5 Ways to Freelance in a Small Town

Plattsburgh, NY has a population of less than 20,000 — a city by name only. Now, I realize there are MUCH smaller towns in the world, but compared to places like NYC and LA (popular hubs for artists, actors, writers, and other creative types hoping to make it big) Plattsburgh is an itty-bitty place.

I’ve lived in Plattsburgh (and its surrounding towns and country villages) the entirety of my nearly 24 years of life. Even SUNY Potsdam, where I earned my Professional Writing degree, is nestled in a corner of the arctic tundra wannabe known as New York’s “North Country.” I love Plattsburgh. I currently have no plans to leave Plattsburgh. Still, I’m a writer, and writing jobs aren’t as abundant in small towns as they are in big, bright cities.

I’ve been out of college and clawing my way toward financial stability in the “real world” for almost two years now, and freelancing has been my main source of income for close to ten months. In that time, I’ve learned a few things about surviving as a freelance writer in a small town.

So, if you’re a writer who proudly hails from the middle of nowhere, and you aren’t planning on relocating to somewhere in search of work, here are a few tips for you.

1. Advertise to friends and family.

Let your friends and family know you’re looking for some freelance work! Chances are, if you’ve lived in a small town your entire life, your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins — basically your entire extended family — are within a twenty mile radius or so. It’s as easy as making a quick Facebook post. Let them know what you can help them with. I’ve helped friends, family members, and teachers from my high school days (and all the other characters you run into in small towns) edit resumes, write product descriptions for their Etsy shops, proofread academic papers, and more. And, when you’re working for people you’re close to, it never hurts to entice them with a good friends and family discount!

2. Scope out local publications.

Most small towns have a small-town newspaper. Mine has two, as well as a few small local magazines. Generally, local publications (especially regular weekly or monthly publications) are always looking for writers. Even writing one or two articles a month for a local magazine, at $50 to $150 a pop — well, that’s a couple hundred dollars of monthly income! For me, that pays the electric bill, puts gas in my car, and maybe even covers my internet bill.

3. Reach out to local businesses.

Small towns are usually full of small businesses — and most small businesses are looking to grow. Nowadays, we have social media, which is accessible, cheap (usually free), and relatively easy to navigate, especially for the millennial freelancer crowd. But someone still needs to write the copy for every single post on social media. Twitter a few times a day, Instagram once a day, and Facebook a handful of times every week? That adds up to a decent amount of writing. And even if a small business isn’t using social media, they might need a writer’s expertise for another reason. So, reach out to those businesses. Local businesses are usually more apt to hire local freelancers!

4. Tutor.

My small town happens to have a small college. That means there are college students, and where there are college students, there are essays to be written. So, offer tutoring as one of your freelance services! Some students might just want a quick proofread, some might want more thorough feedback — and some might even want actual, face-to-face tutoring. And if you don’t have a college in your small town, you can always tutor online (try Tutor.com or Chegg), which leads me to my next point…

5. Go online.

The internet is the biggest town in the world — and you can access it from just about anywhere, including small towns. (Believe it or not, we have a Starbucks with free WiFi.) It’s always good to have your own website, if you consider yourself a professional freelancer (I recommend WordPress for affordability!) but the internet has several hubs available for people looking for freelance work. I use Upwork and Freelancer, but there are plenty of sites out there, and a few smartphone apps, too.

If you’re a small-time, small-town freelancer like me, I’m sure you understand my struggle. But, let’s be real — when we chose to be full-time freelancers, we knew it wouldn’t be easy, right? The jobs are out there; just keep your eyes open!

How I Prepared To Work From Home

So, I’m a full-time freelancer now. I’m self-employed, working from home, setting my own schedule – free as a bird. It took a lot of courage and a lot of preparation to make the switch, and I’m still working at it. I’ll always be working at it. Keeping my freelance career alive is going to be constant work.

Here are just a few of the preliminary steps I took to prepare myself to work from home full-time.

I established a brand.

That’s right. Allie Racette: Freelance Writing, Editing, and Content Marketing. My business cards don’t say the right thing, but they will when I run out and have an excuse to print new ones with updated information. (In my defense, when I first designed my business cards, I had absolutely no intention of going full-time freelance.)

Anyway. I think I’ll write a full post about branding in the future, but here are a few bullet points to tide you over:

  • Develop a website.
  • Stay active on social media channels.
  • Know your audience.
  • Market yourself.
  • Publish relevant content.

I fixed up my home office.

I wanted to work from home, so I needed somewhere in my home to work – other than my couch, my favorite chair, or my bed. I’m lucky enough to have an apartment with an extra room big enough to hold my desk, my printer, my books, and the rest of my home business paraphernalia. But my desk was a mess for months and months while I was busy working my office job. So, I cleaned it up. Dedicating a space for work helped me find the motivation to sit down and focus on my writing. See the before and after of my desk clean-up here: CLICK!

I identified sources of income.

Working from home isn’t going to be easy. I don’t have a small business, I don’t have a product to sell – I’m a freelancer. And I need to make money, somehow, by writing and editing from the comfort of my apartment. I spent some time brainstorming, and came up with a few things:

  • writing and editing jobs via Upwork
  • writing articles for local publications
  • writing tutoring services for local college students

The key is to maintain multiple streams of income. If I have one client I’m doing consistent editing for, and suddenly that client doesn’t have anymore editing for me to do – well, I’m shit out of luck. If I have multiple clients, losing one won’t completely sink me. Hopefully.

I learned a lot about taxes.

When you’re self-employed, taxes S-U-C-K. I was perfectly happy filling out my 1040EZ form last filing season, because I’m single, and I have no dependents – but now, I’ve doomed myself to a future of hideously complicated taxes. Or, at least, more complicated than the taxes I’m used to.

I’ve done a lot of Googling in the past month. I’ve opened a second checking account to manage my freelancing expenses. And I’ve learned about deductions. It’s all about deductions, my freelancing friends. I’ve read many, many articles about what I can and can’t deduct as a freelancer, and I’m sure I’ll read many, many more. A few of my favorites are these nice, simple lists from Quickbooks and Freelance Taxation, and these more in-depth resources from Forbes and Freelancers Union.

I quit my day job.

A little over a year ago, after just graduating from college and starting the transition to tumultuous post-grad life, I made a blog post (on another blog) about my post-grad plan. And I very generously offered my readers this advice: don’t quit your day job.

Well. Plans change, right?

So, I quit my comfy, consistent day job to give myself more time to pursue my writing. But, my advice to you isn’t to quit your day job – and it isn’t to keep it, either. My advice is to monitor your financial needs and adjust to your situation.

Right now, I have enough money saved up to support myself for a few months while I build a client base and establish myself as a freelancer. But, if I can’t pick up enough freelance work to cover all my monthly expenses – well, I’ll go get a part-time job. Working forty hours a week provided guaranteed income, but didn’t leave me enough time to focus on my freelancing. Working twenty hours a week, though, would give me guaranteed income and the extra time I need to freelance. Like everything else in life, it’s a balancing act.

If you’re considering becoming a full-time freelancer and working from home, prepare yourself for preparation. And if you’re already working from home – what are some of the steps you took to prepare?