Toughen Up: 7 Ways to Get Serious About Full-Time Freelance Writing

Get serious about being a freelancer. Makealivingwriting.comHave you been toying with the idea of becoming a full-time freelance writer?

If so, I’ve got some tips for you. It’s time to change your thinking.

Writing full-time to pay your bills isn’t for the meek. And it’s not a career you can succeed at with a half-hearted effort. This is going to take serious commitment, and a thick skin.

I hear from writers every day who’re in love with the idea of becoming a freelancer…but they’re hooked on the security of that paycheck. Fears hold them back.

If this is you, let me give you a step-by-step on what successful, full-time freelance writers do to launch their business:

1. Give up stuff. 

Everything truly worthwhile involves sacrifice. The reason your freelance writing career hasn’t taken off is that you’re trying to shoehorn it in on top of everything else you do now. Likely, something has to go.

Like TV. Really, one show a week is fine. I didn’t watch a TV show for 2.5 years, when I was building this blog. I didn’t go to plays or movies or go to bars and hang out with my friends.

If you really want this, you can find the time.

2. Don’t aspire

There are no aspiring writers. There are writers, and people who are just kidding themselves.

Do you write? I don’t care if it’s in your journal, or only on your own blog. Do you feel driven to express yourself through the written word? Are you lying awake nights, thinking about things you can’t wait to write down in the morning?

If so…you’re a writer. Own it. Making this mental shift will do good things for your attitude, and put you into action.

3. Don’t give others power over you

If you’re an emotionally fragile flower who is devastated if an editor doesn’t get back to you, or won’t write a word while you wait the 6-8 weeks for an editor response, writing for a living is not for you.

Your sense of value has to come from within, not from what an editor says to you. If you believe writing is your gift and that your right livelihood involves writing for a living, persist.

4. Stop waiting

I wish I had a dime for every time a writer said to me:

“Well, I’m waiting to get my website finished before I pitch anyone.”

OR

“How long should I wait before I follow up with my editor on that query?”

As I’ve said before, if you’re serious about this career, you’ll need to be a writer, not a waiter. Pitch with what you’ve got, and keep improving your site as you go. Wait zero minutes to follow up if it’s nerve-wracking for you to wait and wonder, and send out more queries instead.

Many would-be writers are paralyzed by fears, and waiting until they feel more confident to put their writing out there. They’re writing in the privacy of their own room, never showing their work to anyone.

If this is you, stop it right now.

Unless you live in one of those countries where you could be imprisoned or shot for what you write, realize that there is no real danger in sending a query, or self-publishing that e-book. So do it.

You will not build confidence through inaction. You can only build it by pitching, writing, networking, and marketing your writing services. The more you get out and say, “I’m a freelance writer” to people, the more it will be possible for this career to happen for you.

5. End the learning excuse

If you are doing nothing but reading blog posts about freelancing and writing, taking classes about writing, and going to conferences about writing…you need to stop.

I know, you feel like you don’t know enough! Guess what? I don’t, either. Learning is a lifelong process.

It’s time to take action. You’re using ‘learning’ as a procrastination excuse.

Instead, learn one new thing about how to be a freelance writer — and then go out and do it. Don’t worry, those newsletters will still be in your email inbox when you get back. Once you’ve tried it out, come back and learn more.

6. Take the plunge

Have you been saying for years that you’re going to quit your job and write full time?

Bulletin: There will never be a better time than now. It will always feel scary to give up what seems like job security (but really isn’t, since you could be laid off at any time).

I know writers who’ve been slowly building up their freelance client base on the side for ages, but still don’t make their move. Know that it will be impossible to replace your freelance income before you quit — you’d have two full-time jobs then! At some point, you’ve got to pull the trigger.

Cut your expenses, save money, or just plain go for it. But stop waiting for it to feel ‘safe’ to do this.

7. Compete only with yourself

Stop worrying about all the other, more established writers out there. You are unique and so is your writing journey. There is room for you in the enormous freelance marketplace — if you go at it with intent.

