Take 2: Thinking About Being a Self-Employed Writer?

This is a reworked post from almost exactly a year ago. The question is evergreen and the conversations it started were quite helpful then, as I think they will be now.

If you’re on the fence about making the leap to self-employed writer and how to make a living, perhaps something here will help you along.

My (former) home office

My (former) home office

About me: I only have myself to rely on for income. There is no alimony or child support or money from any non-client coming to me. I do not have any children to feed or any crazy-ridiculous expenses to worry about such as music lessons, sports teams, camp getaways, college tuition, etc.

I usually hear one of these two replies when people learn I’m an independent writer/editor: “Hey, that’s fabulous that you have no one but yourself to worry about! No money worries at all!” or “Oh, wow, if something happens to you, you might be up the proverbial river without the proverbial paddle. Does’t that stress you out?”

I don’t have a formula, but here’s what there is to know about how I am now 11+ years into being my own boss:

  • When I decided to leave the corporate world, I gave myself 1 year to get my finances in order and find affordable health insurance. It was/is important to me to have at least 4 months of savings to cover bills.
  • At the time I quit, I downsized (sold my house) and have been renting ever since, which is less responsibility and has more predictable expenses (to me), so I can save money as well as pay myself.
  • I am frugal – this means I minimize my bills, but I’m not lacking. I have Internet, a smartphone, use AC, and buy too much food when I go to the grocery store; I don’t work by candlelight to save on my electric bill or live in a library for free WiFi. 🙂 I always pay my credit card in full each month to avoid finance charges.
  • I maintain my older vehicle instead of having car payments.
  • I network to meet other solopreneurs and learn how they thrive in their business and try tips I learn.
  • I use LinkedIn to find contract opportunities.
  • I only take on jobs that interest me, which keeps me happy and lets me give my best to the client.
  • I absolutely love what I do and (literally) say “Thank you” out loud every day to the cosmos.

I don’t know of a magic bullet for self-employment success, but I know (1)  it’s important to love what you do and that you have to work at it. If you want it to work and approach it honestly, I believe you’re more than 75% to your goal.

And (2) having money readily available if monthly income checks don’t arrive when planned is quite helpful at keeping stress about money at under control.

What is your tip to someone thinking about becoming self-employed?

Or, what was your final hurdle before jumping into self-employment?

Lisa_2015Lisa 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. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

37 thoughts on “Take 2: Thinking About Being a Self-Employed Writer?

    • Hi Vegan Mystic — if you want to pursue professional journalism as your writing career, then, yes, I think you’d need to be qualified to earn a living. However if you are branching into different avenues of writing, you don’t need journalistic experience. It all depends on you writing interests what skillset you need to be ‘qualified’. The bottom line is always going to be: Can you deliver what the client requests? The client is expecting quality writing, if you can deliver what they want (with little to no revisions), you’re all set.

  1. I consider myself a writer. I am unpublished and hope to self-publish by the beginning of 2017. I do not have an English or Journalism degree, do you think it would still be feasible or possible to pursue a freelance writing career; and do you have any tips regarding how to get started?

    • sidraowens, I’ve been freelancing for about a year now, and just finally went back to college (actually, I start a week from tomorrow). You don’t need a degree to get started – just a sense of self-worth and a commitment to getting it done. There’s never a single day where it “doesn’t feel like work”, but I think it’s so special that we can pursue work that we actually enjoy. My biggest tip is, don’t lower your rates for just anyone. I spent the first several months thinking that I deserved the low rates to start out, because I was new and didn’t have a degree… Then one of my clients “surprised” me with a 104% raise (I really lowballed my original offer) and I realized that I didn’t HAVE to be that struggling writer… I was basically CHOOSING to.

      • Congrats on your client giving you the raise, Barbara! That is *not* typical. Pricing ourselves is a challenge for many self-employed people in any industry. But you have it write in that you were choosing to be paid less than you were worth — finding that ‘sweet spot’ that is what you’re worth and what the client is willing to pay and that covers your expenses takes a bit of work.

    • Hi Sidra – my advice is to write as much as possible in the areas that interest you. Are you considering a fiction career, or do you want to be a business writer? Non-fiction writer? A degree isn’t necessary to be successful as a freelancer. To get started, look at job boards and review the types of requests — then evaluate your skillset and interests until you can narrow in on the types of jobs you feel qualified for. Then pitch to them and see what happens.

  2. Pingback: Take 2: Thinking About Being a Self-Employed Writer? — Live to Write – Write to Live | Charlotte Gerber

  3. Congrats on 11 years of ‘freelancing’.
    I think my tip would be in terms of pacing:
    Realize that in the realm of (in my case) being a ‘working musician’ it’s like being a construction worker – there are periods of no work, but it always picks up again…so try to have several angles to your self-employment. For example: with us musicians, the teaching season often tides us over through the festival/concert season, which tides us over to the recording season, etc.

