Why freelance writers have to think like entrepreneurs

It seems like everyone is an entrepreneur these days. There are solopreneurs, mompreneurs, teentrepreneurs. I recently joked with a friend that I’m a non-trepreneur. When it comes to putting myself out there, hustling to get work, pitching myself, I’m not great.

Recently, at an event with my friend Erin Lowry of Broke Millennial fame, someone asked me the tired old question, what do you do? I gave my tired old answer, “Oh, I’m a freelance writer.” In Erin’s signature New York ain’t-got-time for this tone, she chimed in: “KRISTIN WROTE A BOOK.” Of course! I should be telling people about that.

But again, I suck at putting myself out there.

The trouble is, people who do creative things for a living and fancy themselves artists in some way are quick to be proud of this fact. We snub entrepreneurship and pride ourselves on the fact that we’re not business-minded, we’re artists. It’s easy to be okay with sucking at entrepreneurship because we look down on it – it’s not art. Of course, those two things aren’t mutually exclusive, but it’s easy to think that way.

In Secrets of Six-Figure Women, author Barbara Stanny talks about the concept of “underearners,” women who earn considerably less than their potential. One trait of an underearner, she writes, is that they’re reverse snobs. They look down on wealth and believe there’s nobility in being broke.

Lots of artists, writers, and creatives are reverse snobs. We want to make money writing or doing some other creative thing, yet we look down on people who do. we convince themselves that people who make money with their art are not good artists. They’re sellouts. If I’m being brutally honest, I used to think this way because it made me feel better about not getting work. It made me feel better about being broke. And when you’re broke, you latch onto anything that makes you feel better.

It took me a long time to come to this realization: If you want to make a living with your art, you can’t be ashamed of the business that goes along with it. You’re asking people to give you money to do something that everyone wants to do. That’s where entrepreneurship comes in  — you have to find a way to set yourself apart and use your resources to get what you want.

Ultimately, making money with your art, talent, or other creative work comes down to treating it not just as a hobby, but also as a business. A few things happen when you make this shift:

  • You give yourself permission to actually make money: Most artists take crap jobs partly because, well, let’s be honest, there are a lot of crap jobs out there. But it never dawns on many creatives to ask for more because they’ve convinced themselves money shouldn’t be important. And that’s fine if you don’t want to make money with your art. If you do, however, you should remember that it’s a lot easier to make money when you stop believing money doesn’t matter. Also, negotiating is, hands down, the number one skill that helped me level up my freelance writing income.
  • You think in terms of the big picture: With a hobby, you don’t think about what you want to do with it one, five, or ten years from now. You’re just focused on it in the present. When that hobby also becomes a business, you can’t help but strategize what you want it to look like down the road. And that’s a good thing because hobbies can come and go (she says as she stares at the dust-covered embroidery kit on the coffee table). But when you’re serious about the whole “pursuing your passion” thing, focusing on the big picture is important.
  • You take your art more seriously: A lot of people see making money as “selling out.” You stop making art. You give up your creativity. Your skills suffer. I’ve found it to be the opposite. When you’re writing, drawing, or designing as a hobby, you don’t really care what people think. You don’t care about feedback or criticism. It’s just a hobby. Your priority isn’t to get better at what you do, it’s just to enjoy what you do. But you can have both! And when your goal is to make money as a business, you start taking your hobby more seriously. You listen to what editors want. You use their feedback to improve your skills. You get better at what you do, and your art flourishes because of it.

Unless you’re mind-blowingly talented, and sometimes not even then, people aren’t just going to throw money at you for a hobby. But if you focus on how you can provide them value with that hobby, it’s a lot easier for them to fork over the cash.

Making a living as a writer requires constantly finding a balance between business and art. The bottom line is, if you’re a creative who wants to make money with the things you create, you have to build your own bottom line, your own boundaries. Making money with your art is not easy, but if you consider it beneath you, it’s just about impossible.