How I Launched My Freelance Writing Business as an RN

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Sometime in the spring of 2011 or 2012 (I honestly don’t remember now), I arrived home after a shift at the plastic surgery practice I’d been with for a year or so. It wasn’t a particularly tiring nursing job, but it could be frustrating at times. And that spring Friday was one such day.

Part of my job as the only full-time clinic nurse involved educating patients on pre- and post-op care. The surgeon I worked with did a lot of breast cancer reconstruction, as well as cosmetic surgeries like tummy tucks, and I was responsible for providing patients with their pre-op instructions, drain care teaching, and all the other relevant things each person needed to know.

It was my favorite part of the job.

But lately I’d been feeling pressured by the doctor (whom I adore; he is one of my best friends, to this day) and his non-clinical staff (it was a rather dysfunctional work environment) to speed up the pace of my patient education activities. I felt I was doing it as fast as I could. I mean, I wasn’t willing to rush through their questions, you know?

And so I arrived home on a Friday and vented to my husband, Lee, about my frustration at not being able to teach more patients on a daily basis. He then uttered the fateful words that changed the course of my nursing career:

“Babe, it’s really time for you to go full-time freelance,” he said. “I mean, think about it: with a single article on a major site like WebMD, you could reach a million patients all at once.”

The lightbulb came on.

Leveraging My Past Writing Experience

My late husband specified “full-time” freelance because I’d already been freelance writing on the side for decades. My first truly professional job as a young adult was serving as the PR Coordinator for the YMCA/USO of the Pikes Peak Region in Colorado Springs, and that five-year stint gave me some insight into how the media industry works.

After I left that job, I tried my hand at freelance reporting. It was hit-and-miss (mostly miss) as I learned how to freelance through trial-and-error. I also hung a shingle as a “business writer,” producing press releases, brochures, and other items that businesses needed. I experienced a modicum of financial success, but nothing that could support me.

But Lee’s belief in my writing talent and ability to be an entrepreneur never wavered throughout our 33-year marriage. He often urged me to try freelancing full-time. I never had the courage until he suggested it again in the spring of 2011. Or 12. I forget now.

Setting Up My Business

That lightbulb moment spurred me to action. Lee and I spent the very next day, a Saturday, clearing out a little room that had been added on to the back of our house. No larger than a good walk-in closet, this space would serve as my new office.

We moved our existing computer in there, and then ventured out to buy a decent office chair, file folders, and other office supplies. (Pens!!! Swoon.)

Over the rest of the weekend, we talked about how much to invest in this new business – and whether to set up a registered business entity or not. Lee and I both were believers that “it takes money to make money,” so we decided to invest $2,000 in the business and set it up as an LLC. I spent some time on the web hunting up information about how to file an LLC, etc., and ended up using an online service to do it – something like CorpNet.

Investing Time in My Freelance Writing Business

One of the lessons I learned in my previous failures at freelancing was that I did not take an organized, disciplined approach to it. I determined to learn from that and to be extremely disciplined this time around, so I decided to devote every Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to noon to working on my business.

Keep in mind I was still working a Monday through Friday, 8:00 to 5:00 nursing job. I think it might have been a little easier if I’d been working three 12s, since I would have had entire weekdays to work on my business, but I had to work with the situation as it existed.

Every Saturday, like clockwork, I arose at my usual workday time, sipped some coffee, and then shuffled into my office, closed the door…and worked.

At first, much of my time was devoted to tasks like figuring out what types of business licenses and tax certificates I needed in New Mexico. And I also needed to set up a basic website, which I did myself using cheap hosting through a place like HostMetro and then just using a basic WordPress theme.

Marketing, Marketing, Marketing

Many nurses who aspire to freelance writing sound shocked or disappointed when I tell them the largest portion of their time when starting out will be spent on marketing. But that’s the way this industry works, and that’s exactly how I spent 100% of my time after I had finished taking care of all the legal aspects of setting my business up.

But my efforts paid off rather quickly.

Within a couple of months I managed to land my first client. Woot! I kept marketing and pretty soon landed another client. But I also kept my nursing job, because these one-off gigs didn’t pay a ton, and they provided only extra income, not the steady revenue flow I needed to transition from nurse to writer.

Eventually I had made enough money to attend a writing conference, where I met with a WebMD editor. She ultimately gave me a contract worth about $1,000 per month for a year.

And then I quit my nursing job.

And became a full-time freelance nurse writer.

You can Follow This Path, Too

Now, almost a decade later, I’m proud to say I’m still earning my living from writing. Not only that, but I regularly earn six figures in revenue and have been privileged to work with some of the biggest names in healthcare.

This simple, three-pronged approach to transitioning from nurse to writer will work for anyone. I know, because I’ve mentored other nurses who not only have followed the exact same path but have achieved even more financial success than I have!

I’ll always be grateful to Lee, whom I lost unexpectedly in 2016, for encouraging me to make the leap from nursing to writing. He was able to see what I could not: That my RN license and nursing knowledge would make my writing a valuable commodity for a wide array of companies.

I hope my story inspires you to make the leap, too. 

Elizabeth Hanes

Elizabeth Hanes

Elizabeth Hanes BSN RN is known professionally as "the nurse who knows content." By day, she uses her nursing knowledge and creative writing acumen to produce content that drives results for clients. By night, she teaches other nurses how to achieve their dreams of a professional writing career. In between, she takes frequent breaks to drink Cosmos and walk her dog, Mitzi. Elizabeth lives in Albuquerque, NM. She has never met Walter White or needed Saul Goodman.

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