If you’re looking to enter the freelance writing market, then there are many factors to consider before taking the leap. How do you get jobs? Where can you market your skills? How do you charge for your work? How much can you make? Freelance writing can be rewarding and lucrative. Or, it can be frustrating and the equivalent of slave labor. The difference between the two is the amount of preparation you put into your new career. Here are some tips to help you start freelance writing:
Define your niche
If you’re hiring a writer for an education blog, who would you choose: a writer who specializes in writing about education or a writer who writes about sports, coding, Japanese cuisine, fashion and education? While it may seem like a good idea to branch out and explore writing about all your different areas of interest.
In fact, the best way to start freelance writing is to define yourself as an expert in a specific area. The more focused your writing is in the beginning, the easier it will be for you to market yourself in that niche. The more you write on one subject, the greater your credibility becomes. Being a jack-of-all-trades isn’t the best way to catch the attention of publishers for a nascent freelancer. Focus on one area and see what that yields first.
What do you offer?
Are you the fastest content writer on the web? Can you meet crushing deadlines in a single afternoon? Are you a highly skilled researcher who unearths credible and interesting facts that defy the skills of other writers out there? Have you written any viral posts? Are you considered a thought leader in a certain area? Start to think about the market value of your skills. If you’re lucky enough to have a gaggle of writer friends, ask them to help you define these skill areas. Writers are great at identifying other writer’s strengths.
Start a blog
If you don’t have any published work to show, then write a blog. It’s the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to get published and start building your credentials as a writer. Make sure your blog is focused on your niche. If you have a blog with a lot of posts, you may want to include links to your most successful or most relevant posts when sending out writing samples.
Get a website
If you have a fair amount of writing to show off already, then it may be worth investing in a website. A writer who has invested in a website has also invested in their professional life as a writer. It’s where you’ll include samples and links to your writing, highlight your skills and include testimonials and reviews. You’ll also list your rates there.
Learn to pitch
This is the essence of freelance writing and it’s the difference between a successful freelancer and an unsuccessful one. The more you pitch, the better you get at it. Pitching is about the math. Keep sending out pitches and don’t stop. It may seem intimidating at first or perhaps you’re scared of rejection. Overcome those feelings, and they will completely evaporate when you get your first ‘Yes’.
Tips for a good pitch:
- Do research and craft your message to reflect the style and concept of the site, journal or magazine you want to be published in.
- Be specific and brief. Long-winded pitches will probably not be read until the end. Make sure the most important information is in the beginning of the pitch and that it captures the essence of your idea.
- Let them know who you are and where they can find out more about you by including links to websites, blogs and other published work.
- If you don’t hear back after two weeks, send out a brief follow-up message, summarizing your initial pitch.
Decide how and how much to charge
This can be the most confusing part of breaking into a freelance writing career: how much should you charge? How should you charge: by hour or by piece? Do different kinds of writing demand different prices?
Luckily, Writer’s Market publishes a fee guide for writers. It’s one of the most useful price guides for writers out there. There’s also the question of when you should charge. You should definitely receive a payment before you start ghost-writing a book. However it’s common to get paid after the work has been delivered for web content and print articles.
Don’t accept low wages for your writing. It won’t be worth it financially and may demoralize you. Many websites offer abysmally low wages for articles. But that doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Hold out for the higher paying jobs. They’re out there. Accepting low wages is kind of like ending up flipping burgers at McDonald’s when you expected to be head chef at a Michelin starred restaurant.
Be financially prepared
Make sure you set realistic goals about your potential earnings as a freelance writer. It’s possible to make six figures as a freelancer, but it takes time and dedication. And you probably won’t be earning this your first year in, nor your second. If you’re trying to take a serious step into a new career as a freelancer, it’s best if you have some savings set aside while you climb the learning curve.
In the beginning, you’re more likely to have trouble charging clients or getting paid. You will also go through some awkward phases where you take on too much or too little work and your income may feel a little bit like a roller-coaster. With time, you can start to smooth out the fluctuations and have a stable income.