I have a gripe.
Almost every week another friend or relative comes out of the woodwork to ask me for help in getting started as a freelance writer. Most of them have never aspired to write, or even enjoy it, but they’re out of work or want to work at home. They see freelance writing as a way to avoid the rat race, and, even, to not have to do much work at all.
To be honest, these calls and emails kind of tick me off. I wouldn’t call my plumber and say, “Hey, I fixed a toilet once. Can you help me find a job as a plumber?”
Yes, freelance writing jobs are plentiful in 2010 and there are more writers than ever but that doesn’t mean everyone who ever typed up a business correspondence or wrote in a diary is cut out to be a freelance writer.This isn’t an easy “work at home” job. It’s a job that takes skill and dedication. Lazy people need not apply.
It’s not a matter of writing
Of course you have to be able to write well to be a freelance writer, but it’s so much more than that. Freelance writers must have:
- A solid work ethic: If you don’t have drive, you won’t make it as a freelance writer. This may look like a fun flexible lifestyle, but the writers who do the best schedule their time wisely. Sure, you can start work any time you like. You can take lots of vacation days and long lunches, but you also have to make sure the work gets done. Freelancers have to be responsible with their flexibility.
- The ability to work independently: No one is going to stand over you with a list of daily duties. You’re not going to sit in a cube near a bunch of supervisors to keep you in check. It’s up to you to see every project through to completion. Freelancers don’t have backup staff or co-workers in which to delegate our work. We file our own paperwork and do our own typing. Well, most of us, anyway.
- Good customer service skills: How are your people skills? Can you pick up a phone to touch base with a client? Will you know enough to follow up after a project is over? What if there’s a crisis or your client is unhappy? It’s important to know how to handle negativity and diffuse situations. Your clients’ happiness is the key to your success.
- The ability to sell: There are various ways clients screen their freelancers. Some use an application, others use a phone interview. There are still others who do everything via email. It doesn’t matter what method you use to communicate with your clients, if you don’t have the ability to sell yourself, your services and your products (your writing) you won’t get the gig.
- Good business sense: Being a freelance writer is owning a small business. What do you think it takes to run a small business? It takes the ability to bring in clients, analyze numbers, and profit from your work. There’s a lot more to this than writing.
- The ability to meet deadlines: Many brand new freelance writers begin with good intentions but find themselves overwhelmed as it gets closer to deadline day and they haven’t even started their projects. Clients don’t want a rushed project. They schedule projects with you in advance so you don’t rush the gig. It’s not fair to give them a quick piece of work when they put their faith in you to put your all into a project.
- Focus: Are you able to sit at your desk for hours? It’s not easy to work at home with so many distraction. The kids are calling or the phone is ringing, there’s always a reason to get up from your work. It’s hard to get into a rhythm when you have to jump up and down every five minutes. Everyone says they can work at home, it’s a rude awakening to find out how hard it actually is. Freelance writers have to have the ability to block out distractions and work without stopping.
- Hustle: There may be more freelance writing work now than ever, but there’s also more freelance writers. Finding suitable work is a constant hustle. It takes a while before you have repeat clients and word of mouth recommendations. Until then, it’s a feast or famine lifestyle and you have to stay on top of the job boards and give a better pitch than the other writers clamoring for the same opportunities.
Yeah, this work at home lifestyle is nice. We have the flexibility to work whenever we want and take on only the projects that interest us. Make no mistake, it’s hard work. Writing is only a small part of what we do. If you think this is an easy lifestyle, think again. Freelance writing takes hard work, dedication and a good work ethic.
What are your thoughts? Can anyone do this? Can everyone be a freelance writer?
I completely agree with you. My sister happens to be one of those people. She wants me to get her into the writing biz. I’ve found that if you want to be a freelance writer, you have to actually have a passion for it to succeed. No, let me reword that. To successfully succeed. Without passion, you just have a bunch of words on a page with no meaning.
I love to write and I’ve been writing for over nine years. It’s still a struggle sometimes to find decent paying clients. I find clients come a dime a dozen if you want to work for $1.50 an article. My sister doesn’t have the patience or passion for writing. I’ve tried to help her out in the past, but these days when she’s begging for me to help her and she wants me to do all the work for her, I just say I’m too busy trying to keep my own writing business alive. I didn’t have any help when I first started (thank God for all the awesome blogs I found with info on getting started) and I’ve done fine. Writing is something you really have to want to do, not just something to make a few dollars with.
Oh, Deb. You are so correct! I think all writers run into this. I even had the guy who sold us our car ask me how he could “do that writing thing”.
Along with the other items you listed, I really think you need to be able to write quickly, but still write well. If it takes you four hours to write 500 words, this career probably is not a good choice for you.
You practically read my mind!
As a professional photographer, I run into the same exact situation.
Just change the word writing to photography and you would be right on about freelance photography too.
With the proliferation of some really fantastic cameras at prosumer prices, people are asking me how can they get into freelance professional photography.
I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve seen people try their hand at pro photography only for their work to look like garbage and hearing from unhappy clients to boot.
They have no sense of how difficult these fields are.
Next time someone asks me how they can get into freelance photography, I will just point them to this post.
