If you’re thinking about starting a freelance career, especially if you want to drop a 9 to 5 job and start freelancing full-time, one of your biggest initial questions/worries is how long it’s going to take you to establish yourself. You have bills to pay, mouths to feed, all that jazz. Switching a stable job for freelancing is nerve-wracking, and you are probably telling yourself that you have to be absolutely certain you can make it and that you can start earning a full-time income faster than your savings can deplete.
Well, to create a successful freelance writing business, you need three things. The first is some actual writing talent, but if you want to write for a living, there’s a 99.9% chance you already have that. The second is drive. Simple as that. You have to want it. It’s going to take long hours at first. It’s going to take a whole bunch of effort up front to book those first clients. If this isn’t actually what you want to do more than anything else, it’s probably not going to work. The third is actionable steps to follow. That’s why you’re reading this blog and probably a few others. If you aren’t reading more, you ought to, because not all of my circumstances and experiences will match all of yours. Find others who can help you in places I can’t. Find people who’ve been doing this longer than me. I don’t know everything.
For one thing, it took me a year to start working full-time and earning what I’m worth, a four-figure monthly income at professional rates. I started off blind, just knowing that all I wanted to do was write and help others with their writing. It took me a good while to find freelancers with blogs that were actually helpful. I found two: Horkey Handbook by Gina Horkey and Writing Revolt by Jorden Roper. Jorden started making a four-figure income in four months. She had just been fired from a job she’d been ready to quit. It took Gina six months to make a four-figure income while still working full-time at another job and raising two kids. Now she makes five figures.
Now, both those awesome women had old full-time jobs that provided them with automatic niches. I didn’t have that. I started right out of college without any samples or any years in any sort of business except the restaurant industry. That set me back a bit. Self-doubt held me back, too, and I didn’t have as much of an urgent need as Jorden or Gina to force me to shake it off. Jorden had no job. She had to eat. Gina had to work harder to establish herself while still at a full-time job because her husband is a stay-at-home dad, and hers is the primary income. She had two kids, so she couldn’t just quit cold-turkey and take time to build herself up slowly. I, on the other hand, had a second income coming in through my husband, which paid our bills. I started earning a part-time income in just a month or two of deciding to become a freelancer, and that income was supplementary for us. It was our “fun money.” I didn’t feel the same push. I also had to take more time to build up a portfolio and convince people I could actually do what I was advertising.
I signed up for the freelancer site, Upwork, to get my first jobs. It worked, but little did I know I was being paid far too little for the work I was doing (I hadn’t found Gina and Jorden yet). Once I figured that out, I didn’t let go of Upwork, but I did start looking for the higher paying jobs (and by that I mean decent beginner fees, because that’s the most you can hope for there). I held on too long, though. It was the self-doubt. I didn’t know if I could make it on my own. Upwork provided me with ready and willing clients. Without it, I would have to do the hunting myself. I convinced myself I needed more stuff in my portfolio. One more job. (Click here to find out if a site like this will be beneficial to you at all and how to know when to move on.)
Then my husband’s school began to interfere with his income. He’d been doing it for a few months, but he was keeping up with his 40 hour schedule. Then school picked up and he dropped to 30 hours (an allowance his work made for him, as they were paying for the schooling). Now my earnings weren’t just the “fun money.” We wanted to buy a house and get out of our tiny apartment. We wanted to start a family. I had to get my butt in gear. I signed up for Gina’s free course: Kickstart Your Freelance Writing Biz. It’s just five short lessons delivered by email, but it was the first time I’d been able to find anything that actually told me concrete steps I needed to take to really get started. Up to that point, I’d just been grabbing at anything that came my way. Gina’s free course helped me understand the importance of a niche and got me thinking about what mine would be. It also provided me with some new ways to get samples within that chosen niche. And, it was free.
I soon found out that Gina had a paid course where she expanded on the free course in a big way. However, I didn’t know what pitching even meant. I also didn’t really believe in the “you’ve got to spend money to make money” philosophy. Well, maybe that’s not right; I believed it could work, but I feared trying it out for myself. So, I passed up the course, and I took the slow route. I improved my rates very slowly over the next 6 months or so, but I still wasn’t getting the volume of good clients that I needed. Then it was Gina, once again, who gave me the final kick in the pants with her 90-day Pitch Challenge that actually pushed me into launching PurpleInkPen and helped me make a four-figure income.
If your circumstances are more like Gina’s or Jorden’s and you need that full-time income right this second, or if you just don’t feel like putzing around like I did, I strongly suggest trying out Gina’s paid course: 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success. You can choose between the Starter, Growth, or Rockstar packages. Starter is basically just the main course. Growth adds 15 cool templates and tools like client contracts and a pitch tracker. Rockstar has all that, plus one-on-one contact with Gina. She’ll review your pitch template and give you a whole month of personal coaching.
UPDATE: Gina is currently running a sale on that course in honor of her birthday, May 27th. You can enter the code GinaBday to get $48 off your purchase if you decide to buy it between May 25th and June 2nd.
By the time I came around to the “spending money to make money” philosophy, I wasn’t a newbie anymore, and I didn’t really need Gina’s course. So, instead, I paid for a college course to become a certified professional book editor. If you’re just starting out, though, Gina’s course is a great investment. The woman knows her stuff. Also, the course has a 100% money-back guarantee, so you really don’t have anything to lose.
How long it takes you to establish your freelance business is entirely up to you. If you are like me and have no relevant experience (other than school) under your belt, it may take you a little longer, but I guarantee you can do it faster than I did. Many have. It seems to me that the key to moving your business along quickly is finding that thing that kicks you in the butt and gets you going. Find your drive. Maybe it’s that you can’t stand to work for that asshole who calls himself your boss for one more day. Maybe it’s that you recently got laid off and you need the money now. Maybe it’s that your job isn’t fulfilling; in fact, maybe it’s mind-numbing and you can feel it draining your soul (a certain Italian restaurant did that to me). Whatever it is, find it and use it to push yourself. You will get there at your own speed and in your own way, but if you find that drive, you’ll get there in the shortest amount of time possible for you.
4 thoughts on “How Long Does It Take to Become a Freelance Writer?”
Thank you so much for this post and for introducing me to Gina’s courses. I took quite few paid courses since I started freelancing including Carol Tice’s one. Nothing worked. I am currently in a monthly membership program where we are taught how to pitch but we are not told who to pitch or that it’s important to niche down. I don’t think you can earn good money as a generalist. So frustrating.
Marlena, so happy I could help. Gina is fabulous. Yes, working as a generalist, especially when first starting out, is super tough, and if you can niche down, that is definitely the way to go. If you’re struggling to choose between a few niches, feel free to post them here for brainstorming. I’d be happy to help. Best of luck with your writing journey, and thank you for taking the time to comment!
I have a friend who is so much interested in guest posting and this post will really go a long way for her so i will be sharing it with her…