I hear from a lot of writers who want to freelance full-time, or who are freelancing on the side but struggling with making enough money or getting enough work. Often one of the things holding them back has little to do with their writing ability. Rather, it’s their attitude and the way they approach their writing careers. In short, they’re not treating freelancing like a business, but rather as a (hopefully) lucrative hobby.
After 14+ years of full-time freelancing, I can tell you that while attitude isn’t everything, it is a critical factor to your success. It’s not only attitude, either; there are other ways to help ensure your success by acting like a professional writer even before you really feel like one, like the following:
Develop resilience. Let me tell you, not every day of freelancing is all sunshine and roses. Some days stink. Some days I really don’t want to freelance anymore and the idea of returning to a “real” job (complete with paid vacations, sick days, and free coffee!) sounds really attractive. But I also know that these days are part of any career, no matter how much you enjoy it.
If you had a bad day at work, you’d chalk it up to just that—a bad day. You wouldn’t question your entire career strategy. So don’t let a rejection or a harsh note from an editor question your ability or desire to freelance. Learn how to shrug it off and keep going.
Keep regular hours. One of the great things about freelancing is that you can set your own hours, whether you freelance full- or part-time. But that flexibility may keep you—or your clients—from taking your work seriously.
I suggest you devote regular time to your freelance business. That doesn’t mean you have to punch a metaphorical clock every day at 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., but it does mean that you put consistent time into your work. When I started freelancing, I worked Monday through Friday, starting at about 7 a.m. (I’m a morning person) and knocking off in the late afternoon. Today my schedule fluctuates but I still work Monday-Thursday mornings, 8 a.m. to noon, no matter what.
Be responsive. We’ve all worked with editors who take weeks (or longer) to respond, but as a freelancer, you don’t have that luxury. You should respond as quickly as possible to phone messages and emails from clients and potential clients; that’s part of being a professional.
When I worked as a lawyer, my rule was to return all phone calls the day I received them. I can’t always be that responsive with every email I get, but I do try to reply to all emails within two to three days—even if it’s just a quick question from a reader or a fellow writer.
Track your income. Serious freelancers want to be paid—and hopefully paid well—for their work. To do that, you have to know how much you’re making, and where your money comes from. That means keeping track of your assignments, what you’re being paid, and following up on unpaid invoices. That’s not being a pest—it’s being a professional.
Project success. Just as successful freelancers must develop resilience, they also must be able to project a successful persona to the world. That means when you attend a writers’ conference or meet with a potential client, you dress appropriately—say, sporting “business casual” wear, not the jeans and sweatshirt you might wear at home.
But projecting success also includes always acting confident, even when you’re not. I go through slow work times like any other freelancer, but when I’m contacted by a potential client, I don’t say, “thank God you’re hiring me—I’m broke!” even though I might be thinking that. People want to work with successful people. So, “fake it ‘til you make it,” and project a confident persona to the world.
**Readers, what do you say? Do you agree that your attitude is essential? And do you have the right attitude toward your business?