Being a freelance writer seems glamorous. You get to sit at home and make a living writing about whatever you want. You have the freedom to do everything you desire, including long vacations at romantic destinations or sleep until noon. The problem is that most writers don’t ever really make money writing.
Even the most talented writers struggle. On the flipside, I’ve seen writers with very little talent become successful. So why is it a writer who creates magic with every keystroke can’t make enough money to pay her cell phone bill, yet a hack who can barely spell his own name makes six-figures every year?
There is money out there. Plenty of creative freelancers make lots of it. It is possible to pull in a decent salary working on projects you love. But trolling low-paying job boards isn’t where you’ll find it.
The problem isn’t talent (or a lack of it). The reasons why some writers can’t make ends meet while others easily rake in the cash depends on a number of factors. But it all starts with a decision to make money writing no matter what.
Characteristics of High-Earning Writers
Today you may not have what it takes to be a six-figure freelancer. But skills and characteristics are not permanent (thank God). I’ve been fortunate to talk to many successful writers over the years, and I find that there are a few traits that the ones who make big bucks have in common. Here are the most common characteristics I’ve found:
One of the hardest things for a writer to swallow is their pride. We love what we do and will fiercely defend every word, comma, and sentence. But the truth is that you are not the best writer in the world. It’s easy to misunderstand the point a client is trying to get across or mix up tenses over the course of a piece.
It’s easy to get a big ego because you possess a skill that many people in this world do not have. But a big ego will keep you broke. It takes more than good writing skills to be successful. You have to get along with people.
While there are times you’ll need to defend your work, a high-earning writer is a professional and is willing to take criticism and requests for revisions.
Staying humble builds stronger client relationships. Remember: your business would not exist without their needs. No one likes a primadonna. An ego the size of Texas will give you a reputation and keep clients from returning for more work.
Protective of Their Personal Time
In the beginning of your business, you’ll spend all your time chasing clients and getting projects. As your client base grows, it can be easy to spend every waking hour working because you love it so much (even if you don’t need the money).
But working 24/7 isn’t sustainable. If you spend every waking hour working, your life will suffer. Yes, your bank account may grow, but you’ll burn out pretty quickly.
Working all the time drains your energy and makes you less productive. When you work longer hours, you actually get less done. Our brain needs breaks, and it’s hard to bring creativity and fresh ideas to your clients if you don’t make time for yourself.
It’s important to spend time with people you love and do things you like other than work. You also need to make time for mundane life stuff like cleaning, cooking and self-care.
Successful freelancers make time for themselves, because they know their work will suffer if they don’t.
Committed to Personal Development
No one starts a business knowing everything. Even if you’re at the top of your game in the skills department and have a thriving business, there’s still room to grow as a person.
Successful freelancers understand the correlation between growing as a person and thriving in their career. You should always be growing, learning and stretching yourself to learn new skills and break new records for yourself both professionally and personally.
You can’t enjoy your business if you’re a slave to it. Personal problems hold you back because you are not bringing your best self to work with you every day. No matter how much money you make and how much fun you have doing it, lack of meaningful personal relationships will make it all pointless.
One of my biggest struggles is my health. I’ve was born with a love of junk food and an aversion to exercise, which caused me to grow up rather round and fluffy. When I got older, my addiction for all things sweet and salty turned into a love of drugs and alcohol. I’m now almost 15 years clean and sober, but still quite round and fluffy.
In January, I ditched the corporate world forever and dove into freelancing full-time. What I’ve discovered is my unhealthy habits caused serious problems with my ability to work.
In April, I began having serious problems with my blood pressure and my diabetes, which I had ignored for quite some time.
A painful skin infection left my doctor worried I’d develop sepsis, a potentially fatal blood disease. The next day I called 911 when I started showing signs of sepsis and I went through the most painful procedure of my life to have the infection drained. (I have three kids, so believe me, I know painful.)
As if this wasn’t enough to scare me straight, all the antibiotics I’d taken over the past couple of months and an increasingly unhealthy lifestyle caused my stomach so much distress that I spent days in bed, unable to eat anything.
This motivated me to do something more than sporadically lose weight when my pants got too tight. I started taking my meds faithfully, and recently began a walking program to prepare for a 10-mile race.
Though I don’t have the best diet in the world, I now only eat grass-fed beef, take probiotics and write down everything I put into my mouth.
I still struggle with working on my business because I don’t sleep as good as I should, but I find now I have more energy to focus on the things that are important to me. I won’t stop working on my health as long as I’m alive, and I’ve made the decision that even when I reach my goal weight (which is probably going to be at least a year from now), I’m going to continue my healthy habits because I want to be successful in business and I want to live to see my kids grow up and have children of their own.
Could I be successful without making this commitment? Probably, but I won’t enjoy my success as much if I’m constantly battling with my health. And I’ll likely take on work I don’t enjoy because I need the money to pay a whole bunch of medical bills.
Even if you think you’re the best writer in the world, there will always be someone better. There will always be some new type of content you need to learn to write in order to be successful. There will always be a change in the way you should market yourself, what types of clients you need to go after, and how to handle your finances to maximize your profits while minimizing your expenses.
