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Starting a Freelance Writing Business: What I Wish Someone Told Me

EYE Tyler

Are you in the midst of starting a freelance writing business? If so, then you’ve likely noticed how many DECISIONS there are to make!

Whether you’re learning the basics or you’re looking to grow, I hope you’ll find some encouragement from my story.

Why I Started My Freelance Writing Business

As Christmas 2023 drew near, I felt anything but good cheer. I had lost my job for reasons I couldn’t control despite giving it my all and had become so accustomed to working at all hours that sitting on my couch and catching up on frivolous content, which I had previously put on the backburner due to work, had become an anxiety-inducing experience. 

My insecurities, like a horde of zombies, gnawed at my brain, infecting me with what-ifs I couldn’t seem to shake.

What if I never amount to anything?

What if my only purpose is to end up at some dead end job for the rest of my days?

What if….

A wisp of wisdom struggling to hold on despite the winds of change blowing through my life snagged on a branch of consciousness that I didn’t realize held firm. It whispered through my mind a bit of advice from a former coworker, “Turn your negatives into positives.”

I blinked. Was changing my mindset really that simple?

A what-if zombie bit me right in the feels, What if it doesn’t work?

What if it does?

BANG! One zombie, dead. 

What if you end up back in some corporate hell hole?.. What if I create my own paradise, a company to call my own?

BANG! Another one, gone from my head.

What if nobody hires you?

What if I have more prospective clients than I know what to do with?

But where do I begin? I don’t know, I don’t have anyone to guide me, but I’m done with this pity party for one; I’m sure I can figure this out! 

After all, I needed  to do something, anything, before I went stir crazy and found a rock rather than a seated cushion under my bottom. I needed to be brave enough to step out on my own.

You may be in the same boat right now. 

If that’s the case, here’s a paddle my friend.

Here are five things I wish someone had told me so you can succeed while starting a freelance writing business

1. Diversify, Specialize, and Work No Matter What

During a consultation with my editor, Richard Thomas, I confessed that one day I wanted to be just like him. I wanted to write for a living––imagine if you will, a pause for dramatic effect and the distant twinkling fairy dust.

Right, now that my secret is out of the way, I can tell you that he responded with a smile and an understanding nod, before proceeding to reframe my starry-eyed lenses with a scope that encompassed reality.

The truth is, freelance writers seldom make a living writing in one particular niche or form. Rather, they learn to be flexible and adapt to multiple niches, which allows them to have various streams of income pouring in at any given time.

So, what does this mean for you? Do you need to go out and take every course under the sun and earn every certification about writing available? Do you need to know it all to be able to do it all?

No and no, and this is the part I wish someone told me.

Over the years, my biggest hang up was my confidence. I always had some excuse, in particular education.

“I don’t have an MFA so nobody will hire me,” is another zombie that needs to be shot, and the school of hard knocks should be considered as a platform for learning too.

If you find someone looking for work that involves putting fingers to the keyboard or pen to paper, but you’re unfamiliar with the subject matter, style or format, then put your firefighter gear on and prepare to learn by trial.

Now, I’m not dismissing education.

It’s great to have that piece of paper that gives you credibility. But in the end, things like certifications only get you so far, and what success in freelance writing boils down to is your ability to demonstrate that you’re capable of getting quality work done in a timely fashion, no matter what. 

To be successful in this industry, you need to have an open mind and consider the entire process of writing—researching, outlining, drafting, revising, editing, informing, and marketing.

You need to think about content writing, copywriting, technical writing, ghost writing, social media posting, journalism, script writing, reviewers, all forms of editing, and even teaching.

When you start seeing all the ways in which people use and need writing, you begin to see that there is a world of opportunities out there waiting for you. This is why my business is called Emma Tyler Writer Services LLC, because I offer services both as a writer and to writers.

Once you realize the doors that are waiting to be opened, you need to be willing to perform any type of writing as well as any part of that process to the best of your ability for whatever topic needs to be written.

Just getting started? Be willing to write anything and everything. Be willing to edit anything and everything. Be willing to learn and teach anything and everything. Be willing to do the work no matter what.

Because so long as you have a functioning brain, fingers to carry out your trade, and the willingness to learn, you are capable of doing the job. 

