Becoming a Full-Time Freelance Writer
I’m fascinated by people who are able to turn a side hustle into a full-time income. Recently I got the chance to catch up with someone who has done just that: Kenzi from Kenzi Writes.
This past month, in October 2018, Kenzi officially made the transition from working at a day job to being a full-time freelance writer. In this interview, she shares how she got started, mistakes she made along the way, and tips she has for other people who want to become freelance writers.
Zach: How did you first come up with the idea to start doing freelance writing?
Kenzi: I first started freelancing in 2015, although I was doing freelance marketing at the time. I was interested in starting my own marketing agency, which is what led me to freelance in the first place. But I soon switched day jobs and signed a strict non compete, which stopped my freelancing for about a year.
I switched day jobs, but I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. After some soul searching, I realized writing fulfilled me. I had already started blogging for fun; why not write for other people and make a little money? I decided to get back into freelancing, but with writing this time.
I didn’t set out to create a new career for myself. At first, freelancing was a means to fund my blogging projects and a few treats here and there.
It wasn’t until I had an awful day at my full time job that I realized working for other people just wasn’t for me. I wanted to do something I loved while working on my own terms.
So I set out on an adventure to grow my freelance side business while working full time. (I love the book by Sean McCabe, Overlap, which goes into this process in more detail) I woke up every morning at 5 am to work, and devoted nights and weekends to it. After pursuing freelancing seriously in February of 2018, I was able to do it full time by October 2018.
Mind you, I was only able to do that because we paid off our student loans. I also have an amazingly incredible, supportive family.
I know some people jump off the deep end and quit their jobs to write full time without a plan. I’m so glad that I overlapped with two jobs, even though it was a LOT of work. I’m able to freelance without worrying too much about money, which means I can charge what I’m worth, and I can be choosy about who I work with.
Zach: How did you land your first gig and how have you grown your client base?
Kenzi: I landed my first gig by going through the UpWork platform. I know a lot of people have issues with UpWork, but for some reason, it’s really worked out for me.
I grew my client base by pitching twice a day, every day. I pitched primarily on UpWork, but I also did cold email pitching, cold LinkedIn pitching, Problogger, and Indeed.
Over time I learned to hone my pitches, which meant I spent less time pitching and more time actually writing. Being able to focus on work over pitching meant I was finally able to grow my income. But that didn’t come without a few months of solid pitching first.
Now I’m growing my biz by asking my clients for referrals. It’s so much easier and helps me land quality clients with less hassle!
Zach: What are your goals for the future with freelance writing?
Kenzi: I’ve been freelancing for about a month and wow, what a difference it’s made. I still work 4 – 6 hour days, but I’m free to set my own schedule. Best of all, I choose who I work with and what I write.
I’m basically living my dream. 🙂 It doesn’t feel real yet, but I am so happy and so grateful.
Again, the jump to full time was low stress because I grew the business while I had a paycheck from my day job. Unlike many freelance horror stories you hear, I don’t have to take on huge workloads to support my family. It was worth doing the prep work financially, even though it meant having a day job that I didn’t love for over a year.
As far as the future of my biz, it’s all about optimization at this point. I’m trying to find consistent, high paying work. I’d love to have shorter work days, and that’s what I’m shooting for right now.
Zach: If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
Kenzi: Oh boy! I would have charged what I was worth. When I started out I had zero idea of what to charge. Because I was uninformed, I let some early clients take advantage of me. I let myself work for pennies, which meant I was desperate to work with anyone. That meant low pay and lower caliber clients. I wish I had listened to everyone’s advice and charged a fair price for my work. Fortunately I figured it out, but I missed out on a lot of money in those early days!
If you’re unsure of what to charge, I recommend joining writer’s groups and masterminds on Facebook. You can check in and see what other writers in your niche are charging.
Zach: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from freelancing?
Kenzi: Charge what you’re worth. I can’t stress this enough. So many people don’t find value in skilled writing, and part of the reason is because we undercut each other for the cheapest bids. And we all know that the cheapest work isn’t always the best work. That’s why you hear about people paying $10 for a cruddy 1,000 word blog. It’s crazy! Know how to price your services and know the fair rate. This will be different for everyone and depends on your niche, content type, length, and research.
Create processes and systems. It’s so much easier to manage a workflow if you have processes in place, especially if you’re freelancing with a full-time job. Have processes in place for how you work with clients, for billing, and for tracking your income and expenses. I use Quickbooks Self-employed to track income and do taxes, Timeular to track my work hours, Google Docs for writing work, and Asana for task management. These simple tools have been lifesavers!
Don’t be desperate. Desperation is the key to working yourself to death, with clients you don’t like, for money that won’t pay your bills. If you get red flags about a client, don’t take the job. I’ve learned this the hard way.
Connect with other writers. Freelancing can feel lonely at times. Find a few fellow freelancers to trade ideas and to chat with. It’s super important to try to connect with others and be social!
Zach: What are your favorite aspects of freelance writing? What are your least favorite?
Kenzi: My favorite aspects of freelance writing are setting my own schedule, choosing my clients, and learning about new or interesting topics.
My least favorite aspects of freelance writing are pitching (ugh!), dealing with difficult clients, and the stress that comes with an unstable monthly income.
Zach: Any advice for other people out there looking to start freelance writing?
Kenzi: Don’t let fear get in the way! I resisted freelancing for so long because I was afraid of how to track my income and file taxes. It was so silly, because all the tools and information I needed were available; it was the fear that stopped me.
I know it’s tempting to get started on content mill sites like UpWork. That’s how I got my start, and I’m very lucky it worked out for me. More often than not, these platforms are low-paying. If you want to start off on the right foot, pitch to find work on LinkedIn, via cold email, or by asking for referrals. It’s a slower way to find clients, but it’s the most effective.