What it REALLY Takes to Be a Successful Freelance Writer

What it REALLY Takes to Be a Successful Freelance Writer - picture of woman's hands on laptop keyboard with coffee cup on table

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Pardon while I go MIA for a few days.  I’ll be back soon, I promise!  In the meantime, please enjoy this guest post from Alexa at SingleMomsIncome.com.

As a Club Thrifty enthusiast, you’re probably drawn in by the allure of freelance writing. Especially, since Holly totally rocks at it. I’ll admit, sometimes she makes it seem like earning a high income each month is easy.  Well, it’s not.

While Holly is now making a good living as a freelance writer, she has paid her dues and put in a ton of hard work. And, now that I am in situation similar to where she was months ago, working a day job, freelancing, and on the verge of exhaustion, I respect and admire her for what she has accomplished today.

So, if you want to get started with freelancing or have the idea that the freelance life is all fun and glamour, I want to give you a sneak peek into what it really takes.

You Have to Work Your Ass Off

When I first decided I want to get started freelance writing, I was clueless as to how to get jobs. I spent hours upon hours experimenting with different marketing strategies until I found out what worked. At this stage, almost all of my time was spent just trying to get jobs.

Once I landed my first couple of gigs a ripple effect took place. All of a sudden, I started getting job after job.   Now I am pretty much booked solid.

Real work-from-home jobs aren’t easy. It will take you a lot of time, trial, and error before you can build your freelance job pool up enough to amount to anything. You have to be willing to put in a lot of unpaid initial work.

You Have to Make Sacrifices

Freelance careers take to time to build up. That means you have to keep your day job at first and freelance on the side. Since a regular 9-5 takes up so much of your time, you’ll have to spend your “free time” working.

Lately, I have worked at least twelve to sixteen hours almost every day of the week. Since I don’t want to go full-time freelancing without having a rock solid emergency fund, this is a sacrifice I have to make. Luckily, it’s only temporary.

In order to become successful, you are going to have to give up at least a portion of your social life, free time, and sleep. Once you build up an adequate savings buffer and a steady supply of work, you can plan your full-time freelance date.

You Have to Have Faith

Perhaps the hardest part about making the switch to self-employment is having the faith that you will be able to survive on your freelance income. You need to be confident that if you were to lose one or two gigs that you’d be able to replace them relatively quickly. You also need to have the funds to carry you over until you do find more work.

This is probably the hardest part for me. But since I almost have the $10,000 buffer I wanted before quitting my day job, I have to find my faith. And, as Holly has told me a couple of times once I make the switch, I will have more time to devote to freelancing and therefore be able to earn more money.

I should be a full-time freelance within the next two months. This is scary and exciting at the same time.

Do You Have What it Takes?

Freelancing is not all puppies and rainbows. It’s hard work that requires you to make a lot of sacrifices -especially in the beginning. While freelancing can be very lucrative and fun, it takes a while before you can call it a career.

What do you think? Do you want to be a freelancer? What else does it take to be a full time freelancer?

Alexa is a freelance writer and blogger. She chronicles her journey as a single mother trying to make it big at Single Moms Income.


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  1. I’m not sure freelance writing would be my thing, but in general the thought of freelancing has a lot of appeals. I’m definitely not under any illusions that it would be easy though. You’ve done an impressive job ramping up your workload very quickly Alexa. It’s been fun to watch.

  2. I am a freelance translator and recently quit my fulltime day job to become a fulltime freelancer. Scary, but great! I was wondering if you could elaborate further on getting new clients. Did you browse CL or sites like odesk.com? How did you do it?

    1. Congratulations! I not familiar with the rates clients pay on Odesk or Elance for translation but for writing they are just way too low. I check Problogger and Craigslist regularly for jobs but I have actually got more jobs just reaching out directly to blog owners. I’ve definitely had the best luck by hunting down my own clients.

      1. I agree, getting my own clients works best for me as well. They pay much better and you can deal with them directly, rather than (in my case) through translation agencies. Thanks for your reply!

