Flying Solo: Can a Nervous Nellie Be a Freelancer?

woman on sofa with phone

I’m the last person you’d imagine striking out on her own. I’ve always liked the camaraderie of having like-minded colleagues, the comfort of getting a paycheck every two weeks, and funding my retirement with a 401k. Need I add that I’m extremely risk-averse?

Yet the truth is, I’ve been yearning to go solo for years now. But I was afraid to make the break. Then, back in October, I got laid off from my magazine job as part of a corporate restructuring. The break was made for me. (Isn’t life funny that way?)

So here I am, at 49, on my own for the first time ever, launching an editorial consulting business. The idea of not knowing where my next gig is coming from scares me to death. But some research suggests my nervous Nellie tendencies could help me succeed—or at least not hurt. Entrepreneurs are far from being heedless risk takers. In fact, studies suggest that the most important qualities of successful entrepreneurs are passion and tenacity, and they actually seek to make moves that enable them to succeed with the least possible risk.

I definitely possess the passion part. After more than two decades of helping others write, of feeling envious when I see friends and colleagues publish books and articles that create a buzz, I want to do more of my own writing. I’ve waited long enough.

My goal: give myself a year and see if I can actually make a living as an editorial consultant—and enjoy it. The initial plan:

1) Put together a combo of consulting gigs for digital and print media.
2) Take on private editing projects.
3) Teach writing workshops (which I’ve been doing at MediaBistro and other places).
4) Do some writing of my own (like my long-postponed book project).

I also plan to give myself enough leeway so that I’ll be able to say yes to random, fun, surprising things that come up along the way. In 2008, I took a two-month sabbatical to move to Rome and edit Behind the Bedroom Door, an anthology about the emotional side of sex. How great would it be if I could swap my New York City place and write in a farmhouse in Provence for eight weeks?

To make sure that happens, I’ve vowed to follow what a wise friend calls the 80 percent rule: “Don’t take a job or project unless you’re at least 80 percent excited about it.”  

Another helpful mantra from yet another smart pal: You have to turn down projects that don’t fulfill at least two of the following three criteria—fame, fortune, or fun. “By fame,” she explains, “I mean writing for a venue that gives you visibility. Fortune is obvious. And fun is something you’re excited about.”

That sounds right to me. And given that I have the luxury of some savings in the bank, courtesy of a lump sum severance package, I am determined to follow those guidelines—and my heart, as much as I’m able.

Follow me as I try to transform myself into a businesswoman. And share your own freelance experiences. (I need advice and support!) I’m looking forward to our taking this journey together.