Tips to help you become a freelance writer

Being a writer is an odd thing. Everyone assumes that they can do it, and, to an extent, everyone can. In the same way as anyone can waggle a brush around a canvas. You’ll get something, but it doesn’t mean someone (other than your Mum) will give you money for it.

That’s the key thing, being a writer and being a good writer are not the same thing.

Before you ask, no, I’m not sure which I am, I’ve yet to decide.

Whichever category I fall into, I’ve been completing freelance writing assignments for over 18 months now and it’s been my sole source of income since the start of 2018.

If you’re here, then I am guessing you’re looking to do the same. I can’t blame you, if you’re a writer, it’s an awesome way to make a living. I can’t recommend it enough.

But it’s not that simple. Writing freelance is a stressful, intense and unique thing to do. You need to be flexible and able to adapt quickly. Let me give you a rough outline of my day:

– Wrote a blog piece about luxury spa resorts around the world

– Created and edited a Privacy Policy for a client

– Planned and wrote a weeks’ worth of Facebook and Twitter content on dentistry

– Created a process description on the use of sandblasting equipment

…and now I am writing this.

Each of these tasks has a unique tone, target audience, feel and style to it. Jumping from one task to the other needs to be fluid and simple, you’re likely billing by the hour here, so if you take too long you either waste your client’s money or limit your revenue. Either option is bad.

So, you’re still here? Okay, here are the top 10 questions I get asked as a freelancer with my honest answers and tips. They’re only my experience and thoughts, but they might get you started and heading in the right direction.

How much can you earn?

How much can freelance writers earn?

If you want to get rich quick and easy, this ain’t the place for you, buddy.

If you have very niche, specialist knowledge, then you can earn hundreds per piece, maybe thousands. But that’s VERY rare.

For the rest of us? As a newbie, you need to realize a few things:

  1. You don’t know what you’re doing
  2. There’s no evidence that you’re any good
  3. The first projects will take longer than you think
  4. You don’t know what you’re doing. Really.

All these things impact your value to a client. If you can, start by pricing per job and keep it low. You need experience, you need a portfolio, you need some confidence and that’s worth doing some cheap jobs to start with. Say $20 for 500 words including research. Believe it or not, that WILL take you a few hours to make something worth reading.

Don’t believe me? Write a 500-word piece on refrigerator recycling processes in the continental United States. See? Not easy is it?

Now, when pricing you need to consider several things. First, you need to pay tax and cover costs. Your electricity and broadband are not free. Nor is your PC/laptop. All this has a cost. You may also need to build a buffer in to your fees for when clients don’t need you. So, if everyone goes on holiday for a month and doesn’t need you, your bills have a chance of being paid. Those need to be covered.

When you know what you’re doing (it took me about 6 – 12 months), you can earn $40 – $75 per hour depending on how good you are and who you work for. Repeat clients and volume clients pay less, that’s just good business.

I would suggest that you aim is to get retained business. That is where a client buys a block of your time each month for a period. So, 20 hours per month for 3 months for example. If you get some of these, it gives you financial stability which is what everyone with a mortgage or rent to pay needs.

So, what you will earn will depend on the work you put in, how good you are at what you do and the clients you work with.

Oh, and if someone wants you to work for $5 for two hours, it’s not worth it. Bad business is worse than no business as it stops you finding good clients.

Should I do free work?

Tough call.

(You thought I’d say no, but it’s never that simple)

If it’s a big project and a client wants a sample of your work, then sure. If this is a month or more of my time, then I would likely produce a 500-word sample piece. It’s good to get a feel for how the client is to work with and to show them what you can do.

I do 500 words because that’s about one hour of my time, I can roll the dice with that. But if they want more and won’t move on it then I am out. No matter how amazing the opportunity. That’s my line that I won’t cross, decide where you are comfortable and stick to it.

After all, what can someone tell from 2,000 words that they can’t tell from 500?

As a hint though, if an unknown company or person is pushing for more and won’t respect your lines? They’re either a scam artist or a pain in the butt to work for. Neither is worth having.

Where do I get work from?

The work fairy.

Not convinced? FINE.

There are many routes to getting clients, the two which I use are networking and freelance sites.

Your network is people you know. These people are useful. Get out and meet more people. Expand. Contact local businesses. Go see them. Talk to them. It doesn’t matter if they don’t seem to need you, have a chat. Discuss with them what you can do and get them excited to work with you. This is time intensive BUT once established? These are the places you get your retainers from in most cases.

I know, social interaction and writers is not the best combination. I didn’t say this was going to be easy, did I?

Freelance websites such as Freelancer or People Per Hour are awesome to get you started. There is a wealth of unique and interesting jobs on them and you can browse them easily. The downside is that scam artists and people who undervalue you are rife on them too. So, be careful. Don’t take business off the site (some will ask to talk on Skype on the first message). Look out for companies which pay “weekly”, you can be sure that you’ll do 20 hours work then they’re vanish with your work and never pay. Cynical? No. It’s happened to me, and if you aren’t cleverer than I was, it’ll happen to you too.

