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Is This Missing Piece Stalling Your Freelance Writing Career?

Carol Tice

missing puzzle pieceI get a lot of email from aspiring freelance writers as they set out on their journey.

“I am totally doing this freelance writing thing!” they tell me. “I’ve always wanted to be a writer. It’s time to quit the job and go for it.”

A year later, they write me again. And they have not gone for it.

They are still right where they started…lacking the nerve to put in their notice and leave that day job. Or earning peanuts writing for content mills, because it’s easy.

Loads of people want to be freelance writers. They read books, they read blogs, they take classes.

But when it’s time to actually get out there and market your freelance services and find clients, or time to do some writing…nothing happens.

Something is missing. To understand what it is, you first need to understand this:

Here’s what freelance writing really is

Writers love to dance around this and say it’s all about our creativity, our freedom, our muse, writing about what we want. To which I say, baloney.

That’s writing a novel. Being a freelance writer is something else.

Freelance writers are in business. Plain and simple.

Maybe you didn’t lease a storefront, but you are in business just the same. Your family’s ability to eat rides on your success.

And all business involves one key ingredient. If you don’t have this, your freelance business cannot succeed.

To circle back, why has that new writer not taken the plunge? They were so excited by the idea of freelance writing, after all.

It’s because they had an insight about what this path will entail — and it stopped them dead in their tracks.

Leaving the ‘secure’ world of corporate employment and starting their own business involves taking a risk.

So they make their plans, but then, when it comes right down to it, they balk.

Why? Because they don’t see themselves as risk-takers. Instead, they are risk-averse.

Without the willingness to take risks, you cannot make a go of this freelance writing thang. It will fizzle and die on you.

3 Ways to take the fear away

Fear of risk is the death knell for aspiring freelance writers. If you want to do this, you have to take risks. So you’ll need to build up your tolerance for risk.

Here are three tips on that:

1) Reframe the question

You’re thinking that embarking on a freelance career is a big risk. Now, flip the equation. How much of a risk is it to stay in your current job? Or if you are writing for content mills, how secure is that situation?

Corporations are increasingly fickle when it comes to their workforce. You could be out on the street in the next economic downturn, or just because a new boss doesn’t like you. Any random reason, really.

The content mill could close or change their rules. Happens all the time.

Yet most people think of having a steady job as the ‘safe’ option, and marketing their freelancing as the ‘risk.’

My experience coaching laid-off writers for nearly a decade now says that’s wrong.

Also, when you look five or ten years down the road, what do you want to see? How about at the end of your life?

You can look back and regret how you stayed stuck in a job you hated, or be reflecting with satisfaction on the fulfilling life you’ve had, living your dream career.

For those of us with kids, there’s also the question of what you’re modeling. Do you want to show them they should go for their dreams, and they can achieve whatever they set their minds to? Well, that message will be stronger if you’re doing that in your own life instead of punching a time clock.

When you think about it that way — with the long view of how you are spending the precious moments of your life — taking a ‘risk’ on freelancing seems less scary.

Writers who worry about the risk of putting their work out there are worrying about the wrong thing.

2) Understand inaction

Most risk-averse writers I know dither and procrastinate a lot. They keep trying to edge their way around their fears, to stay safe, to keep from doing the scary stuff that might fail.

And they are missing an important fact: Not taking action is also a risk.

It may feel safer, but it’s not. It’s just another form of risk.

While you are not moving forward, others are. Prospective clients who might have loved to work with you are finding someone else. New competitors are sharpening their skills, learning about industry changes from interacting with clients, and doing their marketing.

Each day you don’t act, you get older, and farther away from your goal. Because inaction breeds more fear.

In the vacuum of inactivity, you think up more reasons why it’s too risky. What will I do for healthcare? you think. How will I pay for my kids’ college?

Stop thinking you’re playing it safe by waiting and watching. In fact, you’re risking your chance to make freelance writing your career, every moment you wait.

3) Take calculated risks

As it happens, I am a fairly conservative person when it comes to risk-taking. So this third one is something that’s really worked for me.

You can do things to lessen your risk. For instance, finding the next, better-paying client before you drop the lower-paying one.

You can also find mentors, or join a writer community where you can learn more and avoid the freelance pitfalls. That knowledge reduces your risk that actions you take will flop or be a waste of time.

Like the writer I just heard from this week, who reported she’d wasted a year bidding on Elance gigs and only landed three of them. She wanted to know whether I thought bid sites were a waste of time! Only someone with no mentors or writer network could have wasted that much time without wising up.

With some savvy in your corner, you’re not taking foolish risks where you end up starving. You are taking considered, well-thought out risks.

You learn to go after clients you have the best chance of getting. You figure out the marketing method that works best for you, because you’re willing to risk trying out a few things and learning from the results.

This as sane, smart risk-taking. As you learn more, you build the confidence to bet on yourself.

Take little leaps

You can condition yourself to risk by starting small. Think of it as jumping over a puddle before you try to tightrope walk over the Grand Canyon.

Maybe it’s sending one query letter, or posting one blog comment. Writing a 300-word article for your local newspaper.

Make a list of small risks you could take to move your freelance writing business forward. Then, start checking them off.

You want to start exercising your risk muscle because as you build a freelance career, you’re going to need it.

Because take it from me — the risks only get bigger as you become more successful. As your portfolio builds, you have a reputation that could be damaged if you screw up.You end up with thousands of blog readers who stand ready to applaud — or trash you — each time you post.

You decide to invest money to produce an ebook – money you may or may not get back. But it’s good to invest in yourself to grow your writing business. It’s a smart risk you should take that could provide an ongoing income.

To sum up, it’s all risk. Every moment of life is, really.

Each stage of building a good freelance income will bring new risks.The more practice you get at taking risks, the better you get at developing your spidey-sense of what choices will pay off best for your freelance business.

So get used to risk now. Stretch your risk muscles and learn to tolerate that feeling of discomfort you get just before you jump. That’s the missing skill that takes your freelance writing career straight to the top.

What risks have you taken in your freelance writing business? Leave a comment and tell us about it.