What Freelance Writers Should Really Fear

What Freelance Writers Really FearIn recent weeks, I’ve heard a lot of writers confess their fears about taking the plunge into freelance writing. Today, we’re going to talk about something that’s even scarier.

It’s having a job.

Workplace experts have been watching how employers hire workers since the downturn began in 2008. Here’s their conclusion: Roles like writing are going to be done freelance in the future. Many of those jobs aren’t coming back as full-time gigs.

Freelancing is the new normal for writers.

While struggling to survive the downturn, many companies tried outsourcing. They liked it. Websites such as oDesk and Elance have made it easier to connect with freelancers, monitor their work, and pay them reasonable rates (or rock-bottom ones). This accelerated a trend that pretty much began the minute the Internet was invented. The fact is, tools exist now to make working remotely easy — Skype, Basecamp, email, PDFs, videoconferencing…it all makes it easy to plug use freelancers.

I spoke recently with a small-business expert, Steve King at Emergent Research. His firm’s estimate? Currently, 25 percent of design/writing/coding type jobs are being done freelance. By 2020, Emergent expects that figure to rise to 50 percent. That’s right — half of all the writing work will be done freelance, soon. Or, put another way: Twice as much freelance work will be available a decade from now.

If you’re wondering, King considers Emergent’s estimates conservative. Other industry pundits have forecast 75 percent of creative jobs being done freelance in future.

Which is really riskier?

Since 2008, I’ve watched friends of mine lose their jobs, get divorced, go bankrupt, have heart attacks from the stress, and lose their homes. Having all your income tied up to a single employer, we’ve learned, is actually very risky. That gives one company the power to devastate your family and destroy your lifestyle, overnight.

Finding another single, big fat job to replace the one you lost could take years, or may never happen. People who don’t know how to survive without sucking off the teat of Big Momma Corporation are facing radical changes in their quality of life.

By contrast, during the downturn, every editor I worked for either left or was fired from their job. All my gigs shifted around. But not all at the same time. I kept finding new clients to replace the old ones, because I’d learned how to market myself. Result: I lost gigs, but my income kept rising. My family life remained stable. I’m still living in the same house, eating out, sending my kids to camp, and putting away money for retirement.

After 12 years in staff-writing jobs, and now five as a freelancer, I can say I feel far more secure now than I did when I got only one paycheck instead of many smaller ones. I feel secure because I know how to find assignments now, no matter what. Also, my earning potential is unlimited, where at a job it was always capped at my salary. Maybe I could squeeze out a tiny raise each year, but that was it.

Still think freelancing is too scary? Here’s the reality:

Freelancing is the future.

The longer you hang on, fantasizing that things will go back the way they were, the more of a disadvantage you create for yourself in the marketplace. If you’re not freelancing now, you’re not out learning the vital entrepreneurial skills you will need to earn well in the years to come — skills like how to market and manage your freelance writing business.

I believe there’s never been a better time to learn how to be a successful freelancer. By getting started now, you’ll position yourself to gain experience, while many others are still clinging to their day jobs. You’ll be more established when more writers get laid off, and are scrambling to catch up.
Which do you think is more secure — a day job or freelancing? Leave a comment and let us know which — and why.

Photo via stock.xchng user brainloc

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10 comments on “What Freelance Writers Should Really Fear
  1. Vonnie says:

    Wow, Carol, so you got the boot from your day job?? How scary and with three kids, too! But I guess that will motivate you like nothing else. Well, congratulations on getting your business together and on doing well!

    I used to subscribe to several freelance writer blogs but didn’t have time to read them all so I had to cut them down. But I make sure I read yours everyday. Your posts are the most helpful that I’ve seen. Keep them coming – thanks!
    Vonnie recently posted…Do we really care if Obama dyes his hairMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, I did know it was coming. But I was very motivated to get my business going. At first I thought I’d freelance while I looked for another full-time gig, but I quickly saw I could just keep freelancing, which really helps you get to those teacher meetings and school plays.

      Glad to hear I’m staying on your reading list! We try to keep it valuable info here on the blog.

  2. Vonnie says:

    I am really close to ditching the full-time position because I just don’t have enough time to what I need to do to become a full-time freelance writer. I’m totally frustrated and exhausted by the time I get home from work and by the time I write blog posts, work for the one client I have, try to write and submit articles or proposals, apply for other freelance work, network with people, etc., I seem to run out of time and steam. ๐Ÿ™

    Did you or any of your readers start out as a part-time freelancer while you still had a day job and then eventually quit your day job? I’m curious about how people started and how much did you have as a back-up fund before you decided to take the plunge.