I completely agree. I’ve been writing my entire life. I used to be a journalist. I got into freelance work because we homeschool our three kids and I need to be at home. Working from home is not the cakewalk people believe it is. It is hard work. I mean, writing is hard work to begin with. Freelancing takes a ton of discipline. As you said, there is no one standing over you. Some days I feel focused. Other days I get distracted because of the kids, or I happen to glance out of the corner of my eye and see the pile of dishes that needs tending to. Everyone can write, but not everyone can WRITE. I find it rather offensive that everyone thinks they can just dive in and do it. I cook from scratch on a daily basis but that doesn’t mean I can walk into a restaurant and prepare a gourmet meal. I tend to my children’s ouchies but that doesn’t qualify me to be a nurse. I’ve worked hard to get where I am. I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to be a writer. It irritates me that people think it is that simple.
Jennifer L says
I pretty much have a policy. If someone I know approaches me and asks how to get into freelance writing, I only consider talking to them about it if they 1) have a writing/journalism background and 2) seem to be really serious about it. And it has to be someone I know so that I can gauge their level of commitment. For example, a former colleague of mine recently emailed me about freelancing, and I was happy to talk to her. I used to work with her. I know she’s talented and hard-working, and I know she’ll work hard to succeed. And that it will therefore be worth my time to chat with her about it.
Like Amy, I also get offended that all these people think they can just “dive in and do it.” That’s a big old “NO! You CAN’T” from me. It’s a real career, folks. Treat it like one!
I so agree! When I started my freelance writing course for beginners, I figured all those people who wrote asking for advice could just take the course. I told them that my hard-earned knowledge is worth something. Well, of all the people who take the course, almost half seem to think I would just magically give them work . . . not actually make them go out and look for it! I know two people in particular who can’t even be bothered to do the lessons, but frequently write to ask if I have any jobs for them. Um, no. While I do occasionally outsource, I don’t outsource to those who have 0 interest in actually making it work.
It anger me too, guys, but these types of writers will weed themselves out. No need to expend energy on them. Kinda like the newbs at the gym every January. Stay patient, and they’ll weed themselves down. Only the truly dedicated will stay on.
It is annoying. Writing is hard work and takes so much discipline; a writing business takes 10x as much focus and discipline. Many years ago a dentist I had met at a dinner said to me that he thinks of himself as a writer — although he never writes. I said: That’s funny. I think of myself as a dentist.
Hi Deb —
You’ve hit on exactly why I charge for mentoring — I find it cuts out those who’re just fantasizing about a writing career. Those who are ready to pay for coaching are serious about their careers, and ready to benefit from the advice. Otherwise, you’d spend all your time at parties explaining to people how to be a freelance writer…gets annoying.
Damaria Senne says
These days when someone asks me to help them get into writing I give them links to a couple of writing sites, including this one, with a message to read the blogs or web sites regularly and to apply lessons learnt to their budding careers. It helps that FWJ also has job leads, so those who are serious can also start to apply for jobs. So far, none of the people have let me know if they read sites or looked for gigs.
Kristen Watterson says
I completely agree! I’m a graphic designer and I work hard to keep my clients happy. I have an uncle who thinks that just because he has a computer, he can be a graphic designer. So apparently my graphic design degree from a four year college is meaningless because anyone can do it! Well let me say it this way. Yes, anyone with a computer can be a freelance graphic designer, but it takes drive, determination, ability to learn, and some degree of talent or the ability to please clients, assuming you can get them. But I do get a little ticked off when people assume that it only takes a computer or a camera and you have a freelance business.
So I think you are exactly right in your explanation of what it takes to freelance. This is America, so I believe anyone can do and be whatever they want, but they have to be willing to do the work required to be successful or they will be just another flash in the pan. Thank you for your post, I will send people here next time they ask me about freelancing!
It takes skill and self discipline. Not everyone can do it especially when you start off with low paying gigs. If the weather is nice it’s easy to skip your work and enjoy the sun.
I half by agree. I am a beginning freelance writer. I have been writing since I was nine years old, and have always wanted to write. I finally took a daring move to make journalism my ultimate career path after graduating a few months ago from college. Sometimes, when I am on computer writing, people think I am being lazy! I have a part – time “normal” job as well, to sustain myself before I gain more experience and writing jobs. People also never used to take me seriously when I told them that I wanted to become a writer. They presumed that I wasn’t actually “that” interested in it, and they assumed that I wouldn’t become successful, as, according to them it is “impossible” to succeed as a writer. However, this made me more determined to actually become a good writer. I do think it is annoying when people think that being a writer is extremely easy, as if it doesn’t even qualify as “work”. However, it is fun and rewarding, and it is fine when people do assume (correctly) that writing for a living is kind of hip and cool. If anyone ever came up to me and told me that they were going to become a writer without saying derogatory things like “oh it all seems so easy”, I would support them and give advice. I would not make them feel like they were not worthy of becoming successful journalists. I would also explain that writing is rewarding and often therapeutic. Is it that offensive if a friend assumes that being a freelance journalist is all fun? At this stage in my life, especially after graduating – writing for a living is definitely very fun.
And, after all – our mommies used to tell us that we could become anything that we wanted to be.
Shaistha Khan says
This is good advice, thanks!
What really annoys me is the infiltration of content writers who write for a dime (perhaps!) They have bad, bad writing skills, lots of grammatical errors and lots of plagiarised content.
Because, hey, anyone can write! How hard is it?
The real problem is when clients claim that you charge too much…for writing!
Any thoughts/ experiences you could share?