business of freelancing

Are you ready to become a full time freelance writer?

By October 24, 2017 June 29th, 2019 10 Comments

Around this time last year I started thinking about going full time as a freelance writer. It was a scary thought – would I be able to earn enough money, would I be able to maintain the energy required to run a small business (which is effectively what you’re doing when you’re a freelance writer), was I still going to love writing if it became my full time job and was I going to be successful?

They are big questions to ponder, especially when the average pay for Australian freelance writers isn’t always that great

Before I started freelancing full time I wasn’t quite sure what questions I needed to ask (and answer) in order to feel secure in my decision to earn a living from freelance writing. In retrospect, I think I should have asked myself these four questions below. 

Are you ready to become a full time freelance writer?

1. Are you committed to maintaining relationships and building new ones?

This may seem obvious, but 10 months into being a full time freelance writer, I think this is one of the most important things I’ve learnt.

Freelancing is all about relationships. 

Yes, editors will move on, but the nature of freelance writing is that editors and clients need content. So keep in touch with editors who move on and with clients even when the work dries up. But don’t just keep in touch because you want to get more work, be authentic in your interactions with them. If you see an article you think they might find interesting, let them know, or if they share news on Twitter or LinkedIn, comment and engage with them.  

So much of the work that has come to me this year (without pitching)  has come through word of mouth or just from keeping in touch with editors and previous clients that I’ve really enjoyed working with. 

If you are considering freelancing full time, you’ll need a number of publications or organisations to write for to ensure that you are spreading out your risk. So if the work dries up with one editor or client, you have others to fall back on.  

In October 2016, I was regularly writing for several publications. Sure, I had written for lots of others, but I didn’t have rock solid relationships with those editors. I knew that in order to ramp up my work (and income), I’d need to either get more work from existing editors and/or diversify.

I had some income from some content work and some research work, but when freelance writing was a side hustle, I never invoiced for more than $5000 a month. In fact, I looked back over my monthly invoices for 2016, and on average I was invoicing for $1500 a month. 

Not enough for a family of four with a mortgage to live on.

In the months building up to 2017 I made a concerted effort to let editors know that I was keen and available for more work, as well as pitching to new publications. To start, my plan was to pitch more to the editors who knew me and my work, and from there pitch to new editors and potential clients.

Even now, while I have almost more work than I can handle, I’m still reaching out to new editors and sending out letters of introduction because I know that to have financial security as a freelance writer, you always have to have your eyes on the future. 

Building relationships isn’t just about editors and clients – it’s also about having a community (or even just a few people) around you who get what you do. While freelancing is becoming more common, lots of people who work 9 – 5 don’t really get what it’s like to be a freelance writer. Being part of some great Facebook groups for freelancers, or attending meet-ups for freelancers can really help you stay motivated (and sane).

2.     Do you have a financial buffer?

I can’t stress how important this is.

Freelancing can be fickle – invoices get delayed, lost or misplaced, pitches don’t get answered, clients and editors move on, and in the beginning, it takes a whole lot of energy to ramp up to a full time workload.

This is where it’s vital to have a financial buffer in your bank account.

Some people recommend having three to six months worth of living expenses and I think that’s solid advice. 

Before going full time my partner and I saved enough money to cover the inevitable flux of income.

And I also made an important decision. Since I wasn’t going to be getting a regular pay cheque, every fortnight I pay myself a ‘wage’ out of the buffer.

This means that regardless of whether I made that amount during the fortnight, I have some regularity to my income.

It can be hard to come up with sparkling ideas for pitches or send out endless letters of introduction to potential clients, but there’s nothing more anxiety-producing or inspiration-stopping than when you know you need 5 or 10 great ideas or a couple of new clients right now in order for you to eat next week. 

RELATED: When I started freelancing, I organised a very simple excel spreadsheet to set up my target monthly income – I credit this with really focusing me on the income I needed to earn each month. You can read about how it dramatically increased my income in this blog post.

Writers have asked me for a copy of the spreadsheet so I’ve made it available for download here.

3.     Do you really want to be a full time freelance writer?

For some people, being a full time freelancer just doesn’t work. It doesn’t make them happy.

The hustle for work, the potential for isolation and financial insecurity don’t always add up to happy campers.

As a freelancer, you’re not only a writer, but an accountant, an IT technician, a boss, an employee, a creative entrepreneur – you’re juggling all kinds of balls at once.

If that doesn’t fit with your life right now, there is no shame in recognising that going full time is not viable for you, for whatever reason.

I think we often have a tendency (or at least, I do) to make grand statements about our future path, but those statements often just put more pressure on ourselves. My philosophy has tempered over time. I now tell myself that I’m going to try a new thing and if it doesn’t work, that’s ok, I’ll try something else. 

You don’t have to be a full time freelancer to be a success. Having a part time job for cash flow and security can really ease your mind and free it up for thinking about great stories for the days you do have to write.

Sometimes I’m presented with great opportunities and I often feel as if I have to take them. But just because the opportunity is there, it doesn’t mean you have to take it. Do you really want to work full time as a freelancer, or do you just want to want to be a full time freelance writer?

4.     Are you prepared for the lag?

When you start freelancing full time you have to prepare for living a few months in the past.

What do I mean?

