Perhaps you can string sentences together. Perhaps you're the next Hemingway. But you'll never pay the bills as a freelance writer without a whole lot of business savvy thrown in. Here are the skills you need NOW.
1. Money Savvy
Freelance writers must manage their money well. This includes several different needs. You need to know how to pay the least amount of taxes. You need to be both aggressive and realistic about your writing rates. You need to be a hard-nosed collection agent when it behooves you. Basically, you need to know your worth and act on it. No writing for pennies (and especially not half-pennies!) per word! No wishy-washy collections, and no sloppy record keeping!
2. Ability to be Picky
Along with the above, freelance writers must be picky. Do not accept every assignment. Do not accept grunt work. Do not take on work that will drain the life out of you and leave you with very few hours to market yourself, do your collections and look for better work. This just becomes a vicious cycle. If you find yourself jumping on every assignment, perhaps you've started freelancing at the wrong time in your life. Pouring hours into low level jobs WILL NOT advance your freelance writing career. It will, instead, burn you out early, leaving you poor and back in the cubicle.
What I mean by this is keeping a consistent schedule. I've seen too many freelancers who cycle depending on their financial needs. They'll work themselves into a sweat when there are bills to be paid, and then cycle down when the money is rolling in. This is just a vicious cycle. In addition, professional businesses have set hours in which their clients can contact them. You are a professional business, aren't you?
4. A Professional Image
Freelance writers who want to be taken seriously establish a brand that gives their customers confidence and projects a sharp image. They network that image, and make themselves known.
5. Ability to Think in Terms of Multiple Returns
Successful writers keep payment in mind, yes, but there are more and different returns to be had in assignments. For example, keep in mind potential for future work, potential recommendations, and the likelihood of references. Professional writers know which assignments pay dividends in recommendations and references, and go after those assignments first.
6. Insider's Knowledge
Successful freelance writers have insider's knowledge about the business. They keep their ears open in freelance writing communities, read their colleagues' blogs, and go to conferences and training events to rub elbows. This helps the business in many aspects. They learn what rates are being charged, what companies and editors to go after (or avoid), what magazines are going bankrupt, what is working for their competitors, and what simply isn't.
Successful freelance writers can be ruthless. They should keep an attorney in their pocket, and know when to go after non-payers. They should watch for plagiarizers, as they know that's money straight out of their pockets. They know that their clients are clients, not friends, and don't put up with creeping projects or freebie "extras." They play hardball when they want a particular client- even if one of their colleagues are also competing for the same client.
8. Organization Skills
Professional writers know that organization helps with all of the above. Those who track clients have a ready-to-go marketing list. Those who track hours know exactly what to charge for any kind of project. Those who track expenses never over-pay on their taxes. Disorganization costs money and time and is a sign of an amateur.