How I Transitioned from Corporate Employee to Full-Time Freelance Writer

A lot of people dream about freelance writing and the perks that go along with it. But it’s not easy to make the transition from corporate to freelance. It’s not like one morning you’re clipping your badge to your ironed dress pants and headed to a traffic-induced commute then the next you’re waking up to the comfort of homemade breakfast and a list of amazing clients who are throwing checks at you. It takes time. It took me six months to be exact.

I left American Girl in September of 2009 to take a job as a copywriter at Express in Columbus, Ohio while my then boyfriend (now fiancé) got his MBA at The Ohio State University. Sometime around October 2010, I got an email from a friend and former coworker asking me if I was interested in writing a couple books for American Girl. I had never even thought I was qualified to write a book. I was blown away. I was instantly motivated to freelance full-time. But it wasn’t until April 2011 that I officially quit corporate.

In addition to writing two books at night and on the weekend, I began scoping out Craigslist ads and MediaBistro and applying to freelance jobs online. It was slightly awkward — because I had a full time job — so any potential freelance employer was going to have a difficult time reaching me during the day. I had to schedule phone interviews over lunch breaks. I ended up landing a twice-weekly blogging gig for WIRED, a social media consulting role with CareerBuilder, another tech blogging gig, and a gig freelancing for 614 Magazine, the local monthly. No one seemed concerned that I had a full-time job and I actually told each of them that I would soon be transitioning into full-time freelance status (even though I was unsure when and if that would ever happen).

Once I was hired with these clients, I continued working full-time. I had to interview sources for articles at sporadic times during the day in the hallway and just use a recording device to capture our conversation. I had to respond to some freelance work emails during my work day via my iPhone. At night, I had to work from the couch because I didn’t have a home office. Overall, it was stressful but totally doable. The hardest part was getting home after a full day of work and motivating myself to continue working. The good news is that the stuff I was working on at night was stuff that I was passionate about. I worked on the weekends too. Because my boyfriend was in grad school at the time, we could work together at the library or at a coffee shop on Saturdays. I think I even had to take a vacation day or two in order to finish my work in time.

Even though freelancing while working a full-time job was hard, it also meant I basically had two incomes for those six months of overlap. That was an excellent way to set me up for the big moment when that bi-weekly salary check stopped rolling in. And I have to admit: I delayed quitting my corporate job for more than a few weeks. I kept saying, “Just one more paycheck,” but then it got to the point where I had to quit my day job or I would have gone crazy. By that time my fiance’s MBA graduation was approaching and he had landed a full-time job a few states away. We were moving anyway AND his new insurance would cover me even though we weren’t married. So I finally cut the cord.

The day after my two weeks notice was up, I hopped on a plane to New York City (so cliché!) on a fateful Thursday morning. That weekend, I attended a writer’s conference, got to meet my WIRED editor and eat lunch in the Conde Nast building, and watched the Royal Wedding. I now share a freelancing anniversary with Will and Kate. After a couple weeks spent working from the couch in our tiny apartment in Columbus, we went to Europe for a month, moved back to Madison, and settled into our new two-bedroom apartment complete with my new home office! It was real. I was now a full-time freelancer.

Still not sure if you’re up to the challenge? Read this post from James Scott Bell called Should You Quit Your Day Job to Write?

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.

How a Newbie Writer Can Break Into Freelancing

Here’s a secret about freelance writing: it’s not about the writing, it’s about the ideas. Editors hire freelancers because they are sick of coming up with ideas on their own. Writing up a great idea is easy. But dreaming up a fresh spin on the same old crap is not. That’s where you come in.

Publications run on a strict publishing schedule that rarely changes. When I worked at American Girl, I could have planned my vacations for eternity because I knew exactly which days of which months would be my busy times. Our bi-monthly magazine ran like clockwork. And that included the topics we covered too. There was the back to school issue, the spring issue, the summer fun issue, etc. So our challenge was always something like “How do we put a fresh spin on ‘summer water games’?” The magazine has been around for 20 years now and has included outdoor summer fun in every summer issue. See where it can get exhausting for the editors? Especially the ones who’ve been working there for 5 or 10 years?

The same goes for websites and businesses. A tech blog is going to cover Comic-Con and the Consumer Electronics Show every year. A retail website like Express is writing about how “sexy” its clothes are day in and day out. A restaurant’s Facebook page is going to advertise the weekly special week in and week out. If you can bring a fresh spin to the content or to the way it’s presented, you’re hired. And that’s why writers have to be creative. I’ve become an expert at brainstorming. And you should become one too (but that’s a whole other post).

Let me point out one other fact: editors are going to get paid the same salary whether or not they write the content themselves or freelance it out to someone. Let me repeat: they’ll get paid the SAME for LESS work. Wouldn’t you freelance it out to someone? The key here is “less work.” So make sure your freelance work is pristine and that your relationship with your editor is perfect. If you miss your deadline, or your work is filled with errors, or the article is not exactly the idea you pitched to the editor, you’re not making less work for the editor. You’re making more work for him or her, and that’s not good. There’s no way you’ll get hired again.

The moral of the story here is that if a newbie writer pitches an excellent idea to an editor, that newbie writer will likely get hired. Even if she has no clips. Seriously, I’m not kidding. Just don’t let down that editor. She took a chance on you, so show her what you’ve got!

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.