Brutally Honest Truth Every Freelance Writer Needs to Hear

I’m a strong believer that we always have something new to learn. After more than a decade of freelancing, that is true for me; the same way it is true for a brand new freelancer.

Today’s post isn’t going to beat around the bush, but it isn’t because I’m a mean person or think you aren’t good enough. It’s because I think you are good enough that I’m going to be brutally honest with you. By being here on my website, you are taking the steps to learn how to become a better writer, and that is what matters most!

Okay, pep talk over. Let’s get on to a few brutally honest truths, because I promise, if you take heed, this is going to make you a better freelance writer!

Brutally Honest Truth Every Freelance Writer Needs to Hear

Truth #1. You say no when you could say yes, because you’re afraid you will fail. And by doing that, you are failing.

I know this is true for you because it is true for all of us. Life is scary, and the threat of failure is very real. We are bombarded with doom and gloom from the media. We are told that 80% of business fail in the first year.

And let’s be honest, all of us have failed at some point. It’s embarrassing. Getting back on that proverbial horse can feel like an impossible task.

But if you don’t say yes and take at least a few risks, you’re never going to find the success you could find.

I’ve found that it is especially common for writers to avoid applying for the jobs they really want because they are afraid of rejection. Stop sabotaging yourself!

I also want to encourage you to say yes to other opportunities as well, not just applying to jobs. Be open to things that come your way, even if they scare you. Yes, it is important to be prudent, but it is also important to take some small risks along the way (and some big ones when the situation calls for it). No risk, no reward!

Truth #2. Your writing needs work.

Whenever I attend conferences or other learning events, I always meet several people who tell me that they don’t attend any of the educational sessions; they only attend to network in the halls and at the parties.

“I never learn anything in the sessions. It’s all stuff I know already.”

Networking is super important, but this is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard come out of a conference attendee’s mouth!

Yes, I do realize that your skills might be above some of the 101 information shared at a conference or in any other educational forum. But to think that there is nothing out there for you to learn?

You need to learn the way sharks need to swim. If you don’t, you’ll die. I will take measures to continue educating myself until the day I retire. Just last week, I ordered a writer’s workbook to sharpen some of my skills.

Attend conferences. Read books. Take courses or classes. Don’t lie to yourself and say that a skill isn’t relevant to you just because you don’t get it at first or don’t like it. The greatest freelance writers in the world never stop learning.

Your writing needs work. We can all be better with more practice and education.

Truth #3: What other writers are charging has no effect on you.

I have seen writers complain about other writers charging too little; I have to be honest, this used to annoy me, too.

I used to think, “If they charge such low rates, it tells clients everywhere that writers are not worth more. It’s bringing the entire market down.”

I couldn’t have been more wrong!

I want you to think about groceries for example. No matter where you live, you probably have at least three different kinds of grocery stores in your area.

First you have the super cheap grocery stores, which sell highly discounted products. Think Walmart or Aldi. Then, you have the mid-level grocery stories, which have slightly higher prices. Think Kroger or Safeway. Last, you have high-end grocery stores, which are very expensive. Think Whole Foods.

All of these stores sell the same items  food. Often, they sell the exact same items, even the same brands. So how does a store like Whole Foods or even Kroger stay in business?

Simply put, to some shoppers, price is not the most important factor. They might shop at a more expensive store because they like their business practices better or because it is more convenient. Maybe they like that a more expensive store has more options. Maybe they like the personality of the staff. Maybe the store is cleaner.

I could keep going, but here’s something else to realize. The type of person who shops at Walmart most of the time is not the same type of person who shops at Whole Foods most of the time. One is not better than the other; they are just completely different markets.

The same is true for writing clients. The type of client who hires writers for very low rates is not your target market. Stop trying to convince them to hire you!

Instead, market yourself to the client who values highly skilled freelance writers and has the budget to pay their contractors well. These clients are not going to stop existing because there are low-budget writers out there anymore than Whole Foods is going to go out of business because Walmart exists.

Truth #4: If you don’t network, everything about freelancing will be 10x harder.

I’m an unapologetic introvert who deals with diagnosed anxiety disorders  so if I can network, you can too!

And you have to, if you want your business to get anywhere any time soon.

Once you start making friends with writers, entrepreneurs, marketers, and other professionals, finding work is going to get a lot easier. I know if can be scary, but the top writers get almost all of their work from referrals.

