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.