When people leave college or university, they so often come up against the age-old problem:
“You can’t get a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without having a job.”
Luckily, for those who want to be a freelance writer, there are plenty of options to get you around that particular dilemma.
So if you’re out there, wondering how to become a freelance writer with no experience, read on for how to get started.
We’ve written before about the basic steps to starting your own freelance writing business, including becoming self-employed and registering for taxes – not the exciting bit about being a freelance writer. The good news is it doesn’t take long to do, and then you can get down to the fun stuff of actually getting your first client and building your business.
Once you get set up, it’s time to start thinking about exactly what you want. This is your business, so unlike when you work for someone else, you don’t have to slog through boring tasks that you hate, just because your boss has told you to do them. You ARE the boss! And that’s the attraction for so many people – you get to choose.
To niche or not to niche?
If you search for that question, you’ll find a host of conflicting opinions from freelancers who are utterly convinced that having a niche is a must and from those who love to generalise and find that strategy works for them.
And in the end, that’s what it comes down to – what works for you?
You can earn more with some niches (finance, technical writing, legal, medical, etc) and it is easier to market yourself as the ‘go-to specialist in X topic’, but being a generalist gives you a lot of variety. One day you could be writing about hypnotherapy, for example, then the next about digital marketing for engineering companies, and the next about hotels in The Seychelles.
If you don’t have a particular preference for any subjects right away, try writing in a variety of different fields until you find what you like and then niche from there if you want to.
Writing for an agency, like Copify, is a great way to get good experience and find out what you enjoy by trying different topics and types of writing, and working with different clients.
What do you want?
This is your business and you can shape it however you want, so don’t think traditionally and assume you need a ton of money to get started and that you need to rent an office and pay a receptionist from the beginning. You don’t have to do that straightaway, or even at all if you don’t want to.
Work out what suits you. When do you want to work? How many hours a week? Do you need to finish by 3pm so you can pick up the kids, or are you more of a night owl, working best until the late hours?
Where do you want to work and what are the right surroundings for you? You might find you work better in total silence at home, or that having music on helps the words flow. Working in a coffee shop or a co-working space might suit because then you get some background noise and personal interaction.
And here’s a really big decision – what kind of clients do you want to work with? Not every client is your ideal client. Some will give you free reign as long as you include a particular keyword, and some will pick over every sentence you write with a fine toothcomb. Some will pay you quickly and give you amazing feedback and some you will have to drag money out of.
Here’s the thing. Don’t think you have to live with bad clients, because you don’t. If a client doesn’t treat you well, you can simply decide that you won’t work for them any more and move on to a better one.
All of the questions above are individual so we can’t answer them for you, but when you have your ideas together, then you’re ready to work out your pricing and put together your copywriting contract.
What on earth do I charge?
Again, we’ve covered this in our article on getting started as a freelance writer, but basically, you need to work out how many hours you want to do, and then work out how much you need to live, including paying taxes, National Insurance, and having enough to cover holidays and sickness.
Then you get to decide how much you WANT to make.
After that, it’s a case of doing some sums using Brennan Dunne’s handy calculator to figure out how much you need to earn per hour to achieve that.
Two things on pricing
1. You do NOT have to ‘pay your dues’ by writing for less than a penny a word. There is no law in place that says you have to do that at all. If you can go out there with confidence, knowing that you offer value to your clients and can show them samples to prove it, then there’s nothing to stop you charging what you want straight out of the gate.
2. It’s better if you don’t price per hour, but rather per project, because you will get the odd client who will try to beat you down on how long they think writing their copy should take, and also because the more you write, the faster you’ll get, and you don’t want to be in a position where you are penalised for writing fast. Think of the value and the skills you are providing, and charge for that, bearing in mind your minimum hourly rate only as a starting point.
Setting up your copywriting contract
Get a freelance contract sorted and a statement of work, and use it with every client. Yes, even that little one that only wants a 300-word blog post. Why? You need to have a copywriting contact because it protects both you and the client if something goes wrong.
Take a look at our post, where we walk you through how to create a copywriting contract and give you some resources to help you.
Your writer website and that whole ‘lack of experience’ thing
This is where we hit the problem that you don’t have any experience yet, so you can’t talk about your previous clients or show off a polished portfolio. Still, here’s some excellent advice from Carol Tice at Make a Living Writing to get you started with what to put on your new writer website. Carol also has an article with samples of writer websites that convert and get clients so you can get some inspiration.
Carol Tice does advise not to make up some writing samples for your site, but you may want to start a blog instead as you can show off your writing skills there.
For further ‘clips’ as they’re known, do you have anything you can use from previous employment? If your old employer will let you use it, anything you’ve written in terms of ‘how to’ guides, training manuals or posts on their intranet could be used as a writing sample.
Or you could approach your favourite charity and offer to do some writing for them for free, in exchange for using the results in your portfolio.
And when you’re ready to build your portfolio, our post has some advice on how to do that.
Where to find jobs and get that all-important experience
We’ve already talked about Copify, where you can try out a variety of different writing jobs and see what suits you. You’ll get a lot of experience from writing for so many different clients, learn to read client briefs and understand what information you need to do a job, and you could even get some great testimonials from clients that you can then post on your new website for social proof.
There are also some really good job sites out there for freelancers, where prospective clients have to pay to post a job. This tends to weed out the scammers and untrustworthy people who are keen to rip off freelancers.
Here are just a few of the job boards you might use:
- ProBlogger Jobs
- BloggingPro Job Board
- Media Bistro
- Journalism Jobs
When you apply, read the brief carefully and do what the client asks. So many people don’t that it will put you ahead of the pack. Then make it clear why you’re the best person for the job.
Want some more advice? Check out our blog post on how to find freelance writing jobs in 3 easy steps.
Growing your business
As you get more experience, change up your clips in your portfolio to better and better ones that really show off the range of what you can do. And keep adding client testimonials to your site as you get them.
Aim to keep attracting better-paying clients and keep raising your rates over time. Don’t be afraid to let go of clients who can no longer afford your new rates. You’re not a charity!
Think about how you can package your offerings to add more value so that you can charge higher prices. Instead of selling one-off blog posts, try this instead:
Offer 3 separate packages where clients sign up for the long term. Package 1 might have 4 blogs per month, package 2 could have 4 blogs per month, with 4 social media posts done for each blog, and package 3 could have 4 blogs per month, 4 social media posts for each blog, with images provided and the HTML done so clients can just paste straight into WordPress and then share without having to do any more work.
Price it carefully so you don’t find yourself doing too much work for less money overall, and you should find you’ll get a steadier income that you can rely on, and you won’t have to keep marketing over and over again.
Keep learning, and think about other skills you can add so you can provide more value and other services to clients, which will, in turn, add more to your bottom line. Think SEO, technical writing, WordPress, social media management, etc.
You’ll eventually get into a routine that works for you, where you’ve planned time to market yourself, do the writing and think about how you’re going to grow your business, and you’ll hopefully find you enjoy this crazy, varied, and fun freelancing life.