Do I need to pay taxes?

Yes.

How do I learn to be a copywriter/ blogger/ content developer?

Good question! As you’ll soon realize, being able to write a novel doesn’t make you a good blogger. In the same way as being a good painter doesn’t mean you can sculpt.

For me it was simple, I ran my own business for 11 years as a sales and marketing director, so I’d learnt on my own business. But for those without that experience…

A quick search on-line will reveal many different places you can get qualifications or courses from. I would probably recommend SkillShare as being a good place to start. They’re pretty cost effective and have courses on copywriting and writing. Give it a look, they often have free trials too. But this will require you to motivate and focus yourself. However, if you can’t do that, you don’t have the basic skills you need to be a freelancer, so take that as a “sign”.

How do I get started?

How to get started as a freelance writer

Find a someone prepared to pay for your words. Then, let them.

Seriously, get on with it. You won’t find out if you are good at it or like it unless you do it. So, crack on. Find out.

Start with a website, even a free WordPress site will do. Make it at LEAST five pages or you look like an amateur. So:

  • Home
  • About me
  • Contact
  • Services
  • Blog

Take time on the design AND the words. If you make errors on your copy or menus, then people won’t pay you to write theirs.

Next, sign up to some freelance sites (you note I did not say A freelance site, I said SOME). Get a coffee and start READING jobs on them. Practice replies. Write them out. Edit them. When you’re happy, send some. This is a numbers game, BUT don’t be tempted to copy & paste the same to everyone. Be unique and show some character. Example:

“I saw your ad and I can do it”

Or

“I’ve just found your project and would love to work on it with you”

Which person sounds more interesting? And, for that matter, which sounds more competent as a writer?

Next, start work on your network, find out who you know who has a business and see if they need writing, any writing, done. Don’t hassle, offer. Be direct, professional and point them at your website.

What do I need to get started?

A computer, a brain and an Internet connection.

I would also suggest some specific software:

Scrivener to write on and keep track of your work or Word/ similar

– Excel/ a spreadsheet to store your accounts and payments on

– Outlook/ an email program for emails and storing contacts

– Cloud/ remote storage as a back-up for all of your work

Don’t forget the last one, if someone is paying you to do something and, after 20 hours, your cat spills coffee on your laptop… the client doesn’t care. They want that 20 hours of work you’ve done. So, have backups. It matters.

Can I use my hotmail/ gmail email for work?

 Only if you have no desire to be taken seriously.

My advice? Spend a little money, get your own domain name (Iwriteamazingwords.com) and setup an email address to put into Outlook. It looks more serious and professional. You are, after all, looking to get someone to trust you with their business and money. Look like you’re worth the trust.

This isn’t an expensive hobby, before you panic. A domain name is going to be less than $10/ £10 for a year and many domain providers also offer email services for little or no money.

I have a meeting with a client, can I wear jeans?

How should a dress for a meeting

Would you spend money on a professional who turned up looking like they’re off to a bar after? Well, maybe you would. But I would suggest you dress professionally, it’s better to be over dressed than to look like you’re not taking the meeting seriously.

Do I need a website?

 Did you not read the ‘how do I get started’ bit above?! Honestly. Okay, for those who are only scanning this…

Yes, it makes you look more professional. A simple WordPress website should take a few hours to setup and you’re away. As I said above, just make sure the copy is well written on the site, okay? It’s kind of a big deal if you want to be paid to write.

 

So, there’s the top ten questions I get asked about being a freelancer. Your mileage may vary, but I hope it answers some of your questions. If you have more, ping them in the comments below and I’ll answer if I can. Also, if you’d like more of these types of blogs on freelancing, let me know in the comments and I’ll get some done as I have many ideas.

5 Thoughts on “So, you want to be a freelance writer…?”

  • I’ve been dipping my toes in the freelance writing pool – I need to decide whether to fully commit to it or not, because if so I’ll have to do the website and all that fun stuff. This was really helpful, though!

      • Some not-very-interesting content writing (although I do know a lot about choosing fence paint and rechargeable torches now), and some editing/proofing that I quite enjoyed. That side was pretty interesting!

    • Hi Tray,
      Thanks for the comment. It’s an interesting site. What specifically did you want feedback on?

      Having had a quick look, I would recommend ensuring that all of your pieces are proofed for accuracy and spelling. For example, the piece on Tommy Robinson includes these three issues:

      “A trail in Cantebury England, specifically at the Leeds Crown Courthouse” – It’s trial and Leeds Crown Court. The UK doesn’t tend to term courts as courthouses.

      And Dutchman Geert Wilders has his name written as “Greet Wilder”.

      If you’re trying to be a trusted, reliable news source then spelling and knowledge of local language is a must.

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