A few weeks back during tax time, I was cleaning up some old files and came across the check stub from my first opportunity to do paid freelance work.
I was just a lowly assistant editor at a golf magazine when I received a call from someone at Boardroom Reports, publisher of the Bottom Line Personal newsletter, which I’m pleasantly surprised to see still exists 23 years later. The assignment was to put together a quick article about golf gadgets, and I remember being stunned that someone was willing to pay $0.50 a word for writing. (Yes, even way back in 1990, there was no need to take pennies a word — yet at the time, I was pumping out thousands of words a month for just over $18,000 a year. It was a revelation.)
With so little experience, however, it would have arguably been foolhardy to attempt it full time. So, I did occasional freelance work on the side for “fun money” while working at a series of magazines through the ’90s. If I had to define my first “real” freelance job, it was the first project I received after starting my freelance business in 1999. That one was important, because I’d quit my corporate job cold turkey. It was the first check that helped pay the mortgage and keep my family fed, and immensely satisfying because of that.
I’d say the third most important check was the one from a project I’d secured through cold calling, sometime in the summer of 2001, thanks to coming across Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Writer. Psychologically, that one was meaningful because it was the first freelance work I’d done that wasn’t from a person I’d known through my previous contacts or their referrals. It was a job I’d gotten on my own, selling my skills and experience to a prospect who had no clue who I was. At that point, I knew I was in business for real.
Update: As promised in the comments, Lori posted her “Bad Writing Contest” winning entry on her blog: “Your Start in Freelancing.” It’s a beauty, definitely worth the read!
Do you remember your first piece of freelance work — how you acquired it, what you did, and how much you got paid? Share your story in the comments!