7 Things I Wish I Knew about Freelancing When I Started
September 10, 2020
When I first started freelancing, all I had was my laptop and a love of writing. I had recently graduated, and my mind was not focused on entrepreneurship. I did not see myself as an entrepreneur or even as a business owner. My simple goal was to make a few extra bucks doing something I loved — writing.
I have been lucky as a freelance writer to be able to make a living doing something I love, but this process of becoming a professional science writer has not been easy. For one thing, it took a long time to figure out how to make freelance writing into a fruitful career. Here I am, seven years later, reaping the benefits of my persistence, hard work, and — yes — tough lessons learned.
Honestly, I would have greatly benefited from the advice of others when I embarked on my freelance journey. The truth is that in 2013, when I first started freelancing, the gig economy was in its early stages. Things were a lot different than they are now for freelancers. For one thing, Lyft and Uber had just launched, and other types of freelance work — such as freelance writing — was not as prevalent as it is today.
In this post, I want to share a few tips based on my experiences as a freelance science writer. My hope Is that you will be able to avoid some of the mistakes I made starting out as a freelance writer.
People won’t understand your freelance journey — that doesn’t mean that freelancing is not worthwhile and meaningful.
People have always told me I’m a good writer. However, I never thought of turning writing into a career. I spent over 10 years in academic science, and I always considered myself a scientist and a science nerd. My decision to leave science and pursue writing was therefore a difficult transition.
I imagine that right now, in the COVID-19 economy, many people who are furloughed or laid off of work can relate. There are a lot of people who are out of work that are looking to transition to freelancing out of necessity who have spent years in a more traditional job. I would encourage newcomers to freelancing to embrace the journey and avoid thinking about how other people view your career goals as a freelancer. The best part of freelancing is the ability to work on your own terms. People may not readily understand what you do, but that doesn’t make your work any less worthwhile.
Don’t be afraid to work for peanuts to get started.
If you have the ability to work for a discounted rate to gain experience, it’s not a bad idea. You’ll want to build a good reputation and get exposure so you can level up. You will need to ask your early clients for testimonials that showcase to others the high quality of your work on your website or blog. When I started freelancing, I was writing entire articles for $20 or $30. Now I charge much more than that, because I have a lot more experience, and I have built a reputation as a detail-oriented, reliable freelance writer.
Ask other freelancers for advice.
Twitter is one great place to connect with other freelancers. I participate in #FreelanceChat, which is a chat where freelancers can exchange advice and chat about their craft, whether they are PR professionals, freelance writers, digital marketers, or another type of freelancing professional. Even though you may not know other freelancers in your everyday life, rest assured that there are tons of other people out there pursuing freelance jobs.
Work your connections.
This is actually surprisingly easy in the COVID-19 landscape — the best places to network on the internet are Twitter and Linkedin. You can also network in person. When I first started, I mentioned that I did freelance writing in a job interview. While I didn’t get that job, the interviewer did connect me with some people who needed some writing done, so that’s how I got one of my first writing gigs!
Don’t give up.
We all had to start somewhere. Starting out as a freelance writer is difficult. You can’t ask for high rates, so you often have to live on a shoestring budget. You may not have any idea how to deal with difficult clients who want the most amount of work for them least amount of money. As someone who has probably worked regular jobs your whole life, you may not know how to write an invoice or do your own business taxes. The business side of freelance writing can feel incomprehensible and overwhelming. The good news is that it’s not hard to find help with any of these things. You just have to have a learning mindset and be unafraid of asking other people for help. We have a lot of resources for new freelancers on our blog.
Take time to connect with your hobbies.
Downtime is just as important as time spent working. When I first started freelancing, I found it very stressful. I also was gaining a lot of weight from staying at home working with all the food in my house. So, I signed up to run a marathon. Running gave me a way to relieve stress while helping me have a fun hobby that got my mind off of the stresses of starting a new business. I recommend not giving up the things you love doing in your efforts to become a professional freelancer. Life is all about balance.
Leverage skills you don’t consider relevant to your professional life.
If you really like posting on Facebook about your awesome dog, you can actually apply those exact same social media skills as a paid social media manager. If you have a hobby like sports, fashion, or fishing, you could become a content writer for different blogs that talk about these different pastimes.
Try to think outside of the box: consider what you like to do, how you spend your time, and life experiences you may have which you don’t consider directly relevant to your work. It can all help you in freelancing in ways you do not expect. This is especially important when you’re applying to jobs that you’re interested in, but in which you do not yet have formal professional experience. For example, if you are trying to get into fishing content writing, but you’re not an experienced freelance writer, you can talk about your expertise in fishing, which will help you write a good article. As long as you can do the job they are looking for, clients may be less interested in your experience (or lack thereof) as a writer and more interested in your expertise from the perspective of a subject matter expert.
Wherever your freelance endeavors take you, the most important thing is to have fun. Freelance is a very unique type of work where you get to do the work you love and get paid for it, on your own terms. Never take that for granted.