What IS Freelance Writing Really?

Do you know what the word 'freelance' really means? I'm sure most of you do. You're all bright, intelligent people (I can tell by the correspondence I get!). But there are one or two out there who seem to insist that just being online and earning a few cents makes them freelance writers.

Here's the real meaning.

Freelance = self-employed

The word 'freelance' by itself does NOT mean anything to do with writing. It has nothing to do with being online. It isn't about articles and it's not about revenue-share. It means self-employed.

'Going Freelance' means you've decided to work all by yourself with no boss but you. You can be a freelance photographer, a freelance graphic designer, a freelance architect, a freelance web creator, a freelance mortgage consultant, a freelance wedding planner, a freelance nose picker... whatever you want to do on your own within your own home business means you're a freelance whatever. Fill in your own blanks.

What's Freelance Writing Then?

Freelance writing is the term given to a person who is self-employed as a writer, running a business in which they must write in order to earn income. It makes no difference how big or small your business is - as long as you realize that freelance IS being in business for yourself.

I am a freelance writer. I own a small freelance business in which I write for a living. This means I work for myself as my own boss in my own home business where my primary product for sale is writing. I do the work I want to do. I choose which work assignments to accept and which ones to decline. I research new markets to submit work to. I write for offline magazines, I write for online clients and I often write just for myself too. I don't receive any other income from anyone or anywhere else.

Your freelance business could be big or small. You have the freedom to choose what you want it to become. Write just the fun stuff and avoid the crummy stuff you don't enjoy. It's your business after all.

My amazing, wonderful mentor is also a freelance writer (Hi Lee!) Her freelance business makes my own full-time enterprise look like a beginner. She's nothing short of amazing. She earns all her income from writing for clients, websites and magazines. She has staff as well as a personal assistant and she even owns her own magazine!

Many of my closest friends are also self-employed freelance writers who earn their entire income from writing activities (but they don't have staff LOL) Three of my own proteges are freelance writers and fast becoming good friends. They actively work hard to increase their skills and knowledge while they build their freelance businesses. They seek out new clients, they actively avoid the low paying markets in an effort to keep increasing their income until it reaches the level they need to pay the bills (Hi to Linz, Jhellie and Amalia. You know who you are)

When Are You NOT a Freelance Writer?

I'm a member of several community sites where newer writers tend to hang out. I spend time here trying to help those new writers with real talent to break free of the low-paying ranks and build a profitable income for themselves.

Many newer writers seem so proud of themselves when they earn 5 cents per forum post and earn 23 cents per month on page views on useless revenue-share sites. They immediately begin calling themselves freelance writers, immediately start up little blogs and attempt to teach others how to make easy money from 'freelancing'.

While it is possible to make a few extra dollars a year from posting in forums or submitting your thoughts about your own life on revenue-share sites like Associated Content or MyLot, these little musings don't make you a freelance writer. They make you a hobbyist.

Hobbies Are Great Fun

Never feel bad for being a hobby writer. Enjoy it! It's a lot of fun and you can earn a bit of extra pocket money. Be proud to tell people that you're a hobby writer part-time.

While my own business was still growing, I was a hobby writer in my spare time while I worked full time at a very large bank. I had fun with my hobby for 2 years before I decided to take it seriously and build it into a business instead of a hobby. The day I quit my job and earned my entire income from writing I became a freelance writer instead of a hobby writer.

How Do You Become a Freelance Writer?

When I was learning and growing and still in the hobby-phase, my mentor was very fond of nagging me endlessly about treating freelancing seriously and professionally. This means actively working to improve your confidence levels, honing your talents and aiming at markets that will pay your bills. It also means learning to prioritize your time carefully so that each day is filled with activities that bring income into your business.

Prioritization was the hardest thing I had to learn. My mentor looked at what I did during each day and asked me to create a spreadsheet. Then I learned to track my activities and what percentage of income was earned for how much time spent on doing them.

