In a couple of weeks, I will have lived the full-time freelance writing life for three years.
I don’t know where the time goes, seriously.
I thought, therefore, I should probably share the things that I learned over the course of these years.
- Feast or Famine. Seriously, be prepared for times when you might be standing in line at the food bank. And other times where it feels like you have more work than you can handle. When you have the feast time, put money away. Then the famine times might only be a time where you have to be tighter with the budget as opposed to having to
take hand outsask for help.
- It’s not always your favorite. This is something I tell my kids about our household’s dinner offerings. The same applies to your freelance life. In the beginning especially, you’re going to have to take work that’s not your favorite. My first love is obviously selling my own fiction work. Next favorite is editing other people’s fiction work. But I also write blog posts for other people, edit white papers, author and set up technical manuals, and write or edit journal articles for third parties, social media management for small businesses, and put together silly “top ten” lists for content farms. It all pays the bills and eventually shakes out to provide a steady stream of work.
- More Hours, but More Love. I tend to work as many hours a week as I was at my corporate communication spin doctor job. 50-60 hours a week. But I get to juggle. I get to take a lunch by walking the dog or catching up with a friend at the coffee shop (normally segued from a client meeting). However, I don’t always notice I’m working that many hours because I am doing what I want. For most self-employed people, you will find that they work long hours but feel it less – physically and emotionally – because it’s what they want to do in life. For most, that’s why we became freelancers.
- Self-employed vs. Freelance. Because people in the writing community identify with freelance, I use that word with that population. But anyone else? I’m self-employed. Freelance suggests that what I do is “free.” However, that’s not the etymology of the word. The term was first used in 1820 by Sir Walter Scott in Ivanhoe to describe a “medieval mercenary warrior” or “free-lance” (indicating that the lance is not sworn to any lord’s services, not that the lance is available free of charge). Over the years it changed to a figurative noun, and was recognized in 1903 in the Oxford English Dictionary. Over the years it morphed into an adjective and verb, as well as the noun, “freelancer.”
- Make a way out. Sometimes you and a client don’t jive. Or maybe your client decides the work they really want you to do looks different. I always provide a clause in my contract that allows either one of us a way out. For my smaller clients it’s just 7 days; larger clients/projects it’s 14 days – just like the notice you’d give a brick-n-mortar employer. I also discuss with the client why they decide to cancel a contract and look at possibly redoing it to their satisfaction. In three years, I’ve only had one cancellation that didn’t change into a new and different contract. I’ve also gotten very good at asking lots and lots of questions of my clients to ensure we don’t get into that situation.
- It isn’t personal. It’s hard often when you’re dealing with a client one on one – especially other writers to not develop a bond. But you have to compartmentalize and keep the business part business. You’re a professional and you need to behave that way.
- Time is money. Sure you can file this tip under, “Duh.” Humor me some detailing. Be sure that in your formulas for being paid that you are covering your admin time. I have moved to a flat fee for my clients to cover things like contract set up, consultation meetings, phone calls, invoicing, etc. That flat fee allows me to not feel like the client is using my time and not paying for it. Your mileage may vary and you may build that into an hourly rate. I tend to work on a project base, so the flat fee covers that extra time. Also, if you go hourly on something, include the cost of covering your “benefits.” This includes things like transportation costs, medical, retirement. Most folks balk at my hourly rate, which is $50 an hour. When I left the corporate world that was my FTE rate for my employer – including all those employee benefit packages pro-rated into an hourly rate. The professional world doesn’t blink at $50 an hour for an attorney (if you could find an attorney for that rate, even!), engineer, doctor, etc. For some reason those of us in the fine arts – writers, editors, graphic artists, letterers, etc. are viewed as having too much fun at our jobs and therefore we shouldn’t get paid. But, I digress. It’s the smart client who hires you, knowing that your word smith skills are worth the bread, whether it’s project-based, per word, or hourly.
- Go out of your comfort zone. I’ve done projects recently providing products and services to clients I never thought I could or would do. My philosophy is that if it deals with words, I’ll do it. It’s landed me new and more lucrative jobs (read: less time, more money). Clients that I’m doing a steady stream of work for have also turned to me for projects they didn’t initially know they needed me for; but, I proved an asset in another and they asked me for word-smithy goodness on other things. More business is always good. That in turn, gives me time to work on my own fiction work and get it out into the ether for publication. Win-win.
- Hire other professionals. Sometimes there are projects for which I do that I need to sub-contract part of the job. Guess what? That leads to other jobs. The graphic artist I hired then comes to me when her client who wants a book cover needs an editor. Your network should include other expertise, not just other freelance writers.
- Leave your home office. I love my home office space. But, I find doing my work in one of the many cafes around my valley gets my name out there. Not only is my business card on their “leave a card” bulletin board, but they see me in there working. The cafe owners and customers see me and curiosity gets the better of them. I’ve landed a few clients that way. It’s also good for your working soul to get a new view a time or two a week.
I’ve probably learned more, but we’re creatures of habit, too. Top 10 lists are a great place to start. See you here this time next year and we’ll see what else I’ve learned. Maybe, if I’m lucky, it’ll be about landing an agent and having a book coming out….