Somehow questions seem to come in streams and this past week the questions people kept asking me over and over again all had to do with advice for freelance writers. It reminded me of the time I started out and did my first freelance writing job. Unfortunately there isn’t a kiosk out there somewhere where one can pay 25c and get some advice for freelance writers. No, I had to learn the hard way.
Why is being a freelance writer sometimes so difficult?
Advice for freelance writers isn’t hard to come by. But they rarely deal with the nitty gritty of freelance writing.
One of the most difficult things of being a freelance writer that is somehow still difficult for me to deal with, is the fact that as a freelance writer, you are a business.
When searching for advice for freelance writers, one reads about setting up a workspace, attending workshops and seminars for freelance writers, buying computer software that can help you get the job done, etc, etc.
When I was looking for advice for freelance writers, nobody told me I was going to have to learn to be a business person first!
The most precious piece of advice for freelance writers: Every freelance writer is a business
There is a lot of advice for freelance writers out there. But among all the other pieces of mostly really valuable advice, is this: start to see yourself as a business.
When thinking about advice for freelance writers, this is the one thing I wish someone had told me when I started. After two years of freelancing, I still struggle with this one. And like stubbing the same toe over and over again, I keep feeling the pain of things going wrong because I don’t always do this.
There are some great advantages to being a freelance writer but unless you start seeing yourself as a business, you are going to have to go back to writing for a boss again.
How can a freelance writer establish him- or herself as a business?
Keep professional hours
If you are looking for a lawyer at 10 o’clock in the morning and he is nowhere to be found, you are probably going to start looking for someone else to give you advice on legal matters. It’s the same with freelance writers.
Many of us (myself included) go through periods when we write during the night. The next day you are tired and want to take a nap. This is all good and well. But if you want to be a professional freelance writer, you need to keep professional hours.
It doesn’t matter if it’s an editor, business owner or web designer looking for you. If the person in charge of giving you a freelance writing gig can’t get hold of you during office hours, he is probably going to move on to someone else. So make sure you are available when others are working.
Be clear about your fee
Money is a difficult issue to tackle even at the best of times. But as a freelance writer it is very important to be clear about your fee right out of the gate. I have made the mistake of writing pieces for people for ridiculously low prices. Unfortunately, they never realize that it was a one-time thing. So they keep piling on the work and it is difficult to say no and insist on a proper pricing structure after the fact.
Not only do you need to be clear about your fee but also about the time frame in which you expect to be paid. Unless you have a steady flow of money coming in, you are going to need to get paid on time. Make this clear to your client from day one or you will find yourself at the middle of the month, wondering how to approach the subject.
Make sure you have a contract ready
People love giving freelance writers rush jobs. And one of the first mistakes I always make when I accept a rush job, is to not insist on a contract.
As writers we tend to trust people. We will never even think of not paying someone what we owe, so why won’t we get paid, right? Wrong!
Because most of our negotiating happens over the phone, we rarely get to sit down with a client and get to know them better. Later, when it comes to choosing between paying you or his landlord first, you will always lose.
And be especially careful of those rush jobs. It’s easy to forget about the contract and awkward to enforce after the fact.
He is your client, not your partner, your boss or your best friend
This is a trap I frequently step into: I become friends with my clients. First of all, when a client starts to see you as a friend, they feel that you should be available for them 24/7. I had a client call me on a Saturday morning when I was on my way out shopping with my husband. He needed a ‘very urgent’ piece of writing that just couldn’t wait. Not being someone to ever say no, I put my bag down and opened my laptop.
My husband had to do the shopping all by himself that day. Later, when he was doing the dishes, I was still writing blurbs for my client’s Facebook ad campaign. I am still apologising to my husband and yes, I know. I have the best husband in the world!
Advice for freelance writers: You are a business so keep it professional
You may not know it yet, but writing is the easy part of your job as a freelance writer.
An important piece of advice for freelance writers is to keep that customer/client relationship healthy. Be friendly but professional. Be available but stick to strict business hours.
Don’t blur the lines between work and friendship. You are the one who is going to bear the brunt of your client’s bad moods, have to spend endless hours on the phone listening to stories about their weekend (for which you will not get paid), have unreasonable demands put on you as a freelance writer and be last in line to get paid.
But I won’t be doing my job in giving advice for freelance writers if I didn’t remind you to also be professional by doing the best job you can and delivering on time. Keep to your deadlines because having work pile up and falling behind on assignments, will lose you business faster than you can dust your laptop.
When it comes to your freelance writing career, you need to always be thinking of marketing, negotiating, contracts and follow-through. It may be difficult, especially in the beginning, but you need to think like a business person. For most writers this feels impossible to do but unless you do so, you are going to be nothing more than a struggling artist.
Now it’s your turn
As far as advice for freelance writers go, what advice do you have to offer? Leave your advice in the comments section.