The Reality of Working from Home as a Freelance Writer

Many people dream of working from home. But while it sounds great, working from home can be quite difficult. Sure, you don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder. But then, you also don’t have a boss to turn to when you need someone to make some tough decisions.

As a freelancer, you have the flexibility to take care of personal tasks during the day. But, unless you set some firm guidelines, you may find yourself running errands for your family and friends instead of working on the project that’s due tomorrow.

There also can be legal issues with working from home. Most of the time, neighbors just get upset when people are running businesses out of their homes that increase traffic, take up parking space, or are noisy, none of which apply to a freelance writing business. Although freelance technical writing isn’t a business that will bring many people to your house, it’s still a good idea to check with your city hall to find out what ordinances apply to home-based businesses.

You also want to take a good look at your house. Do you have a room you can spare that will be a good location for your office? Ideally, you want your office in a room that is located as far as possible from the hustle of your main house. Your office should have a door that you can close at the end of the day or when you’re working on a project and don’t want to be disturbed.

Dispelling Some Myths

Freelance technical writers can earn a very decent living, but freelancing isn’t a way to get rich quickly. Yes, there are freelance technical and business writers who earn more than $100,000 per year, but many more freelance writers struggle to survive and eventually go back to work for someone else. There can be a number of reasons for the failure of a freelance business. Poor economic conditions, poor marketing skills, bad money management are just a few that come to mind. Your freelance business also can fail if you believe some very compelling myths about freelancing, such as the following:

Myth No. 1:

When you’re a freelance technical writer, you’re your own boss. No one can tell you what to do. You write what you want and you set your own hours.


When you’re a freelance technical writer, you have as many bosses as you have clients. And because you’re a freelancer, companies will have fewer qualms about firing you if they don’t like the work you’re doing or if something changes in the company to put your project on hold.

Myth No. 2:

Freelance technical writers have less stress than full-time employees do because they get to control their own time and environment.


People who believe that freelancing means “free from stress” are wrong. You can’t sleep until noon every day and still earn a good living. While you can control many of the conditions of your work, you’ll still have deadlines to meet and those deadlines might be unreasonable. The stress of commuting to work and putting up with office politics may be replaced by the stress of trying to collect your fees from a deadbeat client or trying to find work when everyone is putting projects on hold.

Freelancing often is a “feast-or-famine” business. Either you have more work than you can possibly handle or you can’t find any work at all. If you have to juggle your business with a family, you’ll experience the stress of getting your work done while you’re in an environment that makes you more accessible to your family and friends, plus you’ll be faced with all of those things that you think you should be doing around your house when you are working.

Myth No. 3:

If you announce your availability as a freelancer, clients will come.


Getting clients is hard work – much harder than writing user manuals or proposals. Getting and keeping clients will take up a good portion of your time. You’ll have to do something that many creative people don’t like to do – market yourself. Even after you’ve built up a good client base, you need to continue to market yourself so that if work dries up with one client, you won’t be left wondering how to pay the bills.

Myth No. 4:

When you work for yourself you can control your income better than a full-time employee can.


While companies pay their employees weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, it’s a different story for a vendor (which is what you’ll be when you’re working as a freelancer). Companies often put off paying vendors for as long as possible. Larger companies usually don’t pay bills for 60-90 days. In addition, the amount you can earn may depend on how much work is available and what other freelancers in your area are charging.

Does all of this make you feel discouraged? Take heart! With the right tools and a realistic approach, you can make a good living as a freelance technical writer. It just takes three things to succeed:

  • The Right Attitude – To succeed as a freelancer, you have to treat your writing as a business, including doing things that writers typically aren’t that interested in doing (such as making sales calls and keeping books).
  • Determination – If you want to succeed as a freelance writer, you need a lot of determination. You’ll have to be determined to get good clients, and then be even more determined to do such a good job they’ll want to hire you again. No matter what kind of work your clients ask you to do, you must show enthusiasm for it and throw yourself into it with a passion.
  • Self-Marketing Skills – Many people, especially creative types, don’t like the idea of marketing themselves. They feel that it’s impolite to brag about their accomplishments. But if you don’t toot your own horn about what you can do, who will?

