Are You Ready to Take the Plunge into Freelance Writing? Here’s How to Find Out
Three years ago, I took an introduction to freelance writing course at my local community college. I was working full-time as a marketing professional and was suffering from workplace lethargy. I awoke each morning dreading my hour-long commute – every morning except Tuesdays.
On Tuesday mornings, I sprung from my bed, put on a pot of coffee and stuffed my notebook and laptop into my purse, eager for the daytime hours to fly by so I could attend my freelance writing course.
I eventually quit the marketing job and became an ESL teacher, but over the next year and a half, I juggled a full-time teaching job with a freelance career – working into the late night hours on assignments, writing query letters in the early mornings and brainstorming ideas while on break.
While I enjoyed my teaching job, what I really wanted was to become a writer.
Finally tired of pulling off the balancing act, I took the plunge – head first – and became a full-time freelance writer. Every writer at some point in their career will have to decide, as I did, whether to make their passion their full-time job, or remain in limbo – balancing a full-time regular paycheck with sporadic freelance earnings.
To help you decide whether you’re ready to take the plunge, I’ve crafted a list of questions – some of which I used to make my decision and some I wish I had thought of before getting wet.
How much time do you currently devote to writing?
If your writing business is taking up to four hours or more per day, it may be time to consider a move. Juggling a full-time job with part-time freelance gigs can become overwhelming, leaving you with little free time. I got to the point where I felt my creativity was actually being blocked because I didn’t have time in the day to release it.
As writers, we all know the best ideas come to us when we’re doing something other than writing – exercising, walking in the park, having coffee with a friend. If you often find yourself wishing there were more hours in the day, you may want to reconsider your balance.
What’s your query acceptance rate?
What percentage of your queries, or ideas, are accepted for publication? If you answered 50% or more, you may be ready to take the plunge. You’ve obviously mastered the art of the query letter and won’t have to spend endless hours asking for work only to hear rejections – or worse – silence on the other end.
Do you have a regular client?
If you have at least one regular client, you can be assured that even during slow months, you will have something coming in to the bank. Knowing I had one regular client I could count on every month made budgeting and planning for the rest of my earnings a lot easier.
How many markets are you currently writing for?
Having one regular client is great, but it’s not enough if you want to make freelance writing your career. I recommend having three or four other markets you write for on a semi regular basis.
Aim to send one query per week to an existing market. If your acceptance rate is 50% or more, you can be guaranteed at least a couple of assignments a month. I’m also a big fan of business development and try to send one query per month to a new market.
I typically send out new queries on Mondays or Tuesdays. Scheduling my query days into my calendar means I always have “potential work” out there and don’t have to madly start querying when times are slow.
How much do you want to earn? How much do your current markets pay?
If your current markets are paying $50 or less per assignment, you will have to sell an awful lot of articles to make a full-time freelance career work.
How much you want your markets to pay before taking the leap to full-time will depend on how much you need to earn to balance your checkbook. In my case, my budget requires approximately 50% of the markets I write for to pay me 50 cents a word or more. I do accept lower-paying assignments, of course, but I use them as bank balance “fillers” – or savings to be used at Christmas or birthdays when I need to spend a little more than usual.
Do you have savings that you can invest in the beginning stages of your freelance career?
My decision to “take the plunge” was a rather spontaneous one. I had just landed my first national writing assignment. I was so thrilled that I had finally managed to break into this market, and took this achievement as a sign that being a freelance writer was what I was supposed to do — so I took the money I had saved to buy a flat-screen television (yes, I still have a tube TV), got some business cards printed and attended the ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) Conference.
Starting a freelance writing business is certainly less expensive than say, opening a restaurant, but there still are some expenses. Printing professional business cards, setting up a website and attending conferences that will allow you to mingle with other freelancers and editors are some must-do’s for recent plungers.
Do you have an emergency fund?
When I first told my family I wanted to leave my salaried teaching job to become a full-time freelance writer, the first concern was managing cash flow. What would I do if I had a slow month, or if I didn’t get paid on time?
Just as Nick Wallenda didn’t cross Niagara Falls without a safety harness, freelance writers shouldn’t jump without a safety net. I recommend a net of between three to six months of expenses. It’s a simple reality of the freelance business — there will inevitably be months when you’re unable to drum up enough business to pay your cable bill – or worse – your internet! Having a net can make the difference between sinking or staying afloat.
How about you: If you’re a full-time freelancer, how did you know when you were ready to take the plunge? If you’re not there yet — how will you know when you’re ready?
Lisa Evans is a full-time freelance writer who splits her time between her hometown Toronto, Canada and Chiapas, Mexico. She writes about beauty, wellness and travel for regional and national magazines and newspapers. Visit her website http://lisa-m-evans.weebly.com and her blog http://connectingflights.weebly.com, where she writes about being a Canadian in Mexico.
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- The Most Persistent Writer Ever: An Interview with Julie Knudson
- Why You Should Stop Thinking About Becoming a Freelance Writer