  3. I would love to be a freelance writer someday, but I realize that I just don’t have the time for it right now, as I’m already combining full time studies and a job, which is hard enough. I do love to write though, so I think I will focus on my own blog for the moment:-) but then again, I wouldn’t say no to a writing assignment if it came my way.

    1. My very first writing job was for a company who asked me to write for them after they saw my blog. After that I was pretty much hooked!

  4. I’m discovering more and more how difficult writing is, especially as a person who is not naturally gifted in this area. I don’t think I’d ever choose to go freelance. It’s difficult enough to keep up with my own posting schedule!

    1. I can definitely understand that. A year or two ago I would have never wanted to be a writer but the more I’ve done it the more it has grown on me and now I really enjoy it.

  5. I’m not sure freelancing is for me but it’s obvious you have an incredible passion to be that full-time. I’ve read how tough it’s been but you are almost there. Keep up the great work! It will be worth it in the end.

  6. So happy to see you guest post here, Alexa! I know there have been a number of bloggers who are trying to write full-time and it’s fun to see the transition. It definitely takes sacrifice and you really do have to work extra hard to get established (and to keep your job – quality content doesn’t come out of thin air). I am happy writing and hiring writers for my site for now, but if I was blogging full-time I would definitely be looking to write for as many other sites as I could!

    1. It definitely takes a lot of work but it’s also fun and can be very lucrative if enough time is put in.

  7. Very true, it’s easy to read great numbers from people who have made the transition but forget all the hours that have been put in to get there.

  8. So excited for you, Alexa, that you’re almost at the quitting point for your day job!!! Wonderful tips here. Thanks for telling it like it is!

  9. That’s very cool Alexa! We’ve dealt with a bit of this ourselves with our business and I think you’re spot on. It does take a lot of hard work and you do give up a lot to try and make it work, but it can be worth it in the long run once you’re able to establish a solid base. Keep up the great work!

  10. Being an optometrist pays better than freelancing could, even if I was awesome and rocked every job, so I don’t think I could ever quit that completely. However, if I can make x amount of money from writing and blogging, that’s less days I have to be in the office. If I wasn’t so invested in my day job, sure. Working from home is very appealing. It is very exciting to see you make your transition.

    1. Definitely understand where you’re coming from. If I had a decent day job I probably would have never even thought about freelancing. For me though, freelance writing means a lot better pay than what I get from the 9-5.

  11. I’m a huge believer in working hard. I think that if you are willing to work your ass off, you’ll benefit in the long run.

  12. It’s a nice side thing for me but not something I would want to be (or could hack) doing FT. I have nothing but admiration for you guys!

  13. Alexa!! Nice article! My wife and I work for ourselves. I fear that most peeps only see the time off and flexible sched we now have and either ignore or don’t bother to ask about how we got there. The hustling is a lot of work and energy, but it is worth our freedom. Love your long-term attitude! Have a kiwi Monday!!!

    1. Thanks, CJ! While I do think there is more flexibility for those who work for themselves it’s a double edge sword. You have a ton of commitments and your free time only comes when those commitments are fulfilled. Otherwise you’d be out of jobs.

  14. I think one big misconception to freelancing is people think you’ll be working for yourself and not the man and life is great. I hate to tell them, but clients ARE the man. And all the responsibility if stuff goes wrong falls on you, not the company as a whole, so you end up bending over backwards sometimes, even when you don’t want to. The upside is that if you have an awful client you can hopefully keep looking for better ones and eventually drop the nasty one. But you also do have to get used to having several “bosses” with different personalities.

    1. Yes! Right now I am trying to fill my list with clients that I like working for. While I do like the majority of the people I write for right now there’s also a couple who I feel don’t exactly fit my vibe. I am hoping to get to a place where I love all of the people I work for.

  15. Hi Alexa,

    I’ve actually been trying out this thing where I’m trying to produce just as many self-written posts as my ghost writer is making in an effort to save money. And I can agree with all your points above. You do end up working your butt off and having to make sacrifices.

    The only silver lining I can offer is that it helps to get into a rhythm or equation. For example I picked up a great tip on Think Traffic where you start your post from the middle and work towards an ending and beginning. This is something that has really cut down a lot of editing time for me.

