Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
version 8, draft 8

Do You Have the Guts to be a Freelance Writer?

will write work for food

All the great things you hear about freelancing is true. You have freedom and the highly desired ‘location independent’ status. You can tap away at your computer in pyjamas all day if you wish. No longer do you have to call in sick or grovel to a boss for time off. Your time is your own. You are your own boss. It’s liberating. It can also be lucrative once you get some regular work and clients.

To get to that point though is not easy. It’s blood, sweat and tears in the beginning. It can break you and send you slinking back to a cubicle job with your tail between your legs.

You don’t want that, do you? Not after having the courage to quit that 9-5 job, and let’s face it, it takes a lot of courage to let go of that comforting monthly paycheque to blaze your own trail.

So before you embark on this journey, consider what it takes to walk this road.

Here are some of the challenges and how to deal with it:

1.  Money

If you have a partner or spouse who earns enough to sustain both of you – great! But if not, before quitting your job make sure you have enough funds to sustain you for 1-2 years while you find your feet. Cut down on expenses and start paying off debt before you quit your job.

Money will be scarce in the beginning. It forces you to drastically trim the fat. This experience has made me realise how much I spent on unnecessary things in the past and just how little I do need to live on.

Find a way to supplement your income. I had a bright idea to advertise house and pet-sitting services. Its easy money and I can take my laptop along and carry on working. Some freelance writers write e-books which can bring in some passive income.

2.  Building up a portfolio

If you are a newbie and have no portfolio, then start off writing for free to accumulate some clips. Do some free guest posts or offer your writing services to a small business or NGO free. In return they could provide you with testimonials which would be great for hooking some paying clients. Initially you may need to start with lower rates, but make sure to increase your rate as you start to gain traction.

3.  Finding clients

This requires marketing, marketing and more marketing. Go to networking meetings, approach corporates and PR agencies, ask friends and family to help get the word out, explore online sources and social media for potential clients and regularly apply for freelance jobs. Get connected – both online and offline! But get out there and go find them – they won’t come knocking on your door.

Sometimes it may seem that all your efforts are not paying dividends, but sometimes the seeds you planted only bear fruit months or even years later! I once noticed there was an advertising stand with leaflets and business cards at a local laundromat, and I left some of my business cards there. I had long forgotten about it, when one day out of the blue, someone contacted me enquiring about website copy. Turns out he picked up my business card from the laundromat!

4.  Fear and self-confidence

Writers are sensitive creatures. When we receive negative feedback and rejection we take it personally. It knocks our self-esteem a little. It creates the fear that we are not good enough.

I am not immune to this. It happens and more often than I would like. I fall into the ‘am I good enough’ trap from time to time. Sometimes you get dropped by a client and it’s hard to take it on the chin and just keep going. We drop into depression and would rather wallow under the covers all day.

At times like these, give yourself a break – you’re human. Then remind yourself that every freelancer faces these moments – you are not the only one. Enjoy your pity party for a while, but then get right back up on that horse. Easier said than done sometimes, but if you are REALLY serious about a successful freelance career, then you need to develop a thick skin. Rejection is part of this game. Some of the most famous people we know faced heaps of rejection before they got their big break.

5.  People expect you to work for free or for low rates

This one really irks me. Do you go to a doctor and expect him to treat you for free? Do you take your car to a mechanic and expect him to fix it for free? So why, oh why, do people expect writers to work for free or for pitiful rates? But they do. You will come across them. Content mills and bidding sites such as Demand Studios, Textbroker, Elance and oDesk thrive on this. They pay writers peanuts. You have two choices – accept it and forever struggle to make a decent living OR stick to your guns and continue to actively look for better paying clients.  

So before you make the leap, weigh up all the pros and cons. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. It’s a tough gig. That’s what this is – you will be a solopreneur and this will be a business, not a hobby or a sideline.

If you thrive on challenges, love the idea of ‘doing your own thing’, don’t mind the marketing side of it and are practically chomping at the bit to get your freelance career going despite the challenges, then by all means – jump!

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