Make the Leap to Full-Time Freelance Writing in 5 Essential Steps

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Cliff-jumping is one of the most extreme, nerve-wracking sports in the world. Choosing to embark on a freelance writing career can seem just as daunting. After all, there’s no net down there to catch you if you don’t leap just right.

Not to mention, your friends and family are probably looking at you like you’re crazy. How can you make a career change to become a full-time freelance writer without taking unnecessary risks?

Think of launching your freelance writing business like jumping off that cliff. Here are five rules to live by as you prepare to take this exciting leap.

1. Do your research

When you’re throwing yourself from scary heights into the ocean, it’s vital to know every last detail about the spot. How deep is the water? Is your take-off point stable? Which way’s the tide going?

With freelancing, research is vital. To set yourself up for success, find out as much as possible about your chosen path.

The good news is you’re already off to a great start: You’re on The Write Life, with an entire section dedicated to freelancing and with a handy list of resources. Way to go! Set aside the time to dive in and see what you can learn.

At this stage, you should be looking for information for beginners, such as common mistakes new writers make. Get an idea for what’s involved in the freelance writing process, from pitch to publication.

You’ll also find no shortage of people who have managed to make a living with their writing, such as Gina Horkey, who was earning $4,000 per month within six months. Or Danny Margulies, who makes six figures freelancing. It’s looking good from here!

2. Consider safety first

Safety should be the number-one priority for would-be cliff jumpers and freelancers alike. Even a safe jump spot can be dangerous if you’re careless.

After all the research you’ve done for your new career, it’s easy to get carried away and jump head first.

Instead, take a step back.

While some freelancers manage to replicate a full-time income almost immediately, for most of us building up to that level takes time.

Have you got enough savings to cover those lean months? You’ll feel more confident with a savings cushion that will cover six months worth of expenses, although obviously the bigger, the better.

Remember that freelancing comes with its own expenses. Taxes, insurance and other benefits your employer took care of before are now your responsibility. Utility costs for working from home will also increase.

The best step here is to start a budget. If you’re in the U.S., I’ve heard great things about Mint. For budgeting software available worldwide, check out You Need a Budget for resources and free classes.

If after all that you’re feeling a bit nervous, fear not! Many people, myself included, have opted to fit freelancing around a day job, adding another layer of security.

3. Start small

You don’t start with a 5x somersault half twist pike from 27 meters; your first jump might be only a couple of feet high.

You can do the same with your freelance career. Start small and work your way up.

Your first client should be yourself. If you want to be a freelance blogger, is your blog top class? If you’re a copywriter, is your website copy flawless?

After you’ve got yourself sorted, how about friends and family? Do your self-employed loved ones need help with their copy? Do they work for a company that needs new blog posts?

Not only will you polish your skills and build confidence, you’ll also build up a nice portfolio to prepare you for bigger clients. Everyone wins.

4. Stick with people who know what they’re doing

I was blessed with friends who’d made the leap to freelance years earlier and were happy to share their knowledge. Find people who have lots of experience with freelancing, and listen to what they have to say.

Writing forums can be a fantastic resource for the new freelancer. Look for active and engaged forums, and be sure to follow good etiquette: Be polite, don’t spam and add value where possible. You’ll be rewarded with a community of fellow freelancers who can offer advice and support.

For bonus points, I highly recommend finding a mentor, either online or offline. Nothing helps more than having an experienced freelancer take a look at your business. Their advice is priceless.

5. Take the leap

Yes, freelancing can be scary. But it’s also fun and rewarding. There’s a point when you’re standing at the top of the cliff when you know you’ve done all you can — now you just have to take that step.

Analysis paralysis may be the biggest danger you’ll face. It’s easy to convince yourself you need to do more research when really, you should be getting on and doing the work.

Are you ready for a freelance career? Take a deep breath. Now jump.

Have you taken the leap into freelancing yet? What other steps would you recommend?

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When not throwing himself off cliffs, Daniel is a freelance writer and blogger, as well as a fiction author. Connect with him on his site at DGRose.com and say hi!... .

Daniel Rose | @IcarusWasPushed

Daniel Rose
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Comments

  1. Hi Daniel,

    Great post!

    While reading this I was imaging myself standing at the edge of that cliff that you so gracefully brought us to from the intro of your piece.

    The way that you created this imagery is quite motivating and inspiring.

    Now, as for me, I remember first day I took that leap that you speak of. I pitched an article idea to Entrepreneur and then the craziest thing happened — they actually liked my idea and give me the green light to start writing.

