When I was first interested in becoming a freelance writer, I was fortunate enough to work at a publishing company that hired a lot of independent contractors. This enabled me to understand what companies looked for in hiring and working with these writers, and the circumstances that caused a contract to end. It gave me a good idea of what to expect when launching my own business.
One important lesson learned upon becoming a freelance writer is how much work it entails. There’s always a need for new clients and new projects.
I also learned that I don’t always have flexibility in how I spend my day. I’m busy during traditional office hours, and there are times I find myself working nights or weekends. Flexibility is more about give-and-take than it is about working fewer hours.
Though the industry’s changed a lot in the 15-plus years since I started doing this, there are some constants. Today’s post focuses on some of the lessons I learned, and some things to consider before you launch your business.
If you’re looking into becoming a freelance writer, the following tips may help.
Tips for Becoming a Freelance Writer
1. Writing is a skill
Not everyone can write. That may seem a little harsh, but it’s the truth. There’s more to writing — and being a writer — than typing or putting words on a page. There’s even more to it than being able to string words into a sentence. Words have to flow to create a voice that is easy to read and understand. There’s a difference between laying facts on paper and presenting those facts in a concise, interesting, and readable manner. A good writer knows how to craft sentences that make sense and draw in the reader. A writer should know how to create content to cause the reader think, buy, cry, laugh, or become inspired. It takes skill to cause a reaction.
2. Understand what it means to be a professional
It’s important to understand how freelancing is a business. Thus, how you conduct your business makes all the difference in the world. Your clients expect more for your money than a finished product. Clients expect clean work, good communication, professionalism and the ability to deliver what you promise.
Good client relationships are essential for repeat business and referrals. When you don’t treat clients (and projects) with respect, you not only lose their business but also the business that could come from referrals.
3. Becoming a freelance writer doesn’t happen overnight
Overnight success stories are few and far between. The reality is you can’t simply decide one day to be a freelance writer, the next day to quit your job, and the next week to have enough work to make up the loss of income. Growing a business takes time.
Freelance writing is extremely competitive right now. The flood of web writing has more people applying for the same gigs. Newer freelancers may have to accept lower paying proejcts until they’re established. In fact, so many people want to work from home, people who have no writing background are now vying for writing jobs.
If you’re truly interested in becoming a freelance writer, my best advice for you is to start looking for clients before you make plans to leave your existing job. This may mean you have to do client work on nights or weekends, but it’s better to start your new career with a steady flow of work than to find yourself with a negative cash flow a few months in.
4. You will face rejection, and it will sting
Not everyone will love you. It’s even safe to say that in the beginning, you’ll receive a lot of “you’re not what we’re looking for at this time” type emails. Rejection letters will hurt and cause you to doubt your ability as a writer. You can’t let it get to you. Every single writer — even your favorite bestselling authors — received a rejection notice at one time or another. Most writers received more than a few. It’s normal.
People who hire writers are looking for a particular tone, voice, or experience level. Not being the right person for a project doesn’t mean you’ll never be the right person for a project. Rejection only means you didn’t get this one particular gig.
If you’re passionate about writing and want nothing more than to make it work, keep trying. Rejection is a rite of passion for every writer. It may be rough at first, but it gets better and you will be a better writer for it.
5. Writing has to be something you enjoy
If you don’t like to write, don’t pursue a freelance writing career.
Freelancing is different from traditional office work. When you’re surrounded by others, you really can’t slack off — not when everyone is watching. If you don’t enjoy your work as a freelancer, you’re more likely to procrastinate, make excuses to clients, and even blow off work. Writing takes creativity and focus. If you hate what you do you’ll end up going through the motions. Your clients want and expect more from you. You don’t have to be passionate, but you should at least enjoy what you do.
6. You have to have discipline
Freelancers love their flexibility. We can take long vacations, work from almost anywhere, and choose our own hours. However, with freedom comes responsibility. As a freelance writer, it’s up to us to make sure we’re at our desks doing our jobs. No one is looking over our shoulders or telling us what time to start work.
It’s really easy to fall behind as a freelancer, too. There’s a whole new world open to you that you didn’t have when you did the 9-5 office commute. You can buy groceries when the shops are empty, lunch with your friends, take days off during school holidays and go to the beach whenever you want. However, it’s easy to get caught up in the “flexibility” part and put off the “work” part until later. Misjudging the amount of time a project takes can lead to missed deadlines. Moreover, if you’re not available during times your clients need you, there may be communication issues as well.
Enjoy your freedom as a freelancer, but work has to be priority. If you’re seen as someone who is unreachable or irresponsible, you won’t have repeat business and your reputation can tank.
7. Everyone has an opinion about freelance writing, they’re all wrong
If you’re thinking about becoming a freelance writer you’re probably researching the best ways and places to get started. You’re probably also reading blog posts and forum discussions where seasoned writers share their opinions regarding work and pay.
Everyone has an opinion, and the only one who knows what’s right for you is you.
Before becoming a freelance writer, understand the different opportunities available to you. For example, many newer freelance writers work for content sites to earn some money and practice before gaining the confidence and experience to land higher paying clients. Some seasoned freelance writers insist don’t approve of these types of clients for a variety of reasons. You may also decide to look for clients on Craigslist or Indeed. Some seasoned freelance writers will tell you a better use of your time is to cold call or cold email potential clients. Everyone does has different ways of doing business. It doesn’t make them right or wrong.
Here’s the thing: If you want to do nothing but write for content sites, that’s your business. And if you have favorite search engines or websites for finding clients, it’s your choice. While it’s always a good idea to break out of your comfort zone to elevate your career, it’s best to avoid being caught up in some of the controversy surrounding freelance writing.
Do what makes you comfortable, especially when you’re just starting out. Over time you’ll gain confidence, new clients, and experience.
8. You have to be militant with boundaries and collections
When you allow a client to take advantage of you, you’re giving permission for it to happen again.
Just as you wouldn’t miss a deadline, neither should your clients miss payments. Be firm with invoice deadlines and think long and hard about accepting late pay. If you allow late payment once, it’s likely to keep happening and it can get out of hand.
Set boundaries with your time and be careful with making exceptions to the hours you’re available for work. When clients expect more from you, they should expect to pay more for you. If you’re being forced to work additional hours, or during nights and weekends, you can either put a stop to it, adjust your rates, or continue to be a pushover. Above all, never apologize for setting limits.
You have to put in the work to make it work
I’m not trying to scare you away from becoming a freelance writer. I’m only sharing how it’s not all popsicles and puppy dogs. You’ll encounter clients who want to stiff you, dry spells when no work comes in, and lots of competition when applying for gigs.
Understand what’s involved in freelance writing before you launch your business. Take time to research every aspect and have a good idea of how to make a success at it. Make a plan to get started, note the obstacles freelance writers face, and list action items for overcoming those obstacles.
It will take some time before you see a steady stream of clients and you have a regular income coming in so be patient. Take your time and do it right, and you’ll do just fine.
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