Thursday Jun 01, 2023

The Cold, Hard Truth about Freelancing (or Any Other Small Business)


You know, I try to be a nice person and hang out in one or two specific writing groups on Facebook to answer questions. Those questions aren’t always about freelance writing. I’ll give perspective or answer questions posed by college students who are writing an essay. About once every two weeks, some poor, dejected, struggling person who wants to write for a living will ask a question or need consolation or encouragement. And, inevitably, all the assholes come out of the woodwork and tell them writing for a living is impossible, they should get a real job, and the likes. Oh, and there’s always the holier-than-thou writer who doth not wish to profit from their work for angels believe writing is to be done for pure joy.

I tried to pay my electric bill with joy once. The electric company wasn’t amused. 

You know, it’s one thing to talk about the cold, hard truth about freelancing (as I’m going to do in a minute) and it’s another thing to shit all over someone’s dream…especially when that dream is one that is achievable.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been subjected to some comments that I laughed at. I’m sure my faithful readers remember the time not too long ago that I was told that I wasn’t a real writer. Late last week, I was honored when Upwork featured me on their social media sites as a freelancer who knows how to make shit happen. And since I brought that up, allow me to remind you of this: my opinion is in no way affiliated with Upwork or any of their employees. It is only my opinion. 

Tonight, I watched a ton of unsuccessful assholes shit on some poor guy’s dream of writing for a living. I responded to a few of those. One lady told me that I “lucked” into my job and that she had a “real” job.

If you’re gonna be hateful in a writer’s group because you failed at something, why are you even there? The group name even includes the word “help.”

So, now, without further fanfare, here is the cold, hard truth about freelancing (or any other small business).

Freelancing / Business isn’t for everyone. If you don’t succeed, that doesn’t necessarily make you a failure. Consider this: my paternal grandmother wanted me to be a nurse. And a physical therapist. And an occupational therapist. And a respiratory therapist. Basically, she wanted me in the health field. I was offered a full-ride scholarship at the end of my junior year in high school (spoiler alert: I dropped out my senior year because of stress). I turned it down (although considered another scholarship for petroleum engineering). Why did I turn it down? I mean, who wouldn’t want to go to school for free, amirite? Well, I knew nursing wasn’t for me. Nothing in the health field was for me. Nursing is a great field. Health is a great field. I would have been fucking miserable. Fucking. First. Class. Miserable. I am far too introverted to be around people all the time. Even if I would have tried it, I would have quit. That wouldn’t mean that I failed. It would mean I learned that shit was NOT for me. Freelancing / Business isn’t for everyone. Plain and simple.

When people shit on your dreams, it’s because they’re miserable little hacks who couldn’t make it.  I damn sure didn’t stutter, did I? I’ve freelanced full time since 2014. Before that, I did it part time while I taught college. Clearly, I have a family. Three sons, one of which is grown, one is almost grown, and one is no where no grown and has Autism. Oh, and we have three dogs. You know why most people can’t make it as a freelancer or business owner? Because they find excuses for themselves. Since they didn’t make it, they need other people to fail. It makes them feel better.

Success has nothing to do with luck. I am not a trust fund baby. I’d venture a guess that most freelance writers aren’t one. Are there some successful business owners who started out life with a silver spoon in their mouth and with family money? Yep. Donald Trump is one. (Don’t get your panties in a knot – it’s an observation and not a judgment.) Remember Paris Hilton and her shenanigans? She eventually grew up and went on to launch her own business. But…for those of us who live in the real world, we know there’s no such thing as luck. We make our own “luck” by working out asses off.

Don’t quit your day job at first. When you’re first starting out, it can be close to impossible to predict your income. Food, electricity, water, a roof…all of it is important to survival. I started my business while teaching college and working at a law firm part time. So, I guess you could say I had three jobs. And kids. And a husband.

You must be able to meet deadlines. When you’re self-employed, clients come first. Period. Do not procrastinate. Otherwise, you’re going to find yourself up to your eyeballs in scary bullshit. You must learn how to manage your time.

No excuses. And don’t try to convince yourself that your excuses are “good reasons.” Clients do not give a shit. They want their project finished. If you can’t do it, they will find someone else. God knows they have plenty of choices. There are very few acceptable reasons to fall short of what your clients need.

You better be realistic. Everyone loves a good underdog story. We’ve all heard the rejection stories about J.K. Rowling and Stephen King. There’s certainly an important less to be learned there. It’s something I’ve said on my podcast and in my lectures. Rejection doesn’t equal failure. It just means what you have isn’t a good fit for them right now. That’s it. So, if you want to get paid to write, focus on areas where the work is plentiful. Make sure you’re in touch with reality. Unless you have some stellar credentials from previous traditional (or non-traditional) work, don’t expect to make six figures your first year. Be realistic about what you need to make and then be willing to accept the work that gets you paid. That could mean you write some shit you’d rather not. I’ve worked on projects that made me want to drink a bleach smoothie. But I did it to my best ability, got paid, and moved on. Now? I love almost every single project that crosses my path. Except IT writing. No more of that. Boundaries, baby.

Don’t surround yourself with assholes. Seriously.  Find your people. There are several of us on Twitter that will answer questions. We won’t do the work for you. We won’t pander to you. Don’t beg us for work. Get out there and do the work it takes to be successful.

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