From talking to aspiring freelance writers, lurking around Reddit, and thinking back to the days when I was just getting started as a freelancer, I realize breaking into the game as a wordsmith isn’t easy. When it comes down to how to be a freelance writer, most people starting out struggle to get clients who will even pay a fraction of a livable wage… if they can find a client at all. And this is a problem.
There are tons of tidbits of advice I can toss out to those who are beginning the get their feet wet in freelance writing. But some of these tips are going to be more beneficial than others. This is why I’m spilling my top 10 tips here.
1. Start writing
Here’s the thing about being a freelance writer (or developer or photographer or graphic artist or whatever): it’s almost impossible to get any work worth talking about if you don’t have experience. People don’t want to spend money on a content creator who could be a complete dud. Show that you aren’t. Unless you have a deep, super impressive portfolio, start writing on your own, and give potential clients something to be impressed about.
It’s cool if you can publish these pieces on your own blog or website, on Medium, or any other linkable source. But even having killer writing you can share in PDF format is better than nothing! Just get some solid content created that you can show to potential clients on a moment’s notice.
2. Build your skills
There is always room for improvement–I don’t care how good you are. Continue to hone your writing to get better and better. This will make you a candidate for higher paying gigs, and it will do so more quickly than if you simply were relying on reputation and time alone.
And don’t just focus on your writing chops. When it comes down to how to be a freelance writer in today’s world, you probably need to know a bit about search engine optimization, WordPress, marketing strategy, basic image editing, and some other stuff. This is because most freelance writing gigs are essentially digital marketing gigs, so it helps to know how to best suit your writing for these purposes… because the other writers competing for the same gigs probably have these skills.
3. Use freelancing platforms
The quickest and easiest way to get new clients is courtesy of freelancing websites, like Upwork. But here’s the rub: if you are green, you are going to have a hell of a time getting a decent gig. You will have to compete with other newbies and folks who don’t have as great of a command of the language as you do. Don’t worry, the low rates aren’t forever. Raise your rates as you gain experience and those skills I just talked about. And maybe follow my other tips for rocking freelancing websites. Trust me… this isn’t my first rodeo.
4. Market yourself
Your website, LinkedIn profile, or presence on Upwork won’t do it alone. This isn’t the Field of Dreams–no one is coming just because you built it.
You need to get yourself out there in the same manner a small business would market itself. Set up a killer search optimized site, share stuff on social media, do some outreach, and so on. And do this according to best practices; you should be learning a bit about marketing after all!
5. Be patient
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was my career. Yes, I landed a ton of gigs upon putting up a profile at what was then oDesk, but I bid low, had a lot of killer content to share, and a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. And I was ambitious. If this had been Upwork with their “connects” I’d have run out of those real fast.
But even with the deck stacked in my favor, I still feel like I got lucky. Maybe it was my midwestern earnestness, but I should have been a big red flag of too good to be true. But somehow, lots of folks hired me. And somehow there are tons of folks on Reddit and out and about complaining that they can’t get any traction on Upwork or on their own websites after a month or two! At that stage you’re still a freelancing infant, and unless you want to work at what works out to minimum wage (or less!) like I did, sit tight and keep at it.
Keep writing, keep growing your skills, stay on the sites, and market the hell out of yourself. Before you know it, you’ll be writing some “how to be a freelance writer” to folks too.