So you want to be a freelance writer, great! Working online as a freelance writer definitely has its perks. You get to set your own hours, set your own pay (more or less) and you get to take time off when you want. However, the beginning of your freelance writing career can be the hardest. If you’re looking to break into freelance writing, how do you know where to start?
A freelance writer is a writer who works on a self-employed basis. The more specialized their focus, the higher they are paid for each article. The more diverse a writer can be, the more likely they are to be published. Often, they write for several different publications at a time.
Here are six essential parts to starting your freelance career. They may not be foolproof, but they are things that almost all successful freelance writers have learned. With determination, hard work, and a bit of luck, these six steps can fully launch your freelance writing career.
1. Narrow Down Your Focus
If you do a Google search for ‘freelance writer’, you’ll see why this point is first. There are thousands of freelance writers, all over the world, and the majority will have more experience, more talent, and better connections than you. How do you compete?
Narrow your focus. Don’t think about the competition. The question is not how you can compete. Rather, the question is where do you excel? Think instead on what you know. There is something in your experience that only you know. You know this better than anyone. How are your different? What is unique about you? At this point, it may be good to reflect on this bit of wisdom: “Life doesn’t happen TO you – Life happens FOR you“.
Example one: A freelance writer sends an email to Vietnam Tour Company. In this email, he tells his potential client that he is a freelance writer. He says he knows how to writing anything for anyone, and can do this for a reasonable price. He says he can write some email marketing, blog articles, product or service descriptions and whatever else the client needs.
Example two: A freelance writer researches Vietnam Tour Company and then writes an email to the Tour Director, using the directors’ name. She tells her potential client that she is a freelance writer and that her parents are Vietnamese. She speaks a little Vietnamese and has some experience with foods and customs, plus she has excellent English because she was raised in the United States. She says she can write email marketing, blog articles, and product or service descriptions and probably some other things the client needs.
Which freelance writer do you think will get hired? Which one stands out?
When you focus, you have more to offer. You are worth more when you have more to offer. When you share your personal experience, your clients know the depth of what you can offer and your clients will know exactly what they are getting. Your clients will be searching for you. Generalists cannot possibly answer when these clients ask questions.
Here is a another example. I used to work as a Concierge at a Santa Fe resort. This was easily a great job, even though it didn’t pay very much. In fact, this job paid the same as the bell hops and guys who parked the cars – very little.
However, this resort was very successful at maximizing their assets. They scheduled and required their concierge to take the horseback rides, spa massages, and lavish meals. Why? Because when I described the mountaintop view from the back of a horse, people could see it. When I talked about the heirloom tomatoes at the restaurant, they could taste them. Those are personal experience in action.
The question is: what is your personal experience? What makes you unique? What is your focus? Here is a two step question to help you with this.
Step 1: Think about what you already know.
Are you changing careers? Do you have an ethnic heritage? Do you come from a particular place or culture? Do you have particular skills?
For example: Suppose you have been working as a dental assistant. Your knowledge of the dental world can be extremely useful to your writing. You probably can relate to the patient’s perspective better and you also understand why dental offices do things a certain way. This can be valuable when writing marketing materials, creating website content, emails and newsletters, and much more. You would also be valuable to social media campaigns. Your personal experience will give you a unique inside perspective.
Maybe you are trying to get away from your past career? Then focus on your hobbies. Do you like to travel? Do you like playing the guitar? Do you love to do photography?
All of these are new options and open up different niches. More and more people want to know about these things. You can make a beginning and write about your experience. Many people want to know what to expect.
Once you have picked your area, it’s good to be as specific as you can. For example, instead of just being a travel writer, consider writing a foodie tourist or a spiritual tourist, or a budget traveler blog. Can you combine these? People are interested in many different things, and they are searching for some information on those subjects. The more specific you are, the less competition there is!
Step 2: Decide what type of writing you enjoy.
Next, find your niche. This is a place where you become special in the world. This can be related to the kind of writing that you do, as well as who you do it for.
Of course, not all freelance writing is the same. Do you like to write reviews or interviews? Do you like to write about products, services, experiences? Are you good at SEO (Search Engine Optimization) writing for blog articles (or can you learn)? Do you want to write on a set schedule or more spontaneously? Do you want to maintain social media profiles or write email marketing?
