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How to Earn a Living as a Freelance Writer

earn a living as a freelance writerIf you want to earn a living as a freelance writer, there are some questions you need to ask yourself and some things you need to do. It might be called getting the business side of your writing career together. Fortunately you don’t have to become a business maven, unless you want to. Learning the business side is actually pretty easy and it doesn’t have to be done all at once, but it does have to be done if you want any consistency in your income. Start here:

How much do you need to earn a living as a freelance writer?

It’s really helpful to know how much money you need to earn to live of your writing income. Even if you think you know, it’s a good idea to actually track all your expenses for at least a month. A couple of things will probably happen. First, you’re likely to be surprised at some of the ways you spend and that may mean you want to make some adjustments. More importantly, however, you’ll be sure about how much you need to earn. If you’ve got a job that pays benefits, realize that you’ll be paying those yourself as a freelancer. And you’ll be paying your own taxes. Make an estimate of both – adding 20-30% is an easy way to ballpark the number. Note that this isn’t a goal so much as a way to come to terms with the more-or-less minimum you need to earn a living as a freelance writer. Write this need to earn number down as both  monthly and an annual numbers.

Will you work part time or full time?

Some begin the transition to earning a living as freelance writer by working a part time job for a salary, and devoting the balance of work time to writing. It can be a great strategy if, and only if, your paid job truly leaves you the time and the energy to getting the writing done.

On the other hand, if you’re able to devote full time to your freelance writing career, you’ll probably get faster results. It’s a judgement call for you to make. Make sure you’re clear on how many hours a week, month and year you actually expect to spend on your writing career.

How many hours can you write every workday?

Most writers, perhaps none, can expect to write eight hours a day, day after day. Okay, according to some, Isaac Asimov wrote more than eight hours a day – I can’t, and most of the writers I know can’t. You need to know or guess how many actual writing hours you can do. Sure it changes depending on what you’re writing, and probably with the phases of the moon and the number of interruptions. As a guide, I find I can get in 3-4 hours of solid writing a day and still be mentally capable of writing the next day. Your mileage will vary of course. It might help to remember that there’s more to a freelance writing business, which is what you’re building, than just the writing. There’s marketing, there’s bookkeeping, there’s… well, a whole lot more that has to fit in your schedule somewhere.

Determine how much you’ll charge for your writing

Using these numbers you can begin to determine how to set your writing fees. If you’re not good with numbers, Jenn Mattern has a nifty and free hourly rate calculator. Chances are the first few times you do this, the recommended hourly rate will seem high to you. If you’ve done a decent job with your numbers, it’s probably not. Spend some time getting used to it.

What do you want to write about?

Your life will be easier if you pick a writing niche or two. Why? Because it helps to focus and you’ll begin to develop a reputation as an authority in that field. John Soares of Productive Writers has a good article on this topic called How I Chose My Freelance Writing Niches. You want a niche than you have reason to believe will pay well for your writing. Also, know that picking a niche today doesn’t lock you into that space forever. Back in the day I had a decent reputation for writing about running. That industry changed and I moved on. Finally, when it comes to choosing a niche don’t drive yourself crazy. There’s no such thing as a perfect topic or niche – quit dithering, pick something and begin writing!

What’s your marketing plan?

Yep, you simply must have some sort of marketing plan in place. Part of that is a website, another business cards. While you need both, you also need something you do daily or at least weekly to get you and your writing in front of the folks who will pay you to write. Maybe it’s making calls to prospective clients, or developing a program for emailing them. Some write letters of introduction and followup with a phone call. Many work one or more trade shows a year, talking with folks, exchanging cards, then following up with phone calls. Lori Widmer, who certainly knows how to earn a living as a freelance writer, offers a wonderful ebook called Marketing 365: Daily StrategiesFor less than $5, it’s a goldmine for writers.

Are you set up to do business?

No, I’m not talking about incorporating – that’s between you and your tax person. Nor am I suggesting you rent office space, buy a new desk or order a bunch of filing cabinets. In many ways, being in business is an attitude. If you’re going to earn a living as a freelance writer, you have to accept, even embrace the idea that you’re in business. That doesn’t mean you’re going to give up your creativity or sell out. It simply means that you’ll pay attention to things like billing promptly, keeping track of your expenses, and saving for things like taxes. When you don’t know how to approach a business decision, you’ll ask for help. You’ll also realize you don’t have to say yes to clients who don’t pay well or who don’t treat you well. You’ll recognize you’re a professional. If you do these things consistently, getting caught up when you get behind, scheduling your marketing and other business activities just as you would a meeting with a client, you’ll discover you really can earn a living as a freelance writer!

For more help with freelance writing business issues sign up for my Freelance Writing Problem Solutions series.

Write well and often,

Anne Wayman freelance writer




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