If you love writing and feel like you have lots to say, becoming a freelance writer may be the perfect career choice. You have the flexibility to be your own boss, work from home and cover the topics that interest you the most. It’s a great way of working, but also challenging too. Getting going can be tricky and is often where the greatest stumbling blocks lie. So here’s how to get started as a freelance writer…
1. Know your area of interest
As Carol Tice writes for MakeALivingWriting.com, “Some writers have a passion for ecological justice, while others love to write about celebrities, fly-fishing, or politics. Start by identifying your interest areas. Don’t limit yourself to one — try to list at least a half-dozen.”
Although you will naturally have a few key areas you love writing about, the problem with being too niche is that you may struggle to get published. To make a career as a freelance writer, you need to be writing on a frequent basis and only covering one or two areas will limit how much there is to be said.
2. Become an expert
If you have a particular area of expertise, this can be really handy. You’ll be able to become known as an expert and, eventually, publications will start to turn to you when they need commentary on a particular subject. It can really help to set out your beliefs and viewpoint so people know what to expect from you and can identify you as a reliable source of writing.
Allena Tapia, writing for The Balance, agrees:
“The first thing to do is hone in on your expertise. If, for instance, you have experience as a technical writer and previously worked in-house for an IT company (or were a staff writer for an IT publication), you would explore your options by joining an industry association such as the Society for Technical Communication.”
If you find you like writing about topics more broadly, you will probably enjoy writing for Copify, where subject matters vary daily.
3. Find your favourite style of writing
Closely linked with knowing your area of interest is also knowing the way you like to write. Are you stronger at features, reviews, news articles, case studies, blogs, opinion editorials, factual reports? This can have an influence on the topics you cover and the way you write about them. It will also impact how you pitch the pieces that you want to write.
4. Identify which publications are right for you
Once you know what you want to write about, make a list of which publications suit your style of writing and the topics you want to cover.
Look at what they have previously written about to ensure you won’t be duplicating anything, and get a feel for the types of people writing for them. Read their pieces to see if your style matches with their style, and identify what their role is in the publication. Are there a lot of freelance writers or is a lot of it handled in-house?
Google the writers to see where else they write and what their background is. You may also be able to follow them on social media and find their contact details. This can help you strike up a friendly conversation where you introduce yourself and your areas of expertise.
5. Do your research
As Elna Cain writes on her website,
“When I first started I did a lot of research. I found other freelance writers, read their blogs and looked at their writer website and learned as much as I could about this business.”
She goes on to say that she would even message writers to ask questions about setting her rates. The inspiring thing is that being a freelance writer is like joining a community, and you’ll always find there are those who are willing to give you the time of day.
6. Start networking
Whether you do it through social media, e-mails or physical events, networking with other writers and editors is a great way of getting your name out there and starting to learn more about what it takes to become a freelance writer. You may even hear about potential jobs through writer contacts, so it really pays to start integrating yourself into this community.
As well as career opportunities, networking will help build your confidence and introduce you to new people that may well become friends and allies during the tough writing periods. It always helps to have a friendly ear who knows exactly what you’re going through.
7. Create a portfolio
“Most job ads you’ll apply for will ask to see your work. They want to see samples of published work. If you’re new, you won’t have any published work – unless you already have a blog. So, how do you show prospects you can actually write?” says Elna Cain.
It’s not as simple as just starting a blog and writing once every few months. You need to prioritise your own self-promotion just as you would that of a client. What’s more, you need to create some samples of work which you upload to your website or online portfolio as a Word, Google doc or PDF.
As Cain points out, you can even publish them on Medium or offer them as a guest post to another site. Ultimately, by getting posted on other people’s blogs, it gives you a link to show your prospects and proves your writing is of a good enough standard to be published.
Allena Tapia gives a good overview of what to expect when you start out in freelancing when she says,
“Even if you have to do an internship, work for peanuts, or do volunteer work, the first step to getting hired is having an example (or clip) to show employers. And, the more clips the better. It doesn’t matter how recent they are. What matters is how well-written they are and that they show your writing style and diversity.”
She continues, “You can’t put together a resume without an example. Just like there’s no reason to have a website or blog touting your services if you don’t have an example of those services. No matter how stellar sounding your resume, or what kind of freelance writing you want, your number one step is having a good clip (or two).”
8. Start pitching your ideas
Before you succeed, chances are you will fail many times. This may knock your confidence but you will get there eventually. It just takes a lot of time, effort and consistency. Carol Tice agrees:
“If you don’t get a response, move on to your next best bet. Writers want to hear that there’s one easy, simple, magical, best way to quickly launch their careers, but in fact, every writer is different. It’s trial and error. So get out there and start trying.”
Make sure that each pitch is well thought out, details your angle and anyone you’ll be interviewing as part of the piece, why you think it is relevant and the proposed word count. It is also key to make it personal to the publication you’re pitching to, so show them why it’s right for them most importantly.