We all started somewhere. When I started, I knew it was possible to learn how to become a freelance writer from home, but I had no idea where to start. At least, no real idea of where to start. I taught college part time. I worked in a law firm part time. And I started doing a lot of research to figure out how to start freelance writing from how. I don’t refer to myself as a freelance writer, except on certain websites with a byline that provides me with contact information. I’ll save the story as to why I don’t call myself a freelance writer for another time. Instead, I want to provide you 10 freelancing for beginners tips that I would have loved to have when I first started.
You Don’t Need to Buy a Course You Can’t Afford to Learn How to Freelance
I’m currently looking over my shoulder to see if the freelance guru police is about to come in and arrest me. Whether you’re a stay at home parent, a college student, a retiree, a young professional, can’t find adequate work, or you fucking hate corporate life, you don’t need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars (or $97 / month) on a course that promises to teach you how to become a great freelancer. If you have the funds and want to take the course, that’s fine. Take the course. It’s not a necessity, though.
Everything you need to learn how to freelance (other than at least some basic knowledge in whatever you want to do) is your laptop, tablet, or cell phone, the ability to run an internet search, and the ability to realize when someone is bullshitting you. Seriously. That’s it. There is all sorts of free and great information out there.
Also, buying books on starting and running a business from home is generally much less expensive than any “expert” and what they charge you for their knowledge. And they are welcome to charge for their knowledge. I understand why they do it. It’s another means to a financial end. I went to the library. A lot. I learned about writing business plans. I learned about professional writing. I read books on research.
If you do pay to take a course, and again, I am not hating because I’ve hosted masterclass series (I just didn’t charge outrageous, crazy prices), keep in mind that the knowledge does nothing for you. You must actually take that information and put it to work.
Know How to Spot a Scam
Scams are out there and they target everyone…including people wanting to make extra money or who want to make freelancing their only job. They’re on Craigslist. They’re on my beloved Upwork. They are everywhere. You can learn more about scams by reading this post.
If anyone wants to send you a check, money order, wire, or whatever to put money into your account just to have you take most of it out and send back to them, you’re being scammed. That is not done in bookkeeping or in legitimate business.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job (If You Have One)
I know what it is like to hate a fucking job. Really, it’s not that I hated any job I’ve ever had…it’s almost always been dealing with certain types of people. I am extremely introverted. I like to be left alone to do my job. I don’t mind the occasional meeting or asking questions. I hate micromanagement. And most people don’t know how to hold an effective meeting.
If you currently have a day job, don’t quit until you have enough freelance clients to pay you what you make. You also need to add roughly 25% on top of that amount for taxes (because you do pay taxes as a freelancer…at least in the US. I have no idea about other countries). If you currently have insurance, you need to compensate for that as well. And there is no paid time off or paid vacation. You need to have enough in the bank to catch those shitty days when you can’t work. Believe me, it is no fun to work when you have the flu. Okay, so for me, it was a little fun because it kept me from going crazy.
Related: No Such Thing as Sick Leave
Being at Home with the Kids Is Great and It Also Sucks
Quick disclaimer: I am 100% pro-at-home-parent. I don’t particularly care which parent as long as that parent is a good parent who engages with the kid(s). I don’t like daycare. I don’t give a shit if it is a church daycare, home daycare, or whatever. I personally do not like daycare. It’s your kid(s) and you have the right to your belief and doing what you want. I can always agree to disagree with reasonable folks. One day, I’ll discuss why in an essay…and I don’t expect anyone to agree with me.
I love being a mom. For me, I’ve done nothing greater in life. That doesn’t mean that every woman (or man) has to become a parent. I am bringing up this point because people often say to me that they want to work from home so they can spend more time with their children. I appreciate and empathize with that statement. Two of mine are now adults. I stayed home with them until they were school age. The youngest is almost 10 and has special needs. He is non-verbal and there is no way in hell I’d ever want him in daycare.
And being with the kids is a great experience. There are so many memories to make. I can tell you looking back to when my 21 year old and 18 year old were little, even the times I thought I’d rip my hair out are now cherished memories. Even that one time those two little shits jumped up and down on a bottle of Hershey’s Chocolate Flavored Syrup in the living room and ruined a chair. I could tell you lots of what seemed like horror stories then that I now appreciate although I still occasionally roll my eyes when I think of what happened.
We made things. We played outside. We went to the park. We were involved in geocaching. We read books. I told Greek, Norse, and Roman myths. We cooked together. I cleaned up messes. I broke up fights. You know, parent stuff.
And…kids are also assholes. Ever notice how your precious darling doesn’t want shit to do with you until you’re already engaged in something? Yeah. That’s freelancing at home with kids in a nutshell. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a client call, elbow deep in a big project, or in a web conference. If they flung poop on the wall and want to tell you about it, everyone is gonna know about it. And you will be embarrassed.
