I can’t believe that the end of April marks two years since I started freelance writing for a living.
In some ways, it feels like I’ve been doing this for years. In others, it feels like I only just started yesterday. I mean, there’s no denying that I’ve come a long way – but I’ve still got a long way to go!
When I decided to build a business and became a one-woman show, I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into. Sure, I knew it would be hard work and I’d be working all hours under the sun to get things up and running. However, I had no idea there would be times where I’d be sobbing to my Mum because my main client made me redundant or times where I’d almost throw my laptop out my window because I couldn’t for the life of me work out how to add an opt-in form to my website’s homepage.
Sigh. The struggle has been real.
But do you know what? I wouldn’t change the experience for the world.
I’ve learned a lot about myself, as well as a lot about entrepreneurship. I’ve also learned a ton about this wonderful industry I’m in.
Whether you’re a fellow freelance writer, a newbie at the start of your journey or a nosy stranger (hey, we’ve all been there), read on for 24 freelance writing lessons I’ve learned in 24 months of running my biz.
1. Don’t Sacrifice Your Mental Health For the Sake of Your Business
Freelance writing lessons 101: Naturally, mental health had to be the first thing I write about in this post because there have been countless times in the last two years where I felt I had to go that extra mile for a client or push that little bit harder to get my website done before a certain deadline.
To be honest, I wish someone had told me sooner that I was going to burn out at some point in the beginning.
I could probably write a whole post on this (and maybe I will in the future) but first things first, if you’re a new freelance writer, listen to your body and your mind. I’ve learned the hard way not to keep pushing myself when I’m struggling as I’ll only take longer to recover.
2. Quality Clients Beat Quantity Clients (Every Time)
I originally thought that the more clients I had, the more money I’d be making and the more successful my business would be.
Oh, no no no…
It doesn’t matter how many clients you have; if they’re all paying you £10 per article then you’re never going to make ends meet. Instead, find bigger clients that pay £50+ for an article and build a client base that’s worthy of the high quality of your writing.
3. Always Follow Up
Do you know how many clients I’ve on-boarded just by following up once or twice? I know how difficult it can be when you’ve spent hours crafting the perfect pitch and then *crickets.*
That said, the secret lies in following up. Obviously, you don’t want to bombard the poor company, but if you give them a nudge a few days later or a second nudge a few days after that, I’ve found that this strategy works a treat.
4. Sometimes You Have to Fight For Work
I wish someone had told me before I started doing this that the work won’t just fall into my lap. (Can you imagine? *Daydreams*)
Newsflash: you have to go out there and get it. And do you know what? It’s hard sometimes. There’s a lot of competition.
However, in my experience, persistence is the key to success.
5. Building Relationships Pays Off
One of the top freelance writing lessons I’ve learned that often gets overlooked is the importance of developing personal relationships.
Always remember that your client is not just your client, a bank or a way to make money. Your client is a human being too.
Being friendly and taking the time to get to your collaborators as a small business owner is imperative. I mean, you never know where your relationship might lead.
(You could end up being best buds, or you could end up running a digital marketing agency with them. Who can say?)
6. Don’t Assume New Clients Will Behave As Badly As Old Clients Have
Guilty as charged.
When you’ve been burned several times by past clients, it’s difficult not to build up a bit of a wall between yourself and new clients. It’s like being burned by an ex, you’re not going to open yourself up emotionally to a new partner right away – are you? Let’s be honest.
It’s true that I’ve often got defensive with clients previously who I thought were trying to take advantage, just because I’ve been taken advantage of many times before – and it’s cost me the job. It made me realise that I have to start everybody off on a fresh slate and not jump to conclusions before situations have even happened.
7. It’s True What They Say About Having a Niche (Kind Of)
Okay, the niche thing.
Yes, it helps to have a niche to position yourself as an expert in your field. The riches are in the niches. However, you don’t necessarily need just one.
For instance, I have three (perhaps even four) and it never harmed my chances of securing well-paid freelance writing jobs. Just make sure each niche you have is profitable and you’re golden.
8. You’re Always Worth More Than You Think You Are
I’m terrible at undercharging. I did it loads in the beginning and I still do it now. Having said that, I think I’m getting better.
It can be difficult to haggle for more money when you’ve got bills to pay, but it’s worth it in the end. Make sure you’re getting paid what you deserve; otherwise, what’s the point in freelance writing for a living?
9. A Healthy Work-Life Balance Is So Important
Again, guilty as charged.
In the beginning stages of freelance writing, I worked all hours. All day, late at night, early in the morning, weekends, bank holidays, Christmas – you name it. I did it.
And guess what? I burned out. I burned out badly.
Nowadays, I make sure I play hard just as much as I work hard – and it does wonders for both my home and work life.
10. Work Smarter, Not Harder
Speaking of working hard, I originally thought that hustling all hours would make my business successful. But this didn’t turn out to be the case.
I was working hard on low-paying gigs when I should have been using the time to apply for high-paying gigs. I fell into a trap of overworking to make (what I considered) a decent monthly income when I should have just waited a little bit longer for higher quality clients.
11. Outsource Tasks When You Can
In the beginning, I thought I had to do everything myself. I took the phrase “one-woman show” literally.
I did all my marketing, promotion, writing, proofreading, editing – and it was exhausting. There weren’t enough hours in the day.