Too many writers are stopped by fears that their writing isn’t ‘good enough,’ when mediocrity is the norm in marketing writing, and at many publications, too!

Remember that the only writer you have to compete with is yourself. Commit to constant improvement, and your career will thrive.

It’s not for everybody

There are many writers for whom the pressure of hustling up clients, meeting constant deadlines, and paying all your bills with your writing simply isn’t a fit. If that’s you — that’s cool! Write that novel nights and weekends, and crush it. Not putting that down in any way.

But if you want to become a full-time freelance writer, look yourself in the mirror, end the excuses, and make it happen.

Are you serious about freelance writing? Count the ways for us in the comments, and add to my list.

 

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55 comments on “Toughen Up: 7 Ways to Get Serious About Full-Time Freelance Writing
  1. Kimberly says:

    Hello Carol! Great advice, I am taking it and following up immediately!

    Unexpected circumstances and a need to take care of my child have forced me to into the full-time freelance writing world sooner than planned… but I am here now, I am going full-speed.

    Your site is fantastic. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  2. This is *exactly* what I needed to hear. Thank you! I’ve been researching and reading about freelance writing for months. I finally took the plunge two weeks ago! It’s so scary but so exciting! Your site is the one I come back to time and again for advice. Thank you!

  3. John Smith says:

    Carol, Thank you a lot, wonderful article!

    Just one thing. The 6th point – “Take the plunge”. That’s a totally truth. I’ve already been working as a freelance writer for two years in a custom essay writing service and I can’t even imagine what is the full-time jobs. And I don’t want it right now 🙂
    But your suggestion made me think about the opportunity of full-time job. So, thank you 🙂
    I will try to rebuild my mind, maybe.

    • Carol Tice says:

      John, unfortunately academic essay writing is an unethical niche that doesn’t build your portfolio or career as a freelance writer — you’ll need to move into other types of of writing.

  4. Wonderful post. I have started writing a letter to the editor after reading your posts. Thank you very much.

  5. Lyn Geist says:

    #7-Compete with only yourself. Climb that mountain, the goal isn’t to get there first, it’s to just get there. I think I’m a great writer and I love writing, yet, I’m still worried that I’m not as good as the writers who get the clients. I didn’t see this as holding me back exactly, more as just the way it is. Thank you for bringing me some clarity. It’s NOT just the way it is. It’s what I make it. 🙂
    #fearsucks

  6. Douglas says:

    Thanks Carol, for hitting the nail right on the head. Even after I had started by own blog as a means to promote my writing services, there is so much inertia to embark on regular marketing and promotional drive. I really feel sorry as I see myself literally losing hundreds of dollars, which would have been coming to me potentially if I was promoting my services. I believe after reading your article, I no longer have any excuses to remain stagnant! Thanks once again Carol.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, you’re definitely not the only writer who’s leaving money on the table because they won’t do marketing, Douglas. I’m happy if this post helps move you forward!

  7. Candra Kennedy says:

    Thanks for this Carol! I am a course hogger. I have paid for so many different courses and ebooks and still have not taken action. SMH. I dont have a writers website, don’t have any samples, and I don’t know what my niche is. So I have let that pevent me from starting anything. My latest purchase was yoour blog ebook (I have several other ebooks of yours as well). I am a member of the Den and have dabbled in the bootcamps there. My problem is I can’t make a commitment to one type of writing. I’m all over the place and going nowhere while time is passing me by. I am having a hard time picking a path. But this post gave me motivation to just do it. I’m going to o start that blog!

  8. Hi Carol,

    I have to say I always managed to never give up on anything by simply postponing non-priority tasks; I’ve done that since high school, so it’s almost automatic.

    If I need more time marketing, I’m going to wait for the weekend to watch that DVD, update my personal blog or see a friend. I’m also studying to make my childhood dream come true (building a robot) but if I have client or marketing work to do, I know I have to postpone that until I’m done with my deadlines. I live by the principle that I can do what I want in life, as long as I know how to prioritize (that principle turned out especially useful when I deal with strong anxiety and depression).

