Leap Into Freelancing — Even if You’re Living Paycheck to Paycheck

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Leap into freelancing — even if you’re broke. Makealivingwriting.comI didn’t plan on leaving my job to become a freelance writer with next to no money and my 6-year-old laptop.

I had a 5-year goal to become a “real” writer, but my plans had to change. I was too tired and burned out with my career in addiction services — my stress level reached a point where it started affecting both my physical and mental health.

When I talked about quitting my job to write, people thought I was crazy. Maybe I was. I had less than $500 in my savings account, a house, a car payment, and three kids. My husband was a year into his business and barely turning a profit.

The time seemed anything but right, yet I made it work. My kids didn’t starve, my car wasn’t repossessed, and over a year later, I’m still writing full time.

Here are my tips on how to become a full-time freelance writer without a safety net:

Give yourself time

Once I decided to leave, I gave two months’ notice to my employer. This short timeframe actually worked better for me than the 5-year plan. Five years was too long to spur real action toward my goals.

Knowing I was only two months away from leaving my job forced me into serious planning mode. Procrastination wasn’t an option.

I was going to be out of work — and income — soon. I had to get ready.

Live on less

Since I expected a drop in income, I set out to cut expenses.

I cut satellite TV and switched to a lower-cost phone data plan. Grocery bills were cut with couponing and meal planning. I canned, preserved food, and made my own laundry detergent. Instead of department stores, I shopped at consignment shops. Barter reduced expenses, too — I traded writing services, eggs, whatever I could, to get the things I needed.

I cut my average monthly expenses by about $1,350, which helped us get by.

If you’re serious about starting a freelance career, but your checking account can’t seem to hit four digits, see what expenses you can cut. It’s amazing what you can live without.

Find hidden money

To help make those initial ends meet, I sold things on eBay, from an old iPod to my daughter’s outgrown clothes. I found old savings bonds and turned them in.

Still concerned about unpredictable income, I cashed out my 403(b) and tucked it in a savings account, creating a six-month cushion in case I needed it. I did end up using some of these funds, but not much. (I’m not saying this is the best choice for everyone, but for me, cashing in my retirement fund was the right fit.)

When you want to become a freelance writer and you’re short on cash, look for it in even the most unlikely places — make the things you don’t need work for you.

Go beyond your passions

Before I started freelancing full-time, I’d been writing on topics I was passionate about, and I was naive enough to believe it would continue. But it didn’t.

Instead, I wrote about employee surveys, tendonitis, and even how paint dries (not kidding!). While not the most exciting topics, these entry-level writing jobs paid the bills.

When I start freelancing, I quickly learned that you don’t have to write about your passion to be passionate about writing. Look for writing jobs beyond your immediate interests and a whole range of possibilities arise.

Market your butt off

I was writing for content mills when I quit my job, but I knew that wasn’t my goal.

On days I wasn’t writing, I was marketing. I’d spend six hours sending my best samples to companies I found on job boards. I handed out business cards to everyone I met at my small town’s business expo.

Within two weeks, I had three paying clients. Admittedly, I was only getting $20 an article, but it was better than the content mills were paying, and these jobs gave me the opportunity to gather clips and references, the exact thing I needed to break into better earning jobs.

Quitting your job to become a freelance writer isn’t easy, especially when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, but it is possible. I know, because I did it.

With a little planning and a lot of motivation, you can, too.

How did you make the leap to freelance writing? Tell us in the comments below.

Molly Carter is a freelance writer who specializes in health & wellness, medical, addiction & mental health, sex & relationships, outdoor recreation, and more.

101 Comments

  1. Martha Mayo

    Hi Molly,

    What an informative post!

    Thank you so much for your example of great writing, plus sharing your knowledge and experience.

    Much appreciated:)

  2. Tomi Joshua

    Hi, Molly. Great post! I really related to the bit about being passionate about writing even when you’re not writing about topics you’re passionate about. Most times, it’s all about doing whatever is necessary so you can pay the bills.

  3. Joshua

    Quitting a full-time job to become a “real” writer can be daunting. Try telling people who you are closely related to that you are quitting your job to start a freelancing business and they’ll give that doubting look that says “Will you really make a living writing?”

    I have no doubt that there are so many people who make a living from freelance writing.

    It’s important to acknowledge that there will be a drop in income so that one knows the expenses to cut.

    Your tips are realistic.

  4. Amy

    Thank you so much for your post! I am in a similar situation to the one you described and I am terrified to make this leap! You have helped me find the courage to go for it!

    • Molly Carter

      It’s scary, Amy. And there were days in the beginning that I really didn’t know if it was going to work out. But I stuck to it, put my neck out, and didn’t give up just because one (or five) things didn’t work out. Now, I can’t imaging going back to a day job. The idea makes me sick to my stomach. Good luck on your venture!

    • Rhonda

      One more comment, if I may? I’m launching my freelance business in May, website and all (glup!). Just from reading a ton of blogs, it seems that in order to make what you need to quit the day job, you need to have ebooks and courses, which appear to be the real income stream that gives you this independence? Is that true, for the most part? Thanks!

    • Carol Tice

      Rhonda, that’s so not true. I was earning a full-time living entirely from freelancing for YEARS. And when I say full-time living, I mean $60,000-$100,000.

      Not everyone is cut out to teach, or to self-publish, or deliver courses online, and marketing and actually earning from those things is HARD WORK and extremely time-consuming. Just take a look at my post Wednesday about what I’m doing to launch my current e-book for a sample! I think a lot of experts like to make it seem like it’s a snap, but it’s not.

      Most freelance writers aren’t writing blogs and selling courses — they’re busy serving their clients.

    • Rhonda

      That is so good to know, thank you Carol. And by the way, I’m learning tons from your site – I’ve was recently given access into The Den – and feel so much more empowered with the knowledge I’m finding there. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us. It has made me feel even more confident in my abilities – I’m a 20-year career professional at a daily newspaper and I’m extremely burned out. I want to do something for me, now, and I know I’ll enjoy the continued interaction with people who will be clients. I’m slowly finding the best support from career freelancers, and The Den will be a part of that, I’m sure.

    • Carol Tice

      I think learning to run your own freelance business NOW, before your paper lays you off because they’re all shrinking, is smart, Rhonda. 😉 Glad the Den is helping you make it happen!

  5. Eva Suwek

    Hello, I loved this article! Great advice. You’d mentioned that you looked at job boards – which ones did you use or recommend?

    • Molly Carter

      Well, if you’re a member at the Den, the one there is great. I’ve gotten two jobs off of it just this year. Maybe even three? I also scour Problogger and BloggingPro. When I first started, I used FreelanceWritingGigs all the time, but you get a lot of Craigslist ads.

    • Carol Tice

      When I first started, I looked at FWG a lot, too! But I soon learned it was mostly a waste of time…too many junky scammy ads.

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