You may have carried a notebook around with you for years, mentally rewrite others’ articles while you’re scouring the internet, and even have a running top-ten list of advertising jingles in your head. That’s all well and good, but if you’ve set your sights on writing for a living, you need to know how to become a freelance writer.
Freelancing is becoming increasingly popular, with 790,000 freelance workers in the professional and technical services alone in Britain. That’s a field that includes writers, who are thought to benefit from 18% of the total online freelancing jobs.
Whatever you may have thought about the chances of becoming a freelance writer in the past, the truth is that the internet has broken down a lot of the old barriers such as geography and education. That means you can be writing from the UK while your client is on the other side of the world. Or you may decide to become a freelance writer in later life, after a career break, or despite having studied something completely different.
Let’s take a look at how you can begin your dream writing career.
Decide what you want to write
The first step to becoming a freelance writer is knowing what kind of writing you want to do. There are several forms of freelance writer:
• Copywriter/web content writer
• Article/features writer
• News writer/journalist
It can help to define your voice if you have a particular specialist area: perhaps related to your degree studies, a line of work you’re familiar with, or a specific interest or hobby. This will help you narrow down lines of work and potentially secure yourself better rates of pay. However, it is by no means a necessity.
Set a goal
Key to being a successful freelance writer is knowing what you want to achieve. Being as specific as possible helps you visualise, work towards and realise that dream. However, keep it realistic. Start by making a list of publications you’d like to write for and set progressive targets for each quarter.
This is something you should be doing from scratch. Practice makes perfect as the old saying goes, and the more you write the more convincing your voice will be.
Make sure you have a blog and update it frequently. Jayson DeMers suggests “if blogging is a core part of your strategy, you should be publishing a new post at least once or twice a week, but more often if your industry, competition, or goals pressure you to do so.”
Set a schedule so that you don’t find excuses not to write. If you update this every few months and make a concerted effort to write one months’ worth of posts in one weekend, it’ll be more manageable and you will be less likely to quit.
Danielle Corcione writes in The Write Life about how she uses Trello to manage her writing goals, jobs and pitches. HubSpot also has advice on how to plan your content marketing, but a simple Excel spreadsheet can do the trick just as well for organising your editorial calendar.
Set up a website
It doesn’t have to be all-singing, all-dancing, but having a web presence is crucial to marketing yourself as a professional that clients should take seriously. You need a contact page, an about page, a testimonials page and, of course, your blog.
You can get started on WordPress or Wix for free, though you will look much more professional to clients if you shell out for a personalised domain and email address. Make sure you have your social media profiles linked to your website as well as sharing buttons on all your pages and content.
Familiarising yourself with SEO isn’t just a good way of getting found online, it’ll also help you in your freelance writing career, especially if you go into copywriting.
Keep a swipe file
Excellent grammar and a natural flair for writing in a compelling way are key attributes to become a successful freelance. If you’re still unsure how you’d approach a job, keep a swipe file.
Enchanting Marketing defines a swipe file as “a collection of writing examples. These examples can be anything from headlines to blog post openings, and from sales emails to landing pages. Pro writers use swipe files to inspire their content and improve their skills.”
Keep your eyes and ears open to any content that elicits a response from you (whether good or bad) and be sure to file it away for future reference. If you’re still wondering what to do with it, Copyblogger has some excellent tips on how to use a swipe file effectively.
Take a course
Whether it’s a journalism course at your local college or university, or an online introduction to blogging – a writing course can give you the basics you need to complement your writing talent and potentially even become accredited (in the case of journalism) in whatever area you wish to become a freelance writer.
We’ve blogged before about studying a copywriting course as a great way to give you direction, insight and experience, as well as hone your writing skills. You’ll get into the habit of writing regularly, will pick up tips and techniques, learn where to find clients, plus when you pass you’ll get a diploma to put on your CV.
Get some experience
Experience is the foundation on which you will you build your freelance writing career. A copywriting course can give you a good introduction to writing different kinds of copy, but you won’t know how effective your words are until you put them in front of a real paying client (and their audience).
Getting experience can come in many different forms. First and foremost your blog will prove your skills at blogging in general, but here are some other ways to get real, tangible writing experience:
• Sign up to jobs boards
• Scan employment sites and social media for project work and job vacancies
• Join a content marketing agency
• Pitch work and guest posts to established titles (newspapers/magazines, websites, other industry blogs)
• Approach local or niche-interest community groups and businesses to see if they could do with regular blog posts, editorial/newsletter/magazine articles or need their web content rewriting.
Learn how to pitch
When you pitch ideas you need to make sure you get your point across in as professional, succinct and engaging a way as possible. Each publication may offer its own guidance on pitching, so always check the website first. The Write Life has tips on pitching for long-form journalism and copywriting.
You’ll need to pay attention to the style of content they produce and make sure your pitch is in line with this. As a rough guide, your pitch should contain:
• An engaging headline
• A question which your article seeks to answer (and some idea of what you expect to uncover)
• Why this is important
• Prospective sources
Be open to communication
Whether you’re connecting with potential clients through social media, online forums, in person at local business networking events or you receive inbound requests, be contactable. As a freelancer, you’ll need to show your prospective client you can make things easy for them. This could include Skype, telephone, email, a contact form on your website, and professional networking services like LinkedIn.
Create a portfolio
Even if you have no published works, it’s important to have an attractive and professional-looking portfolio with a link from your social media profiles and website. It’s the shop front to your freelancing business.
While you’re still waiting to get clients, write samples of different kinds of content to showcase your skills. When you have new work published, ensure you add it to your portfolio as soon as possible (if you’ve produced a piece of content for a client, you may need approval from them first). We have more advice in our post on how to create a killer copywriting portfolio.
Don’t neglect the practical aspects
When you embark on a freelancing career, you’re technically going self-employed. Therefore, there are some additional matters you’ll need to prepare for:
• Register for self-assessment with HMRC and keep records of your incomings and outgoings.
• Take out insurance should the worst happen.
• Be prepared to budget while you are building up your brand. Keep a log of your income and don’t overcommit. For a while, you may need to juggle freelancing with regular paid work but keep your spirits up and your goal in mind and it will be worth it in the end!
Become a freelance writer today
You can become a freelance writer in next to no time with Copify. Simply fill out an application and be on your way to accessing paid writing jobs from a range of clients. You’ll gain the writing experience and confidence you need to kick-start your freelance writing career and have a new world of flexibility and freedom doing what you love at your fingertips!