Everything I’ve learnt as a freelance writer

Recently, it was my two year business anniversary.

To celebrate the milestone, here’s my take on life as a freelance writer, with some words of advice for others.

Learn to trust your instincts

This is the biggest lesson I’ve learnt.

Think a client could be trouble? You’re probably right.

Concerned that you’re undercharging? You probably are.

Feeling resentful about work that you knew you wouldn’t enjoy? Then you’ll know better next time.

Pay attention. Instincts rarely lie. 

Don’t be afraid to push back

As freelance writers, we are hired for our expertise. We are not employees.

So don’t be afraid to push back sometimes, especially if your instincts (there they are again) are telling you it’s the right thing to do.

A good client should respect your honesty and be prepared to listen to your expert input. This is exactly why they hired you in the first place.

Don’t pay attention to empty advice

What is empty advice?

It’s things like, “charge your worth”, “if you’re fully booked, raise your rates”, or “you need a niche”.

First, I don’t even know what “charge your worth” means and I don’t agree that being fully booked suddenly means I’m worth more money.

Then there is the topic of whether to niche or not.

I’m a generalist copywriter and so far, it hasn’t stopped me from getting clients. I also think not having a niche allows a writer to bring a fresh perspective to projects, which can be a huge advantage.

The bottom line is, you decide whether to niche or not.

Rejection isn’t the end of your career

Unfortunately, you can’t avoid rejection when working as a freelance writer.

Writing is subjective and your style won’t be for everyone. Neither will your rates or experience.

So buckle up and get used to it.

Business skills are massively underrated

Many people become a freelance writer because they love to write and don’t want to be constrained by an office environment.

But it can be easy to forget that it also involves running a small business. This means you need skills in bookkeeping, marketing, communication and planning.

Plus, you need to know how to prepare an invoice (or use software that can do it for you) and have knowledge of the tax system.

Without these elements, a freelance writing business can – and most likely will – fail.

Network with other writers

Other writers are your friend, not your enemy and/or competition.

Be open, make connections and network.

Money isn’t everything

When starting out, it can be tempting to take every job that comes your way. After all, the work could stop at any moment, right?

In theory, yes, it could. In reality though, if you’re doing a good job, it probably won’t.

Go easy on yourself and remember that money isn’t everything.

However …

A healthy savings account is your best friend

If you are stressing about money and worried about ending up destitute, then focus on building savings.

Knowing that some money is there for a rainy day provides a great sense of security and can help to relieve any financial anxiety.

Also, pay into a private pension. Your future self will thank you.

Say no to unpaid trials

If a potential client asks you to do an unpaid writing sample, say no. Immediately.

Doing a sample piece of writing before landing a contract is fine, but they have to pay for your time and effort.

Would you ask for a free sample haircut before making an appointment with a hairdresser? I don’t think so.

Invest in yourself

Sign up for courses. Read books. Listen to podcasts. Go for lots of walks. Take time off. Book a holiday.

As a freelancer, we have the opportunity to be the best boss that we never had. So take advantage of it and invest in yourself at every chance you get.

You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing

LinkedIn is often talked about as the place to be for freelancers, but I don’t like it.

It’s crowded, takes up too much time and makes me feel uncomfortable. Even though I know it could be good for my business to show up there more often.

Instead, I prefer to stick to other channels like Twitter and the Just Write newsletter to market my business. And that’s ok.

Get used to the question: “Are you going to apply for a job?”

As a freelance writer, you already have a job. I know that and you know that.

But there will always be some people who think freelancing is a stop-gap on the way to getting a “proper job”.

The only way to change this perception is to keep doing what you’re doing and prove them wrong.

Sometimes you will love being a freelancer, other times you won’t

As with all jobs, there are days when being a freelance writer just isn’t fun.

When this happens, I like to think about working for the worst manager I’ve ever known to regain some perspective.

Or I book a trip to give myself something to look forward to (once a traveller, always a traveller).

Moments of doubt are all part of the process of self-employment, so don’t worry.

You’ve got this.

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