Working online as a freelance writer definitely has its perks. You can earn your living doing what you love and on your own terms. However, the beginning of your freelance writing career can be the hardest part of the journey. If you’re looking to break into freelance writing, how do you know where to start?
Here are six essential parts to starting your freelance career. They may not be foolproof, but they are things that almost all successful freelance writers have had to do. With determination, hard work, and a tiny bit of luck, these six steps could fully launch your freelance writing career.
Narrow Down Your Niche
If you do a Google search for ‘freelance writer’, you’ll see why this point first. There are thousands of freelance writers all over the world, and the majority will have more experience, more talent, and better connections than you. How can you compete? The simple answer is: you can’t.
But don’t throw in the towel yet.
The question is: how can you set yourself apart from the rest of the freelance writing crowd? How are you different from them? What do you do better, or faster, or differently that is an advantage?
The key is to find a niche, a place where you stand out and are special in the world. This can be related to the kind of writing that you do, as well as who you do it for.
Compare these two writers:
Freelance Writer #1 sends an email to Mike’s China Tours. He tells this potential client that he is a freelance writer. The writer says that he knows how to write anything for anyone, and can do it for a fair price. He says he can write some email marketing, articles, service descriptions, or anything else the client might need.
Freelance Writer #2 sends an email to Mike’s China Tours. He says that he is a freelance travel writer who specializes in creating blogs for hotels, travel agencies, and tour guides. He tells the potential client that he has some great ideas for a blog about travel in China that will boost his SEO ranking and make him more appealing to customers seeking a tour guide in China.
Which freelance writer do you think will get hired? Which one stands out?
When you narrow down your particular niche, then you will show clients exactly how you’re more capable. Also, when clients search in Google for a particular service they need done, they’ll be more likely to find you! This is the essence of how search engines work. They attract instead of push. Find the qualities that are being sought and highlight those.
So which niche should you choose?
Step 1: Think about what you already know. Are you changing to freelance writing from another career? If so, how can your previous career help you in writing?
This is a big question, and in the end, YOU are the person who holds the key to the correct answer. How do you decide?
For example, let’s say you’ve been working as a dental assistant. Your knowledge of the dental world could be extremely useful in your writing. You could work with dental offices to create website content, email marketing campaigns, newsletters, etc. You could run their social media pages and post or repost meaningful content. Your knowledge of the industry already gives you a head start, and likely some useful connections!
But what if you’re trying to get away from your previous industry? Then let’s focus on your hobbies. Do you like gardening? Are you a proficient piano player? Do you love to travel?
All of these open up many different options for your niche. Start by focusing on what you would actually like to write, and move on from there. You can apply to write for magazines on the topic, create blogs for people in the industry, write marketing content for companies that sell products or services related to the topic, etc.
Once you’ve picked your industry, it’s good to get as specific as you can. For example, instead of just being a travel writer, be an ecotourism travel writer, a budget travel writer, or an ecotourism in South America travel writer. The more specific you are, the easier it will be for clients in that specific part of the industry to find you!
Decide what type of writing you enjoy.
Not all freelance writing is the same. Do you like to write opinion articles or reviews of products? Do you know how to create SEO content for a company website (or can you learn)? Would you prefer to write blog posts on your chosen topic, or do you want to help companies keep up with their social media profiles?
Once you’ve chosen your topic it’s good to narrow down exactly what type of writing you can do (or prefer to do) within your chosen industry. That way, you can fill specific needs for your clients. Then, if you don’t have any, it would be a good idea to show some examples of this writing.
For example, you could be a freelance writer in the gardening industry who specializes in creating compelling product descriptions. Or, you could be an ecotourism travel writer who specializes in writing SEO-rich blog posts.
Now, you may be wondering: won’t I scare off other clients if I’m so specific?
Maybe you will. But did you really want to write for those clients anyway? By specifying your job description, you are allowing your favorite clients to find you easily, and you’re giving yourself projects that you really enjoy! More than that, it will be much easier to establish yourself as an expert. Once people realize that you are the go-to writer for SEO blog posts about ecotourism in South America, then those clients will be coming straight to you!
