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?