If someone had told me how difficult it would be to make a career of freelance writing before I left my full-time job at a magazine, I still would’ve done it. That’s how I know I made the right decision.
As vicarious as it is to fantasize ones exile from the nine to five, it’s not a decision that should be left to selfish pursuits of the imagination. Before I became a fulltime freelancer, I sought advice from people like Kelly James-Enger, (Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money) Margit Feury Ragland, (Get a Freelance Life) and Robert Lee Brewer (Writer’s Market: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published).
There were distinct similarities among all these texts, and I’ve listed the top five below for your thoughtful consideration.
It’s all about location
It’s unanimous: dedicating a room or creating an office for yourself is essential to the success of your freelancing career. It’s recommended that you not work, or build an office, where you sleep. Your bedroom is your personal retreat, a place for you to relax. Your office should be a functional space with necessary office amenities, like a printer, computer, office supplies, and so on. You need to feel like you’re at work when you’re working. Sitting on your bed in pajamas isn’t the best way to go about that. Also, if you have roommates, can they be respectful of your office space and hours?
What’s more, the cost of building a functional office space can be an expensive start-up cost. Be prepared for this. However, keep all of your receipts and be sure to deduct those purchases from your income tax the following year.
Learn to love rejection
In the beginning, I used several channels to prospect for work. Craigslist, Freelanced.com, Monster, LinkedIn, you name it. And for every 50 pitches, cover letters or applications I sent out, I received one or two replies. It’s a numbers game, and you need to get comfortable with being rejected.
Writers tend to be very opinionated about their work and don’t always take kindly to criticism. But if you’re going to learn to work as a freelancer, you have to let go of your pride to make room for feedback, especially if that feedback is no, thank you.
Mix up the tone of your query letters, experiment with article pitches—find what works for you, and do it over, and over, and over. In the long run this will make you a better and more versatile writer. Look at rejection as an opportunity experiment and learn, not as a failure.
Find peace in isolation
If there’s one drawback to freelancing that’s not easily overcome (even with more money), it’s being isolated from other people. Most days, I communicate with clients and editors via email. Most of my clients, I’ve never met in person—some, I’ve never talked to on the phone! For some people, this is a welcome opportunity to embrace an inherently personal characteristic. For a social butterfly, this may present a huge problem.
Take a class at a community college, volunteer time at a shelter, or spend more time getting to know your neighbors. Depending on your personality type, the remedy will differ. It’s simply important to understand that office socializing won’t exist the way it used to, and most people enjoy that aspect of office culture.
Plan for disaster relief
None of the books I’ve studied recommend blindly quitting a job without a financial plan. Nor did any of these books recommend using credit to start a freelancing career. Instead, they recommend drafting a six to nine month budget supported by liquid savings.
You should ideally have six months of liquid cash in a bank account to cover all of your bills and expenses with the understanding that you make zero dollars for the first six months. That sounds pretty harsh, but it’s a plan that will save you from financial hardship if you find yourself in crisis.
It took me four months to pull myself off of my savings—it may take you four weeks. By mapping out your financial responsibilities and trimming frivolous spending, you can foreshadow your financial needs with a fair degree of certainty. Once you know how much money you’ll need at minimum each month, multiply that by 6 and start saving. When you’ve managed that, you’re in a better financial place to leave your job and float while you get yourself rooted in freelancing. It’s not likely that you won’t make any money for six months, but you probably won’t make enough to pay for most of your expenses. Again, don’t view this as a failure—this is to be expected. The goal is to be ready, not perfect.
Make all hats fashionable
Finally—and this is a big one—do not assume that all the writing you do as a freelancer will be the creative type you dreamed about. Writers love writing about the things they’re interested in. For me, I could write about food, wine, beer and travel all day long and never get tired of it. The problem is, so can everyone else.
Freelancers are required to wear a lot of hats, write about all kinds of things, and in all different styles. You shouldn’t get in the habit of turning down a writing gig because you’re not in favor of the topic. Instead, these are opportunities to improve your writing in a proactive way. Copywriting, technical writing, and copyediting are all very lucrative extensions of creative writing. Learn to wear different hats with a smile because writing isn’t all about shiny fashion magazine articles—especially if you’re going to be serious about getting your bills paid.
There are certainly more considerations to make before you leave your job to become a freelance writer, these were among the most prominent in all the texts I read that led to my corporate departure.
I would recommend reading (in full) all the books I mentioned above before seriously considering a resignation, as well as few stiff drinks with honest friends.