    1. I do that sometimes too. If I have a good idea but can’t think of a good intro I start with the sections I’m ready to write. There’s no point in wasting time trying to think of a great opening and closing when you know what the beef of the post will be anyway. I 100% agree that this is the best writing time saver ever.

  16. Alexa, I LOVE that your switch date is sounding more like it’s two months away instead of in January! (Insert shriek of excitement) Good luck and keep it up!!

    1. I am thinking it will be sooner than I thought…..:D

  17. This is a great post and gets to one of the questions I left in a comment here recently: I’m trying to get some sense of what sort of hourly rate a successful freelancer can expect. I’m curious to know what a successful and efficient freelancer who worked 4-6 hours a day could expect to earn. Can you shed some light on this? Thanks and, again, great post!

    1. My goal is to earn a minimum of $30 an hour freelancing. I always take pay per project assignments and won’t do them unless I think I can net at least $30 an hour. While this is my minimum I also have times where I earn $80 an hour. So, I think I earn close to $45 an hour on average, but I’m also just a beginner. With time I hope to get higher paying assignments plus get faster at writing which will equate to higher pay. I have read a lot of other freelancers won’t work for less than $100/hour.

      1. B Ririe @ The Wealth Gospel says:

        What do you mean by beginner? How long have you been freelancing and how long have you been writing in general?

  18. Hey Alexa and thanks for an awesome post 🙂

    I’m pleased that you put it all on the table. The danger is that while many make freelancing seem easy, there way of doing things won’t necessarily work for everyone.

    We need to work through this career choice based on our own skill sets and creativity and there’s no guarantee of anything, no matter who we imitate.

    Thanks for the honesty.

    Take care and all the best.


    1. Yes I agree. Everyone is different and works differently. That’s why its so important to find your strengths and use them to your advantage.

  19. As much as I would love to work for myself, I don’t think I would enjoy the instability of it. Having no steady income and being unsure what the next month will bring, does not sound very appealing to me. Having said that, a big emergency fund will perhaps make me feel much better and willing to make the switch! Good luck, Alexa, I hope the switch goes well! 😛

    1. I about have my emergency fund complete which makes me feel much better. I understand where you’re coming from also. For me I am not taking much of a risk. I make peanuts at my day job and don’t have a single benefit. I think even a bad month freelancing will probably be better than what I am earning now.

  20. Congrats Alexa on your success, that is awesome! I would love to freelance more but I have a hard time with being told what I have to write about. Is that a problem you have run into?

    1. For the pf blogs I write on I come up with my own ideas. Sometimes it can be hard to think of a bunch of different topics each week. My biggest client gives me topics and I run with them. It’s more boring but I can also move a lot quicker when I already know what I am writing about.

  21. B Ririe @ The Wealth Gospel says:

    Planning on it 🙂 Just started my blog a month ago and I have at one small gig writing on a regular basis. It doesn’t pay a lot, but it’s getting me a little exposure.

  22. I love the concept of pay for your time. Writing is independent of location and allows us to work anywhere.

  23. Todd @ Fearless Dollar says:

    I freelance for Modest Money, and I’ve found that doing that and writing for my own sites puts me at my writing max. I just have exhausted my personal finance creativity. I still love writing for Fearless Men, but it takes a shove of energy for me to sit down and really get cranking on PF stuff.

  24. That’s awesome you will be freelance full time soon! I would love to do freelancing more and will try to secure my first gig.

  25. No doubt this is a topic that you have a lot of experience with. I can absolutely vouch for the “patience” side of the equation, as there will always be super-fast and super-slow times.

  26. Steve Miller says:

    Hey Alexa

    I have been freelancing for 14 years now. The jump to fulltime is scary but you are approaching it with a well-developed strategy and money in reserve. I am certain that within a few months you will be wondering why you ever had any doubts.

  27. I’ve been a freelance writer for years, but did not go full time until a year ago during my youngest’s senior year in high school. It has been quite an adjustment for my family since I’m no longer available at their beck and call.

  28. So excited and proud that we will both be full time freelancers in two months. It’s a long, difficult journey but so much fun too! Congrats!

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