Here’s something you might not know: One of the big reasons people say there aren’t enough high-paying jobs out there is that most high-paying jobs are never posted on job boards.

When you’re looking to hire a writer for a 5-figure or even 6-figure job, chances are that you are going to turn to your personal network and get a recommendation from a trusted friend. You’re not going to hire a random writer you don’t know.

On job boards, it is rare to find a gig that pays more than 20-50 cents a word. But I land those higher rates, and so do lots of other writers, because we work with clients through referrals from other people we know or other clients. In fact, a good 90% of my work these days comes from referrals.

If you network with other writers, they will recommend you for gigs that they can’t take or don’t want to take. (I send work and job leads to my writer friends whenever I can.)

If you network with entrepreneurs, you’re going to find a steady stream of work, especially if you specialize in sales copy.

Network, network, network. I promise, it is worth it, even if it makes you super anxious (and I’m talking from experience).

Truth #5: You are killing yourself.

I’ve never met a freelance writer who didn’t go through some period of time when they were actively killing themselves in order to be a successful writer. Some writers spend their entire careers unhealthy, stressed out, and miserable.

I hope this is a wake up call for you, because that’s no way to live!

See, the thing about freelancing is that you don’t get to just automatically walk away at the end of the day like you do with a typical 9-to-5 job. It’s super hard to shut down the computer, turn off your phone, and tuck away your notebooks.

Plus, most writers start off struggling to make more money, so there’s this constant pressure, an inner voice yelling at you, “work more, work more, work more.”

I remember times when I didn’t sleep for over 48 hours trying to finish a project. Times when I forgot to eat for a few days. Times when I realized that I hadn’t left my house in over a week, not even to walk outside for the mail.

It’s killing us, slowly but surely, to live like that.

You need to schedule healthy habits into your day. Get into a morning groove where you eat breakfast as you check your emails. Take a break at least once a day to walk around the block (if nothing else!). Schedule days off. Schedule time for the gym. Schedule time for your hobbies.

Remember, finding a healthy work-life balance is not wasting time! This is going to make you a sharper, more focused writer. Plus you won’t, you know, die because you worked and worried yourself to death.

Truth #6: You will fail if you only work with “perfect” clients.

First off, news flash: the perfect client does not exist. Every client will find a way to get on your nerves if you work with them long enough.

Second, even though I don’t think you should work with clients who undervalue your work or are abusive in any way, I do think that you need to work with hard personalities sometimes.

You shouldn’t hate going to work. Some potential clients need to be shown the door for the sake of your sanity! But don’t be a diva, either. Refusing to work with certain clients because they don’t fit your expectations of how your clients should act isn’t always a bright move. Sure it feels good to tell a jerk “no,” but are you looking at the big picture?

Before you say no to a client, take a breath and really think about how this job could potentially help your career. It’s not just about money; that could be a part of the equation, but also consider whether or not this job could lead to better things for you down the road. I’ve worked with people I dislike because I knew they could help me land awesome gigs… and they did.

Truth #7: You are eventually going to want to quit.

Every single freelancer out there goes through moments when they are so frustrated, worn out, and stressed that they want to throw in the towel.

Maybe you aren’t making enough money.

Maybe you hate your clients.

Maybe you’re bored with your work.

Whatever the reason is, we’re all been there. And some of us have quit.

Back in 2014, I felt that way. I was fed up with freelancing and just wanted the security and stress-free life that comes with having a 9-to-5 job.

Of course, those of you who have 9-to-5 know that they are rarely secure and stress-free! It’s a “grass is greener” scenario.

In any case, I knew that the path I was on wasn’t right, even though the money was good. So I quit freelancing completely in June 2014. I took on a full-time job  still working from home  but I became an actual employee for the first time in a long time. I needed time to breath, think, and gain some clarity about my business.

In 2015, I started freelancing again. Having 9 or 10 months as a break was really good for me, and if you’re feeling frustrated or unclear about what you really want, it could be good for you, too.

BUT…

Don’t quit because you think you’re a failure. We all fail. It’s part of being a business owner. We all want to quit sometimes, because, dudes… this is HARD.

Being a freelancer is hard. That is really what I want you to take away from this blog post. This is a hard path, but it has awesome rewards, and you are not in this alone.

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