Going with the (ebb and) flow (of the freelance writing life)

Having your own writing business involves dealing with work that ebbs and flows.

You may have a client hire you, but then delay the start of the project, delay payment, change the scope after you start, give you more than you expect a lot sooner than you expect… it’s seldom as straight forward as it should be.

It can be scary thinking about the ‘ebbs’ of a writing business. It can also intimidate if there’s worry about “too much” work flowing in.

How do you handle the ups and downs?

Writing life ebbs and flows are like the tides.

Writing life ebbs and flows are like the tides.

Here are some overall tips:

  • If you’re determined to start your own business, start it (it feels so good to take that step)
  • If at all possible, have enough money available to cover at least 2 months of expenses (to avoid worrying about bills)
  • Know where you want to go as a writer and accept any opportunity that is a step toward that goal (get your first byline, write that first feature, submit that first query, tell people you’re a writer, and so on)
  • Focus on one thing at a time: work in 30-minute or 1-hour blocks (set that timer and don’t let anything disturb you until the bell sounds)
  • Make sure you exercise

Tips for when you hit an ‘ebb’ (slow) period with your business:

  • Study up on social media and get more proficient
  • Update your website and any business listings
  • Seek out assistance for the busy times – a transcriptionist, virtual assistant, chef, cleaning service, whatever you might need when you’re flooded with work
  • Find ways to become more productive – read up on time management, learn to schedule emails, and so on
  • Get out and network
  • Find someone to collaborate with on projects – another writer, a graphic designer, whoever you need
  • Seek out new business; send out queries; answer job postings for writing jobs you find interesting
  • Review past clients; evaluate the projects you’ve done; identify changes you want to make and make them
  • Make sure you exercise

Tips for when you hit a ‘flow’ (busy) period with your business:

  • Call on that transcriptionist to transcribe your interviews or notes
  • Use that virtual assistant to help with your calendar
  • Have your house cleaned, your meals prepared, your errands run for you
  • Delegate social media posting (you’ve developed the content, but someone else can schedule it and post it)
  • Shut off email and close the Web browser while you’re working (if at all possible) to avoid distractions
  • Always make time for exercise, even if it’s in 10-minute increments; it’s so important to stay healthy
  • Focus and prioritize the work

Are you able (and willing) to go with the ebbs and flows of owning your own business?


Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. In 8 years of business, she hasn’t found a pattern to the ebbs and flows of assignments. You can connect with her on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

9 thoughts on “Going with the (ebb and) flow (of the freelance writing life)

  1. Great post. I wonder though, is starting a writing business with only two months of living expenses bold or reckless? I guess it depends, to some extent, on the amount of paid writing a person is already doing?

  2. I”ve been an independent writer for (eek) 21 years….and the ebbs and flows are very real! Keep faith in yourself during the slow times, and let yourself enjoy some of that “extra” time to take a breath and enjoy life. The best advice I ever got on how to get new business was to do great business for your current clients. It’s really true…word of mouth is priceless. I’ve recently started a blog so I’m experiencing some of the “new” anxiety myself!

  3. This is business all over if you work for yourself. you get gluts of work. The trick is trying to smooth thing out so you can cope. Easier said than done.

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