Freelance Writing Self-Rules That Are Not Right or Wrong

Does the notion of rules leave you bristling? Or do you find comfort within the protective structure they provide?

When I read Jenn Mattern’s post, Freelance Writing Rules (and Why You Should Break Them), I thought back to the start of my own freelance writing career.

Since I began in 2008, I’ve read a lot about what I should and should not do. As someone who both bristles and finds comfort in rules, I soon arrived at one of my favorite mantras.

There is no right or wrong – just different.

You decide what’s different about you. Create freelance writing self-rules that work for you. And feel free to break them.

Freelance Writing Self-Rules

I wrote in my comments to Jenn’s post that I’ve seen my attitude evolve to listen to my own rules and be happier for it. Jenn asked if there were “self-rules” I’d be willing to share. The following is my take on self-rules.

The Rules Left Behind

The first big rule I finally broke was leaving the comfort (?) of a corporate career of 30-plus years. I had plenty of friends/coworkers who thought I was nuts to make the leap to freelancing. It’s a decision I have never regretted.

Like most writers, I am an information hog. So, I launched a self-education campaign on my new freelancing career. My inner middle-child-of-seven rebelled at all the “absolutes” I discovered.

  • A six-figure income is your true measurement of freelancing success
  • You must post daily/weekly/three times a week to build a following
  • You need a Facebook page for your business

One of the silliest rules a freelancing “expert” told me was I needed to market myself as a “Boise freelancer” to attract local clients. Well, guess what. I don’t want local clients because they do not fit my targeted market.

My Own Set of Rules

I’ve had the six-figure income in my corporate career. In the beginning, my freelancing income goal was simple. Do better than the year before. As I near retirement, my income has evolved as my freelancing goals have.

My situation is unique to me. We may share similarities but I doubt we are identical twins.

  • A corporate career of 30-plus years
  • Caregiving for my mostly healthy (but hey, 94-year-old) mother
  • Maintaining an acre of land, including irrigation ditch duties
  • Transitioning from freelancing full-time to retiring (mostly) from business writing

My freelancing self-rules changed. And I’m sure they will again. Here are a few I now follow.

Terms of Endearment

In your early days of freelancing, it is easy to feel desperate for your next gig. As a result, I accepted gigs I did not want and contract terms I wish I hadn’t. My current self-rules include the following basic tenets.

  1. Accept projects I want to do
  2. Get paid the way I prefer
  3. Make sure I have time for life

You are always going to have some projects you love more than others. However, I’ve stopped accepting the ones I found tedious. I focus my marketing on projects I enjoy. For example, I love case studies, bios, blogging, and short marketing pieces.

My second self-rule addresses how I am paid. Most of my current clients pay me in advance with a direct deposit to my checking account. It wasn’t always that way. I had my share of delayed deposits and late payments. Now, my minimum requirement remains a 50% deposit on a project fee. I recently walked away from a potential client who insisted on a per hour payment arrangement, which brings me to my last self-rule.

Before I accept any project, I need a comfort level that it fits into my current life. For me, that means time for my daily walks, flexibility to be available for my mother’s needs, and no weekend hours. Do I ever make exceptions? Sure. But, they are rare.

Hourly tracking for payment does not work for me. I’m frequently interrupted (causing my boomer brain to forget to “turn off the clock”), and perhaps more importantly, I hate doing it. So, while a per hour payment arrangement may work for you, it does not fit my style. And that’s okay – because remember my mantra: There is no right or wrong – just different.

It’s scary saying no. But, one of the best perks of getting older is learning you don’t have to follow someone else’s rules. Find what works for you and be happy.

BigstockPhoto credit

Cathy Miller has a business communications blog at Simply stated business. Her blog, Why 60 Miles, is inspired by her passion for walking 60 miles in 3 days to support research for finding a cure for cancer

About the author




  • Anne Wayman September 11, 2017 at 11:34 am

    Nice Cathy, great stuff.

    • Cathy Miller September 15, 2017 at 3:26 pm

      Thanks, Anne. 🙂

  • lwidmer September 11, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    Cathy, this is great stuff. And thank you again for posting while I was unable to.

    I love how your self-rules have evolved. It’s like risk management (everything to me is like risk management!) — risks evolve all the time. You can’t simply slap a plan together and expect things to stay the same.

    My self-rules have evolved in a similar fashion to yours. I used to take resume jobs. Now, I’d rather work at McDonald’s than write another Objective statement. I used to take low-paying stuff to get my name in a new area. Now, I don’t care to. I have enough work in my current area. Other self-rules:
    — I don’t argue with argumentative clients.
    — I don’t take on projects that bore me at the thought.
    — I don’t take anything that interferes with vacation time.
    — I save time for me.

    I’m winding down my own career a bit, looking for things I love and enjoy doing, not things that simply pay the bills. I’m happier now than I was when I was chasing the next project.

    • Cathy Miller September 15, 2017 at 3:29 pm

      Sorry for the delay, Lori. Boomer brain forgot to get the notification of follow-up comments. 😉 First, you are more than welcome. You’ve always been there for me, Lori, and I so appreciate that. And it has been great to see your self-rules evolve. Yes, I have noticed. 🙂 There’s a lot to be said for being happier, isn’t there?

      • lwidmer September 18, 2017 at 10:03 am

        Happier and more content with the decisions, yes. 🙂