Accidental Freelancing: Lessons from a Few Weeks of Futility

-This post was orignally published in November of 2015, but the site it was on has vanished, so I’ve decided to post it myself.

I never considered writing for a living. Well I did, but it was always a fantasy. You know, being the elusive writer making millions while living in a cabin in the mountains? I work an 8-5 job that pays well and has great benefits, and I live in the suburbs. Life is good, so I never actually entertained the idea.

I was recently injured, and sitting at home on leave with nothing to do. My Autistic five-year-old was having trouble in school. One morning, I had an unpleasant exchange with another parent before class. It was about the fact that I was taking up too much of the teacher’s time. Upset and with nothing to do at home, I sat down and began typing.

It was an emotional rant, and I posted it to my Facebook account. Within a few minutes, five friends shared it, and it had gotten dozens of “likes.” Comments poured in about how gifted I was, and that I should write more. Then a friend sent me a chat message about an editor friend of his that wanted to publish it for one of his clients.

Overwhelmed, I said yes. We chatted for a while over Facebook, and he had nothing but praise. He said he couldn’t pay me, but asked if I would write more, and I agreed. He also suggested that while I was out of work I should explore writing as a career, and suggested places to start.

By the end of the day I had signed up for an online freelancing site. As I explored the site, I realized I might be in over my head. I was up against international writers that were willing to work for $3 an hour, and had more experience. Competitors in the US were asking for $30 an hour and had Masters Degrees in Education and English.

I spent the next week applying for jobs. At first, I told myself that I was worth at least minimum wage. I make $20 an hour in my “real” job, and I am an excellent writer. I received zero responses. I began lowering my standards. Then I lowered them some more. I increased my search to include data entry, and then clerical work. I still received no response.

Near the end of my second week of searching I got a bite.  A woman contacted me who was willing to pay $200 a week for some administrative work. Thrilled, I replied immediately. As we exchanged emails I realized that it was a scam. She couldn’t explain the job and wanted my checking account information. I’m not an idiot. I cut off communication, and felt defeated.

I returned to my routine of catching up on housework and playing games on Facebook. A week later, I received an email telling me that someone contacted me about a job I applied for. I logged in to the site and discovered that the posting was 18 days old, but this man seemed eager to hire me. He offered me a $40 contract to edit an eBook, and I accepted. I’m convinced I spent at least 25 hours working on that little book. I read it, re-read it, fixed it, and then did it again. By the time I finished I thought it was perfect.

He also thought it was great, and he gave me excellent feedback.  Then he offered me $80 to do another book for him. I accepted, my enthusiasm restored. I began applying for jobs again, and with the positive review my inbox filled with offers. They were almost all for $5-$6 for 1000 words, but they were paying jobs so I didn’t complain. I was so busy I had to start turning down work from clients wanting to hire me again. My profile gained positive reviews and I realized I might be able to do this. I was able to be more selective in the contracts I took, and crept towards $10-$12 per 1000 words.

It’s been 6 weeks since the classroom incident that sent me on this journey. I’ve had more failures than successes. I learned that to get anywhere in this line of work, you need to start small. You may need to let yourself be taken advantage of a few times to build a portfolio. Most of all, you need to have patience. I spent three weeks discouraged before I finally got a break, but I had nowhere to go but up. In the last 3 weeks, I’ve managed to double my rate of pay, and I’ve already cleared about $400. It doesn’t sound like much, but if things keep going the way they have been, this might replace my day job.

UPDATE: September 28, 2017
This work has now replaced my day job. I have done exceedingly well and excelled at editing, and now charge $45-$50 an hour. If you’re interested in my services, please see my post, Good, Fast, and Cheap, before you offer me $10-$12 per 1000 words.

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