Freelance writing can be a tough nut to crack, but once you do, it can be fruitful, and something you might love.
Have you ever had that awkward feeling of not belonging somewhere and all you want to do is leave? Maybe it was the first time you went to hang out with your significant other’s friends and felt out of place, or maybe it was that extra 30 seconds spent in silence with a stranger in the elevator.
This is how I started to feel about my full-time job last year. Though I’m grateful to have a stable job and to earn enough to meet my needs, I still feel like I don’t belong, and I lack passion for what I do.
For a while now, I’ve been having a love affair with freelance writing, and it’s fueling my desire to work again. I initially started picking up clients to earn some extra side-hustle money to put toward my debt.
As my side gigs grew, I started to think: “Hey, maybe I could do this full time to support myself.”
Who would have thought that writing would become a necessary creative outlet for me as well as a way to earn extra money? I’m more than willing to wake up early, stay up late, and work weekends to build a solid clientele.
Freelance Writing by the Numbers
Independent contract work has become more and more popular over the years. Fittingly, 75.2 percent of freelance workers would not quit their gigs to take on a full-time job, Gig Economy Index reports. Currently, 59 million Americans (or 36 percent of the total American workforce) work as freelancers. Interestingly, Florida has the highest percentage of freelancers (22%), followed by California (20%), Texas (18%) and Illinois (18%).
When you find something you truly enjoy and are passionate about, you’re willing to dedicate more of your energy to it. Also, freelancing allows you to have a more flexible schedule and that could make for a more fulfilling job experience.
The most difficult part for me was landing that first project, but once I got the ball rolling, things started to look up. If you have little to no experience, my advice is to create a website or portfolio of your best work. These samples will serve as evidence that you have what it takes.
Creating your own blog is another way to showcase your talent and your writing personality. Your next client needs to be able to see that their money is going somewhere worthwhile, and it’s a major bonus if they can also get a taste of who you are as a person.
There are plenty of online resources that can help you land freelance gigs. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorites:
- UpWork is one of the largest networks on the web. It provides tools to find new opportunities, as well as helps you sell projects you’ve already created.
- Toptal brands itself as a company that has acquired the top freelance talent. Toptal is trusted by the world’s leading brands and isn’t afraid to brag about it.
- Crowded uses AI programs to match freelancers with employers based on their level of skills, experience, and price.
- Fiverr makes it easy to sell your work without having to contact employers individually. Join the community, post your work, and get paid for every order.
- Vistaprint’s 99designs service helps graphic artists reach new clients by working with them directly, or entering a contest to find new prospects.
Ignoring Myths About Freelance Work
I’m not naive. I know there are many people who hear “work from home” (pre-pandemic) and “own my own business” and immediately picture me in sweatpants, watching daytime soap operas, and doing very little actual work.
Times are changing along with these perceptions. But there are still those who can’t shake their judgment. Ultimately, what other people think about my financial situation has absolutely zero impact on my fiscal well-being. Let them assume I sit on my butt all day. In the end, their opinions hold no weight.
Take it from me: Don’t let somebody else’s perceptions of your financial situation or your career drag you down. Outsiders can only speculate; freelancers like us will laugh all the way to the bank.
Fiscally Responsible Freelancing
Once you’ve learned to disregard the haters, you’ll be amazed by how fast your freelance career and income can grow. With a traditional employer, you have to work for an entire year to receive a 3 to 5 percent raise — if that. With freelance writing, you can receive an email from a potential client at 9 a.m. and have a signed contract securing a 30 percent raise by noon.
But it’s not all simple. Though I plan to leave my nine-to-five job by the end of this year to be a full-time freelance writer, there are quite a few challenges to solve.
Last year, I spent most of my extra income paying off high-interest debt instead of saving. It felt great to pay off so much debt, but I felt trapped when I started considering leaving my job because I was unable to save.
The reason I’m preparing to leave my full-time job instead of taking the leap now is because doing so would feel super irresponsible.
“Before leaving a full-time position, a freelance writer should have at least six months of fixed monthly expenses,” advises Gary Grewal, a certified financial planner and business owner.
“At the very least, credit card/consumer debt should be cleared up because becoming debt free can help a freelancer keep a higher credit score, which can help them qualify for a loan if one is needed,” Grewal adds.
Finding Balance in Freelance Writing
I doubt I will be able to save much, but I am going to split my extra income between savings and debt payments so I can make significant progress in both areas. I think it’s important to keep in mind that this advice varies depending on a freelancer’s living situation, marital status, and their full-time career position.
My fiancé has a steady income, and I doubt I would lose every single client I have all at once, so I’m actually not worried about having a five-figure savings account by the time I make the leap.
However, I do want to feel confident that my family will live comfortably, and I can still work toward my financial goals.
But having a child does make me both aware of and nervous about my financial future.
Initially, I wanted to have all my debt paid off before I decided to quit my job, but then I asked myself: “What am I working toward and why?”
When I think about why I want to become debt-free, I think about being able to make more decisions for myself without my debt holding me back. I also think about not putting up with anyone else’s crap. That includes being unhappy at work.
Life is so short, and I want the freedom to leave any situation I don’t like or that doesn’t bring me happiness.
When to Say No to Freelancing
Another piece of advice for maintaining happiness throughout your freelance career is to learn how and when to say no to certain freelance jobs. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Screen your clients by watching for red flags, including them being indecisive or unrealistic when it comes to deadlines, or insisting on fees that feel like a total rip-off.
- Go over the project in as much detail as possible with the client so you can avoid committing to a project that doesn’t suit you.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about money. Though it is advantageous to complete projects to build your portfolio, at the end of the day the bill is the most important part. There comes a time when you have to put yourself first.
- It’s okay to say no when it just doesn’t feel right. Is the rest of your workload overwhelming? Do you hate the idea of a particular project? Freelance work allows you to pave your own path and curate a line of work that suits you and your skillset.
Freelance writing can be complicated. If a handful of these red flags come up, don’t be afraid to run like the wind.
Navigating Personal Expenses
I recently drew up a bare-bones budget to help me determine how much I need to bring in each month once I give up my full-time job to meet my basic needs, pay bills, and cover a few extra random expenses.
If I were to work from home, I would lower my fuel expenses and be able to take my son out of after-school care, which would save me around $250 a month (though I would need to see if I could be productive with a toddler running around). I would also need to account for paying taxes as a freelancer.
Since I already contribute to my retirement and pay for medical and dental insurance on my own, there would be no big surprises there.
“Keep a tab of your fixed expenses, what you need to survive such as food, rent, insurance, cell phone, etc. Then add in expenses that come with the business, such as marketing, subscriptions, or memberships,” Grewal says.
And don’t forget about work-related items: “A budget for things like technology or networking will allow you to grow your income and reinvest in the freelance endeavor,” Grewal adds
The Bottom Line
Overall, the planning process has allowed me to go from feeling irresponsible and nervous to feeling a mix of excitement and hopefulness about this transition. Isn’t that what financial empowerment is all about?
Launching a freelance career without experience can be nerve-racking, to say the least. Creating proof of your skills, securing those first gigs with credible clients, and being fiscally responsible can help you make the transition into a more fulfilling career.
Additional reporting by Ellie Schmitt.