I charged headfirst into freelance writing on a mission: I wanted to use my skills to help purpose-driven and sustainable organizations outperform profit-driven and greenwashing competitors. I wasn’t primarily concerned with money—though, of course, I knew I needed to make enough. My goal was to work with clients I believed in.
It was a romantic notion, and my dedication did lead to opportunities to work with a few amazing, inspiring initiatives. But quickly I learned that managing a freelance business, especially at the beginning, doesn’t leave much room for idealism.
So, in those early years as a freelancer, I had to work on quite a few projects I didn’t agree with, some I couldn’t care less about, and others that sucked the soul right out of my body. It left me feeling purposeless. If you’re in this position currently, I feel for you.
I’ve since learned some things are simply non-negotiable. In this article, I’ll talk about the strategies I use to prioritize my ethics as a freelance writer.
If you want to target clients that align with your values, start by looking at your marketing messaging.
Perform an audit of your online platforms:
Ethical companies will value the opportunity to work with a freelancer who demonstrates an equal commitment to values. So, whether your primary client acquisition strategy is pitching on Upwork, cold emailing, or generating leads on LinkedIn, stand behind your values with pride. It will make your messaging more appealing to your ideal clients.
In the early stages of managing yourself as a freelance writer, it’s not always easy—or possible—to turn down work. But as you slowly build up your client base, you can begin strategically choosing the right jobs to get you closer to your future dream client list.
For example, in the first few months of freelancing, I signed on with a client who was not remotely aligned with my values. But, they were willing to offer me steady work and training in basic SEO and social media strategy. I was with them for a few months, and during that time I built up my portfolio and used my newfound reliable income to support myself while I completed passion projects.
When that contract was complete, I was in a much better position to provide more valuable services to clients I adored. And I was in a better position to turn down work.
This is often sold to freelancers as an interpersonal skill, but I believe it is an intrapersonal skill as well.
Setting boundaries with yourself can feel frivolous but actually, the process will make ethical decision-making much easier.
Start by writing out a list of things you absolutely won’t do for a client. For example, if someone wants me to write fake reviews or tell lies about a product, I won’t ponder whether or not I should take the job. I just don’t. It’s automatic.
This list is likely to evolve as you build up your skills and profitability, and it should. As you become more valuable as a professional, you can be more selective with your clients.
Chances are when you work in marketing, you’ll always have to grapple with these issues. Setting boundaries for yourself will make dealing with these things easier.
Unfortunately, there have been times in my professional journey when I simply couldn’t turn down a job, even when I struggled to see a way in which it benefited the world. In these instances, I just had to grin and bear it.
But over time, as I began acquiring more skills, I was able to charge those clients more. I started to look at necessary jobs that didn’t align with my values as the funding that allowed me to take on lower-paying gratifying projects.
These days I am empowered to say no to jobs that don’t excite me, but this strategy helped me get to where I am.
There are so many things I love about freelance writing, but my favorite is the ability to choose clients who inspire me and who make me excited to open my laptop every morning.
That’s not to say it hasn’t been a long road getting here. And there’s always room to grow. But staying rooted in my values has allowed me to build a career that I love. I hope these tips will help you do the same.