When I first decided to become a freelance writer, I didn’t have any help at all. In fact, I was completely at a loss because the industry is very “hush-hush”. You’re expected to make it on your own – or not make it at all.
Of course, that is true of many industries because the secrets of the craft are well-kept by those who have already achieved success. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult for talented newcomers to make it in the writing world. If you don’t have guidance, you’re bound to fall flat on your face. With that in mind, here are my top ten tips for freelance writers.
1. Always Get It In Writing
Verbal agreements may be legally binding in the United States, but they sure are hard to prove. He said—she said arguments are rarely successful in the courtroom, and if you don’t have any witnesses to your agreement, it’s almost as if it didn’t happen.
If you’re hoping to become a success as a freelance writer, you need to make all agreements in writing. A contract or service agreement is a great first step, but make sure that any additional agreements are likewise put to paper. Trust me: It’ll save you months of heartache in the future.
2. Save Everything – No Matter What
You never know when you’re going to need an e-mail or a contract or a first draft down the line, so get in the habit of saving everything for at least a year. My advice is to print everything from your computer and save the hardcopy in boxes or file cabinets in your office. Plastic totes are great for this purpose.
When you save everything, you always have a record of your progress and your communication. If a question is ever raised with a colleague or client, you’ll have the proof in written form.
3. Open a Business Bank Account
When it comes to taxes or sorting out pay agreements, you won’t want to separate your personal transactions from your business transactions. To avoid this confusion, open a business bank account and conduct all business through it alone.
You might also want to apply for a business credit card and open a retirement plan in the name of your business. Keeping business and personal transactions separate will make your life much easier.
4. Learn How to Say “No”
Just because you’re in business as a freelance writer doesn’t mean that you have to take every project that crosses your desk. In fact, many projects won’t appeal to you at all – in which case, say “no”!
In my early days as a freelance writer, I took every project I could get my hands on. The result? I was depressed, overwrought and strung out. I couldn’t handle the load and I was frustrated by the projects with which I didn’t agree. You’ll make more money if you filter each project through your heart and mind before saying “yes”.
5. Give Yourself a Break
Freelance writing isn’t like any other career in the world. If you were to write from the time you woke up until the time you went to bed, your brain would be mush in a matter of weeks. Instead, give yourself a healthy workday (eight or nine hours will suffice) and turn off the computer once you’ve reached your limit.
Burn-out is common among aspiring freelance writers, and if you don’t give your mind and body a break, you’ll lose the will to write at all. Beyond that, give yourself a vacation every few months. Go to the beach or a hotel or a favorite theme park and get writing off your mind for a few days.
6. Find Peace and Quiet
While some writers can work in the family room with the TV blaring, the washing machine running and the fan on high, most find this atmosphere a hindrance to creativity. As quickly as possible, find a location in your house that is quiet and free from distraction. A spare bedroom, a large closet or even a nook in the garage will work fine.
Tell your family that when you are working, you need to be left alone. If you have young children, take a break every couple of hours to play with them, and then go back to work. Your family will understand that you need to concentrate in order to be productive.
7. Make Time for Administrative Tasks
A self-employed freelance writer is different from an employee. You are not only responsible for writing for your clients, but you are also required to handle all of your administrative tasks. This eats up more of your time than you probably think, so leave a couple of hours every day for this purpose.
Remember also that you aren’t paid for paperwork and banking, so adjust your prices accordingly. Most freelance writers work on actual projects an average of twenty-seven hours per week. This means that the other thirteen hours of your work week are spent on unpaid tasks.
8. Don’t Let Your Guard Down
I made many mistakes early in my freelance writing career, but this was the worst. Be careful about how you handle your clients. If you become too friendly and make work more of a social event, they will walk all over you. Maintain professionalism in all that you do and don’t be afraid to demand payment.
It’s important that you don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of. If a client asks for additional time to pay or extra work for free, simply explain your policies regarding those issues and come to an agreement.
9. Give Yourself Reasonable Deadlines
Never promise a project before you think you’ll be able to get it done. In fact, until you get a good idea of how fast you work, add three days to your most liberal estimate. If a client expects a project in three weeks, but gets it in two, he’ll be thrilled! But if you promise it in two and you take three, you’ve probably just lost a client.
If, however, you run into a situation where you don’t think you’ll be able to finish by the deadline, simply talk to your client. Explain that you might take a few extra days, but that you’ve made it a top priority.
10. NEVER Work For Free
Even if you’ve never published anything in your life, you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. Working for free or severely discounted prices will only hurt your career. Come up with a few samples for your website that show off your talent and offer those pieces to your prospects, but never agree to write something for free. Ever!
These tips should set you on the road to a fulfilling and profitable career as a freelance writer. If you run into trouble, feel free to give me a call and set up a consulting session. I’ll be happy to answer your questions and guide you through this difficult – but rewarding – transition.
About Laura J. Thompson
Laura J. Thompson is a professional editor, ghostwriter and consultant. She provides these services at competitive prices for both businesses and individuals all across the United States. You can learn more about her services by visiting her website (http://www.editingbylaura.com) or by reading more of her articles. She specializes in fiction ghostwriting and editing, though she also enjoys self-help and other non-fiction articles and books.
Interesting article, thanks! I’ve done a little freelance writing, and I can imagine it being quite challenging as a career.