I first started reading Samar’s blog after I noticed that her name kept popping up in one of the Facebook groups I was in.
Whenever someone in the group asked questions about being a freelance writer, Samar offered pertinent advice and encouragement. I was convinced that Samar knew what she was talking about after a few marathon visits to her website – marathon in that I couldn’t just stop reading after one post.
We’ve invited Samar to share about her eight year journey into freelancing in today’s Freelancer Spotlight.
What do you do and how long have you been in business?
I’m a freelance writer, and I’ve been in business since 2008.
I don’t specialize in topics, per se, but in different kind of writing. Most of my work involves blogging for clients and writing ebooks for them.
I also run a blog about freelancing called Freelance Flyer.
How did you get into freelancing?
My decision to start freelancing was part choice and part circumstances. I got married and moved to UAE in 2008. I’d graduated from college ten days before my wedding and while moving to Dubai was exciting and adventurous, settling in took time.
The original idea was for me to start working but for that to happen, I needed to get my driver’s license. Unfortunately, getting a driver’s license in Dubai is one of the toughest things to do. The test is extremely hard to pass and failing it multiple times is considered normal. Just the waiting period for starting my driving lessons was six months.
To keep myself busy at home, I explored different work-from-home options and decided to work as a freelance writer since it matched my skill set. I’d been blogging for a few years, and an article of mine had even been published in a newspaper back home.
It wasn’t long before I stumbled across a site that paid for $5 per article. I thought I’d hit the jackpot! Obviously, what I’d really hit was a content mill.
Was freelancing what I expected? Not at all! I’d imagined I’d be working with clients, having Skype meetings, drinking tons of tea and basically living the dream.
The reality was the complete opposite. I was writing for faceless corporations that wouldn’t give me credit for my work, expected me to meet impossible deadlines and didn’t really care about the quality of my work.
But eight years down the line, I am living the dream. I work with clients who appreciate good writing, pay well, and I even have the occasional Skype meeting.
(Gina’s tip: I often talk about hanging in there past the two year mark if you’re really serious about building a thriving freelance business.)
What’s been most challenging part of solopreneurship so far?
My biggest challenge has been finding an easy way for clients to pay me.
International bank transfers are expensive and inconvenient, checks take too long, and services like PayPal and Stripe don’t have UAE on their roster yet.
So working out an easy way for clients to pay me has never been easy. Most of the time I accept payments via PayPal and use it as an expense account for my business. But it also means that I need to make sure that at least 50% of my clients pay me via bank transfer to get some cash in hand.
Did you ever want to quit or give up?
Not quit… more like explore my options.
In 2011 I was offered a full-time job. I accepted it because I wanted to experience the whole full-time job with benefits and the 9-5 deal. The work was also fun and challenging.
I’d started freelancing straight out of college so I’d never had a full-time job, so I’d always been curious about that aspect. I ended up resigning after six months. As it turns out, no matter how awesome the benefits and the work, they can’t match the benefits of freelancing.
The only thing I miss about working full time is working around other people. Working from my home office is a lonely experience – even when I go out and work from a cafe. I’ve found that I thrive when I’m surrounded by people who are working on the same project as me or are at least in the same line of work as me.
Unfortunately, that’s not an option for me. My home office curtains are the only thing that can pass as colleagues – they’re nice enough to occasionally flutter when I’m stuck for inspiration and need to vent out loud.
(Gina’s tip: This is why building support networks is really important for freelancers.)
What tasks in your business would you like to outsource?
Invoicing. I LOVE writing – I hate invoicing. It’s not because I’m shy about asking to be paid. It’s just that all I want to focus on is writing.
I’ve tried automated invoicing systems, but I’ve found that sending invoices with a personal message builds better relationships. I’ve ended up knowing my client’s finance people almost as well as my client. It comes in handy when a payment has been stuck for a while, and I need to find out why and when exactly I’ll be paid.
How do you stay motivated and productive when working solo?
I don’t. On a second thought, maybe I should have mentioned this as my biggest struggle of solopreneurship.
For me, motivation is directly related to my productivity. It has been my biggest challenge work-wise. I’ve tried almost every trick, app, and breathing exercise to get in the zone. Nothing works.
Only two things seem to work for me. One is taking on work I find interesting and challenging. The other is being paid up front in full.
As a personal choice, I don’t touch the amount a client has paid in full until I’ve finished the project. For my business, it isn’t spendable until the project has been submitted. Nothing motivates me more than the thought of finally putting those funds to good use.
What are some big successes you’ve had recently?
I’ve been on an extended maternity break this year. So I’ve only been working part time and haven’t spent any time actively marketing myself. It’s been so gratifying to realize that clients still find me through my previous marketing efforts. The majority of my work is coming in through old clients hiring me for more work or them referring me to others.
I just want to clarify, this approach is not sustainable. It’s only working for me because I spent seven years actively marketing my business and building relationships. And because I’m working part time.
What are some specific strategies and pieces of advice that helped you grow?
The one strategy that has worked for me is investing in my business and education.
My business didn’t take off until I took a few courses. It wasn’t until James Chartrand’s Damn Fine Words course that my writing got the polish it has now. But my writing wasn’t the only thing that improved in this course – my confidence did too.
The next course I give credit to is Jon Morrow’s Guest Blogging course. It taught me to pitch and network with bigger blogs. I taught me research skills for finding the best blogs to guest post on. I took those lessons and applied them to my freelance business. Yes, guest blogging helped me market myself, but the research and networking skills helped me find clients who could pay my rates.
You don’t have to take high priced courses to improve your skills. If you’re short on cash, buy an ebook instead. It really doesn’t matter how you increase your knowledge or skills. What matters is that you apply what you learn.
(Gina’s tip: I partnered with Sally Miller to write a book on how to make money as a freelance writer. The book is only $3.99 on Amazon < affiliate link).
If you’re reading a copywriting book and it teaches you a writing trick – apply it. Use it the next time you write something. Practice it until it becomes second nature.
What are you most excited about for your business next?
I’m working on my first info product with Lauren Tharp of Little Zotz Writing. We’re putting together a resource pack full of document templates, samples, swipe files and checklists of things freelancers need in the first year (if not month) of running their freelance business. Think invoices, contracts, project proposals – the works. The aim is to help as many freelancers as we can to hit the ground running.
It’s due for release in December and I can’t wait for it to help freelancers feel more confident and better prepared to run their business.
Samar Owais is a freelance writer and blogger. She loves writing (kinda goes without saying), road trips, and helping writers succeed in their freelance writing businesses. Download her free report, 10 Unexpected Places to Find Freelance Writing Clients, to jump-start your freelance career today.