Five Things to Consider When Becoming a Freelance Writer

By. Danielle Husband

Whenever my writer friends find out that I freelance, I often get questions about how I got started. I always dole out advice, but, in truth, I think every freelance writer’s pathway to success looks different. Much of it depends on the opportunities that you encounter and how well you take advantage of them. That said, I do have advice for getting started, based on my own experiences.

If you’re thinking about freelancing, here are five things to consider before you get started:

Unpaid work often precedes paid work. 

One of the hardest things about working in a creative field is that you have to demonstrate your work before people are willing to pay for it. Although it’s frustrating to go unpaid, it’s also the best way to get your foot in the door.

However, don’t take someone’s word for granted that their publication is your ticket to “exposure.” Instead, offer to write for publications/websites/causes that play to your passions. Try to have fun with these early “free” pieces — but still do your best work. You’ll soon be sharing these stories with people you want to pay you for your work.

Be open to a variety of job types.

As much as I love writing articles, they’re not the only type of work I take. I have a couple of different ghost writing gigs that give me consistent work, and I also do small jobs like artist’s statements, press releases, and blog posts.

Not only has being flexible helped me make more money, it also makes the work more fun because the variety keeps my brain fresh. Because my brain is fresh, I’m able to do more work than I would otherwise. This allows me to make more money.

Change the way you think about your work day. 

Setting regular work hours is difficult. Deadlines drive your work hours, and you’ll need to be working during the hours you’re most productive. It’s normal to have very long days or days when your work hours are spread throughout the day in mini blocks.

Additionally, freelancing is different from working a normal full-time job. For a lot of my jobs, I’m paid a flat rate. If I take extra time researching or writing, I don’t get paid any extra. For jobs that I’m paid by the hour, I still have to abide by an expectation that the article will only take a certain amount of time.

Now, I’m sure that there are some writers who have reached a point in their career when they have leeway to ask for more money — but I’m not them. If I have to go to the bathroom, fall down a research rabbit hole, or have a “slow” work day, that’s less money in my pocket.

Set aside at least 20% of what you earn. 

When I first started getting paid for my freelance work, I set aside all of it. Why? Well, there are a few reasons. The first is taxes. You’ll owe taxes on all of the money you earn, and, unless you have some magic up your sleeve, you’ll likely be paying the self-employment tax, which is higher than typical income taxes because you don’t share that burden with an employer. You’ll also need to pay someone to help you with your taxes, or at the very least pay for a higher tier tax software to walk you through it.

Second, you’ll need to buy supplies to build your business, such as a website, business cards, entry to networking events, etc. Finally, work can be sporadic, so it’s best to have an emergency fund.

I worked multiple jobs for the first several months after I started getting paid for my writing. Most of what didn’t go to bills or debt repayment went into my savings account. It’s not a lot, but it keeps me sane and allows me to repay my student loans while still paying for professional development classes and seminars.

Document every dime you spend on your freelancing career.

I didn’t do the best job keeping receipts and records when I first got started. However, it’s important that you keep track of everything you spend on promotional materials, work supplies, training, etc. because you can claim all of those expenses on your taxes. That might not seem like it’s worth it, but it adds up fast. It’s important to save the actual receipts showing the date and what you paid, if you can. Not only will this help you remember the information when it comes time to pay your taxes, but it will also serve as proof in case the IRS audits you.

Write every day. 

The best advice for any writer of any level is to write everyday. Just put words on paper, pushing yourself to write as much as you can in the time that you have. Soon, you’ll have a writing habit that you won’t want to shake.

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