6 Things You Need to Succeed as a Freelance Writer


I have been embarrassingly absent on my website lately, and honestly, I don’t have a good excuse. Yes, I’ve been busy, and when that happens, it’s easy to put off tasks that don’t directly pay the bills. More than anything, though, I prioritize watching The Curse of Oak Island over pretty much anything else lately. I just really want to know what’s at the bottom of the Money Pit, ok?!

I digress.

A few people close to me have been considering striking out as freelancers, and it got me thinking about the “must-haves” of freelance writing. What do you absolutely, positively need to be a successful freelancer? Here’s what I came up with:

1. A Support System

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 100 times: I could not do what I do without my amazing support system, which is twofold.

The Financial Aspect

First, there’s my financial support system, a.k.a. my parents.

When I made the terrifying decision to quit my full-time job and strike out on my own, I did so knowing I had a safety net to catch me if it all crashed and burned. You see, I had moved back home, my expenses were minimal, and my parents had assured me they wouldn’t let me starve. Basically, I made the transition to freelancing knowing I wouldn’t be homeless and I wouldn’t spiral into debt. Sure, it would be sh—ty to fail, but it wouldn’t ruin my life.

For me, this safety net was really important. A must-have. If you don’t have the option to move back to your parents, I think you need to at least have a partner who can support you or a generously padded emergency fund. There will be tough months, and you need to have a plan for if it all goes to hell.

The Creative Aspect

Second, I have a wonderful group of like-minded friends who help dig me out of creative ruts. Most are coworkers from past jobs, so they know the industry, and that’s invaluable. Frankly, I couldn’t do my job without them.

You need people who get it. These are mine.

They act as my sounding board, my cheerleading squad, and my therapist, helping me navigate the ups and downs of freelancing. Plus, they’re my stand-in coworkers, helping me to break through writers’ block and come up with pitches when my brain is mush.

Not to mention they take me on fun vacations to force me out of “work mode.” It sounds silly, but it’s important. Trust me.

2. Accountability

Next up, you have to have a sense of accountability.

As a freelancer, it’s so easy to get distracted, and there’s no one there to make sure you’re working. You are solely responsible for staying on top of your work and keeping yourself motivated.

Plus, it doesn’t help that a lot of your friends/family will have this idea that you “don’t have a real job” and are free to do whatever, whenever.

Not sure if you have what it takes? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you put tasks off until the last possible minute, then rush through them?
  • Does your manager/supervisor frequently remind you to get back to work?
  • If someone pressures you to skip school/work/other commitments, how likely are you to cave?
  • If you don’t have to get out of bed, do you do it anyway? If you don’t have to get dressed, will you?

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with needing someone else to hold you accountable, but if you struggle to self-motivate, freelancing probably isn’t the career path for you.

3. Top-Tier Writing Skills

“Wow,” you’re thinking to yourself, “How insightful. I need writing skills to be a writer. Thanks for nothing, Captain Obvious.”

You need to be a better-than-average writer.

It may sound ridiculous, but being a “good writer” by today’s standards is not enough to make it as a freelance writer. Why? Because everyone who can string a sentence together has been told they’re a “good writer” at some point.

I’m consistently amazed at how many people use “seen” instead of “saw,” can’t identify a run-on sentence, and mess up “their/there/they’re,” but insist their teachers always praised their writing prowess. If this is today’s standard for “good writers,” then you need to be a phenomenal writer and grammar expert to make it your career.

Bottom line? If you don’t know what a gerund is and don’t understand the concept of “tone,” you need a lot more practice before you’re ready for the big leagues.

4. A Flexible Attitude

When I’m bored, I browse r/freelancewriters on Reddit, and I’m always amazed at how many people want to write for one niche and one niche only. It sounds nice, but unfortunately, that’s not reality for a lot of freelancers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to write celebrity profiles all day every day, but to make a livable salary, I’m forced to be flexible, taking on whatever jobs come my way. Some months I’m writing listicles, other months I’m churning out ad copy. I’ve done a lot of random stuff over the course of my career, from building textbook widgets to testing smoke detectors.

This flexibility has made it possible for me to earn an above-average salary and always stay busy, and I firmly believe you’re only hurting yourself if you insist on doing One Thing Only.

5. Basic Financial Knowledge

One of the only things I miss about having a 9-to-5 is that most of the financial stuff is taken care of for you. When you work for a company, you don’t have to think much about taxes, retirement plans, health care plans, and the like. When you’re self-employed, all this is dumped on you, and let me tell you: it’s pretty overwhelming.

Break out your calculator, kids.

You’re going to need to learn about quarterly taxes, self-employment tax, IRAs, SEP-IRAs, tax deductions, investment strategies, and more. Admittedly, I knew little about all these things when I became a full-time freelancer, but I did my homework, found mentors, and paid for an experienced CPA—and I suggest you do the same.

6. A Website and Portfolio

I honestly thought this was going to be a short post, but here we are, 1,000 words later. If you’ve read this far, you’re a champ.

Finally, you need a website and/or a portfolio. My thoughts on the matter include:

  • Buy a domain name. They’re not expensive and look significantly more professional than JohnSmith.wix.com
  • When it doubt, keep it simple. If you try to get too fancy, things can get convoluted.
  • Make it easy to find and view your writing samples. This is what most editors/potential clients care about.

Alright, I’ve tortured you enough. Clearly, I have a lot of thoughts on what you need to become a freelance writer—seriously, I could write like two more posts on it. If you’re interested in hearing more, leave a comment below!

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