An illustration of a hand holding a book and a rocket with a male strapped to it, launching into the atmosphere. The text reads Starting a Freelance Writing Business: What I Wish I Knew Before Launching

2. Understand the Order of Operations

There is nothing worse than making an appointment with a banker to open up a business account only to be told nothing can be done because you missed a step.

If you live in the United States, you can avoid this mistake by first going to your state’s Secretary of State and learning what is required to start your business. Once you have everything ironed out, you can then obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS’s official website. With these two items complete, you won’t be wasting your time with the banker when you go to open a business checking account and a business credit card.

If you’re wondering about the benefits of using a credit card over a debit card for financial transactions, I suggest you contact a certified public accountant (CPA) in your area, which you will want to do anyway so that you know how much tax to withhold from the money your business will make.

With the basics set in place, you’ll then consider services for the following activities:

  • An email service that separates business from personal
  • A finance manager or software that allows you to create invoices and obtain payment from your clients
  • A scheduler that allows both current and potential clients to book meetings
  • A service that allows you to host video conferences
  • A service that allows you to draw up legally-binding contracts

3. Document and Organize

I can’t overemphasize the importance of staying organized!

Now, does this mean you need all the cute or cool little dividers and organizers for your desk? Not necessarily.

What it does mean is you need to have some sort of system so you can find documents quickly and keep your projects together.

It may feel tedious to start with, especially if you’re not that busy, but your future self will thank you if you take a few moments to tally your business expenses, place an email received in a client’s folder, or jot a reminder on a to-do list—preferably where you can see it. 

The last thing you want while having a meeting with a potential client is struggle to find pertinent information or scramble to find your notes from your last conversation.

Don’t be like me and learn the hard way.

At one point, I read an email from a client in the middle of the night—thank you insomnia—only to misplace that email, and then the next day wonder if I dreamed it.

Talk about an awkward client experience!

Now I have folders for each of my clients in my email, spreadsheets that inform me of what clients have paid and what they owe, a calendar that has my appointments so there are no scheduling conflicts and to-do lists providing tasks and deadlines.

It should be noted that if you present yourself as organized, you will obtain brand trust because prospective clients will think, “Wow, this person has their act together, I can probably trust them with the job I need done.” 

4. Network, Pitch, Teach

“But where are these mysterious clients?”

I used to think I needed to be part of some content mill to find reliable and consistent work as a freelancer, but in truth, writing and the people who need it exist anywhere and everywhere.

Therefore, your clients are anywhere and everywhere. The secret to finding them? Networking.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Join writer groups on social media or a Discord server
  • Go to local meetups and gatherings
  • Attend conventions, summits, and hackathons
  • Talk to professors at Universities
  • Offer and maintain scheduled office hours for potential and current clients
  • Provide free workshops
  • Answer questions and participate in discussions on Quora or forums

People will pay you for one of three reasons, regardless of what industry you are in.

  1. Because they don’t know what to do, and want you to teach them
  2. Because they don’t know what to do, and want you to do it for them
  3. Because they know how to do it but have neither the time nor bandwidth to carry out the task themselves

Always be willing to introduce yourself, pitch what you have to offer, and teach what you have learned along the way. You never know when or where you’ll find a client.

5. It’s Not Easy To “Never Work”

“If you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life again,” or so I’ve been told.

What people who toss this nugget of wisdom about fail to mention is that it’s not easy to “never work again.”

In fact, it’s a lot of work, especially when you’re trying to get established.

You will work more hours than you ever did as an employee. You will have to forgo events with friends and family, stay up late to make deadlines, and be willing to work whenever opportunity strikes (even if that opportunity occurs on a weekend or holiday).

But I’m fine with all of this. I just wish someone had told me you don’t need an MFA or an MBA, you don’t need to be an expert, you don’t need all the organizers, social media influencers try to and hawk to you or even need to know everyone in the industry.

Here is what you do have to have to make it as a freelance writer:

  1. A passion for the written word
  2. A willingness to suffer and learn
  3. A desire to give every opportunity your all

If you can display these three traits, I can’t tell you that you’ll never work a day in your life again, but I can reassure you, you will succeed in the freelance writing business.

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