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Freelance Writing Advice for College Grads (Or Those Who Want to Transition into Freelancing Fulltime)

Written by Yuwanda Black

My 18-year-old nephew ships off to the U.S. Air Force today (I couldn’t be more proud!). As a recent high school graduate and young person who’s spreading his wings for the first time, I’m feeling full of advice for the young (and the not-so-young who are trying to forge a freelance path). So, when the following email from a college senior hit my inbox about a week and a half ago, it was right on time for a newsletter I wanted to write anyway.

Question from a College Student about Freelance Writing

freelance-advice-for-college-studentsHi Yuwanda,

I am a 23 year old college senior, soon to be 24. I am an English and Psych double major. My strong point has always been writing; its just what comes natural to me (been doing creative writing since I was 13). After hearing about technical writing, I decided to stay in college and pursue the certification they offer. Its the end of the year, and it turns out that the “business and technical writing” courses are mediocre at best. Adobe Framemaker, Robohelp – none of them were even mentioned.

I would like your opinion on the technical and medical writing field. I’ve taken a look around your site and I bought your ebook on “How to make 250$ a day writing simple SEO articles“. It offers some great information. My question is: What do you think about technical/medical writing, versus Freelance work? I’m a bit lost. I am over 100k in debt of education expenses. Do you think I should pursue technical writing, or do you think freelance writing on the net is better? I have no problems viewing writing as a business. Do you think its possible if I do freelance SEO writing for now – and on the side, self teach myself the skills needed for tech writing, or is it not worth it? Should I go and pursue an internship while I finish school? Is tech writing really all that lucrative?

Thanks for reading. Right now I’m a bit lost and frustrated on where to go and what to do.

My Answer

Let’s take this student’s questions about freelance writing one by one (albeit, out of order).

1. Is tech writing really all that lucrative?

Yes, tech writing can be very lucrative. Just know, there are different kinds of technical writing. And, you can do it for a company, eg, writing computer manuals for a software manufacturer, or you can pursue it as a freelance writer.

FYI, find out the average salary for technical writers in your area.

I’ve always made more money as a freelancer, but I should point out that I’ve never held a full-time position as a writer. I worked in publishing for a decade in New York City, but never as a writer (I was a copy editor, admin assistant and publications operations specialist).

So my advice here would be to figure out what type of technical writing you want to do first. Then you can always pursue full-time employment or freelance; or, you can pursue both at the same time. I freelanced on the side for years while holding a full-time job. Then, I started to earn more freelancing (and it suited my personality more), so I eventually peeled off and made it a FT career.

2. What do you think about technical/medical writing, versus freelance work?

See answer to #1.

Also, realize that both are niches are ones where you can earn very good money, but you need experience. You’re going to have that catch-22 situation where it’s needing experience to get work – and of course, you need work to gain experience. You just have to stay persistent. While landing that first gig may be difficult, once you do, you’re on your way.

As an aside, I’ve always found that getting work as a freelance writer (as opposed to searching for a full-time writing position) is easier when you’re trying to break into a market, especially if you have good writing samples. So, after you figure out what type of (freelance) writing you want to do, eg, technical and/or medical, then compose a few samples that prove you CAN write in that discipline.

3. Do you think I should pursue technical writing, or do you think freelance writing on the net is better?

These are two completely separate questions.

I can’t tell you what to pursue, as that depends on a range of factors, eg, is this a type of writing you like to do, for starters.

As for “is freelance writing on the net better,” any type of freelance writing you do is going to require marketing. In my experience, it is the skill most freelance writers lack and one most never really take the time to learn.

You also have to be very disciplined to be a freelancer. Most give up way too easily and they don’t invest in their careers, eg, learning: how to build / update their own websites; how to market; how to price freelance writing jobs – and most of all how to make decisions on their own without constantly seeking the advice of “experts.”

In short, freelancing depends a lot on your personality – are you a “take charge, go get’em” type of person; an “I need some hand-holding before I make a decision” type of person; or a “I constantly second-guess myself” type of person.

If you fall into the first two categories, you have a shot. If you’re the third type of person, you’ll probably be eaten alive as a freelancer.

4. Do you think it’s possible if I do freelance SEO writing for now – and on the side, self teach myself the skills needed for tech writing, or is it not worth it?

Again, this is something only you can decide. Start by answering the above question about your personality type.  THEN, ask yourself if freelancing is a career you really want, or would a full-time job suit you better.

