Becoming a Freelance Writer: The Highs and Lows of My First Six Months

This is a guest post by Deevra Norling

Maybe I should just go out and get a job.”

I uttered these words more than once in my first six months as a freelance writer. Why didn’t I? Two reasons.

Becoming a Freelancer: 2 Reasons I Didn’t Give In and Get a “Real Job”

1) My gut told me to push on – that I was doing the right thing.

2) The thought of working for a boss again made me sick to my stomach.

So while I half-heartedly kept my options open by occasionally browsing through jobs and even applying for a few, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted. So eventually I stopped and focused solely on building the business.

The First Three Months

Clients were few and money scarce. I had four clients in the first three months and charged a low rate because I was just starting out. The good news is all of them were very happy with my work.

The Second Three Months

Three more months passed with no clients – zero, zilch, nada.

Advice on Becoming a Freelance WriterI was starting to panic. Money was fast running down and nothing was coming in, apart from some transcriptions work from a friend who was doing her thesis (and which had absolutely nothing do with writing).

What I Did the First Six Months of My Freelance Writing Career

A fair amount of time during the first six months was spent on getting set up – creating a website and online presence, having business cards printed and so forth.

I also tried to find work online and landed one client, which didn’t pay very well though. Trying to find work on online job boards and freelance sites such as Elance did not yield much results.

By month five I knew I had to start stepping things up a bit. I needed to start networking. I needed to get out there, connect with people and market myself. This is when things started to improve. I attended three business networking events, all of which yielded leads.

* I picked up one new client.

* I landed a contract with a PR agency.

* I landed another contract with someone starting a new company which will assist clients to set up websites and blogs and manage social media.

* I was given the opportunity to market myself to members of an organisation that helps small business owners. In addition, they suggested that I could run workshops on business writing with their members and requested a proposal.

Things were looking up, and while money was still not in abundance, at least there were things in the pipeline.

Landing a Plum Writing Gig

Plus, out of the blue and much to my surprise, The Huffington Post contacted me and invited me to blog for their Third Metric section. I sat staring at the computer screen for a while thinking it was some scam email, but much to my surprise, it was real. Wow!

One of my goals was to get published on The Huffington Post (the other is The New York Times. Any New York Times editors out there reading this – give me a holler!).

But back to Huff Post. I had not got around to pitching them yet, and instead – they contacted me! I laughed with giddy delight. That’s crazy, I kept saying! There’s a lot of controversy over the fact the Huff Post does not pay its bloggers, and while I agree with the detractors, I nevertheless felt that it will be good exposure. Many bloggers would love a chance to blog for Huff Post, and I got invited. Cool. Really cool! I was thrilled.

How I Landed a Gig Writing for The Huffington Post

But perhaps I should backtrack and explain how that happened. There was another blog called Think Simple Now that I was keen to get a guest post on. I eventually did get a post accepted.

The response from that post was amazing and it drove a lot of traffic to my website. One reader of that post was an editorial assistant at Huff Post who passed it on to the Lifestyle Blog Editor who then invited me to blog for The Third Metric, as the topic of the post on Think Simple Now fitted well with The Third Metric’s content.

Isn’t it amazing how the stars just magically align when you set yourself on a certain path?!

The Hard Truth about Freelancing

Starting a business is tough. Freelancing is tough. I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s easy, because it’s not. You got to hustle. You have to get out and find work. It’s not going to drop into your lap. You need confidence, determination, perseverance and tenacity.

How to Increase Your Chance of Succeeding as a Freelance Writer

A good idea for freelancers is to look at ways to diversify and create more than one stream of income. I had a brainwave one day and decided to advertise to do house and pet-sitting to bring in an additional income. It’s a ridiculously simple idea and easy money. I can take my laptop along to wherever I am house-sitting and continue working.

Some freelancers write e-books and sell it on Amazon and this brings in some extra bucks every month. As tough as it’s been and still is, this journey has been amazing so far. I never know what’s around the corner or who I will meet. I am still in awe at how things have unfolded for me thus far – people I’ve met and opportunities that have come my way.

I still have moments where I think I should just go out and get a ‘real’ job with a ‘set’ salary. It’s easier.

This is all a huge learning curve and I know I’m still making my mistakes. I still have a long way to go before I make a decent living from this, but if the first six months are anything to go by, the next six months are certainly going to be interesting.

2013 was about laying the groundwork and planting the seeds. Hopefully this bears fruit in 2014.

Deevra NorlingShare Your Thoughts

What happened your first six months of freelancing? I’d love to know how you made out. Please share in the comments section below.

About the Author: Deevra Norling lives in Cape Town, South Africa and quit her job as a brand manager in marketing to embark on life as a freelance writer. She is a versatile writer and work for clients has included press releases, magazine articles and blog articles.