Set Up Your Website
Once you know exactly what your niche is, it’s time to set up your website. This is the place where you display your talent and abilities to potential clients, so any content you write here must be absolutely flawless in regards to writing style, grammar, spelling, etc.
Your first step in creating a website is signing up for a hosting service. Normally, with hosting services such as BlueHost, you can connect your domain with your WordPress account and get customizing within minutes!
We could go on for days about how exactly to set up your website, how to get your perfect theme running, and what kind of design techniques to use. However, for now, let’s focus on three important areas of your website:
Your Main Pages
Since you’re introducing yourself to the world (and especially to potential clients), the way you design your home page, about page, and contact page is very important.
Your landing page is a quick pitch to clients who have come across your page, so make it short and captivating. You’ll want to portray professionalism, but make sure people know that you’re a real human being.
Include a professional picture of yourself, one that inspires confidence. Tell the client about you, and why you are the writer that he should hire.
Pictures, videos and graphics are things will help your site’s search rankings and will keep readers interested. Aside from a picture of yourself, try using professional-looking stock pictures to fill empty spaces or to break up text.
This is a very important part of your website, one I can’t stress enough. You blog establishes that you are active on the web while giving potential clients a taste of your voice and style.
Another great reason to have a blog is SEO. If you include main keywords (including your niche and specific industry keywords) in your posts, then your website’s ranking will go higher. Posting regular content is another way to rank well in search engines.
Create a Social Media Presence as a Freelance Writer
Now it’s time to build your network. Social media may seem a bit daunting, especially for those of us who are not very socially-savvy. However, here are some easy pointers for the main social media networks:
This is definitely one of the most important networks for writers and professionals in general. This is where the business people of the world get together, share ideas, talk about work, look for advice, and so forth.
Best of all, this is a place where people who are in need of freelancers look for responsible people to work with. On the flip side, you as a freelance writer can use LinkedIn as a way to look for job opportunities, companies that you’d like to work with, or professionals who can help you along.
To really promote yourself on LinkedIn, it is important that you completely fill out your profile. The more details that you have in your professional profile, the better. This may be the first impression that potential clients have of you, so you want to make sure they see a person worthy of connecting with. Include all previous experience, and make sure to link to your website!
LinkedIn Pulse is also a great tool for freelance writers. This area gives you the opportunity to display your talent, and can be used as a mini-portfolio. (We’ll talk more about your portfolio below.) Try to post topics that are of interest to your network, thus gaining more likes and shares.
However, something to remember about LinkedIn is that this is not like other social media sites. It is not a place to re-post funny cat photos or talk about how you feel today. This is a world of pure professionals, and to be counted among their ranks you must follow their etiquette.
Take advantage of the private messages in LinkedIn to get in contact with people you’d like to work with, but avoid messages that sound like you’re begging for a job. Also, try joining some LinkedIn groups that are related to your niche, and thus keep up with current news in your field.
This network is constantly adding more features for professionals. One of these great tools is the Facebook Fan Page.
Making a fan page is a great way to create an image for yourself on Facebook as a freelance writer. This will separate your business presence from your personal Facebook account. Thus, you have the ability to build a professional image of yourself and your freelance writing business.
Take advantage of Facebook page applications and customize your fan page to the full. Different apps will allow you to accomplish different goals, such as adding your professional resume, embedding photos or video, or automatically reposting content or media from your blog, YouTube, Instagram, or other. Encourage those who find your page to like it, thus building your following.
When posting on your Facebook fan page, remember that this is not just a place to dump all of your other posts or link to all of your completed projects. Instead, with your audience in mind, try to post meaningful information for them, interspersing reposts from other social media sites only occasionally.
For example, you could use current news items in your niche and relate them (if reasonably applicable) to your work. Another option would be to post relevant tips, news, or topics of interest that target your intended clients.
Another way to take advantage of Facebook as a freelance writer is to join groups. Just like LinkedIn groups, here you’ll find a community of helpful people who are all doing the same work as you, some with more or less success. You’ll be able to keep up with current trends and possibly find new job leads.
