How to Become a Freelancer – Even With a Tight Budget
It wasn’t always my plan to become a freelance writer.
I was going to go back to school, and get my B.S. degree.
However, the stress of finding a job in a completely new state was overwhelming. As someone with a speech impediment, I had to deal with numerous prospective managers believing I was incompetent, mentally handicapped, or otherwise unfit for the position. The stress was starting to adversely affect both my mental and physical health.
When I told my husband I was just going to put my love of writing to some good use, he was extremely supportive. He didn’t really see how I could make a living writing, but he knows I am able to accomplish anything that truly motivates me. If I want it bad enough, I’m going to get it.
It wasn’t always easy to get clients, and I started out making the equivalent of less than minimum wage. I thought writing for content mills was only type of freelancing available. I was a newbie, and didn’t know how to turn a profit.
As with any other type of challenge, I threw myself into it full-force, without any extra money set aside to get the ball rolling. Now, my freelancing is a full-time business I am proud of.
Here are my tips for becoming a full-time freelancer on a tight budget:
Dedicate Time to Growing Your Business
Once I decided I wanted to turn my freelancing into an actual business, I dedicated five hours per day to it. I created editorial calendars, came up with ideas for blog posts, learned how to pitch clients, and more.
I set up my office, and made sure my work area was both fun and functional. One of the benefits of working for myself is that I don’t have to adhere to office stipulations and boring décor rules. As such, my work areais full of posters, action figures (including a Jareth, Sigmund Freud, and Lego Spider-Man), a picture of my husband, and more. It’s fun to be there, and it really does inspire me. No matter how many clients I get, my work area reminds me to always be myself. I represent my brand, and I don’t want to lose that authenticity.
Dedicating time to growing my business forced me to take some serious steps toward planning. I had to implement things I learned from working in business/sales/retail, and apply them to my own business. Procrastination was simply not an option – if you don’t put in the work, you don’t get paid.
Focus on the Essentials
When I first set up my office, I set out to cut frivolous expenses. I didn’t have much to cut, really, but I was able to sell some things and cut out the daily cup of Starbucks for a while. Even though it was delicious, it really wasn’t feasible.
I kept track of all of my earnings in an Excel spreadsheet, so I could see where the majority of my income was coming from. I created a contract to use with all of my clients, and ended up dropping my lowest-paying client.
Focusing on the essentials also means focusing on using my time wisely. It didn’t make much business sense to be doing the same amount of work for Client A as I was for Client B, but for only half the price. I knew I was worth more than that, and I adjusted my rates and client list accordingly.
If you are serious about turning your freelancing into a career, see what expenses you can cut out of your monthly budget. When you can, drop your lowest client. Use that extra time to market yourself even more, and find a better-paying client to replace your old one.
Remember: You Can’t Always Write What You Love
Before I got serious about my freelancing, I’d pretty much only wrote on topics I loved, or that I was passionate about. I wrote about gaming, fandom-related things, coffee, and anything else that sparked my interests. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much for my wallet.
When I turned my freelancing into a full-time business, I wrote about everything from steel mills to real estate investments. While not all of my topics were as thrilling as gaming (few things are), they paid the bills and built up my portfolio.
Now, I am able to combine Things I Love with Things That Pay the Bills. I love business and marketing, and feel incredibly fortunate that I get to write on these topics each day.
When you start freelancing – or at least get serious about it – you will learn you don’t have to write about your biggest passions in order to love your job. Look for writing assignments beyond your immediate passions, and you will see a whole slew of opportunities open up for you.
You can also incorporate your passions into your pitches, and combine several topics to create one “master” topic that you are passionate about. The possibilities are pretty much endless.
Never Stop Marketing Yourself
When I first started freelancing, I was writing for content mills. I knew that wasn’t my ultimate goal, but I had no idea how to get past them. Where do I find jobs that pay more than $0.04 per word?? Do they REALLY exist???
That’s when I engaged in some self-education.
On days when I wasn’t writing, I was constantly marketing myself. I took opportunities to gather clips and references, pitched new clients, and kept a whole list of topics I could take unique angles on. I learned how to write letters of introduction, how to pitch, what editors are looking for, and more. Doing this was the exact thing I needed to do in order to get the better-paying jobs I was looking for.
It’s not easy to become a freelancer, especially if you are in a situation where money is an issue, but it is certainly possible. I did it.
If you are dedicated and motivated, you can, too.
How did you become a freelancer? Tell me in the comments below.
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