This is the first article in our back-to-basics freelance writing series, Grow A Writing Career Series: Freelancing From Go To Whoa.
A short aside… Yes, this series is for new freelancers. It’s also for freelancers who are in a rut. If you’re an established writer and you’re not happy with freelancing, please read the series.
“What’s freelance writing?”
In a nutshell: freelance writing is writing for which you’re paid, under contract — always, always under contract. (More on contracts later in the series.) A freelance writer is self-employed. He works for himself, and his primary job is to get writing jobs. Those jobs must cover all his business expenses, as well as all those “perks”, such as health insurance, which employed people get from their employers. As a freelancer, you’re both an employer, and an employee.
Freelancers are in business. As with any business, to stay in business a freelance writer needs to make a profit. Without a profit, freelance writing is just an expensive hobby.
Let’s look at some freelance writing basics.
1. “Writing” is everywhere, and the best writing gigs are never advertised
Paid “writing” is everywhere, and it’s so pervasive that we never think about it. From the moment you wake up in the morning, until you fall asleep at night, you’re surrounded by writing someone was paid to write.
It’s vital that you think about all the writing you’re surrounded by every day. Here’s why. When you realize that paid writing gigs are everywhere, and getting them is sometimes as easy as asking for them, you’ll break yourself of the beginner’s habit of hunting for advertised “writing jobs.”
The best gigs, and the most highly-paid gigs, are never advertised.
When writers complain to me about low-paid writing jobs they find on outsourcing sites like Fiverr and Upwork, I know they’re not paying attention.
Please start paying attention: the opportunities to make BIG money as a freelancer have never been greater, and those opportunities are everywhere.
We’ll have much more to say about that over the course of the series.
2. The highest paying freelance gigs are for specialist writers (become a specialist, as soon as you can)
For many years, my best-paid copywriting gigs were regular newsletters, catalogue copy, and other material that I wrote for companies which sold and hired out heavy equipment.
Developing that specialty wasn’t easy. It meant spending endless hours on the phone finding and talking to uncommunicative people who weren’t used to explaining anything. I struggled to decipher equipment specifications which might as well have been Egyptian hieroglyphics for all the sense they made to me.
That said, although I spent many hours in frustration, they were extremely well-paid hours.
I’m telling you this to illustrate my point that as soon as you can, you need to develop a specialty or three. The pay is always better when you specialize, and although you may struggle with your new specialty at first, it’s all worth it.
3. Cashflow matters: an accountant will give you perspective
If you don’t have any experience with business, freelance writing is a hard way to make a living, because you can’t predict your cashflow with accuracy in your first few years. Cashflow is vital for your business. Your expenses exist whether or not there’s cash.
Quarterly visits to your accountant will keep you grounded. He’ll save you money because he’ll explain which expenses you can claim on your tax returns, and which you can’t.
Look for a local accountant who advertises that he gives small business advice. Preferably, your accountant will have other self-employed creative people on his books. If he doesn’t that’s OK too. What counts is that your accountant helps you to think about freelance writing as numbers, as soon as possible.
Your accountant is especially useful for pricing your services. He’ll give you confidence. He’ll also stop you throwing cash at things which aren’t important.
4. Everything starts with your client’s brief: ask questions and nail it down
There are two things which are the root cause of freelance writing problems:
- The contract; and
- The brief.
Contracts cause problems because:
- Freelancers fail to itemize everything they’re doing for the client, and then fail to charge for everything. It’s vital that you itemize everything on the quote which you give the client; then put everything onto the contract. We’ll have a lot more to say about contracts, and clients, in future articles;
- Freelancers believe clients who say “we don’t need a contract for this…” Yes. You do. 🙂
Briefs (project descriptions) cause problems because:
- Clients aren’t writers. They may or may not know what they want. It’s your job to rewrite the brief, so that you know exactly what the client wants — and the client agrees. A checklist helps with this; look for info on briefs and checklists in a future article;
- Writers underestimate the time frame for a project, and omit creating project milestones. This happens not because clients willfully mislead writers (a few do), but because the writers tend to spend more time thinking about getting gigs than successfully completing gigs. Again, checklists help.
Your freelance writing career is what you make it
As a freelance writer, you can work the hours you want, work with the clients you choose, and you can work from anywhere.
You can also choose what you’ll write.
It’s not only a career and business, it’s a lifestyle too.
It can be a wonderful life: you love what you do, and are eager to write every day. Our series will help you to steer clear of the pitfalls, and have a fun and exciting freelance life. 🙂
Resources to build your writing career
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Today, the opportunities for writers have never been greater. Back in the day a writer who was making six-figures a year seemed a creature of myth. These days, highly successful writers are making six figures a month.More info →
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