How long is too long – when to give up freelance writing

http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/2010/02/how-long-is-too-long-when-to-give-up-freelance-writing/

Only you know when you’ve tried freelance writing or blogging long enough and when it’s smart to throw in the towel. It’ll vary for people. There is a difference between an impossible situation and an iffy situation though. For example, there are almost always feast or famine periods when you’re a freelance blogger or writer. The key is knowing if you’re experiencing a typical famine or a never ending drought.

  • Have you had well paying blogging or writing gigs in the past? Yes? You can get jobs again. Try applying more often and apply for gigs that relate to gigs you’ve had in the past.
  • Have you been applying to writing or blogging gigs for more than a year without even a nibble from a potential employer? Maybe you need to readjust your application process. If readjusting doesn’t help maybe you’re not a great writer or you’re not cut out for blogging. Either way, it may be time to look for another job.

But how long is too long?

As noted above every situation is different so the “too long” time-frame varies as well. There are some key issues you can look at though to help you decide how long is too long for your particular situation.

It’s most likely been too long if…

  • Bills are piling up and writing just isn’t cutting it.
  • It’s been over a year and you’ve never scored a job that pays an actual wage. After a year, if you’re working for free, it’s a major problem.
  • It’s been over two years and you’ve never scored a gig that pays a living wage or you’re still not managing to pay all of your bills.
  • You’ve been writing for a while and your expenses outweigh your income.
  • You’ve been writing for a while and you’re continually making less money than you used to. Maybe you need to adjust the type of work you’re accepting or maybe your heart just isn’t into it.
  • You’re not having any fun.
  • You’re constantly stressed out whenever you have to think about work.

Maybe you should keep on trucking if…

  • You’re still having a good time writing.
  • You’re slowly but steadily building up clients. Sometimes it can take a while to build up to a full client base. If you’re getting clients, you will get there (to making a living) it just might take a little longer.
  • Clients respond to you but don’t quite hire you. If clients take the time to respond often (a good sign), but don’t hire you there’s probably a little something in your application game-plan that you can tweak. You may be close to getting hired.
  • Your income is rising – slowly. Slow is better than nothing. If you can hold out and manage on less income for a while you may be on the path to a full time income, especially if you know where to find the higher paying gigs. The time to worry is if your income continually stays the same or keeps shrinking.
  • Bonus points if you have some back-up income (like a second job or savings) or a working spouse with health benefits you can latch onto.

Advice you can ignore…

Does everyone tell you that you should be a writer or blogger? Yes. Well, a million people have probably had people tell them they should write for a living. It doesn’t mean you can. Ignore people who tell you that you should write and focus on what’s really going on (i.e. see above). Way too many people say things like, “I was born to write” or “All my college professors told me to write.” That’s nice, but if your goal is to have money to live on, these issues really don’t matter.

Should you set a time goal?…

Setting a deadline for yourself is a great idea. For example last December I was experiencing a lull (no good new jobs) and my current writing income was not enough to live on for an extended period. Because I have a son, I can’t live on a below living wage income for too long but after writing for years it seemed stupid to quit on the fly, so I set two goals. My first goal was if I didn’t find any more blogging jobs in four months I’d supplement with other sorts of writing such as go back to magazines and business writing (which I don’t like as much but money is money).

My second goal was that if supplementing other sorts of writing didn’t work I’d head back to social work after six months. I love blogging but I don’t love it so much that I’ll make my son live without groceries. I’ll get another sort of job before that happens. Anyhow, my goals kicked me into high gear and I applied like mad for jobs that suited me and it worked out. Right now I’m good income wise but if I experience another lull at some point I’ll set some new goals.

Some people set a time goal when they first start out and others only set goals when they’re having a problem. Do what works for you. How long you set your goal for, again, depends on your situation. A smart way to go about it is to keep your day job and work on your writing career at night. If you have a spouse who is willing to support you for a while then you’re lucky but you should still have a goal, say, six months or a year. A typical goal might be, I’ll be scoring gigs within three months and by the end of the year I’ll be making enough to live on. If that fails I’ll look into another sort of job.

You tell me – how long is too long? When should you consider a new career path?

