Starting Out

I just read a great blog post from Carol Tice of the Freelance Writer’s Den. I’m participating in her Marketing 101 For Freelance Writers free course. Of course as a middle-aged male I already know everything there is to know but… Seriously, it is great to get fresh ideas and perspective as well as some confirmation of already held knowledge and opinions. Whether you are just starting up or already making your living writing online, step outside your comfort zone and invest some of your precious time in doing something like this, you will always learn something new.

I read  a blog today where Carol offers sage advice to those newbies who think they can start a freelance writing business with no money. They want free everything, including advice and mentoring. More than just the ton of free advice already there to be read on her web site and on web sites like this one. They often read to me like they want you to find their clients for them. Sorry, I have enough of a challenge finding my own. Carol is correct when she says these people won’t make it as freelance writers. You need a little entrepreneurial get off your butt and go for it and it is clear these people simply don’t have that. They relish the idea of freelancing but not the work it requires. Most likely they should be in a public service job where output is not pressured and the pay and conditions are perfect. Sorry, but the harsh reality of the commercial world freelancers have to operate in means they have to be a little piratical, a tad mercenary. Not in any bad way, but as far as having the initiative and drive to get up and go for it.

So if you are starting out writing for your living, the first thing you need is the right attitude. Have you got it? Without the right mindset you are wasting your time. The next thing you need is money. You need money to make money and there is no way you can start a business, which is what you are starting, without some start-up capital. Some of us work day jobs, second jobs and even third jobs to scrape together the ‘grub-stake’ we need to kick off our dream job; to work for ourselves as freelance writers. We sell stuff we don’t need, we stop spending on unnecessary items like espresso coffees and cable television. Who needs 140 channels anyway?

We invest our money in a good writing machine, nowadays called a computer. Ideally a laptop for portability but a desk top is ok too. I have both and use Dropbox to store the files I am working on so I can effortlessly grab one whether I am in my garage-office with the big iMac or up in the dining room on the MacBook Air. The client can also be granted access to their folder to check their jobs as you go. I rent my computers because the payments are 100% tax deductible and if anything breaks or the computer is stolen the rental company replaces it as part of the contract. Sure it will end up costing me more in the long run but I have four grand’s worth of the latest equipment to work with and it cost nothing up front. I am getting to the stage where the free 2GB Dropbox account won’t be enough and I will have to subscribe… but it is a worthwhile expense. I pay hosting, domain name registrations and have broadband expenses, none of which you can really avoid if you want to be professional. Sure you can spend two hours every day at your local library leveraging the free wi-fi access (my library even has computers you can use for free but how tacky is that for a professional?) but you need internet access of your own and that is never free. At least not once your neighbour figures out how to secure their wi-fi network!

You need to be able to afford to pay yourself a living wage while you develop your business, find clients, do the work and then wait for their payments. Like Carol, I have found the clients who pay the least make you dance the longest for your money. Who needs them? Spend more time finding better paying clients and jobs and you usually have far less hassle getting paid. Never forget you spend as much time working on your business as you do working in it. ‘Working on your business’ means all the admin tasks like accounts, licenses, bill paying and of course finding work. ‘In the business’ is the time spent actually doing the work you source. Read the information on how to cost your work to get an idea of what you need to charge. You might think $25/hour is a good rate for 40 hours work a week but as a freelancer, billable work is only half your workload. Finding the billable work is the other half and nobody will pay you for the time it takes you to find the work. So if you plan to write for 40 hours expect to search for that work for at least the same amount of time. Your working week is now twice as long and that is pretty standard with the freelancers I know. 60 hours a week is the average. If we take that $25/hour rate for 40 hours writing, that means you will make $1,000. Wow! Good coin, right? Sure, but when you factor in how long it took to find the work it could be argued you are making maybe just $12.50.hour. Not so good That is gross, not nett. You need to take out your overhead, your costs of running the business. Plus taxes, never forget taxes. Even if you only worked 60 hours for that 40 hours of billable work, by the time you pay all the outgoings you are probably working for ‘minimum wage’ as the Americans call it. So was it worth it to make maybe $7 or $8 an hour?

Charging what you need versus what you are worth as opposed to what the client will pay means it may be wise to hold off hanging up your shingle full time. Get a portfolio together, and a war-chest, while still working for ‘da man’. Find out how hard it can be finding clients while your income doesn’t depend on it and then see if you still want to be freelance. Of course if you find freelancing has been thrust upon you thanks to the economy or some other trauma, you’d better get started with whatever you have on hand… just like I did.

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