Thursday, February 26, 2009

Today I'll Be a Freelance Writer...I Think

I've had more than a couple of casual acquaintances telling me I have it made. They think being a freelance writer is all about sleeping in, lounging around, daily errands and lunches out and about with friends. As we say in the South, it ain't like that over here, folks.

I regularly work 12 hour days, half of which are actually spent writing because of marketing and other administrative tasks that must get done. So excuse me when I get a little miffed when someone finds out what I do for a living and casually says, "Huh, maybe I'll try freelancing too while I look for something else." Way to get under my skin!

Bad economy = more freelancers?

I recently read this article which states that the struggling economy will result in more people seeking "gigs" – a "bunch of free floating projects" to make ends meet. What folks don't realize is that the "gig life" isn't for everybody. It takes a lot of self-motivation, discipline and organization and hard work to become a successful freelance writer.

Oh, and of course it requires the ability to write – producing quality, content that is engaging, informative, persuasive or triggers an emotional response in the reader. Understanding the elementary principles of composition and organizing information onto a page, or web page, clearly to present a polished, final draft again and again.

And writing is only a part of what you'll do from day to day. You'll also need to drum up the repeat business necessary to pay the bills. That could be how you spend 80 percent of your time when you're first getting started. Once you build up your clientele, you'll need to maintain a consistent marketing campaign to avoid the dreaded dry spells. Some people can't handle that kind of financial uncertainty.

Can you handle it?

Health insurance, eating and having a roof over your head – it's all on you. That's too much pressure for some. They prefer more security, though I'd argue whether or not such a thing even exists anymore even in the corporate world.

I know that more people will consider freelance writing as a way to make a living during these hard times. I honestly have no problems with it. For some it will be the push they needed to do what they were meant to. Others will be mortified by the solitude and energy required to run a business. All I want is for people to recognize that freelance writing requires reliability, ethics, an entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to write. If you're committed to put in the work, you can do it. Just don't underestimate what it takes.


Christina Gleason said...

Isn't that the truth! I never planned to start my own freelance writing business, but as you mentioned, there is no job security left in the corporate world, and this is what resulted.

I don't mind the writing part at all. It's all of the administrative tasks, the marketing and promotions, the financial stuff... that's what gets me.

I think most people who try to dabble will quickly realize that it's not quite what it seems on the surface. It's hard work, and not just the writing part!

Kimberly Ben said...

Hi Christina, and thanks for stopping by to comment.:)

Like you, I didn't set out to start a freelance writing business either. I discovered it fit my personality to a tee and provides the flexibility and income my family requires.

I worked for a major newspaper here in the south for eight years as an advertising executive. That's where I learned that I'd rather count on me than someone else. Because of this I'm willing to put in the work and spend the time learning as much as I can. I've only been freelancing for a year and a half, and still say that for me it's the best decision I ever made.

I agree with you - many who decide to pursue freelance writing as a way to earn quick cash and make ends meet will get a reality check. This is a business like any other. It takes lots of hard work.

Rebecca Smith said...

You tell it, girlfriend!

As a freelance writer, I sometimes envy those people in 9-5 cubicle jobs! They get to go home at night and leave their work behind. They have a marketing department, an accounting department, and a secretary. They don't have to worry about going weeks without a paycheck (an unfair generalization, I know, but that's my point).

The grass is always greener on the other side ... but I wouldn't give up freelancing for the world!

Kimberly Ben said...

Rebecca, I'm with you - I wouldn't trade it either!:)

Jennifer L said...

I'm with Christina...I love the writing part. The administrative part, the constant trolling for new jobs, the financial stuff? Not so much! But I also love the variety of work that I get to do, and I especially appreciate the flexibility, which allows me to spend more time with my almost-three-year-old son.

That said, there are definitely some things I miss about being a full-time staff writer for a publication. The reliability of a paycheck every two weeks. Colleagues in the same office who are available to talk about stories or share sources or complain about stuff. An editor right there to edit copy. The ease of explaining who I am and who I write for when approaching sources: "Hi, I'm Jennifer from Daily Newspaper." Not "I'm Jennifer and I'm a freelancer for Random Website/Magazine/Etc. and yes, that's why I have a yahoo email account, and yes, I really am legitimate..." :)

Devon Ellington said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who starts to froth at the mouth with these ignorant wanna-bes, who have no idea the commitment and the drive it takes to make it as a freelancer.

I love freelancing, because I can't stand to be on someone else's schedule.

I'm drawing much stronger boundaries and not letting the wanna-bes waste my time any more.

Lori said...

I say let them try. When they're done playing, we professionals will come in and clean up their messes. ;)

Seriously though, this is a great post for those who think they'll try their hand at it because they think it's alluring in some way. It's a job.

It bothers me that the wanna-bes will drive down the market value of our services by accepting all those crap jobs. It's ridiculous.

Kimberly Ben said...

@Jennifer L: I've had days where I've longed for the reliability of that weekly/bi-weekly check, paid vacations, sick pay, etc. It's usually short-lived when I consider the real income earning potential, personal/professional freedom and flexibility.

I'm sure that when your clients see the finished projects there is no doubting that you're a professional writer.:)

@ Devon: I dislike being on someone else's schedule too. If I meet your deadline and expectations, then what's wrong with me doing it when I want to?

@ Lori: I've had to come in and clean up a mess or two after clients got burned hiring "beyond low-budget writers."

I recently queried a company who needed their home page web copy completely redone because they trusted a "wanna-be copywriter" (their exact words). I provided samples and presented a very fair, reasonable quote. The responded saying I was too expensive and proceeded to renegotiate the price to a ridiculously low rate. I just couldn't do it.

Lori said...

Then they weren't serious about quality, Kim. And I'm sure the first writer was paid appropriately. If you pay crap, guess what you get?

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