Comments

  1. If freelancing is a part-time gig then you can give yourself a little leeway. However, if you’re trying to do this full time, I’d say three months. I wouldn’t quit a few time job until I had a few months of paying writing jobs.

    There are some people that are professional dreamers. They will keep dreaming even with the foreclosure notice on the table.
    .-= adrienne´s last blog ..23 Songs On My iPod That Embarrass Me =-.

  2. This is great advice – too often people jump in and don’t think about the details like how they’re going to pay their bills or eat. I like how you set goals – there should be a break – I actually set one for one of my blogs and I was going to completely delete it, then all of a sudden I started making progress with it. I however, don’t do this full time, so I’ve got some cushion – but it’s still time-consuming and takes away from time I could be spending with my family. If I get to a point where things stagnate for more than two months, then that’s when it’s time to re-evaluate things. Either my strategy or whatever. I don’t plan on quitting, because I’m just that stubborn, but I am for making adjustments and testing out new methods when the old methods stop being effective.
    I think everyone should evaluate their goals periodically, otherwise one day, they’ll open the refrigerator and there’ll be nothing in there.
    .-= Kiesha @ Highly Favored´s last blog ..What Ballroom Dancing taught me about Marriage =-.

  3. @adrienne – I agree, some people will just dream their whole life away. Dreams are great, but it’s frustrating when folks negatively affect others with their dreams.

    @Kiesha – It’s smart that you recognize the downside, i.e. time away from the family. When stuff like that gets too extreme, it’s good to re-evaluate goals. Too often people wait and wait to act on bad situations when it relates to work.

  4. I’ve been freelancing full-time for nearly two years now, but am starting to transition out of the field because of two reasons you mentioned above: 1) I just don’t enjoy it anymore and 2) I get stressed out thinking about work.

    While I enjoy the writing end of things, I don’t enjoy anything about marketing, affiliate programs, SEO, or social networking. Although I’m making a decent income now, I know that my earning potential is limited by my dislike for these aspects of the job. Once I recognized this, I started taking the first steps to transitioning back to my former career path.

    • @Rebecca, that’s too bad that the other end of freelancing isn’t for you, but it’s great that you recognize this. It’s not worth it to spend your life unhappy and stressed out just because you think you should stick it out (something I think many people do). You’re lucky to have the opportunity to transition out vs. having it be an all or nothing deal. Good luck with your new plans!

    • Hey Rebecca, this is Rebecca. ;-)

      I think it’s great that you’ve been courageous enough to take the power in your own hands when deciding you just don’t want to freelance. Of course, if you love the writing, and have found you can make money with it, you might consider outsourcing the parts of being a freelancer you don’t enjoy. Of course, if you can have a job you don’t hate and continue to enjoy your writing as a hobby it’s really a win, win situation.
      .-= Rebecca Laffar-Smith´s last blog ..Jen Nipps On Writing Romance =-.

  5. Jennifer, you ask good questions… I’d add one more: Is it possible that doing another type of writing would solve the problem?

    I know I can get stuck and I’ve discovered I’m not nearly as unique as I sometimes like to think I am.
    .-= Anne Wayman´s last blog ..Freelance Writing Jobs For Wednesday, February 17, 2010 =-.

    • @Anne – true, you could try another sort of writing. That’s why I said I’d do that in my goals (bottom of the post). Most bloggers I know branch out anyhow though. I don’t know too many bloggers who just blog and make a living – some, but not too many. Branching out is a good plan before tossing in the towel.

    • I’ve found reconsidering my angle and freelancing approach did remarkable things for my career too, Anne. When I cut down on how much of my time I spent writing content myself and focused on other aspects of my business I found that I could still make a living as a freelancer, but that my title didn’t have to be exclusively “writer”.
      .-= Rebecca Laffar-Smith´s last blog ..Jen Nipps On Writing Romance =-.

  6. If someone is finding themselves unprofitable at freelancing, they lack the motivation to be successful. The only person standing between you and success…is you.

    Someone recently told me that the only reason I was as successful as I am is because of luck. I was incredulous at first and indignant afterward. There was no luck involved. Luck did not hold my hand as I hand-tailored queries to land gigs that I wasn’t necessarily qualified for, but landed anyway because I know how to spin a word. Luck did not allow me to become debt free by the time I was 30 years old. Luck did not land me clients. Luck did not spend the hours in front of the computer, writing the prose that got me paid. Luck had absolutely nothing to do with where I am today. Hard work and perseverance did.

