Devon Ellington: Can You Cut It As a Freelance Writer? Part 1

Today, my good friend, Devon, is here with her insightful article on freelance writing. Come back tomorrow for Part 2!

Can You Cut It As A Freelance Writer? Part 1

by Devon Ellington

de-avatar-2Myth Vs. Reality
In this stumbling economy, plenty of people look at us and think freelancers have it easy – we work in our pajamas, we hang out in coffee shops or wine bars, and the cash keeps rolling in. Of course, these people are delusional. It would be lovely if that represented our actual life.

The reality is that we work in our pajamas when we’re battling with the flu and still have a deadline looming. Yeah, it’s really great not to have to get dressed, go out in the cold, drive to someone else’s office and spend most of our day praying to the porcelain god in a public restroom. But we’d still rather be in bed, getting well, than working through an illness in order to make sure the electricity stays on.

The reality is that we sometimes work in coffee shops because our own four walls are closing in on us, and switching where we work keeps us going. And we head for that wine bar when the client keeps changing his mind about what he wants, brings in a dozen other eyes because he’s so insecure about what he wants, and hasn’t paid us in six months.

The reality is that we often spend months chasing down deadbeat clients in order to get paid, in spite of strong contracts, because we’re not on a payroll other than our own and far too many clients think that means they can pay us if and when they get around to it.

Freelancing is a wonderful way of life, because you get to work on many projects you love, and, once you’re earning enough money so you don’t have to say yes to everything, you can turn down the ones that don’t interest you or don’t pay enough. But it takes commitment, motivation, and self-discipline.

The bluntest truths I can give you are these: If you are the type of person who writes in a spurt for a few days and then doesn’t write for weeks because you’re tired or you’re busy or you just don’t feel like it, you won’t make it as a freelancer. If you can’t get anything done without a deadline only hours away (even though you’ve known about it for weeks), you won’t make it as a freelancer. If you can’t come up with inventive ways to introduce your services to clients, you won’t make it as a freelancer. If you think you can support yourself only from the job boards, you won’t make it as a freelancer.

A transition is always less stressful than a jump (although I prefer jumping). If you have the option to transition, start cutting back on expenses now, even beyond what you have to cut back on in this economy. You want to sock away six months to one year of living expenses aside, preferably with a little extra in case of an illness or some other emergency. I have never lived this way, I have never had that much money put aside, but that is the ideal.

If you’re still working, set up a block of time two to three times per week outside of work where you start setting up your freelance life. What does that mean?

Do you have any materials for a portfolio? Work you’ve done for your current or past jobs can count, provided it’s not confidential and you weren’t under a confidentiality agreement at the time. Gather up copies of that work. Scan it and put it in a portfolio file that you can either send or, if you decide to create an online portfolio, which you can upload. Go through your clip file. (If you don’t have one, set one up). Decide what pieces you want or need in your portfolio for the type of freelancing you want to do. Start your resume, mixing your experience with your full-time job along with your other work.

What if you don’t have anything for your portfolio? You can use several approaches. You can create pieces in the tone, style, and area in which you want to freelance, to be used as samples. You can research markets in the area and try to break in.

Most important: Stay away from sites that charge for listings, or pay something like $2/article for 20 articles in a week. They won’t build your portfolio or help you get higher paying jobs. You’re better off doing pro bono work for a non-profit, charitable organization about which you are passionate, which has a solid reputation.

Design a website, stationery, a business card, and an invoice. Set up an email account specific to your freelance work (preferably attached to your website), and check it daily. Spend time every day on blogs, websites, and forums of other freelances in your field and network. If you can afford it, join your local Chamber of Commerce and, most importantly, ATTEND MEETINGS. If you pay your money and never show up, people don’t get to know you. You want to get to know them so that, when they’ve got an assignment for you, they think of you.

Should you set up a blog? Only when you’re at the point where you’ve got something relevant to say and add to the freelance community. There are thousands of freelance blogs out there – if you have something unique to add, jump in. Otherwise, learn from other blogs and THEN add your own when you’re got something to say.

This will continue tomorrow with Part 2: Management and Resources.

By Michelle

I wish you all could be inside my head. The conversation is sparkling.