Would you love to be a freelance writer?
Maybe you’re hoping to make a bit of money on the side of your day job, or you want to find some work that fits around being at home with your kids much of the day. Perhaps you’re hoping to launch a whole new career.
You might well be feeling daunted before you’ve even begun, though. There’s just so much information out there: where do you even start?
These six steps are all you really need in order to get going:
Step #1: Find Out How Self-Employment and Tax Works in Your Country
Before you start freelancing, it’s important to figure out how self-employment (and particularly tax) works in your own country.
You don’t necessarily need to do anything about it right away, but you do need to know what to expect.
Here in the UK for instance, sole traders (the simplest set up for a freelancer) don’t have to register with HMRC (the tax authorities) from the first moment they start freelancing. They do need to be ready to submit a self-employed tax return on time, though – e.g. by the end of January 2020 for the tax year 6th April 2018 – 5th Mar 2019.
If your country isn’t on this list, just search for “register as self-employed” and your country name, and you should find plenty of advice.
Step #2: Create a Gmail Account (for Email and Google Docs)
Do you have an email address that looks something one of these?
I’m sure it goes without saying that those aren’t very professional looking! Even if your email address uses your name (or your pen name), free providers like hotmail and yahoo have a bit of an “unprofessional” reputation.
Gmail is much better regarded, perhaps because it started out being very popular with techy types, and is now so ubiquitous. So I’d recommend setting up a professional looking email address with Gmail, for now – something like [email protected] or [email protected].
One important reason for having a Gmail address is that it also gives you a Google account, which you can use for Google Docs – I find that many clients want to collaborate in this way.
If you prefer to have a really professional looking email address, then you’ll need to register a domain name of your own (e.g. mine is www.aliventures.com) and then set up an email address at that domain (mine is [email protected]).
Step #3: Figure Out What Topics You Want to Write About
Before you go any further with freelancing, it’s a good idea to figure out what you want to write about.
You might think that it’d be best to write about anything and everything, in the hopes you’ll get plenty of work – but the truth is that clients prefer writers who have prior experience in a particular area.
You’ll also probably enjoy freelancing more if you’re writing about topics you’re actually interested in.
When you’re figuring out which topics to focus on, you might want to consider:
- Your personal life and experiences – e.g. if you’re a parent to school-age children, you could write about pregnancy, babies, toddlers, etc.
- Your professional life – e.g. if you work in IT, you might want to specialise in technical writing or in writing for blogs that cover techy topics.
- Your hobbies – e.g. if you love to craft, then you might want to look for blogs about craft or companies that sell craft supplies to write for.
You can switch or add topics as you go forward in your career, but you’ll find it helpful to have some idea of the areas you want to focus on when it comes to the next two steps.
Step #4: (Optional) Create a Website
You don’t have to have a website in order to freelance – so if this is just a step too far right now, then feel free to skip it.
At some point fairly early in your freelancing career, though, you’re going to want to have a web presence. You’ll want somewhere to direct potential customers, whether those are your current contacts, friends of friends, or people who read your guest posts (see Step #5).
If you don’t want to spend any money at this stage, I recommend setting up a free website with WordPress.com (just follow their process step by step). Your website will have “wordpress” in the address, so it’ll look something like yourname.wordpress.com.
While this isn’t the most professional option out there, plenty of freelancers do just fine with a free WordPress site – and I think it’s absolutely fine when you’re just starting out.
Alternatively, if you’re fairly confident about techy things and if you have a bit of money to invest, I’d recommend purchasing web hosting, registering your own domain name (e.g. yourname.com) and setting up self-hosted WordPress on that site. Most web hosts have a simple “one click” installation process for WordPress, as it’s so popular.
Step #5: Get Some Published Experience
Before you can start landing freelancing clients, you need some experience: published pieces that you can show them as examples of your work.
But how do you get that experience when you don’t have any clients?
One simple way is to write guest posts for large(ish) blogs: a big advantage of these is that your posts will be online, so it’s very easy to send clients a link to them. You can also create a “Portfolio” page on your website with screenshots of and links to your work.
Ideally, you’ll want to target blogs that fit in with the areas you want to write about, so that you’ve got relevant freelancing clips.
Most guest posts are written for free, and although some freelancers feel you should never work for free, I think it makes sense to do so when you’re just starting out. (Don’t spend ages at this stage, though; three to five published pieces should be plenty.)
You’ll almost always get the opportunity to write a “bio” to go along with your guest post (normally at the bottom of it). You can use this to promote your freelancing services, writing something like:
Ali Luke is a freelance writer, specialising in blog content for small businesses. You can find out more about her and her services at www.aliventures.com.
If you want to freelance for magazines or print publications, rather than blogs or websites, then you’ll want to look for ways to get some experience with print.
A good place to look is local free newspapers and magazines – they probably won’t be able to pay, but they’ll likely be very willing to publish your work.
Step #6: Start Finding Clients
If there’s one thing you take away from this post, make it this:
Don’t use content mills.
If you’re not sure what a content mill is, it’s a site where you sign up and get sent writing jobs. They often promise lots of work, or tell you how much writers can make – but the reality is that they pay peanuts.
They often call themselves “article writing services”. Textbroker is a well-known one; Copify and iWriter are other examples.
Content mills can’t afford to pay much, because their main selling point to their clients is that they’re a cheap way to get lots of content.
So where else can you find work?
- Let family and friends know that you’re freelancing, and tell them what type of work you’re looking for. You never know when someone will know someone…!
- Look at the ProBlogger jobs boards and Freelance Writing Gigs’ daily round-up of writing work. (There are plenty of other similar job boards online, but I’ve found that between these two, they cover all the good opportunities.)
- Pitch directly to websites (or magazines, or whatever type of publication you want to write for).
- Target local clients, perhaps with an ad in a local paper, shop window, or library, or by attending local small business networking events.
- Browse the website of companies that offer services related to your niche and in case they don’t have a regularly updated blog contact them offering your writing services and explaining the benefits that fresh content would bring to their website.
- Think beyond writing articles. You can offer services such as crafting email marketing campaigns, writing e-books and reports, website editing and proofreading and so.
Finding your first paying client can feel like a huge hurdle — but once you’ve found one client, more will follow.
In case you want more help, I have a 6-week program that covers all the aspects of getting started as a freelance writer, from improving your writing productivity to landing high-paying gigs, from promoting yourself online to running your freelance business efficiently. The course has been offered for 8 years and over 1300 students enrolled during that time. I offer a complete money back guarantee, and surprisingly no one ever asked for it! In order to celebrate its eighth anniversary we are offering the course for just $29, so check it out below before the promotion ends.
Above all, if you decide to try freelance writing, make sure you persevere. Getting results takes time, as with virtually all endeavors in life, and the biggest mistake I see aspiring freelance writers making is giving up too soon. Hang in there for 6 to 12 months before you evaluate your results.