Updated: Nov 12, 2019
Three months ago I quit my steady but stale job to pursue my side hustle of freelance writing full time. Unlike a lot of freelancers, I decided to take a leap of faith and quit before I had enough savings or enough clientele to logically do so. I figured I would have more time to focus on writing and getting work if I didn't waste 40 hours every week at a place I hated. Obviously something is working right because I'm still making it in this unpredictable world of freelance writing, but it hasn't been a cake walk, that's for damn sure!
If you're an aspiring freelance writer, or just getting started, let me share some of my biggest lessons learned after freelancing for 3 months. Maybe it will help you feel more confident in taking the plunge. If anything it will provide some entertaining anecdotes that will amuse you for a few minutes.
Seriously, get a niche
This might seem blatantly obvious to some, and it's something you'll see time and time again on any site aiming to help freelance writers. I know because I read about the importance of this a million times before and after becoming a full-time freelancer writer. But being the person I am, I ignored it thinking my love of learning and varied interests would allow me to be a generalist. Do you think this worked out in my favor? Hell no! It came back and bit me in the ass big time.
After marketing myself as someone who could write about anything and everything, that's exactly what I got. There were plenty of clients that wanted articles about fashion, travel, art, and self-improvement (all things that I love writing about) but then I would get requests for things like helping finish a theology assignment or writing trying to come up with 1,000 words all about bulletproof backpacks.
After a few of these type of projects, I realized that even though I was getting paid they weren't really profitable. First of all, even though I'm a quick study and I love to learn, I was spending way more time researching these topics than it was worth. On top of that, I was waiting until the last minute to get these articles done because, to be honest, I didn't care about the topics and I felt overwhelmed by the lack of inspiration and amount of research I had to do.
Since then I've changed my requirements and I've made it clear that I only write about certain niches. Now, I've been strictly sticking to my favorite topics like how to positively change your life or why its important to invest in eco-friendly, sustainable brands. I can pump out a 500 or 700 word article on subjects like these in about an hour or a little longer, which translates to higher productivity and a lot more money!
Recognize your value
If you are really serious about writing I'm assuming you're a pretty good writer. Now, you might say there is always room for improvement and you have to constantly keep learning, but you at least think enough of your skills to be compensated for it. So why charge peanuts for something that was actually a large investment of your time and mental energy?
A lot of new freelancers are guilty of this. I sure as hell am! In my haste to build a clientele and make a living I was charging rates that were waaaaay too low. For instance, I use Fiverr as one of my platforms to sell my services, and I get a lot of business through it. When I started I was only charging $5 for 500 words. Even though I can finish 500 words fairly quickly, I couldn't pump out enough articles in one day to create a livable wage for myself.
Even though I was scared of missing out on orders because of my experience and competition, I raised my rates to something that made more sense like $40 for a 500-word article. Surprisingly, I started receiving more orders and more repeat orders since raising my rates. Now I don't feel so much pressure to constantly be working, and honestly, I think clients are willing to pay more because they see the price as an indication of quality.
Yes, we all have to start somewhere, and it will take some time to start working with clients who pay $250+ per article (yes, that's a thing) but you also have to show people that you're serious and talented right off the bat. The best way to do that besides having great writing samples is pricing your services accordingly.
It pays to have a schedule
Us freelance writers and entrepreneurs might like to think that what we do is different than your average 9 to 5, but if that's your belief then its time to wake up and smell the coffee. When I made the switch, I had every intention of keeping a steady schedule that was similar to my old jobs, but it was more difficult than I realized.
It all started with wanting to get a little extra sleep. I set my alarm, but as soon as I remembered that I worked from home and I didn't have to clock in at a certain time I quickly hit the snooze, and eventually turned off my alarm altogether. When I finally decided to wake up I had a leisurely routine of drinking my coffee, perusing through social media, and reading interesting news, and this turned into a daily habit. That's all well and good, but I didn't time myself so even though I went in saying I would do this for 30 minutes it would end up being more like an hour and sometimes more!
Its this lack of time management that had me working in overdrive at the last minute to complete an order or feeling a sense of dread as my orders piled up, and as you might expect, it cost me. That was when I decided to fully commit to keeping a schedule. I started getting up on time, setting alarms (and paying attention to them), and Google Calendar is now my best friend. Now I don't feel like I'm always stressed out and I can actually take a day off because I control my time.
Don't take on too much
Last on my list of lessons, but definitely not least, is the importance of not taking on too much. Once again, as an overly zealous freelance newbie, I found myself accepting more work than I could manage. This is partly due to the fact that I was charging so little and so I needed all the work I could get.
For a while I was keeping up with this machine I created pretty well, but something dark was creeping up on me and that, my friends, was burnout. For several weeks, I was seriously working throughout the day and night and even on the weekends. I was constantly cooped up in my house and I never had time to spend time doing anything else, let alone think about anything else.
Well, of course this caught up with me. Eventually, it all became too much and there were a few clients that I lost because I couldn't deliver what I promised. I had requested an extension from them, and one guy I even asked for a 2nd extension from because I had so many things due at once. He was really flexible at first but later asked that we cancel the contract because I clearly didn't have time for his order. I wasn't upset, though. I knew it was all my fault, and I knew I had been hustling a little too hard. Not only did I have too much work on my plate, my brain was so fried I found it difficult to come up with 1 sentence.
Since that point, I've set a smaller limit on the amount of projects I can have going at once. If I reach my capacity I don't apply for more work or accept new requests. I simply get what I need done first and then take it from there. It's really just taking things in steps and prioritizing. It sounds easy enough but it's a tempting rule to break when you are solely responsible for the income you make.
Hopefully, this post has helped you get more clarity about how you should proceed on your freelance writing journey. If you're currently a freelancer like me, I would love to hear about your ups and downs and how you found your working groove in the comments below!