I’d freelanced off and on for years. But every time I got close to plunging into it full time, I got scared. I pulled back for the security of a paycheck.
Then, about a year and a half ago, I knew it was time to go for the life and career I’d always dreamed of.
Within 9 months, I built up a steady stream of regular writing clients — three online magazines, two regional publications, and one B2B company — including Sparkle, RENO magazine, House of Gems, and the Jewellery Editor.
I continue to contribute to these publications, anywhere from once a week to once a quarter.
Among them, I average between $1,200 and $1,600 a month, which I supplement with online teaching and workshops. I also generally have at least a couple one-shot pieces to write each month, too.
I’m able to avoid the feast-or-famine cycle that kept me from going full-time long ago. Here’s how I did it:
Start from a solid foundation
First off, I did some work to make sure I didn’t start freelancing full-time from a place of desperation.
I had some money saved, but I also completely revamped my life by moving to a small, secluded place on the high desert. Now, I have minimal expenses.
Not everyone can move to pursue a writing career, but everyone can find ways to cut back on expenses. Find what you can do without, then learn to budget and simplify.
Invest in yourself
Getting help at this early stage can make all the difference.
Find blogs that can give you actionable advice for getting started — and avoid common traps that keep you stuck in low-paying gigs. Seek out a community of writers where you can share and learn.
Consider a mentor or training courses to gain the skills you need to market yourself to the right clients.
I’m willing to eliminate Starbucks from my lifestyle, but I won’t cut back on training. It’s what propels me forward.
Choose a niche
Not everyone agrees you need a niche, but it worked for me.
But, I didn’t decide beforehand exactly what my niches would be. I made a list of everything I was interested in or felt I had expertise in. Then I began researching publications and pay rates. Then, I targeted my pitches.
In a previous try at freelancing, I’d written for a now-defunct gemstone trade magazine. Because of this background in jewelry, one item on my list was gemstones. It was number five on my list, but that’s the one that bit first. In the past year, I’ve written well over 100 articles for the jewelry sector, on everything from sea glass to profiles of international designers.
A few months ago, I felt ready to break into another niche. I made a new list. This time, out of my queries on various topics, an agricultural magazine picked me, based on a description I wrote of my local cattle ranches.
Build on your relationships
Be responsible and communicate with your editors.
Recurring work from existing clients is, for me, one of the greatest signs of freelance success. You get it by working well with others.
Believe in yourself
This may be the most important step of all.
Freelancing is a leap of faith, and you’re going to hit highs and lows. How you ride them can make all the difference.
Learn to say no to low-paying work, keep marketing, and practice believing you are awesome and deserve all the great work coming your way.
How do you avoid feast-or-famine cycles in your freelance career? Tell us in the comments below.
Leslie Jordan Clary is a freelance writer, photographer and editor.