9.13.2013

Lessons Learned: Going From Full-Time Executive to Full-TIme Freelancer Part 2

This is Part 2 of the Going From Full-Time Executive to Full-Time Freelancer post! Enjoy!

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Freelance writing offers wonderful opportunities; you can work from anywhere, schedule your own hours, pick your own clients and choose your topics. But I often wonder how many give up before they find real success?

I started freelancing in the fall of 2012 after spending 15 years working in television news. It’s common in the news business to work long hours, holidays and weekends - especially when big stories happen, but 12 hour days working until midnight started to add up. When my father’s health began to fail, I knew it was time to reassess my life.

As a person who loves to write, freelancing seemed like the perfect fit. But I have since learned it takes more than talent and hard work to succeed. Here are a few things I have learned so far in my journey.

Pick a Niche
In television news, most people are generalists. They can research and write about any topic, but they don’t necessarily have an expertise. That was my dilemma.

After years of writing about everything from crime and politics to business and weather, I was finally able to write about the things I loved; outdoor activity, health and personal finance. While I had hoped to focus on health, I was often passed up for higher paying jobs because I didn’t have academic credentials.

I started getting regular offers for personal finance articles, as well as pieces about office dynamics and leadership. Since I had training in these areas, I was able to write about what I understood on a deeper level with less time doing research.

Lesson learned: The less time you spend researching, the faster you write and the more money you make an hour. Save passions for your blog until you can get paid for them.

Find Clients
Many bloggers tell you to only take jobs that you really want and that pay well. It’s a great idea - if you have a lot of offers. I didn’t start out with a portfolio of articles, just a handful of blogs that proved I could write complete sentences.

I spent an enormous amount of time searching job postings, researching potential clients and applying for jobs. I still do. It’s a major time suck, but well worth it when the client is pleased and gives you steady work.

Many job boards, like Elance, post extensive client information including reviews, job descriptions and payment terms. They can also post feedback on your work - which helps build up your credentials! Sure you have to bid for jobs, and you are competing with writers around the world, but it is a great way to pick up clients.

Lesson learned: Create several templates for cover letters that can be customized, focus on long-term clients, limit time on job boards.

Be Smart
Not every client is who they claim to be. Some are simply trying to get whatever they can, as cheap as they can and they have little respect for the writer.

I got suckered in - twice. The clients made big promises, then disappeared off the face of the earth along with my paychecks. One was even a preacher! In both cases, I failed to ensure the clients had funded the escrow. My mistake. 

Lesson learned: Keep in constant communication with clients, get payment benchmarks for longer projects and make sure they fund escrows.

Set Your Hours
When I worked in TV, I always worked evenings - so happy hour was just a pipe dream. I quickly discovered going for cocktails at 4pm ended any chance I had at working that day. It’s so hard to go back to a lonely computer when all your friends are out!

Some people write better at night, others early in the morning. I do my best work in the afternoons; after I have checked all my email, Twitter and news sites. I use natural breaks, like phone calls and texts, to update social media and limit my time so it doesn’t slip away.

Lesson learned: Find your best time to write and prioritize other activities around that so you don’t waste time staring at your computer and wishing you were somewhere else.

Stay Focused
As a freelancer you have to handle writing, marketing, clients, accounting, social media, education, training and more!  No matter how many hours I work, I never have enough time. So, I prioritize based on a paycheck. That’s why my blog has been ignored and my social media skills lack consistency. I know, I know - they are key branding tools.

But it’s not easy doing it all. Especially in the beginning when you are spending a lot of time trying to find clients. Staying focused, staying organized and staying motivated is a challenge that every freelancer faces. Add to that all the distractions online and time can easily slip away. I have learned to use lists to keep organized, but it is a work in progress.

Lesson learned: Create lists, goals or other motivating tools to help you stay on track, don’t get too down on yourself, reward yourself when you succeed. 

The Government’s Bite
This is the first year I will be completely self-employed, so I am not entirely sure what to expect. I do know I will be paying the government for the first time. My tax preparer crunched the numbers for things like taxes and social security. It’s more than I thought!

I recommend contacting a tax professional ahead of time so you can prepare better than I did. They can also advise you on keeping records for tax write-offs; like subscription fees and home office expenses.

Lesson learned: Stay organized by keeping folders for online and paper receipts, stash at least 30% of income for taxes and get professional help.

Freelancer’s Friends
In the beginning I was skeptical about freelancers who offered advice to newbies. I kept bumping into writers who bragged they “made millions as a blogger”.  I didn’t want to trick people into click on banners or fill my copy with misleading ads, so I dismissed many advice columns.

Now I realize, I just needed to find the right people. It is a lot of trial and error, but I am glad I took the time. LinkedIn helped me find groups I identified with and MediaBistro aggregates a good range of topics daily.

Lesson learned: There is a lot of advise out there, absorb as much as you can and use what works for you. No one is controlling your path but you, so make sure it’s the right one.

Laura Slawny is a freelancer writer for ConsumerFu.com where she researches and experiences life’s hidden shortcuts to help others save time and money.

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