Tag Archives: freelance writing

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 7: LEARN TO LIVE ON A VARIABLE INCOME

Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, you’ve started earning income as a freelance writer.

Now what?

If you’ve received paychecks for more than 30 days, you’ve probably noticed that the bottom line is not the same every month. In fact, it might feel a bit like feast or famine. One week you’re scrambling to keep up with all the writing assignments. The next, you can hear crickets in your inbox.

How are you supposed to function on such a variable income?

By living on a variable budget.

So…what does that look like?

It probably looks slightly different for each person, but I’ll give you the run-down of the Nenn Pen, Ink version, and you can take it from there. Following is the method my husband and I use for budgeting with an income that changes each month. Make whatever adjustments you need to make it work for you.

1. Create Your Budget

Literally, write or type out a budget on a piece of paper (or in an app if ya wanna get all fancy). If you’ll be working on the budget with a spouse, a printed version can be easier to look at and make notes on together.

401kcalculator.org

At the top of the page, list your income for the month. Add up everything you earned to create a grand total (after taxes). This is your net income or take-home pay.

Subtract 10% for your tithe.

The remaining funds are what you must allocate to your various expenses for the month. As Dave Ramsey would say, you’re giving every dollar a name. I say, you’re telling it where to go.

To work with my fluctuating income, my husband and I have broken down our budget into three main categories. My husband, (the talented financial whiz who devised our budget) even color-coded these tiers.

Tier 1: Needs

Tier 2: Wants 

Tier 3: Wishes 

Under the needs category, list all your essentials. These are the bills that you must pay to survive. Most of them cost you nearly the same amount every month. They might include mortgage payments/rent, utilities, groceries/supplies, transportation, and communications. (The most variable item here is groceries, since you can choose steak or Ramen each night, but the fact is that you have to eat something, so it goes in this “tier one” category.)

The second tier includes items that you don’t need to survive…but life is better with them in it. Here is where we list items like AAA membership fees, life insurance premiums and haircuts. The biggest variable in this tier is “Mad Money.” No, it’s not angry. Some call it “fun money.” Others call it their entertainment budget. It’s the amount you allow yourself to spend on apple turnovers from Arby’s and overpriced popcorn at AMC. Since this amount is pretty much entirely up to you, you can easily make this line-item realistic for your income.

The final tier includes all your dreams that you dare to dream. It’s basically a breakdown of things you want to save for in the future. Once you’ve allocated dollars to fulfill all the items in tiers one and two, you put the leftovers here. This includes long-term savings for retirement as well as short-term savings for the grill you want to buy this summer. Our categories cover things like retirement, vacation, cars (for repairs and eventual replacement), house (decorations and remodeling), gifts (a benevolence fund for b-days and opportunities for generosity), and Christmas.

Important Note: If you are in debt (other than your mortgage), you probably shouldn’t have a tier 3 yet. Anything left over after your essentials should get thrown at your debt. We used the debt snowball method to get rid of our car payments and student loan debt. (I don’t recommend taking on either of those debts to begin with, by the way.)

2. Stick to Your Budget

This may seem obvious, but many don’t do it. Devise a system that will help you stick to the spending amounts you’ve indicated on your budget.

Some find cash envelope systems helpful. (Once you spend all the cash from your “grocery” envelope for the month, you’re done buying groceries!) We don’t like to carry cash, so we use an app (shocker, I know – coming from the anti-tech gal). We record each trip to the store in the grocery category, every restaurant meal in the Mad Money category, and so on. We use parts of the Every Dollar app, but I’m sure there are others. Pen and paper work, too.

The goal of your system is to remain aware of how much you are spending and know when you reach the limit. When you do, STOP spending. If there’s nothing left in the Mad Money category, don’t go bowling or order a latte. You’re done with these things until next month. Got it?

3. Review and Renew Your Budget

At the end of every month, sit down with your budget and repeat the process. Write down your actual spending next to the amount you planned to spend in each category. Hopefully the numbers match. (If you did really well, your actual spending will be less than the budgeted number!)

If necessary, make changes for the next month’s budget. Add new line items (such as new “wishes”) or remove old ones (such as debt you paid off – yeah!) Maybe you need to change the rent line-item because your landlord wants more money (sad), or change the insurance line-item because your premium went down (happy).

Again, when you complete tiers one and two, if there is anything left over, decide where you want to put it.