Another sucktastic part about freelancing from home as a parent is the guilt. Yes, you want to do it so you’re with them as much as possible, but you’re either focusing on them or on your work. If you’re focusing on them, 99 times out of 100 you’ll worry about your project. Or finding a project. If you’re working or sourcing projects, you’ll feel like an asshole because you’re not spending time with your little ones.
It’s a struggle we all deal with if we choose to work from home and have children.
Oh, and pets…we have three dogs, a cat, a parakeet, a hamster, and a giant fish tank. They are great, but it can also be VERY difficult.
Related: Hallway Mad Dash
The Onus to Find Work Is on You
There is no such thing as a client fairy. Sure, at some point you may build up enough of a name for yourself that you work primarily from referral or people seek you out. In the beginning, though, the onus to find work is on you. It is your responsibility to make the time and put in the effort to find clients.
Learn to Accept “No”
You’re going to hear or read the word “no.” A lot. Sometimes it might just be an objection you can overcome, but there are times when it is a rejection of what you offer.
Being told no by a prospective client doesn’t mean you suck. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t skilled. It doesn’t mean anything other than the client feels going another route is their best bet.
The current “no” I hear or read most often is that I am “too expensive” and they can hire someone else for less. Well, okay, good luck. There’s an 80/20 chance I’ll hear from them again in three to six months asking me to fix whatever the other person fucked up.
Not Every Client Will Be a Great Experience
The truth about the human condition in four words: some people just suck. They are miserable. They are controlling. They project their bullshit onto others. And you’ll deal with that more than once. If you’re sensitive, you’re gonna have a rough time if you cannot accept that sometimes people are just assholes.
The experience you have with a client can be affected by many factors. One of those is communication. Another is fighting for creative control (pro tip: it’s their project. You can suggest. You can give ideas. At the end of the day, you do what they want.).
You cannot win over everyone. You are not Dr. Phil. You are not Oprah. You are not the Dalai Lama. Depending on your contract, you may have the right to just end the relationship. If necessary, see the project through to the best of your ability and decline further work from them. But be nice.
Keep Your Political and Moral Stances to Yourself (Unless You’re Paid to Give Them)
I said this when Obama was in office. I say now with Trump in office. I’ll say it in 2020 with whomever is elected. You must be careful about blathering on about your political and moral stances. I know you have First Amendment rights, but people don’t have to hire you. And I promise that they do look for you on social media (even if they don’t follow you) because they want to see whether you are a good fit for them.
If you’re being paid to write opinion pieces or commentary, knock yourself out…but be careful not to alienate your audience or your future clients. I talk about politics and my own moral stances from time to time on social media and my other site. However, I do not name call. I do not belittle. I do not attack. I might say something is stupid, but I do not do so in a way that implies someone who supports whatever I don’t like is stupid…just that I think the idea is stupid.
Learn to Say No
In the beginning, you won’t want to say no to projects. I know. I was there. You do have to learn to say no to those around you who want you to work later and babysit for them now because they have a “real” job. You have to learn to say no to yourself, too. While there is a lot of freedom that comes with working from home, it can bite you on the ass. The “do it later” mentality creates a habit of procrastination. So, if you go and do all the fun stuff now or you decide to tackle that to-do list, you’ll probably not get around to doing it later. You’ll probably end up being rushed to meet a deadline and turning over shitty work that could get you canned.
Schedule Isn’t a Dirty Word
My schedule varies depending on the time of year, my workload, and about a dozen other factors. If you’ve never been to Oklahoma, it’s hot as Satan’s armpit during an Independence Day BBQ in hell during our summer. It will be dreadfully hot until about October. I am writing this in July 2019. We have triple digit temps plus humidity. During this time of year, I am a member of the 5 am club. I am usually working by 5:30 am or 6:00 am. I like to be finished by the time we reach broiling temperature (which is around 3 pm). Sometimes, it doesn’t happen and so I take my laptop and sit in the living room instead of my little office.
I also tend to schedule myself and my work around the time I am most productive. And for me, that’s usually very early mornings. That doesn’t mean that I can’t work in the afternoons, evenings, or nights. I’ve worked all of that and still do quite a bit. I tend to schedule my more time and thought consuming activities for the time I am naturally most productive.
Your clients will want to have at least a general idea of when you work so they know they might expect a response. And if you have an abnormal schedule, say so. All of my clients know that during the summer, I can be hit or miss as far as when I will reply back. I am not ignoring them. It’s summer. I have a kid at home. Most of my clients have children. They get it. You don’t have to give someone your full agenda. Just keep them in the loop.
Good gravy…I didn’t realize I had written so much. And I still have so much more I want to say. But…I need to finish making dinner.