There's more to a freelance business than writing. It’s writing a business plan, formulating a marketing plan, finding work, doing taxes—and, yes, even taking out the trash.

Everyone thinks the writing life is so glamorous. It is if you’ve sold the movie rights to a bestseller or are independently wealthy or are living off your spouse. But I support myself. I’m living the life which so many writers think is glamorous–waking up in a cold sweat not knowing if I can pay my bills on time, drinking Pepto Bismol when an editor tells me or doesn’t tell me a publication which I write for has gone belly up, trying to make a deadline when everyone I call to interview is out of the office until after my piece is due.

I’m a full-time freelance writer, something most editors can’t even conceive of. Those who have tried it give up shortly after they start because the uncertainty and stress gets the best of them. And after they do get a steady staff job, they forget how tough it is and treat their freelancers like dirt. Not everyone does this, but many do.

That I’m actually earning a living at writing never ceases to amaze me. Most people think I sit at my computer in a state of creative bliss hour after hour, day after day and write, write, write. Wrong, wrong, wrong! I spend the better part of my time trying to find work and keep what I find. This is what’s it’s like to run a business–a freelance writing business. And that's exactly my point: Writing is a business.

To be a successful freelance writer, you need to be equal parts creative, inspired wordsmith and detail-driven businessperson.

Think of it this way: Instead of calling yourself a freelance writer, substitute the words small business owner because that’s exactly what you are. It forces you to think in practical terms: Will I be able to pay my mortgage, keep from declaring bankruptcy, buy food?

Develop a Business Plan
Before you set out on your freelance adventure, you need a business plan. A business plan is a detailed document describing what you plan to do, what you need to do it and how you plan to succeed.

Like any business, you’ll be selling a product or providing a service. In either case, you’ll need someone to purchase them. If you’re not willing to market yourself, to "cold call" on people you don't know and experience rejection in its many headed forms, then freelancing probably isn’t for you.

Because I’m a nonfiction writer who writes in six different subject areas, my marketing plan includes things like designing my own Web site and making a list of all my relevant past life contacts. In order to be able to sell to the markets I planned to, I had to make sure I had enough knowledge about the subject areas to make myself credible to editors and readers. Developing a marketing plan for a new subject area can take as long as two years.

Since I had been a public school teacher and also taught some continuing education classes, I created an educational "division" of my company which allows me to give lectures and teach courses, as well as bring in extra money.

Decide on the Structure of Your Business
Once you go into business for yourself, you must declare some type of business structure. The government recognizes several forms of business–sole proprietorships, partnerships and various types of corporations. I chose sole proprietorship. It’s the simplest and easiest way to run a freelance business. Whatever way you structure your business will affect everything from the way you file your taxes to your personal liability in the event someone sues you.

In addition, many businesses must be registered at the state and county level. Chances are, you'll find it's unnecessary-but you don't want any unpleasant surprises.

And what about day-to-day operations. What will you need to do before you set up shop? Will you need a fee schedule? Since I write mainly for publication, the fees are set by the publication. I can negotiate them up, but, other than that, they’re out of my control.

Do you have the self-discipline to work for yourself? Many people don’t. It takes a special person to run his or her own business. And often as a self-employed business person, you’ll find that your employed friends won’t be able to relate to your problems. When they come home at night, they can relax and watch T.V. You, on the other hand, will be working–either physically or mentally 24 hours a day.

Yes, freelance writing is a business, but it’s also a lifestyle–one that takes stamina and courage and, above all, fortitude.


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