One Freelance Writer’s Surprising Strategy for a Revved-Up Career

By Pinar Tarhan

If you want to start a career as a freelance writer, you have two options:

You can quit your day job, dedicating yourself to writing full time. Or you can build your portfolio slowly, while keeping that office job.

Or so I thought. It didn’t occur to me there was a third option, until I failed to make either of those options work for me. Here’s how I found the perfect solution through trial and error:

Freelancing on the side

I had an office job when I decided I wanted to be a writer. So I first tried freelancing on the side.

Unfortunately, my job required me to work (and commute) six days a week. I was left with little time and energy to learn about freelance writing and marketing, much less time for actually sitting down to write.

It didn’t help matters that I didn’t like my job. So I quit.

Freelancing full-time

Feeling euphoric, I started writing full-time. But soon, I was lost in all the stuff I had to do and learn. When my initial queries failed me, I started applying to job ads and trying out content mills.

The highest-paying job I landed was $35 for a long travel article. I was starting to panic as my savings melted away.

Soon, I was producing a lot of articles for low pay. I wasn’t happy, and I wasn’t exactly making a living.

Freelancing with a twist

After months of hard work and no tangible results, it hit me. I didn’t have to choose between a full-time job (which left me with little time, energy and motivation) and full-time freelance writing (where I was under constant pressure to make money quickly).

I could take a flexible, part-time job I would enjoy to pay the bills.

So I started teaching English as a second language.

This part-time job brought me more than just a regular paycheck:

Benefits of my part-time job

  • Happiness: I make money doing something I love, so I no longer have to take unsatisfactory writing assignments to make ends meet.
  • Time: I only teach 14-18 hours a week. Not only do I have enough time for all my writing-related activities, I am also able to have a busy social life.
  • Peace of mind: A regular paycheck motivates me to research markets more thoroughly, craft professional queries and send them to my dream publications.
  • Inspiration: As I meet so many diverse people through my teaching, I’m not stuck for story ideas.
  • Exercise: I live in a big city, and the commute on my part-time job is far less than I had with my full-time job. That leaves me with time to hit the pool.
  • Broader network: Because I meet new people, the potential for new gigs increases. I also gain more readers for my blogs.
  • Better time management skills: I have a tighter schedule than when I freelanced full time, but a lot more time than I had with my office job. I manage my time better because time isn’t spent working at a job I hate, or worrying about the bills.

These benefits enabled me to finally put a red velvet rope around my work by rejecting content mills, low-paying jobs and unreliable clients. I can now refuse to take an assignment unless I am satisfied with the conditions.

I am happier, I make more money freelancing and I feel more confident pitching to the publications I’ve been following, such as Freelance Switch and this blog.

What’s the right balance for your writing career? Leave a comment and tell us whether you prefer full-time or part-time freelancing.

Pinar Tarhan loves writing — part time — about subjects including writing, dating and entertainment. She blogs about managing a freelance writing career while writing what you love at Addicted to Writing.

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27 comments on “One Freelance Writer’s Surprising Strategy for a Revved-Up Career
  1. What has worked for me is to maintain a couple contract positions (writing and/or editing) with smaller magazines while pitching the big ones. I only started full-time freelancing two years ago, and while I was in the newspaper and magazine industry for seven years prior to, it has taken time to get the attention of national editors and become known as a specialist in the things I love to write about (think great people doing great things).

    As I build these relationships, I’ve become pickier and pickier about my clients—I have always refused to write for content mills or no pay—with the goal of one day balancing fewer, higher-paying gigs with raising a family.

  2. Steph Auteri says:

    I can relate to this post a lot. When I first left my full-time job in publishing to freelance full-time, it didn’t occur to me at first that freelancing didn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. Over the past five years, I’ve had three different part-time permalance gigs that made me feel safer and more secure while still leaving me the time to build up my client base.

    I’m back to freelancing full-time right now, which is what I prefer. But that perfect balance looks different for everyone. In fact, sometimes a part-time gig can feed and inspire the freelance stuff!
    Steph Auteri recently posted…Been Writing for Years? You Still Have A Lot to LearnMy Profile

  3. I love the red velvet rope comment! I finally got this. Stopped writing for ehow and never considered the content mills. Now I write like Carol … blog posts at around $100/hour plus my regional parenting stuff plus my ebooks on my own time. Homeschooling and mothering are my priorities, so I finally figured out I can maybe do dream things like travel with my family to cool places if I write for what I’m worth. I’ll be heading to your blog!

    • Carol Tice says:

      I got that from Michael Port — heard a talk where he talked about that red velvet rope concept, like outside a movie premiere. They only let the beautiful people in, not everybody. And you want to be that way with your clients.

