Several times each week I’m asked how to get started as a freelance writer.
The answer is simple: write. Write a lot.
Put yourself out there.
At first, you’ll do it for free (you will), then eventually your credibility, skills and business savvy will build and so will your paycheck.
It really is that simple — and that difficult — all at the same time. As you venture down the winding, bumpy path as a freelancer, here’s a few tasks to add to the old To Do list along the way.
- Create business-only social media accounts. Keep your posts informative, insightful and professional. Potential clients will be reading them. I land the bulk of my writing jobs from social media networking.
- Learn about self-employment tax responsibilities. That first freelance check might look enticing to spend all at once, but Uncle Sam needs to get his cut, or you’ll get fined when you file your annual tax return.
- Read other writers. Examine what you like about their style, approach and success. To be a good writer, you must read (and write) often.
- Network as much as possible. I get the majority of my writing jobs by being personable and communicating with potential clients and current clients. Repeat business from an established, satisfied client is the easiest to secure.
- Create a separate bank account to keep business income and expenses itemized and independent from your personal life. Pay yourself from the account every two weeks, just as you would expect from a traditional employer.
- Write for pennies. That’s how most writers start out. Eventually, the pay rates will increase. I promise. But you have to prove yourself and gain samples before you can get the high-paying assignments.
- Dream of who or where you’d like to write for, and keep it as a goal. Send article proposals to them. Read their publications. Keep tabs on them all the time.
- Read writing forums. When I was starting out, these chat rooms gave me leads to entry-level writing opportunities to prove myself early on.
- Write boring assignments. You never know what you’ll learn from the experience or what connections you might make.
- Attend free virtual webinars, conferences and seminars. These are great places to meet potential clients and writers to befriend.
- Be diligent. Use a calendar to schedule your time and stick to it. You can’t earn money when you’re not actually working. Being a freelancer takes a healthy dose of focus, determination and drive every single day.
- Treat your writing as a job. It is a job if you want to make money from it. Set weekly or monthly earning goals and reach them by putting in the time and effort. Don’t let personal phone calls, Facebook games or house chores keep you from completing your writing assignments.
- Spend time each day promoting yourself. You can do this on social media, a blog, a website, by chatting at the coffee shop or by making pens with your website URL on them and leaving them at the grocery store checkout lane. Do whatever it takes.
- Get a website. There are so many free, easy to use options. You can upgrade later to something fancy. But if you want to write online, you have to have an online presence. Think about it.
- Put together a portfolio. This can link to your website, or be a document you can email to a potential client at the first utter of interest that spews from their mouth. Be ready to show what you’ve done, even it’s only from an internship or personal blog.
- Study writing. Whether you go to college for journalism or take a non-credit writing course at the community college, hone your craft. Always be learning. You will never know it all.
- Return calls and emails promptly. When you do gain interest from a potential client, remember you’re probably not the only one on their list to contact. I’ve landed many, many projects by being the first one to respond to an email or answer a Tweet.
- Browse Twitter for #writingopps. They are posted daily. Finding writing jobs isn’t as tough as people make it out to be. They’re usually just scared of putting themselves out there and communicating with an editor or hiring manager.
- Ask for work. Seriously. Let people on your business-only social media accounts know you’re available do X, Y and Z type writing assignments and how to contact you. It works.
- Meet deadlines. When you do start getting projects, complete them early or by the deadline. If you don’t, you won’t get hired back by the client for future work. Plus, your name will get known for being unreliable.
- Keep a list of topics and ideas that you’ll like to research or write about. Many clients will ask you to pitch them a writing idea. Land jobs with your creative, well-planned proposals.
Don’t expect a huge paycheck the first week you start freelance writing. Or, the first year.
This summer I’m celebrating five years as a full-time freelancer and I’m just now at a comfortable place with several steady clients, a reliable income, no credit card debt and a routine that works well for me.
Give it time. The freelancing life can be incredibly rewarding if you stick to it!
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Note: This post was updated on March 9, 2019.