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How to Get Started as a Freelance Writer

All you need to know to get going as a freelance copywriter.

Seven years ago, I was a mother with a young baby, and we needed some extra cash to make ends meet. Thanks to crazy childcare costs, returning to work wasn’t an option, plus I didn’t want to leave my child on a full-time basis.

So, I started exploring the option of freelance writing. That was seven years ago. Now, I run my own copywriting company and create content for several companies, including multinationals. I’m telling you this to prove that it can be done.

The Advantages of Freelance Writing

You probably don’t need me to explain the benefits of being your own boss. Need to take time off to sit with your poorly child? No problem. Want to go away for a long weekend with the other half? That’s okay, you can make up the work in an evening or two. Working for yourself offers a flexibility and freedom that simply can’t be obtained from any other form of employment.

Make no mistake, there are downsides too. It’s lonely working by yourself, day in, day out. Staying self-motivated is also tough. And there’s a constant temptation to overwork yourself, which can be detrimental to your health. If you feel confident that you can cope with this, then read on…

Gain some online credibility.

Before you do anything else, work on your social media presence. This is particularly important on LinkedIn, as clients will be browsing on there, looking for people like you. Invest in a professional mugshot, highlight all key achievements and skills, and present yourself as an approachable, versatile, talented individual. You might also want to start your own website or blog – this gives the impression that you take your job seriously.

Brush up on your writing skills.

If you want to make a career out of being a writer, you’ll need to ensure your writing is on top form. If you’re concerned about grammar, enroll in a free course or invest in a book to brush up on your knowledge. If you don’t know what SEO means, or you’re unsure how to create high-converting business content, read as much as you can online, or take on unpaid work with a local firm for practice. In short, it’s up to you to take charge of your own learning!

Work out your rate.

Once you get going properly, you should be able to earn a decent wage from freelance writing. But be warned - at the beginning, you may have to take on a few less well-paid gigs to get on track. I don’t mean slaving over a 500-word article for $5 – this is soul destroying. Quote a price that’s just enough to make it worth your while, then time yourself. If it takes you an hour to write the piece, then work out what you’d ultimately like to be earning per hour and go from there. This article is useful for learning more about copywriting rates.

Start on a platform like Upwork.

Freelance websites such as Upwork, People Per Hour and Fiverr are great for putting writers in touch with potential clients. As such, they’re a good place to start while you work on gaining visibility through social media. When bidding for a job, take the time to create a well-written, appealing pitch – after all, it’s your one shot to get their attention, and you need to make it count.

Develop good relationships.

These days, about 70% of my work comes from repeat business. Some of the customers I work with have been with our company for years, which is great in terms of providing some security. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than having to continually tout for jobs all the time! How do you get repeat business? Exceed their expectations. Go the extra mile and wow them with something special. Act in a professional, courteous and trustworthy way at all times, and you’ll soon become the content writer that they can’t do without.

Be realistic.

It’s important to realise that you’re unlikely to earn a huge salary to begin with. In all honesty, it took me around three years to earn a credible amount. You should be able to achieve it in a shorter space of time (I was also working part-time as a stay-at-home mum!), but still, be prepared for the fact that it won’t happen overnight. Many freelancers choose to do a part-time job to work around their freelance work for this very reason.

Keep tabs on payment.

If you’re based in the UK, you’ll need to register yourself as self-employed. You’ll also need to complete a self-assessment each year, which is used to ascertain whether you owe any tax or not. You can find out more information here. I’m not sure what the system is in the US, but this website looks helpful. Make sure you keep track of all earnings and expenditure – you’ll need this information when you fill out your self-assessment form.

Protecting yourself.

It isn’t a necessity, but once you start building up your freelance writing business, you may want to invest in some indemnity insurance. This protects you in the event that someone sues you over some work you’ve provided for them – for example, if they claim that the content damaged their business in any way. Thankfully, I’ve never been involved in unpleasant situations like this, but I’ve come across writers who have – so it’s worthwhile thinking about.

Getting the balance right.

When you’re based at home, it’s frighteningly easy to become a slave to your work. The laptop is there at all times, reminding you about articles to be completed and newsletter content to be penned. Resist the temptation to work excessively - set your business hours and stick to them. I learnt this the hard way, and got to a point where I was replying to client emails at 2 AM. Unsurprisingly, this nearly resulted in a complete nervous breakdown! Your personal, family time is valuable, and must be preserved at all costs.

Avoid common mistakes.

If you’re new to the game, it’s all too easy to make mistakes. Here’s an article I wrote a while back about the common pitfalls to avoid. 

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