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Writing Advice

Freelance Writing on a Budget

Introduction

Starting a business can be overwhelming.

If you’re looking to become a freelance writer but are working with a limited budget, you may be nervous about up-front costs.

One thing I’ll say is that you should avoid going into debt if at all possible. Don’t take out a small business loan if you can avoid it.

Writing doesn’t require a lot of special equipment, so it’s possible to keep overhead costs very low at first.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Use your existing tech devices (if possible).

When it comes to freelance writing, you’ll definitely want to have a functioning computer.

A laptop is ideal, since you can travel with it easily, but a desktop computer is fine if that’s all you have.

Don’t just go out and buy an expensive computer in the name of starting your freelance writing career.

If you have a computer that works, try to stick with it (at least for the first several months).

A smartphone with data coverage is also pretty crucial, since you’ll need to follow-up with clients in between work sessions.

But, again, don’t go spend hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars on a new phone just because you’re starting a business.

In the beginning, you’ll want to keep costs low as you build your clientele.

2. Opt for a home office, coffee shop, or co-working day pass.

Again, you shouldn’t be spending tons of money at the beginning of your career.

You’ll want to first build your business (and figure out if you’re truly passionate about the job in the first place).

You might end up not liking the gig — so it’s not worth signing the lease for a new office if you’re still in the early days.

If you have a comfortable amount of space in your home, designate a workspace for your freelance writing.

A spare room, nook, or corner of your bedroom could all work.

And keep in mind that you can often write off part of your living expenses as business-use-of-home (contact your national revenue agency for specifics).

On the days that you want to get out of the house, a local coffee shop is ideal.

Starbucks is great, since their business model is built on the premise that many people come in to use the WiFi while sipping their coffee.

But if you have a local coffee shop that allows customers to linger with their laptops, that’s fine too. 

Try to spend minimal amounts of money ($3-10 per visit is ideal) so that you don’t have to invest too much money in the beginning.

Also make sure to keep your receipts, so that you can claim business meals as expenses on your tax return (again, consult your national revenue agency for specific guidelines).

A step above would be to purchase a day pass at a nearby coworking space.

If you’ve never been to a coworking space, they’re basically shared offices for freelancers and other digital creatives. 

They usually include unlimited coffee/WiFi, and offer meeting spaces (for an additional fee).

If you have the funds, purchasing a drop-in day pass every now and then can be a nice treat. (Here in Toronto, they typically cost $20-30 CAD per day.)

3. Utilize free online tools.

When it comes to your digital toolkit, go for free options wherever possible (at least in the beginning).

Google Drive

As I’ve written about here on the blog before, Google Drive is a solid word processor for freelancers (with a comprehensive free version).

The fact that it’s cloud-based makes it simple to move from device to device, no matter where you go. And freelancers in particular are often on the go.

Grammarly 

Grammarly is also a must-have for anyone who writes in a professional capacity. 

It’s the most thorough spelling/grammar check I’ve ever used. Even the free version is more than enough.

Never submit an article to a client without running it through Grammarly first. I can’t tell you how many times it’s picked up minor errors that I would have never noticed on my own (even as an editor).

4. Maximize your local library card.

Many people overlook the offerings of their local library.

The average library card can offer much more than access to free books.

For example, a valid Toronto Public Library card includes free use of Lynda (now LinkedIn Learning), which usually costs $20+ per month.

Those types of online learning platforms can help you get a leg up while also saving money.

[Another digital learning platform is edX, which anyone can use for free. Users can choose to pay for a certificate of completion upon passing a course, but it’s entirely optional.]

Most public libraries also offer plenty of access to digital magazines, ebooks, and audiobooks (all of which can help you stay on top of current industry trends).

5. Use paid services wisely.

As I’ve mentioned, it’s good to keep expenses low when you’re first starting out.

But some costs are truly worth the money, such as:

Plagiarism checkers

I pay for the Premium version of Copyscape, which is a comprehensive plagiarism checker. 

It costs me pennies per article, and it gives me the confidence that my work is 100% free of accidental plagiarism.

Also, many clients will request or require you to use Copyscape, so it’s a good thing to have available.

Accounting software

I don’t know about you, but I’m horrible with numbers.

I tried to do all of my business accounting by myself at first, but it didn’t go too well. I kept losing track of important receipts and missing out on possible deductions come tax season.

So, I now pay $4.99 CAD per month for QuickBooks Self-Employed (which is a promotional rate I got when I signed up). 

It syncs with all of my bank accounts and credit cards, so I never have to worry about keeping complex spreadsheets on my own.

This is one area that is genuinely worth spending on.

In summary

Every business has unique needs. And these are just my general suggestions.

Take into account your own situation: your finances, goals, and preferences. 

Maybe it’s totally worth it for you to upgrade your laptop or spring for an office space in the beginning. 

See what makes sense for you personally, and try to avoid massive up-front costs if possible.

By Mercedes Killeen

Mercedes Killeen is a Toronto-based freelance writer and editor. She specializes in the creation of engaging digital content, such as blog posts, articles, and ebooks. Currently accepting new clients.

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