Thinking about starting a freelance writing business? Not sure where to start?
It’s frightening. I know. But it’s possible.
Asking how to break into freelance writing is a bit like asking how to dance. There are so many ways to go about doing it, and there’s not necessarily one right way. Just keep that in mind if you decide to stray the beaten path. Ultimately, do what works for you.
If you’re not sure what works for you–or what’s going to work for you–then start here.
Know What You’re Going to Write
Freelance writing encompasses so many options. You have to decide first what path you’re going to take. Remember that as a freelance writer, you’re a business owner (a sole proprietor). What types of services will you offer?
Just a few examples of things you can write include:
- Blog posts
- Technical manuals
- Magazine articles
- Product descriptions
- Infographic content
The list goes on. If you don’t know what services you’re going to offer apart from “writing,” no one else is going to know what you do and why they should hire you.
You can also narrow it down. For instance, if you’re going to write brochures, what industry will you write for? Travel, health, marketing, etc.?
You can leave your services broad if you’re open to any project, but you can always narrow your services depending on your skills and background.
Not sure what to write about? Ask yourself these questions:
- What am I capable of?
- What do I know about?
- What topics interest me?
- What types of writing do I like to do?
Once you know what you want to write, it’s time to set your rates.
Create a Website
This step could be developed into an entire website/blog of its own to cover all the aspects of building your freelancing website.
The biggest thing you should know right now is that a website is important to your business. It’s not always about using your website and its SEO properties to attract clients. It’s about helping potential clients–no matter how they hear about you–make their final decision to hire you. Your website shows clients that you’re serious and you’re professional, but it also gives them a look into your experience and personality.
We will cover more about building a website in later posts, but right now, here are the best pieces of advice I can give.
- Set up a self-hosted WordPress site. A third-party host will cost you around $4 per month, but you’ll have so much more control over your website, and it will look a lot more professional. If you can’t afford to invest in your business from the get-go, at least spend the $10 or so on a custom domain (such as example.com instead of example.wordpress.com). You can read more about the difference between free and self-hosted sites here.
- Make your site about your clients. Lots of novice writers start out talking about themselves. The most effective copy involves talking about clients and telling them how you’re going to solve their problems.
- If you’re going to have a blog on your site, choose a professional topic. I’ve seen lots of writers add a “Hire Me” page to their personal blog or start a personal blog on their writer website. Chances are clients aren’t looking for you to write personal stories, and they may check out your blog for sample content. Give them a taste of what you can do by keeping your blog professional.
Breaking into freelance writing can be as simple as getting your first client. That obviously depends on a number of factors, including how confident you are in your abilities and how much marketing you’re willing to do.
One thing that can get you started is to talk with friends and friends of friends to see if anyone you know needs a writer. You can also contact local businesses in the area that may be in need of marketing material or website copy.
Otherwise, job boards and other freelance writing contacts (through referrals) can be good places to find your first clients. You might even find an “in” with publications you frequent if they accept contributors. Simply being one of their loyal readers is a plus since you already understand their tone and values.
It’s true that it can take some time to land that first client, but after that, the best thing you can do is persist, and more clients will come.
Here’s What You Don’t Need
Think you need all this fancy stuff to start freelance writing? Here’s what you don’t need:
- A degree
- Professional experience
- A pile of clips
- An official business organization
Granted, these are all good things to have, but I know a ton of writers who have built up a career without any of this. I started freelance writing before I even graduated high school. While the freelancing environment has changed since then–higher quality content is a must in today’s market–it’s not impossible to break in if you’re determined.
The experience and clips will come with time.
(P.S. While freelancers are technically business owners as sole proprietors, you don’t have to file any paperwork to establish your business as long as you’re filing taxes under your name and social security number in the U.S.)
It’s tough to cover such a broad question in just a single blog post, so here are a few more pieces of advice:
- If clients won’t hire you because you don’t have clips or testimonials, it can be worth contributing to a well-known publication for free as a portfolio builder.
- Set your rates, and stick to them. As a novice writer, it’s tough to know what to charge. Just remember: minimum wage as a freelancer is a lot less than minimum wage as an employee since you’ll have non-billable hours and you don’t get benefits in addition to your paycheck.
- Make sure you have a contract and a client questionnaire. Your questionnaire will help you get a feel for what a client is looking for, and your contract will protect both of you in detailing payment, ownership of content, etc.
- While you’re probably tempted to start at content mills–a company that produces a huge amount of copy for crap pay–it’s best to steer clear of them. However, like I said, do what works for you. I’ve known a lot of freelancers who still frequent places like Elance because, even though the good jobs are few and far between, there are still some good-paying opportunities there. Again, do what works for you, but it’s always a good practice to look for alternative forms of income over content mills or you’ll never escape them and make a living wage as a freelance writer.
It’s really tough to give any specifics here since everybody’s situation is different. If you’d like personalized advice on how to break into freelance writing, post your question in the comment section.