should I become a freelance writer?

So you want to be a freelance writer, eh? Congratulations, there’s a wonderful world that just opened to you. And some pain and heartache along the way. It should go without saying that nothing worth having comes easy. Becoming a successful freelance writer is incredibly liberating, but it does come with its share of hardships.

Here are four things you should know about the reality of freelance writing.

The Fantasy vs Reality

The fantasy: I’ll get to write about important topics that I care about deeply. 

The reality: I’m going to write a lot of articles like “5 reasons why Kale is good for you.”

At a certain point in your freelance career, you’ll have more freedom to tackle the projects you want and write the kind of content you’re passionate about. In the beginning, it’s a lot of articles about Kale, digital marketing, iPhone apps, etc. 

Here’s a dirty little secret about online content: 9 times out of 10 the person who’s credited to the content isn’t the actual author. Rather, it’s someone like you who is paid to ghostwrite content. 

“Ghostwriting is where you write content that is credited to someone else. You’ll get paid, but you won’t get credit.”

There are plenty of websites that accept unsolicited subscriptions. If you’re passionate about a topic, by all means get writing and start submitting. But when it comes to putting money in your bank account, you’re going to write a lot of content for businesses in the beginning.

Not that this is a bad thing. In a given week you may write about kale smoothies on Monday, World War 1 on Tuesday, Facebook marketing on Wednesday, and Venetian blinds on Thursday. It doesn’t get boring.

Develop Thick Skin

As an analogy, think back to high school. In every high school across America there’s a person who everyone believes is going to “make it.” Every high school has their “best athlete,” “best student,” or “best actor,” etc. And everyone is sure that THIS person is going to make it.

Most of the time those students don’t wind up playing professional sports, going to Harvard, or becoming a Hollywood superstar. Some do, and it’s great. The reality is that once you get out into the world, there’s always someone who’s better than you are.

All of a sudden you’re no longer the big fish in a small pond. You’re in the ocean, and there’s a lot of other fish out there. The point is, you may be be the best writer you know, but not everyone else is going to see it that way. Be prepared to take some harsh criticism.

It’s a sobering moment the first time a client tells you to make massive changes, or that they don’t want to pay you because your work is garbage. This is why it’s incredibly important to obtain detailed instructions on the project. Ask questions, get answers. Arm yourself with as much information as possible and develop a clear idea of what the client wants.

Even then, some projects won’t work out. It’s just the way it goes. Don’t get angry or frustrated. It’s just the nature of the business. You should always strive to produce quality content for your clients that align with their wishes. However, let’s just get one thing straight:

Eventually you will fail to deliver on a project, it will be your fault, and the client will not be happy. 

Embrace that reality and be prepared for it. After you’ve asked yourself “should I become a freelance writer?” The next question should be: “do I have thick enough skin to take criticism?” Because no matter how well you write, you will eventually not measure up to a client’s expectations.

People Will Want You to Work For Free. Don’t.

There is an unfortunate mentality that some people have that you’re “just writing words” and it’s no big deal. Clients will ask for free work “as a test” or haggle over your price. Don’t fall for this trap. Your work is valuable. Whatever rate you choose to set, as long as its realistic, stick with it.

In nearly any other industry, this would be unacceptable. Could you walk into a restaurant and demand a free meal as a test to see if you wanted to pay for one? Could you ask a plumber to unclog your drain for free this time and you promise you’ll pay him later? Of course not.

And yet for some reason, people expect freelance writers to work this way. It can be frustrating to deal with. The good news is that any client who is halfway decent won’t behave like this. Finding one who does expect you to work for free is actually a pretty good indication that it’s time to move on.

That doesn’t mean you can’t work out a deal with a long-term client or even a lower introductory rate for a new one. It does mean that your rate is your rate. Don’t devalue yourself.

Specializing > Generalizing

Whether you plan on advertising yourself on Facebook, starting a website, or going on any number of Freelance platforms, it’s usually a good idea to find a niche. If your background is in digital marketing, bill yourself as a digital marketer. If you work in tech during the day, work in that space.

Clients are generally in a specialized business themselves and are looking for someone who is able to write intelligently regarding their industry. If you have a medical background, you’ll want to focus on writing for doctors, insurance companies, health apps, etc.

“Your health industry clients don’t care that you’re really interested in flying kites. They want to know if you can write what they need you to write.”

Sure, you can also take those jobs writing about Kale smoothies, but figure out your bread and butter topics and focus your efforts there.

Should I Become a Freelance Writer?

If you’ve got the talent to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), then freelance writing may be for you. It’s a remarkable way to earn extra money while learning about a variety of new and often exciting topics. It isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve got the talent to work with; you can be a freelance writer.


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