In 2007, I began working as a freelance writer. I could find clients easily, but the business of writing was a mystery to me. Most writers don’t know what to expect with this kind of work. So if you’re considering a career as a freelancer, remember:
- 1. Get your contract.
Many potential clients want a contract that makes the writer or editor legally responsible for their document or no contract at all. Writing is a “good faith” business. Since you cannot control their document’s results, you are selling your best effort. Any contract that attaches your payment to the document’s results enables clients to not pay you. The same goes for work done without a contract.
- 2. Get some payment in advance.
I require the client to pay half of my estimate up front. Before I instituted that practice I would often get paid months after the job was done, usually after threatening the clients with legal action. Clients who pay half up front are also more involved in the work, and that collaboration helps to align the document more closely to their specifications.
- 3. Writing is a buyer’s market.
One story about George Bernard Shaw centers on him meeting a surgeon. The doctor asked Shaw what he did for a living. He said he was a writer.
“Wonderful!” the doctor exclaimed. “When I retire, I would like to write a book.”
Shaw replied, “What a coincidence. When I retire, I would like to operate on people.”
Many clients view writing as a convenience. Last week I saw an ad looking for an editor for a book. The author offered between $30 and $60 for the work, which could take up to a week. I thought it outrageously cheap, but that’s because I write for a living. People who don’t consider it something they could do themselves.
- 4. Build your brand.
Big name authors like Stephen King make millions because their “brands” are worth millions to publishers. Your goal is to build up your brand. You do this with “clips”-publication credits. Once you have a critical mass of clips, publishers start looking at you as an investment. Until then, publication is its own reward.
- 5. Beat your deadline.
Promptness and thoroughness are the only ways to get reliable writing income. I helped a client this spring with a paper and beat the deadline by two days. She kept me under contract through the end of the school term because of it. When a client knows you work efficiently, they’ll keep coming back.