If you have ever wondered how to become a freelance writer, you may have a lot of questions on what experience may be needed, what skills are required, what qualifications you may need and how (and where) you can get started on your journey.
If you are looking for advice on how you can learn and grow as a writer, this post is for you. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for tips on how to instantly “make it” and make oodles of money overnight, give this post a miss. As someone who has been on this journey, I do not believe in quick fixes or instant success. Instead, I believe that hard work, experience and patience will help you get where you want to go. Those are the things that have helped me throughout my 12+ year journey as a freelance writer.
I can’t promise that you will succeed. And, I certainly don’t have all the answers. But if you want to learn what worked for me, keep on reading to see how I became a freelance writer.
How to Become a Freelance Writer
First things first, you will need to decide what sort of freelance writer you want to be. Will you focus on web content? Digital or online copywriting is what you should consider. Will you go for ads and radio copy? Above the line copywriting will be your thing. Will go veer into print copy and brochures? Below the line copywriting is where you want to go. Will you do all of the above? You want to look at through the line copywriting. Each of these specialises in a specific area of copy, whether that is broadcast, print, digital or a combination of the above.
My own background is in Public Relations Management, but there are many other fields that offer a good entry into writing. English, Communications, Journalism and even copywriting diplomas, courses and workshops are just some examples. It’s also important to note that while qualifications are always useful, they are not an absolute requisite for freelance writing.
Talent, however, is most certainly required. Even if you don’t have a formal qualification, having writing skills is downright essential.
This is an absolute must-have, but don’t stress if you have not been published/have not had work experience. Everyone has to start somewhere. As a new writer, you cannot expect high paying projects if your experience is limited. You will likely have to take on very low budget jobs to build experience, but ALL of that experience will help you grow.
Write as often as you can – on your blog, for local papers, for free, for peanuts. Create a newsletter for your church group or school or kid’s soccer team. Volunteer to write for local charities or businesses. Ask friends and families if you can help them with brochures, invites, flyers or newsletters. Build up as much experience as you possibly can.
Along with this experience, you will begin to start building a portfolio of your written work. My early portfolios were a mess and were in ‘hard copy’ format (stuck in a folder that I would haul around with me to interviews). Every project that I completed that I felt reflected my writing skills, I collected and added to my portfolio. Today, this is one of my biggest tool in finding the right clients. After all, what good is all that experience if you don’t have anything to show for it?
My advice: keep it small and focused on your best work. Online portfolios work best – add one to your WordPress site with a plugin such as Huge-IT Portfolio Gallery or create a free website to display your work.
4. Realistic Expectations
This is a big one. I knew in the second year of online copywriting for an agency that I wanted to go solo, and succeeded in landing my first freelance client that same year. But what I didn’t reckon on was having to work very long, late hours moonlighting. I did not realise that I would lose many weekends, miss out on many important things, give up a lot of freedom and take on a lot of stress. I won’t lie – it was tough.
I went freelance full-time for the first time a year or two later, only to have to go back to full-time work a year later after battling to bring in enough work to survive. But then, not too long after that, I went freelance full-time again and never looked back. That was over five years ago. It is still sometimes hard. No matter how easy social media and bloggers make it sound, it is often frustrating, stressful and tough. Clients often pay late. Or work that you have relied on suddenly stops. Sometimes, client are difficult to work with; other times, clients are lovely but the work itself is difficult. Bottom line: self-employment is both amazing and stressful.
5. Finding Work
There are quite a few ways to find work. A great deal of my work comes from referrals, from former clients I have worked with over the years. A fair amount comes from my website. There are job sites that can be a good source – I personally have not used any, but I know people who have. Amanda Pelletier has a great list of websites that pay writers – have a look at this list over here. She links to some other resources as well. Searching local classifieds for freelance writing gigs is another way to find work. Website design and marketing agencies especially often need good writers to assist with their projects, who are outsourced to help with various content requirements. This is a bit like a full-time job, but depending on whether regular work is offered or not, you may only be needed when there are big projects planned.
Promote your services, build experience, offer a high standard of work, impress clients and you will find that you will begin to grow your own client base. If you are good at what you do and people like working with you, they will think of you for future projects and recommend you to others they know who may need a writer.
6. Marketing Yourself
And, on the topic of promoting your services, you will need to do a lot of that, too. I know how hard it is to do the shameless self-promotion thing, and do not enjoy hard selling at all. But like it or not, some level of marketing is required if you want to expand your reach. In my early days, I listed myself on a number of directories, put in a lot of effort on social media, networked like it was nobody’s business and generally put myself out there. It helped a lot. The, once I started getting work on a regular basis, I got lazy. Referrals from clients and my website brought in more than enough work, and I was always fully booked.
More recently, as I begin to change focus a little in my offerings and recover from a website hack that killed my rankings, I have had to relearn just how important it is to put in the effort on social media. In order to grow and continue growing, you need to work ON your business as well as IN the business. One of the best sources of advice recently has been Regina, who has MANY amazing things to say.
7. Learning and Growing
YoIu will never stop learning or growing. Even after 10 years of doing what I do, I still learn on a daily basis. I make mistakes from time to time. I realise that I can do things in a better way. I accept my weaker areas and try to be a better writer every single day. It is this learning thing that keeps me humble and focused. After all, if I knew everything, how could I ever hope to improve?
Ultimately, my absolute biggest, best bit of advice is this: never stop learning. Read more, write more, learn from your mistakes, successes and everyday hustle. Don’t get sidetracked by what everyone else is doing – get tuned in to what YOU are doing. If you continue to learn, you will continue to become a better writer.
And that is the true secret to how you become a freelance writer… you work at it all the time. Even when you are a freelance writer.
Got any questions on how to become a freelance writer? I’d be happy to answer any questions you have in the comments, or you can contact me if you’d like to find out more about the copywriting services I offer.