4 Tips for Freelance Writers Who’re Starting Over

Carol Tice

Tips for Freelance Writers Starting Over. Makealivingwriting.comBy Linda Formichelli

Are you struggling to make a career shift into freelance writing? Having a hard time finding freelance writing jobs for beginners? I can sort of relate.

I recently decided to (at least partly) change careers: After many years as a freelance writer, I’m now a certified personal trainer and a professional wellness coach specializing in working with writers and people with depression, anxiety, ADHD, or simply a lot of stress.

Yesterday I had a session with my own life coach, and she had me hash out exactly how much I want to earn and how much work I’m willing to do. If all turns out the way I want it to, I’ll have four full days of personal coaching and training clients.

And at the rates I’m charging as a relative newbie, I’ll be making half as much as I earn as a writer.

Luckily, I still have my writing, which I don’t plan to quit; I’ll just need to cut down to one or two assignments per month. And of course, I’ll still be teaching my e-course, teaching the Blast Off class with Carol, selling e-books — and joining Carol as one of the experts hanging out in the Freelance Writers Den. I will be the Other Den Mother, starting in November!

But for all of you out there who are getting into writing from a full-time job: I feel ya. I now know what it’s like to start over, to be spending more time marketing than actually making money, and to try to juggle three different jobs and a family (which includes a toddler) at once.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far in my journey and how it can help you succeed as a writer:

1. Don’t Freak

When you start over in any industry if you’re in an established career, you’re likely to take a hit in income. My life coach assured me that everyone goes through the same experience of having to work their way up and find clients who are willing to take on a newbie. Luckily, with writing, all you technically need to get a gig is one impressive clip or writing sample.

2. Market, Market, Market

Right now I’m spending way more time marketing than actually doing paid work. Thankfully I still have my writing to pay the bills.

If you have a full-time job and are looking to build up your writing career, you’ll need to fill all your odd hours with marketing: Writing queries, networking, sending letters of introduction, connecting with editors and potential clients on social media like LinkedIn.

3. Go Back to School

I studied my ass off to pass the personal training exam, and hired my old trainer to teach me how to come up with effective workout plans for people with varying health conditions and goals. As for coaching, I’m in the middle of a 13-week certification course that includes teleclasses and tons of reading, and I also talk to my own coach three times per month. This is a definite investment of time and money, but if you want to break into a new career, you need to learn the ropes.

The same goes for writing. There are tons of classes out there that will help you speed up the learning curve, websites for writers like the Freelance Writers Den that include forums and learning opportunities, and people like yours truly who mentor writers. You can also find enough reading material online and off to read up on the writing industry until your eyeballs fall out. Take advantage of these resources!

4. Have an Exit Plan from Cheap Work

I did a lot of coaching and training for free to get practice and build word of mouth, but it had a limit: 50 free wellness coaching sessions and as many free personal training sessions as I could fit into six weeks. After those fill — I charge, baby. And I plan to raise my coaching rates after 90 days, and then again 90 days after that.

Many writers make the mistake of writing for free indefinitely as they try to reach some mystical, magical number of clips that will open the doors to paying magazines. Instead, have an exit plan for the freebies or you’ll be stuck writing for no pay forever. For example, you can plan to write three sample brochures for local businesses you like, and then use those samples to go after paid writing jobs (and also pitch the recipients of your freebies!).

Every professional writer has been where you are — hell, I’m there right now in a different career. Study, learn, market, and have a plan to leave the low-paying clients and soon you’ll be a professional writer, too.


43 Comments

  1. CJJohnsonWrites

    Having an exit plan from cheap work, is a very valuable piece of advice. I dont think us freelancers always consider that when first deciding to go solo. Thanks!

    • Linda Formichelli

      Thanks for your comment! Yes, I mentor a lot of writers who are stuck in that content mill ghetto with no way out.

  2. Amy Gutman

    Thanks for the thoughts, Linda–really appreciating your guidance in the Blastoff, and appreciate you sharing your story about your own current transition. Helps to know the journey is shared. πŸ™‚

    • Linda Formichelli

      Thanks so much! Yeah, I definitely can empathize more now than I could before I made the transition. Glad you’re enjoying the Blast Off!

  3. Amy Gutman

    Also a writing/community question — how did the previous commenter–C.J. Johnson writes–get her recent essays to show up in her signature? That seems like a very cool thing to do . . .

    • Linda Formichelli

      Did you enter your blog address in the “Website” field? I did that and my last post automatically popped up.