Remember, this “leftover” is what makes your budget variable. By working through tiers one and two, you’ve stabilized your budget to create a fairly steady or predictable system from a somewhat unpredictable income. As your pay changes each month, you’ll have more or less to put into the third tier. Allocate portions of this leftover amount to various categories in tier three until you have zero dollars left. (If it was a slow month in the writing biz, this part of the budgeting won’t take very long!)

Ummm….what?

Is all that as clear as mud? Perhaps a visual will help. Here’s the budget form we use each month. (Minus all our personal stuff, since you don’t really need to know how much we fork over to AT&T and Xfinity.) Your specific categories will obviously vary from ours, but this will give you a general idea of where to start.

The figures in parentheses are the same each month. They represent what you expect to spend in that category (tiers one and two), or what you hope to save for that category (tier 3).

Tip #1: For your utilities, use an average amount based on bills from the past year.

Tip #2: For bills you pay once each year, include 1/12 of the amount in each monthly budget. These fraction amounts will stay in your checking account until the bill is due, then the funds will be there to pay the full amount.

Tip #3: If you’re having trouble covering tier one, it’s time to go back to puttin’ on the blitz to start earning more money. You may also need to make adjustments in the categories which you can control – like Mad Money.

If you have any questions, suggestions, or simply want to vent to a fellow freelancer about your budgeting frustrations, feel free to comment below or get in touch.

Need more help getting organized as the workflow picks up? Watch for the next post:

So you wanna be a writer…Step 8: Get Organized

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 6: GET PAID

You set up shop. You had fun puttin’ on the blitz. You landed some freelance writing gigs. You even managed to get a respectable rate. Now…how do you put that money in your pocket?

You may have heard horror stories about freelance jobs. “I did all this work for a client and never got paid!” “It took me three months to get my paycheck.” “I never know when the money will come in from a job.”

I have good news and bad news.

The bad news: The stories are true. I have experienced each of these scenarios, as well as other frustrating situations, when I’ve attempted to get paid for writing work.

The good news: These stories are not the norm. They happen, but not all the time.

More good news: You can take steps to reduce the likelihood of these scenarios and simplify the process of getting paid.

Keep in mind, every freelancer has their preferred methods. We’re creative types, right? So, the odds that everyone will conform to the same pattern are roughly the same as the odds that my book sales will beat Stephen King’s.

Still, I think a few guidelines are helpful. It’s good to at least know what you’re getting into and have some basic ideas to follow. Here’s a few tips, based on my experiences with getting P.A.I.D.

P. Payment methods

Freelancing isn’t your typical 9-5 job, and it doesn’t pay the way an office job does, either. You don’t have a neat salary that is broken into 26 paychecks a year that arrive in your bank account every two weeks. That’s way too simple. Where’s the fun in that?

Getting paid for your freelancing writing requires a little more work. But, once you have a system in place, it’s not too bad. The first step is to decide what payment methods you are willing to accept. Then, set up the necessary accounts.

Common methods of payment include:

