January 11, 2017 (Updated: November 7, 2023)
A lot of writers believe they can write when the inspiration moves them. They have difficulty adhering to deadlines and shy away from agreeing to due dates. If you’re thinking about joining the 53 million people in the US working as freelancers, it’s important to know that freelancing requires a lot of job skills that, when working for someone else, aren’t as obvious.
For instance, working on your own takes a lot of self-direction and drive. When you work for someone else, there’s someone there telling you what needs to be done and when. Freelance writing is not a hobby, it’s a job. The following delusions will sabotage your efforts.
What writer doesn’t dream of honing his or her craft along the banks of the Seine? But before you buy a plane ticket, you need to know the reality. You must have clients, parents willing to fund your trip, or lottery winnings to accomplish this. Since you’re reading this article, we’ll assume you’re working on the first.
It’s important that you come to terms with the reality that a thriving business creating beautiful content from a quaint coffee shop overseas can only happen once you’ve established yourself. Before that, there’s a lot of hard work involved in getting your name out there and building a reputation as a solid, dependable freelancer.
Yes, you are in charge of the direction of your freelance career, but if you’re writing for business, you’ll need to work for at least several hours during traditional business hours and you’ll need to take deadlines seriously. Many businesses have been burned by great writers with terrible senses of time.
As a writer, you probably want to spend time writing, not marketing your business. The only way to afford that luxury is to cultivate a bevy of return clients. You do this by producing good work when you say you will. There will be stressful days and it’s up to you to handle the workflow. There’s no manager doing it for you.
Okay, so you can write when you want as long as you meet your deadlines, but the only time you know you have for sure is this moment, so pushing everything off until the last minute will cause a work log jam of Texas-sized proportions. Remember, if you’re not writing, you’re not eating. Professional writers can’t afford to wait for the Muse. After all, she doesn’t write checks.
Unless your idea of “working freelance” is writing the great American novel unpaid until publication, you will still have a boss as a freelancer. You will have clients and editors to answer to and while they may not be your direct boss, they will require things of you.
You will also need to be your own boss, pushing yourself to succeed when you’d rather spend an extra hour, or day, in bed and knowing when you need to invest in yourself to further your professional development. No one else will do that for you.
When most people leave a job to become a freelance writer, they envision spending all their day writing and it makes them delusionally happy. This is a pipe dream as grandiose as Gatsby desiring Daisy. A beginning writer will write to pay the bills, but a successful business needs more than client production of content.
You’ll need to market your abilities, build a platform on social media, invoice clients (although with CopyPress, it’s an added bonus that you needn’t submit an invoice each month), share your own content, file and pay taxes, create a portfolio, perform tech upgrades, research professional development opportunities, network, and a whole lot more. You must fill the roles of an entire office staff. You’ll need to schedule these things in the same way you would have scheduled meetings in your former life.
This is probably the hardest bit of advice to hear. In the beginning, when you leave steady employment, there’s a tendency to take any client that approaches you because food and shelter are important. If you do, you’ll wish you hadn’t. Michael Port’s book, “Book Yourself Solid,” explains that every moment dedicated to a client who is not the right fit for your business is a moment taken away from the client who is.
Plus, if you turn out good work and they want to work with you on a regular basis, the fact that the client is not your ideal client is compounded because you’ve now given him/her a larger part of your available time. It’s easier to be discerning in the beginning than to try and explain why you’re no longer interested in working with them.
One of the best things you can do for your writing career is to spend time working on your personal brand. Work social media, build up your LinkedIn Profile, update or start a blog, and begin contributing to online communities where your ideal customer may “hang out.” Building your platform or personal brand is extremely important in getting your name out there.
Crushing dreams time — being a good writer is no longer enough to differentiate yourself from the freelance crowd. You need to be skilled in complementary areas like marketing, social media, search engine optimization, basic image design, and basic HTML.
Businesses need all of these things and often don’t have the time, budget, and inclination to source it all individually so they’ll expect their writers to at least have a basic understanding of these skills. It’s difficult to be a highly-paid freelancer without them.
The difference between a great freelance writer and a good one is the ability to bring more than writing skills to the table, as mentioned above, but if you want to differentiate yourself from the others out there, offer your clients suggestions and notice tie-ins on your own.
For instance, a great freelance writer is also well-read. If you find something in your reading that would appeal to a client, forward it to them and suggest a blog topic or article around it. You can also look for correlations going on in your client’s industry to bulk up your articles and make them more valuable to their audience. In return, this makes you more valuable to your client.
Going out on your own is a big step but with diligence, accuracy, and solid adherence to deadlines you can create a profitable freelance career that can take you to the coffee shops of Paris or anywhere else you want to go.
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