You may have thought about becoming a freelance writer. You have read about it online, even written a sample article. Hell, you may have even landed a few writing jobs thus far. You want to proceed further, but what is it really like to be a freelance writer?
It’s time to remove the mysterious shrouds that tend to cover any type of way to earn a living online. No, this isn’t a post about how to get started (that one has already been written here). This post is all about the dirty little secrets of this particular freelance writer. The things I shouldn’t tell you, but I’m gonna. Things that might cost me clients. Things that, dare I say it, I may even come to regret.
Let’s get started.
Please Excuse Me While I Air My Dirty Laundry
I’m not a freelance writer. What do you imagine when you picture a freelance writer? I picture someone with a pencil behind their ear using a rotary phone in a dusty apartment calling every newspaper in town. I picture someone perfecting their writing samples and submitting bids to every blog and website that’ll take them.
I do none of that.
The truth is, I’m constantly revisiting my online career. If I’m ever not enjoying what I’m doing, I look at what other options are available. Sometimes I’ll get involved in a venture that doesn’t even make use of my writing skills (such as becoming the IT Director of New Life ESL). Other times I’ll move into the managerial role and hire other writers for a project. The bottom line of this confession is that while ‘freelance writer’ is the easiest title to use, I don’t limit myself to writing for other people. The internet is a big place – once you get used to the industry behind its content there are so many different ways to be involved without directly writing.
I write about topics I know nothing about. I once had a client ask for a series of articles about vaginal yeast infections. To be clear, I am male. My penis has never had a vaginal yeast infection. I have no formal training on the topic, nor do I possess any firsthand experience. Yet, I accepted the order.
I headed to Google and furiously researched the industry of vaginal yeast infections. I started by finding out what they were (did I mention I write about stuff I know nothing about?). Then, I investigated the various problems associated with them. I wrote about natural remedies, home tests, products that’ll be helpful, symptoms and so on.
The point is, as a freelance writer, I rarely end up writing about topics in which I consider myself an expert. I’m a mercenary of the written word – I’ll write about anything as long as the pay is right.
Throughout my freelance career, I’ve written about the qualitative and quantitative research methodologies used in the study of leadership (clearly unqualified), the history of perfume (that’s the smelly stuff, right?), a brief lesson in modern furniture design (I enjoy Lay-Z-Boys) and efficient study habits for a college student (I never went to college).
Every single one of these articles was accepted by the client and ended up somewhere online. They were well researched and I represented the topic as an expert – without any prior knowledge. Research in 80% of the job.
I am outrageously lazy. Remember that freelance writer in a dusty room frantically calling newspapers to land a gig? I’m as far away from him as you can get. I find enough work to make as much money as I want, then just rely on the regular orders from established clients. Beyond that, I can’t be bothered. I have spent entire weeks of my life on the couch (granted I was making thousands of dollars…but I was still on a couch). I watched the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy just to prepare for seeing The Hobbit (which was not required, but was enjoyed). I have ordered more McDonalds (it’s a thing in Thailand) than anyone ever should.
Yet, this laziness of mine has become one of my most treasured assets. Much like a kung fu master encourages students to use as little effort as possible to find the true power within the connectedness of motion, or the way an electrical surge will take the path of least resistance through a circuit – I have become outrageously efficient.
I am constantly re-examining every routine and process throughout my day. How much time am I spending on this? Is it really advancing my career? Is it earning me money?
I’ve automated and outsourced so many aspects of my work that at times I’m barely even involved. I’ve created spreadsheets that do all the difficult tracking and money math for me. I am so outrageously lazy that it has made me ambitious. I’m incredibly driven to work as little as possible.
I have lost clients before and I’ll lose them again. I used to be overly concerned about keeping clients happy and working for them forever. This is a ridiculous point of view. I always meet deadlines and the quality of my work is always spectacular. However, clients are often assholes.
You can’t fire your boss. I can, however, fire a client. One particular client kept making outrageous quantity demands and being very rude in our communication. I dropped them.
Another client continually shortened due dates on articles until they became unreasonable. I told them that I couldn’t meet them, they dropped me.
I’ve had pay disputes, I’ve had revision disputes. Angry emails have been written and not sent. Angry emails have been written and sent.
The fact is, when you provide a service such as freelance writing, you’re going to encounter people with unreasonable demands. It’s absolutely insane to put yourself out (either by not getting paid enough or by spending too much time on various issues) to try to keep them happy indefinitely. Some clients are not meant to be worked with forever. I’ve learned to do my job well and that there are a near-infinite amount of people willing to pay for my services. Life is too short to work with assholes – regardless of your industry.
Most of the internet is about clicks. Remember when you used to see cheesy banner ads that just say ‘CLICK HERE’? Most of the internet is just a massive version of that. Your click is a billion dollar industry. How is this a confession? My job, and other subsequent ventures, are related to your clicks.
As a freelance writer in the digital age, most of my work involves directing you to click on something. I can’t just say, ‘Hey! Click this!’ That doesn’t work anymore. My job involves feeding you information and then subtly guiding you in the desired direction. You don’t realize that you’re just reading a giant banner ad guised as information. An ‘ad banner’ that was either designed to help increase someone’s search engine ranking or directly get you to do something.
Keep this in mind as you browse the internet. Your traffic, clicks and (obviously) purchases are what fuel this whole thing. What are you supporting with your usage? I’m sorry for misleading you with articles about yeast infections.
Whew, Now I Feel Better
You are the priest to my sinner. The chalkboard to my class interrupting spitballs. The police officer to my red light runner.
Now that you’ve heard my confessions, what do you think about becoming a freelance writer? Do you see how you can use it can be a stepping stone to future ventures? Do you understand that it’s not always pleasant (clients are assholes)? Do you really wanted to get started, or would you prefer another path?