  • Check (mailed to your home address) – Yes, people still write checks. Some clients or regular employers may cut you a check. If they are a larger entity, such as a marketing firm, they probably have a service that sends these out for them. It’s also possible to receive an old-fashioned, hand-written check with your name on the “Pay To” line.
    • The pros: A paper check avoids any potential online fees. Transfers and deposits through various internet sources often stick you with flat fees or percentage fees that reduce your net pay. Those make me sad.
    • The cons: You have to add “bank deposit” to your list of errands. Don’t worry – it doesn’t take long. More importantly, if you’re working with a brand-new client, you have to trust that their check will clear. I’ve personally never received a bad check. If it’s issued by a company (as opposed to an individual), it’s especially unlikely you’ll have an issue. The other con – you have to wait for accounting to cut you a check and send it through snail mail.
  • PayPal – You can create a personal PayPal account, a business account, or both. This account allows you to receive payments online, which you can then transfer to your bank account or keep in your PayPayl account to use for other online transactions.
    • The pros: This is easy to set up and simple for clients to use. Most people are familiar with PayPal, but a client does not have to have an account to pay you. They simply need the email address you use for your account, and they can send your payment quickly and efficiently. It arrives immediately, so there’s no delay in getting paid. Yes!
    • The cons: It’s not free. It doesn’t cost anything to set up an account, but you have to give PayPal their cut of every transaction. Currently, PayPal charges 2.9% + $0.30 per payment. If you have international clients (since you can work from anywhere), that rate goes up to 4.4%. You may be able to make arrangements with each client for their account to cover the fee, or you can simply keep this reduction in mind as you set your rate.
  • Direct Deposit – There are a host of services that perform direct deposits. You can set up your own, or an employer may ask you to enroll in the one they use. This typically involves creating a login and setting up an account with their service.
    • The pros: Once you set up the account, it’s easy to get paid. You shouldn’t have to pay any fees, and the money will go right into your account (without a run to the bank).
    • The cons: You have to give out personal information about your bank account. I’ve never experienced any problems with this. But, it’s good to do a little research to vet any system you are asked to use. Ensure it’s legit, then only provide info under secure settings (don’t email your bank account info to the client).
  • Google Wallet – This app is similar to PayPal. You provide your email or phone number, and anyone can send you money (whether or not they have  the app.) If you have a Google account and debit card, this is easy to set up.
    • The pros: Similar to PayPal. You can get money quickly and simply. The big plus: it’s free.
    • The cons: Google Wallet only works for domestic clients. Anyone outside the country has to find another way to pay you. Additionally, you can use it if you are set up as a sole proprietorship, but not if you have incorporated your business.
  • Wire transfer – This involves transferring money to your bank account, but it is a different process than direct deposit. This is a service banks offer, and there’s almost always a fee.
    • The pros: It’s fast and direct, like other online transactions.
    • The cons: I don’t recommend accepting this form of payment. The bank fees are usually steep, and you will probably have to provide your bank account info directly to the client, rather than through a secure online deposit service.

A. Accounting

As you set up your payment methods and begin to collect payments, there are a few things to keep in mind.

1099s – As an independent contractor, you will receive a 1099 from employers (instead of a W2) for tax purposes. This form shows how much you earned from that client during the calendar year.

Records – Keep in mind, you must track all of your income. Not every job will result in a 1099 (and the ones you receive might not be accurate). For your own budgeting, as well as tax purposes, keep detailed records of what you earn, what you receive, and what expenses you incur.

Software – QuickBooks is a popular option for small businesses, but there are plenty of others. These systems typically allow you to invoice, track payments, prepare totals for tax time, etc. But, I’ll let you in on a little secret: You don’t have to use any of those. For many people, it might be worth the cost and effort. Personally, I like to keep things as low tech, simplified, and cheap as possible. I track all my income on spreadsheets in Excel. I use these to record my income goals, set my budget and prepare tax totals.

What’s the best method for you? That depends on your personality and budget. You’ll have to find what works best for your needs. I simply want to give you the heads up that you’ll need an organized system to stay on top of payments.

I. Invoicing

A major part of your payment system is invoicing. Again, I like to follow the trusted “keep-it-simple” mantra. When I was first starting out, I searched for an invoice template in Microsoft Word (there’s a slew of them). I chose one I liked, personalized it with my logo and info, and have been using it ever since. I tweak it to match each job and client, but it’s basically the same Word doc you see here.

As I mentioned above, you can use other bookkeeping software and online programs to create invoices for you. Choose the level of technology you prefer.

No matter what system you choose, it’s essential to stay organized and consistent. When you start working with someone, establish how and when you will invoice them for the work, how they will pay you, and when they will make payments. I have some clients whom I invoice at the completion of every project. Others, I invoice twice each month. Still others receive invoices on the 30th of every month. Some pay via PayPal. Others send me a check. I have a list of whom I need to invoice and when, and I put this information on my calendar as part of my regular to-do list.

Sound too complicated? You can decide to only accept one form of payment and send out all your invoices on the same day every month. It’s your company. Just keep in mind that working with a variety of clients will probably require some flexibility.

Also, if you’re concerned about delayed payments, include a stipulation for this. Make it clear when payments are due, and add a fee for late payments. Even if it’s just $5, it can motivate people to expedite payment.

D. Determination

My last bit of advice on getting paid is simply to persevere. You’re running your own business, so you have to have some grit. It takes effort and determination. Establish organized systems and stick to them. Adjust them as necessary as your business grows. Follow up (politely) if payments are not received by the due date. Have patience but be assertive.

Push through frustrating situations. Keep writing and invoicing. Accept now that you will occasionally encounter payment problems in the future. It goes with the territory.

