Saturday, January 26, 2013

Making a Living Part 2- Where to Find Jobs

Being a freelancer is great, but it's also one of the hardest jobs I've ever held. Like all writing jobs, freelancing means putting myself out there and becoming an expert marketer as well as a writer. I'm the boss, but I'm also the secretary, accountant, collections department and day laborer. I wear all the hats and juggle all the acts. It's thrilling and challenging... and at times it's frustrating beyond belief, yet I keep going, because I am a writer and I can't imagine making a living any other way. And besides, I like working in my pajamas.

Working in one's PJs is a major attraction of freelancing, but it's not all coffee and cream.
If you want to succeed, you'll need to work hard.
Welcome to part 2 of my series on how to make a living as a freelance writer. You can find Part 1: Finding Time, here.  Today I'm going to focus on two things: Where to find jobs, and how a business plan can make freelancing work for you. 

For most freelancers, finding jobs means going online. Job clearinghouses like E-Lance and oDesk are the most popular sites. Some freelancers also use social media to gather jobs. Creating a Facebook "Page", LinkedIn or Twitter account to advertise your writing and editing services may help funnel some work your way, IF you take the time to maintain a solid social network. This strategy may work best for those transitioning from some type of editing or writing office job into a home freelancing business. In other words- for social media to be an effective job-hunting tool, you need to have connections with people who will potentially be interested in your services. If you don't already have those connections, you'll have to put a lot of time and effort into cultivating them.

For the rest of us, job clearinghouse sites are the best places to search. I recommend oDesk and E-Lance because I'm most familiar with these services and most of my work comes through those two portals. Other freelancers have found success through searching Craigslist and even newspaper listings, as well as other job-listings sites.

A caveat: Wherever you search for jobs, try to use a platform that offers at least some protection to the freelancer in terms of payment. oDesk, for example, guarantees payment for freelancers on "hourly" jobs. E-lance has a similar guarantee. The "guarantee" is somewhat flimsy in practice, but better than being completely on your own, as you are with contacts made through Craigslist. Legitimate employers who hire through oDesk at very least have the motivation of not wanting to be blacklisted for non-payment. 

So, now you know a little about where to find jobs. The second part of the equation is how to manage jobs once you have them. A solid business plan, including goals, a regular daily schedule and record keeping, will turn your freelance writing career from a hobby into a viable career.

Always remember, a business plan is your key to success, not a fence to limit your progress. 
For those of us who did not major in business, and to whom a budget represents The All-Consuming Vortex of Boring-ness and Death of Fun, a business plan can seem like an overly-formal and fussy approach to the lighthearted world of freelancing. The truth is, a business plan doesn't need to be formal, boring or enclosing. A few lines on a piece of notebook paper is sufficient, as long as it details your goals and how you intend to achieve them.

For example, my business plan looks something like this:

Goal # 1: I would like to make enough in 2013 to cover my household and business expenses.
(A tip: Keep the goals accessible. Stating a goal of "I want to make $100,000 in my first year of freelancing" might be a little bit of a stretch.)

Goal # 2: I would like to establish a diverse enough client base to maintain a steady income.

In order to reach goal #1, it needs a little more definition. How do I know how much I need to make in 2013, unless I have a fair idea of what I can expect my household and business expenses to be?

I sat down and worked out the math. My basic household expenses, PLUS what I need to factor in for business expenses, averages out to around $1200 a month. For me, business expenses basically means paying my internet bill. Your business expenses depend on what type of freelancing you're doing. Some freelancers maintain professional memberships and so on.

I need to make an average of $300 each week to cover my expenses. With my current rate for most work at around $10 an hour (I charge a little more for writing jobs that require heavy research or academic language, and for heavy editing projects), I need to work an average of 30 hours a week to meet my goals. Now that I have those numbers in mind, I can apply them to my schedule and make sure I allot 30 hours a week to paid work for clients.

Finding work as a freelancer can be challenging. 

My second goal, establishing a diverse client base, requires looking at the way I find jobs and categorize clients. Scheduling time for perusing job boards like  and  is as necessary as finding time to work. While it might seem fool-hardy to be searching for more jobs while I'm already working at capacity, that's just what I do. A freelancer who fails to diversify their income stream will fail to last long in this business. Seeking out different avenues for creating revenue is critical to success.

My clients tend to fall into one of three categories: 1 time clients, who need a single project completed, (usually a large job that pays well but is on a tight deadline), sporadic clients who contact me when they have work, but who I may not hear from for weeks at a time, and steady clients who have regular work for me and who make up the bread-and-butter of my income. While the last type, the steady client, are the foundation of my business, the other two types are the ones who make freelancing... interesting.