Once you have chosen your topic and style, it’s good to narrow down exactly what type of writing you can (or prefer) to do within this industry. You can better fulfill their needs when you know what type of writing you can provide to your clients.
For example, you could be a freelance writer in the travel industry who specialized in creating compelling SEO blog articles. Or, maybe you can be a foodie travel writer who specialized in Asia.
Now, maybe you are wondering: what if I scare off other clients?
Maybe. Maybe not. But did you really want to write about dental offices, anyway? By specifying your new focus, you are allowing your favorite clients to find you more easily. You are also giving yourself projects that you really enjoy. Even more than that, it will be much easier to establish yourself as an expert. Once people realize that you are the go-to writer for SEO blog posts about food tourism in Asia, those clients will be seeking you.
What if you are not an expert?
Be honest. Maybe you really don’t have experience with food in Asia, but you are really interested and want to know more. If you are not an expert, then interview one. Make a list of the question you (and your potential readers) want to know. Make sure there isn’t a website that gives you all of this in one place. Then find an expert and say you want to interview them. The easiest way to find an expert for free is someone who has just published a book on the subject.
Set a time, grab your list of questions, and interview them. If you quote them, make sure you are accurate, otherwise this can backfire. You can do this over Facetime, Skype, Messenger if they are not where you can meet physically. Make a video of the interview, you should also take notes, and make sure you get the details about their new book. When you set up your website and blog (next) you can feature their interview and book.
2. Set Up Your Website
Once you know exactly what your niche is, it’s time to set up your website. This is the place where you display your talent and abilities to potential clients, so any content you write here must be absolutely flawless in regards to writing style, grammar, spelling, etc.
Your first step in creating a website is signing up for a hosting service. Normally, with hosting services such as BlueHost, you can connect your domain with your WordPress account and get customizing within minutes!
We could go on for days about how exactly to set up your website, how to get your perfect theme running, and what kind of design techniques to use. However, for now, let’s focus on three important areas of your website:
Your Main Pages
If you need to get your domain name, do that first at BlueHost. Since you’re introducing yourself to the world (and especially to potential clients), the way you design your home page, about page, and contact page is very important.
Your landing page is a quick pitch to clients who have come across your page, so make it short and captivating. You’ll want to portray professionalism, but make sure people know that you’re a real human being.
Include a professional picture of yourself, one that inspires confidence. Tell the client about you, and why you are the writer that she or he should hire.
Pictures, videos, graphics are things that will help your site’s search rankings and will keep readers interested. Aside from a picture of yourself, try using professional-looking images to fill empty spaces or to break up the text. I do not recommend stock pictures. The search engine bots use a system called a ‘hash’. This tells the search engine that you are using a photo that is on two hundred other websites. The robot (and everone else) will wonder why. Use original images that look professional.
I can’t stress enough how important your writing is for a writing website. This is the essence of your website. You blog establishes that you are active on the web while giving potential clients a taste of your voice and style.
Another great reason to have a blog is SEO. If you include main keywords (including your niche and specific industry keywords) in your posts, then your website’s ranking will be higher. Posting original content is good way to rank well in search engines.
3. Create a Social Media Presence as a Freelance Writer
Now it’s time to build your network. Social media may seem a bit daunting, especially for those of us who are not very socially-savvy. However, here are some easy pointers for the main social media networks:
This is one tool you absolutely need. Twitter is a place where writers tend to spend time. Many publications will ask for your twitter account as a reference before any other social media account.
Start growing your Twitter account by following accounts of people or businesses where you would like to work. Sometimes they will follow you back! Getting connected with other freelancers is useful. Keep up with current freelance writing hashtags, such as #amwriting, #writechat, or others. RiteTag keeps up to date information on which hashtags to use and watch for freelance writers.
Twitter is also a great place to contact people and businesses that may want to use your freelance writing services. The key is becoming known to them without getting in their face. You can do this in one of at least two ways: you can follow their accounts and work for them, or, better, you can link to some of your articles and suggest they follow you. (I cover that in step 4 below.)
If you’re in search of a project, there are many accounts that post writing gigs, such as @FreelanceWJ, @Writing_Jobs, and others. Follow these accounts and then add them to a Twitter list to keep new job leads handy.
All social media platforms can be useful in different ways to freelance writers, depending of course on your niche and your target audience. However, a word to the wise: be very careful with the time that you spend on social media. It is easy for these numerous platforms and accounts to become all-consuming.
