A year ago, I received a check for my first paid writing assignment.
In college, I wrote for free for the student newspaper, a few travel blogs, and Thought Catalog. I had a ton of experience, but it took me a while to figure out how to get paid for my work.
I didn’t understand what my writing was worth until this past January. Since I wasn’t thrilled with my day job, I decided to commit to freelance writing as a side hustle in 2016.
Luckily, I was already in supportive writing communities. I also found invaluable online resources to help me pitch my ideas.
Last month, I left my marketing position to pursue freelancing full time.
The following five steps helped me manage the jump from part-time to full-time freelance writing.
1. Find a system to track your income
Tracking your income from the beginning is incredibly important.
It helps you keep a record of your work. It helps you track down any delinquent clients that haven’t paid you. It also shows your progress as you accept more assignments at higher rates.
To this day, I still use a Google sheet. As an extremely organized person, it works for me. I break columns down by headline, publication, rate, date published, date paid, date hired, date invoiced, and published link.
Before I found this method, I was writing everything down in a notebook. Tracking dates helps me understand how quickly (or slowly) a publication completes edits, adds my story to their editorial calendar, and pays me.
As your business grows, consider using more professional services, such as Freshbooks or Quickbooks. You might even want to outsource your accounting altogether, or maybe hire a virtual assistant to manage your finances.
2. Create income goals
I started with a freelance writing goal of earning $1,000 a month. Although I didn’t meet that goal in January, I exceeded it in February.
But I found myself working too much in certain weeks, while other weeks, I’d hear crickets from my clients.
Then, I set a weekly goal of $400. That first week, I remember only making $12 until Thursday, where I was hired for a $1,250 assignment over the next two months.
By this point, I was focusing on developing steady relationships with editors (more on that below). Rather than cold pitching editors constantly, I pitched ones I previously worked with. Additionally, I wasn’t afraid to pitch higher-paying publications.
My day job was a safety net if I didn’t meet my weekly goal. I also live in an area with a low cost of living, so my expenses are fairly minimal. However, I usually met my goal.
3. Build an online presence
During the last week of December, I created a free website with Wix. I published it on New Year’s Day.
I also focused on improving my social media following, focusing on growing my Facebook writer page. Even today, I’m constantly inviting new friends to like my page.
On Twitter, I started participating in Twitter chats. Once you’ve participated in one for a bit, consider finding out how to host or moderate it. Or even create your own! There are also hashtags worth following like #writing #amwriting, #writingcommunity, #instawriting, and #writinglife.
Social media is crucial for writers because creating a platform for an audience to follow you helps clients find you.
The larger your following is, the more potential you have to connect with future clients online — because you never know when someone who follows you on Twitter or Facebook might need a writer.
4. Schedule your time strategically
If you work a traditional 9-to-5 job, determine possible times of day to work on freelance projects. Are you a morning or a night person? Can you dedicate your lunch hour to freelancing? Consider working over the weekend if you don’t have plans.
Within those time blocks, prioritize timely tasks over others, and don’t cram in too much. Your quality of work might suffer.
I use a Passion Planner to schedule my days. I’m also a fan of basic yellow pads for to-do lists. I’m constantly writing down things to do and remember. Likewise, I prioritize the most important and timely tasks.
Fortunately, my day job had flexible hours. If I had a larger assignment that required more time, I could leave work early to go home to work on it.
I may not have been able to do this if my job weren’t so relaxed. However, before transitioning to full-time freelancing, it was sometimes difficult to balance time. I typically worked over the weekend.
5. Foster relationships with previous clients
If you’re pitching publications, focus on editors you’ve previously worked with rather than cold-pitching new ones. If you were successful with the first assignment, previous editors will know your work and trust you for future assignments.
Not only are you more likely to receive a response, but you’re also more likely to be hired.
The more you write for a publication and build a rapport, the more likely they’ll start turning to you for a more permanent role. Maybe they’ll come to you with a timely assignment. Maybe they’ll consider you for a regular contributor role.
Once you’re more in tune with your earnings, scheduling, and clients, you have a better understanding of improvements need to be made.
Have you made the leap to full-time freelancing? How did you set your financial goals?