Whilst we all know freelance writers exist, becoming one sounds almost impossible. Surely being paid to work from home, never having to get out of your pajamas and effectively being able to stay in bed all day is too good to be true?
Note: This article refers to non-fiction writing and is for people who want to be professional journalists, bloggers etc. Fiction writing is probably similar and some of these tips will still apply, but if fiction is your thing you will have a slightly different process. This also refers quite exclusively to online writing, journalism, blogging etc.
The bad news
Becoming an online freelance writer is easier than you think, but if you’re expecting immediate riches (or any substantial money at all for the first few months) then you’ll be disappointed. Unless you are very, very lucky you won’t instantly become a respected writer for a well-known website.
Don’t expect regular wages
When you do start getting paid (and you will if you keep at it) it won’t be a substantial amount. You will have to start small and then start increasing your wages as you get more experienced and your demand goes up. You will also get paid less or more depending on the amount of work you do at any given time; as you are in control of your own work load; the more you write the more you will be paid. So some months you could get quite a lot, and quieter months you could get paid much less.
I miss the 9-5 life
Not having fixed working hours may sound like a good thing, and not having to wake up at 7am for a two-hour commute isn’t exactly something I miss, but the downside is that you have no cut-off point. If you have pending work, you can’t just stop at 17:00 and call it a day. Whilst you are essentially your own boss and you can plan your days as you like, clients tend to have strict deadlines that you have to stick to, and these tend to be 24/48/72 hour deadlines with no mention of set working hours. If you don’t stick to them, you are likely to lose that client and potentially get a bad reputation.
So rather than working less you will find you probably actually work more as a freelance writer than you ever did in a regular office job, and at least for the first few months you will be doing it for far less pay. It is a process that gets easier and better over time, but you have to expect to start from the bottom and work your way up.
If you work from home it can also be harder to relax and put work out of your mind, especially if you have things you’re supposed to do, because you don’t have an office that you can leave all your work-related thoughts in as you run out the door.
So why would anyone want to freelance?
Freelance writing won’t immediately make you rich and famous. It might never make you rich and famous. What it will do is make you a better writer, build your reputation, increase your skills and make your CV/Resume stand out. If you keep at it and keep reaching out to clients, there is a chance it could turn into a lucrative full-time job.
If you are interested in pursuing writing full time or similar (as a journalist, content writer, social media executive etc.) then read on for some of my tried and tested tips to make your way into the exciting and varied world of the self-employed writer.
Tips from one freelancer to another
1: Gumtree and Craigslist are your friends. Whilst you have to be careful (never EVER pay someone to give you a job. They pay you or you work for free, you NEVER pay them), you can find some really good opportunities advertised on both sites, and they are really easy to apply for.
2: Be flexible. Sure you may want to become an award-winning journalist, but the primary focus is getting paid for your writing and going from there. Be open minded, take a few ghost-writing jobs for practice and accept that big newspapers/magazines/websites will want examples of your previous work before they even think about considering you.
Whilst working for free doesn’t sound appealing, there are a lot of websites that will let you contribute articles that will be seen by a fairly big audience. If these websites look professional enough, you can then use these articles as examples of your work and start aiming for bigger publications. Some websites pay you based on the number of hits you accumulate over a set period of time, so you could end up earning quite a bit of money if you manage to go viral or find a large audience. Some companies to consider include Blasting News and My Trending Stories.
3: Don’t fear rejection, because it will happen. Journalism and writing related jobs (as with most creative based jobs) are very high in demand and very hard to break into, and you will have a lot of competition. If you keep sending out inquiry emails and looking for jobs you will get somewhere, but you won’t ever get everything you apply for. Instead of fearing rejection, look forward to the time when they start sending you acknowledgments rather than just ignoring you outright. That means you’re getting somewhere.
4: Join a freelance website. I use Upwork, which is a great website because not only is it very easy to find tons of writing jobs in loads of different areas (ghost writing, blogging, travel writing, reviewing etc), but clients can pay you directly through the website and will help you chase any client that delays or doesn’t pay you. Most clients are quite trustworthy, but some people will just take your work and run so it’s a good idea to protect yourself and your earnings.
5: Try different things. At the moment I work as a journalist, ghost-writer, blogger, travel writer, book reviewer, product reviewer, content writer and as a website admin with very newly acquired HTML skills. You may have a clear idea of what you want to do, but it’s always good to have a few other areas of expertise up your sleeve. That way when you feel confident enough to apply for better paid/full-time jobs, you will have more options and a better chance of being selected.
6: Increase your social media presence. This is important if you are publishing any articles, reviews, etc. under your own name because it’s a great way to market yourself and gain more followers. If you want to be successful as an online writer, you will at the very least need an active Twitter, Instagram and separate Facebook account where you market your work. Not only is this a great way to become better known in the online community, but as companies become more and more aware of how important an online presence is the job opportunities for professional social media jobs are growing. You could literally be paid to run a companies social media accounts. You could be paid to use Facebook. Just think of that.
7: Get out of the house. Whilst being able to work in bed in your pajamas all day sounds like a dream if you’re used to set hours and early starts, it gets old quite quickly. When you’re freelancing the world is your oyster. Why not be the cafe-lurking-laptop-wielding hipster you always wanted to be? Or simply take your laptop into the garden and get yourself a tan while you work. Also remember to take breaks, as working from home can make you really stir crazy. Get a gym membership, go for a walk or take the day off once in a while for a day trip. The concept of having loads of free time in theory and yet no free
Also remember to take breaks, as working from home can make you really stir crazy. Get a gym membership, go for a walk or take the day off once in a while for a day trip. The concept of having loads of free time in theory and yet no free time in reality can be hard to navigate, but it can also open you up to loads of new opportunities.
8: Start small and easy, and then get bigger and more exclusive. When you first start out, you will probably accept any and all work that comes your way. This means poor pay and strange topics, but it is all experience which will make it easier to charge more down the road. Once you have a month or two of experience, regular and happy clients and a ton of work under your belt, you can then start being more selective. Increase your wage demands and only apply for the things you’re interested in, and although it may take time things will start to improve until you are (hopefully) writing about the things you want for a decent wage.
Once you have a month or two of experience, regular and happy clients and a ton of work under your belt, you can then start being more selective. Increase your wage demands and only apply for the things you’re interested in, and although it may take time things will start to improve until you are (hopefully) writing about the things you want for a decent wage.
We are the future
Stay positive. People might question why you don’t have a ‘real job’, and some days you might feel like all you do is stare at a laptop and eat crisps, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you progress and how much experience you get in a short space of time. The skills you learn as a freelancer are all skills you can apply to full time writing jobs in the real world (if that is your end goal). If you get a range of experience you could use it to become a content writer, journalism, someone who gets paid to run a companies social media account, a researcher, a reviewer, a blog writer for a company … the list just goes on.
The internet is here to stay, it’s more powerful than ever and it’s becoming more so all the time. Almost all companies need a full team of dedicated content writers to promote their online image via blogging, social media etc. And that could be you with all the skills you’ve learned as a freelancer. Online news is also becoming more and more popular, and it is almost definitely the future of news. Whilst people may scoff and say that working online isn’t a ‘real job’, the reality is that in thirty years or so these will be the real jobs. They may be the only jobs. Working online now and learning how to write for an online audience isn’t a waste of time. They are skills that are important for our ever increasingly technological world.