How to become a freelance writer
People write to express themselves, order their thoughts, explore ideas, and for many other reasons. But what about when you want to turn your pastime into a profession? How do you get started, and what skills do you need? We take a look at how to become a freelance writer.
Freelancing can be a rewarding and enjoyable way to make a living or supplement your income. However, it’s not always easy. With that in mind, we also explore the benefits, downsides, requirements, and how to get started with your career.
Why choose to freelance?
Many people choose the freelance lifestyle. According to a recent study, there are over 2 million freelancers in the UK. For the vast majority of these people, working for themselves in this way is their main occupation. So why might someone choose to become a freelance writer?
Freelancing gives you the opportunity to take your destiny into your hands. You become your own boss, with the ability to choose clients and projects that resonate most with you. You also get to choose where you work from, what hours you keep, and what your goals are. Of course, the flip side of that is that there’s a lot of responsibility on your shoulders.
Many freelancers start out by making their hobby into a side hustle. If you love to write, you might like the idea of making some money from your art. Freelancing is a great way of supplementing your income, and starting off with small projects here and there is a great way of easing into a full-time career. However, you’ll need to learn some basic bookkeeping to manage your freelance income.
A better work-life balance
Working as a freelancer allows you to build your work around your life, rather than the other way around. With this way of working, you can choose which hours you work and when you work them. You also get to choose how you use this freedom to create a work-life balance. You could work from home, spend more time with family, or go off and travel the world. Either way, it gives you far more flexibility than a standard 9 to 5.
There’s a lot to be said for doing what you love. Going freelance gives you the chance to make a living from something you really care about. What may start as a passion project could end up being your main source of income, and help to make your professional reputation.
What does a freelance writer do?
There are many roles that a freelancer writer might take on. Wordsmiths are needed across all kinds of industries and for all sorts of purposes.
The writer stereotypes that spring to mind are of journalists buzzing around for the latest scoop, or novelists in quiet contemplation as they work on their magnum opus. In reality, if you want to become a freelance writer, there are all kinds of areas you can specialise in. Here are just a few things a freelance writer might do:
Most companies with a web presence have a blog. They help individuals and businesses connect with their audience in a way that shows more personality and expertise than through other channels. Having a blog helps to build relationships with readers, establish a reputation, and helps with search engine rankings.
Blog writers work to create interesting and valuable content, often to help promote or sell products and services. Usually, there’s a fair amount of research involved, as well as plenty of creativity.
Articles are often longer than blog posts, delving deeper into a particular subject and exploring a variety of viewpoints. Although longer articles will often appear on blogs, they may also appear in other digital or print mediums. Writers tend to be a little more objective when creating long-form articles.
When you’re researching how to become a freelance writer, you’ll usually see a lot of information about copywriters. These professionals use their creative flair to craft copy (written material) that compels, convinces, persuades, and ultimately achieves a purpose.
Whether it’s selling products, engaging with consumers, or promoting a service, copywriters work across a variety of forms. They write advertising text, work on brand messaging, craft website content and more. These writers work across TV, radio, print, and online.
SEO stands for search engine optimisation. Writers who create SEO content focus on helping web pages appear higher in search results on search engines such as Google. There are many factors that these search engines look for to determine where content should appear. SEO writers focus on these factors, as well as creating great content that’s compelling and worthwhile.
Many writers also work on social media content. Their focus here is drive engagement for an individual or business, creating something that will be widely shared and liked. Often, their work forms part of a larger social media marketing campaign.
Are their downsides of becoming a freelance writer?
So, we’ve looked at why you might choose to become a freelance writer and some of the projects you might find yourself working on. But what about the downsides related to this way of working? Unfortunately for most of us, freelance writing isn’t always sipping cocktails by the beach while you type out a few sentences.
Here are some of the potential downsides you might want to consider when you’re thinking about switching to being self-employed.
By this, we mean the types of things you take for granted with a full-time job. As a freelancer, you don’t get holiday pay, sick leave, maternity/paternity leave, a pension scheme or private healthcare. If you want to take time off, you’ll have to account for the fact you probably won’t earn anything during that period.
The switch to remote working can take some adjusting, particularly if you’re used to the hustle and bustle of the office. If you’re working from home, as nearly 85% of freelancers in the US do, you most likely won’t have a lot of people around you. It’s easy to feel a little isolated at such times, especially when you first start out. Remember, it’s vital that you take care of your mental health and wellbeing in these situations.
When you first become a freelance writer, you’ll likely be working for a variety of different clients. This means managing different sets of workloads, expectations, and deadlines. If you’re having an unproductive day, there’s no hiding, and you might have to keep going until the job is done. You’ll want to make sure your project management skills are up to scratch before you get started.
What skills do you need to be a writer?
If you want to become a freelance writer, there are several skills that you might find handy. These range from the hard skills that allow you to practise your craft to the soft skills that make you valuable to your clients.
Many of these will develop as you find your niche, but there are also plenty of learning opportunities to boost your skills. Below, we’ve outlined a few of the most essential ones.
Naturally, the most fundamental skill needed to become a freelance writer is your ability to write. Whether your passion is for creating fiction, poetry, or screenwriting, the principles of expression, creativity, and connecting with the audience can be brought into your professional work.
You’ll need to be able to write for different audiences, changing styles to match the subject matter and purpose. In addition, your spelling, grammar and editing skills must be top-notch. Of course, these latter skills help you pick up other types of work, such as proofreading, editing, and improving existing content and copy.
If you’re looking for some primers, our selection of writing courses is an excellent place to start. You can also check out our program on creating digital content if you’re looking to get into writing for online audiences.
