Trouble Paying Your Bills? 4 Ways to Make Your Freelance Writing Career More Secure

Dawn Witzke-CryBy Lisa Evans

Is freelancing more secure than traditional employment? That was the question asked by a 2012 survey from the MBO Partners State of Independence.

The result: 39% of respondents said independent work is more secure than traditional employment. This is up from 33% from 2011 and 15% before the recession.

The primary reason for believing independent work is more secure is that freelancers aren’t under the control of a single employer or boss and are therefore less likely to lose all their income as they would if their company closed down and they lost their job.

Being in control of your own destiny instead of at the mercy of corporate decision making certainly seems a reason to feel more secure in this volatile economic climate, but are there things you can do to make your freelance life even more stable?

As freelance writers, we all have moments of insecurity. Will we get enough clients? How many articles can we sell this month? How much income will be generated this year? Will we have enough to cover all our bill payments? All these questions can cause any freelance writer to start shaking in their boots…

…except those who have taken a few simple steps to make their freelance career more secure:

1. Have a Few Regular Clients.

Having one or two regular clients that provide you with work on a weekly or monthly basis ensures a guaranteed income. Find a topic you enjoy or know a lot about and can generate ideas for on a regular basis. Are you a dog owner? Perhaps you can write regular articles for a monthly dog magazine or pitch a pet column to a local newspaper. I used my interest in home decor to land consecutive assignments with a local newspaper’s homes section.

The trick to making regular clients your key to security is by matching your large fixed expenses (rent or mortgage payment, car payment and utilities) to the income from these great clients. Any other work you do will go towards your variable expenses (food, clothing, transportation, lifestyle) — things you can cut back on if you have a slow month. It’s hard to do and may not work out for everyone, but it’s an ideal that you can strive for.

2. Keep a Query and Idea Backlog.

Eventually, every freelancer will look at his/her schedule and realize they’re staring at a blank page. It’s time to start querying, but your brain is stuck. You can’t think of a single idea.

I like to keep a spreadsheet of ideas that I can fall back up on when times are slow. I often find it easy to think of seasonal ideas during the holiday but by the time I think of them, it’s too late to click “send,” since most magazines work months ahead, so the ideas sit in my spreadsheet awaiting the right moment.

Another way to generate a query backlog is to review media kits and editorial calendars. You may come up with five or six ideas for a single issue, but decide on one or two to send, leaving the rest for another time, or another publication.

Having a query or idea backlog also means when one idea is rejected, you’re ready to fire off the next one.

3. Have an Emergency Fund.

At the end of last year, one of my most generous editors was let go during a re-shuffling and a magazine I’d written for several times and had several article ideas lined up for closed down.

While neither one of these situations made me particularly happy, they didn’t leave me frantic about how I was going to pay my rent. The reason? I had an emergency fund to rely on when times got tough.

By setting aside some cash during high-revenue months, I was able to generate an emergency fund containing a couple months of expenses. This allowed me the luxury of time to seek out new clients to fill the void without panicking about paying my bills on time.

4. Diversify Clients.

The other reason I didn’t panic when I lost two clients last year was that I had a diversified enough revenue stream that I could step up my queries to those other publications.

This is one of the factors highlighted in the MBO survey. Because freelancers often have multiple clients and revenue streams, we’re less likely to lose all of our income as we would if we worked for only one company that suddenly closed up shop.

Take advantage of this wonderful independence and spread your employment risk across multiple publications. If one magazine folds, you have a couple others to fall back on.

I’ve found the best way to ensure I diversify my clients is to make it a habit to research one new publication each month. I’ll pick up a copy of a magazine I’ve never written for and sometimes never heard of, research the type of articles they publish, put on my brainstorming hat and fire off a couple of queries.

You never know — one of those publications could turn into your next steady client!

How have you made your freelance career more secure? Leave a comment and let us know!

Lisa Evans is a Canadian freelance writer. Visit her at

Stick figure by Dawn Witzke. Thanks, Dawn!

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14 comments… add one
  • Kuladi

    I wish i can be a good freelance writer but i can’t. It is because of my grammar. I know it’s not easy to concentrate to be an independent work such as freelance writer. As a writer, we must have a lot of knowledge and experience on what we want to write.

  • While I agree, good grammar is a must, I don’t think you need to be a subject matter expert in order to write. I have written for a cycling publication for instance and have very little knowledge of professional cycling, but I’ve learned a lot about the industry through working with the publication. I think you should start writing about what you know most about or what you’re interested in and then you can start to diversify by using your research and writing skills to write about areas of which you don’t know much about.

  • I totally agree about having an emergency fund. I’m aggressively saving now preparing for a big move coming soon. I’ve a steady gig now, but plan to step up my marketing in July, and having my nest egg will allow me to market smarter.

    • Lisa

      Good for you, Janet. Coming up with the emergency fund is difficult, but so necessary to live the freelance life, in my opinion.

  • I really liked your tips in this post, Lisa! Thanks so much. And now, based on your comment above, I’d love to know how you were able to write for a cycling magazine when you don’t know a lot about professional cycling?

    • Lisa

      I started by writing a profile article for them about a cycling group that I was personally connected to. The editor liked my writing style and asked me to do another profile, and it went from there.

  • What a fascinating poll. I tell all of my friends that freelancing is way more stable than placing all of my faith in a single employer who can fire me at any time, and they look at me like I am crazy! The tide is turning!

    • Lisa

      It’s true – especially these days when layoffs are becoming a common occurrance, it makes being responsible for your own financial future seem a better option.

  • Excellent post – definitely a list all freelancers should keep in mind. One thing I’d add is to always be looking for another client. Always work to get your name out there. It’s okay to say, “My calendar is full right now,” but we should all still always be looking.

    • Lisa

      Very true, Erica. Always have a list of prospective clients to market to. As I said in the post, I like to pitch one new publication a month. You never know when you could suddenly find your calendar empty, so it’s always best to be proactive rather than reactive.

    • Good advice, Erica!

  • Munna

    Excellent post ? definitely a list all freelancers should keep in mind. One thing I’d add is to always be looking for another client. Always work to get your name out there. It’s okay to say, “My calendar is full right now,” but we should all still always be looking.

  • Thanks, I really enjoyed this article, especially the suggestion of an Query and Idea Backlog. I am actually used to make notes of all kinds of ideas and contacts, but you’ve encouraged me to put this a bit more in order, e.g. an Excel file.

    Thanks again, have linked the article on my own blog.

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