If (when) you hit snags, don’t get defeated. I once had to wait three months to get paid for an article. I’ve dealt with disorganized accounting departments who are consistently slow and have sent the wrong payment amount. I’ve been hit with unexpected fees for online transactions.

You live and learn.

Ultimately, it’s all God’s anyway. The money. The time. The talent. I’ll do my part in stewarding it responsibly. If things don’t go according to plan (my plan), I can trust He’s in control and is working it all together for my good.

Once you’ve determined to press on in faith, you’ll be ready to face the next challenge. As the payments start rolling in, you’ll quickly realize that the grand total is not the same every month. With delayed payments and the ebb and flow of work availability, you must be prepared to live on a fluctuating budget. This is the next step.

So you wanna be a writer…Step 7: Learn to Live on a Variable Income

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 5: SET YOUR RATES (And Watch Out for S.E.T.)

If you serve value meals, you can count on earning at least minimum wage. When my husband was a teacher, his union helped negotiate contracts that determined his salary and raises. My brother-in-law runs his own moving business, and there are moving company regulations in place that determine what he can and can’t charge his customers.

Isn’t that nice? So many industries offer fairly clear guidelines about the wages for workers in that field. Amounts may vary by state or region, but there’s at least a standard by which employers and employees can decide what is fair.

Guess what? Freelance writing isn’t one of those industries. Sorry.

At least, that’s been my experience. To me, freelance writing seems much more…free. This comes with pros and cons. On the positive side, you can charge what you want. On the negative side, no one has to agree to your rate. Everyone’s free to say no. They can move on and find someone cheaper. Ouch.

Of course, when you first start out, you might be that cheaper person they turn to. As I mentioned in the last step, the price on your writer’s soul might be pretty low as you break into the field.

But, you have to set some standards, right? There’s no official minimum wage, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Working for nearly nothing gets you…nearly nowhere. It also brings the entire profession down with you. If people believe they can get quality writers for bargain basement rates, they’ll never be willing to pay better wages.

Still, you can’t simply charge your dream rate and expect people to line up at your website the moment it goes live. So, where do you start?

I’ve done a lot of online searching for “typical freelance writing rates” over the years and have discovered the answers are all over the map. I finally decided everyone else is just like me – still trying to figure this out.

I did find some good, specific pricing resources, such as the pay-rate chart in the Writer’s Market, which is updated every year. If you search for rates, you’ll also discover the Editorial Freelancer’s Association, which offers a rate guide, and you’ll find tools like the freelance hourly rate calculator that can help you do some quick math to help determine your rates.

Since there are hundreds of sites out there that rehash the same info, I’d just like to offer you 5 tips as you set your rates. Based on my experience, I suggest you…

1. Charge per word or per project, not per hour.

Yes, I do break this rule from time to time. Typically, though, you’ll severely limit yourself if you charge by the hour. You’re better off if you set a rate per word or quote a flat rate for a project. Why? There are only so many hours in the day. If you charge per hour, you can only make 24 times your rate each day (and that’s if you don’t sleep, eat or play with your cat). If you charge by the word or per project, you will earn more as you get faster. This pay scale also provides clients with more precise pricing. There’s no stress about the amount of time you spend on the piece and what that translates to on the client’s bill. Everyone knows up front what the final total will be.

2. Give yourself raises.

This one has been incredibly difficult for me. We don’t want to scare anyone off with rate hikes, right? But, the truth is, costs of living increase each year. You gain experience each year. If you provide quality writing and good service, it’s acceptable (and even expected) that your rates will increase over the years. Be reasonable about your increases and notify clients properly, and it’s likely they will remain loyal to the trusted, talented writer they know they can count on to deliver quality work. January 1 is a good time to adjust your rates. Send notices in December that your new rates will go into effect as of the first of the year. Here’s a sample letter:

Dear (client name),

 

Please accept this email as notification of a slight rate adjustment, effective January 1. The adjustment is a result of general cost-of-living increases over the past year. As of January 1, 2018, my per-word rate will be $0.XX.

I value you as a client and plan to continue serving you with (services you offer). If you have any questions or concerns about this increase, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

 

Thank you for the continued opportunities with (business name).

3. Don’t get stuck in a rut.

If you’ve “settled” for low rates to get started, don’t stay there! I know, searching for new writing jobs is about as much fun as…well…looking for a job, but so is feeding at the bottom forever. Get your feet wet, then look for fresh waters. Find other opportunities that pay a little bit better, then scale back on the lower paying ones. Slowly devote more time to better paying jobs, and work your way into a profitable writing career. (Yes, that’s easier to type about than to do, but I promise it’s possible!)

