A six-figure freelancer talks about the scourge of freelance writers everywhere, the biggest barrier to their freelance writing success.
There’s one thing, and one thing only, that’s the scourge of freelance writers everywhere. It is the barrier to freelance writing success.
If you’re not making enough money, you’ve suffered from it. If you’ve ever had a client who took advantage of you, you’ve been a victim. If you’ve ever accepted low pay and regretted it, procrastinated on an article until you’ve missed the deadline, or failed to read a contract, you’ve experienced its effects.
What’s this thing, this affliction that hurts writing careers?
What’s the one thing that’s stopping you from achieving freelance writing success?
It is this: You make bad choices.
Yep, that’s right. Your freelance writing success, or lack thereof, is entirely down to you. If you don’t have the career you want, the money you should be making, the assignments that would make you happy, it’s because you’re not always choosing the right path. (Either by choice or desperation. Privilege is real. However, until you can break the cycle, it will be very difficult for you to experience exponential growth.)
Perhaps you’re spending more time on blogging than you are on marketing, or maybe you spend far too much time getting sucked in by research. Perhaps you’ve agreed to work for free in exchange for a clip. Maybe you have to take on low-paying assignments to keep the lights on, or turn down assignments that require you to spend months of unpaid time in investigations.
Writing careers are always a result of the choices we make. Not only the things we choose to do, but also the things we choose, by omission, not to.
I should know. I’ve made quite a few bad choices in my writing career. And I’m still not immune to them now.
How To Achieve Freelance Success As A Writer
So, how do you change your patterns and start doing the things that will help, and not hinder, your freelance writing success? Try the following ways.
1. Don’t market from a place of scarcity
I had a few “new writer” moments last year when work seemed sparse and the need to make money reigned high.
I agreed to work for an entrepreneur who I knew, from the very beginning, was going to be bad news. I ignored my gut instinct about him and instead took on the low-paying assignment that turned out to be a humongous waste of time.
It reminded me of when I was young and eager and how I’d take any assignment, even if it paid very little. I didn’t believe that I was worth any more, that anyone would offer me better. But now, with experience, I know better. If you’re pitching the right people with the right kind of work, you will score sooner or later. In fact, two weeks after I lost confidence and worried that I might not succeed at this, I landed a $100-an-hour client. My success or failure was down to me.
So believe in yourself and stop accepting lowball offers that undermine your talent.
2. Don’t write from a place of fear
Belief is the key to freelance writing success.
If you don’t believe you’re worth more, nor will anyone else. If you don’t believe you can pull off this assignment, then why should an editor?
You haven’t ever written a feature article before and an editor just handed you an assignment. That’s great! Don’t be afraid of how you’re going to pull it off. Instead, think of it as a paid opportunity to learn. Go online, ask other writers, read as many feature articles as you can. You wanted this, remember? This is your opportunity to shine. So, learn everything you can about writing a feature article and then write the best one you can.
And if it’s still not to the highest standards or the expectations that you set for yourself, that’s okay, too. This is how you’ll learn. If there are revisions, learn from them. Take the advice of your editor and move on. Get more feature article assignments. The more you do, the better you’ll get. Don’t let fear paralyze you into not taking action. Instead, use it to propel you to do better.
Freelance writing success is a balance between pushing yourself and managing your expectations.
3. Know the opportunity cost of everything you do
One of the best ways to make a decision regarding your freelance writing career is to think about opportunity costs. Basically, think of all the things you’ll be giving up in order to do this work—it could be a potential higher-paying assignment, time with your family, time spent on a dream project, etc.—and weigh up this project with those opportunity costs.
Is it really worth spending five hours writing a profile for $100 when you could spend three hours with your family and two on your novel? Or pitching to land better-paying assignments?
4. Always keep your long-term goals in mind
When deciding whether to take on work, it’s always important to keep the big picture in mind.
Every writer’s definition of freelance writing success is different, because everyone has different dreams and aspirations. What are yours?
For the last twelve years, my focus has not been money. I wanted to be paid well for my work. But while I demand a high rate from my clients, my writing hasn’t been about achieving a set financial goal. As I grow older and my priorities change, money and security have become important factors in my life and my career, which means the focus of my work is shifting as well. I’m no longer opposed to corporate writing or custom content, even if that means my hard news days might be over.
There are no good or bad decisions in writing or freelancing. There are only good or bad decisions for you. The decisions you make today will be the key to determining what kind of career you’ll have five, ten, or fifteen years from now. So don’t expect perfection, don’t underestimate the power of personal responsibility, and make sure you to believe in yourself, so others can, too.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Founder and Editor, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more. She is the founder of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators. Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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