If you read my business resource page, you probably know that I owned a little freelance agency once upon a time. While it is certainly one way to own a business, it was definitely not my favorite way. However, for some people, freelance writing may be the ideal way to start your own business. As such, I have enlisted the help of a successful full-time freelance writer (Vuk M) to detail what it is like to be a full-time freelance writer, and how to get there. Read below.
Writing is easy. Writing well is excruciatingly difficult. If you want to become a full-time freelance writer you will need more than just a computer and a few basic programs. Thankfully, most of these necessities are already inside you and the only question is if you are able to find them.
Being a writer means being able to transfer information and emotion through text, which is a very delicate process if you want to do it well. Even those who have been doing it for years and decades find themselves lacking at certain points and need the effort to get back on track.
To live from being a freelance writer, you will need to be a good one. For that purpose, you will need to find a balance between the literary art and the copywriting trade, between the chaos of creation and the very orderly fact that you have a deadline.
Finally, luck is good and can change the timeline of your success significantly. But, there is no four-leaf clover in the world that will surpass skill and discipline.
All Happy Families are Alike…
It is probably not a coincidence that many pearls of literature can be applied to writing. Regardless of their lives, all writers had the perspective of someone who needed to place words coherently.
How you will enter the writing world and become a full-time freelance writer will depend significantly on your baseline. Some will have the support of their family and peers, finishing schools like Northwestern or Emory, while others will suffer ridicule because they don’t want to have ‘a real job’.
Coincidentally, both groups will end up in the same place.
If you are not willing to grab a hold of your life, your emotions, and your thought, no money in the world will make you a good writer. Introspection is the first step in becoming good at anything, and the one writers will repeat multiple times, sometimes in a single written sentence.
Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky came from vastly different backgrounds, which didn’t prevent either from becoming a renowned novelist. Your background, place of birth, ethnicity, race, religion, or sexuality make slight differences in your tone, and zero difference in the quality of the work you can create.
Finding Your Value
The first step in becoming a full-time freelance writer is finding your value. What is the skill you can provide to those who need it?
This process will always require some trial and error because most of us will cling to a fantasy of being something with a nicer name for a long time. Those who fancy themselves novelists or social critics usually imagine a lifestyle of a société and the few writers that became popular during their lifetime.
Writing short stories and op-ed pieces can bring you some notoriety, especially if you can be entertaining, but it will rarely bring home the veggie bacon.
A full-time freelancer must be able to adapt to a new market, to new demand, and multiple different clients. Reviews and lists, so often seen in affiliate marketing, will often be the bread and butter of a freelance writer, with other pieces being there just to spice things up.
Staying open to different kinds of work allows successful writers to survive changes in demands, markets, not to mention pricing.
The first few years of freelance writing, just at the point where you will be exchanging ramen noodles for something more substantial, you will find out a couple of hard truths. Otherwise, you will fail miserably very quickly.
Slight fatigue started to creep in and the fact that talent alone is not enough. Winging every job and trying to accommodate every client becomes unsustainable. Having some discipline by this point would be nice, but is generally uncommon.
It is a paradox of a freelance job that to have great success you will need to experience an increasing amount of failures. Some projects will be much more difficult than others and you need to be resistant to sporadic barraging by a particularly nasty client.
If you have managed to find your value and focus on your optimal themes and subjects, you will start raking in clients and contracts. Success breeds success and the more good references you have people will start trusting you easily.
Not only will this show on platforms such as Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr, and others, it will spread the word of mouth about your good work.
You should realize early that you should never bite off more than you can chew. Piling on more work than you can manage will result in broken deadlines, missed features, and generally subpar work.
It is a misconception that being a full-time freelance writer means working 40 or more hours a week. Five or six hours a day with a two day weekend work the best for most people and ensure that the quality of your writing is consistent.
It is NOT Flashy
Writing is by no means a flashy job and trying to make it so will transform you into a very dissatisfied person. If you are to become famous, do so by doing good work and living a happy life.
Spending hours on social media and parties will spend your energy and drain your creativity. Unless these activities directly contribute to your business, such as promoting a book, or (somehow) reduce your stress levels, you should avoid having an active social media presence.
Focus on communicating with people through your text.
As you may have noticed so far, there is a lot of philosophy in this article that is based on personal realizations and struggles. Even if it doesn’t apply to everyone, in the end, it is easier to understand like this than as a series of ~100 tweets.
Starving Artist isn’t a Metaphor
Creativity is certainly an important factor if you want to be a writer, but it is not the thing that will pay your bills. There is no successful full-time freelance writer that is primarily an artist.
Our closest business kinsmen are carpenters and masons, not painters. You need form, structure, and knowledge of the material you are working with. And, similar to a trade, it develops with practice.
If you try to ‘focus on your art’ you will need a patron before you start, because there is no client in the world that will wait for your magnum opus to be finished. Publishers, portals, and marketers are in this business for the money, and you need to understand that they are under no obligation to sustain you.
Gaining an Edge By Moving Overseas
While there is a choice to be generally surviving as a full-time freelance writer, it is more than possible to thrive and prosper. But, for that purpose you will need to find an edge over all those who are not willing or able, to do what it takes. That’s where geographic arbitrage comes in—moving a low-cost location to get more out of your money.
As writing has become a global market, you will be competing with your peers from all around the world. Some of us who have opted to work from abroad will have significantly lower overhead costs compared to someone working in really pricey cities on the West Coast.
