Stop thinking like an employee.
As a first-time freelance writer, I thought I knew what I was getting into. I had always been a good writer. So when someone told me I could make money writing, I decided to try it.
Easy money, right?
Little did I know that this was the absolute furthest thing from the truth. I started out on ODesk (which is now Upwork after merging with Elance). Finding clients as a new freelancer was hard. When I finally started to get clients, they paid very little, but had an extremely high list of demands for my writing.
What freelancing was really like
I worked very long hours and spent many nights pulling my hair out in frustration. My clients told me what they wanted and I did it. My schedule was not my own, I was often writing about stuff I hated or knew nothing about, and I was not having fun.
I wrote keyword based articles where the client wanted five to ten articles on the SAME topic, which at first sounded simple. But I soon learned how difficult it was to write about the same subject in a unique way ten different times. The one that was almost my breaking point, was patio lighting.
It seemed impossible to write ten different articles on patio lighting. The project was due the next morning and I still needed like five more articles. I was tired and frustrated.
But I kept at it. I forced myself to finish that project.
I learned a lot about freelance writing in those first years as a freelancer. It was hell. I was building my own business or at least I thought I was. In my mind, building a business is supposed to be tough.
Only, it was not at all the life I dreamed about.
In truth, I almost gave up several times. I was still working my day job and coming home to work evenings. For every 500 word article I was making a dollar. But I was a single mom with four kids and I had to make this work. I wanted to be able to work full-time from home, to stop leaving my kids, and get the younger ones out of daycare.
So I persisted.
In hindsight I learned two valuable skills from those early days of freelancing. Those keyword articles taught me how to look at the same subject in many different ways. I also learned how to push myself through what’s hard and meet a deadline.
These are both skills I can draw upon in my freelance writing career.
You’re the content expert, act like it
When I first started freelance writing, I didn’t know anything about the client’s audience. I would bid on a writing project through ODesk (now Upwork) and get a title, topic, and content length from the client. They were directing my work. In truth, I was their temporary employee, not a freelancer or entrepreneur, and certainly not my own boss.
One day it just hit me. The reason for my burnout and frustration was because I was still just an employee for someone else.
True Freelancers are the boss of their business. They are experts at what they do. They take on projects from multiple clients or companies, but don’t take orders from their clients. As a freelancer or entrepreneur, you can set your own schedule and work the projects you want, if you step up and take responsibility. This means you care about your client’s business as you would your own. If you choose to take on the responsibility of being an expert business owner, that’s where the freedom you’re seeking comes in.
As a freelance writer, it’s your job to understand your client’s audience. You can write content that performs well for them by engaging their readers. When your client asks for something you know isn’t a good fit, don’t be afraid to push back. Whether it’s a title, word choice, image, or formatting, it’s up to you, as the content expert, to know what will work best.
Your client is in most cases NOT an expert on writing or content. And often, they don’t know what they don’t know. Obviously you can’t tell your client what to do. It’s up to you to guide them in making the right choices. Push back a little and give your justification if you think they are making a bad decision.
It took me years to learn this. It’s a huge mindset change from being an employee who does what they’re told to do.
Once my mindset changed, everything about my business changed for the better. I set my own schedule and choose the projects that I work on now. Very rarely do I have moments where I’m pulling my hair out and staying up all night struggling with a project.
Learn everything you can about writing and content
Your clients will have doubts and questions about content. They may not share those with you unless you ask the right questions at the start.
- Ask if they’ve done keyword research.
- Learn who their ideal reader is.
- Do they want to educate, persuade, or entertain their reader?
- Are they trying to get sign-ups for an email list or selling a product?
The more you know about their target readers, the better you can write content that performs and the happier your client will be with your work.
If you show them you’ve taken the time to learn more than just how to string sentences together, you become an indispensable part of their team. You become a consultant they will turn to for expert advice, not just a hired pen. My freelance career turned around when I started to act like a boss and not an employee. And your schedule and your income will start to reflect it when you do too.
Start now. Don’t spend years trading one rat race for another.