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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

• Find a non-profit that you love and pitch them. Find a blog that you read consistently and pitch them. Start your own blog and write some stuff. Or just skip the blog and write some pieces on your own. It’s truly not that complicated.

 

• Websites like Catchafire seek out volunteers for their projects. A simple google search will bring up tons more.

 

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.

Textbroker.com – this is the very first website I started writing for. It’s uncomplicated and the work is extremely varied, ranging from marketing topics (eg: “how to make your articles more engaging with x product”) to beauty (eg: “how to use coconut oil in your PM routine). The work is not glamorous and at times its completely uncreative and vaguely demeaning to your skills.

 

Fiver.com – I came here looking for a little more variety. You’ll get very few orders at first, so it takes a little time to build up a client following. I wrote a variety of things here, ranging from filling out an entire website about rentable bouncy houses to writing copy for a lube company (yes, you read that right).

 

Constant Content – You get to write your own articles here and sell them to companies. I had very little luck but produced some portfolio-worthy pieces which made it worth it.

 

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.

• Get a general idea of the company’s mission and their products. That way you can tailor your cover letter. Or you’ll know to skip applying if it doesn’t resonate with you.

 

• Ensure that you have the experience needed for the job. They generally straight-up list what they expect of an applicant. If you don’t have everything but still want to apply, you’d better have a damn good argument as to why you’re still qualified.

 

• Take note of the language used on the website. If they’re uber-chill and casual, then it’s unlikely they’ll give you a second look if you use esoteric language.

 

• Be wary of ads that mention unpaid sample work. Pursue it if it looks legit but give it a pass if it’s sketchy. Your time is worth something.

 

• Paid sample work is awesome! If you discover at the end that you do not, in fact, enjoy writing course materials for a jewelry-designer-turned-influencer then that’s cool. Now you know and you’ll skip wasting both their and your own time pursuing that. Offering a writer paid work as part of the application process means that the company respects your skills and wants to ensure completely that it’s a good fit.

 

My favorite freelance writer job-seeking websites:

 

Some killer freelancing blogs I follow:

 

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