I am often asked how to become a freelance writer. Some people will ask directly, but most will say, “I wish I was a freelance writer” or “I’ve always dreamed of becoming a writer” in a fashion that implies they’re hoping I’ll reveal a big secret.
Freelance writing is not a mysterious venture, it’s a business move and like other entrepreneurial efforts, it needs to be taken seriously.
Here are the basics one needs to start a freelance writing career.
It’s a Business, Not a Hobby
The most important element when starting a freelance-writing business is talent. If you aren’t a talented writer, no one will hire you, yet this particular element is often ignored by wannabe writers. Literary agents prefer you have a master of fine arts or it’s best not to mention your education at all. Magazines, newspapers and small business owners generally will settle for a bachelor degree in English, journalism or communications. Don’t have a degree? Take some writing and grammar classes and practice your craft every day until you’re comfortable enough to sell your work.
Next you’ll need to build a portfolio of work that has your byline. Writing for your own blog is good for practicing and improving your writing skills, but writing for other people shows you’re hirable. When starting out, you may have to take low paying or free positions for the sake of building your portfolio. Keep clips of print publications, and display your web publications online. I use Contently for my online portfolio. It contains only my bylined articles. If I included ghostwriting along with my eBook, the number of articles would triple. If I included print articles, it would quadruple.
Freelance writing is a business, not a hobby and needs to be treated as such. You need to be mature and responsible enough to handle self-employment income tax, business bank accounts and, if you’re operating under anything other than your name, employee identification numbers and doing business as (DBA).
Finally, you need to be motivated. Starting any business is a long process. You’ll face a lot of dead ends and rejection as well as long hours and weeks without pay before you begin to feel successful. Some people aren’t strong enough to handle that. They need to have a boss to motivate them, and they feel uncomfortable dealing with customer service.
Establishing an Online Presence
If you have time, talent, experience and a desire to be self employed, the next step is to establish an online presence.
At minimum, you’ll need:
- A complete, edited LinkedIn profile.
- A website that lists your biography, services and a contact form. At this stage, a free website through Wix or Weebly might be best, but you’ll eventually want to upgrade to your own URL.
- A portfolio.
Potential clients will ask for links to the above.
You also want to control what people see when they Google you, so clean up your personal Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, etc., accounts, changing privacy settings as necessary and removing anything that could harm your professional image.
You may also want to set up the following:
- An email address dedicated to business. If you’re nervous about your email address being published online, connect it to a service such as vCita. This also will cut down on your spam messages.
- Set up a Google Voice number as your business phone number. This way you don’t need to give out your personal phone number. Only want to take calls during specific business hours or days? Use a tool such as ScheduleOnce.
Once you have prepared yourself to enter the business world, the hard work begins. There is no magic formula for getting clients, but you can try the following:
- Job bidding sites.
- Responding to job ads.
- Networking events.
- Cold calling businesses.
- Asking for referrals.
- Querying magazines.
- Using your imagination to find a creative way.
If it’s your dream to become a freelance writer, then you need to follow your dream. It’ll be the most difficult and the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done in your life, but it’s worth it.
Have you ever started a business? What was your experience?
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