You don’t always need to take an expensive course or get a degree in what you want to learn, but striving to be the best at what you do will always help your bottom line.
Make Good Financial Decisions in Business and Life
I’m the first to admit my money issues kept me freelancing as a second job instead of chasing my dreams with abandon.
But after two decades of building a career the traditional way, I realized I’d never make the money I wanted unless I went out on my own.
Finances are tough. The past year I’ve been thrust into an unfamiliar sea of managing my money wisely that comes with its own vocabulary.
I now understand the importance of dealing with, talking about and focusing on business finances to become more successful.
I even began writing about accounting for a couple of big brands!
Not Afraid to Ask for Help
The hardest thing to do as a writer is hire an editor. There’s something inside every writer I know that groans at the thought of dealing with someone who knows the mechanics of writing better than you!
But if you wanna be the next Ernestine Hemingway, you better suck it up and get some help.
Of course, hiring an editor may not be the first business task you want help with. I’ve had social media assistants, newsletter editors and VAs help me do the things I don’t have time for.
If you wanna make big bucks, you’re gonna need some help. Otherwise, you wouldn’t still be reading this, now would you?
An awesome writer can sell herself like nobody’s business. Or he will be smart about it and hire someone who’s awesome at it.
Refuse to Give Up
If writing is your passion, you won’t give up, even if it means you have to take a crappy part-time job cleaning horse poop.
Make Changes to Their Business Based on the Market
I hate to break it to you, but most writers don’t make millions from writing Harlequin romance novels or creative nonfiction. Unless you’re the next Tom Wolfe or Joan Didion, you may have to write things that others consider uncreative or fluffy to pay the bills.
You Have to Decide to Make Money Writing
I know how scary that decision can be. I spent decades as a freelance writer while holding down various full-time jobs. At times a new client or interesting project would motivate me to work on building a business that would allow me to ditch the world of corporate slavery forever.
I experienced successes. I even took the leap and quit my job, thinking my newfound freedom would allow me to earn more. I took writing classes, business classes, and read everything I could get my hands on.
But the successes weren’t enough to sustain me. Every failure reinforced my belief that I would never make it, that the great client I got or cool project was just a fluke. I gave up quickly and went back to work, dreaming of the day that the stars would line up just right and I could finally be successful.
One day, I found myself in a familiar place. I had a full-time marketing job that left me several hours a day with nothing to do. I took on more responsibility, but I always found a way to get things done in less time than there were hours in the day. I started freelance writing again, and this time I was getting more work.
But this time was different. I was tired of taking jobs below my level that left me feeling unfulfilled. With three small children at home, I knew working in the evenings wasn’t realistic. I knew I had a decision to make. It was now or never.
I Made the Decision. Now What?
[Tweet “It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped. –Tony Robbins”]
Some people insist that they’ve made the decision to make money writing but they still haven’t been successful. Once you’ve made the decision, everything doesn’t magically fall into place.
There’s an old riddle that illustrates this point perfectly: If three frogs are sitting on a log and two decide to jump off, how many are left?
Three. Two of them made a decision but haven’t jumped yet.
The same theory applies to your decision to make money writing. The decision is your starting point. Following up with immediate action is how success happens.
This is the point where hungry freelance writers like you start scouring the web for freelance writing opportunities. You apply for every freelance opportunity and bid against hundreds of other writers on low-paying job boards. When nothing happens, you give up.
How stupid was I to think this would work, you think.
What went wrong?
If you’ve followed up your decision with immediate action, things should happen, right?
Yes, things will happen. But if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’re going to get the same results. It’s time to do something different.
Failure is Inevitable
[Tweet “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. –C. S. Lewis”]
Being successful doesn’t mean that things fall into place without any effort on your part. You are going to fail. I spent 20 years dreaming of the day I’d become successful because I was afraid to fail. But failure is the catalyst for change.
Once you’ve made the decision to make money writing and taken action on that decision, you may find things aren’t working the way you planned. That’s ok. The important thing is you don’t give up.
We’ve all heard stories of famous people failing. Thomas Edison’s 10,000 failed experiments. Abraham Lincoln failed at almost everything he did. Stephen King’s stories were rejected hundreds of times. But the reason we know who these people are today is because they didn’t give up.
It’s Time to Call the Cavalry
[Tweet “A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken a new action. –Tony Robbins”]
Once you’ve made the decision and the actions you’re taking don’t seem to be working, it’s time to get support. People are willing to share their experience with you. Many times the actions we take aren’t the right ones, but others can show us where to start.
Real change happened in my business when I joined a group coaching program. Paying for accountability motivated me to follow through with it. In addition, weekly Facebook Live trainings and monthly phone calls give me the opportunity to learn exactly what I need to keep improving.
Are You Ready to Take Action?
If you’ve made the decision to make money writing, follow your decision with immediate action. If things still don’t seem to be working, it’s time to get some help.
I’ve created a three-month experience to help creative freelancers build sustainable businesses. Stop trolling low-paying job boards and crappy craigslist ads to find projects that pay peanuts. Learn the actions you need to take to find real clients that pay good money today.