I’m an author and hope one day to be a household word in the mystery genre. From my lips to God’s ear, right? Anyway, I also make my living as a freelancer. A few days ago an online bud told me she wanted to start freelancing and asked if I had any suggestions on how she could start. And that’s how this post came about.
The following tips/suggestions are based on my own experience and what worked for me. There may be hundreds of other ways to approach freelancing and nothing is written in stone. I’ve always found that where there is a will there is a way, so if you have a better approach, feel free to mention it in the comments or just do it your way.
1. Subscribe to Funds for Writers and Writers Weekly. In my opinion, Funds for Writers and Writers Weekly are probably two of the best newsletters for freelancers because they have articles and listings for work, contests, etc. And reading the newsletters will just help you get the mindset. There are millions of other newsletters but I recommend you only go with a couple; otherwise all you’ll do is read newsletters.
2. Decide on a niche. You don’t have to have a niche – I really don’t. However, when I first started I did a lot of writing for lawyers. I was once upon a time a legal secretary so have a basic grasp on the law and the more you write about various types of law (or any subject) the more you understand it and can write about it easily. If you have a particular expertise or experience in a topic or field specializing in a niche may work for you. If you are a jack of all trades or get bored easily, you don’t have to specialize.
3. Practice writing in that niche on your blog or start a blog specifically for that niche. If you do decide to specialize and you have no clips you should either 1) start writing posts about that niche on your current blog or 2) start a blog specifically for that purpose. A free blog is fine, what you want to do is to be able to practice writing really good articles/posts and also to have samples to show prospective clients.
4. Add a “Hire Me” page to your blog. Whether on your current blog or in the case that you set up a separate blog for your niche writing put it on that blog. You don’t have to make the page fancy or sparkly – just an easy to read and navigate page that tells the prospect what you can do for them and how they can reach you. The page should be written from the viewpoint of ‘what I can do for you’ – which can be a little tricky because you have to write in such a way that shows you are competent but doesn’t sound like you are bragging.
5. Read “Breakthrough Advertising” by Eugene Schwartz. You can get it at Amazon but yes, it is hideously expensive. You may be able to find it in a used bookstore. Or possibly check it out from your local library. You may also be able to find it here but if at all possible get your hands on it and read it. I won’t blow smoke up your skirt, this book is huge and not an easy read. You won’t zip through it like a novel or even the usual book on writing techniques. It will take a while to read and you may want to read it several times because there is so much information in it, it is truly mind-blowing from a copy writing point of view. Schwartz is one of the most famous copywriters ever. In the copy writing world he is still a god. Personally, I learned more about writing from this one book than any other book I ever read about writing.
If you can just get the basics, you will understand how to write anything because all copy writing is written for the purpose of sales. Period. There is no other reason it is written. No matter what anyone says that is the truth. Websites, business posts, business blogs, magazine articles, etc, all written for the purpose of marketing/ selling something. Anyway, Schwartz is a genius and even if you never do copy writing you will gain a lot of insight into human beings by reading his book and it will make you a better writer. I promise.
6. Stay away from writer mills or other sites that requires you to sign up and bid for jobs. You get paid peanuts and they put you through the ringer and you can’t use any of your work for clips/samples. Do not ever sign up with a writer’s mill. These sites are typically in it for the owners to make money while the writers make peanuts, and truly get nothing out of it. They can’t approach clients privately. They can’t use their work as samples. And the editing process is ridiculous. And above all else they do not value writers. So stay away from them. Likewise craigslist for writer gigs. Many of them are scams but even the ones that aren’t have thousands of people applying for the same listing – so your odds suck. Although you can find things from time to time, generally speaking it will just drive you mad.
7. Study and understand SEO . If you don’t understand the basics of SEO then you need to either find a simple, easy to understand book or a website that you can learn the basics from. Generally, writers aren’t expected to do the SEO/keyword research but you must understand how to use keywords in your writing and why you’re doing it – and to do it so it isn’t just paragraphs of text with keywords stuffed into it.
8. If you don’t have one set up a PayPal account. It is free and very easy to use. I get a lot of work from people outside the U.S. and I couldn’t do that if there weren’t an easy way for them to make payment. You do have to pay transaction fees which sucks but they aren’t outrageous, and it’s a business expense so at worst it’s a wash. There are other similar services which may be better but I have had great luck with PayPal.
This is based on the assumption that you have no experience as a freelancer:
1. Set up a separate free blog which you can use solely for the purpose of practicing writing good SEO articles in the niche/niches you’ve chosen. As I mentioned earlier you may want to write about work or fields in which you have a lot of experience and/or familiarity. For example, if you worked for human resources in a large company, you could write posts about that – tips, tricks, etc.
2. If you want to try to get work right away, you could approach people you know. Offer to help write their website, brochures, sales ads, instruction booklets, or blog posts for their blog.
3. You could also approach web designers – even better if you know them personally. Web designers always need copywriters because though they build the sites, typically they don’t also do the writing.
4. You could put an ad in the local paper, church newsletter, mention it if you belong to any clubs, associations, etc.
5. Or if you feel really ballsy. Google the niches you’d feel comfortable writing in and check out their websites and blogs. If the website sucks or their blog hasn’t been updated lately. Contact them (from the info on their contact page) and offer to write blog posts or help them improve their web copy. You get the idea.
So there you have a list of hopefully helpful tips in breaking into the freelance writing universe.
You may have noticed I did not use the word easy in the title or anywhere in this post – that’s because it isn’t easy. As with any other career, you will not become a freelance writer overnight. No amount of tips will bring that about. You should be prepared to supplement your income or maintain your current job until you are generating enough work regularly to provide the income you need.
And too, self-employment is not for everyone. It can be lonely. It can be stressful. And the only benefits you get are the ones you provide for yourself. If you are the type of person who likes security, freelancing might work better for you as a sideline. Or you might prefer a position as an in-house writer in a large corporation or marketing agency.
So how about you, fellow writers? Do you freelance too? Any good tips to share? Knock yourself out and feel free to add to the list.