For those getting into freelance writing or editing, it can be hard to get started. Because most of us do not know others in this business, we don't really know what this journey might look like. And as it ends up, it looks different for everyone. To give you an idea of the possibilities, here is my freelance journey.
How I Got My Start
My degree is not in English, creative writing, or any of the fields you might expect. It is in teaching--middle school language arts, to be exact. I loved writing, and had loved it my entire life, but I never thought it could be a career.
In the last semester of my program, I already had a job lined up with a school in Mexico, but the problem was getting together the money to make an international move. I didn't want anything too stressful and it had to work around my student teaching and university classes. I looked and looked and just could not find anything that worked.
Then one day in one of my Mexico Expat groups I had joined on Facebook, a woman I had interacted with off and on contacted me. She said she noticed that I used correct grammar and spelling even on social media, which made her think I might be a good candidate for some work she needed to assign.
My first thought was this was some sort of a scam, but she asked me to make a profile on oDesk, now UpWork, and my research told me that the site was legit. I made the profile, she hired me, and I began writing reviews of online business opportunities. With this work, I made enough money to move to Mexico. Once there, I ended the contract amicably so I could focus on teaching.
The Years Off
Teaching is not an easy job. It takes a lot of focus and lots of hours that are off the clock. On top of adjusting to life as a teacher, I was also adapting to a brand-new culture and language, so things were overwhelming. I considered getting back into writing quite often, as the salary I was paid was pretty low. However, I just did not feel comfortable trying to balance everything, so I kept away from writing.
The Birth of My Son
And as it always does, everything changed when I became a mother. While scraping by was fine when it was just myself and my husband, it was not okay once my son was in the picture. On top of not wanting him to grow up watching us struggle to get by, I began to have issues with my job. When my son was sick from colds he caught at daycare and not allowed to attend, my superiors would complain that I would stay home with him. At one point, I was told to let a relative of one of the cleaning staff at the school watch him or find myself a new job--this person being a complete stranger whom I could not fully communicate with.
With no family in the area, no one I trusted being available for on-call childcare, and a culture that is not open to the dad taking time off to attend to a sick child, I didn't really have a lot of options.
But there was one: start writing again.
Begging for Scraps
Getting back into writing was not easy. While the first position had fallen into my lap, nothing else was. In terms of the jobs I could find on oDesk, everything seemed to require more experience than I had or paid incredibly low.
I now know ways around the route I took, but at the time I did not. So what I ended up doing was taking low-paying gigs to build my portfolio, get positive feedback, and accumulate a little extra money each month. My first gigs were 50 cents per 100 words. But the more I worked, the higher up the food chain I went.
Side-Gigs to Part-Time Work
At first, I was only putting in maybe an hour every so many days. But as I gained experience and feedback, I started getting more job invitations and more of my applications were accepted. Before I knew it, I had about 20 hours of freelance work every week, and I had started picking up editing clients as well. This was more than I could handle outside of school, so I needed to start using some of my planning time to get things done. And yes, this is easier to get away with at the school I taught at than it is at most.
As for my school planning, I relied on a combination of lessons I had written in prior years and fresh lessons I purchased through TeachersPayTeachers. At this point, my freelancing income had surpassed my teaching income.
The Moment I Knew I Was Going to Freelance Full-Time
In my final year as a teacher, I was called into the director's office to discuss my childcare issues--again. But this time they had a solution: a nanny at the school. I would be expected to pay for the nanny, but they would provide the space. I was told that I would use this option or my job would be at risk.
This might sound ideal; my son would be at school with me every day and I could use my planning periods to check in on him. But the nanny the school selected was just 15--the same age as my oldest students. On top of that, the nanny was to watch all the teachers kids. Considering the idea here was that the kids could be with the nanny when sick, it would only result in everyone being sick all the time.
In the city I live in, there are not a lot of native English speakers, and because of the way the school was structured, I knew that the likelihood of them firing me for taking care of my child when sick was pretty low. Still, I was tired of the lectures for doing what I had to do.
And so, in that moment, I decided that by the end of that school year, I was going to be ready to leave teaching behind and freelance full-time.
Building My Knowledge
Up until this point, I had been all over the map with the projects I completed. Whatever job came my way, I took on. The end result was a low-level knowledge on a wide variety of subjects and niches. But I knew if I was going to move up, I needed to focus on specific niches and build my knowledge to the point that I could create truly authoritative content.
To do this, I picked my highest paying clients and dove deep into their niches. As time went on, I snagged more clients within these niches, steadily increasing the amount of money I brought in each month and the rates I charged. By the time I hit the last semester of my final year as a teacher, I was making double my teaching income as a freelancer.
Leaving Teaching Behind
As the school year came to a close, I was making enough to feel confident in leaving my steady income behind. I used the summer, which I was still being paid for, to expand my business as much as possible, and by August, I was doing better than I ever could have imagined I would. I have not looked back since.
Freelance writer and editor with an education background, working from home and living abroad.