When you picture the life of a freelance writer, what do you picture?
Do you imagine waking up late, taking a few calls from your editor in the comfort of your own home office, and wrapping work by 4:00 p.m.?
That’s the way some movies and books depict the writing life. If you’ve never written professionally, you may have the wrong idea about freelance writing.
The movies can make freelance writing look easy–glamorous even.
The reality is quite different for most freelance writers. At its roots, freelance writing is about making decisions. Hard decisions.
In this post, I list 21 hard decisions that freelance writers face. To get the most use from this post, skim through the list and answer these questions for yourself.
Decisions Freelance Writers Face
Freelancing means running a business. Running a business means making decisions. And some of those decisions are hard.
As a freelance writer, you’ll need to make decisions about the following tough questions:
- Am I good enough to be a professional writer? As a freelance writer you need to be confident in your abilities, but you also need to be able to know your strengths. If you’re not sure about your writing skills, ask a friend or mentor. Or, you could take a look at the best papers you wrote for school assignments.
- Do I need a coach or mentor? If your writing skills (or your business skills) need a little improvement, you may need some help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Many of the best writers had a coach or mentor when they started out. When choosing a coach consider personality, but also think about how much experience they have in the type of writing you want to do.
- Should I be full-time or part-time? You should know that it can take months or even years to build up a successful freelance writing business. If finances are going to be an issue, keep your day job and start as a part-time freelance writer.
- Do I need a niche or should I be a generalist? Should you specialize in a particular type of writing, or just take any writing assignment you are offered? If you don’t have any professional writing experience, you may want to start as a generalist to try various types of writing. Once you discover what type of work is out there, you can specialize.
- How will I structure my business? Many freelance writers start as a sole proprietor. But, there are other business forms that you can adopt. The business structure you choose for your writing business does have legal and tax consequences. It’s a good idea to ask your accountant or a legal professional for advice.
- Where will I work? Many freelance writers work out of a home office, but that’s not your only option. There are also co-working spaces, or if you’re successful you could rent an office. Some freelancers work well from Internet cafes and coffee shops. A few freelancers even work at their client’s site.
- Which hours will I work? Some work times may be better for you than others. Remember that you also need to be available to clients at a time that is convenient for them. Regardless of the schedule you choose, be sure to define boundaries so that you have enough personal time.
- What type of clients will I accept? Do you want to work with start-ups, established businesses, or both? Do you prefer to work with tech companies? What size company will you work for? Are you willing to work as a subcontractor for other freelancers and agencies, or do you prefer to work with the end client?
- Should I accept xyz project? Each time you are offered a project, you must decide whether it is a good fit for you freelance writing business. Your first impulse may be to say “yes” to every writing job that comes your way, but not all writing jobs are the same. Some require specialized knowledge or experience.
- What will I charge? This is one of the toughest decisions a freelance writer makes. Whatever you decide to charge, make sure that you can afford to live on what you earn. Many freelance writers charge too little for their work. If you’re not sure, many professional writing societies have rate lists you can check.
- Will I accept rush work? Will I charge a rush fee? It’s inevitable. Once you’re a busy freelance writer, clients will contact you with last-minute projects. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to take on a rush job, but if you do accept them I recommend that you charge extra for them.
- How will I market my business? Marketing is part of running a business. If you want freelance writing clients, you need to market your freelance writing business. How you do that is up to you. Fortunately, in today’s online environment there are many marketing options available.
- Should I have a blog or no blog? If you’re a freelance writer, do you need a blog? Many gurus and specialists say “no.” But I say “why not?” Having a blog is the easiest way that I can think of to keep your writing in front of perspective clients. Plus, you’re in control of your blog, so it can even be fun.
- Writing blog or other? If you do decide to have a blog, you need to decide what type of blog it will be. Many writers assume that they need to create a writing blog, but any type of blog can serve as an example of your writing ability. It’s best to pick a topic you know about and enjoy writing about.
- Will I use social media or not? Is social media a waste of time? It can be, if it keeps you from completing paying projects. But, properly managed, social media can be a great way to network with other writers and with prospective clients. It’s up to you whether you decide to use it or not.
- Which social media will I be a part of? If you do decide to use social media, which platforms should you use? There are lots of popular social media platforms out there, but not all will help your writing business. If you’re not sure where to get involved, try to find out where your potential clients spend their time.
- Do I want to grow larger or stay the same? Is your freelance writing business the start of something big? It could be. You could go on to found a PR agency or other writing company. Or, you can stay a solo professional. The decision is up to you.
- Should I hire someone to do my books, or do them myself? Would-be freelancers often don’t think about bookkeeping before they start. Yet, accurate bookkeeping (including tax records) is an important part of being a success. Writers must decide if they will handle their own bookkeeping or hire someone.
- Should I hire other helpers? Some writers hire subcontractors to handle projects for them. This can be a good strategy if you are able to bring in more work than you can handle yourself. But hiring subcontractors comes with its own issues such as loss of control and monitoring work quality.
- Should I invest in training? Extra training may be the competitive edge that you need to successfully compete as a freelancer. But many training programs are pricey–especially if they lead to a certificate or degree. Freelancers must weigh the cost of training against the business benefits.
- Do I need to make a change in my business? If you’re currently a freelancer but aren’t achieving the success you want, it may be time to make a change in your business. Deciding to change can be tricky. How do you know what changes will work?
I feel like this post just touches the tip of the iceberg when it comes to decisions freelancers must make. I’ve listed 21 freelancing decisions, but there are many more.
If you’re a freelancer, what hard decisions have you had to make?