It’s been more than six years since I chose to start freelance writing. For the majority of this time, my work as a freelance writer was my sole source of income. In the process, I’ve learned as much as I can about the world of content marketing and all of the new ways a truly international workforce comes together to serve clients from around the globe.
The gig economy is an exciting place. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were tempted to dive in and start freelance writing. The idea of working from anywhere with a laptop and an internet connection is hard to beat.
So, if you’re on the fence, allow me to share with you some of my experiences. That way you can decide for yourself whether or not 2018 is the year you should start freelance writing.
Discipline is a son of a $#!@.
Entrepreneurial freedom, in its truest sense, sounds so exhilarating when you’re stuck in a cubicle, working for “the man”. Maybe that’s why the gig economy has exploded to make up more than a third of the US workforce. But remember, a huge percentage of the gig economy are 9-5 office jockeys with a side-hustle. It takes real cojones to dive in without a safety net. To be honest, if it weren’t for the fact that I faced some health issues and needed to be able to work from anywhere, I may not have made the leap.
The biggest challenge about not having a boss to drive you crazy is, well, the fact that you don’t have a boss providing constant reminders to be productive. It’s so easy to fritter away an entire day by scrolling through facebook for five minutes, watching an episode of The Office and talking with a friend on the phone. I mean, hey, you’re the boss now. You get to set your own schedule. And that schedule gets pretty #$%& up if you take your eye off the ball.
If you’re going to start freelance writing, it’s important to get really, really good at disciplining yourself. You can’t imagine how fast time flies when you’re working for yourself. And the deadlines you promise clients really matter. Especially for this next part…
You’re going to grind a lot more than your morning coffee.
When you first start freelance writing, you’re a nobody. You don’t have clients. You have no idea what to charge for your freelance writing services. And you’re probably scratching your head, wondering where you can find your first client.
The various platforms that support the online gig economy are your best friend and worst enemy. This part is going to be extra painful – I’m warning you now. But it’s how I made it here, and if I can do it, I’m pretty sure we can get a trained monkey to do it – depending on our supply of bananas.
Create a profile on a site like UpWork or Fiverr. Take the time to showcase all of your skills and talents, as long as they’re relevant to freelance writing. Then spend a decent chunk of time applying for every opportunity you think you can handle. Your purpose, at this stage, is to build a publicly verifiable track-record of wowing clients. You don’t just need to be good. You need to knock their socks off.
But here’s the part that sucks. For the better part of your first year, you’re going to need to accept less than 30% of what you’d like to charge. My first project involved writing filler content about garage door openers. It took me 7 hours and I think I made $30. Yeah. Slave wages.
BUT!!!! I scored a killer client review. Finally. I had someone else in the world say that I knew what I was doing.
Oh, and if you’re feeling intimidated about sending a proposal, do what I did: Instead of a form or outline, send them a letter. Yeah, a nice digital message that explains where you’re at in life and how much it would mean to you if they gave you a shot. And no, I’m not talking about e-begging for your first client. I mean, lay your cards on the table. Explain that you have this really cool background, but it’s not online. You’re transitioning from offline to online freelance writing, and you need their help getting the ball rolling. If you explain that you’re willing to take a steep pay cut in return for their honest feedback about the quality of your work, you’re going to come across as strategic instead of desperate.
I did this strategy for a few months. I slowly raised my rates. And at the end of my first year, I had more than 40 online reviews from verified clients singing my praises.
If you’re focused on earning X dollars per unit of time, you shouldn’t start as a freelance writer.
Goals are great. And your revenue rate is important. But, in the beginning, you need to value experience more than dollars. This is why Fortune 500s get to take advantage of desperate college students for next to nothing. Experience is the most critical ingredient in building a freelance writing business. The cut-rate hacks hiring overseas writers on the internet are your friend – at least in the beginning. They’re going to ask for discounts, and then more discounts. You have to draw the line somewhere, but if they’re willing to give you a shot, you need to take their offers seriously.
Why? Well, it isn’t for the free carpet rides. You’re going to learn a ton about how the freelance writing market really works. The good, the bad and the ugly. And you’ll need that experience in order to monetize your daily life. Remember, you’re the CEO, the janitor and everything in between.
If you’re solely focused on making X number of dollars per hour, you’re going to burn yourself out very quickly. And an overworked, overstressed writer blows deadlines and delivers garbage content.
Mark Twain once said, “Write without pay until someone offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this as a sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.”
The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, if you’re willing to put up with BS by the truckload, is the opportunity to live a truly mobile lifestyle. My commute to work is about seven steps from my bed. If I want to spend time with loved ones, I am free to travel and work from their guest bedroom. And if I want to make more money, all I have to do is accept more contracts or pour some more time into some of my affiliate marketing/e-commerce projects.
I was surprised by the opportunity to manage TYB. This certainly is a new chapter for both myself and the rest of the TYB team. But not knowing where you’ll end up is half the fun.
You’ll find that the path is difficult to traverse and often impossible to see, but I wouldn’t trade anything for these past six years. I’ve learned more about myself and the way that online communication works than I’d have ever been able to read in a book. Learn by doing and you’ll never have a dull day in your life. And once you learn how to be your own taskmaster, the world truly is your oyster.