This is definitely one of the most important networks for professionals of all kinds. This is where the business people of the world get together, share ideas, talk about work, look for advice, etc. Best of all, this is a place where people who are in need of freelancers look for responsible people to work with. On the flip side, you as a freelance writer can use LinkedIn as a way to look for job opportunities, companies that you’d like to work with, or professionals who can help you along.
To really promote yourself on LinkedIn, it is important that you completely fill out your profile. The more details that you have in your professional profile, the better. This may be the first impression that potential clients have of you, so you want to make sure they see a person worthy of connecting with. Include all previous experience, and make sure to link to your website!
LinkedIn Pulse is also a great tool for freelance writers. This area gives you the opportunity to display your talent, and can be used as a mini-portfolio. (We’ll talk more about your portfolio below.) Try to post topics that are of interest to your network, thus gaining more likes and shares.
However, something to remember about LinkedIn is that this is not like other social media sites. It is not a place to repost funny cat photos or talk about how you feel today. This is a world of pure professionals, and to be counted among their ranks you must follow their etiquette.
Take advantage of the private messages in LinkedIn to get in contact with people you’d like to work with, but avoid messages that sound like you’re begging for a job. Also, try joining some LinkedIn groups that are related to your niche, and thus keep up with current news in your field.
LinkedIn, like all social media, wants to keep you in their system. Make it easy for your potential clients to reach you. Make it clear that there is more information on your website, and how to contact you.
This network is constantly adding more features for professionals. One of these great tools is the Facebook Fan Page. Use it to your advantage.
A Facebook fan page is a great way to create a positive image for yourself as a freelance writer. Make sure you separate your professional and personal accounts. This helps you keep the professional fan page away from the purely personal sharing on Facebook.
Facebook has page applications to customize your fan page. Take advantage of them. These different apps will help you reach goals, such as adding a resume, photos, or video faster. You can also make reposting content or media from your blog, YouTube, Instagram automatic. This will expand your following faster. Just be careful to keem these accounts separate!
Another advantage of Facebook is the Facebook groups. You can join a freelance writer group for your area, or if there isn’t one, you can start one. This will give you access to new leads for jobs. Being the admin of a group in your area gives you more credibility. Mention this in your resume and on your website.
Keep in mind that Facebook, like all social media, wants to keep you on their system. Make it easy for your potential clients to reach you. Make it clear how to contact you and how to find your website.
4. Build a Portfolio
Building a portfolio that showcases work in your niche establishes you as an industry expert. This is an essential part of your freelance career, as it gives you the chance to showcase your abilities to prospective clients, as well as your personal writing voice and style.
For example, imagine your tell a potential client that you are an expert in their industry (let’s say it’s Asian travel food). They may take your word for it, but how much better does your proposal sound when you show them your blog, full of detailed posts regarding the ins and outs of Asian travel food? It gives you a more stable image, proving that you know what you’re talking about.
Become the Expert Writer by Writing
Here is how you become the expert in your field. You learn by doing. Give yourself an assignment. Set an interesting subject, set your deadline, and give yourself a word count. You can post these on your blog page or not, as you choose, then write your article and publish. Of course, if you are beginning, you can publich privately. Now you have one item in your portfolio. Do it again.
When you are comfortable with your blog posts, you can begin sharing them. For starters, make a private blog public. When you are ready, you can tweet or share to Facebook. If it is relevant to a conversation, you can show it to one of the people who follows you on twitter.
When you keep up with regular posts, it shows clients that you are reliable. And if your blog starts to gain a following, you’re proving that you know how to produce content that is attractive to the industry market.
5. Start Pitching and Applying
So your website is set up, your blog is running strong, your portfolio is growing by the day. Where are your new clients? It’s a myth that websites rank in Google. No true. Individual web pages rank in search engine results for specific key words. If your posts have value and relevance, you should see increased traffic as more and more visitors find your web pages. You’re ready to get out into the world and find them! Here are two ways to find new clients:
Option 1: Share with Potential Clients
Let’s go back to our first point for a second. Hopefully, you’ve narrowed yourself down to one or two niches that you feel are a perfect fit for you. Now the question is: who needs what you do?
If you’ve decided to be a holistic medicine blogger, then find a website that sells holistic medicine and doesn’t have a blog. If you want to write social media for the fashion industry, find a fashion company with deplorable social media skills that could use your help.
