In January 2014, I was laid off. It had been my first salaried position with benefits, and it lasted only six months.
Before that was a string of unpaid internships and part-time work that allowed me to get some experience on my resume without the financial independence I craved. The salaried position had started to change all that: I moved into a new apartment and was on my way to having a responsible amount of money in my savings account. Then it ended — abruptly.
My plan had always been to start a writing business after a few years of saving. But faced with the awful void of unemployment, I thought it might be prudent to start building my business ASAP. The endeavor would keep me productive, add new skills to my portfolio, and save me from having to explain a gap on my resume while I hunted for new employment.
Nearly a year later, I have not found another full-time position. But I have billed my first client, been published around the Web, and filed away a few notes about building a business under financial stress. Here are my tips.
1. Give yourself time to organize and prepare. I recommend taking one month and devoting as much of that time as possible to strategizing, planning, and building a portfolio or customizing your online store with its target market in mind. This is a step I tried to skip in the beginning (as I struggled to find work). I probably would have been successful sooner if I had given myself a month to develop a robust writing portfolio before focusing on marketing and sales.
If you can’t go a month without some sort of income, pick up a part-time job doing something you’re already amazing at, or consider joining a service like TaskRabbit.
2. After one month, cease and desist all free work. Set your rates and put a minimum in place to determine when a project isn’t worth your time. A lot of advice for beginning freelance writers cautions against setting your rates too low. This was never a problem for me because I needed rent money and $25 project fees weren’t going to cut it.
In fact, I used to be terrified of scaring away potential clients with my rates. When I sent my first quote, I spent hours crafting the email, agonizing over the appropriate language to use and how to calculate a rate that was both fair to the client and worth it for me. And while that was stressful, it kept me doing only work that paid the rent.