Jenn and I just got back from a delicious date – Mm-mm Pork Shanks – there is a massive storm outside, and I’m debating whether I should pay attention to tornadoes or go to sleep and get needed rest.
I know I can go on with my posts, but its late and I’m hoping I can keep this short and sweet – no promises. I’ve been thinking about some of the lessons I’ve learned over the last few years. Whether you think they can help you or not is yet to be seen, but I consider the realization of each as a pivotal lesson in sustaining the writing life.
Curiously, many people I talk to about working from home think that everything will come naturally. The fact is that any writer who starts out on their own will have a long road of ups and downs, and at some point will need to buckle down to reflect on what’s worked, what hasn’t worked, and how you can use these two things to keep your business going. What I have found through conversations with my colleagues is that the list below, in some way or form, resonates with everyone. If you are a beginning writer with a desire to work from home I suggest you take each of these to heart. You will be faced with each and your decision on how to move forward will influence your future decisions. Learning from seasoned writers is the best way for you to grow your business. Hopefully, I’m seasoned enough to provide quality advice.
One lesson that took me way too long to learn is that loyalty does matter. I remember early on having a client who supplied me regular work. He was the type of person who would send me five things to do, as soon as I finished he would send me five more. That kind of consistency can be hard to find and when you do find it you better hold on.
My downfall was that when a better paying gig would come up, I would put aside this loyal client for the better-paying work. Not permanently, but until I got paid from the higher gig.
I didn’t think anything of it really. I figured that I had done so much work for my client they would gladly accept late deadlines and less work as long as I would eventually come back. I was wrong. Of course, I was wrong. My clients depend on me because their clients depend on them. And so, I lost one of the more valuable long-term clients for a short-term solution.
No Bueno. When you find a client who is loyal to you – trusts your work, pays on time, and supplies you with regular projects you hold on to that. It matters. Remember that a loyal client pays way more over time than a single high-paying project.
Stick to Your Guns
This is a lesson many new people need to figure out sometime in their first year. Figure out how much money you need to make in a year, and stick to your guns when it comes to your rates. One habit many young writers get into is trying to take on as much work as possible at nearly any price. Whether we are looking for experience, positive feedback, or simply a paying job this is a common tactic by beginning writers.
The other obstacle is a beginning writer’s fear of overpricing his or herself and scaring potential clients off. When I started out I did this too. And yes, I had a ton of work. But, that’s because I was a bargain. What I found when I raised my rates is that nobody balked at the new prices. And the clients willing to pay those prices tend to be better clients who understand and respect your needs as a freelancer.
Don’t Chase the Money
When I talk about chasing money, what I am saying is you shouldn’t go after just any job to pay your bills. It is okay to discriminate until you find the job or client who works for you. Nearly all of my work is from referral and invitation now. However, there was a time where I would take jobs I knew I would hate, be bored with, or not care about the client because all I was looking at were dollar signs. And guess what? Those projects never turned out well.
So, figure out what type of projects or niche(s) you want to focus on and go for it. Now, I am a firm believer that a modern writer needs to wear many hats and master several niches. However, it doesn’t hurt to focus on one or two and pick up other work to fill in the gaps. Never take a job just for the money – especially knowing you are stepping into a bad deal.
Never Talk Bad About Other Writers
To be fair to myself, this has been a rule of mine for a long time. I think it’s bad etiquette. However, clients have told me about pitches that other writers have given them about how all other writers stink except the one giving the pitch. The truth is there are tens of thousands of great writers out there. There are different levels and approaches, but for one writer to comment on another without having any idea – that’s not right and will push people away. I gladly tell clients there are a lot of great writers. The goal is to find one who fits your needs and is comfortable to work with.
The reason I think writers talk bad about their counterparts is that the number and level of competition have grown exponentially in the last fifteen years. Access to writers is more than ever before. This also allows for anyone to brand their self as a writer. It also allows for scam artists to flourish. Those are the things to watch for. So, instead of trashing writers trying to make a living a better approach may be to share with a potential client tips on how to determine if a writer is good for them.
Crappy work will make you a crappy writer
This goes back to the whole, don’t chase money deal. I’ve found myself taking on work that was mind-numbing and not worthwhile because I needed or wanted steady pay. However, what I realized is that there was no creativity, nor was their thinking involved. This type of work will often bring you little pay and will also destroy your creativity.
One project I can think of was a client who needed me to produce hundreds of articles on credit, debt, and credit repair. When I was done I sure knew a lot, but writing articles that are similar over and over and over killed the creative juices. I did it for three months and felt numb afterward. I actually took a creative writing class to get those juices flowing again.
Learn to pay yourself a salary
Regardless if you set yourself up as an LLC or Sole Proprietorship, learning to pay yourself a salary will be indispensable for future you. As long as you stick with it, you will make a good life as a writer. There are simply too many jobs out there for someone who works hard and is always on the lookout. But, if you simply use the money that comes in you will find yourself in a difficult position. Sure, it’s nice to receive money every couple days. That’s a huge benefit of working for yourself. But, being paid like this will quickly diminish your perspective on budgeting. You will always be able to tell yourself, “I’ll just use the money I make in two days to pay the utility bill.” But, it doesn’t work that easily. It certainly doesn’t for me.
The way I suggest going about this is setting a weekly income with the remainder of your earnings going into a payroll bank account for future use. So, if you bring in $1,500 each week, and your pay is $1,000 a week, the remaining $500 will go into your payroll account. What this does is equalize the fluctuations in your income. Some months you will only make $1,000 and others you will make $10,000. If you are like most people you will spend that $10,000 as fast as the $1,000. By paying yourself a determined salary and putting the rest aside, that $10,000 will cover ten weeks of pay which covers weeks you don’t work, or weeks you are paid less.
Adapting to these suggestions won’t make or break you. However, they can save you a lot of time, hardship, and bad budgeting practices. Over time you will find ways to manage your at-home writing business and I hope you share them with us. Please, comment and share your experiences and tips in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!