Zero to Sixty as a Freelance Writer

I didn’t get the social work job I was waiting to hear about.  I am relieved because now I don’t have to make the difficult decision of whether or not to jump into full-time freelancing.  And I am, of course, scared that I won’t be able to do this and will end up in a worse situation than if I had just found a job as a caseworker.

I keep coming across testimonies from writers saying they were able to achieve a passable living as a freelancer within 6 months.  I am relying on these folks telling the truth.  I feel that I can do it, too, but I can’t know.  So, I am going to blog about my steps, successes, and failures as I journey from earning $0/year as a writer to $60,000/year.  I don’t believe I can get there in 6 months, but I AM hoping to get to $30,000/year (at least) in 6 months time.  I’m hoping (unrealistically?) to be earning 60K/year before 3 years are up.

So, here are the steps and results I’ve taken so far in switching to a career as a freelance writer.

1. Decide what to call yourself.  Copywriter, Independent Business Writer, Freelance Writer, Commercial Writer…  I went with Independent Writer because I want to write copy as well as articles.  You might need to decide on a niche for yourself, if you don’t want to write anything/everything like I am, until I can afford to be picky.  I recommend Peter Bowerman’s book for help with defining your area and title.

2. Create a writing schedule.  This is something I needed to do, but everyone is different.  If I don’t have my time scheduled and planned, it is too easy for me to jumble my priorities.  In order to have time with my daughter, and time to exercise, I’m able to write for 33 hours a week.  I’m working on being more disciplined about planning those writing days better, too.

3. Figure out your money.  The advice I keep reading is to have 6 months worth of living expenses saved before leaping into full-time freelance work.  This sounds very reasonable… and unachievable for many, including me.  I will write more about my own money planning in a later post.  For now, let’s just say that it’s important to know how you will get by for many months with little to no income!

4. Buy a domain name and create a website.  I recommend doing this right away.  It may seem premature, but a website is the first thing people have asked to see when I tell them I am a freelance writer.  I was advised by a graphic designer that an email address linked to your website looks much more professional than a gmail or hotmail account (i.e. mercy@mercystrongheart.com as opposed to mercystrongheart@gmail.com).  After comparing different companies, I went with ipage.com.  I bought mercystrongheart.com and one year of website hosting for $34.  Cheap.

I have found posts on this blog to be helpful.  I don’t yet know if the woman who writes it is legitimate or not, meaning can her advice be trusted…  I looked at these websites she recommends as good examples of writers websites.  I ended up liking this one and looked at it while creating my website.

5. Decide on your rate/hourly fee.  This has been hard for me.  I’m applying to be a writer in an organization called Scripted (so far I’ve been denied for the two industries I applied to), and I stole their rate sheet as a guide for myself.  Feedback from copywriters I know is that $50/hour is a good starting wage.  It’s high enough for clients to take me seriously, but low enough to be desirable with my lack of experience.  Thanks to Scripted, I can now bid by job as well. (I’ll post my rate sheet later.)

6. Create and/or gather samples for your online portfolio.  Apparently it is essential for a freelance writer to have samples of their writing available online.  (I have also been reading The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman as a guide for getting to self-sufficiency as a writer in 6 months.  Again, I can’t tell if his advice is legitimate, or if he has just found a way to make money by promising other writers that they can make it, too!  Anyway, I have been following his advice, including creating a portfolio.)  My friend G, who is a graphic designer, also told me that if she doesn’t know a writer’s work, she won’t even bother with them if they don’t have samples available on their website.

I had no samples.  I checked craigslist everyday and applied for a job to write articles for a sports website.  I now publish articles with them every week, and can use them as samples of published work.

For samples of business writing for my portfolio, I posted on Facebook that I was available for pro bono writing jobs.  One friend, a psychologist, asked me to write her bio for her website.  Another friend offered me the chance to write a PR piece for her pizza restaurant.  I’m working on them both now.  When I told G that I wanted to launch my writing business, she passed my name and email on to a couple writer friends, one of whom sent a job my way within a few days.  I’m working with that client now, writing content for his web page.

7. Check Craigslist everyday, and snag opportunities to write and publish.  I actually almost never see anything, but I still check it almost everyday.  It’s how I got the job writing for portlandsports.com, and I am in the process of applying to two others.  What I’ve found is that the writing jobs are very low paying on Craigslist, but if you can get one that regularly publishes your work, you’ll be earning a lot in exposure and credibility.

8. Create a Twitter account, a blog, and a Facebook page.  So many writers tend to be introverts, like me, and feel averse to spending much time writing about ourselves.  However, we live in the times we live in, and writers are now expected to have a social media life, eventually a following, and be actively building their “platform“.  I struggle with what to tweet and blog about.  I know that if I do it more regularly, I’ll get into the groove.  Facebook felt awkward for a long time, and now I have to restrain myself from posting too much on there.

9. Get a timekeeping app.  Maybe not something everyone wants to do, but I want to keep track of how long different jobs are taking me so I can adjust my rate and pace as needed.  I like the look and features of TimeWerks, but I’m trying Hours Keeper for free to see how much I use the app.  You could always just write down how much time you’re spending on jobs, but the time keeper apps let you clock in and out, and keep track for you.  I find this really helpful.

10. Order business cards.  I really like the designs on moo.com, but I ended up going with vista print because they are so much cheaper.  I just ordered 500 cards, with a  little calendar printed on the back of each (I’m a calendar geek), and a leather card holder for $45 with S&H.  I plan on handing them out as much as possible.

11. Consider joining Lynda.com.  I joined this online tutorial site to teach myself SEO, HTML, and marketing basics.  It has a good reputation and great user reviews.  It costs $25/month for unlimited video access.  I found that I don’t have the time right now to take advantage, so I canceled my membership.  I am going to try teaching myself skills as I need with mooc’s (massive open online courses).

I’ll keep writing posts like this as I go along!

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