I’ve received a lot of requests lately–people wanting me to give them leads to start freelance writing. Truthfully, there are some really credible books out there on the subject, some even targeted towards the niche of writing you would like to do: Amazon.com (or just do an Amazon.com book search on “freelance writing, and take note of the various dropdown options for a more specialized search).
Here are some tips that might help you should you decide to begin freelance writing:
- Electronic versions of writing samples–develop a blog. WordPress and Typepad are two platforms that I’d recommend highly. Be certain to use categories so that people can easily find various subjects that you may have experience with (e.g. movie critiques, food, travel, politics, economics, celebrities, community profiles, local issues, etc.). If you do other types of freelance writing, have those categories listed with samples also, such as copywriting, press releases, business plans, reports, analytics, etc. If they have been published elsewhere (big bonus), be sure to cite that and include the link or details of the publication. Also, be certain to have both MS Word and PDF versions of your sample copies available to send as attachments in emails and to print to have in a hardcopy portfolio.
- Keep writing–even if you don’t have someone else to publish your stuff yet, write and post it on your own blog. Develop and cover stories, craft articles, conduct interviews, delve into citizen journalism. Be certain to always cover unique and compelling angles to stories. If you’re freelance writing for other types of media such as brochures, press releases and business plans, do the same thing. Keep writing, and keep putting yourself out there.
- Get published–this is the only way to truly build your credibility. What being published says is that someone else thought enough about your work to spread it around under their name. Often times it even means that they thought enough of your work to pay you for the opportunity to spread it around under their name. Even if it’s just a blog or community newspaper that won’t pay you for your work, it’s a start. You get a byline. Patch.com and Thoughtcatalogue.com are two such places you might try, depending on your subject matter. Again, if you’re doing more business-oriented writing, then vs. getting published, get clients. Volunteer to do work for free for nonprofits you like. Get noticed, network and begin building a reputation if you don’t already have one.
- Get work–query article ideas to publishers that cover topics that align with your niche. Send a link of sample writing to blogs and such that you read regularly, and ask if they would be interested in a freelance article from you. Scan through Craigslist and similar sites that post jobs and gigs for writers–you’ll find a lot of garbage, but there’s quite a bit of legit stuff there, too. Similar for business writing freelancing. Put yourself out there, and hunt for opportunities. Oh, and network. Talk to people–real, live people. Tell them about you and what you do and what you want (a very quick elevator pitch). Be friendly and generous, and you find others will be friendly and generous in return.
- Build credibility and branding–be the go-to person not only for your clients and potential clients but also for others in your field. Blog not only what you write but also about your writing and the business of it all. Develop a following and a network of colleagues. Pitch joint projects to share specialties and resources. Give freely of ideas and innovations–you might think you’re going to give too much–do give too much. You will cash in on the bigger picture, being the source of all of those great ideas and innovations. Your reputation as the go-to person will grow, and you will be noted as an “expert” in your field.
- Be in demand–once you’ve been published for a steady amount of time, you will begin demanding increased pay for your work, provided you’re actually worth it. So do always keep working to improve your craft, and listen carefully to constructive criticism and feedback. You may not always like or agree with it, but it’s invaluable stuff. Always ask for it. You might learn something that will supercharge your work and take it to big places. Also, read. Read everything, and study how the big players do your job. Once your demand builds, and so too will your pay, be very delicate when you have to shed your lower paying gigs to have room to take on higher paying ones. Remember the hands that helped you to grow. No one likes an ingrate, and it can bite you hard later on. Offer to continue giving them some articles once in a while for good measure. Keep doors open and relationships positive. Mend those that have been damaged as possible as much as possible. This too will influence your reputation and build your overall demand.
- Stay hungry–keeping your operation lean and mean no matter how much or how little cash comes in the door, it will serve you well to avoid getting jaded. Not about the subject-matter and not about the business. Continue to crave, be imaginative and stay curious–stay hungry. This way, there is little chance you will soon become irrelevant.
I’ve spent 11 years writing in the nonprofit and for profit business environment, and I am a communications junkie. I had a mentor throughout much of this time who helped me develop a reputation within certain circles in the community that have greatly helped my success in freelancing. Not only those individuals, but knowing how to network and build and sustain those relationships have proved to be a critical tool. Therefore, I had an advantage when I made the leap from full-time employee to full-time freelancer–an advantage not many others have.
I also was not hesitant to take on a small overnight job that allowed me time to write on shift to help with cashflow during slow times and also to build a little savings to get me through future slow times. And, there will be slow times. I also have to take balance very seriously–balancing time for play, sleep, wellness, deadlines, self-promotion and hunting for the next big opportunity.
Freelance writing for a living isn’t for everyone–it’s a full-time job x 2. Possibly more when you first get started, just like any small business entrepreneur. You are an army of one, so must make time for all of the needs of the one, or you will burn out and ultimately fail in some definition of that word. And, still, that’s okay. Failure is the greatest teacher if you allow her to be. So, if you bite it on a deadline or two, or you bomb a story or things just don’t work out–it’s okay. Do an autopsy of the situation–find out what went wrong, then, learn from it.
You’ll get better… and that’s success.