  4. I “fell into” freelancing in June 2011 when my husband and I lived near a military post and couldn’t find a job other than working at a church in the area that only provided 7-10 hours of work per week in childcare.

    Since then, I’ve really enjoyed my projects and many of my clients, but am considering working full-time as well for the benefits and, let’s be honest, the pay and face-to-face social interaction would be nice, too!

    I’ve been in the process of interviewing for a full-time job in our area now that we have returned to our home of record, but the process is going longer than I expected. A part-time job would certainly be a good benefit! I’ve applied to one in the area at a local library and hope to hear back shortly if I’m chosen for an interview. If not, I’ll keep looking for part-time and continue working on building my business.

    Thanks for bringing up this topic! I really enjoyed seeing what you enjoy about working part-time while freelancing.

  5. Clarabela says:

    Loved your post. I did the same thing. I had a part time job last year that was perfect. I was a corporate blogger and social media specialist for an internet company. I learned a lot about writing for a corporation and how to many an editorial calender.
    Clarabela recently posted…What I Did For LoveMy Profile

  6. Steve says:

    Hi Pinar —

    THis was great!

    Steve

  7. Jean says:

    I’m doing exactly this – working part-time while freelancing on the side. It’s been a slow process, but I’m getting a few regulars who ask me for work now and again, and I query when I can. I’m also looking into alternate income streams, such as my blog and will be writing an e-book soon. Knowing you have some regular income coming in while you freelance is definitely invigorating. I’d love to freelance full-time, but for now, this set-up works best in my life.

    And of course, it lets me refuse those low paying gigs.. I’ve had a ton of inquiries from people wanting me to write for pennies, and I turn them all down. I know I’m worth more than that!
    Jean recently posted…Hello world!My Profile

  8. Tom Bentley says:

    Pinar, it’s great that you’ve found a secure pay base that makes your freelancing more relaxed and less risky. (Though these days there’s insecurity inherent in almost all jobs.) I feel lucky to have a well-paying government contract as a managing editor of an online magazine which covers the mortgage even though it’s only 7 hours a week (which tells you it’s good to have a small mortgage). That solidity gives me breathing room for submitting freelance pieces and to work on a novel as well.

    Nikki, your friend has some sensible thoughts on how to step into freelancing without stumbling, but sometimes you just can’t predict what will happen despite good planning. I quit a corporate writing job after having freelanced on the side for a while, finally making the leap when I’d signed a six-month contract for a tech manual which paid well (but which required full-time work, so I hadn’t set up alternates). However, 3 weeks into the project, the software product in question was canned, and the entire team let go. Zowie! I was able to scramble for other (meager) work, but it did give me a sense of “the best laid plans…”

    • Nikki says:

      Wow, scary stuff. I’ve been reading so much recently about following your passion, taking that leap to becoming an entrepreneur. BUT this is the stuff that scares me. The huge drop in pay. The uncertainty.

      I’m still in the early stages of building my “side hustle”, as I call it, so maybe I’ll continue as I am for now and reassess later.

      Meanwhile, though, the office job is draining my usually upbeat attitude… So I can see why people quit and head for p/t employment while writing on the side. It takes guts, that’s for sure.

      • Carol Tice says:

        Because I’m very risk-averse, I don’t think “huge drop in pay.” I think “savings.”

        Sock it away and then quit, and live off your hump while you ramp the business. The big problem is no one in America saves any money. So then, they have no choices, and it’s scary to try to do what you really want to do.

        Also, don’t think “huge drop in pay.” Anyway. Because that doesn’t have to happen. About six months into freelancing, I was making as much as I had in my staff-writing job. Now, I make twice as much. Don’t start with the poverty mentality that freelancing = starving. Or for you, it will.

        Freelancing really means your earning potential is unlimited.

        • Nikki says:

          Thanks, Carol. I think that’s what didn’t sit right with me. The idea that I could fail, that I wouldn’t earn enough.

          You’re right about savings. And no, I never seem to save any money right now. I’m busy paying off this debt and that debt. I’ll start tucking some away and get myself better set-up financially before I take the leap. Thanks again for the advice.

    • Pinar Tarhan says:

      Tom, you are so right about no job – freelance or otherwise -really having job security. I’m also pretty risk-averse like Carol so I try not to rely too much on anything. For instance while I have a six-month contract at my teaching job and I love working for them, I’m already updating my CVs and catching up with my contacts. You never know.
      The good thing is, your life isn’t mapped out completely. You know you won’t wake up to the same routine every day. But of course the bad news is you never get to have a security blanket provided by any job or boss. That’s why you’ve to make one yourself.
      Pinar Tarhan recently posted…This Writer’s Solution for Writing What She Wants: My Guest Post on Carol Tice’s Make a Living WritingMy Profile

  9. Nikki says:

    Hi Pinar,

    I currently have an established, well-paid f/t job which just isn’t challenging me like it used to. I’ve started writing on the side with a focus on women-owned businesses and would love nothing more than to make this my f/t gig. However, scratching around for jobs while working p/t doesn’t sound like where I want to be. Perhaps I’m being too picky, too idealistic?

