How to Be a Full-Time Freelance Writer
Many people have a lot of misconceptions about freelance writing. Some believe that writing full time is not a “real” job. Others believe that it is too hard to get established and there is no real money in it.
I've heard all sorts of misconceptions since dedicating myself to freelancing full time. I'd like to clear a few of these up and then I'll explain how I set about the process of becoming a full-time writer.
Chances are, it's not as glamorous as some make it sound, but it's not impossible or a "pipe dream" either. Writing is everywhere—everyplace you look there are words, from signs to menus to junk mail—someone wrote them. Writing can be very lucrative when you cut through the myths and learn the truth.
Facts and Tips for Freelance Writers
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 the average median salary of a writer/author was $55,420 per year. Not bad! This of course covers all types of writers in general. There are many specialties that will pay much higher. Ghostwriting tends to pay very well as does technical writing. $55,000 a year is very doable if you have diverse skills within a great niche or two.
- Between 2000 and 2006 the demand for freelance writers grew by 300% and it is still steadily rising. This is the information age and writing (well) is where it's at.
- Freelance writing is largely recession-proof. There is enough demand that you can always find new customers.
- There are many great free tools for writers and freelancers of all kinds.
- You don't have to be rich to start a freelance writing business. It costs very little to get started. Web hosting fees and web design services for your portfolio, a computer, an external hard drive (backups and portability) or cloud storage if you're so inclined. You'll also want a decent printer, some business cards and some money for your Elance or freelance site fees and you're ready to roll.
- Writers are notoriously helpful people. We love to share and communicate—we're writers for a reason after all! Many forums and sites can help support you, and that's important because writing can be very isolating and lonely!
Misconceptions About Freelance Writing
1. There Is No Money in it
This is only as true as you allow it to be. If you are a "so-so" writer with no motivation to excel, or you lack confidence and will allow yourself to be paid peanuts for your work, then this might be the case. I know this probably sounds harsh and judgmental, but frankly it's one of my biggest pet peeves.
Writers who are very good have this misconception that to “get started” they have to accept jobs for little to no pay. This is a myth that many content farms and unscrupulous companies are happy to indulge—and unfortunately, there are too many writers out there who will accept peanuts and be thrilled about it.
My first paid job was for $500, for a magazine, and they came to me! Why? They saw writing I had done on a website and loved it. Granted, this doesn't happen to everyone, but it does bring home the point that you don't have to grovel for pennies.
When you devalue yourself it irks me. Why? Because it devalues professional writing for all of us. Fortunately, there are still ways around this and most good clients know that content farm writing is not the highest quality.
They will pay generously for high-quality content in their niches. Good clients are out there; you just have to know where to find them. Remember, Google has cracked down on the junk "writing" that was passing for web content. People are scrambling now to find excellent writers who can deliver an on-point message that people want to read.
2. You Don't Need Any Real Skills to Be a Writer
This is nonsense. Sure, anyone can slap on the title “writer,” and many do, but that doesn't make it true. Professional writers are always learning, always growing and always expanding their craft. They spend years developing and honing their skills, and no matter how experienced they become; they always learn more.
Those with few skills and limited experience tend to grow frustrated. Perhaps they believe that writing is “easy” to break into. It is, if you are willing to work for less than slave wages, but lucrative freelancing takes time and experience.
3. Writing Is a Hobby, Not a Real Job
I work harder as a writer than I ever did at my office job. Why? Because writing isn't my only job. I also have to market myself, pitch ideas, do the books, build the portfolio, find and maintain my client base and handle all the elements of customer service. Full-time freelance writing is a BUSINESS, not a hobby. If you think you'll spend 90% of your time writing, think again—it's more like 60 - 70%.
If you believe that a freelance writing job is ideal because of flexibility and the fact you enjoy writing, you might be in for a rude awakening at some point. I have clients in other parts of the world who contact me at odd hours. I do have some flexibility, yes, but the work still has to get done. At first, I had to deal with family members interrupting me or expecting me to drop everything, which is not possible if you want to keep your quality up. Others don't tend to understand that home office still equals work.
Every Writer Needs This Guide
How to Start Developing Your Freelance Writing Career
Most importantly, you have to really enjoy writing. If you just kind of enjoy it, or think it would be an easy way to make some money, you aren't going to succeed with it as a business. Sorry to be blunt, but it's true. It takes a lot of dedication and a thick skin to handle rejection, unsteady paychecks, and revisions.
Secondly, you have to be willing to learn and you have to be very motivated and disciplined to succeed. Nothing will lose clients faster than missed deadlines. If you are not organized, you need to tackle that situation first.
Develop Your Portfolio
More important than anything else, your portfolio is what defines you to clients. Your portfolio should have samples of your work and links to places you are published, and it should be updated regularly. You can also use sites like HubPages for clips or samples. I regularly use my collection of HubPages articles to show clients my writing style.
I add a few pieces I've written for others, to give potential buyers a good idea of the range of “voices” I can use. HubPages has landed me many new clients. The layouts here are beautiful. You can really make writing shine.
You also need to have your own domain. My domain has an HP widget on it that lists my latest hubs. It's convenient because clients visiting my website can see quickly what I've been up to.
Develop Your Niche(s)
If you are an expert in a certain subject, or if you have other skills, use that to your advantage. Write hubs or articles around a couple of niche areas and target yourself to those markets. I target myself to the metaphysical and natural health genres. I am very well-versed in them, enjoy the subject matter and it makes assignments for clients so much easier.
They appreciate a writer with expertise who understands their needs, and I appreciate not writing about random widgets when I'd rather focus on topics that interest me. Most of my hubs here and several of my own websites and blogs are centered around my two niche genres, giving me an abundance of material to share with prospective clients.
Sign Up for Freelancing Sites
My favorite freelancing site used to be Elance (which has changed, and is now "upwork" along with ODesk). Yes, there were several writing jobs on Elance that offered a pittance on Elance, but there were many clients there that were willing to pay a fair price for good work. When you bid on a job at a place like this, be sure your proposal is highly personalized and that you are pitching your strengths. Avoid fluff and filler; the person doing the hiring is sifting through a lot of competition. Be succinct and direct, and explain why you're the best person to do the job.
I landed my first gig on Elance the day after I signed up. I got the job by having excellent samples and by targeting my proposal specifically to him. I did a spectacular job and he immediately left me 5-star feedback. This led others to give me a shot and now I have many, regular clients both on Elance and off. Word of mouth is also your friend. You'll find once you have a few clients that love you, they'll pass on your name to others.
Practice and Expand Your Skills
Stick to your niches, but expand your skills in them. For example, I regularly write press releases, product descriptions, squeeze pages, eBooks, and white papers in addition to blog posts and web content. I routinely look for ways to expand my skills and that allows me to find more clients in my niche topic areas.
The next steps are a lot of trial and error as you work to get your own groove. You'll find the time management and organization techniques that work for you. Chances are these will continuously change. The biggest thing is to have a private workspace, free from distractions. It is a business; you have to treat it like one to be successful.
Once you are established, though, it can be a great career. I love what I do. It has its stresses. Deadlines stress me out, but they are unfortunately a part of the deal. Some months I have more work than I can handle and it impinges on my family time.
There are also a lot of benefits. The perks are flexibility, doing something I enjoy, and being able to pick and choose who I work with. I can work at odd hours, in my everyday clothes, and there's no commute and no dealing with obnoxious co-workers. So, like everything else in life, it has its pros and cons.
© 2013 Christin Sander