Have you been trying to freelance for months, or even years, without much success?
Maybe you’re thinking of calling it quits.
Maybe you secretly suspect you don’t have what it takes to be a freelancer.
Maybe you’ve made a lot of mistakes (some of them costly ones) and you’re feeling disheartened.
I’d love to say you’re wrong, and that you just need to carry on until you “make it.”
But that would be dishonest of me….and unhelpful. Freelancing is not right for everyone, and sometimes, taking a different route might be your best option.
Is freelancing really a good fit for you?
Personally, I enjoy freelancing. I’m the sort of person who happily could go all day without speaking to anyone. I love to be my own boss. I write easily and quickly, and I enjoy working on lots of different projects.
Even so, freelance writing only makes up part of my income and part of my time. I have other projects on the go too, and for about half the working week, I’m taking care of my children.
You might be like me: you like freelancing but it’s not the only thing you want to do.
Or you might be struggling more than that. Maybe you thought you’d like freelancing but you’re just not getting anywhere with it.
Some common difficulties for new freelancers are:
- Missing the buzz of a lively office environment — it can be hard to stay motivated and enthusiastic when you’re on your own all day, every day.
- Trying to do a dozen jobs in one — admin, marketing, book-keeping, website maintenance, office management…on top of the actual writing.
- Finding it hard to manage without the stability of a regular paycheck — the “feast or famine” nature of freelancing can be very stressful, especially if you have dependents
- Writing too slowly to make much money — if it takes you all day to write a 700 word blog post, you won’t be able to make a living freelancing.
- Not being able to write fluently enough to find (well) paying work — this can especially be the case for freelancers working in their non-native language.
I know plenty of very intelligent, lovely, hard working people who would never freelance because it doesn’t suit how they like to work. There’s absolutely no shame in deciding you prefer to be an employee rather than a freelancer.
Remember, of course, that this doesn’t have to be a one-time decision.
It might be that you want to switch away from freelancing for a couple of years (perhaps while you have children still dependent on you, or while your partner is finishing studying) and then go back to freelancing at a later stage.
So if you’re not going to do freelance writing, what could you do instead?
Alternatives to freelance writing
Obviously, you could go into any regular day job. You could return to whatever you did before becoming a freelance writer (if you had a previous job). Or you could pick up whatever’s going locally that still preserves some of your time and energy to write.
Other options that might suit your skills are:
1. Virtual assistant
If freelance writing is draining your energy for other writing projects, then becoming a virtual assistant might work well for you.
This could be a particularly good fit if you’ve picked up lots of techy skills as a freelancer — e.g. you’re confident with WordPress and with sending email newsletters. You might choose to specialize in assisting fellow writers or freelancers, since you’ll have a good idea of what they need and what their daily work involves.
2. Paid beta-reading (or editing)
While you’ll still need to look for regular work, paid beta-reading can be a good way to enjoy working with words and writers…without the creativity drain of coming up with ideas and writing lots of your own words.
Depending on your experience and skills, you may want to offer in-depth editing, or you may prefer to offer beta-reading, which is usually more of a general critique of a writer’s work. If you’ve been part of a writers’ workshop group, that’s great practice.
3. SEO agency work
If you love the actual writing part of freelancing but don’t like all the admin and hustling that goes along with it, working for an SEO agency might be a good fit for you. You’ll typically be working in a small, close-knit team.
You don’t necessarily need to know a lot about SEO to work as a writer within an agency, so don’t let that put you off: look at the jobs that local agencies are offering and see what their requirements are.
You might not want to teach a classful of children…but there are plenty of other types of teaching out there.
You might choose to teach at college level, for instance (English Language, English Literature or Creative Writing are all good possibilities!) or you might decide to be a private tutor.
As a tutor, you’ll have some of the same issues that you might face as a freelancer (e.g. hustling for business) — but you’ve also got the option of joining a local agency that will find you work. Tutoring is likely to take place after school hours, leaving you most of the day free for your own writing.
5. Writing books
You may already be working on a book, of course — either for fun or in the hopes it’ll one day make money (or both)!
Writing your own book is definitely not a fast path to riches…but some writers find freelancing tough because they really want to work on their own project, not on someone else’s. If that sounds like you, writing a book alongside steady, paying work could work out well.
Some writers love freelancing, but want to bring their own projects into the mix too. You might, for instance, create a course for other writers, or design a physical project like freelance writer Michelle Nickolaisen did with The Freelance Planner.
Having your own product (whether physical or digital) can help smooth out the income ups and downs that go with freelancing, and it also gives you an option for bringing in cash quickly if you need to — you can just run a sale.
But what if you want to carry on freelancing?
Maybe you’ve found freelancing harder than you expected, but you want to carry on anyway. And I applaud you for that!
Carol Tice has a great post with lots of links to help with a lot of the hardest bits of freelancing (like recovering from making a mistake, dealing with difficult clients and facing the fears that go with freelancing):
Give that a read and see if it helps with some of the problems you’re facing.
Remember, though, you don’t have to be a freelancer writer. There’s absolutely nothing wrong in being a full-time employee, or taking on a part-time day job or being a stay-at-home parent. None of those are “better” or “worse” than others…they’re just different options that may or may not suit you.
Ultimately, of course, the decision is up to you: do you want to carry on as a freelancer, or try something different?
If you’re not sure, give yourself a goal and a time limit. Freelance for two more months and, if you don’t reach your goal by then, take a break and do something else instead.