Heed this advice.
By Mauri Elbel
The life of a freelance writer may sound glamorous. You get to set your own schedule, work from home in your pajamas if you so desire and there’s no need to check in with the boss when you take a midmorning yoga class, meet a friend for lunch or host an afternoon play date for your kids. As a mom of three young children, I appreciate the lifestyle freelance writing has afforded our family in the past decade. But before deciding to take the leap from an office desk to a home office, heed some advice from those who have weathered the ups and downs and found a fulfilling career. Below are four things you must know before going freelance.
1. You must establish a schedule that works for your life. A freelancer’s salary is never guaranteed and a paycheck doesn’t automatically arrive every two weeks. Taking the time to evaluate your work habits and lifestyle to find the hours when you focus best––even if they are unconventional––will pay off immensely when it comes to meeting deadlines. As a busy mom of three and the co-founder of a nonprofit, I get the majority of my writing done in the morning hours before 6:30 a.m., when the house is quiet, my creative juices are flowing and the rest of the world is still sleeping. Typical workday hours are spent editing, conducting interviews for stories, responding to emails and being a mom.
2. Freelance writing is less about pitching and selling and more about relationships. “Don’t underestimate the importance of networking,” says Cynthia J. Drake, an Austin-based travel writer for AAA publications, Texas Highways, Family Vacation Critic and others. “Pick a handful of clients or publications you want to write for and spend some time researching them. Next, how can you best connect with these editors? For some, it means meeting at a conference. For others, it’s checking in occasionally and just proving your reliability and consistent quality of work over time.” Networking also helps to create a network of freelancers who can share in your struggles and successes. “I’ve found that other freelance writers tend to be very generous with their help,” Drake says. “If there’s a writer in your city whose work you admire, ask him or her to coffee. Build that relationship over time.”
3. Realize the power of saying no. “It can be hard to turn down any assignment—and pay—while freelancing, but sometimes an assignment just isn’t a good fit,” says Erin Quinn-Kong, the former editor-in-chief of Austin Monthly who has written for Allure, OpenTable, The Alcalde, Us Weekly, Town & Country and more. “For example, I recently had to turn down the offer to ghostwrite a book. It wasn’t the right time or subject matter for me. After much deliberation, I said no. And within days, I had offers for three other great assignments completely out of the blue. You have to learn to trust your gut and the unknown, which can be really hard.”
4. If you’re going to go freelance, you have to stay focused. That might mean getting out of the house and working from a coffee shop or one of Austin’s hip co-working spaces, or downloading an app that blocks social media from your phone and computer to avoid constant distraction. Do whatever’s needed to avoid procrastination and remain productive. “Keep your head down and work: That’s a lesson I learned from my dad about staying humble and just focusing on the task at hand,” Drake says. When no one is looking over your shoulder, it can be tempting to drift off. But for freelancers who focus, time becomes your friend rather than your enemy. Learn how to manage it and you’ll be sacrificing less while gaining—and hopefully earning—more.