Being new at anything is tough. New freelancers definitely don’t have it easy. It’s likely different than most of the writing you’ve done before, both in process and in consistency. Things tend to move slowly, you’re almost always on your own, and all hopes of being able to
afford take a vacation are pretty much zapped. Also, you don’t really know what you’re doing … which is kind of a problem.
I’ve been there. I’ve struggled. Your first year will be a rollercoaster, but here are some things you can expect.
Finding the work you really want to do is hard — maybe even impossible — at first
I did not start out as a health writer. I couldn’t — I just didn’t have enough freelancing experience for clients to trust me with such a delicate subject. So I started out writing in the productivity, self-improvement and (ugh) fashion spaces, until I logged enough hours to prove I could get my work done on time — and get it done well. You might be able to start out doing exactly the kind of writing you want to do — but it’s not a guarantee. Expect to complete a lot of ‘odd’ projects until you’ve built up the experience necessary to really go after your dream clients.
You might realize you’re really bad at time management
Freelancing isn’t like any job you’ve had before this one. No one’s chasing after you, asking how much progress you’re making. You’re not clocking in and out at the same time every day. Ideally, you create your own schedule — which also means you are responsible for meeting the deadlines your clients give you. If your workspace isn’t organized, if you’re not used to having to juggle multiple projects, you might struggle at first. That’s to be expected. If that worries you, start with just one project and go from there. You don’t have to take on a handful of clients your first week and try making it all work when you’ve never done that before.
You’re not going to make much money, so don’t ask for it
There’s a reason many writers slowly transition into freelancing from their full-time jobs, and not the other way around. No, you shouldn’t let anyone pay you minimum wage or below for your high-quality work — but you do have to understand that all freelancers start at the bottom and work their way up. You can’t start out making thousands of dollars every week — it’s just not feasible. You need to be able to prove you’re worth hiring and working with first, before you can take on multiple clients and demand higher compensation from each. Without the experience to match, asking for a high rate just makes you look bad.
At some point, you’re going to mess up
Things happen. Especially when text communication is the only daily interaction you have with clients. Sometimes, they’re just not good at telling you exactly what they want. Other times, you just do stuff wrong. This is part of the learning process. You’re still figuring out your freelancing strengths and weaknesses. I don’t think it’s fair for clients to expect you to be perfect. Should you turn in your absolute best work, every time? Yes. But don’t let the occasional misread direction or less-than-optimal performance bring you down. You’ll get the hang of it. Clients who understand you’re not a superhuman are worth keeping around.
But by the end of your first year, you’ll have it all (mostly) figured out
By my first freelanciversary, I was able to rely solely on client income to adult successfully (well, relatively speaking). I had a handful of long-term clients I actually enjoyed working with. They trusted me, and I trusted them. I had a better eye for clients that were going to treat me well and those who never would — before I even reached out to them. Most importantly, I’d found where I fit. I’d migrated completely over to my niche, and didn’t feel pressured to do work outside of that. I still sometimes struggle with time management, and wanting to do everything perfectly, and knowing when I can and can’t ask for a higher rate than I’m used to. It’s a constant learning experience. But if you want to write professionally, I’d say it’s a very rewarding place to start.
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.