And, to experience this difference you don’t need to go far. For those enamored with the California coast, moving to Baja California just a couple of miles into Mexico will mean the difference between scraping by and being well off.
Evolve and Delegate
Writing is fun, and it is totally okay for it to be the cornerstone of your business. But, consider learning to provide an additional service that might change your working rate significantly.
For instance, learning how to import and make full WordPress pages, as well as source and import photos will be very appealing for clients that don’t want to have too many people on board. It is just a bit of extra work, and it can bring a lot of additional income.
Also, learning how to optimize your articles for search engines and use online tools like SEMRush, Marketmuse, and similar will bring that added value to your job.
Finally, if you know how SEO, editing and importing works, you will be able to delegate those tasks to some junior associates. With more options comes better time management, and with that, you can optimize as to bill every single minute as best as you can.
Focus on What Interests You
Diversifying your interests will make you more flexible, but don’t spread yourself too thin.
There is more than enough work in every field and for every person, and it is much better to focus on the work you like. If you are experienced in the field you will know the inside jokes and the terminology, making your copies hit harder and be more relatable.
Going too far from your interest creates a risk of missing the subject, or focusing on something that the audience will not find interesting.
If you are a social writer, focus on social topics, even in affiliate marketing. We have seen what happens when political writers try to become game journalists. It doesn’t end well.
Be a Rolling Stone
To achieve Nirvana, you need to let go of material possessions. Focus on stocks and bonds.
Good locations for writing often change both because of the market and your own preferences. It is best to be able to move and move quickly. Being tied to one location, especially if it an expensive one to live in, can spell your demise.
For instance, with the law changes in California, it will become basically impossible to be a solo freelance writer. Moving just east of the Colorado River will make all of the difference between having a job and making a state offense.
Pitfalls of Being a Freelance Writer
Regretfully, there is no way to remove the pitfalls of any freelance work, and that includes writing. Some things will just happen and they are not dependent on if you are doing a good job or not.
Knowing about these issues will let you prepare in advance and power through them faster. Keeping your mental and physical health at these points will be paramount and you should never despair when problems manifest.
Your Boss Lives inside You
Being your own boss sounds like a dream and suggests that you can do whatever you want at all times. Directly the opposite is true, as being self-employed just means having your boss live inside your head.
You will never be able to skip work or cut corners, as you know you will be the sole person to suffer if you do so.
Being kind to yourself and mindful of your business and personal duties equally will allow you to make deals with yourself and not overwork your body. If you have mastered the fact that you are not omnipotent and that failures will happen, you will pass periods of inner stress easily and with no permanent scarring.
Writer’s Block is Real
Regardless of the content, length, or type of writing, having a mental block will happen from time to time and last from anything as short as a day up to several months. You will have zero creativity and lines that used to be easy to fill out now are just not appearing on the screen.
Here is where knowing the form and having a trade inside your fingers will save your life.
By doing patchwork of ideas and expressions that you have already written you can make solid quality articles and other types of content even when your brain is offline. They will be far from being your best work and you won’t amaze anyone, but they will be adequate.
If you have more time on your deadline, you may want to amend these texts later when your block has passed, but hopefully, it won’t be necessary.
Global Market is a Double-Edged Sword
A solid full-time freelance writer can make around $55,000 a year, which is a good amount for most places in the US. But, if you are living in a big and expensive city, it will be a hard living.
Additionally, you will be competing with people who live in much more affordable settings. This will include rural Americans, Canadians, Aussies, and Englishmen, but also large percentages of people in Albania and Bulgaria that also speak fluent English.
If you are not willing to move right away to a cheaper country, you will need to be very careful in the beginning and secure a steady stream of high-quality clients. Additionally, working on your savings will be an immediate task, as you will want to prevent going into debt in case of a dry spell.
Improvise. Adapt. Overcome!
In any business, there will be obstacles and a constant drive to offer a better service and better content for a lower price. While writing has a benefit that few people will overcome the first step, it will still slowly change over time.
Keeping pace with the market and bettering yourself constantly will make certain that you always have the edge on your competition and can quickly adapt if large changes to the market happen.
These three pieces of advice will help you a lot if you can internalize them:
Don’t Forget to Read
Regardless if it is fantasy or business, read whatever makes you happy. Join the local library and take a book each week to relax and take in some inspiration.
The more you read the easier it will be to form new sentences and express yourself through writing. Then as you write you will mold and evolve your style, making it even better than before.
New Things are Fun
Learn new things. They can be connected to writing or digital marketing, but they don’t need to be. Having a wider variety of interests will teach you how people in different fields communicate and new perspectives on life.
Mens Sana in Corpore Sano
A healthy spirit in a healthy body! Always take care of your health and wellbeing. Take a little run in the morning or visit your local gym. That will not only keep your body healthy but your mind sane as well.
Writing includes a lot of sitting down, harming your health. This will influence your mental state. If you want to keep a disciplined mind, you will need to discipline your body first.
And sooner will be easier than later.
Being a full-time freelance writer is not hard, but requires some very specific internal steps.
As you will spend a lot of time inside your mind, you will need to prepare it for the tasks incoming. It will always start slow and become harder as you advance, with obstacles all the way.
But, keep your chin up and power through, as there is no better legacy than enriching something with what came from your own head.
The article above is written by Vuk M, a full-time freelancer hailing from Boston but now residing in Eastern Europe.