Therefore, when I could afford it, I made the conscious decision to outsource certain tasks – and I’ll tell you what, it made my life a heck of a lot easier.
12. Success Is Whatever You Make It
I originally thought that success meant working as hard as possible to make as much money as possible.
After two years of learning freelance writing lessons, I have a different view on it.
I now think having a profitable business with a healthy work-life balance and being mentally stable is successful. In this sense, I’m more successful than ever.
13. You Have to Learn to Be a Content Chameleon
Sure, having a specific niche or niches is important, but there might be times where one of your regular clients wants you to do them a favour and write about pregnancy mattresses instead of the latest fashion trends.
One of the top freelance writing lessons I’ve learned that it helps to be versatile, especially during slow spells where you might have to apply for jobs which are a little out of your comfort zone.
In fact, I’ve grown to love these odd jobs in different niches as it keeps my working day super varied and interesting. Win-win.
14. You Have to Learn to Roll With the Times
Oh my goodness, the amount of times I’ve panicked that the work has slowed up and I won’t be able to pay my monthly bills is unbelievable.
Why does nobody talk about this side of freelancing? It’s not all a bed of roses, you know. But it’s real life and that’s what matters.
Personally, I’ve learned to have a fair bit of savings behind me for the quiet spells where I need some financial aid. It’s all about being sensible while trying not to let your anxiety take over. (I’m still working on this one, to be honest.)
15. Try Something Different (You Might Like It)
When I first started freelance writing, I limited myself a bit. I was like, right – I’m going to write blog or magazine content as I’m comfortable with these writing styles and I don’t need to do anything else.
Then, as my business grew and clients learned of my marketing background, I got more requests for copywriting jobs.
It took a long time but I finally opened myself up to another side of freelance writing, and now I really enjoy wearing different hats. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, people.
16. There’s Room For Everyone in This Industry
When I first started my business, I constantly worried that no one would want to work with me because there were already a sea of freelance writers on the scene and what if no one liked me? Wah wah wah.
I quickly realised that there’s plenty of work to go around in this industry. I mean, as the online world grows, so does the demand for content to fill it with. Panic over.
17. Strangers Won’t Have a Clue What You Do For a Living
The number of times I’ve avoided being asked what I do for a living is ridiculous. Why? Well, because nobody seems to get it (apart from millennials and fellow freelancers).
I know freelance writing is still considered a relatively “new” job, but I’ve learned to keep it short and simple when people ask me about it.
Otherwise, I’m just met with blank stares and “oh, right” before the conversation is swiftly moved on. (You learn not to take this personally…)
18. You’ll Never Know Where You Are With Money
Due to the fact that I’ve had an array of clients with different payment schedules, I’ve had to accept that I’ll never know where I am with money as a freelance writer.
I live paycheque to paycheque, which was difficult to adjust to initially after coming from a 9-5 corporate environment – but you know what? Whatever. It’s not exactly important, as long as your business is profitable.
19. It’s Impossible to Switch Off
Even now, two years later, I find it super hard to switch off from my business.
My boyfriend is constantly telling me off for answering emails at 10pm or popping on my laptop to do a bit of editing on a Sunday afternoon.
It may pollute my thoughts always, but that’s because I love what I do. To me, it’s the best job in the world.
20. Your Business Is the Baby You Never Had
Another reason why I can never switch off from my business is that it’s essentially my baby. I grew it myself. I look after it. I nurture it – and no one else. Hence, I’m incredibly protective of it.
If and when outsiders try to criticise it, I get very defensive. Sure, constructive criticism is always welcome, but anything drastically negative will be met with the wrath of a woman scorned.
(Strangers, be warned.)
21. There’ll Always Be Something You’re Unhappy With
Like a human baby, my business is never going to be perfect. I get that now.
There’ll always be an aspect that needs improvement, but as long as 90% of it is going swimmingly, I can accept the 10% that’s not.
22. Cold Pitching Is Always Going to Terrify You (a Little Bit)
I haven’t met any other freelance writer in my career so far who isn’t the slightest bit terrified of cold pitching.
It’s the fear of the unknown, and I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t get any easier the longer you’ve been in the game.
That said, you learn to take rejection with a pinch of salt as time goes on. Business is business, at the end of the day. If you choose to take everything personally, you’ll never survive freelancing.
23. Staying True to Yourself Is Instrumental
There have been so many times in the past couple of years where I’ve thought I should be writing a blog post on a certain subject because someone else has done it, or I should be doing a particular social media tactic because one of my freelancing heroes is doing it.
One of the key freelance writing lessons I’ve learned is what works for one freelance writing business might not work for another.
It’s important to stay authentic. Do you and be yourself, because your individuality is your superpower. No one else thinks and acts the way that you do. Work with this.
24. The Possibilities Are Endless
The wonderful thing about freelance writing is that there are so many different avenues you can go down with it.
In addition to a range of niches, there are a range of content types and publications that you can collaborate with. And that’s really exciting – right?
Freelance Writing Lessons for All
There are lots of freelance writing lessons I’ve learned in the past couple of years and I’m sure that there are lots more to come.
I mean, we’re all still learning when it comes to freelance writing. It’s considered a new industry and the online world continues to grow at a rapid rate.
Regardless, I’m extremely happy with where I am right now, even though I still have big dreams to achieve. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you don’t stop.
Here’s to many more years as a freelance writer!
What are the freelance writing lessons you’ve learned since running your biz? Let me know in the comments below!