The best way to begin freelance writing is to just dive in. Don’t buy a million books; they will just overwhelm you. Here’s a basic list of things you need to know and do to nab that first freelance writing gig:
1. Figure out your writing niche. In the writing business, it’s not a good idea to be a jack-of-all-trades. Figure out a niche. (Don’t worry- if you choose one and find you hate it, you can of course change it. Nothing’s carved in stone.) I write primarily about exercise, health, and parenting. Why? It’s what I know about and am passionate about.
There’s a market for almost anything. Choosing a niche will help narrow your job search and help you prepare your resume and writing samples. Which brings us to…
2. Prepare your resume and writing samples. I actually have several different resumes to send out. Each one is catered toward the job I am applying for. For instance, if I am applying to write a series of articles on yoga, my resume centers upon previous yoga/ health writing. If I’m applying for an editing job, my resume focuses on my mad editing skills. No matter what your work experience, cater it toward your prospective employer. If you were a teacher, emphasize your writing and editing skills. If you’ve been published anywhere, write it down. If you were a manager at Burger King, focus on written reports, etc. you had to accomplish. (For the record, I have no idea what the responsibilities of a Burger King manager are, but you get the idea.)
Have some writing samples, preferably in your writing niche. Haven’t published anything? Go ahead and write some quality mock articles. Don’t think of it as a waste of time; you can most likely sell them somewhere sometime down the road.
3. Finds job to apply for. Essentially, there are three ways to go about finding writing gigs.
1) Contacting local businesses, organizations, educational institutions, etc. to see if you can help them write marketing materials, sales letters, website information, etc. The beauty of working for someone local is a) clients are more likely to keep a local person on as a regular freelancer and b) you have the ability to meet with your clients in person for meetings. Finding work this way requires proactivity and persistence. It’s not the time to get shy. You can e-mail potential clients, call them to schedule a meeting, or send out letters introducing yourself and your home-business. (The last, of course, costs a bit of money.)
2) The query letter. Looking to write for magazines? Perfect the art of the perfect query letter. You don’t need to write an entire article before you sell it. First, come up with a great idea and shop it around. If you haven’t been published before, start small- contact local magazines or newspapers with your story idea. This is a great way to get credible work experience. (Again- local publications prefer local writers!) Writer’s Market is the ultimate go-to guide for every magazine listing known to man.
3) The internet. There are a number of sites that list freelance writing jobs. Remember: a lot people are vying for the same job. Make sure your cover letter and resume are compelling.
Other sites have writers bid for jobs. Elance.com is probably the best of these. You can find decent work there. However, most bidding sites post jobs that just don’t pay enough. Never bid for less than you know you are worth. (Please check out my very first post here on Scribophile about this very issue!)
Finally, there are the content mill sites. You know these sites: they clog up the internet. They include Associated Content, HubPages, Examiner.com, Suite 101, etc. I occasionally write for Demand Studios. They pay $15 per article (generally 450-700 words). Content mill sites are not well-regarded by the publishing world. I suggest avoiding them if possible. Consider Demand Studios if you’re in a lull and need to make some money.
Find job listings here:
Some people love a variety of clients. Personally, my goal was to find a few regular, well-paying clients. Why? Searching for jobs takes up a lot of time that I don’t have. Having regular clients gives me a sense of stability. Finding work online has been great. Just remember, however, if you were the lowest bidder for a writing job, chances are your new client will ditch you if they find someone willing to work for even less. (This is why I don’t think bidding sites are the best places to find regular, great-paying clients.) Your ultimate goal is to make yourself invaluable, no matter where the client lives. You want to be the first person they go to when they need some quality writing done. How do you do this?
- Keep deadlines. If possible, turn your work in early.
- Edit your work. And then edit it again.
- Fact check.
- Sign up for CopyScape– make sure you haven’t inadvertently plagiarized.
- Respond to e-mails or phone calls immediately. Be available to chat via Skype.
- Never, ever get defensive. If your client wants you to change something, just change it, happily.
- Act like a professional. Correspondence should be grammatically correct. Spelling should be perfect. Don’t swear. Don’t use emoticons.
- Follow directions EXACTLY. The biggest complaint of many editors and clients is that their writers don’t follow directions.
- Ask all relevant questions at the beginning of the assignment. Don’t pepper your client with questions two days before it’s due.
- Did I mention how important it is to keep your deadline?
This is a basic outline to get started. So, go get started! Feel free to use the comment section for any questions you may have.
Next up: What you Need to Know About Writing for the Web