So, you decided to try your luck with freelance writing? First of all, you should know that it’s not about luck. It’s about persistence, skill, competence, and growth.
For starters, you have to show quality, even when you’re a beginner. Competition in the freelance marketplace is huge. Since many platforms want to protect themselves and their freelancers from having to drop prices, they take other steps, such as suspending accounts.
That shouldn’t scare you, though. The beginning may be hard, but a freelance writing job (or several) can be within your reach. Once you rack up the first few gigs, your reputation will push you forward from there. And by using this guide, you can start finding freelance work and building a successful, remote writing career.
A Beginner’s Guide to Successful Freelance Writing
1. Know what you're getting into.
Whether you’re intending to make freelancing be a ‘round the clock, full-time job or simply a side hustle, it’s important to know what you’re getting into before you start. For example, did you know that Upwork, a popular global platform connecting freelancers with potential gigs, started suspending users’ accounts for no apparent reason? You have the right to use your connects and apply to jobs. However, if you send too many applications without getting a response, they will likely suspend your account without a second thought.
That's why you should do your research about where to post your resume, with whom you should network, and where you should apply to jobs. Did you see a cool ad for a freelancing platform? Investigate it thoroughly before you sign up for the service—you don't want to land a great gig only to find that it's taking a huge commission from your paycheck.
2. Stalk other freelance writers.
Natalya Roberts, a writer for EssayOnTime, shared her experience:
“I was between jobs and I decided to try freelance writing. I’d always been good at writing, but this was a whole other concept. I had no idea that the online audience was looking for simple sentences, short paragraphs, and tons of visual content. I was used to academic writing, and that didn’t work. I adapted for a short period of time, but then I found a job more suitable to my skills: academic writing.”
The point being: The freelance writing industry offers a range of opportunities. You may start out writing blog articles, essays, and other academic projects, or you might begin with more click-oriented website content. All of these jobs require a different approach, meaning you need to ask yourself, to begin, what is your writing form?
Then, stalk other freelancers in that same genre to see how they write and who they write for. Read as many blog posts as you can on a daily basis until you find your niche (and after you’ve found it, too). When you’re well prepared, that’s when you’ll succeed.
3. Understand SEO.
You don’t need a comprehensive understanding of how SEO (or Search Engine Optimization) works, though that would be helpful for your career. However, you do need to learn how to use keywords.
If you’re dealing with clients who are optimizing their websites, they will be sending you lists of keywords to include in the content you write for them. You’ll need to use these words and phrases in logical sentences, and you’ll have to avoid keyword stuffing, or cramming in hotly searched terms without rhyme or reason. Overall, it’s pretty straightforward, and having some prior knowledge of SEO writing will definitely help set you apart from the rest of the pack.
Another aspect of SEO? Uniqueness. It sounds obvious, but no plagiarism is allowed in the work of a freelance writer. You can use online sources to get loosely inspired, but you’ll always need to reference those source if you include exact quotes.
If you don't have a basic understanding of how SEO works, you may want to look into online courses that will give you, at the very least, a way to market yourself to potential clients.
4. Look for viable gigs.
There are several platforms that enable clients and freelance writers to connect with each other, and these sites are the best place to start looking for freelance writing jobs. Creating a profile and applying to jobs that way is a simpler alternative to cold pitching (or contacting bloggers and websites at random to ask to write for them).
These are few of the platforms you can explore:
For starters, you should pick only one and read its terms and conditions in detail. It’s easier to understand how these kinds of platforms work when you focus only on one at a time. Keep in mind that these platforms work differently, so read the terms and what you'll need to do to keep your profile active—and, of course, find clients.
5. Start a blog.
Are you just another freelance writer, or are you someone who can really write? Of course you belong to the second category! But you’ll have to prove it. When you’re sending a pitch or applying to freelance writing jobs, the clients will want to see what you can do. Some of them ask for samples, but it’s much easier when you beat them to it by including a link to your blog in the application or initial email. They will simply click on it and explore your articles that way, and if you’re good, you’ll get the gig.
Perhaps the best part of starting a blog is that it’s insanely easy to, and often it’s free. You can start with a platform like Wordpress, use a basic design, and get writing. There’s no need to get fancy, either. Generally speaking, no one asks for outstanding web design from freelance writers. Just make it clean and simple, and focus on the content instead.
6. Get to applying — and follow the instructions!
Once you have your profile and blog ready, you can start applying for jobs. Identify opportunities on the platforms we've discussed previously, use job search sites, and network.
Apply only to jobs that are relevant to your skills and area of expertise and interest. Explain how exactly you’ll complete the job and what makes you so well suited to writing this kind of content. And always follow the instructions for every application! Each client has different requirements, and some will even want you to include specific words in your application so they will know you read the full job description.
7. Ready, set, grow!
From the first job on, freelance work is all about growing. Keep working on your blog! Write guest posts and include links to your own blog in them. If you keep working on it, it’ll start letting you earn some money, too.
Respect your clients! Do everything in your power to meet their requirements and deadlines. Although this is a flexible job, it does come with responsibilities. Your client or employer has plans. If they fall behind schedule because you’re late sending in your assignments, they won’t leave you good feedback and request more content from you. If you’re consistently good, on the other hand, you’ll grow.
Are you ready to start freelancing? If you’re a good writer and you follow all the above-listed tips, you’ll definitely start getting responses to your applications. Remember, as with any other job—full-time or freelance—finding positions requires a combination of applying, networking, and a heavy dose of patience.
Joan Selby is a former ESL teacher and a content marketer. She also runs her own blog about social media and writing tips. Joan is a Creative Writing graduate, fancy shoe lover, a writer by day, and a reader by night, giving a creative touch to everything.
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