If you have a passion for writing, chances are the thought of turning your passion into a career has crossed your mind more than once. One of the ways to do this is by embracing freelance writing.
The freelance movement has taken the world by storm in recent years, and there are no signs of it slowing down. As a freelancer, you get to work for yourself rather than for a company. Your work will be on a flexible basis, and you will be able to pick and choose who you want or don’t want to work with. Freelancers work on all sorts of projects, both big and small, depending on the skill set the client needs. This means, in the end, the freelance lifestyle allows you to be your own boss and live by your own rules.
Freelance writing is no different. Freelance writers are self-employed people who are passionate about writing. They can work for one publication or magazine or blog, or a variety of clients at the same time. This line of work is perfect because it allows you to keep a day job or your regular schedule while also making an extra income doing what you love. If you are really good at it, it can even give you the financial freedom you need to quit your 9-5 and write full-time, making your own rules all the way.
Starting freelance writing
Picture this: your alarm goes off at a wicked hour in the morning. You want to smash it on the wall and go back to sleep, but you remember that you like affording food and having a roof over your head even more. So you grit your teeth and get out of your bed. You get ready then head out to work at a job you hate, where you are pretty sure your boss is the devil himself.
Perhaps this sounds all too familiar, and you do not even need to picture it because it is exactly what your life is right now. Well, picture this instead then: you get out of bed whenever you feel like it, then sit at your desk still in your pajamas, sipping some hot cocoa that you made exactly the way you like it. You answer a few emails, before working for two or three hours. You watch a bunch of Youtube cat videos before deciding that you have stared at a screen for too long. So that afternoon is dedicated to hanging out with your kids or visiting family and friends. And that’s a Tuesday.
Sounds too good to be true? Well, this is the life you could live as a freelance writer when you are your own boss. But it will take some time to get there. The most important question you need to ask yourself for now is, how can you start?
First things first: don’t quit your job yet. You still need to put food on the table, and it might be a while before freelance writing starts to make you an income-replacing amount of money. So you’ll probably want to do this part time as you start while keeping your day job. Learn the ins and outs of this line of work and decide for yourself whether or not you truly see yourself doing this long term.
On the other hand, if you are jobless, that just means you have nothing to lose, right? You just have to understand that freelance writing is a job like any other. As your own boss, you are running a business. And all business need a lot of time, dedication, patience and hard work before they can be successful.
But I digress. If you want to start freelance writing, here is what you need to do:
Understand the nature of the business
Freelance writing involves three elements: the writer, the client, and the content. You are the writer (obviously), the client is the person who gives you the writing tasks (and pays you for them), and the content is what you write.
Clients come in all shapes and sizes. They can be individuals, magazine publications, companies, organizations, blog owners, the list is endless. When you understand who your client is and what they need, you will be able to tailor your content to suit their specific requirements. This is why you should always get a clear brief from your client before starting any writing task.
At the very beginning, getting clients will be all about trial and error. They might like your samples/portfolio, or they may not. It’s nothing personal, so do not take it to heart. Just brush up on your skills and keep getting better at what you do, and the jobs will start coming to you. And above all else, you will need to be so very patient!
When it comes to content, it also comes in many forms. There are four broad categories of freelance writing:
- Article/feature writing, which is the most common type. You’ll write for websites and magazine publications
- Copy/content writing, where you’ll write website copy, advertising copy, press releases, ebooks, blog posts, and so on
- Blog writing, where you run your own blog or a client’s blog
- Social media content creation
Once you decide what type of freelance writer you want to be, you need to figure out the niche you want to focus on. But I get ahead of myself. This will be elaborated on a little later in this text.
What about the money? Well, the amount of money you make will depend on how much writing you are willing to do. The more you work, the more money you make. You will set a specific fee (rate per word or per hour, it depends on the job) with your client before starting any project. However, when it comes to money, it is never this black and white. Quality always beats quantity eventually. That’s why there are some writers who get paid $1000 and up for 1000-word articles. They only have to write 5 articles a month to hit the $5000 mark. If you are just starting out, it might take you months of hard work writing hundreds of articles to hit $5000. However, it should be comforting to know that the writer who gets paid $1 per word and $0.05 per word all started at the same place, the difference is all because of experience.
Payment processes also depend on the client: some might need invoices to facilitate payment, others may have a system in place to alert them to pay, and others still may pay half upfront then the remaining amount when the writer sends in the work. Be sure to iron all these issues out with your client before accepting any job.
Understand your niche
Your niche is your audience. These are the people who will read your work. Your niche also defines the type of content you create. For example, if you choose to create content in the lifestyle or tech niche, you will be writing articles that focus on these topics. Your clients will also be people who need content within these niches.