Well, pitches to editors may take days, weeks or months to get commissioned (I recently had an editor commission me five months after my first pitch), invoices do not get paid immediately –  in fact, if you are writing articles for magazines and newspapers it’s likely that you won’t get paid until at least submission, and more likely, on publication.

That can means days, weeks or months (or even years – yes, I’ve waited over a year for an article to be published) until pay day. At any one time I have multiple overdue invoices. It’s just part of the business. It shouldn’t be, but it is. 

As you know, I started freelancing full time at the start of this year and it was only last month that my monthly income was comparable to what I was invoicing for.

So it takes a while to catch up and stabilise. You have to play the long game with freelancing, so if you make the decision to become a full time freelance writer, it’s likely that you won’t really feel as if you’re full time (either in terms of work load or income) for at least a few months. 

It’s like a ball rolling down a gradual incline – it takes a little while to gather speed, but once you do, you’ll be off. 

Are you a full time freelance writer or want to be one? What do you need to be ready to go full time?

 

10 Comments

  • Jennifer Morton Writer says:

    I’ve recently made the decision to do the opposite of this. I’m no longer freelancing full-time. I made big mistakes in the beginning (no buffer was just one) and I just couldn’t recover from them.

    I’m now working at a hotel and writing on the side (which I plan to reduce to minimum over the summer). Hotel work is still in line with my goal of travel writer and I’m happy with my decision.

    I also want to get back to novel writing, which has been a no-go for years now (because I was too consumed with making money from writing).

    My mind is a lot more peaceful and I actually can have real days off when I’m not in "monkey-mind" mode about pitches and ideas.

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Sounds like a good decision Jen. I envy you not being in "monkey-mind" mode – I think there’s a lot to be said for slowing down!

  • CJ says:

    I really need to increase my hours. I’m struggling to build up momentum at the moment. I have some work on, but getting it done always seems to mean that I don’t put in the time on building the business. It’s great to have jobs, but I need to put some effort into finding more. Your experience is a great example of taking the plunge and getting it right. Well done you!

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Oh it’s such a tricky balance CJ – finding time to market yourself but also do the work. I try to do around 10 – 15 minutes each day – it may be a simple retweet, liking or commenting on a LinkedIn post, sending off a letter of introduction or brainstorming some ideas .. that way it doesn’t seem like such a huge chore.

  • Thank you so much, Lindy, for sharing your experience and advice about this – I love how you write in a very clear, practical way, sharing your own experience with simplicity and honesty.

    I’m currently a full-time freelance writer (/translator/proofreader), living in Lyon, France, but do not make a living exactly as I want to, meaning I would like to do more creative writing and less business writing (I’m specialized in business meetings minutes). I’m currently in my confort zone (and never too worried about where from and how much money will come in every month – which is a great feeling to have as a freelancer), but would like to gradually step away from it to dare do more food writing, especially, and earn more, too.

    I liked the advice you gave. Two things that have worked for me are :
    1 – Having a financial buffer: a definite plus if you want to sleep at night!! The more I save, and keep that savings amount steady, the freer I feel to accept – or refuse – work that suits me and my personal and family needs.
    2 – Making my activity as varied as possible: I kind of haphazardly fell into doing translation – which I have a degree in – and proofreading as an addition to my "traditional" basic activity. It has become a rather regular activity over the months, and I love switching from writing blog posts, to business writing, to doing a culinary translation, to proofreading the magazine I work for, to writing for a local publication. I wouldn’t want to go back in time and not have as varied an activity and working weeks!

    xo from the French capital of gastronomy! 😉

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Thanks for your lovely comments Anne-Liesse. As you have regular work coming in, it sounds like you’re in the perfect position to dabble in some food writing with the view to it becoming a bigger part of your writing life and income.
      I love your second point about diversifying your income – that’s so important!

  • Kristin says:

    Great tips! The lag time is an interesting thing to get used to. I LOVE freelance writing so far and need to find more clients and write more articles. Luckily I live on a sailboat so my cost of living is super low. I could happily live on $1500 per month, thank goodness!

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Thanks Kristin! I think once you know about the lag, it’s much easier to deal with! I love that you live on a sailboat – I hope you’ve written an article about that?!

  • Dave Fagg says:

    Hey Lindy – thanks for the great post :). You always have excellent, and practical, tips. I’ve been doing freelance writing as a side hustle for 10 months on top of full-time study/work. However, my regular paid work is reducing by a day next year and I was thinking of spending that time to build up my profile and relationships with potential clients. My eventual aim is to be freelancing about $30K per year (nominally 2 days per week).

    Have you seen people do it consistently part-time? I can see some of the difficulties with it, such as the constant stream of communication involved, but I really don’t want to be doing full-time freelancing, at least for the next 5 years.

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Hi Dave, thanks for your comment – lovely to hear from you. Sounds like a great time for you to start thinking about increasing your freelancing load.
      Most of the writers I know freelance part-time (many have small kids, but lots also have other jobs) and some do it really successfully. Like you mentioned, I think there are some potential hurdles in terms of communication and restricting how much your freelancing ‘bleeds’ into other parts of your life, but it’s definitely possible. I know some freelancers get around the communication issue by putting a simple note on their email signature about their work days and hours, so clients/editors can immediately adjust their expectations around replies and communication.

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There’s never been a better time to be a freelancer. But how do you make the leap from writing as a hobby to full time freelancing? The Freelancer’s Year has all the tips and tricks you need to be a successful freelance writer.