In the over three years since I started freelance writing, I have probably made every mistake possible. I don’t have any formal training or education as a writer and threw myself into it—as I did so many things back then—out of a need for fast cash.
I never planned on becoming a writer long-term so never bothered to reflect on what I was learning along the way. Instead, I moved from project to project, from client to client, all the while trying to figure out what I was really meant to be doing.
About halfway through that process, I started studying coaching because I was wanted to bring together all of my life experiences in a way that felt cohesive. While I kept freelance writing to pay my bills, I thought that I would ditch it as soon as I was ready to launch my coaching practice.
Even after graduation, however, I still wasn’t ready to let go of freelance writing. I was getting bigger clients and finally started to wonder if maybe this could become a part of my long-term plan. For a period of time, I thought I had figured out how to make freelance writing a financially viable vocation.
Then, last week, it all fell apart. I fired my main writing client a second time and was thrown back into the all too familiar emotional upheaval that is so intimately linked to a big financial shift. I went from feeling like I was on top of the world to being convinced that I was doomed to a career of perpetual failure.
After a multipart conversation with some friends—and some necessary tears—I decided to compile a list of some of the things I have learned over the past three years. This would serve as proof that I was further ahead than I felt in the moment.
Here are some of the things I have learned in the over three years that I’ve been a freelance writer:
Distribute your workload across multiple clients. As appealing as having one client can be, it’s far better to have a few smaller clients. That way, if a project dries up or you need to fire a client, you won’t lose all of your income overnight.
Stick to a schedule. Regardless of how much or how little work you’re doing, figure out a routine that works for you and keep it up. This is a long game and you will succeed so long as you show up consistently and do good work.
Be clear about the work you want to do and the work you don’t want to do. While adding more skills to your portfolio might make you more appealing to potential clients, if you don’t want to do certain work then don’t tell people you do it.
Train your clients to value your time. Charge for every call and have protocols in place for missed deadlines and late payments. Your time is valuable and you’re the one responsible for communicating that.
Fire difficult clients. No amount of money is worth working with people who require massive amounts of emotional labour. One of the best parts about being a freelance writer is that you can walk away if a relationship is no longer working.
Prioritize your social life. If you work from home or in an isolated environment most of the time, then make sure you spend regular time with friends. This is a huge stress reliever and can give you some much-needed perspective on your work life.
Create a flexible budget. Figure out how much you need to get by and then what comes after that. That way, as your finances shift, you’ll be able to adapt your spending to match those changes.
Keep your finances stable. If you find yourself out of work and need to cut expenses, decide what’s necessary for keeping you feeling cared for and optimistic. Even if you have to go into a little debt to maintain this stability it will be worth it.
Focus on the next step. Whatever challenges you face along the way, keep your eye on whatever that next step is. This will prevent overwhelm and will keep you moving forward.
Reflect on what you’ve learned. Taking the time to regularly think about what you’ve learned will allow you to make more aware and aligned decisions in the future. Every failure and/or lesson is valuable.
I learned all of these lessons the hard way: by failing at them initially. And they have proved to be some of the most valuable lessons I have learned.
So, what lessons has failure taught you?