Let me preface this by saying that there are a million ways to get you to the point of being a freelance writer. What follows is my personal perspective supplemented by the influencers who have been a huge help to my writing career. What works for me might not work for you. And vice versa.
The Secret to Success
This is important.
I’m a self-proclaimed “self-help book addict.” I’ve binge-read my way through as many as I could get my hands on. (If you’re interested, I’m currently reading Living Mindfully: At Home, at Work, and in the World, by Deborah Scoeberlein David.) It’s been a range of useful and not-so-useful tips. But the underlying theme throughout is something very basic:
Start and stick with it.
Not so complicated right? So if you’re really committed to this idea of becoming a freelancer, it’s important to know that even the most successful people were not amazing right off the bat. Like any skill or trade, there’s a learning curve. Do not expect to be able to support yourself immediately. This isn’t a “get rich quick” kind of deal. You’re building a career here. So treat it like you would a career.
(Just a heads up, I’m assuming that whomever is reading this isn’t a full-time professional writer looking to branch out as a freelancer. This is intended for people much like newly graduated college/high school students or people looking to start a side hustle on top of their 9-5.)
Where to start
I’m a copywriter in the hospitality industry. I ended up here because I am very passionate about travel. Much like brick and mortar companies, there’s a myriad of other different industries out there. It’s a little overwhelming, right? Like I did, you might be spinning your wheels a little first. That’s okay. It’s part of that aforementioned learning curve.
Make a list of what you’re good at.
List past jobs, leadership roles, volunteer work, hobbies that you’re passionate about, etc. This list should be 10+ items long. Now look back at it… what’s in there that you could conceivably write about or what have you written about.
Niche yourself (or don’t).
Being a generalized freelance writer is not lucrative. I spent the better part of a few months writing for content mills (more on that later) and I came to realize that it’s not fucking fun if you don’t care about the subject matter you’re writing on. Here is a good article to read if you want more information on the benefits of niche-ing.
However, if you’re not sure what direction you want to embark in, you can start off more general and hone in on your focus as you go. (This is what I did, if we’re being honest. Note: this approach will take longer to build a sustainable income.)
Unearth everything that could possibly be worthy of a portfolio.
Yes, you’re going to need one of these. And in the writing world it’s as important as your resume. More so actually if you don’t have any professional writing experience.
It’s crucial to display that you have a basic grasp of the English language (duh). You need to show potential clients that you can structure material around a specific concept without rambling or adding fluff words. You need to show them that you independently research and understand concepts.
When you begin to apply for jobs, you’ll see that the majority of companies either ask for a portfolio or some relevant samples of your work. The rule of thumb here is to keep it to your very best pieces that are no older than 2 years. Important: writing samples that are actually published on a third-party website (aka, not your blog) tend to carry more weight.
What if I have no portfolio-worthy pieces?
This is juuuust about where I started out. Sure, I had some essays that I wrote for college classes. But none of it screamed “I can blog/write in a professional capacity.” It mostly read as “I took these core classes to get my degree.”
Just because I felt that I didn’t have any good pieces doesn’t mean that you don’t. Take stock in everything: from pieces you wrote for newsletters, campus publications, classes that you were passionate about, etc.
There are a handful of ways to bulk up a portfolio:
Write for free
Write for cheap.
This is where the bulk of my portfolio came from. Disclaimer: when I was first starting out, despite having years of writing experience and a college degree, I had very little faith in my own writing. While you cannot support yourself in this “limbo” of content mills, it is important to build confidence in yourself as a professional writer. It’s also important not to undervalue yourself.
These are not “end game” websites by any stretch of the term. They are there to build your portfolio and your confidence. Nothing more. These are a few that I used, but there’s many others out there. Do your research.
So, I have a portfolio. Now what?
By now you should at least have a general sense of what topics you can write knowledgeably about. Now’s the part where you hit the pavement (metaphorically, of course). There are tons of websites that list remote writing work. You can now scour through them to find ones that are good fits.
Before I give you the list of websites that I have bookmarked, let’s talk about a little pre-application research.
My favorite freelance writer job-seeking websites:
• Morning Coffee
• Whisper Jobs
• Be A Freelance Blogger
Some killer freelancing blogs I follow:
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