Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.
When I started writing, I bought into some widely-held freelance writing myths.
I had naively accepted these false assumptions without much thought, largely because of my fears.
Fortunately, during my early writing days I had access to a couple of freelance writers communities.
Members of those communities shared the truth behind the freelance writing myths and served up encouragement backed up with examples of their own freelancing success.
Their encouragement was a lifeline as I doggedly pursued getting published and as I became able to make a living from my words.
Now it’s time for me to return the favor by sharing the truths I’ve learned about 10 common freelance writing myths.
Corollary: I will make just pennies for my writing.
Truth: with some determination and work, you can make a good living as a freelance writer.
Freelancers are hired for all kinds of writing jobs and can charge competitive fees for their services. Reason? We live in the Information Age. Everyone needs content, not just big companies. Mid- to small-size businesses, nonprofits, print publications, blogs, associations, digital agencies – all of them need blogs, websites, grant applications, presentations, newsletters, social media, email campaigns, and more.
But these folks are busy. Their leaders wear multiple hats and may not have time to create written content. Limited budgets mean they cannot hire a full-time communications staffer. They need freelancers like you. Add to your work-for-hire fees the checks you accumulate from writing articles, guest posts, books, and other kinds of your own original content, and you can make a good living as a freelance writer.
Corollary: I need a degree in journalism, English, or communications for someone to hire me.
Truth: freelance writing is a profession in which you do not need a degree in order to be hired and make a very good living. Clients don’t really care whether or not you have a college degree. Nor do they care if you’re Shakespeare or if you know every grammar rule in the book. Instead, they want to know if you can produce the content they need within the timeframe they need. Period.
Having said that, successful freelancers have basic writing skills or are on their way to acquiring them.
Truth: I got my first clients by reaching out to publishers and submitting article queries.
The best way to get work is to reach out and offer your writing services. (Here's how to write a pitch.) Then when you’re hired, produce quality content on time and offer a fuss-free writer/client relationship.
In the process, you get to know people. That’s why it seems that freelancers “know people.” They do. They’ve developed those relationships over the span of their freelancing careers. As you make connections, you’ll become one of the “connections” that people want to have.
Truth: you need to pick up the basics quickly … or have an interest in learning about a niche topic that motivates you to get up to speed fast … or have a minimum knowledge base in a niche. Successful freelancers learn how to research and are fascinated by learning new things.
Truth: your client is the boss. Your job is to please the client. If you want to keep your job, you need to meet deadlines, produce quality work, and check in regularly with your employer. Most freelancers have multiple clients, which means your role is best described as a project manager and office administrator (rather than boss.)
Truth: tempting as it is to think that your days will be filled with creative output, most full-time freelancers spend just about 50-70% writing. They invest the remaining 30-50% of their time selling their services (marketing), organizing their time (project management), and bookkeeping (accounting). If you don’t want to be considered a hobbyist, then be organized and run your freelance writing like a business.
Truth: you need basic people skills. The better you are at interaction, the smoother your freelance writing business will operate. You need to be able to talk with clients about projects and ask provoking questions in order to get information to write content. You need to have time away from the keyboard to rejuvenate your creative juices.
Confession: like many writers, I’m an introvert. I get my best work done when the house is quiet and I can concentrate on tasks at my own pace with no interruptions. When I speak with clients or conduct interviews, I like to have plenty of time to plan my interactions.
But it’s a mistake to think I don’t need people skills.
Truth: freelancing can be unpredictable, especially at first. But successful freelancers become increasingly stable by developing a collection of anchor clients that provide ongoing work (read: regular assignments each month).
Working for a full-time employer can be just as (if not more) unpredictable as freelancing. Just ask anyone who has been passed over for a promotion, been given a pink slip, or been fired – or has simply been denied a day off for an appointment or has had to stay late.
And think about this: in tough times, many companies hire freelancers to “fill in the gap” when they can’t afford a full-time employee.
Once you’ve established yourself as a freelancer, your financial stability is up to you.
Truth: most writers invest significant effort to build a writing business, but it’s definitely doable over time if you work hard and work smart.
Successful freelancers embrace these additional truths:
Truth: there are as many paths to freelance success as there are freelancers. I know freelancers who make a good living solely from writing articles. Others are exclusively copywriters in a specific niche, such as health or finance. Still others operate successful resume writing businesses …. travel writing businesses … grant writing businesses …
And many, like myself, have multiple writing income streams including client work, blogs, books, speaking, courses, affiliate income, articles, and more.
And replace the myths with the truth: key determining factors for freelance writing success are determination, hard work, and a teachable spirit.
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