So you like to write, and you’ve been hearing so much about people quitting their day jobs and making a living off of freelancing. Why can’t you be one as well? You already know you can write and that you love doing it, so what’s stopping you?
There’s nothing to stop you from taking the plunge. You can even make the transition slowly – first doing it on the side before ditching your day job. However, what you need to hedge against is that when you do decide to go the freelance writing route, you are equipped to become a successful freelance writer.
Just like any career, there are specific considerations and industry practices that you need to know.
Here are some of the best tips for becoming a successful freelance writer:
1. Determine if the freelance writing life is right for you.
Freelance writers are often perceived as “living the life.” They answer to no one but themselves, control their time, and work whenever they want to.
To a certain degree, this is accurate but just because you’re a freelancer doesn’t mean you don’t need to be disciplined, organized, and follow a routine. The best freelance writers have strong self-control. They treat the time between 9-and-5 as their work hours and ignore the plethora of distractions present at home.
I believe entrepreneurs, freelancers, and self-employed individuals have to work even harder than salaried employees, especially when you keep in mind that all the benefits (i.e., health and dental, vacation, paid sick leave, etc.) you used to take for granted, no longer exist.
To determine if you really love writing as a career versus a passion, start a blog for free with WordPress or Blogger and see how you enjoy writing on a daily basis.
2. Decide if you’re going to do this full or part-time.
Freelance writing doesn’t have to be a full-time job. My own freelance writing career started with working a day job in the finance industry, and building websites and freelancing at night. This went on for around two years before I went full-time and quit my job to focus on my side-business.
To be great at what you do, it is crucial that you know the amount of time you can dedicate to freelance writing. If you can’t do it full-time immediately, then make the transition slowly. Be sure you will have a stable income from diversified sources before making the jump.
3. Find a niche or field where you can establish yourself as an authority.
It is primordial that you have at least one writing niche that you specialize in. There are a lot of jobs that call for “generalists” – writers who can write about anything with a little research – but the best paying gigs are those that require subject matter specialists. Some areas you can choose to become an expert in include personal finance, career advice, SEO, health, productivity, mental health, and so on. As long as there is a market for that expertise, you have an opportunity.
Plus, if you have a college degree, you already have an edge. Build on that. If you don’t, you may want to consider getting one, even from a community college, although this is not imperative. There are plenty of great writers and entrepreneurs who have no formal education. What ’s essential is that you can prove yourself to be knowledgeable on a subject and that you can deliver excellent work. This also allows you to dictate your rates.
4. Build an online portfolio.
The best way to lure new clients is to show them examples of your previous work. As a publisher, it can be difficult to buy something and not know what type of quality or writing style to expect.
To avoid this, you can email links to publishers or choose to make a blog and showcase an online portfolio. Starting a blog used to be an issue of overcoming technical difficulties. Now, web hosting companies literally have “one-click installations” that do it all for you, resulting in an explosion of online blogging.
You want to ooze professionalism and demonstrate you are serious about your freelance career.
5. Build your online visibility.
Starting a blog for your online portfolio is a step in the right direction, but traffic and visibility don’t just show up at your doorstep.
You also need to be active online, on different platforms, so that you can network with other freelance writers, bloggers, and media companies. Look for freelance writing communities, forums, Facebook and LinkedIn groups, and build relationships. Not only will you build relationships with your peers – which can result in learning and referrals – but you may also find clients.
Additionally, it is important that you create social media accounts. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ are sufficient. Publishers these days want you to be able to promote your work and bring in more traffic.
6. Learn the art of writing query/cover letters.
You may be a great writer, but what does that do for your writing career if you don’t have clients? Even for an amateur, you don’t have to look far. Most companies are active online, and there will always be one or two who can use your services as a copywriter. But by far the most effective place to look is online job listings specifically tailored to freelancers.
Before simply replying to every job ad that you find interesting, make sure that you know how to get your application read. People who post job ads receive dozens of replies every day.
I once used Craigslist to find freelance writers, and I ended up with 150 resumes in 7 days. It takes recruiters between 10 to 20 seconds to determine whether or not to allow more time to read your resume and perusing writing samples. For this reason, you need to make your application stand out more than a high school student applying to Harvard.
- Pay special attention to the subject line. If the ad says to use certain words in the subject line, do so. If there are no instructions, spend some time thinking about your subject line so that it grabs attention. Example: I’m the Tech Blogger You’re Looking For!
- Follow the ad’s instructions strictly. Include all attachments and writing samples. Recruiters, bloggers, and editors will see any shortfall as an excuse to get rid of your resume. After all, they have another 100 applicants to look at.
- Proofread your email for spelling and grammar issues. You’re a writer – if you can’t do the basics, you should reconsider your profession.
7. Establish a routine.
The temptation to get distracted and become inefficient is so great that it is easy to fall into the trap of “I’m going to do this later.” There are always dishes to wash, people to call, floors to clean, laundry to do, TV shows to watch, books to read, and Facebook posts to waste time.
You need to instill a strong sense of self-discipline and make yourself accountable. One way to be successful in this is to establish a routine, such as getting up in the morning at 8 AM, showering, drinking coffee and eating cereal, and reading your emails to decide where to start. Use tools like Google Calendar, Evernote, or Trello to organize your schedule and ideas. My favorite is hand-writing to-do lists.
8. Manage your finances.
You need to be great at managing your finances. Being a freelance writer, especially full-time, means that you may have periods of little or no work, meaning your income will suffer.
You need to learn to prepare and budget for these lapses and take advantage of the times when you have a lot of income coming in. That means always living below your means, setting aside money for lean months and building a 6 to 12-month emergency fund.
Responsible financial management is critical to freelance writing success because it will prevent you from ever becoming desperate and working below your pay rate. Once you do that, you will find it difficult to increase your rates with that client for a while.
9. Don’t forget your social life.
Working at home is (almost always) an inherent part of being a freelance writer. It is rather easy to fall into the routine of waking up, making coffee, working all day, have dinner, sleep, and then repeating the cycle. You may not believe that someone would want to work ALL the time but trust me, I’ve been there. You get burned out quicker than you’re supposed to.
Many freelance writers find themselves isolated from the real world because of work. While solitude may be crucial to your productivity, it is also important to have a good work-life balance, like with any other career.
Make sure you spend time with family and friends. Get out of the house and change your visual stimuli. Having a healthy social life will contribute to your creativity and enthusiasm, which in turn will lead you down the path to becoming a successful freelance writer.
If you enjoy writing, there are plenty of freelance writing gigs for the taking. Just follow these simple steps and you'll be on your way to becoming a successful freelance writer.
What tips do you have for aspiring freelance writers? Drop us a note; we'd love to hear from you!
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Gary Dek is the founder of StartABlog123.com, which provides a free step-by-step tutorial on how to create a blog. He specializes in SEO, content marketing, and generally helping new and professional bloggers build long-term businesses.