A disclaimer before you read this article: Everyone’s freelancing experience is different. You could have a great experience, or you could have a horrible one. You could have somewhere in the middle, like I did. Freelance, like anything, is highly competitive, hard to get into, and totally dependent on timing. It’s also very hard to get ahead in. However, some get their ducks lined up in a row before others do. Like I said, everyone’s experience is different.
I just finished my first six months of freelance writing, and let me tell you—it was a roller coaster ride. I had a good boss, a not-so-great higher up, another boss who I couldn’t communicate with well, and I had to fight to get promised payment sometimes. It’s been a crazy ride, and I’ve certainly learned quite a lot. Mainly what I’ve learned is that writing for others can be greatly rewarding, and that you just have to go about everything in the right way.
Stop. Breathe. Think. Don’t be desperate and work hard. Here’s how to survive your first six months of freelance writing, based on what I learned during mine.
1. Realize you will get rejected and be okay with that.
Okay, my “first six months” started long before six months ago. My “freelancing career” actually started when I started sending out applications and pitches to only hear nothing back or receive a friendly rejection response. One time someone did get back with me with interest saying they would give me a test subject, but then never gave me that test subject (…thanks). Finally, I did land a job. However, it didn’t last very long. A freelance gig is a non-permanent gig for a reason after all.
2. Know you’re not going to make enough money to live on at first.
My first job was an internship, unpaid. Within three months I was promoted. I cannot tell you how thankful I was to be making what I did per published article, only to find out that with that job and a secondary one I found about a month later, I was making way less than the minimum wage in my state. I wasn’t anywhere close to making a living wage — with two jobs. I became severely upset for a time, and managed to kick myself out of it. However, being warned about this in advance is probably a very good thing — it will keep you from expecting to be able to quit your day job right away. The unfortunate thing is, I’ve been unable to find a day job as of yet, and below minimum wage is currently my only income.
3. If you are promised payment, make sure you get paid no matter what it takes.
I cannot stress this enough. Make sure you get paid. Unfortunately, there are a lot of places that will play you for free content. Or they’ll be forgetful. Or they’ll come up with some excuse. Or they’ll say they’ll get on it, and just don’t for whatever reason. I’ve dealt with this countless times within the last six months. Even when it’s a small payment, do not let them walk all over you. You can be kind without being a pushover. You can be firm and get the payment you were promised while being respectful.
4. Keep track of EVERYTHING.
I mean everything. Every email. Every payment. Every invoice. Every PayPal fee. Every site that’s ever posted your work. If they threw your byline on there or forgot to. Every time you were promised something.
Take screen caps of email and text conversations. Save them. Put little stars next to conversations on Google. This WILL save you in the long run. Save positive quotes your bosses or clients may give you to be able to show future clientele. Keep track of everything.
5. Understand that you might lose your position quickly, out of nowhere, and without warning.
For most of these past six months, I worked for a website I was really passionate about. It was recently shut down out of nowhere, which is a real shame because it was a great site. However, one fateful day (after we had been hacked for a second time in five months), I got an email letting me know that everyone on staff was being let go. Now I have one job, am making less than I was before, BUT I am trying to start up my own website.
6. Make sure you’re doing your own thing in your free time – whether it makes you money or just builds your resume.
Instead of replacing my time I spent on the gig I was let go from doing nothing, I am doing work on the side (starting my own site) that will hopefully lead to more paying gigs in the future.
7. Remember that regardless of what happens, every gig can help land you that next gig.
Although I’ve had a rocky first six months of freelancing, I know that all the experience I’ve received will help me get that next job. Freelancing is an extremely bumpy road that isn’t secure in the least. However, if I made it out alive and keep pushing, I know you can, too.