Untitled Design (1)

10 Lessons I’ve Learned Working as a Freelance Medical Writer for 10 Years

10 Lessons I’ve Learned Working as a Freelance Medical Writer for 10 Years

  • Reading time:4 mins read

As my tenth year as a freelance medical writer draws to a close, I'm taking a moment to reflect on some of the key lessons I've learned along the way.

It has certainly been a rollercoaster ride with its ups, downs, and some downright topsy turvy chaos. It has been hard incredibly hard at times. But would I change anything? Hell no!

The value of the work I do distilling complex science into eloquent medical communications for healthcare professionals and patients is what gets me up in the morning.

So what have I learned?

  1. Working for yourself can be hard at times, even for an introvert, and it is all too easy to get sucked into an all-work, no-play mindset. Make the time each day to leave the office, walk the dog, go to the gym, or catch a few rays of sun. Your body and mind will thank you for it.
  2. Learn your value and quote with conviction. Pricing your services appropriately (especially fixed-price projects!) can be a steep learning curve, and one you don’t always get right when starting out. Projects can take longer than expected (especially if they are drawn out over several months waiting on client or author feedback), so quoting carefully and keeping a tight rein on projects is essential.
  3. Building strong, long-term relationships with clients is key. For me, this often means calls late in the evening to cross over with European time zones. It’s through regular communication, building a reputation for reliability, and delivering more than what’s expected that you can turn one-off projects into long-term client relationships that stand the test of time.
  4. Add value wherever you can. This is follows on from number 3. Whether it’s offering strategic insights, advising on the latest industry trends, or suggesting different ways to present information, add value wherever possible. It’s about being proactive and showing clients that their success is your priority.
  5. Cash flow is king. A robust cash flow is the lifeblood of a freelance business. Becoming disciplined in financial planning is critical, but it doesn’t always come naturally.
  6. Don’t be afraid to chase what you are owed. As a small business, clients who fail to pay invoices on time can throw a spanner in the works in terms of cash flow. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for this (especially if you work across multiple currencies as I do), but every now and then you come across repeat offenders. Establish clear payment terms from the outset, chase overdue invoices regularly, and have a plan in place if payment doesn’t materialise.
  7. It’s rare, but sometimes you have to retire a client. It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally you have to trust your gut instinct and part ways professionally with a client when a partnership is no longer mutually beneficial.
  8. Build a network of writers who you can tap into for advice or guidance. One of the hardest aspects of freelancing is working on your own. Having access to a network of fellow writers you can tap into for advice or throw ideas at along the way is vital.
  9. Pandemics (and cyclones!) suck, but you can learn from them. There is nothing like a global pandemic, cyclone, or other natural disaster to shine a light on your lack of disaster planning. What do you do if work disappears overnight or you have no electricity or internet connection for a week? While unpredictable, its important to have a plan (of sorts!) in place to help prepare for the unexpected.
  10. Learn to say no. Often, the instinct when starting out is to say yes to every piece of work that comes your way. This can quickly lead to overwork and burnout, or spending time working on projects you don’t enjoy. Saying no allows you to take on projects and clients that challenge and excite you and decline those that don’t align with your values or goals.

Looking for medical writing or copywriting support in 2024? Check out elion.nz. At Elion Medical Communications, we offer outsourced medical writing and copywriting support for medical communications agencies, healthcare advertising agencies, and medical device and pharmaceutical companies worldwide. We distil complex science into eloquent medical communications that are delivered in a timely manner and with meticulous attention to detail.

Emma Donadieu