You need the right tools, but probably not as many as you think
The COVID pandemic has made working from home part of the mainstream conversation. However, just a year earlier, freelancing was still seen as primarily a side hustle for those looking to make a little extra income.
Your social media feed was probably full of people promising to teach you how to make money from home by “building multiple income streams,” or some other means that only required you to buy their course and sign up for their newsletter.
I never intended to freelance full-time, but it did seem like a feasible side hustle, so I made an Upwork profile and jumped in. I could write, but that was the only service I had to sell.
The first time I was asked about my SEO experience, I had to use Google to look up what SEO stood for. Then, I spent an hour reading about it and managed to convince a client that I had enough SEO experience to accomplish their goals.
That first year was a lot of learning, bluster, and some “fake it till you make it” mentality. About a year into my new side hustle, I looked up long enough to realize that I could potentially build a full-time business off freelance writing.
Investing Time and Money Into the Right Things
I see a gazillion courses offering to teach you how to create a website, market your work, build multiple income streams from your writing and do all the things that will help you earn a six-figure income in less than fifteen hours a week.
I cannot say that none of these offerings have any value, but the so-called gurus offering them are not doing it as a public service. Instead, they are building their own income streams by offering to teach others how to do something.
I never took one of these courses, so I cannot speak to their value or lack thereof. However, I think everyone’s path to freelancing success is different, so I am always a little skeptical about someone charging money to show you how they did it. My suggestion is that if you are considering purchasing such a course, at least do some basic research to verify that the person offering the course was an established freelance writer.
There are hundreds of free resources to teach yourself about marketing, SEO best practices, creating email campaigns, and dozens of other writing tools you will need. The adage of “you have to spend money to make money” is true, but freelance writing has a very low start-up cost. In the beginning, you will need:
- Access to a good computer, preferably a laptop, so you can truly work from anywhere.
- Microsoft Office — though many clients prefer to work through Google Docs, having access to Word and Excel is still helpful, and some clients do want work submitted as a Word document.
- A tax tool like Quickbooks, unless you are excellent at spreadsheets and record-keeping
- A phone number and an email address
Given that most people have those basic tools on hand, you don’t need a large infusion of capital to get started. One thing I delayed purchasing, and regret the delay, is an editing program like Grammarly Premium.
Not only does Grammarly help catch mistakes I might miss, but it allows me to work faster. If I were starting over, I would have purchased it as soon as I had paying clients.
Now that we have clarified that you do not need a substantial monetary investment to start freelance writing, let’s talk about time. To convince people to pay you for your writing skills, you need a portfolio of your work to prove that you can write engaging content.
There are a number of online resources where you can create and store a portfolio. In reality, a folder on your computer works just as well.
Identify two or three types of writing common in your niche, and write our absolute best copy. I would suggest having at least two blogs, a sales page, and a white paper.
Create samples for a fictitious business, or offer to do them for free or at a reduced rate for someone you know. Ideally, you will replace these samples quickly with actual paid writing you have done for clients.
Do Not Panic About a Niche
From the beginning, I heard the advice “find your niche” over and over again. There is truth in that statement. You need to find the place where your style and experience shine, get to know the industry and network with people in that industry. That said, it does not have to happen right away.
I am a former paralegal and planned to eventually niche into legal writing. That said, I was so impressed to find anyone willing to pay me to write that I took writing opportunities across various industries.
I learned so much by writing for clients in a wide array of different sectors, and each experience made me a better writer. I am glad I didn’t limit myself to legal writing in the early days for many reasons. Some of the most important are:
Though I was a decent writer, I look back now and cringe at some of the mistakes I made. I am glad I didn’t make those mistakes while establishing my reputation in the legal field. If you are going to mess up (and you will), it is much less damaging to mess up a “How to Find Your Lost Dog” blog than making similar mistakes on a legal brief or a service area page for a large law firm.
I wrote about those early days in the articles below.
I learned flexibility and honed my research skills by writing about topics of which I had no prior knowledge. I learned how to use and cite reputable sources. I also learned to get to know my audience and write engaging content geared directly to said audience. It is a valuable skill and one I am glad I brought to the table when opportunities arose in my niche.
My goals were to earn money to expand my skillset. Had I limited myself to a narrow niche, the opportunities would have been fewer, and it would have taken longer to gain the experience I needed.
It is important to find your niche, but do not delay launching your career while trying to gain a toehold in a specific area. I can only speak for myself, but I genuinely feel I am a much better writer because of the experience I gained writing about everything from AI-driven software in a B2B platform to sales copy for lost pet apps.
Where Can I Find Opportunities as a Freelance Writer?
I am asked this question frequently, and it was the most important question I had when getting started. There are numerous ways to go about finding clients, and there is no simple answer.
The truth is that you will probably need an approach based on a combination of these ideas. The importance of networking cannot be overstated, but how do you build a network as a newly minted freelancer?
Utilize Your Current Network
Unless you have been living off the grid as a hermit, you already have a network. Start with the network you have and build from there. LinkedIn is a crucial tool, and if you don’t utilize it yet, I suggest you get started. I waited a bit to do so, and it is another one of my regrets.
Reach out to friends, family, and business acquaintances. Let them know about your new career path and asks for recommendations or that they spread the word. Connect with other freelancers on social media groups and actively engage in building a LinkedIn presence.
Remember, networking is a two-way street, so make sure you are actively engaging. Do not be a parasite and relentlessly market yourself without taking the time to engage with others.
Explore the Platforms
There are numerous platforms for freelance writers. I suggest only choosing one or two and taking the time to read, study and learn how the platform works. I use Upwork because I feel it is one of the best platforms available for freelancers.
When you get started, the odds are high that you will need to send out numerous proposals before winning your first project. You may have to settle for the low-hanging fruit at first, but treat every job as though it’s the most important of your career.
I cannot overstate the importance of good client reviews, so whether you are making $20.00 or $2,000 for a project, bring your best work to the table. The platforms offer significant protection to freelancers, meaning you can only choose jobs where the client has verified funds, and you can work with milestones.
When a milestone is set, the money is in escrow, so you know you will get paid. The only way a client can get out of paying is to prove that you failed to uphold your end of the agreement.
Platforms are also a great way to network. Word of mouth is still a powerful marketing tool. You do an excellent job for a client, they tell their friends and colleagues about you, and with a bit of luck, those people reach out to you.
I have a private client right now that heard about my work from an Upwork client. They found me via my website and engaged me to handle all the content writing for an extensive website redesign. The Upwork client that recommended me only needed two blogs from me over a year ago, but doing good work for them is paying off in a big way with this new client.
Cold-Calling (or Emailing)
Identify potential clients, study their websites, and find places where your expertise could benefit them. Try to locate the marketing director or the person most likely to make decisions about content and send them a highly customized pitch. Offer a benefit for taking the time to review your pitch, such as identifying a broken link on their site.
For instance, you could introduce yourself, explain that in reviewing their website, you found a broken link, and make a suggestion for a quality link to take its place. Then ask that they review the attached samples of your work and suggests a meeting or phone call to discuss the potential content you could provide.
Whatever path you take to finding clients, remember that content writing is a rapidly changing industry. What you know about SEO today will probably be archaic a year from now.
The accepted best practices and industry trends in your niche will also change, and keeping on top of those changes will be crucial to helping you continue to grow your business. Follow trade publications, remain active in professional organizations, and invest in learning about emerging trends.
If you would like to learn more about the life of a freelancer, you may be interested in reading the article below.