What I noticed very quickly is that spending four hours on a networking site like MyLot might earn $2 - but four hours worth of article writing could see at least 4 or 5 articles written. So I immediately began submitting articles hoping to earn $5 or $6 per article. I was ecstatic about the increase in income! I learned to spend more time doing things that paid more money and avoided those that ate my time for very little return.

This one simple lesson tripled my freelance income and increased my productivity massively at the same time.

Developing Confidence in Your Freelance Writing

You know I'm going to tell you my mentor wasn't happy with me aiming at low paying $5 article markets like this. In fact she was disgusted and promptly sat with me as I looked for higher paying options.

My first argument to Lee was the same one I hear from people regularly when I tell them to aim a bit higher. "I'm not good enough to submit to big markets". Does that sound familiar to you?

She rolled her eyes at me in exasperation and pointed out that magazine editors have NO idea how long you've been writing. All they care about is how good the idea is in front of them. If they like the idea for a story, many of them will suggest a format that they want to see.

I didn't believe her at all, but I submitted a query letter to an editor at a magazine and simply told him about my idea for an article. He loved it and offered to pay me $800 for the article at once.

Yep - it really is as easy as that.

(see this post for ideas about improving confidence)

Avoiding Freelance Burn-Out

I met a really talented writer on a forum last year. He wrote great articles and always knew exactly what the client wanted. His name was Taylor and he had a really bright future in writing ahead of him.

Unfortunately Taylor refused to look outside of the low-paying markets. He spent all his time on Digital Point Forums charging $2 for a 500 word article. He would write and write and write all day, sometimes writing 8 or 10 articles just to earn $20. He worked 6 days a week on this same routine. He was so mentally exhausted that one day he woke up and simply couldn't face writing another thing the rest of his life.

He was a brilliant, talented writer and he'll probably never write anything again. I hate hearing stories like this. It's a waste of perfectly good talent. The sad part is he could easily have earned $50 or $100 per article with the quality he was producing. He just didn't have confidence in his ability.

If Taylor had actively broken up his writing activities into profitable sections and 'just-for-fun' sections and then looked more carefully at prioritizing his time, he would have been able to turn a hobby into a lucrative full-time income by writing only 2 or 3 articles per day, 5 days a week. He wouldn't have burned out and wasted all that talent.

Phew! I didn't realize I'd written so much (grins sheepishly). I hope some of you are realizing by this post that no matter what level of writing you're at, where you take it and how you build it is all up to you. Enjoy the hobby stage. Have fun with it. Be proud to be a Hobby Writer.

But the moment you decide you want to be a professional Freelance Writer, go ahead and quit those low paying, slave-labor, revenue-share hobby sites and come out and play with the real paying sites! You'll be glad you did.

Happy writing.


Lee Masterson said...

Nice post Bianca. I'll have to send a few of my more way-ward proteges over to read this.

It's all good information - except for the part where you call me a nag. I never nagged you. I just... persuaded you with my foot applied to your backside LOL


Jan. said...

This was an excellent post and one I really appreciate. Being relatively new, I'm struggling with finding a balance between posting on a site for 20 cents a post vs. taking the time to learn the craft, so to speak, and figuring how to write more for more. It may be that I am focusing on those 20 cent posts a little too much and I've only been doing that a relatively short amount of time.

Nonetheless, thanks for making me think!

Gayze said...

Excellent advice, as usual, Bianca. I'm one who decided, very recently, to start to seek some side income from my writing, due to "tough times". I think there are probably many like me. And even though I'll never spend a lot of time on myLot, I'm thankful I'm there, or I wouldn't have run into you!

I plan to stick around the eHows and Heliums for a little while, because I've made a few friends, and because I've invested words into those sites that I'd hate to see go to waste.

Or perhaps I should just rewrite all those articles and submit them again to a market that will actually pay for them!

(Ooh, she's gettin' feisty!)

jfjones said...

I keep telling you that you are a wonderful professional. Thanks for the needed kick in the head!

Louieee said...

Aha, I wonnnnnnderrr what stirred up you making this blog entry(sarcasm!)

Neat informative piece, keep up the good work and make sure to respond to that email I sent ya' back. =p

Bianca Raven said...