    Truly, my big struggles are with #3 and #4. Even though I make a huge effort to move on, the image I have of my worth inside is not really great.

    However… copying your words “You will not build confidence through inaction. You can only build it by pitching, writing, networking, and marketing your writing services” to my post-it notes is a BIG help. 🙂

    Thank you, Carol.

  9. On #5, too much learning can be particularly toxic if you lack the self-confidence to evaluate what you read and how it applies to your situation. One very successful writer got started by making cold calls to every business in the Yellow Pages; another got off the ground entirely through strategic social media participation and never directly asked “Would you like to use my services?” One person swears by the e-mail approach, another has a thousand reasons why it’s an idiotic idea. Believe that every (or any) successful writer knows exactly what EVERY writer needs to do, and you’ll wind up paralyzed with confusion–or struggling with an approach that doesn’t suit YOU at all.

  10. Lauren says:

    This was the poke in the eye with a sharp pencil that I needed. Your points 5 and 7 are the HUGE hurdles for me. But after reading this I’m going to put these hurdles at the back of my mind and just go for it.
    Thank you Carol, this post was exactly what I needed.
    (PS: I’ll keep reading your posts when they arrive because they’re always so grounded and full of good old common sense.)

  11. Akanksha says:

    You summed it up so well…you are my favorite writer!

  12. Jennifer Peaslee says:

    Thanks for the article! I am a freelance writer who took the plunge about three years ago…and I still LOVE it. Tips I would add to your list:

    (8) Plan then Plunge – You DO want to plunge, but you DON’T want to starve or have to live on the streets! Figure out your monthly bills and save accordingly. It may take a bit to get going, so make sure your monthly expenses are covered. Cut anything you don’t need. Save money. You can figure it out if you really want it. (Even if it takes time…and in that case, you can do other things as you wait, like the next tip).

    (9) Build a Portfolio – People want to see your work so they know what to expect from you. Your portfolio can demonstrate your work and be be the OOMPH you need to command a higher rate. What is your specialty – blogs, articles, webpages, ebooks, full books, whitepapers, reports, specific genres or industries, etc? For any work you want to do, have a portfolio prepared for new clients to check you out.

    (10) Get Ready to Compete – Competing with only yourself was a tip in the article, but I think you need to be real and know that you will compete with others too. That doesn’t mean curl into a ball because others are fighting for your job! It means knowing what you are worth and developing your USP. Your Unique Selling Proposition tells clients what you can offer that others don’t – what you can do better than anyone else. Why should someone choose YOU over the competition? Why do you deserve THIS rate when others are offering a lower rate? You shouldn’t be afraid of competing with others, but you must be able to answer those questions (and convincingly!)

    (11) Expand Your Skills – That person who wants a blog post or an article? They actually have more needs than you realize. Is the blog post marketed effectively? Do they capitalize on social media? Do they do any email marketing? What about creating images for the articles? There are a lot of marketing ideas that need to work hand in hand with content writing, and if you can help out or be an expert in any of those other areas then you can make more money and build deeper relationships.

    Other ideas include trying freelance websites and building as you go (I got my start on Elance), researching rates and what the competition is offering, giving thoughtful and specific quotes/bids that demonstrate not only what you can do but what you can do for the client and the project, pricing reasonably but knowing when it’s time to grow/boost your rate, setting up a personal website and consistently updating the blog, actively pursuing people/businesses who may need your services including local businesses, marketing your writing services through social media, showing through your digital footprint that you are an expert on X topic, getting referrals through current customers, building up a base of testimonials, and so on.

    I guess the main point is that you really do have to get SERIOUS if you want to make full-time freelance writing happen. But you can – you definitely can 🙂

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks for some good additions here! Definitely upselling is a key skill — and learning to write more sophsticated types of assignments.