First, you have to identify what you want of out life – then ask yourself what you’re willing to do to get it.

For example, if you choose to freelance, realize that there is no health insurance, no 401K and no steady pay check.

You say that you’re over $100,000 in student loan debt. Now, you can get a “secure job” (and I put this in quotation marks because I stopped believing in job security years ago) and count on a certain salary to pay your bills, or you can strike out on your own and earn more (or less) than you could at a 9 to 5.

But that’s all up to you.

I can tell you this, I’ve earned more being self-employed than I ever did in a FT job, but it took some time to build up to it. But, I know of freelancers who earn $35,000 to $50,000 per year pretty easily. Then, there are go-getters who earn six figures within a year or two.

But again, this depends on you.  And, I’m not trying NOT to answer your question; it really is up to you.

As a soon-to-be college grad I do want to point out that small business owners (eg, the self-employed) are happier than 9 to 5ers, even though they tend to earn less. But, self-employed individuals are more likely to become rich?  Proof? According to the article, How Do the Wealthy Get That Way?:

Self-employed people are more likely to become wealthy. Overall 20% of our population is self-employed, while 75% of millionaires are self-employed.

That’s a pretty interesting report by the way; try to read it all. The article goes on to state that there are other factors that contribute to becoming wealthy.

My family has always been a big believer in entrepreneurship. Even though my nephew is going into the military, I know that one day he’ll be his own boss – whether it’s investing in real estate (a definite if his mom (my sister, a RE agent and investor) has anything to say about it) – or some other type of business.

He sold candy in grade school; mowed lawns in middle school; and composed music in high school. So, his entrepreneurial background is already rich in experience.

5. Should I go and pursue an internship while I finish school?

If you mean an internship to become a freelance writer – no. I think writers should be paid. The time you spend as an intern could be spent marketing for paying freelance writing work. There’s plenty of it to be found on the web and your age / lack of experience doesn’t have to be a stumbling block.

One of the beautiful things about working on the web is that you can be “anonymous” if you want; this makes things like age, race, sex, etc. almost irrelevant. All employers care about is that the work gets done.

Now for some specific “life” advice . . .

How I Would Build a Freelance Career If I Were a College Student Today

If I were a senior in college today and knew about freelancing, I would probably take a FT job to have that steady paycheck and get myself on my feet (eg, get an apartment; a (paid for) car; and save six months to one year of expenses).

I’d also be freelancing on the side from day one and as soon as I had my financial cushion in place (and I wouldn’t pussy foot around about saving this money), I’d quit to freelance fulltime in a heartbeat.

I spent my 20s spending so much money on travelling, hanging out partying with my friends and not really knowing what the heck I wanted out of life. Again, I don’t regret it at all because I appreciate my success so much more now. But, I also know that I’d be MUCH more successful now if I’d figured out earlier that freelancing writing (which led to self-publishing and other revenue streams) was what I wanted to do.

Debt: The #1 Freelance Dream Snatcher

Don’t get into debt (any more than you already are). Stay debt free as much as you can – forever. It is the number one thing that can keep you tied to jobs you hate (that and having responsibilities like children before you’re financially ready).

Once I became debt free, I vowed never to go in debt again. My car (a Jeep) is over 10 years old — it’s paid for and I happen to love it); I paid off my student loans a few years ago; and I don’t have credit card debt. My only debt is my mortgage and I’m striving to pay that off as soon as possible – way before the 30-year term.

You see, when you’re debt free, you have so many more options in life. You are free to look at your life through a different lens – ie, through the lens of “what do I really want out of life,” instead of “I have to take this job because I have to pay the bills.”

Life goes by way too fast to live like that, so keep this in mind, ok?

Freelance Writing Advice for College Graduates (and Others): Conclusion

The only regret I have about choosing a career as a freelance writer is that I didn’t do it sooner. I believe that every path we choose leads us to where we are at any given moment, so I don’t regret my circuitous route to freelancing because it paved the way for my present success in so many ways (eg, industry contacts;  learning the ins and outs of how editorial companies function; learning the lingo of the trade; learning how to do so much on my own, like building websites, etc.).

I hope this insight helps, and wish you much success – whether you choose freelance writing as a career, or something else.

Yuwanda
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coverP.S.: Get the freelance writing opportunity that allowed me to be financially secure enough to travel, live abroad, get out of debt and really “live the freelance life!”

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