I’m going to be completely honest with you here: I started freelance writing because I could not find another writing job.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I didn’t have nearly as much writing experience as I thought I did at the time I graduated college. If I would have known freelancing would launch my writing career, I would have started six months earlier. But I didn’t. Because it took me way too long to figure out if I was even ready to do something that seemed so “out there.”
Can you relate? Do you want to try your hand at freelance writing, but you’re just not sure if it’s the right move for you?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you start freelancing.
How disciplined are you?
Can you start, make progress on, and finish projects without being micromanaged? Can you juggle multiple assignments at once, all with different sets of guidelines? Can you just do a lot of things in a timely manner from the chaos of your own home? Because that’s often what freelance writing is like. You’re given a task, and you’re expected to finish it on time. Mistakes are frowned upon (if not unacceptable), and not getting things done means you don’t get paid, don’t get offered more work, or both.
Simply put, not everyone is built to be able to sustain a career in freelancing. It takes a kind of discipline I believe is part learned, part ingrained in your personality. You can become a more disciplined writer — but if you don’t already have this in you, you really might struggle to keep up. That’s not to say you can never freelance. You just might not be ready yet.
How skilled/knowledgable are you?
Some aspiring writers can begin their careers with freelancing with minimal experience — but it depends on the niche and what’s being asked and expected of you. Freelancing is not for learning how to write better (at least not directly), or being taught anything other than how one specific client wants things done. While you do learn how to write better by writing a lot, it’s not your client’s job to educate you. It’s your job to know how to do the work, and learn on your own anything you don’t already know or understand.
Anyone who wants to freelance can make freelancing work for them. Just know that if you’re calling yourself any kind of expert, you’d better have the skills and background knowledge to back that up. I say this coming from the health and wellness niche, but it applies for every field and niche. Know your stuff before you dive in.
Can you consistently provide quality work without expecting feedback?
Another thing clients usually don’t do: give freelancers feedback on their work. It’s one thing to correct small mistakes if it’s part of the client’s SOPs and you need to do it correctly for future reference. But freelance writing works like this: receive assignment, submit assignment, get paid. Usually, there is very little back-and-forth between writer and editor. It’s not because an editor doesn’t want you to do better — it’s just not their job to help you do that.
This took some adjusting for me, since I came into freelancing from an internship program designed to teach student writers how to be better writers. It was strange sending off my work and never seeing or hearing about it ever again. But with this adjustment comes an important lesson about self-evaluation. If you want to do better, you’re responsible for looking over your work and figuring out how to make it better. That’s a really useful habit and skill to have.
How good are you at dealing with people?
Think freelance writers are lucky because they don’t have to be social in an office? You don’t get a pass because your office doubles as your bedroom (or is that just me?). I’ve worked with many clients who have been trained as managers, who are professional, and who are easy (sometimes fun!) to work with. Not every client you cross paths with will be such a blessing. I’ve also had clients who don’t understand the concept of how long research takes, don’t respect my time, yell at me for not giving them exactly what they wanted, assume I don’t know how to do my job because I’m a freelancer/20something/woman/”nutritionist”, and micromanage me so forcefully that I’ve given them their money back and quit after a week. (Side note: do not do this. It is the one and only time I ever have, but in most cases, the money you earn is wholly yours).
Part of freelancing is having really good people skills, at least digitally and professionally. This ranges from sending short, concise emails to building up the courage to ask for more money. Being easy and even enjoyable to work with can completely change your freelancing experience — even if you get the occasional client that is anything but. Sometimes, they honestly just don’t realize their behavior is ridiculous.
Do you enjoy writing — like, really enjoy it?
Because you’re going to be doing a LOT of it. And it’s not always going to seem worth it. I can only speak from my experiences, but on the days clients were rude and things weren’t getting done and I wanted to quit, it was my deeply-rooted love of writing (and the topics I was writing about) that kept me going.
But it goes beyond enjoying the writing process. You also have to have an interest in/passion for what you are writing about. I once wrote 40 articles about men’s fashion for a client. I hated every single minute of it, because I just don’t care about men’s fashion. Kudos to people who do, but if that had been my only freelancing experience, I would have given up within the first few months.
Are you in it just for the cash?
Be honest here. Because — especially when you’re starting out with little experience — new freelancers don’t make much. Even more experienced freelancers who’ve gradually raised their rates, in the grand scheme of things, don’t make much. Can it pay the bills? Sure, if you answered yes to all the above questions. But freelance writing alone will not make you rich. At least not early on. There are plenty of people who make six figures freelance writing. You’re not going to do that anytime soon after starting. Many people never will.
If you’re doing it for the money, just understand that it’s not going to start pouring in right away. My first month, I made $40. You can begin freelance writing with a goal to make as much as you want to. But if you’re expecting thousands of dollars right out of the gate, maybe take a step back and really think about why you want to do this.
As always, your “why” is everything. Why do you really want to freelance? There are no right or wrong answers here. But your response says a lot about whether or not you’re cut out for this. Again — just because you might not be prepared now doesn’t mean you never will be. I wrote and edited for a magazine for free for 4 years before I started freelancing. I desperately wanted to start in college, but knew I wasn’t ready. It’s OK if you don’t start tomorrow. Freelance writing is not a job robots will take away from you. If not right now — someday. You’ll get there. If you truly want to do it, you will find a way to make it happen.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.
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