A successful leap into full-time freelance writing has a lot of benefits: you get to be your own boss and set your own hours; you learn new things every day while helping clients craft the copy they need; and you can work bundled up in your bed, at your favorite coffee shop, or at your kid’s dance studio or karate dojo.
Making sure your entry into the world of freelancing is successful requires a little more work than just quitting your job and hopping on your computer, though. Here are a few things to consider when you’re preparing to dive into that new career full-time:
- Dip your toes in.
Sure, you’ve done a few writing projects here and there. Maybe you’ve sold some articles. That’s a good sign that you can handle the writing end – but can you land enough assignments every week to pay your bills plus the added expenses of health insurance, taxes, business licenses, and more?
Sign up at freelancing markets like Upwork, and start combing the job boards at Freelance Writing Jobs and Brian Scott’s Online Writing Jobs. There are similar boards out there for freelance web developers, graphic designers, and other fields. This will give you a better idea of what you can earn, and help you start developing a steady income before leaving your current job.
You can also hire an attorney through Upwork to help you deal with business incorporation, if you go down that route.
- Pick a niche – but diversify, too.
That’s not as contradictory as it sounds. When doing full-time freelance writing, it’s a good idea to have a specific niche, whether that’s personal finance, SEO, the health industry, Massachusetts real estate or travel in Southeast Asia.
The goal for a topic is to get specific enough so that when editors are putting together a package about spending Christmas in Phuket or personal finance for college freshmen, you’re on the short list of people they think of – but broad enough that you can pick up work all year.
Having a good depth of knowledge also lets you write much faster. You don’t waste valuable hours researching who to call, where to get information, and so on. Ideally, you’ll have two or three specializations, so when things are slow in Laos, you can pitch ideas about teaching teens about credit cards to your other editors.
However, you also want to diversify – not only in topics, but writing styles or other income sources. When they’re not writing for their niches, some writers turn to short stories, pump out 200 trivia questions for $400, create, teach writing classes, or open a Zazzle shop to showcase their wildlife photos. Your “side gig” can even give you another niche for your main freelancing business, creating symbiotic income.
Diversifying your work gives you additional sources of income, so that if you lose a major client or a big publication in your field folds, you have something to fall back on while you rebuild.
- Invest in building your brand.
It’s hard to get hired as a regular blogger if you don’t have your own blog (which you can monetize, too). Some writers can get by without a website, but it’s not a great idea. Clients and editors want to see your previous work.
Invest in a website and custom domain to showcase your portfolio of work. If you don’t know how to build a website or do the necessary graphic design, hire a freelancer to help you. Having a professional, attractive website is money well spent.
Install Yoast to help you with search engine optimization, and if you need a crash course in how SEO works, try Moz. Your investment in an awesome website only builds business, if people can find it.
Posting new content regularly helps, whether you blog daily or just add an article or essay here and there. Make sure that you have a mailing list, so that you can notify clients and friends of new material, point people to off-site articles and guest blog posts, and more.
- Be prepared to take responsibility.
As a freelancer, you occasionally have editors or clients reach out to you to offer work. Far more often, you have to chase it yourself. That means sending pitches, brainstorming ideas, contacting editors, networking with other writers, and more. It’s up to you to figure out how much you need to earn each month, then find the work that will pay it.
Similarly, when you’re the only employee, you can’t pass tasks like bookkeeping or bill collecting to someone else without cutting into your bottom line. Either way, it’s your responsibility. When a client is unhappy or wants a rewrite, that’s your responsibility, too.
Of course, you also get all the praise! Being the boss means you can give yourself a long lunch or an early end of the day sometimes, too, as long as you meet your deadlines. Be prepared to take the bad with the good.
There are a lot of benefits that come with full-time freelance writing. For those who are willing to do the groundwork, it can be a fun and rewarding career with as much room for growth and success as you can manage. Still, it’s important to be prepared and lay down a solid foundation before taking that successful leap.