The key is not only finding companies in your industry, but ones that actually need what you do. Once you’ve found that company, find out who specifically you need to talk with, such as the editor of a publication, or the content manager of the website. Then, get in contact with them via email, or using the social media options we mentioned above.
Since you already have an established portfolio, of real world blog posts, and an established track record for meeting deadlines, you have the skills needed for the job.
Option 2: Perusing the Job Boards
Freelance writing job boards may sound like a waste of time, but don’t give up on them entirely. While many can turn into time-eating machines, there are a few good job boards that offer you viable options. Two of my favorites are Problogger and FreelanceWritingGigs.
Now that you’ve found the company, publication, or job ad that you want to apply to, it’s time for the pitch. So what do you write?
– The Introduction
Tell them a little about who you are and what you do. However, remember to be brief! They don’t want to spend all day reading about your life. Here is a good place to link to your website, your blog, etc.
– I Like You, and I Want to Help You
Take the research that you did into this company or editor before writing your pitch and put it to good use. Start with a compliment. What did you see on their website that you liked? Or what do you like about the company’s goals and work?
Now, what needed some help? Don’t insult your potential client, but mention tactfully some areas that need assistance.
For example, let’s say you want to write a blog for a company whose blog is currently struggling. Mention points where there is a need for improvement. Is the posting irregular? Is the content irrelevant, or boring?
Make sure to include not only what needs fixing, but why it needs fixing. How does a regular blog help this company?
– I am the Man (or Woman) That You Need
So you’ve convinced them that they need a professional writer to help them out. Now it’s time to convince them that the professional writer they need is you. It’s time to pull out your credentials.
How does your prior work experience give you special insight into this company’s needs? What do you know about the company or the industry that will be especially useful to them? This is a great place to add some links to your online portfolio.
– This is What I Can Do for You
It’s time to get specific. Highlight some ideas you have for their business. What will you do to increase their revenue, readership, or following? Detail ideas for blog posts, articles, email marketing, etc. How can you make their product descriptions more effective, or what will you do to get them a huge social media following?
Prove your worth by showing what you can do. This will make you stand out from the crowd. Make sure to include your rates, and your payment preferences.
As you’ve probably guessed, this means no copying and pasting of your LOI or pitch. Each pitch must be specific and relevant to the company or publication you want to work for. It takes a bit of extra time, but the results are absolutely worth the effort.
6. Track Your Time and Your Income
If you’ve followed the above steps, it’s very likely that you are currently starting to bring in some of your first paychecks! Congratulations! Now that you’ve gotten off the ground, don’t forget to keep working on steps 3 to 5.
Here are some last pointers for your freelance writing career:
Know Your Earnings for Each Month
Once tax season comes around, you’ll need to know exactly what you’ve earned in the last year. An Excel spreadsheet is a great way to keep track of how much you’re earning each month, from whom, and for what.
While we mostly do this for tax reasons, there is an added benefit. As your writing career blossoms, you’ll be able to watch your income increase month by month! This is exciting to watch and gives you the motivation to keep learning and growing in your freelance writing career.
Make Your Schedule
Since you’re self-employed, you don’t have set hours to be in the office and working. On the one hand, this gives you great freedom. It’s most likely a major reason why you’ve chosen to become a freelance writer. On the other hand, this freedom can be dangerous.
Freelance writing as a career can turn into a very time-consuming effort. I can’t stress how important it is to set your work schedule from the beginning. It may seem ridiculous at first, but setting aside time for work even when you don’t have any clients will put you in the right frame of mind. Then, when work time is finished, you’ll be able to leave your freelance writing career at the desk and get on with other aspects of your life without distraction.
This is a difficult balance to achieve and maintain, and I admit that I’m still working on this process (as are most other freelancers). However, making (and sticking to) a schedule from the beginning of your freelance writing career will help you avoid mismanaging your time in the future.
Freelance writing is a rewarding career that comes with many benefits. If you’re wondering whether to start down this journey, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so!
As you can see from what we’ve discussed above, being truly successful as a freelance writer is not easy. However, now that you know where to start, you can put your hard work and determination to good use and achieve your freelance writing goals!
If you have an interest in writing for a company such as Income Website School, please finish the above project and send us a link! We are always looking for new talent and welcome the opportunity to work together for our mutual benefit.