I can’t believe I’ve been freelance writing full-time for three years now. When I first started writing for pay (a few years before I went full-time), I was only getting a penny per word (and sometimes less!). I never thought I could command the rates I’m being paid today, much less leave my full-time job for a dream career in writing. Things have changed dramatically since the days of my meager earnings. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
Never get complacent with clients.
I learned this lesson very early and I’m glad I did. When I first started freelancing, I thought I could survive with two big freelance clients. Combined, the two provided enough income to pay the bills and have some leftover. After a couple of months, one of the clients left without much advance notice. I was terrified, but bounced back quickly. There were two lessons in that situation. First, never rely on just a couple of clients because if one of them leaves, your income is in shambles. Second, unless you have a contract that says otherwise, clients can leave at any time.
It feels better not to live paycheck to paycheck.
When someone else employs you, they set your pay and you pretty much have to live with it. If your pay is just enough to fit your bills, you have to work within that box. But, when you’re your own payroll department, you say how much you get paid and when. My goal is to earn at least one month in advance and it’s so much better than waiting on an invoice to be paid to get my light bill. Another perk of earning in advance is that if a client leaves, you have more time to replace them.
Taking too many tax deductions can be a bad thing.
Generally, we want to take as many tax deductions as possible to lower our taxable income. It results in a lower tax bill. However, the lower taxable income can come back to haunt you if you decide to apply for a loan. It’s hard enough to get approved for major loan like a mortgage when you don’t have W-2 income, even harder when you’ve reduced your income to avoid paying taxes. Plan major loans a few years in advance and consider taking fewer deductions in those years. (Consult a tax professional for specific tax advice.)
Clients who haggle on rates usually aren’t worth it.
In the beginning, I would lower my rates to accommodate clients, but I would end up beating myself up for doing the work at such a low price. Now, when clients try to negotiate my per article rate, I instead negotiate their expectations. I ask for their for their budget and let them know how many articles can fit within their budget. Sometimes, they agree to my rates and sometimes they walk away. Either way, I can sleep well knowing I didn’t sell myself short on a project.
What are some of the biggest freelance/writing lessons you've learned?