Melissa Breau Goes Full Time Freelance and Tells Us About It

The entire idea of going out on your own full time can be thrilling and scary, all at the same time. Melissa Breau is making the leap right now and agreed to answer a few questions for us about how she’s making the process work.

Why did you want to freelance full-time? Just to play devil’s advocate, I’d like to point out that a lot of people would tell you you’re crazy to leave a full-time job in a recession.

Isn’t everyone who starts a business at least a little crazy? Although I’ve always wanted to freelance full time eventually, a number of different factors came together recently that made it the right choice for me right now.

First, my long-time boyfriend joined the navy and relocated from New York to South Carolina. Second, he volunteered to help me make ends meet while I get my business off the ground. And third (and probably most importantly), I hit a point at my full time job where I was no longer being challenged professionally and there was no room for advancement; I needed to make a change.

What did you do to prepare for working for yourself full-time? Were there any financial steps you took to make sure you’d be comfortable with the transition?

Freelance full time meant making a lot of changes. I knew from my research that it generally takes about 6 months before freelancers are making a living wage. So I had to prepare for that–and there was no way that was going to be possible living in New York City. I needed to be spending significantly less a month (I was spending $800 a month on rent alone).

Fortunately, cost of living is much less in the south. I figured out a reasonable budget and saved about 4 months of living expenses (figuring that over 4 months I should be able to earn an additional 2 months of expenses) plus money for a car and the move. I stressed over numbers and set up an excel document to chart how much I needed to make a month for that to work. I also asked my grandmother (who lives in NC) if I could camp out in her spare bedroom for a month or two until I find an apartment down here, which helps further reduce costs.

It’s only the second week now, but due to some unexpected expenses (namely, car issues after I purchased a vehicle) I’ve gone through a bit more of my savings than anticipated. Despite that, I’m fairly confident I’ll be okay.

I arranged with my old boss to continue working for the magazine I just left, as a monthly columnist, which will provide some regular income. He has also assigned me a number of additional pieces, which will also help patch holes. And I pitched a few assignments before going freelance that I’ve managed to land.

Additionally, I’ve got a TON of ideas for products and services that I’m working to bring to fruition that will establish regular income with a fairly minimal amount of work (more info on this below).

What sort of plan do you have in place for making sure your freelance business grows? Where do you want it to go in the future?

First, as I mentioned, I have monthly financial goals. These step up slightly every month for the first 6 months–starting at a fairly low number, and climbing to what I’d like to be making monthly for my first year.

Second, I have a number of writing projects planned. Since for the last 3 years I’ve been in the pet industry, I’m working on a product that offers various animal service providers with content for their newsletters for a low monthly fee. The trick is finding service providers in different areas, so that I can re-use the same article, but without them having to worry about their clients receiving the same information from two sources. I’ve decided to offer it to one service provider in each state–so 50 clients paying monthly for one article (which takes me a minimal amount of work to write). If the first one of these is successful, I’ll probably branch it out to other types of companies and perhaps eventually other industries. I’m still writing for magazines and have a whole list of publications and article ideas I need to pitch–as soon as I do the research to write a solid pitch letter.

In addition to my writing projects, I’m working to become more involved in editing ebook-length projects. I have my masters in publishing and my resume includes time working for Columbia University Press and Manhattanville College marketing department, in addition to my years as an editor at Pet Business Magazine. I’ve worked on a few projects like this for various clients, but I would really like to grow this aspect of my business over the next 6 months and am working on a marketing plan to allow me to do that.

Finally, I plan to continue offering copywriting services, which I’ve done as a part time freelancer while working full time at the magazine for the last year and a half.

What’s the most exciting thing for you about going out on your own? What are you really looking forward to?

It’s funny, but the thing I’m most looking forward to is the one thing so many entrepreneurs worry about. I love the concept of an integrated life–doing something you like enough that you can’t put it down. I’m a bit of a work-a-holic and one thing I hated about working for a company was the push back whenever I wanted to really dedicate myself to something. I love the sensation of throwing myself into a project; while at a number of my previous jobs, that was discouraged–my coworkers tended to believe in putting in the minimum and if I did more than that, it was chalked up to youthful over-enthusiasm. And nothing is more discouraging that doing extra work just to have someone be amused that you bothered.

I’m also looking forward to the location independence; I’ll be living in a number of different locations in the near future and my navy boyfriend will be traveling a lot–it’ll be nice to be able to fly out to visit him on location (when allowed) and to just be able to bring along my job. I won’t have to worry about finding new work in each location he is moved to; I’ll just have to worry about building a new in-real-life network.

Overall, I’m as terrified as I am excited; only the next year will tell which emotion is more justified.

BIO: After a year and a half of freelancing part time, Melissa Breau recently left her full time job as a magazine editor to take her part time freelancing business to the next level. She is a freelance writer, editor and a cheesy romantic who likes long walks on the beach and arguing about comma placement. She is blogging about her freelance journey over at Jargon Writer — or learn more
about the services she offers on her website, MelissaBreau.com.

Should Freelancers Remain Freelancers?

For a long time, I’ve thought of myself — more than anything else — as a freelance writer. But I’ve made a conscious decision that I’m not going to refer to myself as a freelancer anymore. I’m a business owner, maybe an entrepreneur, and, of course, a writer. It’s just a name, but that name is important. I’ve been thinking about long-term plans and every so, often, I feel like freelancing is something of a dead end. You can freelance for years, but the odds of doing much more than increasing your income incrementally each year aren’t great. There are six-figure freelancers out there — but what comes after you hit $100,000 a year? I don’t know about you, but I’d like to one day hit seven figures in a single year and it doesn’t seem like freelancing will get me there.

