By Jori Hamilton
So you’re considering the possibility of becoming a freelance writer, but you’re not really sure what steps you need to take to make it all happen. Sound about right?
Becoming a successful freelance writer is a bit of a whirlwind; nobody seems to fall cleanly into the career path. Instead, those who ultimately become successful will almost always tell you that there was no shortage of pure luck at hand. Every success story is different—someone may tell you they got their start with one blowout piece and the work has been rolling in ever since. More likely there were a lot of smaller pieces that paid a bit here and a bit there that ultimately went into building a strong reputation.
Regardless of how most people start, if you are serious about giving freelance writing a shot, there are a handful of things you can do to prepare yourself. Of course, there is no step-by-step guide to success, but having the basics figured out at the start can put you off on the right foot.
There’s no hard and fast rule that only English majors or people with extensive writing backgrounds can be successful at freelance writing. But having that background certainly does help. Most blog owners will be forgiving of minor grammatical errors, but nobody has the time to completely fix a piece. If you want to make money, the fewer edits your editor has to make, the better.
Another thing to consider is the style of writing you’re jumping into. This isn’t some essay you’re going to submit to a professor. Rather, you’re most likely to be writing for a blog. It is meant to be casual and eye-catching, something anyone could read. Leave white space, don’t be afraid to use bullet points, and forget everything you’ve ever learned about what constitutes a proper paragraph.
As you’re trying to figure all of this out, don’t be afraid to look at what other people are doing. Check out blogs whose purpose is to foster young writers, take those suggestions to heart. Beyond that, look at the personal sites of successful bloggers and familiarize yourself with some of their content and strategies.
Taking these steps to do the background research can help you get an idea of what is going on and be ready to hit the ground running.
The next step, and probably the hardest, is reaching out to find clients. Keep in mind that blog editors receive literally hundreds of pitches every day and they won’t waste their time with something that isn’t interesting or has already been done a thousand times. Take the time to brainstorm and flesh out quality ideas. Then find the right blog for the concept.
And seriously, get comfortable with rejection. Even some of the most successful freelance writers only get 10-15% of their pitches published. Some of the ideas you’re the proudest of will sit on a shelf for months because you haven’t found the right editor interested in the piece.
When it comes to finding clients the big word of the day is: networking. Networking is a challenge, especially for those of us that would much rather stay cuddled up on the couch with a good book and a pet. But it is an essential aspect of building a clientele and good reputation amongst prominent blog owners. Here are some ways to start finding freelance work:
- Reach out to family and friends for ideas
- Reconnect with old co-workers and bosses
- Connect on LinkedIn
- Use social media including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to your advantage
- Go to any social networking event you hear of
- Build connections with other freelancers
- Find work on job boards
Establishing a Brand
As you get going, you’ll realize that having a portfolio of work can make things run a lot smoother. A portfolio of published work and personal writings you’re proud of can paint a strong picture of who you are and the type of writing you’ll be bringing to the table. A great place to showcase your work can be a personal website or blog space, which also adds a layer of professionalism to your enterprise.
Creating a website can also be a strong means of creating a personal brand, which is an essential marketing strategy in this day and age. A website can give you space to:
- Establish who you are
- Showcase a portfolio
- Connect with potential clients
- Become a content influencer
Of course, all of this is great fun and games, but it doesn’t mean much if you aren’t getting paid. There is no mistaking that you’ll have to put some serious groundwork into making a job as a freelance writer profitable. You’ll likely have to set your own rates or work with editors to set a fair price per article—be realistic with what your work is worth but don’t undervalue yourself.
Professional writing can be a great means of avoiding the traditional 9-5 job and enjoying more time working from wherever you’re comfortable. However, it’s not a job that just happens, it takes a lot of footwork to build a network and a clientele and a lot of rejection should be expected. With a bit of hard work and no small amount of luck, success could be at your fingertips!
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of topics but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to freelance writing, business productivity, and marketing strategies. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.