Don’t Quit Your Day Job?

You might be surprised to know my first (and best) advice to nurses who want to become writer is this:

Don’t quit your day job.

It’s not because I doubt the viability of freelance writing as a career. I’ve been making my living as a writer for the past eight years. Writing provides me with a steady, generous income and a lifestyle that can’t be beat.

But quitting your job to jump full-time into writing is just plain dumb. It’s an almost sure path to failure.

The best strategy to increase your chance of success as a freelancer

The best strategy you can use to increase your odds of success at becoming a freelance writer is to transition from nursing to writing.

When I decided to move from nursing back into freelancing, I was working five days a week, on an 8-5 schedule, and my strategy worked flawlessly. It will work even better if you’re a nurse working three 12s a week.

Here’s the exact step-by-step process I used to become a six-figure freelancer (basically in my spare time):

  1. I spent a few evenings and weekends setting up my business.

  2. As I was setting up my business, I approached my local Alzheimer’s Association to volunteer my writing skills for their newsletter. They were happy to accept, and I wrote a few articles for their publication. This enabled me to get good clips (work samples) in order to demonstrate my abilities to paying clients.

  3. I spent a few more evenings and weekends designing a website. I decided to hire a professional to actually implement the design, but you certainly can do it yourself. I covered websites in the very first issue of RN2Writer.

  4. I created a list of target clients and sent out a lot of LOIs. LOI stands for “letter of introduction.” It’s basically direct email marketing, and it’s a whole lot more painless than you might imagine. Every weekend I devoted at least four hours to researching prospective clients and sending LOIs.

  5. Within a few weeks, two clients hired me based on my LOIs. One contracted with me to write 50 health topic summaries (think: “What is Lupus?”) for a website in Africa, and the other hired me to write an SEO-optimized website on recreational vehicles. (Although I wanted to specialize in healthcare, I also needed to take the work that came my way.)

  6. As I continued to work as an RN, I completed these client assignments in the evenings and on weekends. Those two initial projects netted me around $4,500, if memory serves correctly, but they didn’t represent the steady work I needed to leave my nursing job.

  7. I set a minimum revenue goal to achieve before I would consider quitting my nursing position. Finally getting a little traction in my new business, I wanted to plan how to complete the transition out of nursing – and that meant setting a hard revenue figure to achieve. At the time (2011) and under the circumstances (my late husband brought in a large enough income for us to live on, in a pinch), I set a monthly freelance revenue goal of $2,000.

  8. Every time I completed an assignment, I updated my website with links to the new “clips” (work samples) so new prospective clients could see the quality of my work, and I continued sending LOIs in the evenings and during the four hours I devoted to growing my business on the weekends.

  9. I used a portion of the fees I’d earned to finance a trip to the Association of Health Care Journalists conference. At the conference I met an editor for a marquee health website who subsequently hired me on an annual contract worth around $10,000. But that still represented only a fraction of the money I needed to meet my revenue goal to quit my nursing job.

  10. Within two months of the AHCJ conference, I managed to land two additional clients on monthly contracts (this is an important aspect of creating a sustainable freelance business model – and I’ll be talking about it in much detail in the RN2Writer newsletter). These contracts did not represent guaranteed income (because they were cancellable with 30 days’ notice), but they pushed me over the $2,000 goal I’d set.

  11. The following Friday I walked into my nursing job and gave notice. In that instant I became a full-time freelance writer.

In retrospect, I think I was a little crazy to jump into freelancing with only three reasonably steady clients on board! It didn’t feel dangerous at the time, but I laugh when I look back now. But, you know, it worked out splendidly.

About five years after that momentous Friday I logged my first six-figure revenue year. I can’t express the feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment that came with it. And I was still only working as a writer part-time!

If I can do it, you probably can, too

I don’t believe I have any special magic that made this transition from nurse to writer possible. I think I just took a sensible approach and worked methodically toward my goal. I think anyone can do that. I certainly think you can do it.

But if you’d like a leg-up – if you’d like to shorten the learning curve and increase your chance to succeed – you can subscribe to RN2Writer. I’m spilling all my best tips, tricks and strategies to make your journey to full-time freelancing smoother and easier than my own was.