Everyone is willing to give you advice about freelance writing -- from non-writers with preconceptions about the freelance lifestyle to professionals who have run successful freelance writing careers for years.
In between you'll find newbies who try to give advice like they've found the holy grail of freelancing, former freelancers who couldn't cut it but still feel qualified to tell you how you can, and some with a few years under their belts who have picked up plenty of good tips to share along the way.
How do you know whose advice to listen to and who to ignore, especially when you come across contradicting advice? When you come across freelance advice you aren't sure about, ask yourself the following questions:
Does this freelancer have the kind of career you'd like to emulate?
There are many types of freelance writers out there. Great advice for a freelance blogger might be completely useless to you if you want to write for magazines though.
Look at the writer's career. Is it along the lines of what you want to do in your own? If so, and if they're reasonably successful in an area you're interested in, chances are good that their advice will apply to you.
Where does the freelancer's income really come from?
Is the person giving the advice actually earning their living (or a significant portion of it) directly from freelancing? Or are they working full-time for someone else and only writing on the side?
Are they really earning their income through ad deals on their own site(s) and not from freelancing for clients? Are they earning their income by offering other types of services where writing is only one of many (social media consulting seems to be a big one for writers to stumble into these days)?
If a writer can't support themselves through their writing, they're not in a position to tell you how you can do that. Where someone's income comes from isn't always easy to find out. But if you pay attention to what they say over time, you can often get a good idea.
In the interest of transparency, I personally earn the bulk of my income freelancing now -- business writing and professional blogging for clients. But I also earn through Web publishing and independent blogging as well as e-book sales (and I'm moving into indie publishing books beyond e-books as well). There are smaller service contracts occasionally too (like blog comment management / community management for clients), although I only take on those gigs if they're tied to my writing work. Over time I'll move more towards self-directed income sources like further Web publishing and development and e-book and book sales.
It was decided a while ago that when freelancing is no longer bringing in a large enough portion of my income to constitute a full-time income on its own, the branding here at All Freelance Writing will change to reflect that -- we'll likely go back to the original SixFigureWriters.com brand to focus more on diversifying writing projects and freelancing.
I don't appreciate it when freelancers quit for full-time jobs but still run blogs on the topic handing out advice. If they couldn't do well enough freelancing themselves to stick with it and jumped on a full-time offer once it came along, they shouldn't be telling others how to succeed in freelancing. And I don't appreciate reading freelance advice from bloggers who I know aren't earning the bulk of their income from clients (in some cases they openly admit that). So in fairness to my readers I'll never do that here. When I'm no longer predominantly a freelancer, the "freelance" blog will morph so I can share stories, tips, and advice more in line with what I'm really doing at the time.
Does the advice suit your own goals?
If you want to earn $80k+ per year freelancing, follow the advice of people doing it. If you just want to earn some spare change from your writing, follow advice from anyone who can teach you to make a few bucks here and there. But don't follow advice that doesn't apply to you -- whether based on skills or desire.
For example, I saw an article in my Google Alerts this morning about how to earn $150 a day by working for Demand. Not only do I know that associating with Demand is anything but my goal as a freelance writer (making the advice irrelevant in my case), but crunch those numbers. That $150 a day comes to $39,000 a year at most, and that assumes you write ten articles every week day, every week of the year (no vacations, sick days, or personal days included).
Now keep in mind that a freelancer's annual pay is very different than an employee's (what we tend to compare the numbers to naturally). In reality, based on Salary.com data we looked at in previous posts and comments, your $39,000 freelancing is equal to about 40% less than that as a freelancer (searches ranged from 30% to slightly more than 50%, and you should check out cost vs salary comparisons for your own area).
That means you're really earning closer to the equivalent of an employee with a $28,000 salary. Are you okay earning that little? If so, are you okay with doing that much work every week day with no break during the year? Are you positive you could even find that many available topics that suit you every day?
If you're still okay with that, then go ahead and take their advice. It applies to you. But if you want to do better, or simply know you could earn more and still have more time off, you would want to look elsewhere. You have to know your own goals before you can determine if someone else's experiences and advice can help you reach them.
There is a lot of advice out there about freelance writing -- in books, in magazines, on blogs, and just about everywhere else on the Web. You get to choose what you ignore and what you take to heart. You know where you want your freelance writing career to go. You're smart enough to sort through the noise and find other professionals who are now where you'd like to be in time.
If you're going to take advice at all, look for people in that group to get the advice from. Better yet, ask them specific questions rather than hoping they'll cover things that concern you personally. In the end, your career is entirely in your own hands. And remember, advice doesn't always have to be followed to the letter. Never be afraid to pull things of value to you and leave the rest behind. Adapt, then grow.
Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.
She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.
Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.
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