@ Lee - Yep. You are a nag. Thank you, though. I'm forever grateful for that nagging, but that doesn't detract from you nagging in the first place to get me where I am.

@ Jan and Gayze - In a few of my previous posts I've pointed out that I still spend a little time on some of the lower paying things simply because some of them are fun. But I'm careful not to interfere with my writing time with these kinds of markets because they're just not worth my while.

@ Jen - Thank you once again. Your compliments always make me feel warm and fuzzy.

@ Louieee - I'll log into my email account now and check what I've received today and get right back to you. I always do!

Michael Rivers said...

As always, a great post that has left me feeling very inspired! Thanks for the information and the pep talk!

Lindsey Rainwater said...

That made me laugh.

Hi everybody, it's the aforementioned 'Linz.'

Bianca is absolutely right, as usual. She is to me as Lee is to her. She only nags me a teeny tiny bit, because when she says, "Stop wasting your time with those people." I say, "Ok, then what do I do?" and she always has a great suggestion.

I've tried to not need the foot-to-backside persuasion, and I'm doing really well so far. I'm making about a part-time income each month because I'm still working the bugs out of my work system. But I'm quickly heading for matching what my husband makes each month.

I think two major things any potential writer needs to do are: #1 Set a goal. Mine is to match my husband's income, then surpass it so I can send him back to school.
#2 Don't underestimate yourself. I wasn't at all sure I could get good work, but I have the confidence to stick my work out there and see what happens. I have been well-rewarded thus far.

All of it is thanks to Raven. :)

Sorry Raven, I didn't mean to talk so long. You know me. I'm a writer. I write. ;)

Keep it up everyone, and when Raven suggests something, at least think about it really hard.

Laura said...

Great article. Biance you have been nagging me too, im heatbreaker on mylot by the way. I know some time I will use the high paying markets but I guess for now I am a hobby writer

Bianca Raven said...

Hey Laura - I've read some of your work on Helium and on MyLot and you're wasting your talent by staying in the low-paying ranks.

You could potentially be earning a lot of money if you aimed at the right places


parsibagan said...

Hi Bianca, if I recall correctly, you had written one article about how one should increase their self-confidence in their writing capabilities. Mind linking it back from this topic? I guess they are related to a certain extent. Kind Regards.

Your observations about the writer from `DP' who burnt himself up... I too have reached that stage :/

Bianca Raven said...

I think that calls for a blog post on 'avoiding burn-out', parsibagan.

I'll put in a link to the 'raising self-confidence' post now. Thanks.

Danelle said...

Having read a good portion of your blog I must say, "Thank you." It is wonderful that you share your knowledge with others. However, I must also say I have to disagree about revenue sharing sites.

Here's my thought. If you are willing to write for a content mill (which it sounds like you don't do, but you do recommend it in one of your posts), then there is no reason not to work for revenue sharing sites. I make a few dollars per article on Textbroker. It's not something I do often, but if I have a few minutes or need a few extra dollars... On the other hand, I have over a thousand articles on revenue sharing sites. Yes, I know that this is a lot slower of a way to earn and that the only way I will get paid a lot for my articles is if the sites are around for years and years. But this is the breakdown. If you average out my earnings at Helium I have made $4.12 an article. That's not amazing, but the articles were easy to write, they continue to earn money each month, and I spend no more then an hour a month while getting paid $100. Plus I usually make that much even when I take a month off (something I have done recently with the birth of my daughter). Sure I don't make a good hourly wage, but I don't have to worry about deadlines, I can write whatever I want, I don't have to market (sure I would make more money on my stuff if I did that, but I hate marketing and don't market any of my writing), I don't have to have any webdesign knowledge, and the articles are easy to write even while getting interrupted by my children every ten seconds.

Now I will tell you that as I learned more I started doing other things as well and certainly make more money with freelance writing work, but I still write a few articles a month to put out there to continue earning from. I am taking classes on web design and planning several websites and ebooks...but if you are willing to write an article for $3 to $5 or you need something anyone with a half way decent command of the English language, then revenue sharing might work out for you.