When you think of being a freelance writer, you probably assume the following. Set your hours, work from home in your pajamas, and choose the work you’re passionate about.
It sounds like a dream life, right?
Well, those are some of the reasons that people get into freelance work, including freelance writing.
Here’s the main problem with that “quit your full-time job for the freelance dream” notion…it’s not real. According to 2017, a survey from Freelance Writing, most freelancers earn less than $10,000 a year and work less than 20 hours a week.
Yikes. You can’t quit your corporate job for that.
Maybe living life primarily from freelance writing is real for some people, but the fantasy that many hold about freelancing doesn’t tell the whole picture.
I never quit a job or changed the course of my life for freelance writing, but it is part of my income and something I’ve learned a few unexpected lessons from trying.
Here are 6 things nobody told me about freelancing.
You spend more time sourcing jobs than writing
I first started applying to freelance writing jobs to try to earn additional income. I worked as a social media manager/marketing assistant for a skincare company and felt I’d gained enough writing experience to work on some entry-level projects.
Then, I started out looking for positions on Indeed. I also found out about writing-specific job boards like ProBlogger and BloggingPro. The good news is that there was always a wealth of new positions and projects available. The bad news is that I applied to several and never heard back. I spent hours looking for the right fit, filling out the same applications 100 times, writing samples, and didn’t get any work from it.
Since I was not entirely relying on freelance writing for my income, it wasn’t the most devastating, but it was frustrating. Eventually, I did land a writing job as a contract writer for Content Cucumber, which is sort of in-between freelance writing and working for a company.
The competition is cut-throat
The reason that freelance writers may spend so much time finding work is that the space is very competitive. The way job openings fly off the job boards reminds me of the crazy summer of 2020 real estate market we are in. The second you find something that you want, and that’s a good fit, 10 other people have too, and they’ve already applied. It’s only a matter of hours before the gig is gone.
Even after writing for an agency for several months and building a diverse writing portfolio, I had no luck when I tried applying for freelance positions.
There was one I applied to on Indeed. The position was for a “freelance writer” working on mainly long-form blog posts paying $2 per word. I applied for it the same day it was posted. Someone from the company messaged me at 4:36 pm, saying he had already filled the position but needed some additional help with a few articles. I responded by 4:43, saying I was interested and could help. His response at 5:02 pm: “These articles went super fast as dozens messaged me back within 10–20 minutes” with an offer to email him my information for consideration for future projects.
I did that, by the way, and never heard back.
To get any work, you essentially need to be glued to the listings and responding at hyperspeed. Every other freelance writer is looking at the same jobs. Since most positions are remote, you’re competing with writers from around the country, and maybe even the world.
Long-term clients are incredibly valuable
Given the high cost (in time and effort) required to acquire a freelance writing client, long-term clients are a goldmine. In freelance writing, you are more than just a writer; you provide a service and must offer excellent customer support.
I have a steady, long-term client on a retainer/monthly subscription basis. His business has been so valuable for my freelancing career. Having a few consistent, long-term clients is far more beneficial for freelance writing than working with dozens of quick-turnover ones.
It’s hard to put the work down
This probably goes for most work-from-home jobs, but the line between work and home is very thin and often blurred when it comes to freelance writing. Given the constantly-updated job boards and juggling of several projects, it’s tough to step back.
Even when I’m not working, writing is on my mind. I’m always thinking about what I need to write that day and for who and which emails I have to send or reply to. I have a hard time clocking out and putting the work away when I’m not doing it, and some of that definitely comes from having an ambiguous schedule.
Stop seeing it as black and white
A lot of the rhetoric surrounding freelance writing is so black and white. It’s people talking about quitting their jobs to go freelance, or about either working for a company or being freelance. In some ways, the definition of a freelancer is a bit obscure.
Oxford Languages labels a freelancer as “working for different companies at different times rather than being permanently employed by one company.” At the same time, the Writer’s Bureau says it is “ writer who works on a self-employed basis. They can work for just one magazine or, more often, they write for several different publications at a time.”
Depending on which definition you use, I am totally a freelance writer. Or I write for a writing agency and have a couple of freelance clients. The point is that you don’t have to be either a freelance writer or a writer working for someone else, you can (and arguably should) do a bit of both. Working for an agency first helped me get my footing in writing and managing clients.
Freelancing is not the fantasy dream it’s cracked up to be
Like most things that sound too good to be true, freelance writing is often romanticized. Yes, some freelance writers earn hefty salaries and maybe even love it.
However, that’s not the case for the vast majority of freelance writers, especially when starting. If you leave your job for freelancing, it’s not less work or easier work. You still have to put in a ton of effort, and you don’t always get what you deserve. You may have to take on projects you don’t like or work with people you can’t stand. Freelance writing is still a job and comes with some of the headaches of a job.
I still enjoy freelance writing
Freelance writing is not easy, and it’s not guaranteed. But I do like some aspects of that career path, including some of the challenges.
I do get to work from anywhere, wearing whatever I want. Sure, I have to work a lot, but I can adjust my hours, offering me the ultimate flexibility (albeit stress). I have grown a lot as a writer and learned about a wide range of topics that I never thought I would. Even though it is frustrating, challenging, and a lot of effort, I enjoy freelance writing and plan to continue doing it.
Before making any life changes, be sure to consider all of the aspects of freelance writing. It’s not something you have to jump into or leave behind everything else to pursue.