With a sense of adventure and a love for exploring new places, she also enjoys a dash of travel writing. She also contributes to The Huffington Post and Dead Curious. Visit her website The Freelance Life of Deevra Norling, or connect with her on Twitter.

coverP.S.: Want to start a career as a successful, home-based freelance writer?

Get the ebook that pushed my freelance writing career to the next level – allowing me to travel and live abroad, get out of debt and really “live the freelance life.” One freelancer wrote:

First let me say thanks for answering my question(s) in your previous blog posts. I am writing to let you know, that I had my first $200 day after following the steps you outline in your e-book. I sent . . . emails pitching myself as a niche writer . . . A few days later, an SEO company called me, explained the scope of the project and sent me the funds through paypal without hesitation. . . . they are a local company. They said if they like my work, they will have much more in store, and are willing to pay higher fees.

For some reason, I thought your advice would only work for you. I know, call me naive, but I guess it seemed too good to be true. Luckily, I discovered you and liked what you had to say. If it wasn’t for you, I think I would still be trying to break into magazine writing.

P.P.S.: You can now order any of our products (like the SEO copywriting course) and take up to 6 months to pay.

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    1. Boy can I relate to your post Deevra – when I was starting out after losing my job in the recession I found it a bit tough but thanks to a supportive fiancée (now wife) I managed to persevere and eventually found my footing.

      I think the one best piece of advice to aspiring freelance writers is to keep at it because it will take time. Maybe take on a part time job while you do so that you can continue to pay your way but don’t give in until you’ve given it your best shot.

      • Thanks Brian for sharing your story. I totally agree with your advice abt maybe getting a PT job until things take off. Better yet, as I advise in this post, get your financial ducks in a row before you quit your job. This way, you’ll be able to focus on growing your freelance biz with a little less worry.

        FYI, your fiancé (wife) sounds amazing. Not many ppl would do that. She’s a keeper, as I’m sure you know. Don’t forget that! 🙂

      • Hi Brian. Thanks so much for your comment and the encouragement to keep plugging. I really need to hear that right now as it is hard to keep it at when you feel like you not seeing much results.

        I’ve thought about the part-time job option, but I wonder – does it not hinder growing your business because you spend half the day tied to a job which leaves less time for building your freelancing business, looking for freelance jobs and clients, etc.
        Deevra recently posted…10 Rules for Writing First DraftsMy Profile

        • Deevra:

          I’ve been freelancing since 1993; full-time since 2007. IMO, having a job hinders your success as a freelancer because it cuts into the time you need to build your business. Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go out and get a PT job if you need to; just realize it’s going to take you longer to make your freelance dreams a reality going this route (and that’s fine). Here are two posts that can shed more light on this situation — one is my experience, the other comes from another freelancer.

          A Freelance Writer With Over 20 Years Experience Tells The Most Important Thing She’s Learned About NOT Giving Up

          That’s It. I Quit! I’m Not Searching for SEO Writing Jobs Anymore!

          Hang in there, ok? 🙂

          • Thanks Yuwanda. Loved reading your piece as well as the other one! I can so relate. However, admittedly, I am not putting in as much hours as you did when you really hit it hard. Must say the last two month (Dec / Jan) I slacked off as most people are on leave and business just takes a dive.

            And sometimes I feel like I just don’t have the energy to tackle it again.

            But what I really related to in your article were the words “I will NEVER work for a boss again!”. That’s exactly what I said. Yes, I half-heartedly kept an eye out for other jobs – ‘just in case’, but I knew it wasn’t what I wanted. Like you, I decided I MUST make this work. Yet, despite feeling that strongly about, I still have my ‘maybe I should just go out and get a job’ moments because doubt assails me and makes me wonder if this will ever work!

            Sigh – nobody said the freelance life will be easy! Lol.

            Thank you so much for your support and encouragement!
            Deevra recently posted…10 Rules for Writing First DraftsMy Profile

            • Deevra:

              Glad you enjoyed the articles and could relate to them.

              One thing I want to hammer home is this . . . every person’s freelance journey is different. So while you can learn from others, don’t be afraid to try something if you feel it’ll work for you. And hang in there — really, if you work at it hard every day (this is a must as I relay about my freelance journey), you will make a successful go of it.

              Once I let go of the possibility of going out and getting a job, I doubled down (triple downed — is that a phrase?) and it’s like the universe conspired with me to give me my dream. But it was because I was putting in the work, even when it seemed no one was interested.

              Finally, holidays are one of the best times to market for freelance writing work, for all the reasons I outline in this post. Although this is geared for Thanksgiving/Christmas, it can apply to any holiday.

              Many have the attitude you do about holidays (ie, slack off marketing b/c they think most people are on leave), but work still has to get done and many FREELANCERS are slacking off. This means it’s a great time to get your foot in the door with prospects — and turn them into repeat customers.

              Again hang in there. If a freelance career is what you want, it’s yours for the taking — if you stick with it and put in the work.


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