September is "Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month." Many writers and editors earn a living as freelance workers. A freelancer is someone who sells services to clients without the commitment of long-term employment to any one person. Freelance writers and editors are able to work on a variety of projects for various clients at fees that are agreed upon between the client and the freelancer. This allows freelancers to diversify their skills and improve their portfolios while working with different people.
Reasons for becoming a freelancer
Freelancing is wide open with opportunities for professionals in many areas. Forbes lists the writing professions as some of the top areas where freelancing continues to be a prosperous option. Many people begin freelancing to escape the routine of the traditional workplace. They want the freedom to set their own hours, rates of pay, assignments they want to work on and the ability to work wherever they choose. Some do it because of the lagging job market and the inability to find suitable work in the private sector. Still others choose to freelance because of family obligations such as child or elderly care issues or health concerns.
Advantages to freelance work
- The chance to run one's own business. The freelancer has a lot of leeway in calling their own shots. True, the client is still paying the check, but after they are hired, the freelancer typically does the job in a way they are most comfortable. Basically, the assignment is given (with a deadline agreed upon between the parties) and the freelancer does the leg work to accomplish the task. Most freelancers are independent, but some may employ a team of subcontractors to handle such tasks as research, writing drafts, making copies, etc.
- Pay rate. Freelancers usually set their own rates. They may be paid by the number of hours worked, the number of words or pages written, per diem or job type. Clients typically sell projects to the lowest bidder and it is not uncommon for freelancer and client to negotiate the rate to something comfortable for both parties.
- Niche work. Many freelancers pick one area to specialize in and stick to it. This gives them the opportunity to build a reputation as an expert in one or maybe two fields. This makes them the "go-to" person for clients to seek out or for the freelancer to market themselves as an expert.
- Work flexible hours. Freelancers may need to work various hours in order to accommodate other priorities, such as health care issues, transportation problems or regular outside appointments.
Considerations when going into freelance work
People interested in a career as a freelancer should consider many points before making the switch from a conventional working environment. This goes for any profession where freelancing is a possibility, such as writing/editing, web design, photography, interior design or even skilled trades such as carpentry or plumbing.
- Finding work. To be successful, paying customers are a necessity. Freelancers can use online job boards, newspaper classifieds, employment websites and word of mouth to find people looking for the services they provide. Likewise, the freelancer can use free platforms like Blogger or Wordpress to set up a website to tell people about their services and contact information. Some freelancers resort to cold calling and email lists to find clients as well.
- Setting rates. The freelancer needs to be competitive with others who provide the same service. Doing a fee analysis to find out going rates for various services is a must. Not only will the freelancer need to make money to earn an income, but costs for phone and Internet service, website management, and other utilities or services used in the course of business should be included with fees charged.
- Insurance. Since the freelancer is on their own as an independent contractor, they will need to carry their own insurance, such as health, life, short -term disability, and liability.
- Work space. In the beginning, a freelancer may work out of their home, but if this becomes too much of a distraction, they may need to rent office space. This added expense may affect the rate that is charged for services. If one works better with other people around, many freelancers find other places to work such as libraries or restaurants with free WiFi.
- Hours. While flexible hours can be a perk for doing freelance work, freelancers often have to alter their work schedules to get assignments completed by deadlines.
- Dealing with clients. Not all clients are sweet and lovable. Some can be taskmasters and expect their job to take priority even if a freelancer has other clients to serve. If a freelancer chose to take on independent work because they are not much of a "people person," this can be a real problem. Enrolling in a seminar on how to deal with irate customers may be a worthwhile investment.
- Down time. - Most freelancers start off thinking they will set the world on fire and be busy enough to earn a sustainable income starting the day they hang out their shingle. Soon reality sets in and they learn that they may not have steady work all the time. Instead of being discouraged, this is the time to work on other projects to keep busy and to avoid complacency. For example, a freelance writer may want to set up a blog, as it will show people their writing style and their niche, and it will keep them in "writing mode" for when paying work starts to roll in.
- Remember that it is a business. Freelancers often get cheated out of hard-earned money by people who fail to pay them for their services. No one should ever have to work gratis unless that is the agreed upon arrangement. There is also the tendency for clients to change their minds about a job midway through, forcing the freelancer to start the project over again. Freelancers should have a written contract with their clients, even if it is just a simple one page agreement on what the job entails, when it is due, and what and how the fees will be paid. It may even be necessary to ask the client for a portion of the fee upfront to show that the project is in good faith. Finally, if there is any doubt about what the cleint expects, ask questions for clarification. All of this may be important if the client does not pay and the freelancer has to take them to court.