Do You Have the Right Stuff?

instantShift - Do You Have the Right Stuff?

To be a successful freelancer, you need some specific personality traits in addition to good writing skills. As we go through the traits you’ll need to succeed, rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 as having these traits, with 10 being “absolutely, that’s me!” and 1 being “that’s nothing like me.”

  1. Self-confidence:

    You need a great deal of self-confidence, especially when you’re first starting out. You have to believe in yourself and your dream, even after you’ve made fifty or more unsuccessful sales calls.

    Do you feel confident in your abilities and believe you will succeed even when you’re receiving a long string of “no’s”?

    My score: [___________]

  2. Self-discipline:

    There are only 24 hours in each day. You have to make the most of them to run a successful freelance writing business. When you’re in business for yourself, you have many things to do other than writing. Sometimes, you may feel overwhelmed and you may find yourself procrastinating. You’ll need to have the self-discipline to work on your clients’ projects, even when you’d rather be watching TV.

    Do you think you have the self-discipline to keep working on your projects when you’d rather be doing something else?

    My score: [___________]

  3. Organizational skills:

    You’ll have enough to do without having to dig through piles of paper to find what you need. You’ll need to keep the details of your projects organized and know when different things need to be done.

    Are you willing to learn how to be more organized, and then make a commitment to stay organized?

    My score: [___________]

  4. A pleasant personality:

    Some people think that by working for themselves, they won t have to deal with annoying people in the office. The truth is that clients can be just as annoying as co-workers. But in the end, freelancing is a people business. People like to do business with people they like and who like them. If you don t like people, perhaps you should develop skills that allow you to work alone.

    Do you like working with new people? Can you see something good in people? Con you find o way to have a pleasant working relationship even with people who aren’t very pleasant?

    My score: [___________]

  5. Enthusiasm:

    If you love what you do and are enthusiastic about your work, it shows. People like to work with happy people.

    Are you enthusiastic about what you do? Do you genuinely enjoy your work and have a deep appreciation for the projects you’re working on?

    My score: [___________]

  6. Risk-taking:

    Some clients have very clear ideas of what they want you to do, but most don’t. Many clients want you to tell them what to do. Be willing to step up and offer suggestions. Of course, if your suggestions fall flat, then be willing to accept that and move on.

    Are you willing to tell your clients what you think they should do?

    My score: [___________]

  7. Detail-oriented:

    Clients expect freelancers to turn in a perfect project every time and catch mistakes even they might miss.

    Are you willing to check your work two, three, four times or more to make sure all of the details are correct?

    My score: [___________]

  8. Deadline-oriented:

    Freelance writers who can’t keep their deadlines soon are in a position where they have no deadlines to meet.

    Can you set realistic deadlines and meet them? Would you be willing to put in extra hours, if needed, to meet your deadlines?

    My score: [___________]

  9. Initiative:

    Some people need others to tell them what to do. Your clients will expect you to be able to determine what you need to do to get the job done without them telling you.

    Do you work well on your own?

    My score: [___________]

  10. Diplomacy:

    Part of your job as a freelancer is to handle disagreements and work out awkward situations so that your clients are happy.

    Can you handle disagreements without getting emotional yourself?

    My score: [___________]

  11. Open-minded:

    Many freelancers set themselves up for failure by being overly critical of the ways their clients conduct their business. When you start a new project, you’ll build more rapport if you keep an open mind and see the good things your clients are doing.

    Do you assume that people are intelligent and have good reasons for the things they are doing until they’ve proven beyond any doubt that you were wrong?

    My score: [___________]

  12. Discretion:

    Telling people about the things you learn about a company is the kiss of death for a freelancer. Don’t think that what you said won’t get back to your client. Gossip has a way of spreading quickly and could put you in an embarrassing position.

    If you learn something especially interesting about a person or a company, can you keep it to yourself?

    My score: [___________]

If your overall score is 50 or higher, you probably have the right stuff to be a successful freelancer. Don’t worry if your score is lower, however. You can learn how to do all of these things and more.

Analyzing Yourself

instantShift - Analyzing Yourself

Although many people fantasize about working from home, not everyone is suited to it.

