A guest post by Ali Hale from DailyWritingTips.com
“I’m going to quit my job and be a freelance writer.”
They probably weren’t words my then-boyfriend, now-husband wanted to hear. We lived in London at the time – not exactly cheap. I had a “good” day job – one which paid pretty well, considering that it was my first job out of college.
Oh, and it was spring 2008, and we were at the start of a recession.
But … I’d been dipping my toes into the freelancing waters, and I’d realized that it was a great time to be a freelance writer. That was three years ago – and today’s new freelancers are in an even stronger position.
Why do freelance writers have it so good right now? In short, the internet.
The internet has created an unprecedented demand for new content – and new specialisms, like SEO copywriting. For three years, I’ve been working as a paid blogger, something which didn’t exist when I was in high school.
It’s much easier to get a foot on the ladder now. A couple of decades ago, if you wanted to be a freelancer, you had to gradually build up a portfolio of clips – starting with writing for tiny local publications for free. Now, you can email guest posts to blogs with a circulation of hundreds of thousands – and you can be published the next day.
However, getting started isn’t quite as easy as some people would have you believe. I’m sure you’ve seen ads online saying “writers wanted” – and promising that you can succeed without any previous experience at all. You’ve probably also come across ads on Craigslist or similar, offering a miniscule rate of pay (like $2 per blog post). Sadly, there are some unscrupulous and misguided folks out there who want to take advantage of writers. And there are some desperate writers who fall prey to them.
Over the past three years, I’ve learnt a lot – sometimes the hard way! Like:
#1: Have a Strong Online Presence
I started out with a … well, in retrospect, pretty awful website. I’d designed it myself and hand-coded all the pages in html. (And I’m neither a designer nor a coder by training.) Plus, the only visitors I had were a few intrigued ex-colleagues and my mom.
I pretty quickly realized I needed a much more enticing website if I was going to attract clients. I highly recommend using WordPress – it’s free, robust, has tons of features, and is a lot more user-friendly than when I first started out. It’s definitely not just for bloggers, either – you can create almost any sort of site using it.
#2: Learn to Write for the Web
Although there are still plenty of paying print markets around, the web has been a game-changer for freelance writers. It’s easy to pick up jobs online, and web editors want a constant stream of fresh content.
The problem is, writing for the web isn’t like writing for print – especially if you’re used to academic writing or factual journalism. We read differently online, skimming through pieces, and I had to learn how to write in a more engaging conversational style, and how to use formatting tricks to keep readers (and editors) engaged.
#3: Find the Great Jobs
If you’ve ever looked for writing jobs online, you’ve probably ended up trawling through a whole bunch of scammy-looking “opportunities”.
Avoid anything which offers a revenue-share based on advertising income. Sure, they might make impressive-sounding claims – but you’re likely to end up with pennies. Look for positions which offer at least $40 for a blog post.
#4: Get Business-like
When I started out, with a couple of gigs on the side, I could keep track of all my work pretty easily. Once freelance writing became my full-time income, I had to get a lot more organized – for my own peace of mind, and to make sure that I kept my clients happy
One simple trick which really helped was to give myself more time than I needed for every deadline. If I thought I could have it done by Tuesday, I’d say Friday. That way, I had some slack if anything went wrong – and I could turn work in early if not.
#5: Use Social Media Effectively
I only got started on Twitter because a bunch of my day-job colleagues joined and I didn’t want to miss out. But once I started freelancing seriously, I realized that Twitter was a great way to build up a network of fellow writers (some of whom have sent work my way), editors, and even readers who’ve enjoyed my work.
If you’re not on Twitter, or if you’re not using Twitter effectively, take some time to learn about it. There are loads of writers on there – including famous authors like Neil Gaiman and Alexander McCall Smith – and it’s a great place to make new friends.
#6: Become More Productive
When I was a student, I thought it was a good day if I managed to write a thousand words or so. Now, I can knock out three thousand words before lunch. The online world is full of distractions – but if you’re going to make it as a freelancer, you have to be able to focus.
For me, that means avoiding my inbox, tweeting only sparingly, and ignoring the washing up until after my writing’s done for the day…
If you’re keen to start freelancing online, but you’re not sure where to begin, then I’d urge you to check out the Freelance Writing Course that I’m running with Daily Writing Tips. Registration is only open for 72 hours. This could be the course which changes your life – just like freelancing has changed mine.
And even if it’s not quite the right time for you, do give freelancing some serious thought. A lot of the people I talk to worry that they’re not good enough – but the truth is, with a little work, you’re probably more than capable of writing professionally.
So, what’s stopping you from giving it a try?
Ali Hale is a freelance writer, blogger and writing coach. You can read more from her and get all the details about her course on DailyWritingTips.com