    • Thanks, Laura. There are definitely ebbs and flows in my work, also. I can usually count on January into February being slow and most of the summer — but this year has been a pleasant anomaly with barely any ebbs. Having various income avenues/options is a great suggestion and way to handle the slow periods (especially if the slow times are predictable!)

  4. Great read, though sometimes you can SAVE money owning your own house. My mortgage is actually cheaper than what renting in my area would be AND I earn equity. Just saying, that one should be more of a local consideration.

    • Thanks, J.R. Yes, owning can be cheaper. I sold my house as I made the leap to freelancing with the intent to buy an RV and travel the US and Canada while working. The RV hasn’t come to fruition yet, and I enjoy the rent option as I’m not committed to any one place for more than a year at a time – and I don’t have any stress about home/yard repairs or maintenance, or property taxes. And for me, I didn’t want to use my savings for a downpayment. Rent versus own is a definite large consideration.

  5. Great post! One thing I learned very early on (I built my writing business on the side for three years before leaving my full-time marketing writing job almost a year ago) is to not work for people/companies who can’t pay the salary you require. Of course, it’s important to figure out what that “salary” needs to be each year/month. Even when things get tight financially, I fill my downtime with other writerly pursuits like working more on my novel writing rather than take very low paying clients. I would add that marketing yourself should be part of your day to day. Re-connecting/staying connected with former co-workers, bosses, colleagues, etc. makes it easier to find more work and keeps you fresh in people’s minds.

  6. What I don’t quite understand is – how do you start? I’m studying full-time right now and am interested in starting to build a freelancing portfolio.. but how? Do I just email a company and be like ‘hello, I’d love to do some writing for you?’ How the heck do I know what to write for them? It seems to just be an endless list of questions for me, so anything you might be able to tell me would be greatly appreciated 🙂

    • Hi Azpasco – you really have to figure out the type of writing you want to do — the areas you’re interested in. Start looking at job boards to see the types of calls-for-writers that exists and determine what interests you and why. It really all starts with you and what type of writing you will enjoy doing, pursuing, and seeking out for the long term.

      • Hi Lisa, thanks for getting back to me on this one! That makes a lot of sense to me, in that obviously you want to write in an area that holds your interest. I guess I need to do some research into that and then keep an eye out for some opportunities!

  7. I started working online as a writer but now I’m expanding to other venues, such as admin/virtual assistance. Learning new things and challenging myself interest me a lot. I just believe you keep learning regardless of your age.

  8. Congratulations on your career as a writer who lives on writing and unruffled about family life despite your faultless beauty .Your style is also glasslike like a mirror and no trace of any loneliness from your unabashed confessions. I don’t think I don’t like all of that except that I can ‘ t be unmarried indefinitely .Yes I will to ambrosial hearts in love.I feel this will be insurable against any eventualities .I m shopping warily for matured folks globally that we can both co author impromptu snippets on … SO Long a Story,so short a story- workable at our own pace on chosen topics on love & Life.

    Gbemi Tijani MST Paul Harris fellow

    Sent from my iPad

  9. Great post, Lisa! I’m curious about your ability to find contract work through linkedin…..perhaps I haven’t made full use of the site? Thanks, and continued success with your business!

    • Hi Jeanne, I’ve found that keeping my LinkedIn profile up-to-date is the best marketing tool that I have. Companies find me when doing searches. Have a full and complete profile, participate in groups (reply to questions, pose your own) in areas that you want to build on. Keep making new connections to build your network — ‘if you build it, they will come’ 🙂

  10. Thank you for your advice. Giving out tips from your own experiences is very helpful as they have worked for you. I am managing well now, but one day I do hope to work for myself, to be able to provide for myself for some extras that I want to do in life. Thank you again for sharing and giving out your knowledge with us. Gift of knowledge is the greatest gift that brings the highest merits according to Buddhism. As its given out free with no expectations of any returns. I with you the best of luck in your work. Love and Light 🙂

  11. Thanks for sharing this. Can you elaborate on any dry spells you might have had? Also, can you talk a bit more about how you were able to maintain a spirit of patience in times when things didn’t look so good?

    • Hi Chubaoyolu – as far as dry spells, they are always unpredictable, but when I’m busy I get behind on ‘daily work’ so dry spells are great times to catch up on business-related tasks that have taken a back seat for a while. It’s also a good time to freshen up my LinkedIn profile. Maintaining a positive outlook when things don’t look good can be a challenge, but as there is always a plan and goals broken down into daily tasks, I don’t focus much on what isn’t working so much as what can be improved. So, I pay attention to when things seem to turn downward, but instead of being sucked into how horribly it could get I focus on what I can do to turn it around before it gets too bad. Does that help?

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