Ask a Freelancer

Ask A Freelancer: How Do I Know If I’m Good Enough to Make a Living?

By Nicole Dieker September 16th, 2014

How do I know whether I’m good enough to make a living as a freelancer?

— Imposter Syndrome

Being a freelancer is in many ways like taking a leap of faith, and you won’t clear the jump if you don’t have faith in your abilities.

The first time I knew I was good enough to make a living as a freelance writer was the moment I got my first paying client. I literally said, “I’m a writer!” the way Jo March does in Little Women. I had a long way to go before I turned that first job into a full-time living, but I think part of the reason I was able to get there eventually is because I believed in myself from the very beginning.

If you don’t believe in your work, you won’t pitch clients or publications who might be willing to hire you. If you don’t believe in your own value, you won’t negotiate for better-paying assignments. If you don’t believe you deserve a fair wage, you’ll get stuck accepting low-paying (or no-paying) gigs.

You also need to pay attention to feedback. How would you know if you were good enough to be a professional singer, for example? To start, people might say they like to hear you sing. You might win contests. People might even pay you to perform. On the other hand, if you aren’t a very good singer, people may still clap politely at the end, but they won’t give you the constructive criticism you need to move forward.

If you are good enough to make a living in a freelance career, there are a few important signs to look for. Has an editor or client recommended you to another editor or client? And has an editor or client asked you for repeat work? Answering yes to those two questions means you’re on the right track to establishing yourself as someone who provides value.

Let’s say you’re not getting a lot of positive feedback from the world. Well, that means it’s time to improve your craft. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and people like Malcolm Gladwell didn’t become successful writers overnight. In fact, when talking about his career, Gladwell told Time, “I was a basket case at the beginning, and I felt like an expert at the end. It took 10 years—exactly that long.”

How do you improve your craft to become an expert? You practice every day. You put your work online and see how people respond. You study what experts in your particular field have done to become successful. You read, a lot. You ask editors and clients for advice. And you pay attention to revision requests to make your next project better.

You also need to be smart about how to navigate the financial aspects of your trade. Calculate your ideal hourly rate. Budget what you need to cover all of your bills and expenses. Don’t forget about taxes.

Being smart about money also means understanding an article that pays $300 might sound like a good deal, but if that piece takes a full week of interviews and research and drafting and then a second full week of revisions, your hourly rate drops to $3.75 (before taxes).

And lastly you need to know when to quit. Ideally, you’ll hit each of the factors mentioned in this article and set yourself up as a full-time freelancer. However, sometimes you won’t. That’s a tough wall to confront, but the sooner you confront it, the better.

Before I became a freelance writer, I tried to make it work as a professional musician. I believed in myself, I had talent, and I worked to improve my skills. However, when I listened to the feedback I was getting from the world, it was pretty clear: I wasn’t as good as I needed to be to make a living as a musician. I was also smart enough to realize that although I was making money performing, I was going into debt because the overhead cost of touring and travel ate up my income.

So being a full-time freelance musician didn’t work for me. But that doesn’t mean I stopped singing or performing. It just means I do it occasionally, for fun, and sometimes I still get paid! Similarly, freelancing may be something you do for fun and for a little extra money on the side.

Or you may go all the way and make a full-time living as a freelancer.

Either way, I’m rooting for you.

Nicole Dieker believes in you and wants you to be successful. Send your Ask A Freelancer questions to

Image by Creative Commons
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