First, figure out what you love to do. Then figure out how to make money doing it.

writers desk in 1979
writers desk in 1979
My desk at home in 1979, including my full writer’s kit – paper, pen, manual typewriter, ashtray, coffee mug, and a small bottle of Bell's Whisky.

I pretty much stumbled into my first job as a copywriter. Up until a few days before I sat down to write my first ad, I didn’t even know that copywriters existed.

I was working as a management trainee at an ad agency in London. That meant I was being shuffled from department to department, so I could get a rounded education in the agency business. I was 22 years old.

After a stint in the media and production departments, I was passed on to the creative department. The creative director sat me down and asked me whether I was a designer or a writer. I told him I was a writer. Sure, I had done a stint at art college, but at heart I had always liked writing best.

Since the day I wrote that first ad – for a forklift truck company – I have been writing for a living. (They stopped shuffling me around, and left me in the creative department.)

I had always loved writing, and at the age of 22 I had found a way to make money doing what I loved. Lucky me.

Today, over 30 years later, I coach a lot of freelancers who seem to be trying to do this the other way around. When I ask them why they want to be a copywriter, designer, programmer or freelancer in some other way, they usually tell me they have heard it’s a good way to make money.

I think that approach makes things a lot harder for them.

I have succeeded as a copywriter and then a web writer simply because I love to write, and I’m fascinated by business.

Back in my early twenties I would work all day, and then spend many of my evenings and weekends writing ads simply as practice. I didn’t have to. I did that because I loved what I was doing. And I became better and better at writing as a result of all those extra hours.

Freelancers receive all kinds of good advice about how to make a decent living. Goal setting. Finding a niche. Marketing. Commitment. Mental toughness. Organization.

This is all good stuff.

But it won’t help you much if you don’t love what you’re doing.

And if you do love what you are doing, all those other elements will fall into place more easily.

So before you leap into your next venture, ask yourself the question, “Do I love doing this?”

If you don’t, pause for a moment and ask yourself this question:

“If I had followed the path of what I loved to do back when I was 22, what would I be doing now?”

Whatever the answer, perhaps you could start doing that now.

When you love what you do for a living, everything changes.

The best advice I can give any freelancer.

There is a ton of advice I can give, and have given to freelancers.

But I think the best advice I can give is this:

Always put aside an emergency cash fund equivalent to about two months of earnings.

Why? Because there are always ups and downs in the life of a freelancer, whether you are just starting out, or have been freelancing for years.

It doesn’t matter whether you are just doing OK as a freelancer, or you a superstar. You will always have an occasional month that doesn’t deliver the money you need to cover the bills. Or maybe one month you have an unexpected expense. Or maybe you are sick and can’t work.

You need to have a cash reserve to make up for those months. This is a simple business practice. It’s called cash flow management. Every company, large or small, has to manage its cash flow.

When you have good months, you put some money aside for your cash reserve.

Why is it so important? Well, the first and obvious answer is that you need to pay your bills. But, just as important, you need to KNOW you always have enough money to pay your bills, and have some extra cash left over. You need to FEEL relaxed about your money.

When you are short of money in your business, or even coming close to being short of money, you will feel the stress and become distracted.

As soon as you feel stressed and distracted, your productivity will suffer. You may also start making bad decisions about which jobs to take on – simply because you are feeling desperate.

That feeling of desperation will then undermine your ability to do a good job estimating for projects. You will submit low estimates, just because you need some cash coming in quick.

When you estimate too low for jobs, you undermine your feelings of self-confidence, and undermine your brand.

Suddenly you find yourself in a downward spiral, low-balling on your estimates and having to work even harder to make enough money.

Yes, this is a bad place to be.

For this reason, it is essential you create that cash reserve. Do it before you pay off your credit cards, before you buy the flights for your next vacation.

As soon as you have a cash reserve, everything changes. You dip into it during bad months, and build it up during good months.

Most important of all, you never feel desperate for work.

This means there will be no negative pressure on your productivity, and you can always remain focused on building your business, and seeking out the best, high-paying engagements.

If you don’t have a cash reserve yet, make it a priority, and start working on it today.