If you’re tired of punching a timecard every day and spending eight hours working in a boring cubicle for the sake of making your boss rich, the freelance life might start to look pretty appealing. You’ll get to be your own boss, set your own hours, take on the work that you want, and—perhaps best of all—reject the work that you don’t want. However, navigating the transition from full-time employee to happy freelance writer can be challenging. It’s generally not a good idea to quit your day job until you’ve got a solid plan in place. Follow these steps to get started with freelance writing.
Build up your savings account.
It’s never a good idea to quit your day job unless you’ve got a healthy savings account to fall back on. In years past, financial experts typically recommended having enough saved up to cover at least three months of expenses in case of unexpected job loss or an unanticipated major expense. After the Great Recession, that recommendation changed to between six months and one year.
It probably won’t take you the full year to land your first freelance client, and in fact, you should start looking for clients before you turn in your two weeks’ notice. However, it may take that long before you consistently earn at least as much freelancing as you did at your full-time job. If you have a healthy savings account to bridge the gap, you are likely to find that making the transition is a little less stressful.
Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses.
One of the biggest conundrums that new freelancers face is the issue of landing that first client without having prior writing experience. It’s always a good idea to head into your new career with a clear understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. This allows you to capitalize on your strengths while encouraging clients to ignore your weaknesses.
Let’s consider the fictitious example of Molly. Molly wants to quit her day job to become a full-time freelancer. Currently, she’s working as a veterinary technician. She has an associate’s degree and a vet tech certificate, but no professional writing experience. Since Molly does have expertise in one industry (veterinary medicine), it’s in her best interests to capitalize on that.
First, she’ll develop a portfolio of writing clips for this industry. For example, she might write a couple of blog posts on “How to Interpret Your Dog’s Body Language” and “Top Medical Emergencies in Ferrets.” Molly will also emphasize her degree, certificate, and professional experience in her resume and cover letter. She’ll downplay her lack of professional writing experience.
Once Molly lands her first client in the veterinary niche, she’ll officially have professional writing experience. That will make it easier for her to land clients in other industries.
You can do the same thing. Take an honest look at your strengths and weaknesses, and use that information to guide the development of your professional profile and portfolio. Once you’ve done this and determined the industries in which you’re most likely to land your first freelance clients, you can begin applying to gigs.
Land your first freelance writing client.
It can take quite a while to land that first client. Persistence and patience will pay off, however. Browse the freelance writing job ads every day, searching for opportunities that fit your background. You might also consider applying to temporary internship positions. Some of these may be remote positions. Some are paid, while others are not. As much as you might dislike the thought of working an unpaid internship, it can pay off in the long run, especially if you lack professional writing experience.
When you do land your first gig, take extra care to produce your best possible writing. Finish the first draft well ahead of the deadline. Then, set it aside for a day or two. Go back to it with fresh eyes and reread it. Revise and edit as needed to ensure it’s as good as it can possibly be. Try to turn it in early, as clients really like freelancers who get their work done ahead of the deadline. After your work is accepted, ask the client to write a brief recommendation for you. You can post this on your online profile and show it to potential new clients.
Build up your roster of freelance clients.
Continue to work on building up your professional connections in the freelancing world as you get ready to quit your nine-to-five job. You’ll quickly discover that there are multiple types of clients. Here’s a look at some of them.
- Long-term clients: These clients have a steady supply of writing work that you can rely on from week to week. Some of them might not pay as well as you’d like, but you can consistently rely on them for a weekly or monthly paycheck.
- One-off clients: These clients might only have one big project to offer you, or they might contact you sporadically every few months about work. You can’t rely on them for a consistent paycheck, but the work might pay at a higher rate than most.
- Overflow clients: Believe it or not, one big source of income for many freelancers is other freelancers and marketing agencies. Other freelancers might sometimes end up with more work than they can handle. They don’t want to upset their clients, and so they might shuffle this overflow work to other freelancers. This is one reason why it’s a good idea to network with other freelance writers. Marketing agencies do the same thing. They might temporarily have too much work for their regular employees to handle. To handle the excess workflow, they rely on freelancers.
Ideally, you’ll want to build up a diverse roster of freelance clients. It’s never a good idea to put all your eggs into one basket. That is, try not to rely on any one client too much. Once you’ve landed a few long-term clients and have made connections with one-off and overflow clients, it may be time to start thinking about taking the plunge into full-time freelancing.
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