Reality check for freelance writers

Excerpt from chapter 2 of Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing:

Reality Check
Before we get into the business of developing story ideas and pitching editors or finding corporate clients, I would suggest a little reality check is in order.

If you are getting started as a freelance writer, you need to be realistic. It takes time to develop contacts and generate repeat business. So, with that in mind, ask yourself:

  •  Can I afford to start slow and grow?
  • Can I live without a pension plan and various benefits (unless you are covered by another person’s plan or until you can afford your own)?
  • Can I work productively from home making cold calls, talking on the phone, sending and receiving email, conducting research on the Web?
  • Do I have experience writing for periodicals?

Did you answer yes to those questions? If so, carry on. If you answered “absolutely not” to any of the above, carry on as well. Obviously, you want to become a freelance writer—and the good news is you don’t have to give up your day job to become one. You can freelance part-time and adjust to the business realities of freelancing before you take the plunge as a full-time freelance writer. If you are looking at freelance writing as a quick way to earn a load of cash, however, see the first bullet in the above list.

What if you have no experience?
Just as you would not hire a plumber, electrician, or auto mechanic who had no plumbing, electrical, or auto-mechanic experience, most editors or corporate clients (not all, but most) will not hire writers who have no writing experience.

When pitching editors or marketing your services to corporate clients, you have to demonstrate your writing ability, as we will see when we look at query letters and sales pitches. By demonstrating your ability to write, you make your lack of writing experience much less of a liability. However, that means you have to be able to write. If you have little or no experience writing news articles, profiles and features, media releases, case studies, website content, and so on, consider taking workshops and courses at your local community college, university, or online — or buying books — to hone your writing skills.

Editors and clients will often want to see some samples of your work or a portfolio, before assigning a story or a writing job. But everybody has to start somewhere. Find, or make, your starting place, and grow from there. However, we will discuss ways of developing and showcasing your writing ability and your portfolio.

Family ties
If you are getting started in this business and have a family, it is important that they understand what you have to do to make this business work, how you have to apply yourself even when (especially when) you are not generating revenue. Take an evening and discuss with your family what it is you want to achieve and the work it will take to realize your goals. Get the family onside early to avoid misunderstandings, conflicts, and resentment later. This can happen, especially if you work from home.

Having said that, you don’t have to become a time ogre to make this business work. Freelancing has a degree of flexibility. Although most interviews and meetings take place on weekdays during business hours, a great deal of the getting-started research and marketing can be done evenings and weekends. Sometimes you may be able to give up a few hours during the day to a child, spouse, or partner. But, if appropriate, let that person know you will be researching or writing in the evening or on the weekend.

For instance, the day I wrote this, I conducted a 45-minute interview at 9:00 a.m. I worked on this book, while scheduling other interviews by email, until 11:00 a.m. I took my daughter to pick up a friend for a play date. I did a bit of writing when we got back, and then fed the kids lunch. They then played in the backyard with the understanding that they should not interrupt me unless there was an emergency (or if they were in desperate need of lemonade). Other than that, “Daddy is working!”
I’m not saying do it my way. Your circumstances may be entirely different. However, find a way to do it, because you need to be working at getting work until you have work. It is up to you and yours to make it work.

Excerpt from chapter 2 of Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing:

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