4. Be flexibly firm.

Set your rates, then stick to them. If you’re like me, it’s easy to waffle on your wages if you’re feeling desperate or unsure. “I really want this job, so I better low-ball my rate to get it!” If you do this every time, what was the point of setting your rates? Then again, you may be willing to work for less if it’s something you really enjoy or it offers great experience and opportunity for advancement. This is why I recommend a “flexibly firm” stance. Know what you charge. Be confident and firm in that number. Be ready to quote it when asked. Also be ready to consider slight adjustments if necessary.

5. Watch out for S.E.T.

Chris Potter/Flickr

When I first started working for Nenn Pen, Ink (myself), I encountered something I wasn’t expecting. I discovered new taxes! I learned that I now have to pay self-employment tax. Here’s the scoop: When you work for someone else, you and your employer split the required contributions to Medicare and Social Security. When you are your employer…guess what? You get to pay both halves. Lucky you! This portion of your taxes just went from around seven percent to around 15 percent. I suggest keeping this higher tax percentage in mind as you set your rates. Make sure there’s enough left over to live on. Remember, after all the federal taxes, you’ll only get to keep about 75% of what you charge a client, and you’ll have to pay state taxes on top of that.

Did I realize I’d have to pay more taxes when I started working for myself? No.

Do I enjoy paying self-employment tax for the privilege of working for myself? No.

Do I think it’s worth the extra seven or eight percent in taxes to work for myself? Heck yes.

 

This series will continue with the next logical step – reaping the fruits of your rates.

Up next: So you wanna be a writer…Step 6: Get Paid

 

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 4: CHECK THE PRICE TAG ON YOUR SOUL

Price to be a writer

As you’re puttin’ on the blitz, you’re initially looking for anything and everything that will give you writing experience.

Well, almost.

One day, as I clicked away at my laptop to create a blog post for a small-business website, I had to ask myself, “Have I sold my soul by writing for a chiropractor?”

Those who know me well have heard my soap-box beratement of this profession. I realize there are probably chiropractors who are trustworthy and effective. I’m just a bit (lot) skeptical about “see me three times a week for the rest of your life (and pay me lots of money forever) and you’ll feel…a little better.” Still, I’m sure some of you chiropractors out there have helped many people.

But…it was chiropractic care for pets!

Yep, that’s a thing.

And it’s a thing I can now say I’ve written about. The truth is, it wouldn’t have bothered me so much if that chiropractic care I was writing about was for humans. But, seriously, I’m telling people to take their dog to get its back cracked?

I say all this to let you know I began to wonder about my freelancing commitments when they began to involve writing on subjects I was far from excited about (and even a little doubtful about.) Something seemed broken – and it wasn’t Spot’s spine.

Was this what I wanted to do for a living? Could I afford to say no if I didn’t like the topic?

It turns out, the answer to that first question was yes, so the answer to the second one was no. I wanted to be a freelance writer. I still do. In my experience, that means writing about some less-than-exciting stuff now so you can write more of what you want later.

Perhaps you’ll find a different route. Maybe you’ll figure out how to get paid a livable wage by devoting 100% of your time to writing about Christian living, board games, party planning, travel, and the outdoors (wait a sec, that’s my dream list.)

My point is – whatever your ideal topics are –  you will probably have to work your way there. Don’t get discouraged if this is the case. If you have a specialty, by all means, pursue it. But, if you’re simply looking to break into freelance writing, then it doesn’t hurt to explore your options. Write for a variety of media and cover a wide range of topics.

This could also help you find a niche if you don’t have one. Maybe you’ll discover you absolutely love to write about home remodeling, and you’ll become the go-to source for contractors looking for blog content. Maybe you’ll accept a small job drafting a marketing piece for a country club, discover you enjoy writing about golf, and become the next big sports writer. The possibilities are endless.

Be willing to dip your toe into many ponds before finding a place deep enough to dive.

Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who enjoys covering a variety of topics, but I still think it’s good advice.

But what about…

Of course, don’t write anything that goes against your moral beliefs. I feel very strongly about alcohol use, so I have turned down assignments to write web content for liquor stores. On the other hand, I’m not crazy about guns or hunting for sport, but I haven’t had a problem writing content for pawn shops that sell guns, or creating text for a taxidermist’s website.

