The Struggle to Become a Freelance Writer

It’s been a little over a year now since I made the leap to freelance writing and editing. It’s been a tough road financially. In the beginning, I worked and slaved over projects and building a reputation. I started in the Elance community and grew into my own websites on word of mouth and a little small-budget advertising. There were times when, if I broke down those initial projects by all the time I had spent on them, I might have made about $3.00 an hour.

It was a frustrating realization, to say the least.

A year later, things are dramatically different. All the hours and hard work paid off, and I effectively make a minimum of $50.00 per hour for all of the new client work I take in. On a rare occasion, I discount that rate to $25.00 per hour for those clients who started out with me and remained loyal to my services. I’ve even built partnerships with these people that have benefited all parties in the ventures we’ve grown into.

Everyone is amazed at the level to which I’ve taken this business in just a year. Sometimes, even I am amazed at the fruits of my labor. Of course, the question on everyone’s mind at hearing this is, “How did you do it?”

It’s really the classic American success story: hard work and luck. There’s no other way that I know of to start any business. If you are thinking of becoming a professional freelance writer, there are five tips I would like to offer you in getting started.

Be prepared for hard work.

Like any entrepreneur, you’ll have to devote endless hours of hard work in the beginning for a relatively small return. Most freelancers start out on their own, doing all the work themselves. Time management is an essential skill you will need to master to get by going it alone. Eventually, there will be a tipping point in your endeavor when you will need to hire staff to take your business to the next level, if that is the direction you are inclined to take. If you decide to maintain a solo practice, be prepared to turn down work and niche yourself into a higher paying writing field, such as sales writing.

Make sure your skills are top-notch.

The one thing that will make or break you is the referral factor. If your quality is not impeccable, if your response time is slow and you miss deadlines, the bad or average reviews will kill you right out of the gate. If you aren’t absolutely sure of your grammar and punctuation skills, there are books to read or inexpensive courses you can take to refresh and upgrade your skills in short order.

Use smart resources.

Services like Elance.com and Guru.com are an excellent way to begin and build a reputation. Though most of my business is now done on word of mouth and referral, I still hang out on those sites and contract new work from time to time to keep my work fresh and exciting. Your main resources starting out will be your latest clients. Never be afraid to ask for a testimonial, reference or a referral.

Reinvest in your business.

The first year of freelancing requires that you reinvest some of your earnings into new and better programs, equipments and services. One of the first things I discovered was I needed a new computer for more memory and faster processing. I then had to consider some of the things I absolutely had to have for clients: Adobe Acrobat, Endnote (referencing system for academics), a fax number (Myfax.com), a BlackBerry to get my client e-mails on the go, and so forth. Then I started creating my ‘dream list’ of things that would make my life easier: QuickBooks Pro for invoicing and accounting, Adobe InDesign for layout options, an 800 number, a direct-pay virtual terminal and gateway, upgrading to Windows 7 and Office 2010. It’s just a constant shopping list and prioritization system of reinvestment wants and needs to make my job easier and more efficient.

Don’t undervalue your services.

While you may have to pay your dues by working extra hard and underbidding your competition, you need to gradually raise your prices and fully believe that you are worth the price. This will help weed out the clients and jobs that don’t need to be a part of your repertoire. You will also grow into a niche or two and cut out those types of projects that don’t have value to you. Don’t be afraid to give up certain types of writing and specialize.

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