I have been a freelance writer for almost ten years now. I have managed to support myself and my family while working half the time I used to in a nine-to-five office job in public relations. I am able to work from anywhere I can prop my laptop and get a good wifi connection – and that has included a café in Central Park, a beach in Cancun, and a log cabin in Ashville, North Carolina. And today I have my choice of freelance writing gigs, meaning I can decide for whom I want to write and about what. There has not been a single day that I have regretted making the career change to freelance writing.
So how do you go about starting your freelance writing career? There are several things you should do before going out on your own:
- Bone up on your grammar and other writing skills
- Buy yourself a copy of the AP Stylebook and become familiar with the rules and conventions in there
- Get a decent laptop loaded with Microsoft Word
- Become comfortable with a time management system to help you keep projects and your workload in order
- Invest in some simple business software so you are not caught unaware come tax time
Taking any or all of these steps will make it more likely you’ll succeed at freelance writing. But there is one thing you absolutely need to do to make a go of it: to find freelance writing gigs. All the fine writing skills and fancy equipment in the world are not going to help you if you can’t find clients for whom to write.
Things I Did To Find Freelance Writing Gigs
Went back to my old job: No, of course I didn’t head back into the office I had so gleefully left the Friday before on my first day as a freelance writer. But I did call the head of my former department (this only works if you leave on good terms) and asked for recommendations – did he know anyone who might need a few newsletter columns and press releases knocked out? Not only did he refer me to a couple of his friends for whom I have done work ever since, but he hired me to freelance write the column I had penned for the previous ten years until he could hire my replacement.
Went back to school: One of the best freelance writing gigs I got was writing articles (and getting paid for them) for my university’s magazine. If you are just graduated, see if a favorite professor needs help writing up research or class notes or a textbook. Or maybe the alumni office or the student dean needs a freelancer to produce newsletters or funding appeals.
Looked online: I know some writers who get all of their freelance writing gigs off of Craigslist. Do make sure you don’t sell yourself short – some posters offer ridiculously low pay for articles. Other sites – Elance, iWriter, Scripted, and Freelancer, to name just a few — list jobs, allow you to bid on jobs, or give you a place to post your writing for sale and connect with clients. I work for Constant Content, which uses the latter business model. I can write short articles on any topic I wish and set the price for them (Constant Content deals with the marketing and payments). I also have the opportunity to write for special requests, again all my choice. The flexibility of this system allows me to use Constant Content to keep my income steady in between larger freelance jobs.
Looked offline: The writing company Writer’s Digest puts out a guide called The Writers Market every year. In it, you can find listed all sorts of freelance writing gigs, from fiction to travel writing to articles about car repair. Most of the jobs featured are on spec, that is, you write the article and submit it, then wait, sometimes for quite a while, to hear if you’ve been accepted. The upside is, if you do find a place that likes your work, it can often lead to requests for more articles from the publication or new clients who read and admired your work (remember to put in your writer’s bio that usually goes with any article that you are available for freelancing – even better if you can list a website).
Looked Downtown: I live in a small town with a revitalizing main street. All the small businesses there – both the ones just starting up and the ones that have been there forever – are developing websites, social media pages, even blogs. Most small business people are too busy with all the hassles of keeping their enterprise afloat to have time to write the content they need, for online or offline purposes (brochures, ads, etc.). I write a weekly blog post on antique timepieces for a small watch repair shop. It may not be the most lucrative of freelance writing gigs, but it might be the most fun.
And you don’t have to restrict yourself to businesses you can walk to – or even businesses at all. I got several jobs with a national charitable organization rewriting fundraising appeals. Larger companies issue annual reports. While the financial sections of those need to be done by professionals, these businesses often look for help on the chattier portions of the document – the parts that project a positive image for the company by describing its mission, employee programs, and charitable work.
With the rise of the Internet-driven economy and the craze for all things social media, there are plenty of good freelance writing gigs out there. At first, it may take a little legwork – or online searching – to find them. But if you write well and creatively, meet every deadline, and treat your clients’ projects with respect, soon you too will be able to make more money and work less. Good luck!