      • Amy Gutman

        Thanks–I don’t yet have my own blog, yet another reason to get that up & running. Wonder if it would work if I typed in my Salon writer page. Hmmm . . .

    • Carol Tice

      You need to hook your blog to Commentluv — see their site if it’s not working for you. Like Linda said, put in your URL when you’re commenting, but if that doesn’t do it visit their site.

      Once you’ve put in your URL, then you should be able to click on the Commentluv box and it will pull your most recent post and put it at the bottom of your comments on every site that uses it. Extremely handy for spreading your content around…I personally try to make most of my comments on sites that have it.

      • Amy Gutman

        Thanks, Carol–testing out the Salon url on this post

        • Carol Tice

          Yay! You got it.

          • Amy Gutman

            Yes, except for the fact that the post links to a Salon piece that I DIDN’T WRITE. Oh well. Looks like I have one more reason to get to work on that blog I’ve been meaning to launch . . .

  4. NextGen Writer

    A few days back, this blog posted an audio conversation between Sean Platt and Carol Tice. Time and again, they stressed it’s the best time to become a freelance writer. But I know many topnotch writers who are starting a career other than writing; WHY?

    • Linda Formichelli

      That’s a great question. As for me…I’ve been supporting my family on freelance writing nicely since 1997 (my husband is a part-time freelancer). But man, I’m BURNING OUT. It’s hard doing the same thing for 14 years.

      I’ll still be writing, but doing less of it and adding in the coaching and personal training. I was making a full-time income writing only 2 days per week anyway, so I still have plenty of time for writing assignments even adding the new businesses. I’m just working more days now.

      I do agree with Carol: The opportunities are almost LIMITLESS now.

      Many writers look only at the giant newsstand magazines and get discouraged, or get stuck in the content mill ghetto, but they’re not thinking about all the lesser-known but well-paying opportunities out there like trade magazines, custom publications, copywriting, tech writing, grant writing, social media consulting and writing, online magazines, teaching about writing, creating information products like e-books, ghostwriting books and articles, writing books for traditional publishers, co-authoring with experts on books like the Dummies series…I could go on but I’m getting tired. πŸ™‚

      • NextGen Writer

        Umm 14 years… I second your decision of coaching πŸ˜‰

  5. John Soares

    Linda, congratulations on both your career move into personal training and your new position as the second Den Mother inside the Freelance Writers Den.

    My sister-in-law has been a personal trainer for many years, so I’ve learned quite a bit about the profession vicariously through her, and I know it takes a lot of knowledge and skill.

    And Carol is doing a fantastic job as Den Mother, but there’s so much activity in there that your input and advice will make a great forum/learningsite even better.

    • Linda Formichelli

      Thanks, John! And I’m psyched because a local studio invited me today to join them as a trainer…I bring in my own clients and just pay a small commission. I have my own studio in a nearby town, but the rent is kinda high. Yay!

      • Carol Tice

        So now you can kill off the studio rent and just hang with them? That sounds terrific.

        • Linda Formichelli

          Exactly! If I can break the lease, I’ll be saving $400 per month and be in a location that’s much closer to my home, and has walk-by traffic downtown. Sweet!

    • Carol Tice

      We are definitely growing, and I’m excited to add Linda as an official additional expert. Of course, members also benefit from the knowledge of many other great pros who are hanging out, such as you and Susan Johnston from Urban Muse.

      As the Den gets bigger, I hope to grow Linda’s role.

  6. Debra Stang

    Hi Linda,

    First of all, WELCOME. I look forward to working with you as Den Mother #2. Second, thank you for the very encouraging article. I decided to go into freelancing fulltime in August of this year. I’ve been working on raising my rates and learning new skills, but I know the one area where I’m still weak is marketing. In fact, my next goal is learning how to market myself more effectively.

    Debra

    • Linda Formichelli

      Wow, congrats on making the leap! Yes, what you should be doing MOST of is marketing. It’s hard because many writers are not natural marketers, but really it’s just about putting your work out there, pitching, and networking.

  7. Aunt Alice

    Thank you for the reminder that we need to set specific goals, such as a certain number of freebies for clips. Having clear goals can make all the difference.

    BTW, the link for HappyFit isn’t working for me – I just get a DNS error.

    • Linda Formichelli

      Yes…and the fewer the better! I always say you need exactly ONE clip to break into bigger markets, and that one doesn’t even have to be free. I’ve had students break into SELF and Woman’s Day with no clips at all.

