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I Made It as a Freelance Writer, And So Can You

So you want to write and get paid?

People have been quitting their 8-5 jobs left and right, diving into freelancing. If you know how to write (and you love doing it), then writing for a living would be a good idea.

As for me, my journey to becoming a freelance writer is somewhat unexpected. I studied a different field, walked a different career path, accidentally stumbled on freelancing as a side gig. Heck, the only thing I got commended for my writing was when my English high school teacher lauded my “Parting is Such a Sweet Sorrow” essay. And college writing was a different deal too, with my writing professor back then constantly telling me to always resort to Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

For events I have no total control, here I am now writing for a living. I’ve only been doing this for five years or less. Thanks to persistent hustling, a tolerance for rejection, practice and continuous learning, I’ve managed to turn a writing side gig to a full-time job.

Believe me. If I made it, you could do it as well. It pays though to reflect on some things first if you want to succeed and persist as a freelance writer.

Decide first.

Now, if you want to write, you have to decide on a few things first.

“Is freelance writing for me?”

Like any freelancer, freelance writers look like they are living the good life. They have control over their time. There’s no need to rush to work on Monday mornings. They answer to no boss (most of the time). They can even work on-the-go or wherever they are. To a certain degree, such facts are accurate.

However, being a freelance writer doesn’t mean you have to abandon a working structure that’s often associated (albeit negatively) with corporate jobs. Successful freelancers are disciplined themselves—they allocate a specific time within the day for work, and they have this uncanny ability to ignore distractions and temptations at home.
Not to mention that, with writing, you have to write every-single-day; you may be required a daily word quota. Note too that writing is a creative process; you may need a bit of inspiration to kickstart the day. (So have some luck dealing with writer’s block and procrastination.)

If you want to check if you can do writing as a career instead of just a passion project, try writing 500-word articles every day, and see if you will enjoy the writing load on a daily basis.

“Should I write part-time or full-time?”

You don’t have to do freelance writing as a full-time job. I started part-time writing while I was still on a corporate job in the manufacturing industry. I was lucky though to get a writing gig that falls within my scope of interest: tennis. This went on for roughly two years before I stopped the side-hustling due to the demands of my regular job. After four years, I re-picked freelance writing, this time as my sole job which I still do at home.

For everything we do, it is vital that we all know how much time we can allocate to an activity. If you can’t do full-time writing as of the moment, you can start with small projects then gradually make the transition. Situations may vary, but I suggest that you have saved some fund to last for months or you got other income sources before you make the plunge.

“Should I focus on one niche?”

This one is a gray area. If you’re just starting, you may have not that much choice but be a generalist.

But we write best when we know the topic. Being a new writer shouldn’t stop you from specializing in a niche right from the very start. Whether you specialize in finance, technology, health, SEO, or copywriting, as long as there is a market for your chosen niche, there will always be an opportunity. Remember: the best-paying writing assignments are those being done by subject matter experts.

Moreover, if you studied a college major, have a particular interest, or you are passionate about something, then show to your clients that you’re knowledgeable about those subjects. This way, you’ll be able to dictate your rates.

Build an online portfolio.

When you apply for writing jobs, you have to convince the client that you can do the job. Oftentimes, your CV and cover letter won’t be enough. You may be even asked to undergo a trial first. Here’s the caveat: the sample article may be free or paid. (Good for you if it’s the latter.)

I don’t blame client requiring this. If you’re the client, you know it will be hard to buy something if you don’t see what you’ll be getting. This is where having a portfolio comes handy. By showing them examples of your previous work, you can show would-be clients that you can write.

You can make an online portfolio through the following manners.

Make a blog

Make a free one on WordPress, Blogger, or Medium. Write your sample articles in advance then publish it there. When applying, you can give links to your clients, showing them your writing style or specialization.

Do guest posting

Another popular way to make samples is through guest posting. Look for blogs or online platforms that accept guest writers. If you get posted here, you’ll now have a link to show your prospective clients that your writing is good enough to be published.

Save samples of your published work

Sometimes, websites will go down, and links may be broken in the future. As an alternative, you can save your published works as a PDF attachment, HTML file, or something. Every time you apply for a job, you can send those files to your prospective clients. That is if you’re not forbidden by a previous client to use these published works as part of your portfolio.

Send samples from your online storage

Your sample works need not be published online. You can prepare samples, save them on Google Drive or Dropbox, and send the link along with your CV and cover letter. This is one tactic I personally do.

Hustle

It’s now time to look for jobs actively and get those clients.

If you’re new to freelance writing, you may have some hard time pitching your services, but it’s not impossible. That’s why, apart from your CV and cover letter, you must have a ready portfolio. If you’re an experienced writer, you already know the “ins” and “outs” of hustling. But if you’re lax, you may lose potential jobs to new writers who are more prepared.

Apply on freelancing marketplaces

I found my first opportunities on oDesk (now Upwork), and that was 7-8 years ago when the competition isn’t that stiff. When I restarted freelancing three years ago, I accepted writing jobs for content mills just to kickstart working. These are platforms which provide cheap content, and they have bulk writing orders. While they’re good for testing your skills and if you somewhat need a steady payment, in the long run, working for them may get tiring.

