Step one: Treat it like the professional business it is.
When I say I’m a freelancer, people tend to think that I only work when I feel like it or that I dabble in projects here and there. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Freelance writing has given me the opportunity to earn a respectable income while staying at home with my preschool-aged daughter most of the time. It has allowed my husband to quit his job in order to pursue the career he always wanted. Most importantly, it has enabled me to create a career that fulfills all my needs.
This year I’m on track to make about $6,000 a month freelancing. Here’s how I do it.
Treat Writing Like the Business It Is
In order to make a full-time income as a freelancer while also caring for my child and household, I need to work smart. Over the years, I’ve realized that freelancing isn’t a side hobby or merely supplemental income. It is a business, and in order for it to function properly, I need to treat it as such.
The first step to doing this was changing how I viewed myself. At first, when people would ask me what I did for a living, I would say that I was a writer, which would elicit all kinds of annoying responses like, “Oh, what’s your blog?” Now, I say I am a journalist or that I own my own business, which earns me more respect and more accurately represents what I actually do.
With any business, record keeping is important. I tally my income and expenses in a Google spreadsheet. I track pitches sent and the results, and I recently started logging my hours using Toggl. All of this record keeping gives me information that I can use to evaluate what is working well for my business and what is not. Ultimately, that translates to more money, since I adjust my actions accordingly.
I have a website and professional portfolio. In the beginning, updating these felt like a waste of time because I wasn’t sure anyone was paying attention. However, last summer I was assigned a story for a regional print magazine after the editor found my website. More recently, my Contently profile has been bringing in steady work. Although paying for and maintaining a website might feel silly at first, just one assignment can pay for the time invested.
Finally, I regularly hire child care. Any work-from-home parent knows there is no way to do it all at once, and having regular blocks of time to work is essential.
Build up Regular Clients
The most exhausting part of freelancing is finding work. For a writer, that means pitching different publications to try to sell them your story ideas. Good pitches take time, and even successful writers enjoy acceptance rates of only about 50 percent.
Considering that, it makes sense to try to get assignments without needing to pitch. This is where regular clients — or anchor clients — come in. They give you guaranteed work each month that you don’t need to fight for. This frees up time for pitching other publications and also relieves some of the emotional burden that comes with the unpredictability of freelancing.
I currently have four anchor clients, who combine to make up about $4,500 of my income a month. That means three-quarters of my monthly income goal is taken care of before I start pitching. Of course, freelance is unpredictable, so I know that any of these clients can disappear at a moment’s notice. In fact, early on in my freelance career, a publication that made up 80 percent of my income folded overnight. That experience taught me to diversify, even with anchor clients.
Many writers struggle to find anchor clients. I’ve found mine everywhere from Facebook groups to job posting boards and even Craigslist. If I see a regular gig posted, I almost always apply. Once I land a regular client, I try to make myself indispensable so that editors turn to me if they ever have extra work and so that they’ll keep me on during cutbacks.
Know Your Worth and Objectives
Creative gigs are notoriously underpaid, and plenty of clients will want to pay you in peanuts or “exposure.” That’s why it’s important to know your worth, what your goals are, and what you’re
willing to do to get there.
Three years ago, when I first started freelancing, my goal was to cover rent each month, which cost $1,200. When a low-paying job came along, I could decide whether it would bring me closer to that goal, and I said yes to almost everything.
As I became more established, I got pickier with my projects, no longer writing for content mills that paid $30 or $40 per story. Then, I lost my anchor client, which sent me reeling. I was lucky to find another regular gig quickly. The pay was low, but the client needed a story every day. I decided to accept the job at much less than my regular rate because it would move me significantly closer to my income goal. I stayed with that gig for more than a year, until it started taking away from higher paying projects.
Play to Your Strengths
Today I work about 30 hours a week. I know which projects I can complete quickly and easily, and I opt to fill my schedule mostly with those. I’ve also become better at considering the hourly breakdown of a project. Being paid $1,200 for a story is great, but if it will require hours of interviewing and editing, I would be better off spending my time on lower paying stories that are less time intensive.
Being a freelancer isn’t a get-rich-quick plan, and getting to the point of making $6,000 a month has taken a lot of hard work and mistakes. But being in control of my finances and my career has been well worth the effort.