You’ve done your fair share of writing and have decided to jump into full-time freelancing.
You can set your own hours, work where you want, choose your clients – everything about freelancing sounds good.
But, as many writers who try it have found, becoming a full-time freelance writer has its own specific challenges.
Here are few things you ought to do before making the transition to full-time freelancer:
1. Start Your Freelancing Career by Freelancing on the Side
First and foremost: do not quit your day job cold turkey—at least, not yet. A full-time freelance career is a huge financial risk, and you need to save up the funds (let’s say four to five months’ expenses) to support yourself and your dependents. That means maintaining your day job until you can comfortably remove that steady financial safety net.
But just because you’re practicing restraint doesn’t mean you cannot get a head-start on freelancing. Chase down listings of freelance writing jobs – on Craigslist, freelancer forums etc. Ask around town for writing jobs you can do on the side.
Update your resume and start applying to everything. Ask business contacts for freelance writing gigs and start building a client base while maintaining a full-time job.
Take jobs, even if you don’t like them. While you may think that freelancing lends you the freedom to do what you want (and, to an extent, it does), not taking on a paying gig in the hope that the perfect client comes along is foolish. You need the money, and that includes taking on unpleasant or mundane gigs.
Writing on the side does two things: it builds your freelancing portfolio, showcasing your abilities, and it helps to maintain money flow during your transition to full-time freelancing. The more gigs you can schedule before quitting a steady job, the better.
2. Pick Your Expertise
Pore over your portfolio and carefully consider where your passions and talents lie. Having a clear specialization is a great way to build your reputation and net a higher fee from clients. With your portfolio of completed writing projects in one field, you can pitch to publications for a steady column, which is a great way to ensure you have a steady income each month.
This isn’t to say that general freelance writing doesn’t work. It does, but you’ll be working a lot harder. And you’ll face more competition.
3. Set Goals
Having a clear picture of where you are and where you want to be is the most important step to take when building a full-time freelancing career.
Take out a pen and paper (or do this on your computer) and list your financial, professional and personal goals for your freelance career. Add a timeline – by when you’d like to accomplish each goal. And pursue your goals aggressively.
In your financial plan, for instance, you might want to set the annual income you want and work towards it with an effective hourly rate. Let’s say your goal is to make $60,000 in your first year as a freelancer. It’s doable, but you’ll need to figure out what your effective hourly rate should be to help you decide what jobs to take.
Here’s a quick way to calculate your hourly rate: take your goal ($60,000) and divide it by the number of business days in a year (for 2013, it’s 251). The answer ($239) will be your daily income goal – the amount of money you ought to make each working day. You get the hourly rate you should be charging by dividing your daily goal by 8 — the number of hours you would work on a typical business day. In this case, the hourly rate will be $29.88.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily charge $29.88 for every article you write, but it is your effective hourly goal. So if someone approaches you with an assignment to write a $15 blog post, take it and crank it out in half an hour — you’ll be surprised at how fast you write when you know taking more time means a cut in income!
And that’s just your financial goals.
Set professional goals by listing the publications you’d like to write for, and identifying how you can contribute to them. Then pitch articles to each publication. Never write a full article until your pitch is approved.
4. Learn the Nitty-Gritty of Freelancing
When you start your freelance career, realize this: you are, first and foremost, a business. This means you need to invest in promotional materials (like a website and business cards), negotiate contracts (everything from compensation to publishing rights), and file freelancing taxes (learn to itemize your deductions).
That means marketing yourself and networking. Go to networking events outside your field and talk to as many people as you can. Tell them you’re a freelance writer. You’ll make some great contacts and meet people who might be willing to help you or, as is often the case, want your help in getting their name out there.
You also need to track and make subtle changes to your habits. One great habit to pick up is to always have a notebook and pen on you. Ideas can strike anywhere at anytime, and stories can unfold in the unlikeliest of places – always being prepared for an opportunity is the hallmark of a well-organized freelancer.
Do you waste time online? Track your time usage to make sure you’re using your time to further your goals.
Then there’s the issue of contracts. Contrary to popular belief, contracts aren’t a sign-or-die situation for a freelance writer. You may feel you have to take what’s initially offered, but you don’t — especially when it comes to publishing rights. Always read your contracts carefully to make sure the document is agreeable to you as well.
Never write for free unless the publication in question is prestigious and has a large audience, letting you net a higher fee from other publications. Paying for material may not be an option for some publications, but that’s their problem, not yours. Never write for the promise of employment or payment in the future. Ever. Just don’t.
This isn’t, of course, an exhaustive list of things that newly minted freelancers ought to know. There are countless blogs and books on the subject of freelance writing. Consult as many of them as you can – having more information means you are better prepared.
As the most experienced freelancer will tell you, standards change over time, and not always to your advantage. Keep up with these changes by participating in the freelance community and establishing regular working relationships with other freelancers.
Freelancing can be rough. You might be working weekends, and you’ll likely run into a bad client or two. But being able to call the shots and making it on your own is one of the most satisfying feelings you can ever have. Good luck, and don’t get discouraged.
Have any tips or experiences you’d like to share? Add them in the Comments section below!
About the author:
John Gower is a writer for NerdWallet, a personal finance website dedicated to helping writers save money with financial tips on everything from marketing strategies to the best online savings account rates.
Image: Writing outdoors courtesy of Bigstockphoto.com
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