Starter's Guide to Becoming a Professional Writer
More and more employees find themselves sitting at their desk and dreaming of becoming their own boss as a professional writer. It’s a recurring dream for all those who want it difficult to juggle with the unnecessary office politics or the toxic colleagues.
Whatever the reasoning, self-employment is at its highest level in the UK and the US, signifying more and more people have decide to move their professional career under the freelancing skies. After all, if there’s something appealing in the world of freelancing, it’s the sense of freedom that you get. For many, freelancing as a professional writer is the way out of the career or a company that didn’t suit their personality or desires.
But working for yourself comes at a high cost, in terms of money, social behavior and mental health. Freelancers don’t have it always easy, but if it’s the life you want for yourself, you need to aware of the inherent costs and hurdles. Here’s some things you need to know when getting started as a freelance writer.
The legal stuff
Do you know how to pay taxes or if you need a business license in your area? You need to research these two items before you start taking on clients. Here’s some tips on the legal part of becoming a freelance writer.
You compete against other market players
The freelancing world is that the market is a busy place. There is a lot of competition coming from a variety of places. As an independent contractor, you might find yourself competing against companies or other freelancing individuals.
In fact, if you’re not in a position where you can bring your client a competitive edge, either by your expertise or your specialist niche experience, you’ll be struggling to make ends meet. There’s no way around it: As a freelancer, you need to have top qualifications, and more often than not it’s something you need to invest either or money into. How do you gather the relevant knowledge? There are many options, depending on your area of freelancing.
For instance, if you’re a freelance copywriter and want to attract more financial writing gigs, you might need to get an MSC Accounting and Finance – and studying, as you know, doesn’t come for free.
You might also want to take on an internship in a specialist sector, just to gather the relevant market knowledge. The advantage is that an internship position doesn’t require any payment on your part. The inconvenient is that it isn’t paid either.
Another option is to find a niche in what you're already skilled at. For example, if you were a firefighter, you can write about safety. If you're a mom, you can write about a wide range of topics, from childcare tips to home organization. If you're a nurse, you can make the health field your niche.
You don't need to base your niche off of your old career or degree, either. It can also come from hobbies you are passionate about. Say, for example, you love to cook. You don't need a degree from the Culinary Arts Institute. Your resume can say something like:
"As a lifelong home cook trained by three generations of women, I have made over 5,000 recipes in my life."
This is how I started writing about tech. I don't have any kind of technical degree, but I'm passionate about learning everything about it. This gives me an edge.
Professional writer, be organized
When working in an office, there is only one thing that you need to worry about: Finishing your project within the deadline. When you work for yourself, you need to become a master of organization.
If you work on several projects at the same time, you may find it useful to stay on top of your client tasks in the same way that companies manage employee schedules, with a work schedule maker.
Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable or even free tools, starting with the obvious pen and paper. However, the more complex your tasks are, the more you’ll have to spend on keeping your freelancing business on track, from automated invoicing to digital task overview.
If you're a goal oriented person (I recommend setting goals to build your career, btw) get a planner that focuses on setting goals while organizing your day. I personally use the Law of Attraction Planner. If you want a digital organizer, try Google Calendar. It's free and you can set up alarms and reminders.
Another must have is a note taking app that you can use on your desktop, computer, phone and tablet that syncs all of your notes. I use OneNote and probably won't use anything else. I have a page with links to all of my social media and books so I can just copy and paste it when people ask for the information. I also have pages for writing guidelines for various clients, project ideas and email templates.
You create your own office
If you work from home, you will need to design a home office that is both inspiring and functional. More often than not, you’ll come across cute home office design tutorials that list all the furniture and DIY tools required to achieve “the look.” But they often forget to mention the cost of your work setting.
As a freelancer, you will need a decent desk, the relevant tech – from laptop to printer – and a storage facility. Remember that you’ll spend long hours working, so you need a comfortable and homely decor.
Here's a list of the basics:
Laptop or desktop. (I prefer a laptop so I can work from anywhere.)
Desk. (I use a standing desk, but for years I had an old door propped across small filing cabinets.)
Some kind of online portfolio or website. (I suggest just getting a LinkedIn page to start here is some more in-depth info on building a portfolio.)
If you're going to write for local businesses you'll need business cards. (Moo.com is my card maker of choice. Here are my cards, below.)
Need a break? It’s at your expense
Being paid by the project, you might be tempted to work almost 24/7. However, overworking yourself is not a practical solution. Not only will this decrease the quality of your work, but it can put your health at risk too. Be safe, my professional writer friend!
You do need to take a break to recharge your batteries. Holidays and sick days are not remunerated, though. What this means is that you need to evaluate your health against your finance: Can you afford to take a day off?
One of the things I love about being a freelancer is that I can do my work ahead of schedule so I can take a week or two off. My clients are happy, I get paid, and I get needed time off. I take several vacations throughout the year.
Either you multitask, or you pay someone to do it
Working for yourself as a professional writer means that you need to be a marketer, an accountant, a sale representative and a freelancing expert at the same time. It’s not only exhausting to juggle between each job; it seems that multitasking also reduces your IQ and productivity.
If your budget is in the green, you should consider outsourcing. If it isn’t, you’ll need to rely a smart tool such as ToDoist to keep you focused on one task at a time. I ended up setting up some automated systems because I just couldn't do EVERYTHING. Now, I have an assistant.
Working alone as a professional writer affects your health
As a freelancer, you’re free from the office routine and the colleagues -- and drama! It also means that you are on your own. While it might seem like a blessing at first, it’s a lonely career, and it can become extremely depressing and stressful.
Indeed, the very nature of the gig economy undermines the need for security. Job insecurity can lead to depression, anxiety, emotional exhaustion and even heart disease, and that’s precisely what you will be dealing with every single day of your self-employed life, if you let it.
My advice is to not be scarcity oriented, but abundance oriented in your freelance business. The more you think about the abundance that's coming your way, the more confident you will be, which will attract more clients. When I was starting out I called it "fake it until you make it". This mindset will not only make you more successful, it will also lessen the job security anxiety.
Additionally, loneliness is a natural feeling to experience, and it can become a burden when you can’t exchange with same-minded colleagues. Are your ideas still good if nobody hears about them?
For a lot of freelancers, hitting the wall of insecure isolation can break their career and convince them to move back to a more traditional employment situation. If you feel lonely, I suggest joining my Facebook group for writers. It helps to have others to talk to that know exactly where you're coming from.
Also, grab your laptop or your notebook and work at a picnic table at your local park or lake. Even setting up a workstation at your favorite coffee shop once a week can help with the loneliness. When I first started out, I took my kids to McDonalds and while they played on the playground I would brainstorm article ideas.
Freelancing is freeing (haha) if you’ve got the right mindset and the appropriate expectations. It’s not a lifestyle that is best suited for everyone. Of course, the best way to find out if you like it is to try!