This is one tool you absolutely do not want to miss out on. It is a place where many writers tend to spend time, and many publications will ask for your twitter account as a reference before any other social media account.
Start growing your Twitter account by following accounts of people or businesses that you would like to work for. Also, getting connected with other freelancers is useful. Keep up with current freelance writing hashtags, such as #amwriting, #writechat, or others. RiteTag keeps up to date information on which hashtags to use and watch for freelance writers.
Twitter is also a great place to contact people and businesses that may want to use your freelance writing services. The key is becoming known to them without getting in their face. Follow their accounts, comment on their posts, like their content. This does not mean stalking them; however, the occasional comment with meaningful content can get you noticed. Twitter is the place where you can develop the relationship, perhaps getting to the point of offering to pitch an idea. At that point, it’s time to move the conversation from social media to email or Skype to finalize the deal.
If you’re in search of a project, there are many accounts that post writing gigs, such as @FreelanceWJ, @Writing_Jobs, and others. Follow these accounts and then add them to a Twitter list to keep new job leads handy.
All social media platforms can be useful in different ways to freelance writers, depending of course on your niche and your target audience. However, a word to the wise: be very careful with the time that you spend on social media. It is easy for these numerous platforms and accounts to become all-consuming.
Build a Portfolio
This is an essential part of your freelance career, as it gives you the chance to showcase your abilities to prospective clients, as well as your personal writing voice and style. Also, building a portfolio that showcases work in the niche you’ve decided on establishes you as an industry expert.
But what if you haven’t written for this niche before, or if you are starting from scratch in your writing portfolio? Here are two great ways to start building up a writing portfolio:
Yes, I know I’ve already talked about blogging. But this is yet another reason why it’s so important to have a blog on your website. By adding posts that fit in your selected niche, you prove yourself to be an expert in the field.
For example, imagine your tell a potential client that you are an expert in their industry. They may take your word for it, but how much better does your proposal sound when you show them your blog, full of detailed posts regarding the ins and outs of DSLR photography? It gives you a more stable image, proving that you know what you’re talking about.
When you keep up with regular posts, it shows clients that you are reliable. And if your blog starts to gain a following, you’re proving that you know how to produce content that is attractive to the industry market.
This is another great way to establish yourself and build up your portfolio. Find authority blogs, websites, or magazines that fit in your particular niche, and try guest posting. You will probably be giving your work for free, but it will establish you even more as an authority.
Although blogging is an extremely important first step, guest posting on authority websites can be the catapult that will launch you into bigger and better jobs. How so?
Imagine that you spend hours trolling job boards, but most of the good writing gigs in your niche require you to send samples of your work that are published online. You might find other jobs, but they’re not in your niche and they pay little.
Now, imagine that the time you invested scouring job boards was instead spent on writing effective and appealing proposals for topics on authority blogs or websites related to your goal niche. Not everyone will accept you for a guest post, but if your ideas are original and fit with the goals of the website, some definitely will.
Now, you’ve written an excellent post, thus showcasing your work, and it is published on an authority site. This website obviously has a much bigger following than your blog, and thus your post will be seen by many more eyes. There is a far greater chance that your post will reach the eyes of potential clients, thus bringing work right to your doorstep!
Even if clients don’t contact you directly from that post, you can use that guest post as a reference when applying to work in your niche. Showing that you’ve written on an authority website in your desired industry proves that you are a reliable expert, and makes you extremely marketable.
Start Pitching and Applying
So your website is set up, your blog is running strong, your portfolio is growing by the day, so where are your new clients? You’re ready to get out into the world and find them!
Here are two ways to find new clients:
Option 1: Cold Calling Potential Clients
Let’s go back to our first point for a second. Hopefully, you’ve narrowed yourself down to one or two niches that you feel are a perfect fit for you. Now the question is: who needs what you do?
If you’ve decided to be a holistic medicine blogger, then find a website that sells holistic medicine and doesn’t have a blog. If you want to write social media for the fashion industry, find a fashion company with deplorable social media skills that could use your help.
