How Did You Get Your Start as a Freelance Writer?

It’s a question I get asked frequently. In fact, I get asked so often that if I had a dollar for everytime someone asked me that question, I’d have one million dollars. Ok, maybe it’s not that much, but you get the picture. The point is I get asked so much that it made sense for me to write a blog post about it.

Oddly enough, I’ve always wanted to be a freelance writer. As a child and through out college I never wanted to work for anybody else. I have always had a creative and entrepreneurial spirit so making the decision to freelance was not a tough one. However, that does not mean that it wasn’t difficult to get started. The most difficult part about starting a freelance career is actually taking the plunge. It’s easy to say you are going to do something, but it’s not easy to actually do it. After holding a handful of internships, keeping several jobs, and listening to the naysayers I finally decided to take the risk of being a full-time freelance writer.

The truth is I had already been freelancing for years. However, it was a big step to quit a job with a cushy paycheck to go the freelance route. Because I had been freelancing part-time consistently I already had some clients. The first writing job I took was for Demand Studios. (I know, I know. Content mills are the devil) However, at the time I wasn’t even aware of what a “content mill” actually was. My main concern was finding work and getting paid for it so I could build up my portfolio. It didn’t take me long to learn the error of my ways. After my first and only $15 article, I realized it wasn’t worth it. It was way too much hassle for too little pay and it didn’t help develop skills in anyway . And a major insult to professional writers

I moved on to a beauty website I saw advertising for writers on the web. The pay was better – $50 per story. However, the editor was still too demanding for such little pay. It wasn’t worth it. However, I hung on to the gig for a few months because I was adding valuable clips to my portfolio.

After writing for the beauty website for six months, I moved on and began getting work the old fashioned way – Pitching. I learned the hard way that it is highly unlikely to get valuable experience and decent pay from job ads posted online. And so my writing business began. I would do research or come up with an idea, pitch it to a magazine, rinse and repeat. It wasn’t long until I realized the waiting period between actually writing the article and it actually getting published was too long. Unless you negotiate for payment on acceptance, it can take months till you actually see the fruits of your labor. As a result, I turned to commercial writing.

My first course of action was to vamp up my professional website, and fill my Linkedin profile with tons of keywords to get the attention of local businesses. Next I researched small to mid-sized businesses I was interested in working with and sent them a letter of introduction along with some writing samples. Luckily, I got some bites, wowed them with my business savvy, and closed the deal.  Most importantly I churned out great work and encouraged them to refer me to others. Repeat business is what keeps my freelance writing business alive and well.

I know some of you are wondering how you are going to accomplish what I did without a background in writing or any writing samples. Luckily, I’ve broken it down into six easy steps  for you.

1. Start writing. Even if you don’t have clients, write a feature article, create a newsletter for a mock business, start a blog, etc.

2. Display what you wrote in a portfolio, website, etc.

3. Identify target companies and contact them. Be prepared to show them your writing samples when asked.

4 .Do your research. Read books about writing, follow writing blogs, and contact those who are in your field. Check out my TERRIfic Things page for some great writing resources.

5. Market yourself like crazy to get the word out about your writing business.

6. Do great work and encourage referrals.

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