First you have to be comfortable with the isolation that comes from working from home. This is more difficult for many people than they imagined. They think that they won’t miss having people around them all day while they work, but then they find that the silence in their homes can be unnerving. They find that they miss the human contact that is a part of most workdays in a company.

Second, managing your time can be a problem when you work from home. You’re the one setting your schedule. You determine when you need to go to work and how long you should work on a project. You determine when you should take a break and when to arrange for a meeting with your clients.

And if you are a housewife, can you plan out your day so that it’s the most productive? Or will you think, “I’ll just throw a load of laundry in the washer before I start to work,” and then you notice that the refrigerator needs cleaning out when you get some cream for your coffee, and think, “I’ll just clean it out before I start to work.” As you’re walking to your office, you notice that the furniture needs dusting and decide that shouldn’t take too long, but then after you’ve finished that, you decide the carpet needs vacuuming as well. And the first thing you know, the entire morning has passed and you haven’t yet made it to your office. Or perhaps you decide that since you’re working from home, you can afford to take a bit of time to watch your favorite TV show. After that’s over, however, the next show is featuring something that you think will help your family, so you decide to watch that one as well. Or let’s say that you avoid being distracted by all of the things that need to be done around the house and you get to your office at eight o’clock sharp. You start brewing coffee in the machine that you have in your office, you turn on your computer, and get prepared to work on your projects. But first, you think you’ll check your email. A friend of yours from a discussion group has sent you a message talking about how upset she is about something rude someone said to her in the group. You decide to go check out the discussion group before responding to her, and in addition to the thread that she mentioned you see several other threads that interest you and you decide to respond to some of them. Then, because your friend is distraught, you decide to write back to her right away, reassuring her that while you agree the other person was rude, surely he didn’t mean it.

Now, you decide to play a quick game on the Internet just to get yourself revved up to work. When you’re finished with the game, you pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee and start to work when you hear the tones that tell you a message has arrived in your inbox. You decide to check it in case it’s a client with a new project. Instead, it’s yet another friend telling you about his/her promotion and how they’ll be moving to a new home. You take a few minutes to write a note of congratulations and then get back to work.

Interruptions like these can make it nearly impossible to get anything done during the day. And it’s not just the interruptions that bog you down. Every time you’re interrupted while you’re working, it takes you about fifteen minutes to regain your concentration on the job. Fifteen minutes of nonproductive time.

Setting Realistic Expectations for Yourself

Working from home has its own unique challenges. You’ll have distractions that you wouldn’t have in an office. People will expect you to do things for them that they’d never expect you to do if you were going into an office every day. There are many temptations to do anything but the work at hand when you work from home. You can either reconcile yourself that you’re going to be the one who has to deal with the door-to-door solicitors, the neighbor who likes to drop in, and whatever house crisis happens, from the plugged toilet through the delivery arrival, or you’ll have to have the self-discipline to develop a workable schedule and stick to it.

Look at your unique situation honestly and determine how many hours you can realistically work, then stick to that work schedule as much as possible. You can build a business even if you only have four hours per day to work. It’s better to earn less than to stress yourself out trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

Don’t try, as many people who work from home do, to make up for lost time by working after your family has gone to bed. You need your rest too.

What about the Children?

Working from home is particularly difficult when you are a housewife and have younger children. To be successful, you first need to establish a routine and make sure everyone knows what your schedule is.

Include your kids in your routine. Make time to do something with them, whether it’s reading them a story before they go to bed, having lunch with them, or playing a quick game of tag in the backyard before supper. If your children know that you have scheduled time to be with them, they’ll be less likely to demand that you spend time with them when you should be working.

Also, you may have to accept that you can only work part-time, especially when the kids are out of school.

If your children are very young, you might consider taking them to day-care for a half day while you work at home. If you can only work three hours a day, so be it. You can get a lot accomplished in 15 hours a week if you have that time to work without interruptions.



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  1. Nice article, I have a very young child and its true I get that stress when have to finish my deadlines.
    Thanks for the tips

  2. Excellent! Made me think, laugh, and take a good look at some bad habits – like going out to weed the garden because the text I am wroking on is so boring!

    Many thanks


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