10 Top Tips for The Successful Freelancer

successful freelancer - man at desk

Freelance writing is a wonderful profession — combine the thrill of writing with the freedom of working on your own schedule, and it’s almost a can’t-miss combo. I did it for many years (just stopped in the last couple months) and it was an ideal second job for me.

But whether you want to just earn some extra income as a successful freelancer or you want to eventually make it a full-time profession, everybody’s gotta start somewhere. And breaking in as a freelancer can be intimidating to newcomers.

Recently reader Erika wrote:

“I was wondering if you had any suggestions about how I might go about querying publishers about freelance proofreading and editing positions. I have been working with an educational publisher on a freelance basis, but they only publish twice a year and I want to branch out to help supplement my income. So far I’ve sent queries out to about five publishers, but haven’t heard anything back.”

That’s a tough question, because as in any field, breaking in isn’t easy. Obviously it can be done, as many other have done before you, but it’ll take some hard work. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Find mentors. When I first started out in journalism, I had about 3 different experienced journalists who took me under their wing. I know, that’s a lot of wings to be under at once, but I definitely was helped by their incredible generosity. Later, when I became a freelance writer, I talked to several other freelancers to get their insights and advice. You can make it as a freelancer without a mentor, but there’s no doubt that mentors give you a boost.
  2. Cast a wide net. It’s not enough to send queries to just one or two (or even five) publications when you’re just starting out. If you don’t already have a lot of experience, you’ll get rejected a few times. Just expect it, and move on. But to increase your odds of success, send queries as many people as possible — 10-20 would be better.
  3. Don’t be afraid to follow up. If you’ve sent out your queries and you don’t hear anything in a week, don’t be afraid to send a follow-up email or call. Don’t nag them too much, but persistence pays off in these cases. It shows that you’re serious and that you are going to do what it takes to get the job done. Be polite and professional in your follow-ups, however.
  4. Get experience. Editors want to see experience. If you only have one gig previously, you’ll want to build up more experience. Take on some low-paying gigs just to get more experience under your belt. In the beginning, it helps to have a day job to pay the bills, so that the money doesn’t matter much. Once you’ve had a little experience, you can move to better jobs.
  5. Educate yourself. It’s smart to be honest with yourself in the beginning — you don’t know as much as the more experienced freelancers. So instead of despairing, do something about it. There are a lot of great sites on the Internet (besides this one, one of my favorites is FreelanceSwitch, but there are other good ones too). Or read this must-have ebook: How to Be A Rockstar Freelancer.
  6. Sharpen your skills. This goes along with educating yourself, but the more you write in the beginning, the better. That’s not just for the experience — writing more makes you better at it. And write a broad range of stuff, from newspaper pieces to various styles of magazine articles to blog posts (guest post for lots of blogs if possible) to newsletters to brochures and more. Experiment with your writing, from different types of ledes to various types of storytelling to humor to emotion.
  7. Start a blog. A blog always helps. It’s like a much-improved resume, and shows off your writing/editing skills. Don’t just blog about personal stuff — make it a showcase for your best writing. If you do a great job and grow a readership, it’ll be a launching pad for all kinds of other opportunities.
  8. Copy other successful freelancers. Mimic the styles of others, just for practice. Read a lot of great writers, from fiction to journalists to your favorite magazine writers. Then steal their best stuff and make it your own.
  9. Tell the world. When you’re first looking for gigs, it helps to send out an email to everyone you know, from friends and family to business colleagues, letting them know you’re for hire. This helps you to get the word out and might even net you a few jobs. Post it on your blog as well, along with any other forums or social networks you participate in. Don’t spam, but don’t be afraid to tell people either.
  10. Be professional. In every interaction with potential clients, with interviewees, with anyone in your field or in a related profession, you need to act professionally. You are building a rep as a pro. Also have a business card (and again, a website or blog) and other ways to show that you’re serious about the business.

I hope these tips on getting started as a successful freelancer will kickstart your freelancing career.

Photo courtesy of heipei

About the author

Mary Jaksch

Comments are closed