You have to decide where to draw the line. I’m simply trying to warn you not to make that line an inch from your feet. Don’t get too picky or you won’t have any jobs to pick. Get some experience. Accept the fact that you have to start somewhere. Your initial freelance work may be low-paying and somewhat boring. But, those assignments are not your end game.

Keep working at it. Your goal should be to gain experience, build your portfolio and improve your writing. This will eventually allow you to be more selective in your project choices.

Greater experience will also allow you to earn better rates – which leads to our next topic. It’s one of the toughest questions I’ve had to answer as a freelance writer: How much should I charge?!?

Up next: So you wanna be a writer…Step 5: Set Your Rates (And Watch Out for S.E.T.)

So you wanna be a writer…Step 3: Puttin’ on the Blitz

No…I said BLITZ

Blitz: 1. an intensive or sudden military attack. 2. a sudden, energetic, and concerted effort, typically on a specific task

We don’t need to involve tanks or bombers, so let’s focus on definition #2. Although, I do like the word “attack.” It’s really what I’m recommending you do next: Attack job opportunities with ferocious effort. So really, that first description of your blitz is fairly accurate.

To secure your first jobs as a freelance writer, you should complete an application blitz. You’ll develop a plan of attack, then execute it. If you aren’t a military strategist, that’s ok. You don’t need evasive maneuvers or heavy defenses. What you do need is energy, effort and perseverance.

My Recipe: The Spaghetti Toss

Keep in mind, if you do a search for job-hunting tips, you’ll get a plethora of results. Many will disagree with what I’m suggesting. Many will say that you should remain very focused in your job applications, spending time applying only to the ones with an ideal fit. “Don’t waste your time applying to dozens and dozens of jobs.” “Focus on networking rather than anonymous online applications.” “Don’t bother with a cover letter.” And on and on.

In certain situations, each of these might be good advice. But…these ideas didn’t fit with my plan, and they might not work with yours either.

My approach was an all-out freelancing blitz to get my name and portfolio in front of as many people as possible – in hopes to get a few things to stick. You might say I prayerfully played the odds – figuring for every dozen or so jobs I applied to I might find someone interested in giving me a shot. With very little experience, I hoped to find a few among the potential clients who would let me prove my writing talent to them. And…it worked. God answered those prayers.

The main reason my job search looked different from others was my end goal. I wasn’t trying to secure one 40-hour-a-week job. My goal was essentially several part-time jobs. I hoped to put together enough writing gigs, working with many clients, to create full-time income. I didn’t want to rely on one company to supply all of my pay, and I also wanted to ultimately work for myself. I only wanted jobs that allowed me to work from home, on my own schedule. I would decide what hours to work, what rate to charge and what jobs to accept.

Of course, I didn’t get all of these things at once. When you’re initially looking to establish yourself, you have less freedom in what you can turn down. You may have to start with lower pay than you want, and accept jobs that aren’t your favorite, just to get some writing under your pen. But, my point is, I wanted variety. I wanted lots of jobs.

So, I had to apply to a lot of postings, in a variety of fields and formats. That meant an application blitz.

What does an application blitz look like?

I’m glad you asked. Here’s what mine involved.

1. Search for job sources.

Here’s a few that I came up with:

craigslist: This was a top source for my blitz. It was time consuming to set up, but I’m still reaping benefits from it. I hopped on craigslist, chose a major US city, clicked “writing/editing” under the jobs section, checked off “telecommute” and saved the search. Under my saved searches, I turned on alerts, so I would receive an email notification any time someone posted a new writing/editing position. I did this for pretty much every major US city (since I can write from anywhere).

Of course, I started by applying to the opportunities that come up in my original search. But, once you’ve applied to all current jobs that interest you, you can continue to apply as new notices arrive in your inbox. Two years after setting up this search, I still receive alerts and occasionally find something that peaks my interest and results in a new opportunity.

Job boards: I didn’t find these helpful. I tried saving my search as I did with craigslist, but I quickly discovered I received many jobs that didn’t match my criteria (despite the selections I made when saving the search). I also become the target of recruiters for jobs in which I had no interest, like insurance sales. Ugh. I eventually turned off all these alerts (Indeed, Monster, CareerBuilder). Maybe you’ll have better luck and want to include them in your initial blitz, but I don’t recommend them for freelance writing job searches. 

