Freelance Feast or Famine

Sometimes a freelance writing career can feel very much like “feast or famine”.

At the very beginning, it’s almost all famine. You spend more time looking for freelance writing jobs than you spend actually writing, and, quite apart from being utterly demoralizing, when you have a mortgage to pay and mouths to feed, it can be absolutely terrifying, too.

Of course, once you get past those early days of struggling for work and start to build up a portfolio and a reputation, you move into the “feast” era of your freelance writing career and everything should be rosy.

The problem is however, that those early days can be hard to forget. You can’t help but remember the days of living off ramen noodles while trying to get your freelance writing career off the ground, and there’s no way in hell you want to go back there. Like Scarlett O’Hara you vow never to be poor or hungry again – and so you accept every single assignment that comes your way, and end up working yourself into a greasy spot at the same time.

Rather than a feast, it starts to become a binge, and before you know where you are, you’re struggling again – albeit this time you’re struggling to get the work done, rather than to find it in the first place. Your home life and health starts to suffer, and, if you’re not careful, so does the quality of your work.

So what do you do?

Well, if you think you could be on the verge of a writing binge, here are a few tips:

1. Dump your toxic clients

Toxic clients are the ones who cost you more in terms of time and effort than you ever get back from them in dollars. These are the clients for whom everything is a problem: they’re not happy unless they’re complaining, and you end up spending more time coddling and cajoling them than you do working for them. At the start of your career, you’ll probably just put up with the toxicity. Once you start to get busy, however, it’s time to get rid. If a toxic client feels like more trouble than they’re worth, they probably are: so dump them, and stick with the ones who actually reward your effort.

2. Look carefully at your prices

How much are you charging? Writers who are new to freelancing are often tempted to reduce their prices in order to secure work. This can work very well; once you’re more established in your field, however, it can start to backfire on you, because once you have a reputation for being good and cheap, you’ll end up with more work than you can reasonably handle. If this sounds like you, it may be worth considering accepting fewer projects, but charging a higher rate for them. That way the quality of your work and life remains high, and you still have the opportunity to increase your earnings.

3. Learn how to say no gracefully

Turning down work can be frightening. No matter how successful you are, when you’re a freelance writer there’s always going to be a little voice whispering in your ear that although you’re doing well this month, next month the work could dry up. While it’s never a good idea to become complacent, you do need to learn when to switch this voice off. If you’re good at what you do, and you’ve built up a strong portfolio and network of contacts, there will be more work. Sometimes it’s better to turn a project down than to take it on when you don’t have time for it – and risk your reputation by doing it badly.

4. Make friends with your competitors

Yes, really. Your fellow freelance writers don’t always have to be “the competition”. If there’s another freelancer in your area, or in your field of expertise, why not contact them when it’s busy and offer to recommend them to the clients you don’t have time for, on the understanding that they do the same for you next time they’re busy and you’re not? This kind of reciprocal arrangement can work out very well for both parties: it means that you’re not having to flat-out refuse work, for one thing, and it also gives you something of a safety net if things suddenly get slow, but your competitor’s workload is more than they can handle.