    Now, as you said in point three about starting small, some may say that pitching to a publication like Entrepreneur would not be considered starting small, but I don’t know about you, but strongly believe that we shouldn’t be afraid to go after the BIG fish…who knows….they may actually end up biting.

    • Hi William,

      Thank you, I’m glad you found the post motivating.

      Wow, that’s a great first leap, pitching Entrepreneur. Nice one! You raise a good point, and I would encourage people to go for the biggest ‘fish’ they can. Truth is, not everyone’s ready to pitch the big leagues straight away. If that’s the case, starting with some small, easy wins can build up the confidence you need. It depends on your personality, and what works best for you.

      • Hi Daniel,

        You are absolutely right and I do agree with you. I know that confidence is a big issue with newbie writers and your right, starting off small and getting those easy wins can indeed build confidence.

        And yes, personality plays a huge factor as well. Believe me when I tell you, when I got the go-ahead to write my first article for Entrepreneur (I have written five for them so far), my confidence level shot out the roof, but I know that humility is also important and plays a big role as well.

        I may not be so scared to pitch article ideas any more, but I do get nervous when it comes to talking about my books during face to face interactions.

        • Thanks William. That first time you get a positive response is an enormous validation. Getting five pitches accepted from a big site? That’s a whole new level!

          As for face to face, I suspect a lot of writers feel the same way. I know I do. In my case, I find having an elevator pitch ready helps loads. Practice makes perfect.

  2. It’s a good idea to have some savings lined up before you take the leap. I like how you touched on freelancing being rewarding, but also having its’ own expenses. Taxes can be a big expense and responsibility to take on once you leave your job to freelance full time

    • Agreed Sarah. Believe it or not, for someone who enjoys cliff-jumping, I consider myself a cautious kinda guy. I definitely like to make sure I’ve got a backup! It’s always wise to count the costs, especially the hidden ones.

      Thanks for the comment 🙂

  3. I think I’m going to need a separate freelance identity, since my blogging has been almost exclusively in a highly controversial area. I began it purely with providing information to other activists in mind, and now it is enormous, of spotty quality, and not what I want mainstream potential clients to see — though it has gotten me two jobs within that controversial area.

    How kosher is it considered to do that? And if I did decide to do so, how different should my freelance name be from my established blogging name?

    • Good question Christina, and I’m not sure it has an easy answer.

      I personally think that keeping separate identities is fine, especially in circumstances where you don’t want your past posts to affect your chances of future work, whether it’s due to content or quality. It’s common enough in fiction, where many authors have separate pen names for different genres.
      However, if you’ve built up a brand in this area, I’d look to see if you can capitalise on that, especially as you’ve already got work that way. Being an established writer in a niche can work out better than being an unknown jack of all trades.

      If you feel you need to leave your past behind in order to work with clients, then go for it. I wouldn’t worry about making it too different, just as long as the two businesses identities are distinct. For example, if your current identity was ‘Joe Bloggs – Activst Info’ then maybe going with ‘JB Writing.’

      If on the other hand you think you can work with it, then it’s easier to build up an existing platform and brand than start again from scratch.

      I hasten to add I’m not a lawyer, this isn’t legal advice, etc etc. I’d be interested to see what others from the community think.

      • Thanks! I think I’ll probably keep the name on my current blog that all the other activists are used to, and shorten my given name to “Chris” for general freelancing. Since I’d be using my legal last name either way, I don’t think that’d be an issue, and nobody would look askance at writing a check to “Christina” when they’d hired “Chris.”

  4. Hi Daniel,
    First things first, thanks for sharing this article with us. It’s true that freelancing has it’s ups and downs, but some of that volatility can be minimized by being consistent.

    Second, I’d like to add a couple thoughts.

    One tip I read somewhere is that pitching potential clients should be a daily, or weekly, activity even when you’re overbooked. That way it will help you have scheduled work for the time when a project or client is finished and fill holes in your work calendar.

    To do this effectively, I would add that research is the key.

    What type of client are you looking for, what niche, what type of content do they need, who is their potential audience?

    Doing the research prior to pitching them can give you great insight into how to write a more effective pitch and boost your chances of securing the project.

    • Hi David, thanks. You raise a good point. Although some writers have managed to build a career purely through word of mouth and inbound marketing, I think the most reliable method for finding clients is consistent pitching. Good pitches = more clients. So I agree that researching those pitches will be well worth the time.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts

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