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3 Things to Think About Before Starting As a Freelance Writer (Part I)

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

Jumping into a freelance lifestyle seems like a no-brainer. I mean, who doesn’t want to work for themselves and set their own schedule?
With an estimated 59 million people freelancing in the U.S. (as of 2020) and another 30 million expected to join them in the next five years, it’s safe to say, a lot of people are choosing the freelance life.

While the benefits are many, freelance writing isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Yeah, there is no such thing as a salary cap–you choose how much you charge. And technically, you don’t have an answer to any one boss--because, after all, you work for yourself.

Yes. You work for yourself. You are the boss, but have you considered what this means when it comes to your finances?

What about tracking your workload, crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s, and actually, you know, getting all the work done? Spoiler alert: it means that it’s all falling on you.
Ooof. For some, it’s no big deal. This is their cup of tea. But if you’re someone who is on the fence about whether they should or shouldn’t jump on the freelance train, first, read on about three things you should be giving a lot of thought to before making a decision.

You don’t like to talk about finances

Freelance life is synonymous with financial freedom. Which is all fine and good, except, you don’t like to talk about money. Seriously, finances make you cringle. You physically feel your nose wrinkle at the mention of rates.
Hate to break it to you, but you’re going to be talking and thinking about all the financial things. And what's more, record keeping is incredibly important when it comes to tracking income, expenses, and tax payments (no, worries--I've got you covered).

You have to set your own rates
You have an idea of what you should be charging. There are plenty of resources out there that give you a snapshot of what industry standards look like, but a lot of it is clear as mud.

What experience do you have? What kind of services will you provide? How much do you need to make to maintain a lifestyle you find comfortable? Don’t get me wrong, there are no right or wrong answers, but you have to know what you need.

Invoices shouldn’t be hard--and yet
Remember back when you worked for someone else? You punched a clock, or filled out a timecard, or were salaried, and the magic money fairies always made sure that deposit hit your account, same day, same time. Well, ideally, that’s how it should work when you invoice. But it isn’t always the case.

Join any freelance community on the internet, and you’ll find no short supply of horror stories. But, just because most of us have this experience, doesn’t mean you have to.

Keeping safe fails in place, like having a good amount of savings in the bank (if you’re only relying on this income) or clauses in your contract about late payment and failure to pay.

The Devil is in the Details: Proposals, Scope Creep, and Contracts

You’ve finally made initial contact with a client you’re thrilled to work with. So what are you waiting for? Get to work on that project ASAPITY! Ehh. Not so quick.

Do not race past go–because if you do, you could have a helluva hard time collecting your $200 (or whatever fee you set for yourself).

To protect yourself and keep expectations clear between you and your client, hammer out the details before anyone gets to work on anything.

Don’t worry, this might sound more daunting than it actually is. But to get you started, make sure to have a proposal and a contract handy.

A proposal is more or less what it sounds like. You’re proposing the specifics of your work together and what the expectations are for both of you.

I like to think of the proposal as a negotiation. It’s a set of terms you hammer out together, back and forth, until you’re both satisfied with the arrangement.

If you decide to skip this step, you run the risk of the infamous scope creep. You know, when your client adds a little thing here and extends a project there. Before you know it, they’ve changed and warped that initial agreement so far it’s become a whole other project–oh wait. You didn’t do that.

Take this as your sign, don’t be the freelancer who jumps in blindly. Don’t get me wrong, your client (probably) won’t do this intentionally. It's just, you’re just so good they want more and more–which they can have when they book another, separate project.

Similar to a proposal, your contract is going to hammer out all the details. But this time, it’s official, and you’re getting it in writing. Having things in writing makes them enforceable and keeps both parties accountable.
Don’t forget to include clauses that protect the things that are important to you. Like fees for late payments, a minimum notice for ending a collaboration, or how many rounds of edits you’re willing to complete.

Consistency Is Queen: Don’t Rely On Your Muse to Just Show Up

We’ve all seen the writer meme about procrastination. ‘What do we need to do? Write! When are we going to do it? At the last possible moment!’

Case in point. I’ve been working through this post for almost a week. It’s not because I didn’t have a clear outline, it’s because I failed to plan. Yes, when it comes to freelancing, time is money.

I didn’t block time out to work on my blog because I was too busy writing content for all my clients. But without showing off these fantastic writing chops (ugh, typing that made me cringe) how are potential clients going to know that I’m the best for the job? It’s a catch-22.

The bottom line? Making time into your brand, blog, and business is a long-term investment that is well worth it.
And while we’re on the topic of time management, don’t rely on your muse to strike for inspiration. Yeah, sometimes she’ll inspire 5,000 words in one writing session, but nine times out of ten, she’ll leave you with a blank page (or 250 words that felt like 500,000).

Not having a plan and not staying consistent can burn you out really, really fast, and you don’t deserve that.
Consistent content can make or break your entire freelance strategy. Now I’m not saying you have to post something once a day, seven days a week.

I mean, just posting on LinkedIn five days this week felt like a chore. But whether it be on a monthly, biweekly, or even weekly basis, make sure you’re showing up at the same(ish) time and same days each week for your readers and potential clients.

Take Away

Whew! Who knew I had so much to say about freelancing?
Believe it or not, this post actually started off as the six things you didn’t know about being a freelancer. Yes, six! So to give your eyes and mind a break, it’s actually being split into two parts.

But to wrap it up today, remember these three things:

#1) Get comfortable with your freelance finances. Ultimately, you decide your bottom line. Need a tracker? Click here for a free income and expense spreadsheet to get you started.
#2) Cover all your bases. Even the smallest of details left unchecked can create the biggest problems.
#3) Be consistent and build a writing habit, It isn’t easy, but it will save you time (and the urge to pull out your hair) in the long run.
Check back in to read about the other three parts of the freelance life that you might have not thought of but definitely should consider.

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