Ten Things I’ve Learned from 15 Years of Freelancing

freeancer-570x380[Updated 10-01-2014]

OCTOBER 1 marked my 15-year anniversary as a full-time freelance writer. There have been highs and lows along the way. It hasn’t always been easy, but somehow it’s always worked out. I’ve made a lot of adjustments on my journey, and this week I’d like to share some of the things I’ve learned.

1. I own and maintain a business.

I think of myself not only as a freelance writer but also as a business owner. As a business owner, it’s my job to attract clients and keep them satisfied. As a freelance writer, I’m the employee as well as the source for the product. Everything I write serves to maintain and build the business. In the beginning, I felt a bit schizophrenic, but now I’m used to wearing all those caps.

2. A marketing plan is essential. 

Every successful business has a marketing plan, and freelancing is no exception. It’s been crucial for me to create and implement a plan to interest potential clients and persuade them to use my services.

3. An online portfolio is mandatory. 

When I started freelancing, few writers had online portfolios. Today, there’s no excuse not to have one. An online portfolio can be part of a web page, or it can be writing samples on a blog. I have both. My web page includes covers of some of the book projects I’ve done, and my blog showcases my interests and writing skills. Both are critical extensions of my resume.

4. Solid relationships lead to work.

It’s vital to build relationships with potential clients. After my initial contact, I follow up every month about the possibility of freelance assignments, and I try to offer something new about my work or myself. This is effective on two levels: it keeps my name on the list for new projects, and it establishes an ongoing relationship. With both new and customary clients, I’ve found that a solid relationship pays off.

5. It’s important to maintain a routine. 

Every day is a workday. Freelancing doesn’t mean sleeping in on mornings when I don’t have a project. I get up at a set time and “go to the office.” If I don’t have a writing assignment, my job is to find one.

6. Nothing is a sure thing. 

One of the toughest lessons I’ve learned is not to count on anything until it actually happens. Many times, I’ve had a client tell me that an exciting new project is on the horizon only to have it not materialize. In hard economic times publishers tighten their belts and postpone projects. That means fewer jobs for freelancers.

7. It’s necessary to look toward the future.

A few years ago, I had a great freelance job writing 30 hours a week for a client. It was a job that came with healthcare benefits, a 401k plan and the opportunity to write for a leading educational textbook company. My only regret is that I didn’t look beyond the present. When their business slowed, I was let go. I had few other clients to rely on, and it took a long time to rebuild my client list. Lesson learned: Always look to the future and plan for the unexpected.

8. It’s imperative to save for a rainy day.

I’ve had some lean times. The publishing industry feels an economic crunch along with most other businesses. As a freelancer, I pay for my own health insurance and other benefits that often come with working for someone else. I’ve learned not to splurge on anything unless I have several months of living expenses saved in my savings.

9. It’s good to be positive.

There are days when I wish that I had a weekly paycheck and the benefits that come with it. Then I think of all the great things about freelancing: I’m doing something that I absolutely love, I can work from home and create my own schedule, I can take time off to run errands, and I can wear shorts or sweats. On days when I wish for more work, I remember that I’ve earned my living doing this for 15 years, and that’s something to celebrate!

10. Everything is better with coffee.

Last, but not least, I’ve learned a lot about coffee during these years. I’ve become a coffee snob who often starts her day with a little something special. No plain, ordinary joe for me. I’ve graduated from Sanka to pumpkin spice lattes and hazelnut cappuccinos. I bought a French press coffee maker, a milk frother and enough flavored syrups to last a lifetime. I think I’ll celebrate my ten-year anniversary with a morning jaunt to one of my favorite coffee houses…

What else can I say? The freelance life is good.



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8 responses to “Ten Things I’ve Learned from 15 Years of Freelancing

  1. Hi Jean –

    Great observations. Even if you have a 9-5 job, saving is important. I also like what you said about looking to the future. In these times, there's no guarantee that job will be there next year.

    I'll be linking to this article at some point in October.

    Susan 🙂

  2. What a great post! I was spoiled, being a stay-at-home mom who got to write. Now that I'm teaching, I do have a regular paycheck . . . but it really cuts into my writing time. 😉
    I'm a little jealous. 🙂

  3. Hi, Susan and Renae.

    Thanks for your comments. It's not always easy, but I love freelancing. I think what I'm drawn to is the variety of assignments. You wouldn't believe the trivia that I have stored up in my brain 🙂

  4. Hi Jean,
    I happened upon your blogpage from a RT on Twitter and I love it! I've been speaking for over 18 years, but I'm a total newbie to the world of writing and publishing. My first book is due out next year, but I have so much to learn.
    Thanks for sharing the lessons you've learned on your journey. Great stuff!
    Eternally His,
    Stephanie Shott
    Phil 3:7-14

  5. Hi, Stephanie.

    It's nice to meet you.

    Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope that you'll stop by again. You might also like my devotional blog: http://inthecompostpile.blogspot.com.

    Congratulations on your book! Writing is always a journey, any way you do it.


  6. Hi Jean,
    I'm back and wanted to let you know that I really like your site and am going to link it to my newly developed blog page.
    I've also added the Christian Writer/Reader Connection link because I found it from your site.
    Just wanted to let you know your site is helping others.
    Eternally His,
    Stephanie Shott
    Phil 3:7-14

  7. Thank you, Stephanie. I'm sure that Susan Reinhardt at the Christian Writer Reader Connection will appreciate your link, too.

    I'm planning to keep this post up a few days longer than usual. Many readers seem to be interested in freelancing.


  8. Pingback: The Work-for-Hire Relationship. It’s Complicated. | Something to Write Home About

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