  13. Teresa Kuhl says:

    Carol,
    I’ve been following you and Linda Formichelli for a long time. All of sudden, things are cracking open for me in many ways. Not all in the realm of $$ but more mindset, creativity. Like the dam just burst– hell, it BROKE! Suddenly it’s like a divine download and things are happening! Thanks for keeping it real! ALWAYS- both the dream– and the work!

  14. Nina Chordas says:

    Thank you for another great post, Carol! I’m currently employed full time in a job I love, but planning to supplement my impending retirement with writing. (Because no matter what else I do, I’m a writer, and you’ve helped me own it.) Meanwhile, I’m working on building a client base and getting experience. You’ve been my top resource for advice and encouragement.

    I’m about to commence blogging for a steady client at $125/post, and also to pitch my first white paper proposal to a local business (many thanks to you and Steve Slaunwhite for the white paper boot camp!). My website is a work in progress, but I’m taking your advice and forging ahead. Yes, it’s scary, but I’m doing it anyway. Thanks again for your awesome work!

  15. Lori says:

    Thank you so much for this kick in the rear, Carol. Even more than usual, it feels like you’re speaking directly to me. Guilty as charged using the excuses of learning and not having everything all in perfect order as a way to avoid real action. Kudos to the folks here who are in the middle of leaping in with even just one foot let alone both. I’m inspired by all of you but will stop “aspiring”. It’s getting really tired.

  16. Amanda Why says:

    I just took that plunge. I quit the day job because it was draining the energy I wanted to use to write. I had no clients, no identified niche, just a few ideas and some newly printed business cards which say I’m a writer.

    I’m only a few weeks into the journey, but I’ve picked up a couple of jobs and I’m working on pitching for more. I’m learning every day about my writing, and I’ve found the niche I want to be my main one so I’m writing and researching like a demon to make that happen.

    It’s a wild ride so far but I am so happy I’m finally doing something I love. Time will tell if I can avoid going back to the 9-5, but at least now I’ll know I tried everything to live my dream.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Kudos to you, Amanda — I don’t know many writers who quit cold, with no experience or clients.

      I hope the resources I’ve got around here can help you! But it sounds like you don’t need toughening up and you’re totally going for it. 😉

      • Amanda Why says:

        Thank you. Your resources and Sophie’s on Be a freelance blogger, are my go to for writing inspiration and advice. I’ve absorbed so much already but I learn more every day. It’s one of the best things about my new life so far, the constant learning.

        I thought my chosen niche was something I knew a lot about, until I really started to get into it. Now I almost feel I’m going backwards. Luckily it’s a passion so the research is way too much fun to feel like work (most of the time).

  17. Evan Jensen says:

    #6. It’s like I literally need someone to punch me in the face or something. I know I’m close to the tipping point to freelance full-time. To be honest, I’ve actually turned down some decent gigs because there’s not enough hours in the day with a day job, existing freelance work, and little kids at home. How messed up is that when my goal is to freelance full-time? “At some point you’ve got to pull the trigger.” Thanks for the in-your-face reminder to Toughen Up.

  18. Paige Smith says:

    This post couldn’t be more timely for me. I’m leaving a secure full-time office job this week to focus my energy on freelance writing full-time, instead of just the usual 10-15 hours a week I can manage now. I’m terrified, but equally excited by the possibilities! I love your point about not letting editors, marketing managers, and the like define your worth. I try to look at each rejection (or total lack of response) as a gentle push in another, hopefully better, direction.

  19. Robert says:

    Being a freelance writer and only that is a scary thought. This list is one that every freelancer should read! Many people are terrified to take the plunge but it can be liberating. Thank you for sharing such great advice!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Is it really scary? I personally think in today’s marketplace, having a job is what’s scary. Where there is no corporate loyalty to the workforce, and any day, for any reason, all of your income could simply vanish, all at once.

  20. Neal Eckert says:

    Carol,

    Couldn’t help but read this one. Much of what you wrote strongly resonated with me. Great thoughts to implement. Thanks!