    I am not the best writer on the planet. I am one of millions. I am not unique. I am not a special flower that shines against all the others. I am world-weary, worn down, and just like all the rest. But I am dependable. I get the job done. I can adapt to the client’s needs. I can get inside their head. I know what to say and what to write in order to make them happy. And that is what makes me successful.

    The bottom line with freelancing is that the vast majority of people aren’t cut out for it. It takes balls of steel to be truly profitable at this job. You must be tenacious, aggressive, and self-motivated. You must be the PR department, the HR department, the boss, the scheduler, the accountant, the employee, the insurance agent and more, all wrapped up into one. Most people aren’t cut out for it. Most people want their 9-5 job where someone else takes care of the schedule, figures out their daily routine for them, pays their taxes for them, and takes care of all the little things.

    Adrienne’s comment about professional dreamers is spot on. So many people out there think that “oh, it’s so easy to be a writer. I’ll do it!”, but what they fail to realize is that it’s much, much more than just writing. It’s a business, NOT an art. Sure, you can spin flowery prose and write poetry until you are blue in the face but unless you have an inkling of BUSINESS sense you are doomed to failure from day one, because at the end of the day this is a business just like any other. It takes hard work and perseverance, not simply the ability to turn heads with a page or two.

  7. I’ve gone through stages in the past 10+ years of freelancing where I changed direction. I’ve never entirely abandoned freelancing but I think freelancing is a lot like standing in the ocean. You have to bend a little with the waves and currents or it will knock you over.

    Sometimes, one of the biggest keys to unlocking your earning potential as a freelancer is to decide you’re worth more. For a long time I struggled with minimal gigs, gigs that paid very little, gigs that drove me bonkers, gigs I did for free, etc. Until I had a hard look at my self-worth. I realized that my time was valuable. I’d much rather spend an hour with my children then an hour writing on a topic I hated. I’d much rather flip burgers for minimum wage then get paid less than minimum wage for my insight, experience, and creativity. When I decided I was worth more, and stopped accepting less than I was worth, my situation improved.

    Of course, sometimes, we stick pigheadedly to the things that aren’t really good for us. I know that non-fiction writing isn’t really where my heart is, just as a smoker knows that cigarettes are damaging their lungs. Even if we know it’s not good for us it isn’t easy to quit.

    Whenever I’m at a point in my career where I need to renegotiate with my goals I remind myself that giving something up, is really just making room in life for something new, something better.
    .-= Rebecca Laffar-Smith´s last blog ..Jen Nipps On Writing Romance =-.

  8. Interesting post… And of course, as a long-time freelancer (and someone who does pretty well), I have to say that IF, by “freelance writing,” you simply are referring to the now-pretty-awful financial equation offered by content mills (lousy), blogging (a little better), and the occasional print piece, then I’m not surprised that people give up. I mean, if you’re trying to make a full-time go of it, how’s that possible in those arenas?

    Which is why a lot of people who actually DO want to make a GOOD full-time living as a writer will channel their writing skills into different more financially promising directions. Like my field, “commercial writing” – writing for companies, freelance, and for mighty healthy hourly rates (low end is $50-60+ in most major metros, and on up from there). And the subject of “The Well-Fed Writer.”

    Yes, it takes a lot of hard work, but heck, I’m certain most of you folks are already busting your butt, and likely NOT for the kind of money you want to make. And it takes an adjustment to write business “copy” but not as much as you may think.

    Biggest obstacle for many writers in getting started as a commercial freelancer is getting over some primal aversion they have to writing “marketing” copy, thinking, crazily, that it involves some wholesale selling of one’s soul or “going over to the dark side.” Pretty funny, actually…

    You’re simply helping a company put their best foot forward in their brochures, ads, newsletters, direct mail, web sites, case studies, and about a zillion other project types.

    Anyway, it’s another avenue to consider for those who really DON’T want to give up their writing dream, but also don’t want to give up being able to have a nice place to live, a nice car, a few vacations a year, and money in the bank. What a concept.

    Peter Bowerman
    “The Well-Fed Writer”

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