A lot of people don’t believe you can make a living as a freelance writer — or if you do, it’s an unstable and penny-pinching existence. I hesitate to say it, but it’s not as hard as you think it is. If you consider yourself a small business owner and you have an entrepreneurial spirit, you’ll figure out the freelance writing game fast — especially when your income depends on it. Here are the three things that have made me successful as a freelance writer:
1. Steady Gigs.
Let me repeat: you need steady gigs. You need to make long-term relationships with clients and sign them up for one-year contracts. Maybe $225/week doesn’t sound amazing now, but $10,800 at the end of the year sounds awesome. Blog twice a week for a client for the next year. Manage a Facebook page for another client for the next six months. Pitch articles twice a month to an editor who you’ve buddied up to at your favorite blog. Get on the roster of writers for a publication that assigns articles. Make friends with your former employer so they throw you a big project every now and then. I have all of these kinds of clients. If you don’t get steady gigs, you’ll go crazy. You’ll spend too much time searching for jobs or pitching publications instead of making money.
2. A Diversified Income.
That brings me to my second point: diversify your income. Get some blogging clients and some social media clients and some copywriting clients and some journalism clients. You could even add in some PR clients if that’s your thing. Your specialization could be the field you cover: travel, kids, food, etc. You could write website copy for restaurants and pitch restaurant reviews to a food blog and run a Facebook page for a small grocery store. Or you can have a few specialties. For example, I like kids and travel and tech. That’s three specialties. And I do blogging, social media, reporting, and book authoring. That’s also more than one specialty. I’m interested in all those things and it keeps my workdays interesting. So you don’t have to have such a narrow focus, but I do believe it helps to have a few specialties.
3. Avoid Writing for the “Glossies:” Ok, so I’ve been published in National Geographic Traveler and it was awesome. And I’m trying to get in it again because I love that magazine. But I think it would be really hard to make a living as a freelance magazine writer. Even once your pitch is accepted, it might be another six months before you get paid and before your piece goes to print. It’s just not steady work or predictable work. But it doesn’t meant that you shouldn’t pitch a magazine every so often. It’s fun.
BONUS: Have Self-Respect and Confidence: I do, and that’s why I avoid shitty clients. You know the ones I’m talking about. Content mills. People who aren’t willing to pay good money for your hard work. Websites who consider “exposure” as payment. Forget about those guys. All of them. Don’t write for free (I’ve only done it once for Copyblogger) and don’t write for cheap. Calculate your desired hourly rate and if you can’t get the project done in a way that makes sense for your bottom line, then pass on it. Or ask for more money. If that doesn’t work, something better will come along. Speaking of confidence, don’t start at the bottom of the barrel and work your way up. Do the opposite — start at the top with elite, enviable clients and work your way down until you land something. You are your own boss. You are the only one setting limits on yourself. So don’t.
Stay tuned! I’ll be posting more about my freelance writing secrets once per week for the next two months!
Aubre Andrus is a freelance writer in Chicago who specializes in copywriting, blogging, reporting, and social media consulting. View her website and portfolio at www.aubreandrus.com or find her on Twitter @aubreandrus.