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.
We are taught from a young age to think of writing talent as something you either have or you don't. While there are certain skills you need to succeed as a writer, most people making a living writing also rely on many tools to help them. Below are 5 tools I suggest every freelance writer use.
1. Stay Focused Chrome Extension
With this extension, time wasters are are blocked when you need them to be, forcing you to get back to work. This is especially helpful for writers who need to research but often get sucked down the rabbit hole when they do.
We all make silly mistakes when writing--even those of us who are also editors. Editing your own work is incredibly difficult, although there are some tricks you can use to make it work. With Grammarly on your side, you will make significantly fewer mistakes. Even if you work with an editor, I suggest you use this tool to help you learn more about grammar rules--and to help your editor out a bit.
3. Hemingway App
Is your writing a bit too wordy or complicated? This app will help. It points out sentences that are too difficult to follow as well as words that are too technical or abstract, allowing you to condense your copy while communicating effectively.
4. A Professional Website
No matter where you are finding work at the moment, having a professional website is key. It makes you appear more established to your potential clients and it allows them to hire you directly rather than through a platform. Not to mention that it gives you the chance to sell yourself in ways a simple profile will not.
5. A Planner
And for this, I am not going to recommend a specific app. I have tried many and found them all to have their good points and their bad points. Now, I design and print my own planning sheets so I get exactly what I need. No matter what solution you choose, a planner is a must for any freelance writer.
Ever since the industrial revolution, there has been a focus on fitness. As we moved into jobs that demanded less of us physically, it became more and more difficult to stay in shape. Now that most people work desk jobs, this is truer than ever.
As such, office workers, freelancers, and more are looking for ways they can keep themselves feeling well while still making a living. One current trend is the use of a standing desk.
The Idea Behind the Standing Desk
A standing desk is, as the name implies, a desk you stand at while using it. The idea behind this type of desk is that if you are standing, you will be using more of the muscles in your body, keeping them toned and burning more calories than you would if you were sitting. In theory, you should find your posture improved, greater core strength, less back pain, and more energy.
General Benefits of Standing Desks
The primary benefit that a standing desk offers is the improved core in terms of both strength and posture. Because the core muscles are constantly engaged, you tone those muscles in a way that you do not when sitting. Over time, this results in straighter posture and less back pain.
Because standing is less relaxing than sitting, you may also find that you have more energy throughout the day, getting tired less often and being more productive in your work.
Finally, if you are someone who fidgets a lot, a standing desk gives you more options for movement, which can lead to greater productivity for those who need this outlet.
Using a Standing Desk Correctly
If you decide to use a standing desk, you to use it properly. The first thing you need to do is not get rid of your sitting desk and desk chair. Standing all day can actually cause health problems, so the goal here is not to just stand for the entire workday. Instead, alternative an hour or two standing with an hour or two sitting. It is a good idea to schedule more active tasks when standing and the more passive tasks while sitting so your energy levels match the work you do.
Move while you are standing. Have you ever noticed that when you walk for hours, your feet, legs, and back are fine, but if you stand for 30 minutes, they hurt? Movement is needed to make a standing desk work. Shuffle, sway, and even use a foot rest to elevate one foot at a time.
Purchase a standing desk where you can really control the height. Standing isn't going to alleviate your aches and pains if you must strain your body to reach the desk.
Use a memory foam mat to stand on, taking some of the strain out of your ankles, knees, and hips. Wear proper shoes for the same reason.
If you do not have room for a standing desk and a sitting desk, purchase a sit-to-stand option.
Is a Standing Desk Right for You?
Before switching to a standing desk, speak with your doctor about any health conditions you might have that could make this dangerous for you. If your doctor says it is fine, consider what you are wanting from a standing desk. If you are expecting weight loss, incredible energy, or a significant increase in productivity, it is not likely to meet your expectations. If, however, you want to improve your posture and strength and would like an alternative to sitting all day, a standing desk is a good option for you.
After a particularly rough day at work, we have all had that thought: wouldn't it be nice to have enough money coming in every day to live on without having to put in a full workday? It certainly would, but this is just a dream. Right?
Actually, with passive income, it could be a reality for you.
