desk with laptop and apple laptop -- a freelance writing setup
Small Business & Productivity

One Year Down as a Freelance Writer — Here’s What I’ve Learned

Today, February 18th, marks the one year anniversary of the day I started freelancing. Over the past 12 months, I’ve worked with about 35 different clients, set up this website and blog, and learned a ton about writing, marketing, and SEO. 

There is still so much to learn, but I wanted to jot down a few of the lessons that working as a freelance writer has taught me since I started, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, back in February 2019. 

Having a niche is good…except when it isn’t

I like to write for the food, beverage, and hospitality industries because it’s the field where I have the most interest and experience. I find having that expertise very helpful when pitching my services to new restaurant or hotel clients. 

But if I had only written within those industries in the past year, my income would have suffered. A full third of my clients have been outside of my niche. I’ve written for real estate agents, a book publisher, a marketing firm, a staffing agency, and more. Some of those have been steady, repeat customers.

So it’s important to stay open to other opportunities. You never know when that odd one-off project could become a steady source of income.

Save your pennies

December was a killer month. I made the most I’d made in one month to date, and ended the year on a high note. I increased my monthly Roth IRA contributions and started to think about growth. 

Then January rolled around, and my two biggest clients decided to step back from regular blogging for a while. These two clients represented 75% of my income in December.

Crap.

Fortunately, I have savings to get me through lean times. And I have great relationships with my past clients. Through some outreach to both former and prospective clients, I was able to make up much of the difference. But if I hadn’t had savings to soften the blow, it could have been a real anxiety spiral. 

One great month doesn’t mean the next six months will also be great. So squirrel away your earnings for the inevitable rainy day (or month). 

gif of a monkey counting his money
It me.

ABM – Always Be Marketing

This has been one of my biggest challenges. 

When I have client deadlines looming, it’s very easy to become laser-focused on only doing the work that makes money. The problem with that, as I was reminded in January, is that if some of those clients go away, you don’t have new clients coming in to replace them. 

To help with this, I have started doing “Marketing Tuesdays.” This is when I work on my business blog, reach out to new clients, update my website, and work on long term projects. 

A full day dedicated to marketing work represents 20% of my work week. And it still isn’t enough. But by blocking it out on my schedule, I’m able to fit in these important tasks that would otherwise be pushed back indefinitely.

Stay agile

When you don’t have a boss, you’re making the rules and deciding what your priorities are. That means you have to decide what’s important in marketing, client outreach, continuing education, and administrative work. And unless you’re a top-of-field expert in all of those things, you’re going to prioritize the wrong things on occasion.

That is okay. 

When you realize that you’re spending time on something that isn’t working or isn’t serving your business goals, it’s time to let it go. 

Two recent examples: I started an Instagram account for my copywriting business, but it really wasn’t growing. I just didn’t have the time to devote to it. Plus, I don’t get much joy out of social media. Finally, at the end of 2019, I decided to stop updating it. I still have the account, and I may go back to it when I feel that I’ll be able to do it well. But right now, there are other things that are more important. 

The other thing I had to drop was a content marketing course that I was taking online. After spending hours watching videos and reading ebooks for the class, I realized that I just wasn’t getting much out of it. So I saved a few of the best resources from the online portal and just let it go.

Staying agile with your commitments and letting them go when they’re not serving you is an important part of managing your schedule and making the most of your limited hours.

Protect your time

One of the benefits of a freelance job setup is the flexibility that I have over my schedule. When I first started, I imagined the occasional long lunch with friends on a Friday or taking my pup for a nice long afternoon walk. 

My Yorkshire Terrier with her face on the dining room table asking for a walk.
Walkies?

But I learned very quickly that it’s vital to protect your working hours. 

There are things that I’ll do during my workday — get an oil change, start a load of laundry,  pick up my grocery order. But every 30-minute errand delays the end of my day. Instead of finishing at 6:30pm, I’m now finishing at 7pm. 

My vision of lunches with friends and midday walks hasn’t quite come to fruition. Maybe someday. 

Change the view

I do most of my work from my home office. I have a comfortable chair, a second computer monitor, plenty of coffee, and very few distractions. 

But sometimes, I’ll find myself absolutely beating my head against the wall when I’m trying to complete a piece of work for a client. My notes are a jumble and I can’t come up with a good throughline that will tie it all together. I’ve spent 3 hours in the planning stages and I haven’t written an actual word. 

Often the solution is a change of scenery. Checking the mail, taking the dog outside, or packing up and moving to a coffee shop can be a major game-changer when I’m stuck. What doesn’t help is sitting at my desk, staring at my computer, hoping the problem will suddenly solve itself. 

So do I like it?

Very much. I have a lot of working years ahead of me, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go back to a traditional job. 

I love the new challenges, the 10-step commute, writing all day, and the peace and quiet. It’s not for everyone. But it’s a great fit for me. 

If you’re struggling through those first doubtful freelancing months, just hang on and keep hustling. 

Cheers to the lessons to come in Year 2!

A cocktail in a blue-rimmed glass with a lime wedge
Cheers!
There are some things I was mentally prepared for when I started working for myself, and some things that took me by surprise. Here are some of the lessons that I've learned through the past 365 days of working for myself.

One Comment

  • Sharon

    This year has gone by quickly. Its wonderful that you are seeing success and are able to make those sometimes scary decisions. Knowing when and where to look for answers can be frightening Im sure. Also you learn a lot about yourself. ?? Keep up the good work and congratulations on this 1st anniversary ❤❤

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