After working one-on-one with over 125 students who want to become freelance writers, something has become abundantly clear to me: confidence is one of the biggest determining factors in how well someone will do.
You need confidence to make this work. But something else has become apparent to me, too. Something that surprised me. Something that those lacking in the confidence department may take heart in. And it’s this:
There’s such a thing as too much confidence.
Or maybe I’m blurring the lines between confidence and arrogance here. But the fact remains: I’ve seen good writers with bags of confidence fail to get anywhere with freelance writing, because they thought they were too good to take on low-paying clients in the beginning.
‘I’m a good writer! People should pay me a good rate.’
Well, sure. You know you’re a good writer. But how the hell can you expect anyone else to know when you don’t have anything to show for it?
And besides, it’s not just about being a good writer. It’s about being a good freelancer. About being a good businessperson. A good communicator. A good fucking person.
It’s about being somebody who answers emails promptly and professionally, and who respects their clients, and who understands their clients’ needs and time.
It’s about working hard and realising that nobody owes you shit.
Clients don’t hire you because you deserve it, because you deserve to be a successful freelancer. They hire you because you can help them. This isn’t about you. It’s about your clients.
You cannot simply expect $150 clients to land in your lap right from the off. With no portfolio and no testimonials, how can you expect anyone to trust you to do this? You need to prove yourself first.
Fuck, even I — she of the abundant confidence — took on £5 clients in the beginning. I’m not saying that’s what you should do when you start out. But I’m not saying you definitely shouldn’t either. There’s an absolute fuck-ton to learn when you start freelancing, and taking on easy, low-stakes clients is a good place to begin.
Being a good writer doesn’t make you a good business owner or a good freelancer. You can’t be cocky. And you definitely can’t be cocky when you’re a beginner. When you’re a beginner, you know fuck all about how business works. Honestly, I’ve had brushes with this — with arrogance — myself, much as I hate to admit it, and it backfired hugely. I had to reassess my business and my work when I realised the path I was going down.
It was at that point I knew I needed to switch things up. If I was so resentful of taking on lower paying clients who didn’t understand my brilliance, I was obviously doing something wrong. I shouldn’t have been working with those clients in the first place, for one thing. (And I stopped shortly after, focussing solely on copywriting and other work more suited to my talents than SEO writing.)
BUT — and it’s a big but (hence the caps) — I couldn’t have done that if I hadn’t already built up a solid portfolio, acquired some stellar testimonials, and — what’s that other thing? — oh yeah: LEARNING. If I hadn’t devoted myself to learning more about the craft and how it works, and therefore actually been capable of copywriting, I’d still be stuck banging my head against £5 clients. Or maybe I’d be back behind bars. (The kind with beer, not the other kind.)
Don’t assume you know everything. Because you do not. Especially if you’re just at the start of your freelance writing journey. Innate writing talent does not a successful freelancer make.
You have a lot to learn. And the only way you’ll learn it is by starting at the beginning.