When Freelance Writers Need a Wake Up Call

In order to encourage the freelancer writers in this community, I like to keep the tone light and positive. Though I don’t take the “in your face” approach to blogging, I’ll agree that there are plenty of times when freelance writes need to have the truth laid out for them in order to view all sides of the picture. With that in mind, I’d like to discuss some of the things that aren’t so pleasant and hopefully inspire struggling freelancers to re-evaluate their career choices and goals.

To be perfectly blunt, there are times freelance writers need a wake up call. If they’re struggling all day, every day, and no money is coming in, there’s something wrong. This doesn’t always mean they’re not in the right career, but oftentimes it does.

Let’s explore some of the reasons freelancers may want to reconsider their career choice, or, at the very least, come up with a new business or marketing plan. Most of us chose freelancing to have a positive experience, if that’s not happening some self and business evaluation is necessary. Struggling freelance writers would do well to explore the reasons behind their lack of success and decide what they’re going to do about it.

Here are a few situations when freelance writers need to rethink their strategy – and maybe even their career choice.

When they’ve been doing this for years and still earning $5 an hour

Simply put, freelancers need to profit from their work. Most of us think it’s nonsensical to put in a full day’s work and only receive enough in return to pay the bare minimum bills, if that. Indeed, in the “real world” we expect cost of living increases and the ability to put at least a little bit into savings. If you’re trying to make a living as a freelance writer but only barely earning pocket change, you need to rethink your earning strategy. Some writers feel the flexibility and work at home lifestyle are perks that make up for extremely low pay. Consider that eight hours of work is eight hours of work -regardless of whether you’re home or in an office. Your time is worth something. In order for our clients to value our time, WE need to value our time. The beautiful thing about freelance writing is that we don’t have an employer telling us how much we can earn, or how much of an increase we may (or may not) receive. We make our own rules, and that includes the amount we wish to receive per gig.

Wake up call: You’re not earning enough money…why is this? Is it because you’re not choosing the right kinds of clients or setting the right amount for your rates? As freelancers we should always make the choices that are best for us and our situations. However, if your freelance writing lifestyle isn’t contributing to a better situation, you need to analyze why. Sometimes it’s a simple as raising your rates, other times, it’s because you’re only focusing on entry level opportunities. Take a deep breath and make the changes that will enable your bank account to grow with your career. This can include a client overhaul, a new specialty, a new business plan and especially, a raise in rates.

When they’re receiving nothing but rejection

Nothing is more frustrating and disheartening than rejection. Usually our stock answer to freelance writers regarding rejection is to consider themselves in good company and remember it’s a way of life for this career. However, we can learn a lot from rejection. Sometimes an editor will add a useful note to a rejection letter telling us why we’re not a good fit and offering tips for submitting or applying again. Sometimes a second pair of eyes on our cover letters and writing samples tell us what we need to know too. When we receive rejection every time we apply and absolutely no one is biting, it might be more than a typo or a bad fit.  I’m not one to tell people to give up, but no gigs after five years of trying might be telling you something.

Wake up call: If no one wants to hire you, it doesn’t necessarily mean you might not be a very good writer, but that might well be the case. I know writers who have applied to hundreds of jobs over several years and only find work paying small residual change for places without a strict acceptance policy. If this is you, consider whether or not you’re cut out for writing, or if this is the result you’re looking to achieve. If you belong to a writing community, ask trusted members to critique some of your best writing. I know it’s hard to hear criticism, but it’s often necessary in order to know what we’re doing wrong (and right.)

When all their spare time is spent working

There are two main reasons writers spend all day working. The first is because they love what they do and lose track of time. The other is that they’re trying to earn enough to make ends meet and the only way to do that is work 15 hours a day.. .and even that’s not enough. So now we have a problem, we work at home in order to have freedom, but we’re chained to our desks 80 hours a week. Is it worth it?

Wake up call: If you’re working all day because you want to earn $60,000 a year, you may want to rethink your approach. It’s one thing to work four to eight hours each day to earn that much, it’s another to spend every waking hour with low paying gigs in order to pay the bills. It’s time to work smarter not harder. Instead of taking a $7 project, find a similar project paying, say $30. Now you’re earning quadruple the rate and you can reach your goal income in less time. Every six months to a year, reassess your situation and see if you need to increase your rates again.

When they’re not happy

Damn it, it’s not enough to be “boss free.” Your happiness counts for something too. If you hate your job and hate writing, why are you doing it? It’s funny how we fantasize about leaving our office jobs but we’re much more hesitant to leave a work at home lifestyle because we don’t want to give up the flexibility.  To be honest, I had more time when I worked in an office job because I left my job at 5:00 each day and didn’t go near it on the weekends.

Wake up call: Um, hello? When did your happiness become so insignificant? If you’re not enjoying yourself, explore why. Is it a particular client? Decide whether or not he’s replaceable. Is it because you don’t enjoy writing?  Decide whether or not this is the career for you or consider other types of work from home opportunities. Is it because you’re lonely? Make sure to find time for friends and family. Go to lunch with “the girls” or have a movie night with your friends.

Understanding the Reasons Behind Your Lack of Success

Maybe other freelance writers can weigh in her too, but for me examining why I’m not a success always helps me to achieve success. Every now and then when I have a dry period of potential clients aren’t so receptive to my queries, I do a little analysis to see why. I go over my writing samples, cover letters and resume. Every now and then things need updating, you know?

Something else I learned is that a second set of eyes helps us to see what we’re missing. Understanding the reasons behind our lack of success will help us to determine whether or not we’re doing the right thing or going about things the right way. The important thing to remember is you’re not a failure if you decide this life isn’t for you.

We’re freelancers because we want to enjoy life. When we’re not happy or not successful we’re not enjoying anything.

What are some of the wake up calls you received regarding freelance writing? What did they tell you and what action did you take next?


7 responses
  1. Zoe Winters Avatar

    Great article! I think this applies to all types of writing people do for money.

  2. Jane Rutherford Avatar

    This is a great no-nonsense article! And to be honest could be read not only by freelance writers but by all sort of freelancers. Everybody could use a wake up caal at some point in their career!

  3. Angie Papple Johnston Avatar

    I love this – I always feel bad for writers when they say they’re not achieving their goals, and this is very well-said. It doesn’t matter what your goal is – if you aren’t making it, this can give you a little jump start.

  4. Terreece Clarke Avatar

    Right on time as usual Deb! I think it’s hard for freelancers to self-critique and then take that leap of faith to make changes. I am one of them! Some of it, for me, is the worry that if you admit some things aren’t working then you’ve just proven the naysayers right. Or you simply have to hit rock bottom before you make the changes you need to make.

    This week I took big leaps & I already see them paying off, then today I did it. I raised my rates for new clients and have set the date to raise them with the current ones. It took having the worse week of the worse month to get on with it.

    We freelancers hold so much close to the vest, our rates, our not so successes and when you get a bit of success it feels like you’re going backward if you admit a misstep or the need to recalculate goals & direction. It happens, have a pity party, but then say “That’s life” and get on with it.

    Again, thanks for the great article Deb. Right on freakin’ time…

  5. scarlet05 Avatar

    Thanks for the tips! =)

  6. Trent Avatar

    After earning next to nothing for 6 months, I decided it was time to return to my day job. It’s been a good 2 years though.

  7. Tammy GRavis Avatar
    Tammy GRavis

    Love this. I’ve made a living at writing for 14 years. I love it and this is a wake up call I needed to hear. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.