5 Frightening Facts About the Freelance Life

on October 30, 2010 in Freelance Writing Business
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Whether you're fresh-faced and excited by the prospect of more independence in your work or you think freelancing is your chance for easy money while you look for a full-time job, you might be in for a few surprises. Yes, those of us who have been at it for a while do tend to go on about how wonderful it can be. After all, if we didn't love it, why would we do it? But don't mistake that passion or enthusiasm for us saying that the freelance life is easy, or perfect, or right for everyone.

Despite the sometimes-glossy image people get of freelancing, there are some facts you should probably get straight early on. For example:

It's not all working from bed and lounging in PJs.

Okay, so that's some of what freelancing is for some people (including me -- more the PJs and fuzzy slippers than working from bed). But not everyone has the kind of discipline to make that work. And if that's a driving factor for you jumping into freelancing, you might need to get over it.

Sure, it's nice not having to doll yourself up for an office full of worker bees who don't want to be there any more than you do. But too much comfort can also lead to laziness. Unless you're a highly disciplined person, don't think it's going to be easy pursuing a serious freelance career while kicking back.

Freelancing isn't easy. You will put in hard work.

Muwhahaha. Yes, I used that evil little "w" word -- work. If you're content earning a mediocre income at best, or your mission in life is to constantly remain a "starving artist," then sure you might slack off and take the easy way out in freelancing. But if you want to build that serious career I mentioned before, hate to break it to ya but that's just not how it works.

You will work. Hard. You will work your ass off or you will fail. If you don't want to look back 5 years from now wondering why you're still not earning great money for the work you do, you'll not only work hard, but you'll do it from the start. In fact, you'll probably work hardest early on -- maybe even longer hours than the 9-5 job you're trying to avoid.

Successful freelancers rarely just fall into it. And for those who do, don't expect that same luck to carry them indefinitely. Consistent success if effort-based.

Yes. People will crap all over your hard work. And you'll learn to get over it.

It doesn't matter if you're brand spanking new to freelance writing or you're an experienced pro with decades under your belt. At some time or another you're bound to have an unhappy client. They'll hate your writing. They'll hate your concept. Or they'll just want to tweak this and that until the final project looks nothing like your original work and you'll want to pull your hair out trying to figure out why the hell they didn't just tell you that's what they wanted in the first place.

It happens. For some not often, and I hope that's you. But if you don't take criticism well, either you're going to learn quickly or you need to forget about freelancing. Rejection, edits, or the occasional unhappy (or "can't be pleased") client are pretty much a given.

You won't love every part of the job.

If you fantasize about a freelance writing career where you sit at your laptop all day writing beautiful prose, it's wake-up call time. Freelancing isn't about writing what you want to write all of the time. If that's what you want, go off and work on that novel you've been thinking about for a while.

Freelance writing is about writing what clients in your target market want. Sure you'll have some say in some cases if you pitch the ideas. But that doesn't always happen, and sometimes editors twist your great idea into something less exciting for you but more suited to their market (and you'll write it anyway).

Oh, and don't forget about the non-writing aspects of freelancing. You have to manage your finances and taxes, deal with administrative duties, answer client emails and phone calls, market your services, network with clients and colleagues, build your professional website....

Early on, you'll be lucky if more than half of your working hours are even billable. Writing itself is just one small part of the overall management of a freelance writing career.

You will make mistakes.

Every freelance writer makes mistakes of some kind at some point in their freelance writing career. You will too. Suck it up, get over it, and grow from it. Maybe you'll commit to a contract for a gig you hate, and you'll regret it the whole time. Or maybe you'll pass up a killer opportunity and regret that later (giving it up for anything from a lack of time to a lack of confidence).

Maybe you'll screw up in targeting the right market early on by taking gigs too low on the pay spectrum, and you'll find yourself still struggling like a newbie a year or two into your career. Maybe you'll underestimate the costs involved and you'll struggle because of that. Maybe you'll try to do everything yourself for too long, when what your freelance business really needs is some outside input (DIY is fine at first, but eventually you have to learn to delegate in some areas).

There are countless mistakes you can make as a freelancer, and you'll likely make more than one. But rather than looking at them as reasons to quit, you have to be strong enough to learn from them and use them to help you grow as a freelance professional. If you can't handle setbacks occasionally, you probably can't handle this kind of lifestyle.

Like it or not, the freelance lifestyle and business-style is not all peachy. And if you're serious about getting started as a freelance writer, or even improving your existing freelance writing career, these are some realities you need to get a grip on now rather than later.

Thanks for sharing!
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8 Comments

  1. Cathy Miller October 31, 2010 Reply

    I have read more than once that freelancers that don’t make it tend to quit too soon. It takes perseverance, and you’re right, Jenn, we wouldn’t keep at it of we didn’t love it.

    • Jennifer Mattern November 1, 2010 Reply

      Exactly. I’ll never understand why people expect freelancing to equal great money fast. Given, it doesn’t have to take all that long if you know what you’re getting yourself into and you go into it with a plan. But too many really do quit before their work even has a chance to pay off.

  2. Carol November 1, 2010 Reply

    Both scared and excited reading this entry. In the last week, I’d just decided to explore/gather information/lay ground-below-the-groundwork for working as a freelance writer. Slowly and carefully…it’s another world! The resources here are fantastic, thanks. And there seems to be a great community and collaborative atmosphere here, too.

    All best,
    Another woman who wants to live richly and work reasonably :)

    • Jennifer Mattern November 1, 2010 Reply

      Well, don’t be too scared Carol. It sounds like you’re one of the few going into this with her eyes open. Just be realistic about it, and focus on choosing the right target market. That’s one of the biggest mistakes new freelancers make, and then they end up struggling for quite some time until they realize they have overhaul their market and practically start over. So yeah, lay that groundwork, and you’ll get there with fewer problems than you might think. :)

  3. Rebecca Garland November 2, 2010 Reply

    Huh. I was thinking of getting some new pens and buying a new computer and just writing anything I wanted to write about my life and experiences. Obviously I’m so titillating companies will be rushing to pay me lots and lots of money for every word. Then I will wear a lot of designer fashions and strange shoes while hanging out with my three best friends in New York not doing much of anything …wait – that’s not the real world of freelance writing?

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