By 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.
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.