I had an email exchange with someone who wishes to remain anonymous, but consented to me sharing some of the info included, regarding several aspects of beginning a freelance writing career. The part discussed the most was the transition from corporate work to freelance in terms of income and work style. Here’s what I said.
Generating income from scratch
It took me almost a year to really get up to a point where I was making a livable wage. This transition was a little easier because I was basically living in Oz as a cheap backpacker, well, as cheap as you can get in this city. I had my mix of freelance income, money I’d saved and a tax return since I made basically no money for the later half of 2009 after my layoff. Another surge in work and pay has come this year with more assignments from my current clients and new gigs.
In terms of salary changes, I think it’s hard for people coming from another industry who’ve had good corporate jobs. You’ve had a taste of better income. I actually currently make the most money I’ve made in my career, but a) I’m still in my 20s and b) I know a lot of people in corporate roles who would not think it is a good salary. I’ve always been a journalist or an editor, so my income scale is different. My industry historically does not pay as well as something like finance. I’ve been realistic with myself about that.
The biggest things to get used to as a freelancer are getting paid at different times and frequencies (weekly, monthly) and in different ways (bank account, PayPal, etc.) and the “feast or famine” mindset. The latter means that, generally, freelancers go through periods of boom times when business is busy and income is high. The “famine” times happen in between projects and clients. This means you have to save money to prepare for times of lower pay and always be able to seek out more work.
Know your work style
You really have to think about your work style when considering a full-time freelance career. I am a true multi-tasking writer/artist type. I love doing 18 things at once, because I get bored easily. I love shifting from one project to another, always having to churn out ideas. I love the versatility. Still, from the very beginning, I made sure to keep a schedule to maximize productivity. You have to set your own structure, as there is no manager or boss to do it for.
There have been many times where I’ve worked 8:30 to 8 at night or on some weekends, like any other job. I don’t foresee this being forever, but I have a lot I’m working on right now. But the best part is, since I’m doing what I love, I don’t mind some long days as much as I would have at my old office jobs.
The bottom line of freelancing is that time is money. That goes not just for your work weeks but for vacations, too. You have to make enough money to be able to give yourself “time off.”