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Starting a Freelance Writing Career Later in Life: Some Pros, Cons, Advice & Help

Following is the question I’ll be answering today because of the reasons I gave in yesterday’s post. A potential freelance writer wrote in, asking the following …

“Is it possible for me and my wife to earn $1,000 per month working 20 hours per week?”

Hello Ms. Black,

I have read your helpful article, “11 Reasons You’ll Never Succeed as a Freelance Writer,” and seen your impressive experience at the website.

My wife and I are weighing our financial needs against the time and energy required to start, operate, and succeed with a freelance writing business. I am 70, and my wife is 63. We are active, in fairly good health, but our energy is about half to two-thirds of what it was twenty years ago, and we have the same necessary things to do as most retirees.

We both have excellent skills, education, and experience for writing in a wide range of genre [sic].  I have significant marketing experience. I think each of us could work at such a business a maximum of twenty hours a week, limiting the work we accept accordingly. We need to earn at least $1,000 a month.  We would greatly appreciate any reactions, advice, or suggestions as to other authorities related to this idea that you would be so kind as to share.

Thank you again, Ms. Black.~RD

Here’s the skinny, in my opinion, of starting a freelance writing career later in life.

Freelance Writing Advice for Senior Citizens

My Answer

Dear RD:

First, thanks for writing in and for asking such a pertinent question. As the stats in yesterday’s post highlights, more and more of us are working longer – well past traditional retirement age. And in my opinion, freelance writing is an excellent career choice for this for many reasons.

Why Freelance Writing Is an Ideal Career for Senior Citizens

Namely, it’s free/cheap to start: Literally, you don’t have to spend one dime to start a home-based writing business. In this linked-to post, I outline the EXACT steps you need to take to get your business up and going and if you have internet service at home (as most do these days), then it won’t cost you one red cent.

Isn’t taxing on the body; and

You can do it from home, which means organizing your work schedule to suit your life, not the other way around.

Does Freelancing Get Harder As You Get Older? Some Pros and Cons

Now that you know exactly what to do, I just wanted to point out some pros and cons of starting a freelance writing career as a senior citizen.

I know as I get older, technology is the stumbling block for me. It changes so fast these days – and I’m in the tech writing sector (SEO writing). But it’s a pain keeping up with the changes Microsoft, Google and the various social media sites throw your way.

So if you’re fairly new to the computer, you might find the learning curve steep, but once you get the basics down, eg, learning how to:

Work in MS Word (the program most clients work in);

Attach and send files via email;

Talk the talk of the web, eg, learn key terms like keywords; SE (search engine) results; SMM (social media marketing); SEO (search engine optimization); etc. and

Conduct effective web research … you’ll be fine.

Why I Advise Freelance Writers to Specialize

You say that you and your wife can “writing in a wide range of genres.” I always advise freelance writers to specialize. As I point out in this post, it’s because you can build your client list faster, and earn more from each project.

Working Part-time to Earn $1,000 Per Month: How Long Will It Take?

When you first start your freelance writing business, you’re going to spend 80 to 90 percent of your time marketing. This is true of almost any business you start.

As it’s two of you, if you’re EACH putting in 20 hours per week, that equates to one full-time job. How long it will take you to earn your goal of $1,000 per month is directly related to how well you market, as well as:

Your chosen niche: Some niches simply pay better, eg, writing white papers as opposes to writing simple web articles;

Types of services you offer (eg, will you offer social media marketing in addition to writing (which can increase the dollar amount of each invoice));

  • Your rates;
  • The quality of your work;
  • The competition;
  • Your turnaround time; and
  • I’m sure a few other factors not listed here.

HOWEVER … let me say this — yes, it’s a lot to consider. But don’t let it overwhelm you. You can do it – and two heads are always better than one.

Age Discrimination: Should You Mention Your Age?

In my opinion, definitely not. Why? Because it’s irrelevant to this type of work. Most of your clients won’t care about such a thing even if they do know, but sometimes people subconsciously discriminate, so just don’t make it a factor by mentioning it.

In a later email from this same aspiring freelancer, he wrote the following:

Having experienced, I’m sure, age discrimination in other venues, I initially thought that would not be an issue here. Then I realized that some of my strong credentials (resume, reference letters, writing samples, and diplomas) would give me away.

I think I look a decade or two younger than I actually am, so I decided to “take the bull by the horns” and got a photo made … reflecting alertness and energy. My intention was to use this selectively in emails to potential employers. I am undecided about its use at a website.

I responded …

I wouldn’t downplay my experience and achievements if I were you; just quantify them differently. For example, not using dates, but DEFINITELY stating if you received an award for X, or have a degree in Y.

As for using a photo,* that’s a personal decision, but I’d say no. I don’t have one on my SEO writing company’s website; never have. And a teeny, tiny part of the reason is, I didn’t want to have to deal with possible discrimination.

My name — in my opinion — is a dead giveaway that I’m obviously not white and not male. Technical writing is not a field that’s exactly dominated by African American females, so I just didn’t want this to be an issue. With just a little web surfing though, it’s easy to find out who I am, what I look like, and how old I am.

Have I lost writing jobs because of my age/race? Would I have gotten more jobs if I’d been known as Lisa Stephens, for example, and didn’t have a photo on the web? I don’t know. You can’t quantify what hasn’t come your way. All I know is, I’ve been able to build a solid freelance writing career being who I am.

But age discrimination — again, in my opinion — is the new race discrimination, so I’d advise against using a photo. Let your writing samples, website, credentials, etc., do the talking for you — and leave it at that.

FYI, here’s an interesting post; it talks about gender discrimination in freelance writing, but you may glean some insight from it as it relates to your situation.

Are You Serious about Starting a Freelance Writing Career?

If you are, here is a more detailed tutorial than the one I linked to earlier that tells you exactly how to go about it. And it has tons of links to other posts about, for example, how to set rates; how to go about developing a niche; and how/when to hire help – and much more.

There’s tons of info on this site about how to start a successful freelance writing career – and if you take the steps, you can be up and going before you know it. Good luck if you and your wife decide to take the plunge.

*2016 Update: This article was first written in 2014. I’ve changed my stance on whether or not to use a photo. I use one on almost all of my sites and in my social media profiles now. The main reason is, I just don’t worry about discrimination because I have a body of work under me that proves my mettle. And for those who might discriminate, then I just don’t want them as clients anyway, so it’s a non-factor for me.

As for an older person though who’s just starting out in freelance writing, I still advise against using a photo. Ageism is real, and why needlessly put an obstacle in your way? Let your experience speak for itself. Again, this is my personal opinion. If you feel differently, then go for it (and good for you!).

P.S.: Want the freedom to work and live anywhere you please?

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    Comments

    1. Yuwanda:

      Hello, I have just purchased your ebook” How To Start Your Freewriting Business from zero
      to little cost in 24 Hours”. I want to know if I have only my recent book reviews as articles to show a potential client I have some writing experience, is this sufficient? I also have other articles that I have written and published over the last roughly four years.I have always heard that I need to have recently published articles to show that I am still actively writing. My last book reviews were published over a month ago.
      Give me your advice because this is one of the goals I have wanted to accomplish in 2014. I too am a retired senior citizen.

      Sincerely,
      Donald Daniel

      • Donald:

        You don’t need recent samples; as long as it’s well written, then whatever you have should suffice (unless it’s obvious that it’s say 5 or 10 years old). And it’s easy to create new samples — simply sit down and write on subjects in the niche you want to target. It doesn’t have to be for an actual client; after all, it’s a sample. And, your writing (whether commissioned by a paying client or not), will show that.

        Good luck, and thanks for your purchase.