So I started looking for good prospects. You can find some on Upwork, Onlinejobs, and Craigslist, but you’ll be competing with other writers. Still, these platforms are a good way to go.

You can also explore job boards dedicated to writers (like ProBlogger) or be part of a writing agency.

Establish your social media presence

This is mainly for networking. Sign up for a LinkedIn account, and connect with writers, groups, or businesses you would want to write for. In Facebook and Reddit, you can also find dedicated communities for writers and network for jobs.

Guest post

I already mentioned guest posting as a way to build your portfolio. However, it’s more than that—it’s also a means to get your name out there. When you guest post, you’ll be provided an author’s bio where you can put links to your portfolio, blog, website, or social media accounts.

Write good cover letters

When we submit our applications, we all hope that we get noticed, right?

Here’s the reality: clients usually receive multiple applications, and they will spend less than a minute to peruse yours. You have to make your pitch stand out! Apart from having an online portfolio, you also have to master the art of writing cover letters. Use AIDA, ROPE, or whatever techniques you’ve been taught. But pay attention to these elements:

  • Subject line. If the ad says to use certain keywords in the subject line, do not ignore that. If there are no instructions, spend a bit of time to make a catchy subject line.
  • Instructions. If the client asks for writing samples, immediately attach your portfolio or sample on your first email. If they ask you to answer some questions, then remember to do that as part of your cover letter.
  • Personalize. It’s time-consuming, but you have to make an effort to talk to your prospective client. Don’t fall into the temptation of using a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all letter. Personalize it. Address the specific requirements asked by the client.  
  • Proofread. You’re a writer—if you can’t clean your letter from basic errors, then you’ll be doomed. But you don’t have to do it alone. Use an editing tool (like Grammarly), or ask a friend to proofread your letter before you send that application.

Establish a routine.

You got work. Congratulations!

Remember I mentioned that successful freelance writers are probably one of the most disciplined people. As you work at home, you need to muster all that willpower to avoid temptation, distractions, and the invitation to fall into the “I still have time, I’ll do this later” trap. With household chores, people to call, TV shows to watch, books to read, and Facebook posts to waste time, it’s quite easy to become inefficient.

To help instill the mindset, you need to have a routine and some structure. I’m not sure with other freelancers, but it helps me if I think I’m working as a regular employee. The only difference is that I’m doing my job at home. If you prefer, you can use tools like Trello, Asana, Google Calendar, Evernote, or a simple notebook to jot down what you need to accomplish for the day.

Learn tools and other skills

You can start freelance writing from scratch, but you may need additional tools and skills to help you get the job done.

Learn to organize

Keep track of your projects, to-do tasks, billing and client information, sent applications, and writing schedules. Many clients use task management systems (like Asana, Trello, and ClickUp) to keep track of everyone’s progress. You’ll have an early advantage if you know how to use them.

Know how to write for an online audience

There are many subtypes under freelance writing, but I surmised that common ones would be blogging, contents, and copywriting.

Here, you have to realize that writing for online purposes is much different than writing for a college paper. Write catchy headlines and introduction. Use headings, bullet points, and short paragraphs. Know which online sources are reputable or not. Fit the voice and style of your writing to your target readers.

Also, knowing the basics of blogging (particularly on how to post on WordPress) will give you a certain advantage. Clients will love it if you can do the posting yourself.

Learn basic graphic design

It’s not mandatory, but you will be flexible as some clients may ask to do image works.

Do basic image editing (like adding texts), or create an entirely new graphics content. It doesn’t have to be a high-end app like Photoshop. Most of the times, Canva or even Paint will suffice for most occasions.

Use an editing app

You’re a writer—you have to know the basic rules of spelling, punctuation, and grammar. So make sure to edit your work thoroughly before submitting it to your client.

But sometimes, we can’t avoid mistakes from time to time. This is where editing apps like Grammarly, ProWritingAid, White Smoke, and Hemingway will come in handy. Some of these are free, so take advantage of them.

Note that these tools are just… tools. They aren’t as infallible as human proofreaders. Use these tools as a basic checker, but don’t let them dictate your final work.

Practice Writing

You don’t need to be a Tolkien or a Martin to be a successful, online writer. Still, you do need to know how to write good sentences, organize ideas, and express your thoughts through words.

No matter how good you are, there will be always be something to improve on. Continue studying, learn new words, brush up on your English skills. I recommend reading (a lot!) to improve your vocabulary, wordplay, and knowledge of topics.

Take a writing course; it will help you a lot. Then combine studying with practice and practical applications. Continue writing at least 500 words per day. Spend an hour daily learning a grammar rule, writing tips, business practices, anything that will hone your skills.

If you like writing and you like the idea of working independently, then freelance writing could be the thing for you. But be prepared for the tough parts: getting rejected, being called for your mistakes, dealing with deadlines, dealing with distractions and procrastination.

To attain success, you need to build your self-confidence and be a bit aggressive with your pitching. You may not have that “dream gig” right away… that’s okay. The point is you took action today. If you have zero ideas where to start, but you’re raring to try freelancing today, then check out our courses here.

Want to learn Freelance Writing? Check out this FREE course: 5 Things Every Freelance Writer Should Know to Earn Through Writing

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