8 Lessons For A Freelance Writing Career

Posted: October 2, 2012

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A freelance writing career is among the hottest jobs for women right now – learn what it takes to make it in this field.

By Kanchana Banerjee

It has been more than a decade since it happened but when I think of how I was duped, I feel like kicking myself even today! I was assigned to work on ten reports, each on different sectors such as telecom, banking and manufacturing in India and they were to be carried in a UK-based magazine as part of an India report. Super excited at the opportunity of getting my work published in a UK magazine, not to mention the payment in pounds, I plunged right in.

Working day and night, interviewing scores of people from various companies, doing extensive research and reading financial papers, I submitted the entire project in 10 days.

Soon after, the woman I was dealing with left the job and the owner of the agency was perpetually unavailable. I never heard from them again! Welcome to the hazards of a freelance writing career.

So are you all poised to become a freelance writer, dreaming about days when you’ll tap away on your laptop sitting in the cosy chair in the balcony with the house pet curled near your feet? Wake up!! There are many pitfalls one should be cognizant of before taking the plunge. I have learnt them all the hard way.

Freelance writing lesson 1: Always ask for advance payment

Never start work without an advance payment. Though 50% as advance payment would be safe, it is often unreal. So ask for 25% and don’t settle for less. If the agency doesn’t agree, don’t work for them. It is better not to work than to work and not get paid. The feeling that you’ve been conned is humiliating and extremely frustrating.

Freelance writing lesson 2: Draw out a detailed payment schedule

This is very important if you are working on large assignments. You should get paid either every week or fortnight or discuss the pattern of delivery and structure your payment. Make it very clear that you will work on the next set of articles, only after you receive payment for the ones you’ve submitted. This tells the company that you are a professional and expect the same.

Freelance writing lesson 3: Do a reference check

Unless you are working for the bigwigs, do a reference check of the company. This is very relevant today as there are a dime a dozen content providing companies. As a freelance writer you can and should network with as many firms as possible to ensure steady work comes your way. Please don’t refrain from checking about the company and given today’s social media this isn’t tough at all.

Freelance writing lesson 4: Constantly pitch for new work

Freelance work isn’t a walk on the beach. If you want to do it well and make decent money, you have to be ready to work hard. You have to constantly pitch for new assignments and new clients. Social media has made things a lot easier for freelance writers. And always remember, if you reach out to 20 people, four or five will probably get back, out of which two will agree to meet and hopefully one will give you work. So be prepared to draw a long list. It doesn’t end; you have to re-connect with the people whom you spoke with or wrote to but be mindful that you don’t do it too frequently lest it irritates them. There’s a fine line between being persistent and annoying!

Freelance writing lesson 5: You can’t do them all

In the freelance world, it always pours when it rains; and when it doesn’t…it’s a drought. There will be phases when you wouldn’t have work – yes, there will be such phases. And then there will be times when you would be gasping for breath. Connect with other fellow writers and pass on work to them, when you can’t do it yourself. And don’t rue having let go of an assignment. It is perfectly fine to ask for up to 25% of the total project as a referral fee. If you pass on good work to someone else, they will surely return the favour some day.

Freelance writing lesson 6: It happens…

Interesting projects will come your way and then not materialize. You will be dreaming and salivating for it but it will fizzle out and you wouldn’t know why. If there’s any consolation in numbers, this happens to all of us. So take a deep breath and learn to take it in your stride.

Another thing you need to accept is delayed payments. Clients breathe down your neck to make you finish the project, but take their own sweet time to process your check. There’s nothing you can do. If you wish to be a freelance writer, you have to gulp this bitter pill.

Freelance writing lesson 7: No excuses!

My computer conked off, Internet wasn’t working…these are your problems. Handle them. Go to a friend’s house, beg her to loan you her computer. While working from home is great, remember you don’t have an IT department to sort out your computer woes. So have a handyman’s number ready. But don’t forget to take back up on a pen drive, so that if disaster strikes, you can work on another machine.

By the way irrespective of how careful you are, the above scenario will happen – pushing you to the verge of a nervous breakdown! It happens to the best of us and it will happen to you too.

Freelance writing lesson 8: Don’t stop learning

One of the biggest pitfalls of being a freelance writer is the lack of contact with other people. In a company you interact with others, learn, grow and are given different assignments. But as a freelancer you could end up doing the same thing and in the process get obsolete. Don’t let that happen.

Always learn new things, re-learn and evolve. I began as a features writer for publications. Then wrote for the web; then for companies and now I conduct an online writing course. If you can’t change with the needs of the changing times, soon you wouldn’t have any takers. Also attend seminars, conferences; meet and interact with other people to keep the learning curve up.

*Photo credit: CarbonNYC (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

About The Author: A freelance writer with more than 16 years experience, Kanchana writes for companies, publications & conducts an online writing course to help women get started as freelance writers. Check out Writeword on Facebook.

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  1. Superb pointers here Kanchana. I am a freelance writer myself and have gone through all these scenarios. Most people think I am ‘lucky’ that I get to do what I love. Though I agree partly, what they forget is the blood and sweat that goes to do all the work and sometimes you don’t even get a feedback for the work you did. Excellent post 🙂 sharing it…

  2. thanks Kanchana! this is interesting! sharing it!

  3. superb article. its a great reminder for us freelance writers to not become complacent. thanks kanchana.

  4. This is such a great post for new writers, and that is exactly what I am. All those pointers are so practical and relevant. Thanks for a great article!

  5. Kanchana Banerjee -

    Thanks, everyone! Whenever I read an article on freelance writing…I felt that a very rosy picture has been conveyed. Dont get me wrong…I love being a freelance writer and wouldn’t change it for anything in the world…but there are certain realities one should be aware of. Glad that you found the article interesting!! Thanks.

  6. Thanks for posting this Kanchana..it is an eye opener for beginners. We have to realize that this profession is like any other profession with all its pros and cons..

  7. Great article and draws a very accurate picture. A point I would like to add here is that freelancing does not mean that we have taken the easier way out. I have faced a certain amount of disdain that if you are working from home , the quality is suspect. So they shortchange you on both professional and monetary front.

    • Thank you ladies. For those you who have been writing for a while and wish to make your freelance writing career more interesting and lucrative; contact me. I conduct online writing courses. and I have an advanced writing course too. So drop in a line at – kanchana.writeword@gmail.com

  8. KANCHANA you had given the exact idea which makes understand the pros and cons of free lancing ,I want to start writing short stories but I don’t have any idea how to start myself so please guide me. thanx

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  10. As a freelance writer, I can relate to most of the points you mentioned here. Good article.

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