Just over a year ago, I walked away from a well-paying marketing job to launch a freelance writing career, working primarily in the business to business sector. Within two months, my freelance income was paying the bills. In this first year of writing self-employment, I learned many things that improved my business savvy and monthly income. Here are 10 tips I wish someone had given me before I launched my freelance writing business.
1. Expect to Succeed
When I quit my day job, freelance failure was not an option. My monthly financial needs had to be met and my family life was too challenging to continue working a standard eight-to-five shift. From the moment I made the decision to start my business, I expected to succeed.
Why this is important: I met many potential roadblocks during my first year of freelancing. Attitude from friends and family that, as a work-from-home mom, I was really a stay-at-home mom is one example. It would have been easy to put aside my work to assume the stay-at-home mom role, but my business would probably have failed. My driven expectation to succeed kept me on track.
2. Request Half Now, Half Later
I typically invoice clients for half of the approximate project cost before getting started. This provides a steady cash inflow, especially during longer jobs, and ensures that my clients have a financial investment in project completion.
Why this is important: During my first months of freelancing, I accepted an assignment and negotiated a fee to be paid upon final approval. Although I delivered first draft copy within a week, the document sat in my client’s e-mail inbox for weeks. When he finally got around to reviewing the copy, he requested minor revisions. I made the changes and returned the document. Then, I heard nothing.
I finally invoiced this client with a note to let me know if he needed additional modifications. Two weeks later I had a check. But the length of time between project start and project payment taught me to request half now, half later.
3. Get It in Writing
For most projects, I create a quote that outlines the project scope, deliverable(s), estimated cost, what isn’t included and the payment terms. The client must sign this quote and return by fax before I begin work.
Why this is important: I once took on a sales letter project without outlining the scope. After all, how much work could it be to write a sales letter? As it turns out, much more work than I had anticipated!
My idea of a one-page sales letter was this client’s idea of a four-page direct mail piece. Because I hadn’t outlined a project scope, I felt obligated to deliver his “letter” as requested. I ended up earning less than minimum wage for this job. Now, I get project details in writing.
4. Ask Clarifying Questions
In the example above, I made assumptions about the sales “letter” assignment based on my own experiences. I didn’t bother to ask clarifying questions.
Why this is important: If I had asked more questions to clarify my client’s expectations and use for his sales “letter”, I would have had a clearer picture of his actual needs and I could have quoted a higher price.
5. Trust Your Instinct
You have an internal guide that, when heeded, will help you make wise decisions around your freelance writing business.
Why this is important: I was working on a project for a client based on a detailed discussion with written objectives. But the writing direction just didn’t feel right. Acting on instinct, I veered from the original scope and created an entirely different document, knowing I might never get paid for this work. However, my client loved the end result and hired me to do additional work. Trusting my instinct paid off!
6. Push Delivery Dates Out When Possible
Even if I have nothing else on my plate and can easily deliver a writing project within 24 hours, I will ask my client if a three- or four-day turn-around time is acceptable. On larger jobs, I often add an extra week or so to the production time.
Why this is important: Flexible project due dates allow you to meet change and challenge by reprioritizing as needed. I recently had a client call with a writing emergency. Because I had delivery date buffers in my schedule, I was able to accommodate this client’s rush needs ñ while earning a premium rate for my trouble!
7. Suggest Other Projects
Repeat business is the easiest money a freelance writer can make. Getting more work is often as easy as asking.
Why this is important: After editing Web copy for a client who had his site redesigned to leverage two new products, I suggested that he hire me to write and distribute a series of press releases announcing his news. He happily agreed. Now I suggest other projects to all my clients.
8. Treat Your Business Like a Business (Not a Hobby)
A hobby is something you do for personal enjoyment, with little heed paid to planning for the future. That’s why, if you’re interested in earning a living at your craft, you must treat writing as a business, not a hobby.
Why this is important:
When I started my writing business, I had a clear plan for how I was going to market my services, the number of hours I needed to work each week to meet specific business milestones and how to pay my bills while building a clientele. By creating and following my business plan, I was soon earning enough money to pay my bills.
9. Put Paying Tasks at the Top of Your Daily To-Do List
At the top of my daily to-list are projects that are almost complete. (A finished project means that I can invoice for that work.) Next, are the longer jobs that I need to move forward. Non-paying work tasks are next, such as balancing my checkbook. Finally, I add personal time and household chores.
Why this is important:
During the last holiday season, I shirked my work for socializing and shopping. When the new year rolled around, my accounts receivable were in sad shape.
As a freelancer, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. This doesn’t mean you can’t have lunch with friends or spend an occasional afternoon on leisure. But it does mean that billable work must be completed before the fun begins.
10. Expect Peaks and Valleys
Even if you follow your business plan to the letter, put paying tasks at the top of your list and ask your clients for additional work, peaks and valleys in your workload ñ and cash flow ñ are inevitable. Plan for them!
Why this is important:
When I have peaks in my workload, I get up early and work weekends to catch up. I take the extra income that results from the flurry of activity and put it in my savings account. When a work lull rolls around, I indulge in a “paid vacation” by tapping into my reserves and taking a few days off to recharge.
If you are considering a foray into freelance writing or have recently launched your own business, I invite you to learn from my experience. Heeding these 10 tips could pave the way to greater prosperity!
Patty Harder is a freelance writer and marketing consultant in the Seattle area. She is the former editor of Holistic Health News and has written for Better Nutrition magazine, numerous trade publications and a variety of technology clients. She aspires to enjoy continued success as a freelance writer, share the how-to’s of freelance writing with others and to never have another nine-to-five job again! Patty welcomes your comments through her Web site at or via email at patty_h-at-comcast.net.