In June 2014, after 15 years of conventional full-time employment, I struck out on my own as a full-time consultant and freelancer. I’ve had a very successful first year, increasing my previous annual income by roughly 50 percent.
In the issue of Writer’s Digest currently on newsstand (November/December 2015), I’ve written a feature article on how writers can become their own boss, by reflecting on how and why I was able to make the leap; I also interviewed other freelancers who’ve made the transition within the last few years. As a sidebar, I offer a transparent look at my income, and list the exact dollar figures I earn by source.
Here are a few other things I’d like to share—not in the article—about my experience so far.
1. The Short-Term Pressure to Say Yes and Long-Term Need to Say No
I had about three months to prepare for full-time freelance, when I was still earning a full-time salary but had a definitive “last day” on the calendar with my employer. During that time, not knowing how things would go, I more or less said yes to every potential opportunity, while also proactively looking for a few of my own. For my first half-year of freelance, I said yes, yes, yes to everything or everyone external.
It wasn’t necessarily the wrong thing to do, but it was driven by income anxiety rather than by strategy or what would be an efficient use of my time and energy. It was also driven by lack of confidence that I could succeed and be profitable at things I wanted to pursue. No doubt this is a problem all freelancers have throughout their career: the pressure to take on the paying work you could have right now, rather than invest in something that pays much further down the road.
I have to keep reminding myself that every “yes” to something I’m not that excited about means saying “no” to something else important to me. Of course, over time, as reputation and status grow, you get to call more and more of the shots.
2. Attracting the Right Kind of Work (or Client)
While I was working at F+W Media years ago, the annual budget review meeting was notorious for executives asking, “Can we raise the price on that?” It became tiresome after a while, and I understood the wisdom of it then—but I understand it even better now.
Charging a low price to attract a large number of clients/customers can be less efficient than charging a high price to a fewer number of clients/customers. Price also communicates something about the value of what you’re providing. Obviously, there is a limit to how far you can price-hike before people think you’re deluded or trying to rip them off, and the pricing also has to be informed by the market you’re targeting. (I’m fairly conscious of services provided to unpublished writers who may never see a return on investment and are not exactly pursuing a high-income profession.)
The hard part: I often value my time more highly than many of those who might pay me. Or, put another way, I see the earnings potential in an hour of my time as far greater than what many should pay me or want to pay me. That’s a business challenge I continue to address, but one solution is to be far more specific about the type of work I try to attract.
Also, I like the advice that Michael Ellsberg has offered on this: Look for your happy price, or the price at which you feel happy (not resentful) doing the work.
3. The Accounting, The Accounting, The Accounting
I wish I had done more legwork upfront on setting up proper business accounts, separate business credit cards, and more. I’m only recently catching up on this. Here are the tools I discovered that you could use to help track business expenses and income:
- Wave: free web-based accounting and invoicing (will allow you to import transactions from bank accounts and credit cards)
- Ally: free online checking (but be careful: they don’t permit business accounts; however, it’s a good way to begin separating out your writing/freelance income and expenses if you’re a sole proprietor)
- Chase Ink Business credit cards: these are the credit cards recommended by the Points Guy to maximize rewards
If you’ve experienced the transition to full-time freelance, I’d love to know about your experience and advice in the comments.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.