As soon as possible, it's advisable to make the steady clients the bulk of your income. That steady paycheck comes in very handy when bill collectors require their payments on a regular schedule, even if your income stream sometimes slows to a trickle. Rely on the one-time clients and the sporadic clients to help build up a buffer of savings- critical for closing the gap between losing income if a steady client goes elsewhere or runs out of projects for you to do, and the time it takes you to replace that income stream.

By having a plan, and setting goals, freelancing can be a viable way to make a living. Next week, I'll talk a little about that happy problem of keeping your balance when your career begins to get off the ground.

Happy writing!

I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”
  ~Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Making a Living Part 1- Finding Time

The "happy housewife" is the ultimate dream of many aspiring freelancers.
Photo by Victor
When I opened my Facebook account this morning, I found a message from a friend: "How do you make a living?"

It's a good question, and one I intend to begin to address today. How does a writer make a living?
Well, for many aspiring fiction writers, the answer is; they don't.

Very, very few writers make a living by writing fiction exclusively. Stephen King, James Patterson and JK Rowling might have bank accounts which allow them to write at their leisure every day, but for the rest of us in the ranks of the as-yet unpublished (but hopefully washed) masses, large royalty checks are the holy grail, the dream that we pursue every time we send out another query or submission.
Even for published authors, the checks are often too small, and too far between, to be considered full-time income. The vast majority of fiction writers hold jobs in other areas. Many are experts in a particular field, and draw upon their knowledge to enrich their writing.

For most of us, making a living as a writer means freelancing. For those who aspire to write full-time, or who want to earn a living working from home, it's important to understand how freelancing works, and how the dream differs from the reality. If you're interested in making a living as a freelance writer, this series of blog entries is for you. I intend to cover the basics here, to let you in on the secrets that might make your entry into freelancing a little easier. I'll talk first about the hours that go into freelancing, and give you some practical tips on how to find time to freelance. I'll also talk about where to find jobs, and finally how to run your business while balancing the writing life with everything else. 

My office is a chair in the corner of my bedroom where I sit with my laptop, cats and fish. Yes, really.

I can't tell you how everyone who works from home makes a living, or how to make a million in your spare time, but I can tell you how I make a living and what I have found works, and doesn't work, for me. If you're determined to make a living at writing, read on, young grasshopper. It's not easy, and it's not for everyone, but it can be done.

Scheduling is the most critical, and often the most difficult, part of being a freelancer. Most people seem to think they can freelance in their "spare time", without realizing the importance of relaxation. The truth is, freelancing is a job. It requires time, commitment and energy. My personal schedule is relatively simple:

7-8:30 AM Personal writing. This is my time for writing fiction. Starting the day this way allows me to feel productive and reduces my frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed.

8:30-10 AM Morning chores, including caring for our numerous pets and getting my own breakfast.

10AM-1PM This is the first chunk of my freelancing day, in which I focus on actual writing, editing or other client work.

1-2PM I take an hour for lunch, before coming back to work.

2-5:30PM I dedicate these hours to project work before taking a break for making and eating supper, and hanging out with my kids.

7PM-10PM (or later, depending on how my week is going)- Working or seeking out more work.(A topic I'll address later when I discuss how and where to find jobs.)

I follow this schedule, in general, from Monday through Friday,, with exceptions for the days my kids have appointments and lessons. I tend to work in 3-hour stretches. Some people can work longer at a time with fewer breaks, others might need to stop to get up and stretch their legs more frequently. The important thing is not to follow the same schedule as someone else, but to discover what works for you.

My schedule is wide-open... at least until I start adding in everything I need to get done in a day.
Each of those squares represents a half-hour of possibilities.

  In order to make my schedule, I sat down and blocked out the hours of my day in a grid, and entered all my activities into the blocks. Although I don't follow the schedule religiously, having it on paper allows me to keep better track of which project I'm working on in a particular day, so that no one client gets neglected because I'm too immersed in another project. It's a good way for a freelancer to discover their "time sucks" (one of my big ones is Facebook), and where they need to adjust their expectations of just what is possible to get done in a single day.

Controlling one's time is the most critical aspect of freelancing. Freelancing is a job, like any other. It requires self-discipline and focus, as well as determination and a high tolerance for risk, disappointment and isolation. It's not for everyone, and it's not a get-rich-quick scheme. It can, however, be a viable way to make a living.

Still think you want to try making a living as a freelancer? Look for the upcoming installments in this blog: Where to find jobs, which will cover not only where to look for clients, but how to land jobs and manage your business, and Finding Balance, which will discuss in more detail how and when to accept jobs, how to balance your personal and professional life, and how and when to say "no".

Happy writing!