Writers are expert communicators in written mediums. Yet there’s a lot more to it than just the words on the page, particularly when you’re a freelancer. Your very livelihood relies on making strong connections with your clients, as well as the audience you’re writing for.
Interpersonal skills can help you build a client base, secure ongoing work, and manage expectations. Depending on the type of work you do, you’ll also be communicating with diverse audiences. It’s worth spending the time to develop your abilities in these areas.
The freelance landscape can often be quite competitive, especially when you’re first developing your reputation. As such, effective networking is vital to securing work and generating new leads. You’ll want to make new connections, forge business relationships, and start building a presence. The better and wider your reputation, the easier it will be for you to find work.
4) Digital skills
For most freelance writers, you’ll be working in digital formats. As such, it can be hugely beneficial to have a working knowledge of a range of different mediums. As well as understanding current digital workplace trends, you should also consider improving your understanding of areas such as digital marketing, web analytics, and social media.
Not only do skills in these areas help you write for a variety of different purposes, but they also make you a more appealing prospect to potential clients.
5) Content management
It’s helpful to know what happens to your content after you write it and send it off to your client. If you’re working mainly in online mediums, understanding how your work is uploaded and managed helps you create something useful for the client. You might also want to consider learning about content design to understand how your role as a writer role fits into the creation process.
Become a freelance writer – where to start
Now let’s turn our attention to what you actually need to do to become a freelance writer. For many, the jump to self-employment seems like a daunting one, particularly if you don’t already have work lined up. However, there are plenty of steps you can take to transition into freelance work:
1) Decide what to write
It can take a while before you carve out your writing niche, but it’s definitely something you can build towards. Depending on the type of work you’re looking for, you might need to broaden your scope initially. However, it’s useful to decide the general area you want to aim for.
Do you want to specialise in blog posts, or is snappy marketing content more your thing? Is technology a subject you want to write about, or are you more interested in lifestyle topics? Once you’ve decided on what it is you want to write, you can start looking at examples, practising your craft, and looking for potential clients.
2) Create a portfolio
One of the key things you’ll need to get started as a writer is some examples of your work. You’ll want to show potential clients that you’re capable of writing for the niche they’re looking to hire in.
There are all kinds of ways you can go about creating a portfolio to show off your work. Sites such as Clippings give you the chance to organise and display some of the projects you’ve worked on in the past. You could also create your own website to display your work and the services you offer.
If you haven’t got anything in your professional portfolio just yet, don’t worry. You can start working on your own projects and publish them online. Whether it’s on your own blog or website or a platform such as LinkedIn, it demonstrates your skill as a writer, and your desire to succeed. Once you find work and have it published, make sure to add it to your portfolio.
3) Start pitching
It’s not always easy finding writing work when you first start out but don’t be discouraged if that’s the case. With a little persistence and know-how, you’ll soon pick some up. Part of the battle is knowing where to look.
There are plenty of freelance websites out there. You can set up a profile and portfolio on sites such as Upwork, Fiverr and PeoplePerHour. From there, you can start pitching for jobs that have been posted, as well as advertise your own skills.
There are other options too. Your existing professional network, as well as sites such as LinkedIn, Indeed, and others, can help you find postings for freelance writers.
When writing a pitch, you want to be concise and relevant. Provide samples of your work from a similar niche, and outline why you are the best writer for the job. You can also include your LinkedIn profile, website, and other social media links related to your writing.
4) Start networking
As you start building up your body of work, you’ll also want to expand the reach of your network. Professional networking sites are a great way to start, but there are also industry events, online communities, and other opportunities to meet people.
You can use social media platforms to promote your work, ask friends and relatives to share your links, and comment on blog posts related to the industries you want to work in. Don’t be afraid to call on friends and past colleagues to give them a heads-up about your new venture.
If your goal is to become a freelance writer, you’ve hopefully picked up on some of the basics you’ll need to get started. Going self-employed isn’t always easy, but it can be immensely rewarding in many ways.
To round things off, we’ve picked out some of the top tips for your journey into freelance writing:
As a freelancer, you’ll likely find yourself working across a range of different subject areas. As such, you’ll want to keep researching relevant topics and expanding your knowledge and understanding. Similarly, you’ll want to keep your tools of the trade up to scratch. One of our online writing courses is the ideal place to do exactly that. You can even take a course on how to learn online to maximise your efforts.
Know your worth
When you’re first starting out, you’ll find all kinds of clients and platforms that want cheap writers. These ‘content mills’ pay barely a few pounds per article, despite it often taking several hours to write them. Avoid these like the plague. Your skills and your time are more valuable than that.
You want to start by figuring out what you want your rate to be. This rate can be per article, per hour, per day, or even per word. Have a look around at what other writers are charging, and price yourself accordingly. Although you might start out lower than you’d like, you can soon build your way up once you have experience. Make sure to start budgeting to account for your new income while you’re at it.
Establishing yourself as a writer takes time. You’ll need to build up your portfolio, expand your client base, and increase your rate. But it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s really important that you set goals for your work and your career.
If you’re only going to start part-time, then maybe consider how many projects you want to take each month or how much you want to boost your income by. If it’s a more permanent move, look at targets based around your clients, contracts, and earnings. Gradually ticking off these goals can help you build your reputation and your business.
When you’re trying to become a freelance writer, it’s not always plain sailing. You might send countless pitches and not hear back. Clients might decide they don’t want to pay. Contracts could end unexpectedly. But don’t let these setbacks put you off. Learn from them, and keep trying to do what you love. Good luck!