2020 will be my 5th year as a full-time freelance writer. This means that for the past 4 years I’ve earned my bucks by doing exactly what I’m doing right now: writing. Sitting in front of many laptops, writing for my clients and then getting paid for it at the end of the week or month. It hasn’t always been easy. Mostly it has been. But sometimes it’s been harder than it should’ve been. And that was important because those hard moments made me as a freelancer.
I never took failures as failures. If I couldn’t sleep one night because of whatever thoughts my mind was busy with, I never thought about it as a bad, sleepless night. I took it as a gift and practised my writing or my cold pitching or putting some more effort into the design of my site. Failures are only failures if you’re not learning anything from them. If even the smallest speck of knowledge is taken from a mishap, you’re the winner.
Over the past 4 years, freelancing has made it possible for me to have a good income, to travel all over Europe and further, to enjoy life in all its aspects and to make me a better person as time went by. Here are 10 things that I’ve learned after working as a freelance writer for 4 years. These 10 lessons are now my commandments and whenever things get tricky again, and they do even after 4 full years at the job, a quick read of this list is all I need to get back on track.
You take action, not your clients
No matter how many articles or books you’ve read about freelancing and how determined you are to start at it, if you’re not willing to take action by your own initiative, you’re doomed for failure. No client will ever simply knock on your virtual door begging to hire you, especially when you’re just starting out. Heck, I’m 4 years in and I still look for clients when I’m in need. Action is all that matters, showing them you mean business is crucial.
You have to be great at what you do
I cannot stress this enough. Being great at what you do is important. You can’t be just good, you have to be great if you really want to make freelancing your thing. People always ask me “can you give me some gigs so that I can earn some money from writing?” The answer is always no because you can’t just write things and expect people to pay for them. You have to be incredibly good and to prove it to your clients before they’d even consider you.
Practice, practice, practice
You get good at something by constant repetition. Before I was a freelance writer, I used to write on blogs and work as a journalist in all forms of the media. I took my time learning English from both school and by reading books and magazines in English. I practised my writing every day and I still do. One of the reasons why I’m keeping this blog is to practice my writing every day without it being work-related. Simply exercising my skills keeps me on top of things.
Diplomas are not going to get you jobs
Most freelancers are self-taught. Programmers do better on their own every single time rather than when they’re college-educated. Writers do the same. I myself am a self-taught writer in both my native Romanian and English, and so far, nobody has ever asked me for a diploma. Regardless of how many degrees you have, if you’re not good at what you do, they’re useless.
Keep your spirits up about what you do
Freelancing is not always about freedom, success and money. Once you’re a declared solo freelancer, you’re the CEO, the marketer, the accountant and the staff of your business. You’re everything. You are the business. So getting tired after all of those long workdays and wanting to give up is sometimes normal. The key here is to keep yourself up by staying enthusiastic about your craft. Sure, we all do what we do for the money but if money is the only motivator, that’s not going to be sustainable in the long run.
Going solo might be boring at times
Working on your laptop day after day after day can get quite boring at times. Freelancers are running their own gigs which means they’re often going solo. If you’re one of those people who aren’t doing great while working solo, you might want to consider a co-working space where you can interact with other solo professionals in your field. And still, you’ll have to make peace with being alone. Nobody’s going to be with you late at night when you’re pitching new clients, finishing up those articles and scaling your business all at once.
Niche your services
One of the most important lessons of the past 4 years for me was just how important niche is. Having a determined area of expertise is crucial. Clients to whom you’re presenting yourself as being good at doing everything will quickly smell something is fishy about your services. Instead, try and niche your services to a big domain and at most 3 subdomains. I, for example, am good at blogging, creative and nonfiction or technical writing, which are all writing-related.
Set a goal and put it on paper
Failure might come even with the mildest goal in mind, but failure comes much faster when there’s no goal at all. Money might not be your best bet when it comes to goal setting. In my first year of freelancing, I’ve made peanuts. About $1.000 was my income for the entire year. For.One.Whole.Year. Thank God I haven’t moved out as I planned! Instead, set a goal you can visualise and work on with enthusiasm. For me coming up with a few places I want to travel to in the year ahead always work. I simply print a photo with these destinations and put it somewhere in my room or at the office. Works like a charm!
Freelancing can be done in a heartbeat. You can go online right now, find a freelancing portal, bet the lowest for a gig and there you have it, your first freelancing job is ready to be tackled. And the truth is most freelancers start this way. I sort of started this way too! But then I learned the power of patience and it’s benefits. Patience is a virtue that’s incredibly important and hard to learn while freelancing. Getting that first client and job might be easy but getting the right client is hard. And it takes patience, turning down a few clients and scanning the market for the very best in order to make it there. It requires patience to not get sidetracked into the “just fine clients” genre and wait out on those people who’ll stick with you for months and years.
Success never comes overnight
It takes hard work and many hundreds of pitches and work and no sleep to reach success. Which is something that will vary from person to person. What’s “success” for me might be nothing for you or vice versa. I guess success in freelancing is when you’ve set yourself up as a business and brand, people know you and contact you to the point you have to sort through your clients in order to decide which of them you’re about to let go. When you’ve reached the point in which clients are looking for you and willing to pay more than others, you’re a successful freelancer.
Thanks for sticking with me until the very end of this lengthy post. If you’re one of those people who are looking for a new writer to join their team, I can help you out. I have a few hours per day that are not booked yet in 2020. Hurry up though, as they usually get booked by the end of January 15th. Just shoot me an email and we can talk about whatever project you’re so enthusiastic about starting in 2020!