5 Lessons I Learned Building a $4,000-a-Month Freelance Business on the Side

freelance writing on the side

Are you a freelance writer struggling with increasing your income? Or maybe you’re an aspiring writer with a full-time job, and you’re sitting at your desk, dreaming of turning your passion into a profitable business.

Whatever the case, I’m here to tell you it’s completely doable.

A few years ago, I decided that having a job that paid the bills wasn’t enough for me. I’ve always had a nagging feeling that I was meant to be a writer. And as trite as that may sound, it’s that same feeling that helped me launch a profitable freelance writing business while I was still employed.

It wasn’t easy. But it was very rewarding, and I picked up a lot of lessons along the way. And that’s exactly what we’ll discuss today.

In this post, you’ll read about some of the most valuable things I learned building my freelance writing business. If you’re thinking about venturing into the freelance world, check them out and see how you can apply them to your situation.

Successful freelance writing on the side

1. You need to drop the “starving writer” mindset

part-time freelance writingMany people buy into the idea that you can’t earn a decent living by being a writer. Nothing can be further from the truth. The fact is, there are plenty of businesses out there that will pay top notch rates for good content — you just have to find them.

Adopting a positive view towards money and writing helps you do just that. It opens your eyes to new ideas and opportunities and motivates you to aim higher.

So, how can you improve your frame of mind? One of the most efficient ways to do it is to surround yourself with the right people.

Connecting with successful freelancers and entrepreneurs will help reinforce the “abundance mindset” that you need when you’re just starting out. It can be difficult to stay positive when you have no clients or clips (and when you already have a full-time job taking up most of your time), so being surrounded by positive people who are running successful freelance businesses will help you stay on track.

You can find individuals to connect with by joining online communities. Do a search on Facebook and LinkedIn for groups on freelance writing and entrepreneurship, then join the ones that pique your interest.

Once you’re part of a group, participate in discussions, contribute your posts, and get in touch with members who offer a lot of value.

Spending time on freelance writing websites also helps. There are plenty of great freelance writing blogs out there that are packed with advice on finding clients and running a freelance business (hint: you’re reading one of them). Bookmark these sites and read them regularly.

2. You might have to give up sleep — or at least your weekends — for a while

This is one of the realities you have to face when you’re building a freelance business on the side.

Your full-time job will likely take up most of your time which means you have to hustle during non-office hours and weekends.

It sounds daunting, but it’s doable. You just need to figure out your productivity patterns and plan your days accordingly.

For instance, I’m way more productive in the morning than at night, so I used to get up at 4 am to get some client work done. I would get to the office by 5 in the morning, set up my laptop in my cubicle and get to work. Then when 8 am rolled along, I would put my stuff away and focus on my full-time job.

What routine will work for you? The only way to find out is to examine your habits and productivity levels throughout the day. If you’re a morning person, perhaps a plan similar to the one above would be a good fit. If you’re a night owl, then you may have to stay up a little later instead of getting up in the wee hours of the morning.

3. You should start by leveraging your network

Landing your first few clients can be difficult. Where do you even start? Answer: your network.

When I was building my portfolio, one of my first “clients” was my then-boyfriend (now husband). He developed a mobile application, and I helped him write the program’s description for the Apple App Store. I also wrote press releases to drum up publicity for the app, and I then used those posts as writing samples when I pitched to clients.

Related: Get New Clients With This Powerful Tips

freelance writing on the sideOne more tip: don’t limit yourself to your personal network. Your professional contacts could also be excellent sources of leads and freelance work. During the early days of my freelance business, I messaged my former colleagues and told them to keep me in mind if they ever needed a writer.

A few months later, my former boss reached out and offered me a gig. The company that he worked for suddenly needed a writer, and because I put myself on his radar earlier that year, I was the first person that came to mind.

What’s more, I didn’t need to submit any writing samples. Having worked together in the past, my former boss was already familiar with my style, process, and work ethic, so he hired me on the spot.

The takeaway: turn to your network for writing opportunities. Perhaps one of your former colleagues started a company and could use your help coming up with marketing collateral. Maybe your aunt’s business website copy needs an update. Whatever the case, find those opportunities and seize them.

4. Direct outreach can help you land great clients

One of the most efficient ways to find high-paying freelance work is to go after clients yourself. Instead of joining freelance platforms where people have to bid on projects and compete against many other service providers, opt to find and reach out to prospects directly. There are many tactics for finding prospects, but my favorite one is to mine industry directories.

Here’s how:

The first step is to decide on a niche or industry to target. Ask yourself, what kinds of businesses do you want to write for? Are you looking to provide content for real estate agents? Tech startups? Medical facilities?

Once you have the answer to that, find websites, communities, or platforms that cater to that market. These resources usually have member directories that display company details such as their website and even contact information. Use that to build a list of prospects to reach out to.

For example, when I was targeting mobile app developers, I scoured the Apple App Store for interesting applications. Apple displayed the developer’s website on their app’s page, and I would visit each site to get the developer’s contact details.

See if you can do something similar when you’re client-hunting.

5. You’ll command higher rates if you specialize

part-time freelance writingI’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: find a niche or industry to target. Doing so will not only make prospecting easier, but it will also help you set premium prices.

Specializing enables you to hone your skills, so you become an expert in a particular niche or area. This, in turn, will allow you to command higher rates, as clients are more willing to pay top-notch fees to experts and specialists.

Additionally, being a specialist will make your job as a writer so much easier and lucrative. Think about it: when you’re knowledgeable about a certain topic, you can spend less time researching, and you can come up with content more quickly. So if your client pays, say, $300 for your article and it only takes you 2 hours instead of 3 to write the piece, then you’re essentially earning more per hour.

That goes a long way when you’re working full-time. Again, you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, so you want to maximize the income you earn for the time you put in.

Your turn

Do you have experience freelancing while having a full-time job? How did you grow your business? Share your stories in the comments below.

About the author: Francesca Nicasio runs BeaFreelanceWriter.com, a website that helps aspiring freelance writers build their portfolio and land high-paying gigs. Download her ebook How to Land a Client in 10 Days.


4 responses
  1. Lisa Avatar

    Specializing when it comes to getting freelance writing jobs is one of the best decisions you can make. I know a lot of generalist freelancers out there who complain that they’re being picked over for jobs by people who have a niche displayed on their website. Another thing you can have that’s great for getting high-paying clients is to have a website that prominently displays your best work. That way, the client can see just how good you are at your job.

  2. philip vincent Avatar
    philip vincent

    I have a short story to sell at any cost….

  3. philip vincent Avatar
    philip vincent

    I have a short African story which I want to sell..the title is tales of greed…is all about marriage

  4. Cortney Cordero Avatar

    I’ve started getting some real estate agents under my belt. With them, it’s good to market yourself as a “travel” writer. If you sound passionate about your area right off the bat, they’ll love you. I talk about how I’ve written abroad in places like South Africa and Puerto Rico, and how I approach each place I travel to like it’s the first time, but for local areas, I have the home-court advantage and experience of a full-time resident. Familiarity + excitement = the perfect formula of what real estate agents are looking for.

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