How to Become a Freelance Writer
I feel like I’m in a unique position in my career, and it’s a vantage from which I feel I can more clearly see all of those who have given me a leg up, enabling me to reach this very place. From my parents, who always encouraged me to chase whatever I set my mind to, to my husband, who has put up with the ebbs and flows of my creative process as I’ve built my business, there have always been people cheering me on and propelling me forward. I tend to dream big, but, historically, I let go of those dreams a bit too easily when they weren’t easily attainable. I’ve learned to let go of that tendency and have developed a bit of grit. It’s these people, and this newfound strength, that I feel I have to thank for the success I’ve found thus far.
I started out writing this blog as an outlet, and it ultimately served as a springboard for paid work. From there, I began to realize there was a real market for content, and that good writers can find it in vast quantities. That combination of experience plus a need in the market inspired me to launch Wordsmyth Creative Content Marketing. It grew faster than I could have imagined, and I’m now in a position to be both writing and managing social media channels as I was at first and outsourcing other projects to talented freelancers who I’ve met along the way.
A number of people and resources have helped me to get to this place, and I’d love to help other aspiring writers or entrepreneurs to reach their goals, as well. This article is the first in a series where I’ll share my advice, experiences, and specific sources for work that I’ve found particularly useful. I’m always willing to chat if you have questions, too. If you want to write or start a service-based business, don’t ever feel like it isn’t within your grasp. You absolutely can make it happen.
1. You are what you habitually do.
If you want to become a writer, you need to write. Write early, write often, and never stop practicing. Start a blog or website and write what you know or what you’re passionate about. It’s a great way to sharpen your skills and build your portfolio at the same time.
2. Fake it until you make it.
Using the portfolio you’re building for yourself through your blog or your website, apply. Apply to every writing job you can find. (More on great places to find these jobs below.) Develop a professional, polished cover letter and a thorough resume. Include clips to showcase your skill set and range.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear back regarding an opportunity, or even if you are rejected from one (or many). You won’t hear back, and you will be rejected. And then suddenly, you’ll get a reply, and someone will love the work you have to offer.
All it takes is one paying client, no matter how small, and you’re a professional writer. You have work that’s been published, and your portfolio will grow. Getting writing jobs definitely works like a snowball, so build slowly, using one to get the next, and so on. No matter how small you think a job may be, use it to showcase what you can do. Gradually, the jobs you feel confident in applying for (and the ones you’re hired for) will become more prestigious and higher-paying.
3. Don’t sell yourself short.
All that aside, don’t sell yourself short. If a job just won’t be worth your time, or if it doesn’t speak to your goals or ignite your passions, it’s okay to turn it down. You have value and deserve to be compensated fairly. Intrinsic satisfaction does count as compensation, so if you really want to accept a low-paying gig writing about puppies because you love them, that’s totally okay. Just don’t feel like you have to take everything you’re offered if it doesn’t feel right for any reason, financial or otherwise.
4. Network, network, network.
Whether you’re seeking clients in your community or online, networking is critical. In addition, it’s a great way to learn. Connect with other writers, content agencies, and marketers. Join Facebook groups specific to writing gigs (more on these later) and pick the brains of others chasing the same dream that you are. The internet can be a cold, lonely place. So can self-employment. Don’t let yourself feel isolated.
Of course, networking is also a great way to find work. Ask satisfied clients if they have connections who might benefit from your services. Chances are, they’ll be happy to put in a good word for you. Much of my work has come from one client talking to their friends who also have a need for content services and recommending me or my agency. Business owners are busy and don’t have a lot of time to find service providers. They also don’t have time to waste. If someone they trust recommends you, chances are you’re going to get a shot at their work.
5. Reevaluate clients over time.
As time goes on, you may find that the clients you had when you first started out as a freelancer aren’t cutting it anymore, for one reason or another. Perhaps you are no longer willing to put up with disorganization, bad communication, or any of the myriad problems new writers often face with entry-level jobs. Maybe it’s the payscale that’s an issue for you. With evolving experience comes the confidence to request more money. If your first few clients can’t offer what you need, it’s okay to (politely and professionally) move on. Kudos to you for outgrowing them. Bonus points if you can refer a newer writer you’ve networked with to the gig (but be sure to fill them in on its pitfalls).
6. Keep writing.
No matter how long you’ve been working as a writer or how high-paying your work may be, make time to write about the things you love most. Don’t let your clients dictate what you write about 100% of the time. Sure, for 40 (or, let’s face it, 60+) hours a week, you’re a slave to their needs. Save time in your busy schedule to write about your passions so that you don’t lose your love of writing. After all, it’s what brought you here in the first place.
That all sounds great, you might say, but how do I find this work? Well, I can’t guarantee your path to writing as a career will follow the same trajectory that mine did. But I can share with you the sources I’ve had great luck with when it comes to finding paid writing jobs. I’ve included them below with links where applicable.
Friends, family, and your larger network (This goes without saying.)
Past employers (Some of my best clients are companies I used to work for. Let your old boss know you’re doing content writing work. Maybe they have a need. They’re already familiar with your work ethic, and you know what it’s like to work for them. It’s a great, safe choice for both parties.)
ProBlogger (National job listing site specific to writing gigs.)
Craigslist (Sort by the type of work you’re looking for. Often searching for postings that are remote is key.)
The Binders (This is by far the best source I can recommend for advice, networking, and writing gigs. There is a whole series of Facebook groups for women and gender-nonconforming writers of all types--entry-level, fiction, copywriting, editing, travel, nonfiction, etc. You do have to request to join, but if you’re legit you’ll have no trouble getting accepted. These groups are extremely active and many have upwards of 10 posts per day solely related to opportunities for work. As you might imagine, these gigs get pretty competitive, but I’ve landed a surprising number of clients through these channels. The best part is that many editors for major publications are familiar with the Binders groups and go there to post calls for pitches or specific writing opportunities. I can’t overstate this enough--join these groups!)
Cold pitching (Have a client in mind? Send them an email (or letter) and explain what you have to offer. By showing them what you see as a need they have and illustrating how your skill set can fill that need, you might just win their business. This can be tricky, but it’s a great way to get writing gigs. Following up is always a good idea. You can also pitch publications for more traditional article writing opportunities.)
And there you have it, my hopefully helpful list of great sources for work, as well as some steps to get yourself up and running as a freelancer. Like I said, I’m happy to act as a sounding board if you have questions. Don’t forget--you absolutely CAN make this happen for yourself. Stay tuned here for my tips in the future.