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Week 3 as a Freelance Writer: My First Success

Shortly after my last post about setting goals as a freelance writer, I sold my first article as a freelance writer and acquired my first long-term client.  The sense of accomplishment and joy I felt in being paid for the first time as a professional writer made me feel like a kid on Halloween who just filled his candy bucket to the brim with sugary sweets.  But that excitement soon gave way and logic took over, posing me with the question: what do I do to stay motivated as a business-owner and a freelancer?  I know that losing my momentum would be disastrous for my morale; such is the cost of dealing with constant, resurgent anxiety and depression.  The success of my business and freelancing endeavor would, thus, be dependent on keeping the momentum of work and some modicum of achievement flowing.

Setting my earning goals has been the first part to giving myself a framework to work in.  Freelancers aren’t accountable to a manager or boss; we are our own bosses.  There’s no write-up system, discipline, or threat of being fired if we don’t perform.  We simply don’t work, or our business stagnates.  Having a framework – even a loose one – to work within gives me some aspect of accountability.  “How close am I to my earning goal?” I can ask myself, and track my progress in that way.  If I’m far off from the mark, I’d know I’m failing as a freelancer and that it is time to either step it up or quit.  And I’m no quitter.

My client was happy with my work and paid me accordingly, then asked me to write another piece.  He promised me future work if I can continually deliver the same quality and turn-around, which I fully intend to do so.  It’s here that I have to admit I have a personality flaw: I’m horribly afraid of letting down someone who depends on or trusts me.  It’s because of this that I’ve lost many opportunities throughout my life, because my confidence wasn’t up to par with being able to wholeheartedly promise to deliver.  But my client accepting my first piece proved to me more than anyone that being a professional freelance writer is something I can do and is something I can succeed at.

Keeping the Momentum GoingKeeping Up the Momentum

Throughout 27 years of life, I’ve always felt like I had a destiny to do something, but could never pinpoint what that something was.  I finally feel as if I’ve discovered my calling; writing professionally has always been a dream of mine, and far too often I let that dream slip away or gave up on it because it seemed impossible to pursue.  But the little success I’ve had so far is incredibly motivating.  I’ve found myself smiling when I usually don’t, and my attitude’s improved for the better, all because I finally feel like I’m doing what I was meant to.

To that end, I know it’s imperative for me not to let the momentum slow at all.  It’s easy to become complacent when you have no authority to report to, that’s tracking your progress and forcing you to improve.  I am very much my own boss, and that means I need to treat myself as hard as I’d expect a boss to.  I need to constantly push myself to write more, write faster, and write better or else I’ll lose all the momentum I’ve acquired.

To that end, I’ve been striving to increase my workflow, and not solely from a monetary standpoint.  I fully intend on having freelancing be my career, but my main goal right now is to keep growing my business by finding new clients and having a steady stream of work to prove to myself (and future clients) that this is a business I take seriously and can succeed in.  I also want to transition away from Upwork; Upwork’s fees eat into pay, and it’s easy to spend more time on the job board than it is landing a job.  I’d much rather have clients I acquire directly or through referrals.

The Keys to Success

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been taking note of and researching what needs to change in my life in order to support my business and freelancing.  Call them life hacks or tips or general advice; whatever the term, they’re changes and adaptions that I think are fairly universal to a freelance writer in assisting us with our business.  If you’re serious about freelancing, you should:

  • Clean your desk.  I’m a nerd and my desk is proof of that.  I spend most of my time on my PC, reading, writing, or gaming.  Scissors, a bottle opener, my wallet, compressed air, and a mound of mail is spread over and across my desk, leaving me with a rather cluttered workspace.  Sure, it doesn’t specifically get in the way of my writing, but it’s cluttered and it makes me feel claustrophobic sometimes.  Having a clean desk will help you with your work and present less distractions.
  • Use a calendar to help with planning your freelance writing.Use a calendar.  Whether it’s a physical calendarwhiteboard, or app, use a calendar to plan out your week.  I hate being late in any regard, so I make sure to strictly abide by deadlines.  A calendar helps me keep track of what’s due when and determine which piece to write first depending on its expected length and how soon it’s due.  It also helps to remind me to stick by my goal of at least one blog post per week.
  • Set a schedule.  I’m a night owl and tend to do the bulk of my writing at night.  I also prefer waking up mid-afternoon.  Unfortunately, the bulk of American clients roughly follow the American workday of 9-5.  As such, I need to ensure I’m available for my clients when they’re around.  It’s also far easier to find work within those hours than at 11:30pm.  I generally wake up around 10/10:30am and eat and shower, then respond to whatever emails or offers I have, look for work, and then start working on client pieces around 2 or 3 in the afternoon.  When it comes time to write, I minimize my distractions and focus on writing.  Unless I’m writing a lengthy piece, I’ll generally write an entire article in one sitting, take a break, and then commit to editing before submitting it to my client.
  • Make sure you don’t undersell yourself.  Writing is a skill like any other, but it’s not one that everyone excels at.  If you’re interested in or are already freelance writing, you’re already set apart from the crowd.  To be a freelance writer, you need to have some amount of passion for and skill in writing.  Don’t undersell your ability or allow yourself to be taken advantage of.  If you’re an expert in finance or fitness and a client is offering to hire you to write about one of those subjects, make sure you sell them your expertise.  In that situation, what you bring to the table isn’t only your writing ability, but also your expertise about the topic you’re being hired to write about, so make sure you communicate that you’re knowledgeable in the field you’re being hired to write about.
  • Set (and stick by) your rates.  In the world of freelance writing, it’s very easy for a client to get what they pay for.  What is especially prominent on content mills and job boards like Upwork is a massive surplus of people with barely-passable fluency in English or no understanding of how much they deserve to be paid.  The former are generally foreign speakers who will vastly underbid on a project and win it because the client either doesn’t care or doesn’t understand the kind of writer they’re hiring.  The latter have not done sufficient research for how much they should be paid for a writing assignment.  I’m guilty of this myself: one of the pieces I wrote this week was a heavily-researched 3,000 word article that I was paid $35 for.  Between the research and the actual writing, I spent probably 8 hours on that piece.  I still delivered an article written on-time and to the best of my ability because the fault for accepting that job was my own, but it’s not a mistake I’ll make again.