The key is not only finding companies in your industry, but ones that actually need what you do. Once you’ve found that company, find out who specifically you need to talk with, such as the editor of a publication, or the content manager of the website. Then, get in contact with them via email, or using the social media options we mentioned above.
Option 2: Perusing the Job Boards
Freelance writing job boards may sound like a waste of time, but don’t give up on them entirely. While many can turn into time-eating machines, there are a few good job boards that offer you viable options. Two of my favorites are Problogger and FreelanceWritingGigs.
Now that you’ve found the company, publication, or job ad that you want to apply to, it’s time for the pitch. So what do you write?
Tell them a little about who you are and what you do. However, remember to be brief! They don’t want to spend all day reading about your life. Here is a good place to link to your website, your blog, etc.
I Like You, and I Want to Help You
Take the research that you did into this company or editor before writing your pitch and put it to good use. Start with a compliment. What did you see on their website that you liked? Or what do you like about the company’s goals and work?
Now, what needed some help? Don’t insult your potential client, but mention tactfully some areas that need assistance.
For example, let’s say you want to write a blog for a company whose blog is currently struggling. Mention points where there is a need for improvement. Is the posting irregular? Is the content irrelevant, or boring?
Make sure to include not only what needs fixing, but why it needs fixing. How does a regular blog help this company?
I am the Man (or Woman) That You Need
So you’ve convinced them that they need a professional writer to help them out. Now it’s time to convince them that the professional writer they need is you. It’s time to pull out your credentials.
How does your prior work experience give you special insight into this company’s needs? What do you know about the company or the industry that will be especially useful to them? This is a great place to add some links to your online portfolio.
This is What I Can Do for You
It’s time to get specific. Highlight some ideas you have for their business. What will you do to increase their revenue, readership, or following? Detail ideas for blog posts, articles, email marketing, etc. How can you make their product descriptions more effective, or what will you do to get them a huge social media following?
Prove your worth by showing what you can do. This will make you stand out from the crowd. Make sure to include your rates, and your payment preferences.
As you’ve probably guessed, this means no copying and pasting of your LOI or pitch. Each pitch must be specific and relevant to the company or publication you want to work for. It takes a bit of extra time, but the results are absolutely worth the effort.
Track Your Time and Your Income
If you’ve followed the above steps, it’s very likely that you are currently starting to bring in some of your first paychecks! Congratulations! Now that you’ve gotten off the ground, don’t forget to keep working on steps 3 to 5.
Here are some last pointers for your freelance writing career:
Know Your Earnings for Each Month
Once tax season comes around, you’ll need to know exactly what you’ve earned in the last year. An Excel spreadsheet is a great way to keep track of how much you’re earning each month, from whom, and for what.
While we mostly do this for tax reasons, there is an added benefit. As your writing career blossoms, you’ll be able to watch your income increase month by month! This is exciting to watch and gives you the motivation to keep learning and growing in your freelance writing career.
Make Your Schedule
Since you’re self-employed, you don’t have set hours to be in the office and working. On the one hand, this gives you great freedom. It’s most likely part (if not all) of the reason why you’ve chosen to become a freelance writer. On the other hand, this freedom can be dangerous.
Freelance writing as a career can turn into a very time-consuming effort. I can’t stress how important it is from the get-go to set your work schedule. It may seem ridiculous at first, but setting aside time for work even when you don’t have any clients will put you in the right frame of mind. Then, when work time is finished, you’ll be able to leave your freelance writing career at the desk and get on with other aspects of your life without distraction.
This is a difficult balance to achieve and maintain, and I admit that I’m still working on this process (as are most other freelancers). However, making (and sticking to) a schedule from the beginning of your freelance writing career will help you avoid mismanaging your time in the future.
Freelance writing is a rewarding career that comes with many benefits. If you’re wondering whether to start down this journey, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so!
As you can see from what we’ve discussed above, being truly successful as a freelance writer is not easy. However, now that you know where to start, you can put your hard work and determination to good use and achieve your freelance writing goals!