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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Attitude Adjustment: 5 Ways to Take your Freelance Career Seriously

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?


  1. Kelly:

    Attitude is absolutely essential.

    PMA(positive mental attitude), as you refer to it in "$ix-Figure Freelancing..." makes a huge difference.

    Or, as another mentor mine writes in his book, if nothing's happening upstairs (aka if you're not thinking positvive), nothing (good) is going to happen.


  2. All of these are right on. Sadly, I have the most trouble with tracking my income, but it's perhaps the most important piece of advice out there. When I see how much I'm earning and mark off that I was paid -- I'm much more motivated to work.

    I also love the last piece of advice. I cringe when I hear writers apologizing for their rates or asking how much the "going rate" is for a particular project. I don't consider what someone else might charge. I base my project fees on my hourly rate and how much time I think it will take me to do the work. Period. If the client balks, we can negotiate the parameters of the project. But I won't compromise on my rate. I have to make a living, and what I offer is very valuable.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Steve. Do you remember that the PMA thing was from one of my high school swim coaches? :) But he was makes a big difference. I like your mentor's comment too.

  4. Laura, I agree re: tracking income. I've posted before about knowing your daily nut (what you have to average a day to make your annual income goal) and it has helped me stay on track over the years regardless of what that annual goal is.

    Great suggestion about changing the parameter/scope of a project instead of dropping your rates, too. I've done that with some jobs (i.e. offered to be an editor instead of a ghostwriter) and it makes a lot more sense than working for less than I need to be paid.

  5. Kelly:

    I sure do remember. It is well highlighted, MORE THAN ONCE, in my copy of the book. Every so often I pick it up and read the highlighted parts.


  6. Great post! I really enjoyed it. I am one of those moving towards freelancing full-time, and keeping consistent hours has been essential to my success not only so clients know when I'll most likely get back to them (I have many clients in other countries, so it can be difficult to communicate in different time zones), but I find I have a better mentality for "work time" if I keep the time relatively the same each day.

    As for tracking pay - from the beginning I used a spreadsheet that included what I was owed, when the work was published, any fees taken out from companies like Paypal, etc. As my business has grown, I've moved toward using other software, such as Wave Accounting, which better allows me to track income and expenses.

  7. I think so. It's not necessarily a "positive attitude" but a business-like attitude. (Positive definitely helps. You absolutely HAVE to believe that your work and skill has value and you absolutely HAVE to believe that you will get more work).

    I've been full time for 7 years and it has its ups and downs and there are days where I wonder what the hell I'm doing, but I do recognize that even my worst days as a freelance writer have been better than my best days as a wage slave. But I also don't think it's for everyone.

  8. I agree about the projecting a positive and successful outlook! I absolutely cringed when on a network or blog(which I have some editors on), a fellow writer described us as "starving writers"..I was pretty ticked about this comment, as that is NOT what you want to present to the world. It is a very accepted business and sales practice to talk SUCCESS! Thank you for calling attention to that.:)

  9. Megan, I agree about keeping regular hours helping have "work time" attitude, and great tips on tracking pay. Thanks for your comment.

    Mark, you're right--a positive attitude is a business-like attitude. I don't know any successful entrepreneur in any field who isn't a "glass-half-full" type, and I don't think that's a coincidence.

    Kristine, the staving writer myth is just that--a myth. While this is a challenging time for many freelancers, including me, it's still a good time to be self-employed. Presenting yourself as successful helps draw clients, too.

    Thank you all for your comments!