#071: Should You Go Freelance If You’re 55 or Older?

Over the past seven years, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with new and aspiring freelancers who are 55+.

Perhaps the most common concern I hear from this group is, “I’m afraid that my age will prevent me from getting clients.”

I can understand this fear. Especially if you’ve experienced age discrimination in the workplace … or been laid off or downsized because of your age (something an employer would never admit).

Here’s the good news—you have more to offer your clients than you realize. In fact, you have a serious competitive edge over younger freelancers — experience, wisdom and perspective.

And that’s not just me saying that. I’ve heard this from several freelancers who launched their solo business later in life.

In fact, you’ll hear from one of them in this week’s episode. Her name is Katherine Andes, a California–based web content developer and SEO writer who went solo 12 years ago at the age of 54.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself

Katherine started working as a web content developer in 2008. Her core skills are website writing and SEO. She started her freelance writing business in 2003.

We first talked to Katherine on an episode about charging hourly rates for SEO copywriting.

What made you go into freelancing?

Katherine spent a number of years in the corporate world. When she had children, she decided to stay home with them. When her husband passed away, Katherine knew she would have to start generating some income.

She launched her business with only a vague idea of what she wanted to do. She wrote newsletters and resumes and did some grant writing and magazine editing. She also started doing some web writing.

At first, she was afraid she wouldn’t land any work. But she knew she was a good writer, and she figured there had to be a way to make money writing.

How did you find work? How did people respond?

She emailed everyone she knew to tell them about her business. Work started to trickle in.

She did get some blowback. A relative told her she should get a permanent job instead of working freelance. She received lots of unsolicited advice, but she found it best to go with what works for her.

clicktotweetWhen starting your business, follow your instincts and go with what feels right to you.

Are business periodicals looking for writers these days?

Business and trade publications will accept anything that’s well written. They’re hungry for content. You won’t get paid, but it’s a good way to get exposure, credibility and a link back to your site.

How did you grow from your first set of clients?

Katherine thrashed around for a number of years. The grant writing work dried up. She did some magazine editing but the pay was low. Eventually, she got a gig with a flooring company. She helped them develop a website, but it didn’t do well in search. She realized she needed to learn SEO.

She ended up hiring SEO coach Nick Usborne. He encouraged her to narrow her focus to SEO copywriting. Her confidence grew, and it was a turning point in her business.

clicktotweetSomeone WILL hire you if you’re good and you make some effort to market yourself.

Have you experienced age discrimination as a freelancer?

Not as much as she anticipated. You can write without showing your age. Most of her clients are seasoned business owners who appreciate her maturity. They trust her. She’s not a SEO hotshot who sells fast and overpromises.

Some of young web developers get snarky with her—but not all. She attracts clients who don’t want the “young and cool” establishment.

How do you position yourself?

Katherine positions herself as a consultant, not a writer. She describes herself as a merchandiser of content.

She uses her age and maturity to her advantage. She’s not pretending to be someone she’s not.

What advice do you have for people who don’t have enough for retirement and are considering freelance work to pay the bills?

Just do it. Network and don’t overlook the local market. Get some training. Put up a website.

Get a coach. Coaching cuts down on the amount of time it takes to ramp up your business.

Katherine has met many people who’ve had to start over in their 50s and 60s. Starting a new business is hard work and can be frustrating, but it’s doable.

Where can listeners learn more about you?

Katherine’s website: Betterwebsales.com

Katherine’s viral video on Youtube:
A little off-topic, but this video went viral on Facebook and is example that even a post about something “everyday” has the potential to boost your business — it’s received just under 3 million views on Facebook, which is pretty remarkable.

The link below is the same video, now posted on Youtube.
Click to Watch: Lady Stores Plastic Bags in Tissue Box

  • Mia Sherwood Landau

    It’s true that those of us over 55 have some big advantages as freelance writers. We actually had to learn spelling and grammar, and to type on a typewriter, before those Selectrics with whiteout ribbons, remember? Good spellers and 10-finger typists, unite!

    • edgandia

      I’m in my early/mid 40’s, but I also learned to type on an IBM Selectric. Fun times! 😉

      • Linda Hamilton

        I loved typing on an IBM Selectric, but learned on an ancient manual Royal typewriter of my dad’s. Miss them both but glad I have a keyboard; I type so fast the others couldn’t keep up.

        • edgandia

          I have one of those relics, too! A really old Underwood a great uncle gave me years ago. 😉

        • janet

          I used a Royal Manual typewriter for years. The IBM Selectric made life much easier, but my old green Royal was cherished.
          I still have my Mom’s portable Olivetti.

  • Thank you. Very insightful. I just turned 50 on January 5, 2015, the same day I began marketing myself for medical device companies!

    • edgandia

      Love that — thanks, Lisa!