      Darn typos! The correct URL is http://www.happyfitcoaching.com. Thanks for checking it out!

  8. Ruth - Freelance Writing Blog

    Market Market Market is my daily mantra, Linda. It’s so easy to fall into a comfort zone, especially as a solo-preneur. But you need to set aside time every day (even when you are overloaded with writing gigs) to put yourself out there and pedal your brand!

    Most appreciative for the advice – considering I’m only a year in to this biz!

    • Linda Formichelli

      Sounds like you’re doing great for just a year in the biz! You’ll do a lot more marketing at the beginning, too. I can kind of relax on marketing my writing because I’m in many editors’ “stables,” meaning they come to me with assignments. But the training and coaching? It’s marketing city, baby!

  9. James

    Great post, Linda. I don’t have a problem picking up the phone or hitting the street and marketing myself, but actually setting marketing goals has never been a priority. But it needs to be!

    Great to have you over at the FWD! Looking forward to your expertise over there.

    • Linda Formichelli

      Thanks! I actually never had much of a plan per se until recently…it was more like “Market my ass off until I get the assignments I want.” πŸ˜‰

  10. Karen Lange

    This is great, encouraging advice. Thanks, Linda! Wishing you the best with your new career. πŸ™‚

  11. ghostfighter0506

    Great post, Linda. I don’t have a problem picking up the phone or hitting the street and marketing myself, but actually setting marketing goals has never been a priority. But it needs to be!

    • Linda Formichelli

      I hope setting marketing goals works out for you!

  12. nicole

    Looks like I have one more reason to get to work on that blog I’ve been meaning to launch . . I don’t have a problem picking up the phone or hitting the street and marketing myself,

  13. Cindy

    Great post! Congrats on your career move…and, I totally ‘get it.’

    I am recently (in the past couple years) moving from an uber-successful petsitting biz into freelance writing…why? Especially since I was making such great money simply feeding cats and walking dogs? And since soooo many people have said, ‘Gee! I wish I could be you! Playing with kitties and dogs all day! What fun!’

    Well, b/c I did it for 14+ years, and…enough is enough.

    Just today, I was thinking back on the very HARD marketing I had to do to make the petsitting biz a success…I had to post ads, answer calls, show up on client interviews and show people that, yes, they could trust me with the keys to their home and the lives of their pets….over and over and over, I had to do that. Until one day, I didn’t. Until calls just came in, and work landed at my doorstep. Until–even when I got referrals to new clients from sastified customers–I could say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not taking on new clients at this point.’ It was so ‘ca-ching!’ after a couple of years! Cha!

    I’m thinking about those days a lot as I start out fresh and anew in a brand new venture…I’m placing ads, answering the phone, showing up to prove that I am, yes, trustworthy and that I can, yes, do the job…superbly.

    I’m looking forward to the ‘ca-ching!’ again, when I don’t even have to lift a finger, and work just shows up at my door.

    I know it can happen! I have complete faith in the process.

    • Linda Formichelli

      Ha ha, it sounds like 14 years is the magic number where people burn out!

      Yes…you will get to that “ca-ching” stage. I’m at the point where I mostly work with clients who come to me with work, which is nice.

  14. Krissy Brady, Writer

    YAY Talk about having the best Den Mothers EVER! I just registered last night and I’m so excited to take part.

    I especially agree with point #4: this was a mistake I made with my web design business, and it is the #1 factor as to why it’s been so difficult for me to transition into my writing. It’s a mistake I definitely won’t make twice! Setting limits and standards is so important right out the gate so you don’t end up stringing yourself too thin with very little results.

    • Carol Tice

      Excited to have your participation in the Den, Krissy! Glad you’re getting in before the doors close tomorrow.

      • Krissy Brady, Writer

        Thanks so much Carol! I’m having such a blast in the Den so far! πŸ™‚

    • Linda Formichelli

      Thanks for joining the Den!

      Yes…if you want to write for free or super cheap once to get a clip, fine. But in my eyes, you really don’t have to work for free AT ALL. That class of mine you’re taking? I’ve had plenty of students break into mags big and small with zero clips. It’s all about wowing an editor with your idea and your pitch.

      • Krissy Brady, Writer

        I totally agree–as far as I’m concerned, go big or go home! I never want writers to go through what I’ve had to go through to finally be able to make the transition to writing.

  15. Lassa

    Great post, the income hit you take when you move from 1 job to another is often worth it as a chance in career can be so refreshing and just give you a moral life boost. I have just started training to become a teacher after 4 years in IT

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