    Neal

  21. Jan Hill says:

    Great post Carol! I too was one of those people afraid to give up my day job, but building up a stable of ongoing clients helped me make the switch, and I’ve never looked back!

    I worked my day job and freelanced on the side for several years, and was able to pay off some debt and build a nest egg that helped allay my fears. Also, I focused on looking for clients that needed regular work, and once I knew approximately how much I could count on each month (mine mainly from blogging and web content), it was easier to make the move. Once I knew I had my bills covered, I set a goal to still prospect for better clients and continue to move up. I think you’ve got to have some sort of a plan or it’s easy to talk yourself out of taking a risk.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Jan, you’ve hit on such a big point. Coaching writers in my Den 2X Income Accelerator, one of the BIG stumbling blocks we find to earning well is — too many one-off, small gigs. Rather than finding bigger clients with ongoing needs.

  22. Kris says:

    This is a great post, Carol. I suspect you’ve stepped on the last nerve of a lot of people in love with the idea of freelancing. Time to make a self-assessment about how serious we are. Number 1, Give Up Stuff, hits the mark for most people (certainly me), and put together with every next step in your list, this constitutes a mini-bootcamp. Very valuable. Thank you.

  23. Vicky Cox says:

    I like what you said about there being no aspiring writers. If we are writers, we write.

    I also needed a reminder to quit feeling guilty about giving things up like some volunteer work. It’s for a season while I learn and build up my business, not forever. I have volunteered plenty in the past, and I still volunteer weekly, just less.

    • Carol Tice says:

      That’s correct, Vicky — once you ramp your freelance business, you shouldn’t need to market as aggressively as you do at the start. Same with launching a blog or writing an ebook. It’s a phase. And folks can live without you for a spell…or pick up their own clothes off the floor.

  24. Marlena says:

    This is so true, so many excuses we give ourselves not to start writing full time. I even have a website (and love it) and still fear to approach clients. Thank you for your support, Carol!

    • Carol Tice says:

      You fear approaching clients because…why? What’s the worst thing that could happen?

      I think when we look at our fears of pitching, we have to admit it’s just an irrational fear. Worst that can happen is they say no, and you pitch the next prospect. So what?

  25. Lily A. says:

    Carol, you’re always on point with your advice. I’m guilty of almost everything you mentioned here, especially the “I’ll start when my website is ready” and the “learning”excuses. And I’ve been preparing for way too long. Time to take the leap! Thank you for your wisdom and encouragement 🙂

  26. Sarah says:

    Awesome as ever Carol- OUch ouCH OUCH…noted and actioned

  27. Todd says:

    I. Needed. This.

  28. Daryl says:

    Great post Carol!

    I’d say – marketing marketing marketing. Clients who reach out to you will be far more likely, in general, to pay decent rates than those who you have pitch, especially when you are competing with other writers!

  29. MJ says:

    Carol,

    Another great article. This advice is equally applicable to those of us who have put off moving from freelancing for others to writing/working for ourselves–blogs, informational pieces, e-books and the like.

    I’m going to make a list of the subheads in the article and tape it to my monitor.

    It’s not that freelancing is that almighty difficult. If you look at each of the those subheads, they all boil down to change. It’s change that terrifies and immobilizes most of us. Guilty as charged.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Speaking as someone who’s lived in the same place for 20 years…I hear ya. So often, we settle for the devil we know. But ultimately, we’d be happier if we pushed through the complacency and tried new things.

    • I know what you mean. In some ways I’ve been afraid to hit the high earnings and accept the responsibility that comes with it.

  30. Venkatesh says:

    Hi Carol,

    Thanks for an awesome post. Now, I’m in the exact situation what this post says. It slapped on my face to take action.

    I always read blog posts, articles about freelance writing, blogging without taking any result-oriented actions, which impacted on my blog quality terribly.

    This terrible learning excuse made my blog irregular postings, which is disastrous in blogging life.

    The 5, 6, and 7th points are eye openers for lazy freelancers like me.

    Thanks,
    Venkatesh