Freelancing is a Good Gig, But…

Don’t get me wrong. Freelancing is great. If I’d actually gotten (and stuck with) a job right after I graduated from college, I would never have had some of the amazing opportunities that freelancing has given me. Even more importantly, it made it easy for me to explore running my own business and figure out which types of writing I actually enjoy. It let me quickly build a reputation that will stand me in good stead as I continue to develop my business. It’s been an incredibly easy way to launch into being a business owner, with a lot more flexibility than any other option. To be truthful, most of what I’ll be doing in the future is pretty much identical to what I’ve been doing for the last few years.

But the job title sucks. A freelancer, in the mind of most of the people you’ll meet, works alone. She takes on pretty narrow projects and has set rates. To a lot of big clients, a freelancer handles only a part of a project — preferably by way of an agency that handles all of the actual management work. That means that a freelancer doesn’t always get certain jobs. And the growth potential for freelancing seems limited. If you work alone, by definition, you can only take on the work that you yourself can do.

That right there is enough to make me think that ‘freelancer’ isn’t a long-term career title. Rather, it’s where you start. When you move up the ladder, maybe you become the owner of an agency or the head of a firm. You still walk into your home office every morning and start banging out work on the keyboard — just the job title is different.

Freelancing’s Income Streams

The other concern with freelancing, at least for me, is that you’re exclusively trading your hours for money. That’s it. If you want to release a product, you’ll almost certainly need a job title other than freelancer to get buyers interested. That fact is something that I’ve struggled with at least a little in selling my two ebooks — because I’ve marketed them under my freelance writing brand, I’m certain I’ve missed out on at least a few potential buyers. Both ebooks are certainly targeted towards freelance writers, but, if they weren’t, I think I would have sold far fewer copies.

Image by Flickr user Alexander Henning Drachmann

3 Steps You Probably Ought to Take Before Going Full-time Freelance

I struck out as a full-time freelancer somewhat by accident. I didn’t exactly prepare for it and, in retrospect, there are a couple of things I think can really help a freelancer start out on the right foot. It’s quite possible to succeed even without completing these steps; they just make things a bit easier.

  1. Figure out your health insurance. No matter whether you purchase your health insurance on your own, marry someone for their benefits or go the HSA route, getting some sort of plan in place is crucial. Medical bills can easily wipe a freelancer out — even if the injury or illness is relatively small.
  2. Put together solid clips. Ideally, even before you consider going freelance full-time, you’ve published some work — a press release, a short article, anything. But if you’re serious about landing some decent gigs right out of the gate, you’ll want a good portfolio. It’s worth the effort of putting up a website with your past work listed.
  3. Set your goals — and your escape plan. It can take a while to build up reliable income as a freelancer, but it’s easier to do so if you have some goals in mind. Equally important, though, is to be able to tell if freelancing isn’t working out. If I make less than a certain amount over the course of the year, I will seriously consider finding more gainful employment. Happily, I’ve already passed that amount this year.

Interview: Allena Tapia

Allena Tapia, the talented freelancer behind GardenWall Publications, answered a few questions for us about her work. Allena is also About.com’s Guide to Freelance Writing.

How did you get into freelance writing? Why did you choose freelancing over a full-time job?

I had always freelanced “on the side” for local magazines and websites, so every time I did one of those projects, I thought about the possibility of doing it full time. I worked as an editor and as a marketing writer for two local colleges, but I really didn’t “like” going to work and writing the same things day after day. At this very same time, I felt like I was missing a lot of volunteer opportunities in my community and especially at my daughter’s school, which really annoyed me. I didn’t like giving away the bulk of my life just for material goods, while I was missing all kinds of other things. I am blessed to have a spouse who supported me in making the transition to pursuing freelance writing full time, but he is a numbers person, so I had to show him the job postings and writer’s markets available.

What services do you offer through your company, Garden Wall Publications? Do you have any plans to expand in the future?

I’ve really focused on editing more than writing through GWP. I guess that’s just the way it worked out, the kind of clients I got. However, I do have some pretty regular clients who need web copy and SEO, and I will always serve my loyal clients as needed. As for the future, I think I am going to try to go 50/50 between magazine submissions and editorial services. Since editing and copywriting pay the bills, they tend to take time away from querying print magazines, which is where I want to go. I also have a novel in progress (who doesn’t?) and will begin submitting poetry before the end of the year. I kind of follow my whim with writing, as long as the bills are paid, and that’s one advantage of freelancing — you can go where your interests take you.

How do you measure your successes as a freelancer? Have you had any major struggles in freelancing?

I know that some writers don’t agree with me, but what says success to me is being able to pay my bills and not have to go back to a day job (unless I absolutely want to). Writing is my career, and I view a career as the work that allows you to live outside of work. That’s not to say that I don’t get personal satisfaction from writing- I do- but my personal projects are my novel and my poetry, and my business projects are to support my life outside of work. So, if I can contribute to my household, I am successful.

I have had struggles in freelancing. For example, I’ve let my mouth and my attitude get away from me at times, but I’ve regrouped and moved on. Another struggle I have is work-life balance and keeping boundaries. Summers really do me in, as my children are home, and we travel a lot, so all of my time management skills are stretched.

As the About.com guide to freelance writing, you provide information for lots of beginning freelancers. If you had to narrow it down to just one piece of advice, though, what would you tell a beginning freelancer?

Everyone wants to know HOW to start or the BEST WAY to start freelance writing. Should I get a website first, or start getting clips first? Should I set up my fee structure or make a resume? Instead, I want to tell them, the first thing you have to do is START WRITING. Sit down and write something that’s been in your head. Get it out on paper, walk away, come back, polish it. Writing will only make you a better writer, so start with one piece that you love. You can then start selling it (or use it to sell yourself).