Freelance sites: I have found these to be hit or miss. In my experience, the people who use these sites to find freelancers are often expecting to get writing done dirt cheap. They expect to pay little to nothing for work, offering way less than market value for your skills. But…if you have very little experience, taking on a few of these tasks might be worthwhile to get some things on your portfolio. These sites include:

A quick Google search for freelance writing sites yields a host of results. To get started with each, you typically complete a profile that others can view as they search for freelancers. If they like what they see, they will contact you. You can also search posted opportunities and, on some sites, put in bids for specific jobs. Some are more user friendly than others. Again, I’ve found these only marginally helpful.

Newsletters: Why search for writing jobs when someone else can do it for you? I signed up for a couple of free newsletters which the creators are kind enough to compose and send out to job seekers. They include daily postings from across the world wide web of opportunities. Here’s a couple I’ve found helpful.

Shhh…Hidden jobs: Did you know a majority of jobs aren’t actually posted online or advertised in any way? This makes two things important. Networking and fishing.

You probably know what I mean by networking. Get your LinkedIn profile complete. Make good connections to get your name out there. Yadda yadda yadda. I’m personally sick of the term and hate the “schmoozing” sound of it. But, it is effective.

As far as fishing goes…I’ve found this to be just as effective as networking when I was first starting out. By “fishing,” I mean applying when there’s no job posted. As far as you know, the company isn’t even hiring. But, you’d like to work for them, so you inquire anyway.

Perhaps you’d love to write newsletter articles. So, you search for newsletter companies and send a cover letter and resume to a slew of them, introducing yourself and letting them know you are available for any opportunities they might have. The same goes for magazines or other media. To some, this may sound like a waste of time, but I actually got one of my best on-going writing gigs this way. Just sayin’.

2. Blast away, blitzer

Once you’ve assembled your list of job sources and have new job notices coming in regularly, you can blitz. Apply like crazy. When I was starting to build my business with the goal of writing full-time, I applied to dozens of jobs each week. Initially, it was dozens per day.

3. Get organized

It’s important to stay organized in this process. Track everything you apply to. Start a spreadsheet, or a journal (if you like low-tech options) or save each job posting/application in a “Freelance Jobs Applied To” folder in your email. These will be helpful to reference if someone gets back to you regarding one of the zillion jobs you’ve applied to, since they all start to run together eventually.

Why don’t you go…where writing fits…

Cast a wide net. Explore new possibilities. Apply. Apply. Apply. Eventually, you’ll find some things that stick. From there, you can find a few more. With experience, you can become more selective in your applications and job selections.

For now, your goal is simply experience. To find what fits…we’re puttin’ on a blitz.

Up next: So you wanna be a writer…Step 4: Check the Price Tag on Your Soul

 

So you wanna be a writer…Step 2: Get Yourself on the Interweb

Ask any of my high-tech friends, and they will tell you I’m pretty low-tech. I was one of the last people on the planet to start texting. I’m just not into the latest gadgets or apps. I’m not anti-computer or tech illiterate. After all, I am using this , not this 

I’m pretty savvy at learning new programs when I need to. I’m just a bit old school and prefer to keep things simple.

And yet, if my dad were here, he’d be blown away by my tech skills and all the technology I use every day. I guess it’s all about perspective.

Whatever viewpoint you come from, the reality is this: Whether you like it or not, writers today need an online presence. Exactly what this looks like will vary based on your goals, but you at least need a website. 

Don’t panic. You don’t need to be a programmer. You don’t even need to know HTML (and if you don’t know what that is yet, that’s ok too!)

What you do need to do is use a simple system like WordPress to establish a home for yourself on, what I like to call, the interweb. (Just ‘cuz it’s fun to say.)

Setting Up Shop

There are many free or cheap options to choose from to create a simple site. I chose WordPress. I’ve been happy with it. You’ll eventually want to have your own domain, be ad-free, and enjoy the ability to customize your site. These all involve cost. (All totaled, I pay about $100 a year for these privileges.) If you’re just starting out and have zero to invest, just go with the free stuff to get started. This site used to be nennpen.wordpress.com, and I eventually forked over the cash for the domain so it could be nennpen.com.

What should you include on your site? Again, my motto is keep it simple. If you don’t have any freelance clients yet, you simply want a place for prospective clients/employers to go. Even a one-page site with your general info is a place to start.