    Thanks in advance for any feedback/advice you might have.
    Vonnie recently posted…Do we really care if Obama dyes his hairMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Vonnie —

      I hear from a lot of writers with this dilemma. It is grueling and difficult to start the freelance thing on the side while still working full-time. In a sense that’s what I’ve been doing lately in building this blog up while also doing all my client work!

      Personally, I didn’t have the luxury of gradually building a freelance business and then quitting the job. I got handed my stuff in a box and was shown the door. I have three kids so I had not exactly been able to save anything. I did get about $10,000 in severance, so that helped…for about six weeks. I had to basically plunge in and find clients fast.

      I think in this economy a lot more people have had my type of experience. I know experts recommend saving 3-6 months’ living expenses before you make a move like this…but I have yet to meet anyone who was able to do it in that reasoned of a way. We go freelance often because we hate working for someone else, or we’re just ready to take our earning power into our own hands and control our schedule.

      But for those who are freelancing on the side, I think for each person a moment comes when they can’t take it anymore. Then they either drop the freelancing, or they quit and make a commitment to growing their freelance business.

      Best of luck with figuring out where the right moment is for you! It’s always a tough call.

  3. Holly says:

    Thanks for another great post, Carol. I’ve said the same thing to friends and family members who are all too worried about my financial well-being. It’s reassuring to know that someone as established as yourself shares my opinions.

    Since I’m a first-time commenter (I’ve been lurking for a few weeks), I just want to say that I love your blog. It’s one of the best out there.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Holly! Thanks for weighing in on the blog. Honestly, if anyone still has the fantasy that a full-time job makes them secure, I don’t know who it is. I live in a pretty affluent area, and the devastation has been something to behold. Lots of families who had one breadwinner and then — poof! — that income is gone. The survivors are the ones who dug in and started freelancing right away.

      I’m always thrilled to hear that people find the information on here useful…since I spend like an embarrassing amount of time creating it, and if it isn’t helping people out I should probably play more Wii Sports with the kids or something.

      I did a teleclass for NAIWE today, and the first comment they had in surveys was “I need to listen to it three more times to make sure I get it all!” We try to keep it packed with useful facts here on MALW. Because…folks need to earn!

  4. Jill Stevenson says:

    Hi Carol

    I so agree with you. I worked as a staff journalist on newspapers for 18 years (10 nationals) and in PR for eight years in the public sector. I’ve never enjoyed myself so much since going freelance. Yes, it’s tough at first but once you start building that client base life gets so much better. And I love the fact there’s no ceilings to my earnings.

    I think a lot of freelancing is about being pro-active rather than re-active ie send out letters to all those small to medium-size businesses out there with a template release and show them what YOU can do for THEM. Most of them don’t have a clue about promoting themselves and, let’s face it, in this day and age it’s exactly what they need.

    I think the time is definitely right for freelancing.

    Love your posts BTW.

    Jill

  5. Jessica Mason says:

    Websites such as oDesk and Elance have made it easier to connect with freelancers, monitor their work, and pay them reasonable rates (or rock-bottom ones).

    That’s something else to fear.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well…I’m not afraid of it. I’ve never used bidding sites or mills, and I just keep making more money each year. The fact is, many companies try these platforms out, have a bad experience, and return to the real world of getting referrals and hiring US-based pros. They represent a sort of underworld that’s sprung up in the world of freelancing. Many of the customers who use these sites didn’t hire freelancers in the past. All the regular clients that need real pros are still out there, hiring writers like always.

      All you really have to do is ignore the race to the bottom and market yourself to your own clients. I find rates are really firming up over the past year or so — I see fewer and fewer stupid lowball offers out there. And I’ve gotten several nibbles from businesses that have tried the articles-by-robots route and are now hiring pros. So I say that isn’t something you have to fear. I also know people who do quite well on those bidding sites — believe I have a guest post coming up later this week on that very topic, so stay tuned!

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  1. […] But increasingly I’m wondering: Should this be something I actively work towards? I’m not saying never, especially as I don’t know if I’d want to work full time when we have kids one day…but is putting most of my eggs in the employee basket going to hurt in the long run? […]

  2. […] Carol Tice argues that what freelancers should really fear is having a job. […]