Determining Your Rate

If you read my last blog post, you probably read about how I calculated my earning goal.  What I didn’t explain was the rates I decided to set for myself.  When coming up with your rates, here’s what you need to keep in mind: higher rates can potentially reduce the amount of business you do, but will raise the quality.

Why is that?

The best clients understand that you’re performing a service for them that they, for whatever reason, can’t fulfill themselves.  They are paying you for your time, your ability, and possibly even your expertise.  This all contributes to what you need to take into account to set your writing rate.  I’m no fan of math, but let’s see if I can explain this well enough to make sense:

From my research and observation, a large portion of writers on Upwork will write a piece and accept payment within the range of .01 to .03 cents per word.  That means a 500 word piece, which should take 30 minutes to an hour to write depending on the research involved, will earn a freelancer $5-$15.  Keep in mind that this isn’t entirely equal to an hourly rate.  There’s a lot of time as a freelancer that you simply don’t get paid for: searching for clients, writing proposals, skimming through job boards, and improving your craft.  All of this needs to be included in your rate.

As a beginning freelance writer with a relatively empty portfolio, I decided to set my initial rate at .12 cents a word, which equates to $60 for a 500 word piece.  Considering how long I’ve been writing professionally and the fact that my first few clients would feel as if they were taking a chance on me, I felt that was a reasonable rate for both parties and one that I fully intend to raise as I continue building my experience and portfolio.

Also of some importance: Never, ever work for free or “exposure” unless the client is some massive company that will give you a byline (and even then…).  Exposure doesn’t pay.  Cash does.  Freelance writing is a business.  If you were to walk into a supermarket, load up a carriage, and walk out with the promise that you’ll tell your friends and family about your positive experience there, you are providing nothing of value to that business.  Word-of-mouth is important and a great way to acquire referrals, yes, but exposure alone doesn’t put food on your table or gas in your tank.  And working for free causes clients to think all writers will work for free or next-to-nothing, thereby impacting the entire industry.  If you call yourself a professional writer, act like one and only accept jobs where you’ll be paid a reasonable rate.

To help drive my point home, here’s two videos I saw long ago, before I ever decided to become a professional writer, but that have stuck with me to this day in regards to making a living as a freelance writer (the language is NSFW):

What’s Next For Me

Now that I’ve established I can earn money as a freelance writer, it’s time to take my business to the next logical step.  In all honesty, while I wish it weren’t so, Upwork and sites like it aren’t the primary method for freelance writers to make a living.  Over the past month I’ve been working on developing my business plan and intend to start marketing directly to local and small businesses with the intentions of providing web copy, blog posts, and any other written material they could use.  I also want to begin writing articles to pitch to certain markets, such as magazines and online news sites.

Tomorrow I’ll be putting together a contract for future clients that I find myself, as I won’t be working within the framework of a site like Upwork.  When the contract is put together, I intend on sharing it here on my website for other freelancers to make use of.

Have any questions for me or advice to leave for fellow freelancers?  Let me know in the comments below, on Twitter, or contact me!

2 thoughts on “Week 3 as a Freelance Writer: My First Success

  1. I’m so happy that you’ve found success as a freelance writer! It sounds like you’ve had a fantastic week and congrats on getting your first client!

    Your point about increasing your rates is a fantastic point. I recently did this and I’ve noticed that the quality of my work (and my passion for it!) has had a major boost. 🙂

    1. Thank you! Advice and help from you and a few other writers has definitely contributed to my success and self-confidence so now it’s just a matter of continuing to learn while keeping the momentum going.

      Awesome to hear of the effect raising your rates has had on your work and drive! I think we as writers are prone to selling ourselves short at times, so it’s important for us to really think of our rates and figure out what’s reasonable for both ourselves and our clients.

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