Have you ever wondered how to be a freelance writer? For the longest time, it was a dream of mine. But I wasn’t sure how to go about it. It seemed too hard to actually make a living this way. But then, last year, everything changed. Lockdowns happened. Working from home became a big thing. I was furloughed from my day job for seven weeks. The door was blown wide open for me; I saw my chance.
And maybe you want to be a freelance writer too, but haven’t got around to it yet. Well, it’s not too late. Neither do I think it ever will be, if you want to do it. Because I don’t think working from home is a trend that’s going away.
This is an article about what I’ve learned so far, in my first year, about how to be a freelance writer. Are you ready?
In short, to be a freelance writer takes, above all, determination. You’ve got to have a strong reason why. More on that later. You also need strong organisational skills and strong writing ability. Don’t worry though, I’m going to break it down a bit more in the following article.
What You’ll Need:
A PC or laptop
A good internet connection
Pens, paper and sticky notes!
A quiet place to work. Ideally a desk, and some noise cancelling headphones might be a good idea too.
Appropriate writer’s attire, snacks and accessories. I always wear a huge vintage 1980’s cardigan when writing. I always have some sort of drink on my desk and maybe dark chocolate or chewing gum. You have what fits you – coffee, a pipe, whatever.
The determination to succeed
My Tips For How To Be A Freelance Writer
1. Start Small
I actually started my freelance writing quest before I got furloughed from my day job last year. I started off doing voluntary work, writing articles for websites and being a social media assistant for a charity. I also had my own blog. I did all this around a full-time job to begin with, working in the mornings before work or in the evenings after work, and at weekends. This isn’t easy, admittedly, especially if you find your day job draining or you have other commitments. So, I looked at my financial situation and figured out that I could drop a day at the day job and invest more time in trying to find work that works for me.
As the money started coming in, I dropped another day at my day job, so I now only do three days a week there. This is not a bad situation to be in: I have the financial safety net of my other job and also the freedom that working freelance the rest of the time brings.
My ultimate goal, though, is to be a freelance writer full time. I believe this is possible for me and I’m going to keep pushing for this goal and keep this blog updated about my progress. With every small win my confidence grows, and you’ll find this too in your quest to be a freelance writer.
2. Build Up A Portfolio
This is very important. As I mentioned above, I did voluntary work. This was so I could build up a portfolio of articles and links to my work online. I also signed up to PeoplePerHour and looked for jobs there. The pay isn’t always amazing, especially if you’re just starting out, but it’s a good way to help build your portfolio.
You may find it useful to do a course. I actually did a copywriting course through the Writer’s Bureau a few years ago, which helped me to build up a portfolio via assignments completed through the course. This portfolio did get me some casual content writing work though marketing agencies, way before working from home was the big thing it is now.
If you’ve recently graduated you can even use written material from your degree in your portfolio. Perhaps you wrote articles for the student newspaper? It all counts.
And finally, it’s a very good idea to have a blog or a website to demonstrate your writing abilities.
3. Work With Your Personality And Interests
As an introvert who is organised and enjoys writing, being a freelance writer is a strong career match for me. Why not try taking a personality assessment such as the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator, to help you figure out your strengths and weaknesses and how they apply to a work setting?
I would say from my own perspective that knowing my personality type has helped me to understand myself better, given me more confidence in my abilities, and made me more motivated to pursue my goals in life as well as work. I think it’s especially helpful if you have a rarer personality type, as you may have been made to feel at times as though aspects of your personality were ‘wrong’. The truth is, there are upsides and downsides to everything, and just because something is common or popular does not make it more objectively ‘right’.
Working with your interests is another important way to find fulfilment in your work. The good news is that freelance writers are required to write on a vast variety of subjects, everything from psychology to technology to the world of business. Depending on your subject area or areas, you may need additional qualifications or, at the very least, demonstrable experience of writing about the subject.
4. Find Your Writing Niche
There are all different kinds of freelance writing you can do. Do you want to write journalistic articles? Be a content writer or a blogger? A ghostwriter? Or do you want to create content for social media? You may find you’ll want to do a few of these things, and there can be quite a bit of crossover in freelance writing, but it helps to have specialisms as it’ll make you more reputable in the eyes of clients.
5. Be The First To Apply For Jobs
Once you’ve got your blog and your portfolio, what are you waiting for? Apply for jobs! Look at job boards (yes, I’ve found writing work on Indeed, but look at specialist freelance writing job boards too) or sign up to PeoplePerHour. Try to be the first to apply or bid for jobs. Clients are usually looking for a fast turnover and want to hire someone as quickly as possible. You may even find jobs via social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I’ve even had a client contact me directly via my blog, which shows how, even in the early days, it’s definitely worth having a blog to advertise your services.