    I’d love to figure out how to get from point A to point B without spending too much time in between.

    One of the freelance copywriters I greatly admire had a f/t job as a project manager and quit once she had enough clients and money coming in to be able to do so. (The day she quit she clinched a deal for $9,000).

    Another friend of mine who started her own marketing consultancy (which is now extremely successful – to the point she has to turn clients away), recommended starting out with three or so clients and tying them in for six months so you have the flexibility to leave the f/t job behind without worrying about cash flow. She suggests figuring out all your bills and how much you’d need to earn absolute minimum and pricing out from there.

    Thoughts?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sounds great if you can pull it off! But for many writers it’ll be more of a slow process of gradually building up a stable of freelance clients on the side.

      In this economy, many people don’t have luxury of planning as they find themselves out of work suddenly and just have to dive in. In a way, I don’t think that’s so bad, as I know so many writers who wish they had quit to freelance 10 years sooner, but were always afraid to make the leap.

      In 2005 when I started freelancing on this round (round 2 for me), I had a couple of freelance clients I’d worked with occasionally, and that was it.

  10. Dorothy says:

    Well I lost my full-time job in 2008. I went on unemployment for almost two years. I have all the free time to write….but no income. I don’t know if my writing is good enough ..to write as a free-lancer..!

    • Carol Tice says:

      There’s only one way to find out — start writing and submitting!

    • Clarabela says:

      Start a blog on a topic that interest you and write about it. That will give you lots of writing practice and you will get feedback from your readers. The more you write, the more you will improve.

      I was in the same situation. I lost my job in 2008 ans started ghost blogging for a few friends who has thier own business. I am slowly building up my clients.

  11. Elizabeth says:

    This was great to read! I am doing much the same thing, balancing my forays into professional writing with supplemental activities including teaching volunteers at a local community college (great fodder for ideas there) and managing social media for some really interesting local companies in industries I want to write about anyway (health, fitness, parenting). Having a PT job is a great way to network and keep yourself from withering away indoors! Great post!!!

  12. Liz says:

    I like this article and I really understand what Pinar means here. For me it pans out differently because I started out freelancing full time then I began doing small part time gigs. I love writing and I don’t mind writing but the part time gigs keep the bills paid. Thanks Pinar for showing a middle ground. Keep up the good work here.
    Liz recently posted…7 Benefits of Free eTrade AdvertisingMy Profile

  13. Denene says:

    Great post, Pinar! This is one that I can relate to. I went through the same process and now have a part-time job at a college that I do in addition to freelancing. It’s a nice balance and takes away some of the financial panic of freelancing. It also provides the in-person social network that so many freelancers crave. And freelancing is so flexible that I can still do it “full time,” even if it’s not always during the traditional 9 to 5 hours. I’ve found a pretty comfortable way to freelance.

9 Pings/Trackbacks for "One Freelance Writer’s Surprising Strategy for a Revved-Up Career"
  1. […] But I found the perfect balance by supporting my writing income with part time teaching. Teaching helps me with being more social (as opposed to the solitariness of writing) and prevents me from taking jobs that don’t excite me. Win-win. Oh, and it also worked as an article idea. […]

  2. […] of a part-time teaching job and writing worked wonders. You bet I wrote a story about it: One Freelance Writer’s Surprising Strategy for a Revved-Up Career. It was published on Carol Tice’s Make a Living Writing […]

  3. […] –          My article on writing while holding a part-time job (I loved) got published on Make a Living Writing. […]

  4. […] anywhere near his, but I did get published on Carol Tice’s Make a Living Writing with my article “One Freelance Writer’s Surprising Strategy for a Revved-Up Career”,detailing how my part-time job (one that I still have) helped my writing career in so many ways. […]

  5. […] for Freelance Switch three times (my 4th article will be published in May). And when I pitched to guest post for Carol Tice, I had read more posts than I could count. So at first it wasn’t about studying it as a […]

  6. […] dialogue.  And while I didn’t finish my book in 90 days (it is on me though – I also love to maintain a part-time career in teaching, as well as a career in non-fiction), I learned a lot from that […]

  7. […] I recently came across an article by freelance writer Pinar Tarhan where she lists the benefits of being a part-time freelancer. […]

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