katie jenisonI started freelance writing in 2017 to supplement my income. I was just about to graduate college and had accumulated a massive amount of student loan debt. To say I was feeling overwhelmed was an understatement! What I didn’t know then was how the decision to start freelancing would change my life. 

My intention at first was to freelance part-time to earn extra money. Truthfully, I never thought I could turn it into anything more. How wrong I was! In just over a year, I was able to quit my job and become a full-time freelance writer.  

I consider myself very lucky to be able to do what I’m passionate about day in and day out, but I’d be lying if I said getting here was easy. I would love to say there’s a proven formula, but the truth is, everyone’s path is different. That being said, there are some important things to know when getting started as a freelancer:

  1. Don’t be afraid to tell people what you do. You never know where your next client might come from!
  2. Know your worth and don’t waste your time on clients who are willing to devalue what you do. 
  3. Protect yourself and your business by always having clients sign a contract. 
  4. The key to being successful as a freelancer is to find what makes you different from everyone else and run with it. 

Like most freelancers and business owners, my path has never been linear. In fact, it’s been more like a roller coaster! However, once I learned these four lessons (the hard way, of course) it became much easier to navigate the highs and lows of freelancing. Here’s how I gained the skills and confidence to turn my side hustle into a full-time gig. 

I Got Off to a Rocky Start 

The first few months of freelancing were filled with rejection, uncertainty, and frustration. Finding clients was hard — much harder than I ever anticipated. Most of the ads I found required 3-5 years of copywriting experience, which as a newbie, I didn’t have. 

Feeling dejected, I started searching for other places and methods to win clients. I found a few blog posts about freelance writers making a lot of money on sites like Upwork and Fiverr, so I figured I’d give Upwork a shot. Unfortunately, my experience was not quite so successful! 

The upside to freelancing platforms like Upwork and Fiverr is that they have a lot more newbie-friendly listings. The downside is they’re so saturated with freelancers it’s nearly impossible to win work. In the 4 or 5 months I used Upwork, I was awarded two jobs. Neither paid well but at that point, I was just so excited to have work I was more than willing to accept. 

The first job was a one-off project while the other was ongoing and consisted of writing a minimum of 4 articles a month. For every 800 words I wrote, I would earn $5. That’s less than $0.01 per word! With the time it took to write, research, edit, and find photos I’d have invested a minimum of 3 hours into each article. 

After about three months, I experienced some serious burnout. I spent most of my free time sending new proposals and writing articles for my first Upwork client. I’d be working until late into the evening, only to feel like I’d barely made any headway. I began to wonder if I was ever going to make it as a freelance writer. How did other writers do it? What made them more successful than me? Looking back, it’s easy to see I was putting too much effort into something that had very little payoff. 

Talking About My Business Helped It Grow…

Up until that point, I had kept my new side hustle under wraps. I was nervous to tell my friends and family I was trying to make extra money as a writer. I figured if it didn’t work out, I could save myself the embarrassment of having to explain I failed — which I think a lot of freelancers can relate to. 

But, after my disheartening Upwork experience, I found myself needing to vent. So, I finally told a friend about my freelance writing business. The decision to share what I had been doing is a very big part of what has gotten me to where I am. Hearing how thrilled she was for me to pursue something I loved gave me the push I needed to keep going. Not only did she fully support my latest endeavor, but she also connected me with several people, including my first real client. 

…And Discover the Value of My Work 

Working with my first client was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. It became pretty clear at our initial meeting that the reason I wasn’t making good money as a freelance writer was that I had consistently undervalued myself. I had convinced myself couldn’t charge more because I was inexperienced. Somehow, I perceived the work I was doing as less than what other freelance writers were doing. The need to charge bargain prices was only compounded by the saturation of freelancers using Upwork and bidding for the same jobs. 

I quickly realized I didn’t have to adhere to this weird standard. That’s the beauty of freelancing, after all; you can set your own rates and charge what you think is fair for your services. Once I figured out I am the only one responsible for my rates, everything changed. Not only did I raise my rates to reflect what my services were worth but my mindset as a freelancer changed dramatically. 

Raising My Rates Helped Attract the Right Clients… 

I quit wasting my time on sites like Upwork and cruising job boards. Rather than trying to be the right fit for everyone, I chose to focus on attracting the right clients. I did that my narrowing my niche, identifying who my target client was, and setting rates to match. My decision to separate myself from the pack gave my business a boost. The clients I began to attract not only had the budget to pay well for my services but also valued the work that I do. 

I also started focusing on marketing my business by cold emailing my target clients and using LinkedIn to form connections. In addition, I made it a point to ensure every client I worked with had a positive experience. Doing so paid off with the very first client referral I received, which also happened to be the first time I pitched my new rates. 

Even though I knew I was in the right range for pricing, the first time I told a potential client my rates was uncomfortable. We were on a call and I remember telling them my prices and just holding my breath; I was so nervous! It turns out that I had no need to be. The prospect didn’t even hesitate. They went on to hire me for several projects and I still work with them today. 

…And Repel the Wrong Clients 

Aside from the obvious benefits of raising my rates, I’ve found doing so has helped me weed out people looking for “budget” content. Prospective clients would email me about writing website copy or creating blog content which was always followed up with, “what are your rates?” When I’d respond with my prices — which were still much lower than they are today — they would do one of two things. 

  1. They would ghost me completely. 
  2. They would insist my rates were too high and ask me to lower them. 

As frustrating as it was, I learned pretty quickly that I needed to stick to my guns with my pricing. The few times I did lower my rates, the client took that as a sign they could continue to make special requests outside of the scope of our original agreement. Luckily, I had contracts in place to protect from project creep. 

Those experiences were definitely frustrating, but I wasn’t blameless. By meeting their demand for a lower rate, I had essentially told them that I agreed I was charging too much or that my work was not worth the price. Needless to say, I stopped discounting my services. I also have a pricing guide on my website, which provides a clear picture of my services and corresponding rates. Those that do reach out know exactly what to expect regarding my pricing. 

The lessons I learned in the first year of freelancing allowed me to turn my side hustle into a full-time job. By October of 2018, just over a year after I started, I was able to quit my 9-5 job. While I always craved the freedom that comes with running a business, I never thought I would get to this point. Each little change, from my mindset to my pricing, had a massive impact on my freelance writing career. It’s not always easy but I’ve become much more equipped to handle the low points or pivot if necessary. 

Connect with me:

The Quiet Type Blog | Business Site | Facebook | InstagramPinterest | Freebie: A Freelancer’s Guide to Setting Rates