Freelance writing: The good, the bad and the unpaid invoices

Despite the fact I only graduated last week, I have been officially working as a freelance writer for six months already, and unofficially for another year or so before that. Lots of people ask me how I find working for myself, and as with everything, there are good and bad things about being freelance. If you’re contemplating becoming self-employed, you might want to know a bit about the pros and cons. I’ve put a few together here, but if any other freelance writers have anything to contribute, please feel free to leave it in the comments.

PROS

  • Flexibility

The number one reason I love being freelance is the fact it lets me choose the way I live my life – and let me assure you, that certainly isn’t around a tedious 9-5 office schedule. It means I can work when I’m at my most productive and avoid my personal slump from 2pm-5pm, so I can spend this time doing things I enjoy and pick up the work again later. If I have to go for a hospital appointment, I can do that without having to take an entire day off, and I get just as much done because I just rejig my own working hours.

  • Variety

I’m not stuck working on the same things every day. I have lots of clients, meaning I’m always writing about different things. Being employed by one company would most likely mean writing in the same style about the same topics every day, which isn’t for me. I also learn to use all sorts of different programs, so gain a lot of experience which I can transfer to other projects.

  • Set your own rates

There is a lot of room for negotiation in freelancing. I have a basic rate, but I can be flexible, and some people will offer to pay above what I would expect which is always a nice surprise. You can’t resent what you are being paid if you have been involved in the negotiation process, so you will only ever work for a rate you deem to be acceptable.

  • Choose your projects

If a new client approaches you with a project you’re not really interested in, you can just turn it down, and there are lots of legitimate excuses for freelancers – mainly a lack of time, which is often true. If you decide the money is worth a tiresome slog through a project in which you have no interest, that’s up to you, but I prefer not to pick up anything I know I’ll resent.

  • Work as much as you like

While the job market remains pretty stagnant, I have actually found the opposite to be the case – I am never bored, and there is always more work available. If you’re employed, you have to do all the work allocated to you, but if I know I have a busy week ahead, I don’t have to say yes to an extra load of work so I can avoid being overwhelmed.

Writing

CONS

  • Work as much as you’re offered

Unfortunately, my final pro is also the first con. I’m sure I’ve just been lucky with my constant stream of work, and lots of freelancers do struggle immensely to maintain momentum with projects which can be tricky if you’re trying to make ends meet. It’s a real gamble going freelance, as the income is unstable and your clients can ditch you at any minute, and this isn’t suitable for everyone.

  • Chasing invoices

Again, I’ve been quite lucky, but I did have one very irritating experience where I busted a gut trying to finish work against near-impossible deadlines only to have to badger the client for close to two months to cough up my payment. Some clients seem to think that ignoring the problem (i.e. the small matter of paying for the service they use) will make freelancers give up, but obviously we deserve to be paid for our writing, and I made sure I was.

  • Time management

I’ve never been the most organised person, so it does feel like a constant juggling act trying to figure out what to prioritise as well as all of the approaching deadlines. I find it really tricky to keep track of everything, especially when I’m writing for four different people at once, so it really pays to keep a calendar or a diary so you can note down exactly what you need to do and when. I don’t do this, but people with more motivation to get their lives in order should do it.

  • Dealing with finance

I knew I’d have to be dealing with my own taxes and tracking my expenses when I registered as self-employed, but as I said, I’m shocking at staying organised. I have train ticket receipts waiting to be filed absolutely everywhere, and I’ve no idea where all my stationery receipts have got to. If you’re going to go freelance, for the love of god stay on top of your expenses, and make sure you put away money for income tax every month and a bit more. You don’t want to get stung with a mammoth bill you can’t pay at the end of the tax year.

  • Self motivation

Some days, I JUST CAN’T BE BOTHERED. Everyone in the world has this problem, where you will wake up with zero motivation and a completely diminished ability to focus or write coherently. But this links nicely to my first pro. You don’t need to wake up motivated every day. You don’t need to work through weekends, which some people believe to be the case. Wake up unmotivated? Do whatever you want. Just make sure you seize the opportunities when you ARE motivated, and it should balance itself out.

On balance, I think going freelance is really worth it. It’s working for me, at least. The flexibility above everything else far outweighs the largely practical downsides of freelancing. I’ve also had some cool opportunities (free meals, free shows etc.) that I don’t think I necessarily would’ve been offered without the flexibility of freelancing. People need quality writers, and the longer you freelance, the more you can legitimately charge for your writing as you gain experience and you start to get a positive reputation for the writing you can produce. Speaking of which, yes, I am available for hire, and yes, my rates are negotiable.

Fellow freelancers, how have you found the experience?

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. jbmarwood says:

    Hi ya, I’ve been freelance writing for about 9 months now and it has been awesome overall. However, there are definitely some downsides, I think isolation is a big one, as when I am writing I miss the social interactions of being in an office or whatever. I think I would rather have a part time job and do my writing on the side as I also suffer from the motivation problem too!
    Where do you find your writing jobs normally? just curious…

    1. Hi! Absolutely, the isolation certainly is a big part of it, though fortunately as a largely anti-social, introverted character I need a lot of time alone anyway so it suits me down to the ground! However, for one of my jobs (still freelance) I work in an office a few days a week because there is a lot of collaboration required, so maybe I don’t have the same experience. I love it when I get to work from home for an entire week though!

      Outside the job I do in the office, all the others have been word of mouth offerings. Parents of friends, friends with businesses, people who have heard of me through other people I’ve worked with… I’ve had some success posting on social networks about the fact I offer freelance writing services with people popping up and saying they have a site that needs rewriting or content that needs editing etc., so that’s been great. How about you?

  2. jbmarwood says:

    Yeah we writers are all introverts so I don’t mind it too much either but it can get a little dull after a while, I do need some human interaction, hah.

    Well I get most of my writing jobs through the website elance.com. I dont know if you have heard of it. Its pretty good although some of the jobs are very low paid.

    It’s interesting that you are getting some work through social media, I am trying to do that right now and am trying to set up a website for that very purpose but haven’t had any work come in that way yet so might be doing something wrong in that regard.

    Do you mind me asking how much you charge for say 500 words? You could direct message me if you don’t want to reveal on here.

  3. katielouh says:

    I was just about to ask where you find your freelance work but read the comments first. I have done a small amount of freelancing but am a bit stuck as to where to head for clients. Any advice other than social networks?

    (congrats on graduating by the way!)

    1. Thank you!

      I’ve found word of mouth referrals the way to go so far! Do you have any friends or friends of friends with a website or a business that might need marketing copy or anyone who might need their blog written for them?

      There are lots of websites attempting to match up freelancers and jobs, but I’ve never used one myself! I hear that on lots of them it’s tough to start out because some people will work for barely anything just to secure themselves work, so if you want any sort of decent payment you don’t get a look in.

      Web freelancing seems to be the way in! Especially sites run by small businesses, I think. Do you have any knowledge of SEO? SEO copywriting (which I also do) is quite valuable to a lot of people, especially if they can’t necessarily afford to maintain an expensive SEO strategy 🙂

      1. katielouh says:

        Thanks for the advice. I know a little hit about SEO and have seen it on a lot of jobs ads recently. I’m imagining it will be a bit of a slow process for me.

        Thanks again 🙂

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