, err on the side of over delivering on the deliverables.

If you give a little less than what they expect because you are concerned about making a decent wage for your time (when working for a flat fee), you will be one of any number of writers doing the same thing, and they will probably hire you no more or less often than they hire similar writers.

If you give a little more to make sure you hit the mark, that will stand out and it will be worth a little extra time to make sure they want you for the next assignment.

4. Be nice.

My career as a freelance writer has turned out to be something like having a professional trainer take me under his wing, a trainer whose success depends as much on mine as mine does on his. One of the things that the business has trained me to do is to always be nice. Be nice. Isn’t that what being professional really means?

Being nice pays dividends. People will want to work with you more often. You will be more likely to work with likeminded people who will also be nice, creating a better working environment for you. You will be approachable, which will ease communications that are important to completing projects to everyone’s satisfaction. In addition, if you do find that work dries up here or there, it will not be because you did not know how to behave.

Being nice can remove half of the objections an editor or client might otherwise have for not working with you. If you are going to let something get around, let it be that you were … you know the word by now, right?

5. Grow your social network by being helpful, encouraging, and informative without asking for work each time you make contact.

If your social networking contacts already know what you do for a living because you have pitched them or introduced yourself as a freelance writer, they can kind of figure that you are open to offers of work. Once they understand that part, simply stay on their radar. Share an interesting or useful nugget of news or information about something you know they have an expertise or personal interest in. Ask how they are doing. Ask what they have been working on lately. They will often ask you the same. This is an opportunity to update the clips they have on file for you.

6. Use social media to promote others or their posts or work specifically.

When a writer friend or editor publishes something interesting, you might just find me posting their new clip to the various social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. They appreciate this and it is another way to stay on their radar as someone who recognizes and appreciates good work, particular theirs.

Do for others what you would like them to do for you. Be the kind of person you would like to work for and you will eventually find as many of them coming to knock on your door with work as you meet by pitching and cold-calling, and more.


David Geer writes about security and enterprise technology for international trade and business publications. To learn more about David, see and

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