Before I became serious about freelance writing, I was freshly out of school and still held the mashup of part-time jobs I’d stitched together to make ends meet work while I “figured things out.”
Sure, I was looking for a full-time job, probably as a technical writer, because what else do MFAs do? But I wasn’t in any hurry to accept a job that would barely pay more than the three part-time gigs I had going on, and maybe part of me was terrified at the thought of getting pigeon-holed into a tech writing career.
Then, my boyfriend had a horrible accident at work, leaving him in the hospital for five days and out of work for months afterward. To say we were struggling to make ends meet would be understated. Out of necessity, I started looking for freelance writing work.
I landed my first few clients through Upwork, which, although it has its downfalls, is a great place to start looking for work as a freelancer.
Slowly, one project turned into another, and then another, and before I knew it, I had a fourth part-time job and a big decision to make.
Here are some of the tips I picked up along the way that helped me finally make the decision to become a full-time writer.
1. Build a strategic client base
As you begin to take on more and more freelancing gigs, don’t fall into the trap of sacrificing quality for quantity.
While you may feel like you need to frantically acquire new clients in the beginning, it can be helpful in the long-run to hold out for clients who are looking to form a long-term working relationship with a freelancer. That way, you can build more stability as you invest your time in repeat clients rather than trying to juggle a string of one-time clients here and there.
Of course, this can take some time. For me, the mismatched string of clients eventually lead to finding a few diamonds in the rough, but once you dig up these long-term clients, hang onto them.
2. Don’t be afraid to take an unexpected path
When you first set out to freelance, you probably have at least a basic idea of the services you can offer, whether that’s copy editing, content marketing, or digital marketing. But just because you had some success doing line edits for your first handful of clients doesn’t mean that’s the only line of work you should consider. Go ahead, accept the invitation to try a website rewrite or SEO writing, even if you’re not quite sure you want those types of projects.
My first few clients were new authors looking for someone to copy edit their fiction novels. Now, I generate web content for plastic surgeons and dermatologists.
It’s a far cry from anything my former self would have guessed I’d be doing, but had I not popped my head out of the editing door, I would have never discovered the entire basis for my freelance business.
3. Want in? Just ask
If you come across a potential client who you think could benefit from your freelancing service, shoot a friendly email their way.
When cold pitching, you want to first explain who you are, what specific experience you have, and how you think your skillset could benefit their business.
Make sure you back this up by demonstrating an understanding of their company and its unique needs. Then, end with an invitation for a phone call or video chat to discuss their needs and your services in more detail. The worst that could happen is that they tell you “no thanks,” but at best, you land a great client.
4. Be real about your budget
One of the last obstacles that kept me holding onto my office job was the fact that taxes were already taken out of my paycheck.
Saving enough money to (maybe) pay the right amount each quarter can seem like an impossibly daunting task, but don’t let this stop you. Get tax advice from a professional who has experience working with freelancers, and don’t be afraid to pay for them to help you file.
Then, draft a realistic budget for yourself based solely on your income from freelancing. Include your quarterly tax payments, accounting for the fact that some months might be more or less fruitful than others, and resist the urge, however great, to “fudge” numbers in your favor.
Once your budget reflects a comfortable financial life without your day job, congratulations! It maybe time to put your two-weeks in.
Make the switch to full-time freelancer
If I’m honest, there are still times when I can’t quite believe I really did it.
But all in all, deciding to leave my office job and write full-time has been one of the most rewarding, albeit challenging, things I’ve ever done.
There were so many times along the way when I felt run-down, drained and downright exhausted from trying to balance so many responsibilities at once. But until my spreadsheet sang financial stability, I held out.
There’s no doubt that breaking into freelancing can be a bit of a challenge at first, not to mention making the leap from a side gig to a career.
But if you’re honest with yourself about your goals and how you can realistically accomplish them, becoming a full-time freelance writer really isn’t far out of reach at all.