Columns > Published on May 19th, 2014

How to Become a Freelance Writer in 900 Simple Steps – Part 3: Two Steps Forward, One Step to the Side

Taking the Long Way

I knew from the start that the line from being a wage slave to a full-time freelancer would not be straight. I also knew that it was only a matter of time before either my time or my money (or both) ran out. That time has come. Not working, as you might imagine, is expensive, and after 5 months of unstructured time at home, I’m back in the office full time.

It’s okay, though, it’s all part of the plan. I’m a cautious person by nature, and I knew I couldn’t continue to work without income. Sorry, people, I’m getting too old to couch-surf and live on Ramen and cigarettes. I need a car that doesn’t break down, and my daughter’s wide little feet seem only to fit in over-priced name-brand sneakers (go figure). This is not going to be one of those sacrifice-everything-for-the-dream stories. If you want that, there’s this movie with Will Smith in it. Go watch that. If you want to read a story with realistic (read: non-Hollywood) goals, then keep reading.

My new gig is a contract job. I sought this out specifically because, aside from putting much needed cash in my pocket, it helps me reach my ultimate goal in other ways.

Learn New Tricks

I purposely looked for a writing job that wasn’t necessarily in the same industry as my last one. I wanted to learn something new. I am so glad I did. In my last job, I was a one-man-band; in this job, I am part of a team of people, and I can tell I will learn a lot from their experience. As nice as it can be to be the Know-It-All, it’s also nice to learn from someone who knows more than me.

Pad the Resume

It’s becoming pretty clear to me that my market may not be in marketing. And that’s ok. There is an army of freelance writers out there with awesome PR and Marketing chops. However, I don’t see quite so many that can do business writing, tech writing, and process writing. Plus, I’ve always been better at function than flash. Sure, I can craft a nice, neat article for your company blog, but I’d be even better at helping you revamp your entire company communication.

As nice as it can be to be the Know-It-All, it’s also nice to learn from someone who knows more than me.

When I was putting together my website, I realized I didn’t have any flashy writing samples to put up, just some boring templates and a few press releases. I do, however, have a rich resume of work history in a variety of industries that show my understanding of business and business communications. This I can leverage into creating a specialization that will, hopefully, get me some great clients.

Meet New People

Network. Network. Network. As a natural wallflower, the concept of networking is a tough one. But the older I get, the less intimidated I am about introducing myself to people with the hopes of building a business partnership. After all, people do it every day, and…I hate to admit it…IT WORKS. Relationships are what makes the world go ‘round. For some, this might seem like a “duh”, but for me, it is a revelation. I always thought that I could get noticed for my accomplishments alone. HA! I was totally wrong.

Taking contract jobs will expose me to a wider group of people, and—perhaps—potentials clients. This can only be a good thing.

Make Time Precious Again

You are going to think that I am crazy, but the more time I get, the more time I waste. When given hours upon hours to do whatever I want, I tend to waste that time.  Case-in-point: I might have a whole week to wash laundry, but I will still wait until Sunday night. I have all day to clean the kitchen, but I won’t start it until I have less than a hour left to get dinner cooked and served before the all-important Baby Bed Time. (Parents/Caregivers: you know what I mean.)

Conversely, if you tell me I have five minutes to get something done—I finish it in three. I need pressure and deadlines or else I’ll just fritter away my time. Going back to work forces me to use my time wisely again. Have you ever heard the saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person?” Well, in my case, it’s the truth. Busy=Productive. Unemployed=reruns of Downton Abbey on Netflix.

In the Meantime…

The Website LIVES

The biggest thing that happened between the last article and this one is that I finally got my website LIVE. (www.taylorhoustonwriting.com Go check it out.) After fidgeting with it and doubting how much or how little information I should put on there, I finally just said, eff it! and hit the Publish button. While I am still not sure about the content of my site, I will say, it looks pretty good for a rookie like me.

Have you ever heard the saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person?”

Side note: I had the opportunity to help someone else put together a website, and I suggested Wix.com. It took less than a day to set up a nice-looking, professional website, register a domain, and go live. Nice. Again, I highly recommend this site. It truly is fool proof.

Once the site was live, I decided to take a break from it. Like almost any writing project, especially the personal ones, there comes a point when I can’t see it objectively anymore. If I kept staring at it, all I’d see are problems and places where I need to tweak margins, etc. Or, I’d think it was perfect, and totally miss some glaring typo.

I plan to revisit it soon with fresh eyes so I can keep chipping away at it. I also need to do things like set up analytics and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) so my site can be more easily found and linked to other sites where I already have a presence (like this one!).

I also need to add a resume. As it is, I only show my services, not my experience. I think this is an important addition, and I haven’t yet figured out the best way to fit that information in. I may have to (GASP) add a second page, even after all my soap-boxing about it being a one-pager. If you have some insight, let me know.

The Business License Stalls

I have had to put this on hold. Because I really want to do this RIGHT, I need to pile up some more cash before I can afford the help of an attorney to help me set up my LLC. I went back and forth between just cowboying through the process and taking it slow. I decided that in matters of law and government, assuming I could know everything was ludicrous. I am a DIYer, but only to the point where it isn’t either ridiculously complicated or risky if I did it myself. This is one of those situations. I am sorry that I have little to report on this front—I had hoped to write this article about that process, but I just need to wait on it.

The Clients…are coming…maybe

Though nothing is set in stone, I might be helping a fellow freelancer on a project. Again, my technical writing skills come into play because it’s not something she is good at, so she’s happy to farm it out to me. Again, nothing concrete, but it confirms my suspicion that being able to do tech writing and business writing will be something I can use to my advantage over my competition.

About the author

Taylor Houston is a genuine Word Nerd living in Portland, OR where she works as a technical writer for an engineering firm and volunteers on the planning committee for Wordstock, a local organization dedicated to writing education.

She holds a degree in Creative Writing and Spanish from Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. In the English graduate program at Penn State, she taught college composition courses and hosted a poetry club for a group of high school writers.

While living in Seattle, Taylor started and taught a free writing class called Writer’s Cramp (see the website). She has also taught middle school Language Arts & Spanish, tutored college students, and mentored at several Seattle writing establishments such as Richard Hugo House. She’s presented on panels at Associated Writing Programs Conference and the Pennsylvania College English Conference and led writing groups in New York, Pennsylvania, and Colorado for writers of all ages & abilities. She loves to read, write, teach & debate the Oxford Comma with anyone who will stand still long enough.

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