Not long after I started my freelance writing business in 1993, people began asking me to tell them the secrets of successful self-employment. I just laughed and told them to check back in 10 or 15 years. Maybe by then I’d be willing to declare victory, and I possibly might have even figured out a thing or two at that point. Well, here it is 25 years later, and I have definitely learned a few lessons about what it takes to succeed as my own boss. So, here’s my advice to any writer thinking about jumping into full-time freelance writing.
Business skills will determine your success – The single most difficult concept for a freelancer to accept is the fact they are running a business, and their ability to run it will dictate how successful they are. It really doesn’t matter how great a writer, web designer, consultant or plumber you are if you’re a lousy business owner. The best advice I offer young entrepreneurs? Take classes in marketing, selling, negotiating, closing deals, and keeping the books.
Sell, sell, sell – To put a finer point on the lesson above, you have to sell to survive. Every freelance writer must be a sales person. Why is this so hard? Because when you’re self-employed, you are your business. This means you aren’t simply selling products or services, you’re selling yourself. This is difficult for most of us because from a young age we’re taught to avoid talking about ourselves too much…and especially not to brag about ourselves. But brag you must. Learn to toot your own horn.
Know your Unique Selling Proposition – The business world is incredibly competitive, even when you’re a self-employed writer. From the outset, you have to know what sets you apart from the competition (your USP) and be able to articulate how that USP will translate into benefits for your clients. At the end of the day, that’s what will get you hired.
Have a strategy – Nearly every freelancer I have met over the years had a solid vision of the writing services they were offering. But many didn’t have a clear idea of who their customers would be. In a world of specialization, you should target a niche market in terms of profession, geographic area or industry. Knowing who your customers are makes finding them that much easier.
Somebody has to steer the ship (And that would be you) – The greatest book on entrepreneurship ever written is The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber. One of the most important issues Gerber addresses is the business owner’s constant struggle between working on their business and working in their business. Just like the captain of a ship, the owner must steer the business towards opportunities and away from obstacles. But that’s an impossible task if the captain spends all his or her time in the engine room shoveling coal into the boilers. And that may be the toughest challenge for a one-person business. You must find ways to take breaks from your work, look up from your computer screen, see what’s happening around you, and set the course for where you want your business headed.
Accept change…it’s good for you – One key to longevity in business is to vary your product and service offerings to meet the changing demands of your customers and the market. New technologies will undoubtedly drive change as well. But often overlooked by the self-employed writer is their own personal evolution. Your interests will change over time, and one of the great benefits of having your own business is that you can make it evolve right along with you. Don’t be afraid to change up your writing specialty, target market or customer base if that’s what it takes to keep yourself engaged.
Working from home is a challenge – Working at home is absolutely a net positive. Without a doubt, the best thing about it is the 10-second commute to work. The second best is the ability to get your household chores and errands done during the week, so your weekend is open for fun. But the potential downsides are the isolation of working alone, distractions from the family, and lack of exercise. Overcoming these challenges is more difficult than you realize until you face them. Have a plan to deal with these issues before you quit your day job.
It’s not for everyone – We all have stressors in life that cause anxiety. In business, these come in two forms. The first is the fear of not having a steady income. This is perfectly understandable and the reason so many people are employed in 9-to-5 jobs. But the second anxiety comes from lack of control, often related to the knowledge your boss can come down the hall at any minute and lay you off – regardless of how well you’ve been performing. Most people have greater tolerance for one of these stressors than the other. Self-employed people are usually willing to trade the certainty of guaranteed paychecks in exchange for greater control over their lives and careers. Only you know which category you fall into.
Interested in learning more about the business of freelance writing? I just recorded a free presentation that I have given to local writers’ groups. It’s called ‘Six-Figure Freelancing: Three Keys to Success.’ You can watch it for free. In addition, I launched an entire course called ‘Business Boot Camp for Freelance Writers.’ You can access it through my blog site where I post articles and Podcasts. Or follow me on Twitter at @writingbizguru. Please like my Facebook and LinkedIn pages, which can be accessed through the blog site.