So you want to be a writer? 3 tips for the modern freelancer
Contributed by Lauren Guidas, Freelance Writer
Making the decision to become a freelance writer is bold—you’ll be giving up the security of a 9-5 to throw all your trust in your own abilities. Scary, right? Uncertainty is a constant, and you’ll be testing your nerves indefinitely. But once you’ve made the jump, it could be the most rewarding career of your life.
I got into it because I loved telling stories from a young age, and after some grueling composition classes, I learned how to put it all on paper. With only my love of writing as a guide, I went off to a prestigious university journalism program … only to crash and burn and eventually quit. I was not cut out for the life of a journalist.
I thought that that was the end of my writing career. I spent years doubting myself and my confidence took a long time to rebuild. I studied business instead, but my love of writing never went away. After several years working in tech and marketing, I decided to reignite my passion, combining what I was good at with what I loved. Hence, a career in freelance business writing. I’m still building a name and portfolio, but here are some things I’ve learned along the way.
1. Pick a niche topic
Early on, you’ll be tempted to take on projects for as many clients as you can. But you will become a much stronger writer if you write about what you like. You should find topics that interest you that you can speak about with conviction.
My first writing project after leaving journalism was a fashion blog, which I chose because I was young and liked free clothes. My hope was that I would go viral and amass a huge following that wanted my constant advice on what to wear.
Instead, I was shut down in under a year. I was crushed. But I learned something … I don’t really care about telling people what to wear. My lack of passion for that industry came through in my posts and readers weren’t receptive.
Things became clear for me when I started a job in the tech industry and was asked to write a few posts for a company’s blog. Despite my failure with the other blog, I gave it a shot. And it turns out, I really like talking about business and tech. Thus began my business writing career.
The Lesson: Focus on one or two niche topics that interest you and learn as much as you can about them. Once you’ve mastered the topic and can write about it with ease, move on to another. This will create strong, passion-filled content and your portfolio will reflect only your strengths.
2. Take it one story at a time
As you grow your writing portfolio, you’ll likely be working on multiple assignments at once, all for different clients with different needs. You’ll get used to juggling multiple email chains, calendars, and meeting notes for each, and you will fine-tune your ability to multitask.
When it comes time to write, however, give your undivided attention to each piece for its entirety. Each project will require a different voice and focus, and if your brain is hooked up to all of them at once, they’ll all blur into one.
The Lesson: In order to show your range, compartmentalize your topics and take them one at a time.
3. Ask for what you’re currently worth and reevaluate over time
One of the biggest areas of uncertainty when starting out is knowing how much money to ask for. Your fear will tell you that if you ask for too much, you’ll miss out on jobs. If you don’t ask for enough, you’ll be taken advantage of.
It’s probably necessary, however, to accept a lower fee in the beginning. Once your projects start getting published and picking up steam, then start adjusting your rates. Take note of how much you actually earn per hour and adjust accordingly. Also, keep track of how your stories are received and evaluate the value that they provide to your editors. Higher quality work begets higher pay.
Eventually, your portfolio will speak for itself. Good editors who value you will be willing to meet your rates, and may even offer you raises without your asking for them just to keep you around.
The Lesson: Start low, raise rates, and stick with it.
Where you come from is not as important as where you’re going
It’s easy to feel doubtful of your abilities when you start writing. You might hit a few dead-ends, which can have you doubting your qualifications. Lucky for you, making the decision to become a freelance writer means you’re already qualified.
The beauty of this industry is that there’s a place for every voice, every failed journalist, every story. All it takes is a little direction, and a freelance career can be at your fingertips too.