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Does Freelancing Fit You?

Freelance WritingBy Lori Widmer

We can talk all day about the feast-and-famine cycle, the unruly clients, the non-paying clients, and the aversion we have to marketing or billing. But at the root of it, we love what we do because it fits us. The cycle of freelancing is part of what we do just as our ability to work our own hours is.

But it’s not going to fit everyone. If you’re new to freelancing or thinking about getting into freelancing, at some point you need to ask yourself if it’s right for you. No dreamy notions of coffee-shop workplaces and working with a laptop under a tree in a park – though that can happen, you’ll not notice where you are or anything around you. You’ll be busy working.

Know this:

Building a freelance career takes time

Very few freelancers drop out of their day job and into a freelance career that earns the same. It happens, but it took some careful planning or incredible luck in order for that to happen. Most freelancers start out small and sporadic. It’s the most critical point in your freelance career – starting at zero. But everyone of the successful freelancers who visit here daily have done it. You can too, but…

It takes commitment to doing whatever it takes to build that career

That means learning where to find work, how to approach clients, how to market, when to market, and how to keep your own financial records. You have to be willing to read, research, study, ask questions, and jump in with both feet.

It takes a willingness to fail and learn

Yes, you’ll fail at a few things. Setbacks happen. Clients find ways of not paying. You’ll screw up projects. Where you’ll learn is by taking those setbacks and finding ways to improve your skills and protect your interests.

It takes planning

If you’re building a house, you’re going to take enough time to make sure the plans are correct, the contractors are good ones, and the work is done properly. Same with your career. Put down a good foundation to build on. If you can define a goal and a path toward that goal, you’re ahead of most freelancers. I would wager that the majority of those who can’t get their careers off the ground are people who failed to plan. You can’t show up and announce you’re a writer and expect the world to embrace you. You have to set goals, map out approaches, amend them and tweak them until you get a path that works for you.

It takes patience

Don’t expect to be earning six figures in your first year (unless you’re a marketing guru, in which case call me). Expect to be building a client base and possibly an expertise area. Relax into the pace a bit at first, and when you get a modicum of comfort going, push yourself into new areas. You get to six figures not by resting on what you’re good at but by going outside your comfort zone.

It takes savings

Unless you’re able to rely on someone else’s money to get you by, you’ll need to be earning almost immediately. Though I will say this – desperation is a fantastic motivator. When I lost my job suddenly, I was working two days later at freelancing. I had rent to pay and two kids living at home. It’s been eight years – I haven’t looked back. Sure, you can bank some money before you make the leap, and I suggest you do, but if you’re like most people, the money never seems to be there and you stay in that 9-to-5. That’s fine, but it’s also a sign this job may not fit you.

It takes discipline

Whether you work 9-to-5 at your freelance career or you work four days a week at odd hours, you have to discipline yourself into creating that work time and creating a solid marketing plan that keeps you working and earning.

It takes some accounting

You’re going to learn –hopefully not the hard way – that your earnings are not all yours. As a freelancer, you’ll be paying quarterly taxes to federal and state entities, and if you intend to retire before you die, you’ll be putting aside enough money in an IRA to accomplish that. It was the toughest lesson I had to learn, and I’m still learning how to do it all properly

Writers, what were your circumstances starting out? How long was it before you were earning a decent annual wage? Did you plan? Do you plan now?

Lori Widmer is a veteran writer and editor who finally has a sound accounting plan in place. She blogs about all things writing-related at Words on the Page.

Two newsletters:
Abundant Freelance Writing – a resource for freelance writers including 3x a week job postings.
Writing With Vision – for those who want to get a book written.


{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Well, I took the full-time leap in mid 2010, when I realized that a steady job that offered feast wouldn’t beat being a writer in famine. Of course I am being a tad dramatic here.

    I didn’t take the leap before I had a solid CV to fall back on (if I needed to get a well-paying office job, I could get one), and saved a little from my first (and hopefully last) office job.

    Of course it helped that I had supporting parents and I decided to educate myself in all things blogging, as well as freelance writing. I am not well-off yet, but I’m headed in the right direction- as a freelance writer/blogger as well as a social media consultant.

    So it is important to follow your heart, right after your mind has taken some precautions first;)
    Pinar Tarhan recently posted..What Editors Can Learn from the Movie Up In The AirMy Profile

  • Hi Lori:

    Wonderful post!

    I was a 23 year computer operator who got tired of my boring job, so I made the leap.

    Being a full-time freelance writer has NOT been easy for me. Last year was my first full year, and I made mistakes galore. Then again, I hade many successes as well.

    I once heard a fellow freelancer say at an ASJA conference, “Decide that you’re going to do this for personal and professional reasons.” And, he also said, “If you not treating it as a business, it’s a hobby.”

    I’m still learning here, in my second year, and one of the things I’ve learned is that freelancing is a great way of life.


    • Sounds like you received great advice, Steve.

