Week 38: Freelancing
“How much do you charge per word?” a potential new client asks me. “10 cents.” “Great,” he says, “So how about we pay 8 cents per word, and we can get you an affiliate link to our product?”
How about NO? I, in fact, actually say okay to this proposition. Why? I don’t know. Because sometimes I still slip in the middle of a conversation like this, only to kick myself afterwards. Because my client is a master marketer.
I am not a marketer, though, so there is zero reason for me to have an affiliate link, and even if I was interested in marketing or had a follower base, I would not advertise menstrual cups for teens.
Yes, this man and partner (also male) are trying to start a menstrual cup company. To help women out? Do they have some incredible new design? No, to make money off female bodies.
My client, let’s call him Steve — cause that’s his actual name — calls the founder of another fledging menstrual cup company a bitch. He replies — when, after seven days of working on projects, I say I do not want an affiliate link and need 10 cents per word — that the company is a startup and does not have a lot to spend at this stage.
So did he ask for a discount on the materials used to make the cups? Did he ask for a discount on the packaging? On the ads? I don’t ask him, but I can make a guess.
Ten days after our initial conversation, I fire a client for the first time.
The Unbridled Path project and its blog component are centered around facing a new challenge each week. But, confession: I’ve been trying to freelance since forever (a millennial’s way of saying since June of this year).
It’s been over three months — yet I am bringing it to this forum only now because some (most…) challenges, especially when they’re lifestyle changes, take time to teach us lessons, to help us grow, and to yield results.
This summer and early fall have given me enough practice to feel comfortable enough to write about my initial foray into the art (…battlefield) of freelancing.
Let’s rewind. In June, I quit my cannabis-industry-neurotically-micromanaged job and decided, for the time being, to not take on another position within a company. The reasons were many. I was inspired by other participants of Hacker Paradise, a company who organizes trip for people who work remotely and travel. I know I eventually will work for myself, down the line, and I wanted a taste of what that means.
But most of all, I felt that blazing this path was something I needed to do for myself much more than for my career.
There was — and is — something about the idea of working for myself, of developing skill during work hours instead of being an automaton in front of a screen, of putting in effort and advocating for myself, of believing in what I do, of being able to control my schedule and workload, that appealed to me.
But the result of these past months? I have not liked freelance writing.
So what’s the deal? I love writing, so why am I less than amused with what I’ve been trying to do? In all truth, the main reason is that I haven’t really been committed to it from my heart.
While I’m in my 20s, I want to explore a plethora of options before I decide on a life’s work. I have evolving ideas that point, in a vague sense, of what I ultimately want to do — and even that will be dynamic, and in the meantime I want to hone new skills and poke my nose down different paths. I don’t want to be committed.
* cue every millenial critic feeling victorious in their assessments *
But I don’t think it’s wrong to feel this way at this age, just as I don’t think it’s wrong for someone in their 20s to be so dedicated to a career path that they know they want to pursue it for their entire life.
Anyways, I didn’t dive into this with the intention of making it big or being fully committal, which has resulted in me not striving to fully invest. Nor have I asked myself to. No one fully invests in a relationship during the dating phase, and this is a career version of dating.
But not fully or strategically investing necessitates that I don’t receive everything that a great writer who loves freelancing would receive. I haven’t enjoyed this journey, but I also know that I created my own experience of it by choosing to keep it at arm’s length.
What I do appreciate from the past three months are the nuggets of wisdom, craft, and lessons I’ve integrated from this excursion. Here is a top 5 from my self-taught freelance writing education:
There’s a problem on the supply side.
There’s a problem on the demand side.
These are NOT EXCUSES to not succeed!
Invest in yourself.
Turn freelancing into consulting.
Huh — what does this even mean?
First of all: the writing market is saturated with new writers, and often ones that don’t speak English well. There is always someone willing to do it cheaper; there is someone willing to take 0.1 cent per word. Maybe they really need the money, or the experience. So a gifted writer, worthy of a good living by writing, must focus on finding clients who value quality work and are willing to pay for it, just as anyone would invest more for something of higher quality.
Many clients do not see the value in writing and — basically — want it for free. Nevermind that writing is often the first interaction a potential client has with a company. Nevermind that stellar copy can go a long way in sales. Many clients forget the fact that writers need to support a lifestyle, and think that $20 is great compensation for 1000 words.
But these are NOT EXCUSES to not succeed! Fledglings think we need to pay our dues. Or start out at the bottom, charging pennies per word, and working with bad clients. Or write content and slowly move into sales copy as we learn "enough."
Yet a lot of that stuff is just in our way. This is not to suggest we subvert hard work, but who wants to be the person that winds their way through a maze of ropes to get to the front of a non-existent line when you can save time by being a ducker-under?
There are incredible clients out there, and no, we don't have to follow the path established by others in order to access them. We can charge higher prices. And land bigger clients. And even work fewer hours. How? By investing in ourselves.
You’re your first client. Your landing page, your portfolio, your recommendations are the first impressions clients have of you. I was not a good example of this, nor did I try to read books or buy programs from people at the top. Doing these things wouldn’t make a first year of freelancing easy, but they would definitely leverage talent and hard work.
Just as saying “I’m a writer“ does not stir up visions of people rolling in money (it should though), quipping “I’m a freelancer” does not invoke dreams of a 90210 lifestyle. So don’t freelance: consult. Granted, a consultant is an expert, but if you love your passion enough to freelance, become an expert. They’re seen in an entirely different light, while offering, more or less, the same skill-set.
But even though I’ve learned so much about freelancing, the greatest takeaways have been in self-understanding:
I don’t really looove content writing for other people. Good thing this career exploration was just a date.
But I do love writing for transformative and creative projects. One of my quality clients is starting a mindfulness app, and I’m all about it.
My ultimate goal is to build my own business (based on something very different than writing), and I feel much more confident going into it — eventually — now that I’ve spread my wings in the airs of freelancing.
I put so much damn effort into everything. Just because I’m not being paid well doesn’t mean I won’t spend 4 hours writing 2,000 words. This is only a pitfall when I’m working with low-quality clients; on the flip side, it’s an important asset for myself and for reciprocal people I will have relationships with.
The ability to say no to people is incredible. I didn’t always have it, but I’m so grateful that I do while testing out freelancing.
Moving forward, I’m no longer applying to new jobs as a writer…because I have a (couple) new career exploration(s) on the burner. I’ve been hopping around since college, and this year I sense that I’m going to settle on something for a while, and from there, start trainings that will eventually lend themselves to something massive and transformative.
I encourage you — especially if you’re in your 20s — to try exploring different career options. It’s scary, but you’ll have a greater chance of finding your passion, encountering your fears, and learning about yourself than you will in staying stagnant out of fear.
I encourage you to pursue your hobbies, interests, and even try freelancing in a field you’re passionate about.
It doesn’t have to be a full-time venture — looking back, I could have started freelance writing on the side many years ago.
It could snowball into a business. It could be frustrating. It could be everything you were hoping for. It might not work out, or it might point you in a new direction.
Have you ever tried writing, and suddenly found yourself thinking thoughts or expressing something that you had no idea was within you? It’s the same in exploring freelancing, or potentially any career path: you find parts of yourself and are pointed to underground streams that reveal themselves only when you move along, step by step.
And whether it ultimately works out or morphs into something else, there is no substitute for the process of unfolding that it offers.