Actually, I googled “how to become a freelance writer” as I was trying to type and check my email (on my phone) at the same time. Typos aside, I got a lot of amazingly generic advice. “Like what?” you ask. Here are a few of my favorites:
· Be a good writer.
· Have self-discipline.
· Set goals.
· Be able to communicate clearly.
· Maintain a professional attitude.
· Have the ability to motivate yourself, even in the face of mass rejection.
I’m going to be brutally honest here, if you actually said to yourself, “Holy wow, those are such helpful ideas!” right now you’re a little more than a step behind in the freelance writing game. That isn’t supposed to be mean – just a bit snarky I suppose. But seriously, you already know that the above mentioned traits/ideas are necessary for any kind of freelance or writing career. What you probably want to know is something that’s less obvious.
I can’t say that I have all the answers. Far from it. There are freelancers out there who have crazy-good careers and make much more money than I do, and then there are those who make less. What I can give you is some friendly advice. A few tips from my own personal experience. These aren’t general ‘go to journalism school’ types of suggestions. They are what I’ve learned from my own successes and failures. Please keep in mind, everyone has their own niche and what worked for me (or didn’t work) might not fit your career.
1. Speaking of niches – find yours. It took me a surprisingly long time to call myself a ‘parenting writer’. That’s basically what I am. I’ve written everything from home décor and DIY content to fashion and style, but what I truly enjoy is writing for parents. When I write about dental health, dressing for success or how to lay a ceramic tile floor you can really tell that my heart’s just not in it. If the topic you’re writing about bores you, it will show. Find what you’re passionate about and try your best to write about it.
2. Steer clear of “sign up with us to become a real freelance writer” sites. Or, at least don’t stick with them for long. If you want to read my thoughts on content mills, check out my article on these sites. I made quite a good living off of content mills for a few years. That said, I hated what I was writing and got way to complacent. I wasted years creating mass amounts of crappy content for maybe $25 an article.
3. Build your social media following right now. Immediately. Why? There are lots of reasons. Maybe you want to start your own blog. You need somewhere to promote yourself. Even if you’re writing for other people, you still need to promote your content – or theirs. This isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. For example, let’s say it’s between you and another equally as talented writer. You have a Twitter following of 10 and the other choice has a following of 10k. Guess who’s getting the job. Um, the person who’s actually able to tweet the content out to more than her BFF, downstairs neighbors and parents.
4. Prepare proposals. Here’s a story – a potential client asked me for an email explaining my approach to his article. This was for a one-time only job. I replied with a detailed outline that clearly spelled out the structure of the post. He hired me. That turned into an ongoing professional relationship that brought on more work than I could have imagined when crafting that outline.
5. Don’t say no. Let me rephrase that – don’t say no unless what the client is asking is completely ridiculous. I’ve been asked to write a 1,000 word article for $5. That was a big N-O! If the work aligns with my niche and the client is paying a fair price, I tend to take it. You never know when ‘an article’ will turn into months of consistent pay (see the above example). You also never know when that one random article will get seen (and read!) by someone truly important. Don’t miss out on what could be an amazing opportunity because you’d rather watch the Real Housewives of somewhere or another instead of writing (and yes, I actually have done this).
6. Value yourself, in a totally realistic way. Go back to that $5 I was offered for 1,000 words. Someone probably will offer you a similar deal. Have some self-respect and don’t do it. At the same time, set your rates at a fair price. If you’re just starting out, don’t expect to make hundreds of dollars per 400 word blog post. It would be nice, but it’s just not likely here in the real world. Don’t quote me on that though. There are freelancers who’ve struck it big from the get-go.
7. Join a community. Freelancing isn’t exactly a communal experience. Many of us started on this career track as a way to work from home. When you’re going it solo there’s no morning ‘water cooler’ gossip session, no one to bitch at when you’re having a bad day and no one to grab a quick bite with on your lunch break (and eating the leftover crusts from your kid’s PB&J as he finger paints with his pudding doesn’t count as a social lunch date). Joining a Facebook (or similar social networking) community for freelance writers has helped immensely when it comes to finding camaraderie at ‘work’.
P.S. The title was meant to grab your attention. I don’t take myself seriously enough to really think there are seven easy steps to becoming a freelance writer. There are suggestions, advice and tips, but as far as steps go – I don’t believe in them. You won’t find a mystical formula to freelancing, there’s no guide that has all the answers and while magical beans may grow a beanstalk up to the sky, they won’t give you a new career. If someone tells you otherwise, be weary. They are probably just trying to sell you something. Are you considering making the big switch from working outside the home to being a WAHM? My new book Work at Home: A Guide to the Best Change You'll Ever Make has ideas (and worksheets) to help you make the transition!