What Is Passive Income?
To put it simply, it is money you make even when you are not actively putting in working hours. Passive income is income made from product or services that you create once and then continue to make money from. For example, you might create a printable design, list it on Etsy, and make money whenever someone pays to download it. While there may be some maintenance needed on the products or services from time to time and promotion may be needed to drive sales, the day-to-day effort is considerably less than with an active income stream.
Common Misconceptions About Passive Income
When people think about passive income, they think about making money without working at all. However, passive income does take work--just not as much as an active income stream does. First of all, you cannot just create a handful of products and expect them to be profitable for years to come; new products will need to be created. Then, as noted above, sometimes the products must be updated, and getting customers often requires promotion. So you need to expect to work for your passive income.
Also a common misconception is that you can get your passive income streams going to the point that you will not just be making enough to live on, but that you will make enough to travel the world, buy whatever you want, and retire rich. Is this possible? Yes, and there are those who have done it. But they are the outliers, and if this is your goal heading into your passive income journey, you will likely become discouraged and quit before you see profits.
Ways You Can Bring in Passive Income
To make money through passive income streams, you do not need to give up your primary job. While passive income does take time and effort up front, it should always be able to work itself around another job. Here are some ideas for ways you can earn passive income:
If you are looking for ways to bring in extra income with minimal work, these passive income options might be right for you.
If you are just getting started with freelancing, one of the most difficult steps is getting started on the various platforms available to you. While there are many, the largest and most diverse is Upwork.
I have been working on Upwork since it was known as oDesk, and I also worked on Elance before Upwork merged with it. This is the platform where about half my work comes from. So, to help you get started, here are the things I think you should know about Upwork.
Clients Trust Those with a History on the Platform
I know so many talented people who have tired to get going on Upwork and they just cannot seem to land a single gig. Clients do not even respond to their applications. While I cannot know exactly why they get turned down, I do believe it comes down to not having a history on the platform.
When I started on Upwork, I actually came with a job ready for me; an online friend needed someone to write articles and based on my writing in our chats and on social media, she decided I had the talent she needed (so yes, grammar and spelling matters, even on Facebook). She already hired freelancers on Upwork, so she had me make a profile and then hired me.
For every ten sets of articles, she ended the contract, making a new one when more work came in. As a result, I had a lot of feedback when I finally decided to start freelancing as more than an occasional gig. While I do not get every job I apply for, I have no trouble getting clients to take my applications seriously, which is in part due to my having feedback on my profile.
For freelancing platforms to stay in business, they have to charge you. Upwork does not cost any money when getting started; you can set up a profile for free and you can apply to a certain amount of jobs for free each month. However, they do charge you a certain percentage of your earnings.
If you bring a client to Upwork, no fees are charged, so you enjoy the benefits of Upwork without paying for them. For all other clients, they take 20% for the first $500 billed, then 10% on the next $9,500 billed. After that, they charge just 5%.
The Benefits of Upwork
Given the fees, you might wonder if working on Upwork is actually worth it. In my opinion, yes. Over the years, the Upwork team has helped me when things have gone south with clients in ways other platforms may not, and in ways PayPal certainly doesn't.
For example, they offer their escrow service. With this, you can decline to begin work until the client puts the money in escrow. Once the work is complete, you attach it and request payment. The client must then either ask for changes or release payment within a set amount of days; if they do neither, you automatically get the money.
If the client seems to be requesting changes just to put off payment, you can ask for help from Upwork and they will step in to resolve the issue. They will also help you in other problematic client situations. In one case, I had a regular client go dark on me after I completed $600 in work; I had not asked for escrow because there had never been a problem before. Upwork still instructed the client to pay me or else their profile would have a strike against it; they still wanted to work through Upwork, so they paid. We then ended the contract without them giving negative feedback to me.
Other benefits of working on Upwork include the massive amount of jobs, their talent clouds, and their special programs for top freelancers.
Should You Use Upwork?
My vote is yes, 100%. Out of the various platforms I have tried, this is the one I prefer, and I think once you get started, you will love it too.
Freelance writer and editor with an education background, working from home and living abroad.