Biggest Lessons of My Freelance Career

on October 10, 2011 in Finance

I can’t believe I’ve been freelance writing full-time for three years now. When I first started writing for pay (a few years before I went full-time), I was only getting a penny per word (and sometimes less!). I never thought I could command the rates I’m being paid today, much less leave my full-time job for a dream career in writing. Things have changed dramatically since the days of my meager earnings. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

Never get complacent with clients.

I learned this lesson very early and I’m glad I did. When I first started freelancing, I thought I could survive with two big freelance clients. Combined, the two provided enough income to pay the bills and have some leftover. After a couple of months, one of the clients left without much advance notice. I was terrified, but bounced back quickly. There were two lessons in that situation. First, never rely on just a couple of clients because if one of them leaves, your income is in shambles. Second, unless you have a contract that says otherwise, clients can leave at any time.

It feels better not to live paycheck to paycheck.

When someone else employs you, they set your pay and you pretty much have to live with it. If your pay is just enough to fit your bills, you have to work within that box. But, when you’re your own payroll department, you say how much you get paid and when. My goal is to earn at least one month in advance and it’s so much better than waiting on an invoice to be paid to get my light bill. Another perk of earning in advance is that if a client leaves, you have more time to replace them.

Taking too many tax deductions can be a bad thing.

Generally, we want to take as many tax deductions as possible to lower our taxable income. It results in a lower tax bill. However, the lower taxable income can come back to haunt you if you decide to apply for a loan. It’s hard enough to get approved for major loan like a mortgage when you don’t have W-2 income, even harder when you’ve reduced your income to avoid paying taxes. Plan major loans a few years in advance and consider taking fewer deductions in those years. (Consult a tax professional for specific tax advice.)

Clients who haggle on rates usually aren’t worth it.

In the beginning, I would lower my rates to accommodate clients, but I would end up beating myself up for doing the work at such a low price. Now, when clients try to negotiate my per article rate, I instead negotiate their expectations. I ask for their for their budget and let them know how many articles can fit within their budget. Sometimes, they agree to my rates and sometimes they walk away. Either way, I can sleep well knowing I didn’t sell myself short on a project.

What are some of the biggest freelance/writing lessons you've learned?

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LaToya Irby is a full-time freelance writer and a graduate of the University of Alabama. She primarily writes about personal finance, freelancing, and other self-employment topics.

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  1. Joan Reeves October 11, 2011 Reply

    Well said and congratulations on maintaining a viable freelance career for 3 years. Because I was a successful freelance writer for more than 20 years, I know what an accomplishment that is.

    On this year have I strayed from freelance writing although I took the same discipline and freelance mindset to focus all my energy on fiction again. I started publishing my backlist and original fiction as ebooks, and the results have been overwhelming!

    There’s a lot that freelance writing teaches a writer. I incorporated all those lessons into the business plan I wrote before publishing my first romantic comedy ebook in late March. Life beyond freelance writing is sweet, and I’m happy to say, I’m living happily ever after! *G*

    Best wishes,
    Joan Reeves

    • Jennifer Mattern October 11, 2011 Reply

      Congrats Joan! :) As someone straddling both the freelance writing and indie publishing worlds as well, it’s always nice to see how others have transitioned.

  2. Rebecca Garland October 12, 2011 Reply

    Congrats Lotoya! That’s great news that you’ve been so successful! It’s always a wonder to look back and see how far we’ve come. I’m going on seven years now – it’s crazy!

    And hello to Joan! Nice to see you online and congrats on your ebooks! I’ve been watching your success with those through Facebook. :) You probably know me better by my maiden name, Allen. *wink*

  3. Carol Tice October 12, 2011 Reply

    Get a written contract that describes your agreement. Have your payment terms in it. Otherwise, it’s a trip to Scope Creepdom and you may wait forever for payment.

  4. Allena October 13, 2011 Reply

    Yes yes yes to your tax/income advice. We want the government to think we don’t make that much, but we want our lexus dealer and landlords to think we do!

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