If you’ve been working full-time jobs, the idea of becoming a freelance writer can be both exciting and terrifying.
It’s like stepping off the ground to walk a tightrope where one false move will send you plummeting to your death. There’s more glory, a higher degree of difficulty — but also what feels like a huge amount of risk.
The good news is, freelancing doesn’t have to be so scary.
The fact is, the independent-contractor economy is booming. About 10 percent of Americans currently freelance, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and all expectations are that the figures will only grow in the future. The Intuit 2020 report envisions that by that year, more than half of us will be freelancers, with more than 80 percent of major corporations stating they plan to increase their use of freelance help.
There’s plenty of opportunity. So what’s the trouble?
A lot of the anxiety about being self-employed comes from inside you. From fears you have about how hard this is that are unfounded.
If you’re full of doubts about whether you can ‘make it’ as a freelance writer, here are seven key ideas that helped me get over the fear hump and launch my freelance writing career:
1. You are human.
You may be freaked out by the idea that you will make a mistake, and then your freelance writing career will be ruined forever. But that doesn’t happen. Perfection is not expected.
Instead, expect to make mistakes — and to learn from them. That’s the adventure and the journey that is freelance writing, and being a solopreneur. Entrepreneurs at tech startups talk about learning to fail fast, and fail forward. Learn from your mistakes, keep going, and you’ll be fine.
2. The whole world isn’t watching.
I used to have terrific stage fright, back when I was a performing singer-songwriter. And if I was about to throw up before I went on, the thought I would cling to that helped me get up on stage was, “No matter how bad I blow this gig tonight, a billion Chinese could care less.”
If you live in China, you could substitute 319 million Americans that will be oblivious to your errors. I think you get the picture.
We tend to feel all eyes are on us, as writers. But as one of the editors at one of my staff-writing gigs used to tell me, today’s mistake is tomorrow’s fishwrap. The online equivalent is that today’s mistake gets pushed down the blogroll and vanishes from the home page in a few days.
You’ll be surprised how many people won’t even notice your errors. If they do, people have short memories. Unless you lie or make things up, you will live to write another day. Corrections can be issued and apologies made. It’s OK.
There is no Universal Editor Network that one grumpy editor could use to blackball you from ever getting another gig. Doesn’t exist. So relax.
3. Every writer started at zero.
It’s easy to feel that the world is full of long-established freelance writers with impressive portfolios, and that you can never, ever break in and get started from scratch now.
But that’s provably false. Because every writer working today once was exactly where you are now. They had no clips. They knew no one. You may feel you are alone in this, but in fact, every freelance writer out there has had this same experience.
They each found a way to get that first client to hire them to write. You can, too.
4. You know something useful.
I often hear from writers who worry they’re either too young or too old to get started in freelance writing. No such thing.
No matter what age you are, there are markets that want you. There are youth brands, there are brands that market to the 60+ demographic, and there are magazines for these age groups, too. Are you a mom who’s been out of the job market a while? There are parenting and women’s magazines, too, and niche product companies whose goods you probably use and love.
Somewhere in your life experience or job history, there is information that would make you the perfect writer for some client, somewhere. Figure out what you’ve got, and then use it.
5. New writers are needed.
Not every prospect can afford to pay a seasoned copywriter $125 an hour, and not every magazine can pay $1 a word or more for articles.
There are smaller clients everywhere, in every town and city in the world, and they need more affordable writers. Editors at small publications are also more willing to work with new writers, to mentor them and teach them how to improve their writing.
Nonprofits, associations, and organizations need you, too. Do a few of these lower-priced gigs, and you’ll be ready to move up and earn more.
Never think that there is no place for newbie writers in the freelance ecosystem. Writers retire and move on to other things, too. Fresh blood is always needed.
Stop thinking you’re bugging prospects when you pitch them. They need you.
6. You can write your way there.
You may feel overwhelmed by the scope of your freelance-writing dreams. It can feel impossible to earn your living this way, especially if you’re looking at an empty portfolio right now.
But here’s the fun thing about freelance writing: Each thing you write is a building block for your career. Write your writer website, and presto — you have a clip that shows you can write web content.
If you have a plan for where you want to go, you can build your own yellow-brick road and travel down it to the destination you have in mind. That’s exactly what I did. I knew no one, had no credentials, and started with nothing but my brain, my pen, a love of writing, and an eagerness to learn.
I’ve been paying all my bills with that since about 1993.
7. No credentials are required.
I wish I had a dime for every writer who emailed me to say they never pursued freelance writing because of their lack of formal training and credentials in this field. Or to tell me they’re going back for their MFA or Master’s in journalism, because they feel that will finally qualify them to do this for a living.
I’m sure glad I didn’t know a degree in English or journalism was required when I started, since I don’t have one. In anything, actually.
Definitely would have kept me from pitching Forbes, Costco, Alaska Airlines, and probably many of the other blue-chip markets I’ve written for over the years.
There is only one credential required in freelance writing: You can write well. You have command of the language, you can write to suit a client, and you can tell a compelling story.
Clients want to look at what you’ve written, and if they like it, they hire you. That’s it. Nobody cares how you learned to write well.
So if your heart tells you this is how you’re meant to make your living, draw up your plan. And then start writing.
What thoughts inspire you to get your writing done? Leave a comment and add to my list.