  • Mark Bergman

    Bravo….I also started out in my fifties. It was really scary, but I found that just by doing, it helped allay those fears and build confidence. I do a fair bit of business ghost writing for executives and senior people – something that new college grads just don’t have the experience to tackle! Many thanks Ed for your helpful articles and thanks Katherine for sharing your valuable insight!

    • edgandia

      Way to take action in the face of fear and insecurity! Thanks for checking out the show and for your comment.

  • Linda Hamilton

    Working after 55 is a premier opportunity for any writer who chooses to step into that role. I was in my early 40s when hired into Corporate America and getting laid off 13 years later wasn’t necessarily scary it was enlightening and exciting. When I got laid off I immediately stepped back into full time freelance and professional resume writing and had work within 24 hours. I used my severance money to build a website, take a professional marketing course and then I found Ed and several other writing mentors. Five years later I’m thriving, my business is growing, and I’m opening new doors weekly.
    Our experience provides insight others don’t have. Our wisdom helps us make better decisions. Our professionalism helps break down more barriers. As a writer we have a lot more to share, and with a unique writing skill it reaches more people with greater impact.

    Katherine and Ed are correct. Break through the fear and step into a lucrative world that may be hard work, but if you love what you do you’ll never know you were working. Don’t let fear stand between you and success. Break through it and open the door to a new exciting adventure.

    • edgandia

      Inspiring! Thanks for sharing your story, Linda!

  • Linda Allard

    This was a great podcast Ed. Reassuring to know there are other Over 55’s who are successful. Am just starting out and it helped allay some of my fears. Thanks

    • edgandia

      Great! Thanks for listening, Linda. 😉

  • Another hit, Ed. I, too, found myself unemployed (self-employed?) at 54. This episode has truly pumped up my confidence and expectations!

    • edgandia

      Great to hear that, Bobby! When Katherine approached me with the idea of the episode, I knew this would be a very inspirational (and timely) message. Thanks for listening.

  • janet

    I needed this today!

    • edgandia

      Love it when the timing is just right! Thanks, Janet.

  • Paul

    Ed how do I get signed up for your webinar on March 3?

  • Love that comment by Mia Sherwood Landau “Good spellers and 10-finger typists, unite!” (I can relate. LOL)

    Beautifully inspirational, Ed & Katherine. I’m not “over 55” but give it a few more months and you can add me to the rolls. I started seriously writing just a few years ago but because it has primarily been online, I haven’t encountered any overt age discrimination (at least to my knowledge).

    But I am keenly aware of this era in which every thing is agile, lean, fast to market and attention-challenged. Unfortunately, for younger generations this sometimes translates into “if you ain’t 20- or 30-something, you probably don’t get it, and we don’t really want to work with older people.”

    Katherine, as Ed mentioned, you are using maturity and wisdom to your advantage. You handled the “no tour” scenario with grace and aplomb and came out of it sharing your story for the uplifting of others.

    Enjoyed the interview immensely!

    • Katherine_Andes

      Thanks, Vernessa, and everyone else for the kind comments. It’s great to see how many of us “seniors” are out there … can’t believe I’m calling myself a “senior” ;D

  • Kevin

    Hi Ed,

    This was a great podcast.

    One more tip for those in this age range. Your clients may never know how old you are. I’ve been freelancing for eight years. I’ve never met 95% of my clients in a face-to-face setting.

    As long as you have a relatively youthful voice – and plenty of enthusiasm and energy – it will be quite difficult for clients to guess your age. In fact, the age consideration likely won’t cross their mind. They’re too busy trying to cross projects off their plate. They just want people who can write well…and handle projects professionally and on time.
    BTW, your productivity tip of working 50 minutes/taking a 10-minute break might be very helpful for an older audience. I know it’s helped me get so much more done in less time.

    • edgandia

      GREAT point, Kevin! And I’m glad to hear that the 50-minute technique is working well for you. I prefer 50/20/50. It’s a full 2-hour block, and I’ve found that I *need* the 20 minutes when I’m focusing like this.

  • Cathy Goodwin

    I’d agree with Kevin! It’s much easier to work remotely once you get past a certain age. I rarely meet clients face to face; I’m more likely to work with someone in Singapore than Seattle. While I’d never tell someone to stop job searching, often your efforts will be rewarded far more with self-employment than with pounding out resumes.

  • Jen Leary

    Hi Ed, Jennifer here, looking for Podcast #32.

  • TuckerdogNC

    Excellent. I’m 62 and have 30+ years experience. After ten years and going through lots of savings I’m still trying to figure out the right way to quote, show experience, and such. I actually lost a project because I sent a Letter of Agreement along with a proposal. I found out later the potential client thought I was being pushy; I thought I was being transparent. Thanks for all this excellent advice.