Lots of would-be writers ask me about making the switch from a conventional job.
But I’m always cautious about making the recommendation. Freelancing doesn’t work out for everyone.
That’s why I’ve written posts like 5 Surprises New Freelance Writers Face and 21 Hard Decisions Freelance Writers Face. I want to give prospective writers a balanced picture of what it’s like to be a freelance writer.
In this post I revisit the question of whether you should become a freelance writer. If you’re considering freelance writing, I hope this helps you make the right decision.
When Freelance Writing’s Not For You
I’ve been freelancing a long time now–fourteen years. Freelancing has been good for me. It’s given me the opportunity to write interesting pieces and learn new things. I never would have had those opportunities in a corporate communications department.
You’d think I’d be urging all writers to become freelance as quickly as possible. But as good as freelancing has been for me, I’m aware that it doesn’t work out for everyone.
Some reasons that people start freelancing are red flags. Freelancing can’t solve every problem.
If you want to become a freelance writer for any of the following reasons, you may want to reconsider:
- You don’t get along with your coworkers. If you don’t get along with your coworkers now, you’ll probably have trouble getting along with your clients. If anything, people skills are more important for freelancers. You’ll have to deal with a wide variety of personality types.
- You’re strapped for cash. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Freelancing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Yes, you can earn a living as a freelance writer. But it often takes several months before you can support yourself with your freelance work. In the meantime, you need to rely on your savings.
- You want to earn money without working. It’s true that book authors receive royalties, but those won’t provide a living wage unless you write a best seller. According to a study from the Author’s Guild, many authors earn below poverty level. Read about it in Rachel Deahl’s article, New Guild Survey Reveals Majority of Authors Earn Below Poverty Line on Publishers Weekly.
- You don’t like dealing with business details. At its core, freelance writing is a business. It involves lots of non-writing tasks. Tasks like billing, writing proposals, promoting your business, and keeping accounting records are all important. If you don’t know what it takes to run a business, take a class at your local community college to find out.
- You hate to promote yourself. To do well as a freelance writer, you will have to develop some selling skills. If the idea of talking about your strengths makes you uncomfortable, you’ll probably have trouble selling. Not only do you have to talk about your strengths as a freelance writer, you also have to explain why you’re worth what you charge.
- You want freedom from supervision. Freelancing takes a lot of self-discipline. If you only perform tasks because you know your boss is looking, you may have trouble as a freelancer. Most freelancers work from home. They receive a deadline and they’re expected to meet it. No one checks up on you to make sure you are actually working on the project.
If this post makes you think twice about quitting your day job, good. Rushing into freelance writing without careful consideration is usually a bad plan.
Thankfully, freelancing doesn’t have to be all or nothing. In most cases, you can work your day job and still start a freelance writing business. (Make sure you didn’t sign a non-compete agreement with your current employer.)
A Better Alternative
I’ve become convinced that for many would-be writers, it’s best to start part-time. If you’re thinking about becoming a freelance writer, consider the advantages of this approach:
- You keep your day job. You have an income (with benefits) coming in while you build a client base.
- You build an emergency fund. Save any income you earn as a part-time freelancer in your emergency fund.
- You learn the ropes. You get to try sales, record-keeping, and other unfamiliar tasks.
- You can experiment a little. Starting part-time gives you a chance to try out different types of writing.
- You still have your job. If you start freelance writing part-time and decide that it is not for you, you still have an income.
If you decide to start freelance writing on a part-time basis, here are some tips:
- Charge a living wage. Some part-time freelance writers charge far below what they are worth. Remember, when you transition to full-time freelancing you will have to live off of what you earn.
- Set time aside for writing. Since you have a full-time job, you’re busy. It would be easy to put off your writing projects. Choose certain hours each week to work on your freelancing.
- Keep good records. Even a part-time writing business is still a business. When tax time comes you will need to know what your expenses and revenues are.
- Be patient. Most successful freelance writers didn’t get where they are now overnight. Chances are it will take time to build your freelance business.
Have you recently started a freelance writing business? Did you start full-time or part-time? What obstacles did you face?
Share your thoughts in the comments.