Ten Habits of Highly Paid Freelance Writers

Freelancers with big paydays have many things in common, the least of which is the business savvy to know those paychecks don’t always come as often as they should. In 2008 I moved out of the low-to-mid 30s into a much higher income bracket thanks to respecting most if not all of the things you’ll find on this list. Not everything on the list is true for everybody, but some of this will be true for EVERYBODY who tries to earn a full-time living working from home whether you are a freelance writer, voice talent, any career path you choose.

10. Highly paid freelancers aren’t highly paid all the time. This is Rule One and should be the cornerstone of all financial planning. This leads us to the next rule.

9. Highly paid freelancers are forward thinking and plan for the worst. Never assume that the fat pile of cash you make today is going to last even until next week. You should have something better than a rainy day fund; highly paid freelancers have a “The Sky Is Falling” fund.

8. Freelancers don’t start off being highly paid, but if they persist, hone their writing/marketing skills and don’t give up, their business will expand over time. 50% of your competition will drop out before you get discouraged enough to think about quitting. Don’t join them.

7. Highly paid freelancers get many assignments from editors they already know. This comes after a lot of networking and making contacts in the business. You don’t start out with those contacts overnight—much of developing these relationships is about trust building. Be trustworthy and your relationships will develop.

6. Highly paid freelancers share what they know. If you aren’t volunteering to help struggling freelancers on the career rung below yours, you could be doing yourself a disservice. Get involved in the writing community. Insulated, homebody writers look at their yearly earnings and wonder why they can’t get to the next stage in their careers. Reference this with #7 and see if you notice a pattern of advice forming here.

5. If you want to MAKE money, you have to SPEND money. Freelance writers who don’t spend money on upgraded essential equipment and services won’t move forward very quickly. Are you hamstrung because you’re relying on free internet from coffee shops or the library? Time to shell out the money for a reliable internet connection. Is your laptop old, in dire need of virus software or the latest version of Word? Spend the money. We go into business to MAKE money, not to SAVE money. That comes later when you start turning a profit. Until you have the tools you need to get and keep the gigs, you won’t advance into the “serious writer” bracket.

4. Highly paid freelancers do not limit themselves just because they don’t know much about a given topic TODAY. You may not be able to take a gig requiring specialized knowledge in a certain area now, but if you find there is a demand in your market for that knowledge, consider becoming competent in that money-making subject. Writers are meant to learn new things constantly.  Do it.

3. In direct contradiction to #4, highly paid writers are often those who specialize in one exceptional subject. The key is to know WHEN to specialize and when to generalize. You should still try to make money early in your career with anything you can write competently about, but as you gain experience you can focus your efforts to get the most money for your work. Know when to use that focus to advance your career and you will certainly increase your pay scale accordingly.

2. If you want to make lots of money as a freelancer, do what every highly-paid freelancer has done before you; study the habits of those currently doing what you ultimately want to do and making the money you want to make. What do these writers do that sets them apart from the low-paid writer? Learn those secrets—mundane as they often are—and you will gain power.

1. The all-time number one trait of THIS highly paid freelancer is knowing when one venture isn’t working, and ditching it in favor of something that works well or, at the very least, something new that has the chance to bloom into a good thing. In my own case, I started out trying to pitch the same kinds of writing to magazine editors that I was doing in television—newsy, facts-heavy pieces. I discovered I had a knack for commercial copy, features, blogging and snarky column-writing. Guess what never worked out? Those news-based fact pieces. I had to learn to quit trying those in favor of my strongest writing. Unfortunately, it took me two years to sort that out in the early stages of my career. Don’t chase a lost cause—use your best talents and put them to work for you. Lose the rest.

9 thoughts on “Ten Habits of Highly Paid Freelance Writers”

  1. I like all your tips, but #1 really struck a chord with me. I’ve mentioned it on my own blog even. When I respond to jobs on GetAFreelancer.com, Craigslist or DPF, the jobs I don’t get are the ones for which I have sent the most business-like response to. The ones I get are ones for which I send ironic, funny, human, life-like responses. I am starting to wonder if that is simply because you can not fake personality and the editors are able to see a certain “je ne sais quoi” in the personality of your response. Or, maybe I’m just a mediocre fish in a teeny, tiny pool. I’d rather believe the former:)

  2. “You should have something better than a rainy day fund; highly paid freelancers have a “The Sky Is Falling” fund.”

    This is a laugh out loud funny line to me. Thanks!

    The rest of the post was great as well. I am finally finding my niche and it is really paying off.

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