A word that strikes fear into the heart of many an introvert. It isn’t that scary though, with practice. If you’re freelance, for one thing, a lot of your networking can be done virtually, via social media, emails, and through your website. Use your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, not to share your personal life, but to network.
But, do try and be brave enough to actually tell people in real life that you do freelance writing too. It can lead to opportunities. For instance, my hairdresser asked me to write for her website! Also, you’ll find that as your portfolio builds up and the money starts coming in, you’ll feel like less of an imposter and more confident about putting yourself out there.
7. Don’t Worry Too Much About Qualifications
You don’t need a degree to be a freelance writer. But it can give you a head start, especially if your degree is in English, Media or Communications. If you have a degree in a specialist subject like Law or Medicine, then you can certainly make a living as a freelance writer writing on those subjects.
If you don’t have a degree, or you do but it’s way off in the rear view mirror (as mine was when I officially became a freelancer), don’t worry. Experience is more important. Build up a portfolio. Do an online course if you think it’ll help you, but make sure you build up examples of your writing in your chosen niche. Having the experience is way better than having a Communications degree but no real-world experience.
8. Be Organised
Okay, I cannot understate this point. Be organised. If you’re not naturally organised, you’d better learn how to be. Otherwise, you will literally have no money.
So yes, manage your finances. Keep an Excel spreadsheet of all work completed and paid for (you’ll need this when you do your tax return – ho ho). Keep a Word document or notepad to hand to write down all your brilliant ideas for blog posts and articles. Manage your time. Track how long it takes you to complete projects. This will help you to know which projects and clients are most profitable for you.
And keep a schedule! Work on your most important tasks in the morning, if you’re a morning person. When it comes to managing time, well, I could write a whole other blog post on that and I’m still a work in progress myself. You’ve just got to find what works for you and try and strike a good balance between the fun stuff and the boring but necessary (like tax returns).
9. Be Self-Motivated
I think the key to self-motivation is having a strong reason why. For me, I think my self-motivation stems from a need to defeat a dragon of sorts. For years I’ve worked in (mostly) low paid jobs that I don’t want to do. It’s been a compromise – I work in a job I don’t want to do, but I get to do my creative writing on the side. But I was fed up of this compromise and wanted to get to a point where I made work actually work for me, instead of coming home drained every day from a job where I don’t feel valued and I don’t get to use my skills or the best parts of my personality.
I’m seeking self-actualisation, if you will. So, when the lockdown came, I saw an opportunity. I saw that working from home was going to be a big thing, and it wasn’t going to go away. How could I take advantage of this situation?
Being a freelance writer has long been something I’ve wanted to do, but it seemed that finally the door was wide open for me to pursue this goal. What was I waiting for?
I think a great deal of missed opportunities in life come from 1. Not spotting them in the first place, and 2. Not being prepared. I saw a chance to get out my crappy work situation and finally defeat this dragon: the dragon of unwanted jobs!
So yes, this a strong reason why. And I really think that’s the key to self-motivation. And with each little win, like new work coming through, or getting positive feedback on my work, that fire burns brighter, and my determination grows.
10. Register As Self-Employed
If you’re going to be a freelance writer, you need to register as self-employed with HMRC, so you can do your taxes and so employers can take you seriously as a freelance writer. I know tax is boring, but it needs to be done. My first tax return is now due so I will let you know how I get on with that!
And when it comes to being paid, probably the simplest way to start out is getting paid through PayPal. And don’t worry too much about your invoices. You can find some simple templates online to get you started. Remember to save invoices as a PDF before sending to clients, and keep copies of all your invoices in a folder and record all your earnings on a spreadsheet. It might sound simple I know, but it’s important.
11. Edit Your Work
Being able to edit your own work is important if you’re a freelance writer. Hopefully you already have a good grasp of the English language. Make sure your knowledge of grammar is solid (there’s no harm in having a grammar guide to hand or doing the occasional Google search for those tricky sentences!) Write out your documents on Microsoft Word as it’s better for formatting and it’ll help pick up typos. Grammarly is good to have for the same reason, but always use your own judgement, above all. I literally have Grammarly just to pick up that one typo I always miss.
12. Read, Read, Read!
You probably do anyway, and more than you realise, but reading helps you become a better writer. Especially reading material in your chosen niche. If you’re an online content writer like me, Google similar articles to the one you plan to write. It’ll help give you a grasp of (and hopefully an edge over) the competition and help you tailor your writing style. But all reading helps you strengthen your grasp of the English language and her fabulous intricacies.
So, these are my tips when it comes to how to be a freelance writer. Are you just starting out or hoping to be a freelance writer? Do you think there’s anything I’ve missed; are you a more experienced freelancer and have some tips for me? Let me know in the comments!