I get asked quite a bit about how I made it from the idea stage to the reality stage in working from home full time as a writer and editor. Here are the basics regardless of what you want to do.
Do Your Research about Working from Home
Research about working from home encompasses several factors:
- Figuring out what you want to do
- Figuring out what you do not want to do
- Figuring out what you might be interested in doing (and, ultimately, it’s okay if you aren’t)
- Figuring out what you could need to make it happen (if you don’t already have it, that is)
- How to not get fucking scammed
There is no one on the face of this planet that can tell you what you want to do for a living when working from home. When it comes to work at home writing jobs or even editing jobs, you must understand that while it’s a great way to make a living, at some point you will lose the desire to work on your own projects (novels, articles, whatever it is that you like to do). You’ll deal with people who may not want to pay you fair rates, especially in the beginning. You’ll deal with people who think you should write for free or you aren’t a “real writer.” You may find that while you were really excited about doing something, you may not enjoy the trade-off of doing it for a living. And that is okay.
I spent close to a year reading everything I could get my hands on about how to become a freelance writer…and not starve. All I found on Twitter (way back in 2013) were freelance writers complaining about how little they made and clients who refused to pay. It was scary. I didn’t have nearly the amount of resources then that exist now (free or paid).
And everything I learned about content writing (not writing itself, but structuring content) I learned from…researching it. Same with SEO (except I started learning about search engine optimization waaaaayyyyyy back around 2001 when I heard whispers about it and how it was very naughty to take keywords and make the same color as the page background and put them at the bottom of the web page).
I also researched rates. I tried to look up “competitors.” I don’t really believe in the concept of competition as a writer. There’s more than enough work out there. Most freelance writers and editors didn’t put their prices on their websites. I knew about some freelance sites…and so that’s eventually how I started doing my pricing research before purchasing a Writer’s Market Guide. Then, I just did some basic math.
I Started Very Part Time
I worked at the time I started my business. I taught both days and nights at a technical college starting out. When the night contract ended, I began working afternoons at a real estate law office. So, I built my client base up in the evenings, on the weekends, and even in the early mornings. I did not just jump straight in and quit the job that I had.
Of course, during a pandemic, if I weren’t working, that might be a different story to just go balls to the wall. In fact, I known one very successful freelancer, Danny Margulies, who did just that straight out of the gate. He started his journey shortly before I did. So, there’s no one right answer for every person, but because I had a job, I didn’t see any point in immediately quitting. I wanted to keep my income. At the same time, I had my reasons that required I make my business a success.
I Started with Small Projects
I started with small projects for several reasons. First, it helped raise my confidence. My first paid writing project (back when Upwork was Odesk which feels like ages ago) was a demand letter. I was paid $15 and I was proud of that money. It was something within my wheelhouse. As a degreed paralegal who also taught paralegal studies courses, I knew how to write demand letters. And it was for an attorney who just needed some extra help.
I tackled short story ghostwriting and some news writing. I took on a ghostwritten novel…and that was too much for me. It was a lot of pressure. I worried the client would hate it. I refunded the escrow. The client wasn’t upset and didn’t leave a bad review. I gave the client everything I had completed and an apology. I learned what I didn’t like doing for others. I didn’t mind ghostwriting non-fiction, though.
I Treated It Like a Business
It didn’t matter that it was very part time. It didn’t matter that it was sometimes an hour here or there. Or that I had to give up my personal time (not time I dedicated to my children). I treated what I was doing for what I wanted it to become: a business. The problem with treating it like a side-hustle, despite the popularity of the idea of having one, is that it gets placed to the side…and then it gets left to die.
I Didn’t Quit Until I Knew I Was Turning Away More Money Than I Made
You know the saying “Don’t quit your day job.” Well, I held on tight to that rule until it became obvious that by turning down work because there was only so much I could commit to in any given week that I was losing money. Once that was painfully obvious, I turned in my two week notice at the law office (I had already quit teaching) and began scheduling deadlines two weeks out.
From there, it became the daily grind of making sure that clients were happy, I had enough clients to fill my schedule or to meet my financial needs, and to continuously look for projects I was interested in…all while doing what I could to avoid projects and clients that I knew weren’t a good fit.