      The road IS rough in the beginning. But the more you read and the more you listen to what veteran writers are saying, the faster you’ll overcome challenges (and maybe avoid a few) and grow.

    • With luck Steve,you’ll be learning when you’re in your second decade of writing as well.

  • I’m sick and tired of people saying to me, “Oh, I want to be a freelance writer and make easy money.”

    My response,”Good luck to you.”

    YOu need determination, motivation, self-discipline, and passion. There’s nothing “easy” about it, but if you love it, it’s very fulfilling. Especially when you don’t accept less than you’re worth.
    Devon Ellington recently posted..Wednesday- April 6- 2011My Profile

    • Absolutely you do, Devon. I think it’s the first lesson – and sometimes the final lesson – all freelancers learn. This job is by far the hardest I’ve ever encountered, but I learned it like I learned every other job. And I continue to learn. It’s not static, which is another reason I love it.

    • lol, easy money? Not hardly!

  • My story was I quit my 6-figure day job during one of the worse economic times back in 2008. I didn’t plan the date and time – the fact that it was 8 PM and I was still at the office during one of the busiest times of the year in our business probably had a lot to do with it. 🙂

    Although I didn’t plan the date, I had been researching the idea for quite some time. However, no matter how much you plan, there are still aspects that you are not prepared for. The business side is a biggie.

    This is a great post, Lori, because you really do need to understand why you want to freelance and what that means. Having 30+ years in Corporate and making 6 figures the last several years did not deter me. I knew I wouldn’t be making that out of the blocks and that was definitely okay with me. The quality of my life was much more important. And I am convinced, I would have died if I kept on the path I was going on. That can be quite the motivator for me to keep plugging away at this freelance thing. 🙂

    And it helps to be stubborn as all get out. Great post and food for thought, Lori!
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Word Pet Peeves Are a Sure WinnerMy Profile

    • Cathy, you are proof that if you set your mind to it, it can happen. Congratulations – you’ve made the transition well, and it’s great seeing you thrive! 🙂

  • Hi Lori, great piece. As a freelance writer myself, I think this career choice is one of the secrets to life. Perseverance is key. As is determination. Sometimes you just have to say to yourself, “there is no room for failure”. And really, failure is just another word for “opportunity”. An opportunity to learn how to do it better next time. Because if you stick with it, there’s always a next time 🙂

    • Great point, Mona. I remember a turning point for me was when a fellow freelancer said, “You have to treat this job as if it’s your only option.” It changed my perspective entirely. I knew then if I wanted to make a go of it I had to put both feet in and find a way to make it work.
      Lori recently posted..Space Not AvailableMy Profile

  • You tackled this topic well Lori. It goes back to the fact that essentially your freelance writing career is a business and it must be conducted as such. I love how you point out that some of your earnings aren’t all yours (those pesky taxes!) – lol. And you most definitely must continue to set funds aside for savings and retirement! Great advice.
    Kimberly recently posted..Are You Ready for Spring BreakMy Profile

    • Kim, the challenge for freelancers (for this freelancer) is lassoing the tax and savings end of things. But it’s just one more business challenge that can be conquered. I’ll let you know when I’m there. 🙂
      Lori recently posted..Ebooks and Learning &amp Discounts – Oh My!My Profile

  • Great overview of the requirements for a successful freelancing career Lori!
    Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing recently posted..Does Your Blog Stumble on These Easily-Fixed RoadblocksMy Profile

  • Lauri

    I fall into the category of “lost my job and two days later was freelancing.” Motivation indeed! I’m going on Successful Year No. Six so it seems like it’s worked out. 🙂

  • For me, it started with my personal blog. Before that, I had offered to do plenty of freelance jobs (practically for free) and no one wanted me.

    After I had a link to a successful blog, written by me, the work slowly started to trickle in. After I had THREE links to show possible employers (my personal blog and two blogs I continue to write for professionally), I managed to make enough money to quit my other work. That was all in about four months.

    I have never, and probably will never, plan. I just write and write and write and write. I look for work constantly. Sometimes the work is hard, and sometime I honestly think it’s not for me. But what can I say? I love writing. I’m living my dream (or at least an acceptable version of it).

    The only plan I have is to get better, write more, get better jobs, make more money, one day get famous enough to scare Stephen King off (the last one may never happen).

    Oh, and my wife manages the money. She’s good at it, and that way I can always focus on the next job. And the funny thing is, I neglect my blog now, since I’m so busy writing for food. I feel bad about that, though.

    • Anne

      Great story Jacob – although you may want to get back to your blog on some sort of regular schedule just to keep it fresh enough to act as a reference for you… weekly, even twice a month might do it.

    • Actually Jacob, it sounds like you DO have a plan – you write and you look for work constantly. That’s really the only plan you need to build something successful. It can take more at some point in your career, but if it’s working for you now, go for it!

      If I were Stephen King, I’d be scared. 🙂
      Lori recently posted..Ebooks and Learning &amp Discounts – Oh My!My Profile

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