This post is aimed specifically at those who wish to start freelance writing or indeed those who have already done so but may not have considered the diverse considerations required to succeed in this area. I’ll briefly cover the main ones but the list is not exhaustive.
Is Writing a Business?
In my mind it has to be. The only exception to this applies to those fortunate enough to write only for the pleasure of writing. These lucky bastards are not tied to deadlines and can write on any topic they choose. In some ways, I AM jealous of this freedom, having aspirations in creative writing that have so far remained elusive.
If you’re not writing to generate necessary income, then, like it or not, you’re more than likely a hobbyist with another primary income. You’re happy to provide guest posts, update a personal blog if and when you decide to do so or (cringing as I write this) involved in microtasks, crowdsourced projects or content mills where a pittance is your reward.
For those like me, who depend on an income from writing, your approach must always be professional, as you’re ultimately providing a business service, whether your clients desire marketing copy, opinion pieces or interview-based stories.
I’ll outline my story a little, perhaps there are some pointers that will help others. I won’t call it my path to success but bear in mind that in the early stages (from 2009) I did spend long hours at low rates performing tasks such as content mill writing, editing (editing those with English as a second language is awful) and now can claim rates up to $2 per word for my musings.
How many of you can claim they worked all day and night without a break to earn less than $100? I did but won’t now. Life’s too short to waste on those who don’t value your work.
I formed a consultancy (henceforth known as my business site) in 2009, happily coinciding with a global recession. I found it difficult but not impossible to obtain work related to my professional experience in process, quality and electronic engineering. Suffice to say, my savings were draining rapidly. I found myself in China/Hong Kong, married the year before, with a baby on the way and little that you could call a reliable income.
Something needed to be done and since I always enjoyed writing, it seemed the obvious choice. Despite a long professional career, I had little in the way of an online presence and certainly no portfolio to speak of to obtain quality work.
Luckily, all was not lost as most of the work I’d completed to start my company allowed me to make a swift career change and it’s my personal opinion that at this point, a portfolio was far more important than generating legions of followers. If you can do both, great, but I spent most of my time progressing from low-paid ‘optimized for SEO’ drivel to the journalistic stories I work on today.
The Easy Path?
Knowing what I know now, I can freely admit I made my share of mistakes and this post has the enviable aim of trying to ensure you don’t repeat them. What do you need when starting out a paid freelancer? I’ll touch on each item in detail in future posts as this one is already long enough.
There is no easy path and a lot of online scams to ensnare unaware victims. Never pay for leads and avoid courses claiming to train you in a specific area, unless from a reputable site. Writing success comes from hard work and long hours. There is no other way. However, some introductory pointers can smooth the transition. These include but are not limited to:
A portfolio or body of work that demonstrates your abilities—I had plenty to refer to but all belonged to previous employers. Even if just a handful of credits, every freelancer needs some tangible evidence of writer expertise. I dived blindly into mill work, joining several to ensure regular work and motivated solely by financial requirements. It was a mistake. I’d have been better served writing on a personal blog or submitting to unpaid publications with a good reputation. My niche is business and technology and I should have focused only on this area. Today, all of this earlier grunt work is not even listed on my portfolio. Live and learn.
A website—hosting is reasonably cheap and I believe it’s best to have your own domain. It looks better than a free blog on WordPress, Blogger or other.
A company—not essential but I’d already set one up so it would have been foolish not to use it. Many clients prefer to deal with a business entity.
IT—as a former IT pro, I was also covered here. Reliable broadband, a laptop or PC with your chosen software and some office furniture are all that’s needed. Ensure a backup solution is in place and not to the cloud as these public services are routinely hacked. For writing, even a memory stick will suffice.
Communication—Skype and email are all that I’ve ever needed. Again, an email linked to your name and domain is best firstname.lastname@example.org will not create a professional impression.
Payment—You need your client to pay you and for freelancers, and any other business, security of client data and billing information is essential. Avoid regulatory worries (such as PCI-DSS) by never storing that data. Use PayPal, Stripe or other payment gateways to process payments. Let the global companies and financial institutions (when direct bank transfer is involved) handle the headaches of secure financial data management.
Organization—With process management one of my skills, I fully understand that everything needs a process. As your client base grows, you’ll need to keep track of pitches, briefs, inquiries, published works, payments and much more. Being organized is not just recommended, it is essential to success. In a connected world, clients expect prompt replies and a failure to do so due to poor organizational skills will cost you clients and money.
A thick skin—Rejections are common but it’s not personal and we must persevere. Even existing clients reject pitches on a regular basis.
In conclusion, I firmly believe that freelance writers classify as entrepreneurs, with many performing all the activities of a larger company, without help from others. The ability to juggle assignments with content marketing, social media, research, pitching and multiple time zones makes us more versatile than office-bound counterparts in roles focusing on a single task and I think we’re better for it, adapting as technology evolves. Future posts will delve into the specifics of setting up a freelance writing service, tips on productivity, finding job leads, existing markets, product and service recommendations and any other areas of interest to content marketers, writers and journalists.
Thanks for reading. You’re very welcome to suggest topics for future posts in the comments or to contact me directly.