When I started freelancing, I put in a lot of time to get my business going. To get any business started, you must market, and as a freelancer, that started with researching publications. In other words, I read a lot (and I’m talking dozens) of different magazines, trying to familiarize myself with what they covered and find homes for potential story ideas.
I also spent inordinate amounts of time researching stories. Like many writers, I was worried about not having enough information about a particular topic, so I’d research and research and research before I started writing. You don’t need a doctorate (or even a master’s degree) to write an article, but it took me several years before I realized I didn’t have to comprehend every nuance of a subject to write about it.
The bottom line is that I was working at least forty hours a week, often more, in my quest for freelance success. But it’s not the amount of time you put into your career that determines whether you make money—it’s how you spend that time. Once I cut back on unnecessary research, focused on a handful of markets instead of pitching dozens of magazines at once, and developed regular clients, I was much more efficient. Today I work part-time by choice (I'm a stay-at-home mom to two little kids), but I strive to make a full-time living—and many freelancers do the same.
Gretchen Roberts is a former newspaper editor who has been freelancing part-time since her oldest child was born. “Part-time just made sense for me then, and it still does. I now have three children ages eight, four, and one, and my schedule has changed with their births, milestones, schedules, and child care availability,” says Roberts, author of the e-book Full-TimeIncome in Part-Time Hours: 22 Secrets to Writing Success in under 40 Hours aWeek. “I truly feel I have the best of both worlds—time to spend with my kids, but time to get away from the craziness that is raising three kids, and devote energy to my professional life. I don't consider myself anything less than a full-fledged professional just because I work part-time and am changing dirty diapers when I'm not tapping at my keyboard.”
Still, with limited time, Roberts has had to learn to be extremely efficient. “I treat my working hours as prime time. I don't waste them checking e-mail, writing blog posts, posting my Facebook status. Well, okay … sometimes I post my Facebook status,” says Roberts. “But for the most part I try to really focus on paying projects, because if I lose sight of the big picture, it's too easy to fritter away a day, a week, a month … and my income takes a bit hit.
“Second, I plan ahead. If I know I'm going to have forty-five minutes while the baby naps, I plan a specific task or two for that time,” she says. “If I have a story due, I block out three or four hours to write it. When you have less time, you absolutely have to be efficient about using it.” That’s why Roberts pursues bigger projects over shorter assignments that require her to constantly change focus, and works with the same clients over and over.
“Think about it: When you get a new assignment from a new editor or publication, there's a huge learning curve. You have to fill out a flurry of paperwork, learn the style of the publication, communicate in-depth with the editor or client about his or her goals for the assignment, and possibly do a revise or two if you don't quite hit the mark,” says Roberts. “The second time, everything's easier. You're in the system, so no paperwork except for a contract. You've learned the ‘voice’ your client or editor expects from your work. The learning curve is lower, and you're a more efficient writer.”
Roberts’ attitude and efficiency has produced an income of between $40,000 and $70,000 working fifteen to twenty hours a week for the past five years. “I think writers have to know that this kind of income is possible, rather than settling for less because they figure part-time hours means part-time income,” says Roberts.
I know writers who put in plenty of hours but don’t make the money they want, and I know writers like Roberts who make full-time money in far less than forty hours a week. My point? Rethink what “full-time” freelancing means. It’s not about how many hours you work but how you spend them that determines whether you can support yourself with your freelance income.
More on writing more efficiently in my next post! This one came from Secret 31: Redefine full-time, from Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success. If you're striving to write more efficiently, you need templates! My ebook, Dollars and Deadlines' 10 Essential Freelance Templates (here's the Smashwords version if you don't have a Kindle) has the 10 most-needed samples to launch your freelance business.
Today I'm working about 15 hours/week by choice, though I plan to ramp that up as my kids get older. Readers, what about you? How many hours do you work a week? Are you working more or less than you'd like--or have you found the perfect work balance? Please share your experience in a comment, below. Thank you!