I spend a lot of my time encouraging freelance writers to strive for better pay. But what about when you don’t have that luxury?
I had one woman in my mentoring program ask me recently:
What if I’m desperate for work? What do you do when you just need money so bad — right now?
In today’s market of low-paying mills and bidding-site gigs, it’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of taking low-paying gigs that never seem to quite cover the bills, no matter how many hours you work.
You’re stuck. It’s hard to ever move up and earn more. You’re spending a decent amount of your time worrying about whether you can keep a roof over your head and food in the fridge.
Here are five strategies to think about when you feel the panic rising and you’re starting to feel desperate:
1. Cut your expenses. If you haven’t lately, track every dime you spend for a month. See if you can’t find places to cut back your spending. Less spending can buy you breathing room and the freedom to say no to low-paying gigs and to hold out for better ones.
2. Start saving money. Freelancers need an emergency account — or at least access to credit — that can help tide them over if they hit a bad month. Then, when you’re slow, you can market harder instead of biting your nails about whether you’ll be able to pay your bills.
3. Cold call some local businesses. If you have even one spare hour, you can pick up the phone, call local businesses, and ask them if they need a copywriter. I have yet to meet anyone who’s done a serious round of cold calls and not found at least one client.
4. Work your accounts receivable. Do clients owe you money? Send a few polite emails or make a few calls and see if you can get them to send that check already. Or better yet, negotiate better terms for the future — net 15 instead of net 45, or direct deposit today instead of a check in the mail in 10 days. Often, what broke freelance writers have really isn’t an income problem but more of a cash-flow problem. Don’t fall into what I call the “bank of Carol” trap, and let clients run their businesses on what they owe you.
5. Take a side job. It may be that you’ve fallen so far behind financially that the only way out is to get an hourly wage job you can count on to add some income, so you can rebuild your finances. I know writers who’ve done medical transcribing or stocked grocery shelves at night to pay bills while they got established as freelance writers. Personally, I typed movie scripts. Ideally, the job doesn’t take too many hours and still leaves some time to pursue freelance writing.
6. Learn more. If you haven’t been able to move up as a freelance writer, consider taking a class and learning more about how to succeed in the business of freelance writing. I know — you feel broke. But the problem is, you may always feel broke if you don’t acquire more knowledge of how to move up to good-paying markets.
I’ve talked to a lot of freelance writers who seem to think this is a “no overhead” business, where you don’t have to spend any money to operate successfully. But it’s a myth. Freelance writing is like any other line of work — investing in your professional development can pay huge dividends in increased earnings.
What have you done when you’re hard-up for cash? Leave a comment and tell your story of freelance survival.