There’s a niche for everything out there. If you can imagine it, there are probably people who have an interest in it, and there are definitely writers who create content that focuses on that niche. So how do you choose one that is profitable for you?
Well, the first thing you have to do is a little self-reflection. What do you like? What do you enjoy doing? What do you have an interest in? What does your regular job involve, and can you create content that focuses on that? The idea here is to make sure that the niche you choose is based on something that you actually have an interest in. It is the only way you will stay motivated enough to keep creating content for it even when times get hard.
Next, you have to do a little research. List about 10 potential niches that you can see yourself focusing on, then look at the content that exists within those niches. Is it possible to pair up two or three of those niche ideas? For example, if you are into relationships and finance, you can be a writer who gives personal finance advice to couples. If you are into babies and parenting and homemaking, you can be a lifestyle and parenting freelance writer. You get the idea.
The next thing you have to do is to ask yourself, does the existing content within your niche suit your writing style? If not, can you tweak your style a little to match it if you are needed to? Because the style you see most within those niches is the kind of style most of your clients are going to be looking for.
So to recap, you need to find a niche that suits your writing style that you are relatively knowledgeable about, have firsthand experience in, or you won’t mind doing tons of research on for extended lengths of time.
Create a portfolio
There are various ways to do this, but I strongly suggest starting a blog. A lot of freelance writers find blogging very relaxing and fun, and it is the perfect way to let your creative juices flow. Set up a free blog on WordPress within your chosen niche and start populating it with your own original content.
With your blog up and running, the content you regularly post on it will serve as your writer portfolio. It is a great way to show potential clients what you can do, what your interests are, and how you handle your niche. Plus, it is a wonderful tool for getting the word out there that you are a freelance writer looking for work.
Your portfolio may not contain exactly the kind of articles that a specific client is looking for. Some people have portfolios where they dump all sorts of random articles on several different subjects. However, professional writers advise that the portfolio be niche-specific so that you and the client are both clear on what you need from each other from the start.
Social media can be a convenient distribution channel for your work, allowing you to be seen and heard by people whose paths you would have otherwise never have crossed. It’s just one of the marvels of modern technology.
Having social media accounts is essential for your writing. You also need to be relatively active on them for you to be noticed. It will go a long way in helping you pitch for jobs when the time comes.
Pitching here means attracting potential clients to your work by informing them and explaining what you are all about, with the help of your portfolio, of course. When you are starting out, you will need to cast a wide net. Pitch far and wide, and while you might not land the perfect client on your first try, you can use them to learn on the job, build your portfolio, and eventually land those big money clients.
Qualities and skills that you will need to be successful
- Personal management skills: this includes everything from self-discipline, work ethics, and personal finance management. As your own boss, you are responsible for paying your bills, paying yourself, and getting the expected quality of work to your client, all at the same time. You will need to be able to sit down and work without getting distracted, with no boss there breathing down your neck. Be smart about your finances, and know how much money your business is making you. This is what will let you know if you are ready to quit your day job.
- Integrity: plagiarism can cost you well-paying clients. The most shameful thing a writer can do is to take and present someone else’s work as their own without permission. Be honest in your work. Besides, you are getting paid for that work, so why not earn your pay?
- Patience and perseverance: it is lonely at the top. When you are your own boss, you also have no choice but to be your own cheerleader. A writer has to be able to enjoy their work before anyone else does. Be your top support even the job goes incredibly wrong, and never give up on yourself.
- Confidentiality: I am including this as a quality on this list because I think it is important to keep it in mind in this line of work. Sometimes, you might be hired for ghostwriting services. Once the text is paid for, you cannot claim it as your own anymore. Some clients will expressly ask you not to add their content to your portfolio. I believe if you are willing to accept such jobs and agree to these terms, it is only right to honor them and let that article go.
Freelance writing is all about freedom, independence, self-reliance, and self-employment. You are your own boss, your high and low, your source of income, and your number one fan. Like I mentioned, it will likely be tough to start as a newbie, and even tougher to get great clients. This is why it is a good idea to have a cushion while you chase your dreams. Stick with your 9-5 for a few more months until your freelance writing business takes off.
And when you start feeling like nothing is working out, and you are about to give up, think of all the people who have been exactly where you are and have made it against all odds. If they did it, why can’t you?
Finally, as I sign off, I should mention that it is very important to get into freelance writing for the right reasons. If a quick buck is all you are looking for, you will likely not last very long. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Put in the work and be patient, and you will be surprised at how life-changing freelance writing can be. Good luck!