Here’s the essentials:

A site people can find. Choose the name carefully. The simplest solution is to use your name. If you wanna get a bit creative, go for it (I’m pretty proud of the Nenn Pen, Ink name). But, don’t get so crazy that people won’t remember it or associate it with you.

General info. If the goal is to get people to contact you about job opportunities, then…make it easy to contact you. Include an email address on your site (and make it prominent/easy to find on the site) and include a contact form. Don’t worry, the contact form is a built-in feature you can simply select and insert into your site when you set it up.

Include a blurb about what you offer as a writer. A good rule of thumb is to emphasize three traits. Establish what you want to be known for. This is a good tactic for any type of job hunt. Nail down three things you can quickly rattle off as your strengths, that will make a solid impression on employers. Be ready to back up each trait with a sentence or two that explains what each means or what makes it true about you. Think of them as your super powers. For example, when you read: Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…who comes to mind?

You’ll see from my home page that I am creative, concise and consistent. What are you?

Portfolio. This one’s the biggie. Everyone is going to want to see writing samples. You need an online portfolio you can point people to. In fact, this is really the initial reason for your site. Every application/resume/cover letter you submit should include “For samples of my work, please view my portfolio.”

Don’t have any samples yet? That’s a tough one. It’s the vicious need-experience-to-get-experience cycle. If no one has hired you to do any work yet, you may have to create your own samples to feature. Pick a topic and write about it. Interview a friend who has an interesting job or life story and write it up. Find a writing contest and enter it, then include your submission in your portfolio. Do a search for writing prompts and create a sample that way. The goal is to provide proof that you can write – and, that you can write in different voices and styles. I promise it gets easier. As soon as you have a job or two, you should have some additional content you can upload to your page, or live content you can link to. 

Better done than perfect. This one is extremely hard for me to remember. If you’re anything like me, you might get frozen in this process. You want to tweak, and edit, and change designs, and continue perfecting…and your site never goes live. Just accept up front that it won’t be perfect. Give yourself some grace. Put it out there, and you can always make changes as you go. Don’t let perfectionism or fear hold you back.

On your mark…

Ready to get started? The interweb isn’t going to write itself! Find a WordPress theme that suits your personality and get set!

Get yourself out there!

Go!

Up next: So you wanna be a writer…Step 3: Puttin’ on the Blitz

So you wanna be a writer…Step 1: Face the 7 Deadlies

No, I’m not an expert. I don’t have a degree in writing. In fact, I majored in social work because I wanted to help people. Turns out, that wasn’t a good fit. Now I’m a writer (which is really what I wanted to be all along) – and I still want to help people. So, here goes.

I’m going to share my journey that took me from retail, to real estate, to writing, and lots of other things along the way. Mostly, though, I’m going to share what has worked and what has crashed and burned as I’ve been on this path.

Sound interesting? Great! Keep reading…

My goal is to help others who, like me, dream of being a writer but aren’t sure how to get there. Do I have all the answers? Heck no. But, I’ve learned a few things, and I am currently making a living as a freelancer. I’m hoping that means I have a few helpful tips to pass along.

Two years ago today I was in the midst of trying to decide if I could really “make it” writing full time. Now, I’ve been doing just that since November of 2015. Praise God for helping me achieve the dream I’ve had since old enough to wield a pen!

I am certainly far from reaching many of my goals, but I am excited about where I am on this journey and the progress I’ve made so far. My plan is to share the many small steps I’ve taken to get to this point. This series will be writer-focused, but much of it will be applicable for anyone wanting to forge out on their own in any kind of business – from freelance writer to furniture maker to farmer (or even other careers that aren’t alliterative)!

I pray you’ll be encouraged and inspired by my tidbits and tips. I’d love to hear the experiences from your own journey, too. May we all spur one another on toward love and good deeds in whatever we’re pursuing.

Where to begin…

I’ve decided the only place I can start this series is where I started: facing down the 7 deadly sins for writers. If you can’t overcome at least Sin #1, you’re stuck before you even start.

I wrote these up in a previous blog series, if you want to check out those posts. I’ve also crafted them into a FREE ebook. It’s my gift to you for joining me on this writing adventure.

If those sins don’t scare you away from the craft, watch for the next step:

So you wanna be a writer…Step 2: Get yourself on the interweb

« Older Entries