Confession time: I’m a full-time freelance writer but that doesn’t mean I am raking in the dough.
As much as the internet promises you can make it big being a freelance writer, I promise the realities are not nearly as fantastic.
You can make money and I hope to eventually have a little bit more of a stable surplus, but something you’re going to hear time and time again as a freelancer is the peaks and valleys, the high and the low, the lean times.
Because you’re self-employed, going out looking for clients, and often don’t have the luxury of a steady, sure-thing paycheck you might experience times where things are a little tight. Where you’re not making quite enough to cover those pesky bills. Where you’re staying up way too late just hoping to find at least one paying job to tide you over.
I recently experienced a lean period and I’m here to offer some tips for not losing your mind, not starving, and getting through those lean times better than I did.
1. Start off on the Right Foot
Thinking of making the leap to freelancer but not sure how much money you’ll make? Well, stop right there! Before you even consider going freelance full-time, take a good long look at those finances. Figure out how much you need to pay the bills, and buy groceries for the month. Remember that number, and every gig and pitch you get, factor into that monthly total.
Don’t go quitting your job until you’ve either a) got enough of a rainy day fund to get you started while you scour for jobs, network, and pitch like a fiend. Or B) find that you’re making enough to supplement your income and then some.
2. Budget your Butt Off
If you get dropped by a client or don’t get as many pitches accepted, it can be terrifying. Especially if you were depending on that income. Now’s time to cut those corners and tackle that budget. Look at what you absolutely need and get ready to sit at home for a while. You might be surprised at how far you can stretch that dollar.
3. As the Great Douglas Adams Says, Don’t Panic
If you find yourself with extra time and less money, it’s OK. It can be hard to focus on anything but being broke and feeling like the continual application process is getting you nowhere, but just remind yourself that this is the lean time, it’s not permanent.
There’s a gig with your name on it, and you’ll find it. Maybe use that extra time to pursue something you really want to write about. If you have a novel or short story idea or side project that you’d really like to devote more time to, now’s your chance. Don’t stop applying and pitching, but make sure you’re doing something to nourish your writing and creative side.
4. Reassess that Resume
So, it’s been like 4 weeks, 8 weeks, 4 months and still not a single response? Ok, it might be time to reassess that resume.
Look over your published clips, edit that portfolio, tighten up your resume. If you’re feeling extra ambitious send it a friend, or an editor, or hey even me (I’m working on setting up a portfolio review service for my website). Maybe having a second pair of eyes look over your standard pitch format, your letter of introduction, and your portfolio, they can spot the things that might be glaring red flags to your potential employers.
Are you sharing a clip that has a mistake in it? Does your portfolio include a lot of irrelevant clips that the client won’t care about, are you tooling each application to a specific job? These are all things to look at before you completely throw in the towel and give up writing forever.
5. Desperate Times
If you’re really struggling with finding new work or something to help tide you over, then you can always consider extra ways to earn cash. A part-time job, offering your services around the neighborhood as a pet walker, house sitter, sidewalk shoveler, sign up to be a mystery shopper or donate plasma. These aren’t ideal, these aren’t going to pay the bills, but they could help streeeeeeeeetch that dollar a little more until your next gig comes along.
If you find yourself hitting the lows and lean times, it’s OK. I’ve read enough freelance blogs and websites to know that it’s normal and everyone goes through it. The key is how you handle it and how you prepare yourself when the money is coming in so that it’s not as hard the next time around.
We gain a lot of freedoms as freelancers but we also give up a lot of security because of it. Just budget, breathe and write on and you’ll make it through.