Tips on how to become a freelance writer

The beautiful thing about becoming a writer, particularly when you work for yourself, is if you’re determined to do it, you can. There’s no expensive qualifications or worrisome exams. No unpaid internships and no sixty hour weeks. If you want to be a freelance writer, it’s simply a matter of following your passion (although an eye for grammar and punctuation is always useful!).

Some people, however, find it easier than others, so IPSE has shared a few tips that might just help you land that first gig.  

Katy Ratican is a freelancer copywriter and blogger, and took the plunge to quit her permanent role in 2015. Although she was nervous about going it alone, it was an easy decision, she says: “I craved more variety and the ability to set my own hours, so freelance seemed like the best option. At that point, I had over a decade of copywriting experience, so I got my portfolio in order and started pitching myself to businesses in a freelance capacity.”

Tip 1: That essential first pitch

Your first pitch will likely be the hardest. If you’re transitioning from a full-time role, it’s probably best to take on freelance work part-time at first so you’ve still got the safety net of a salary.

“Personally, confidence was a challenge,” Katy continues. “But when my first freelance project when well, with great feedback from the client, it was a timely reminder that I should have more confidence and since then, that's the vibe I've been channelling!”

You also need to think about getting your name out there. Build a social media following on Twitter and LinkedIn, create a website or blog and showcase your best work to the world. Wordpress, for example, allows users to create professional-looking sites for free. Squarespace, meanwhile, gives you maximum freedom for a few pounds per month.

According to Katy, one of the biggest challenges can be to make potential clients aware that you’re available. “I got a lot of my early work via word of mouth; the people you know are often the best source of support and income in the early days. Once I started working on projects, big and small, more people became aware of me and what I could offer - networking was also a great way for me to become more established.

Networking is definitely essential too; IPSE hosts dozens of events throughout the year for both new and established freelancers to meet, and you never know where the next job might come from.

Tip 2: Take advantage of the gig economy

An alternative to the traditional model of freelancing is to use an online platform like freelancer.com. Effectively a marketplace for freelancers to “bid” for available projects, these sites connect client and freelancer instantly so you can cherry-pick the work that interests you.

Joe Griston is Director at freelancer.com. “It’s very easy to win your first job. Since the start of 2016 there have been over 70,000 writing jobs on the site, meaning the choice of work is extremely large – as is the ability to win this work.”

But you will be competing against a number of other freelancers for most projects. Joe’s advice is to make sure you stand out from the crowd: “Adding examples of your writing to your profile is a great way to show your abilities to potential clients. This is especially true for writers, as you have the choice of creative work to show off your abilities.

Katy has some words of advice on how you can stay at the top of your game: “Write a lot, as much as you can. And write a range of copy where possible; fiction, blog posts, informative articles. Promote your work via social media and set yourself a task to write for at least 30 minutes every single day. It really focuses the mind!” 

Finding your niche, your area of expertise, is essential if you’re to be passionate about your work. You’ll rarely get to choose exactly what you write about – at least, until you’re more established – so be open to new things and hopefully, you’ll discover new things you love to write about.

Tip 3: Develop a thick skin and get ruthless

Freelance writers need to be able to face rejection. You might write pitches for five editors, to be met with little response – and this can seem disheartening. In truth though, this has nothing to do with the quality of your pitch and everything to do with the fact that the editor’s inbox has been bombarded with twenty other pitches on the same morning. Keep calm and stick it out. 

Unfortunately, even once you’ve secured your first gig, the first draft is unlikely to hit the mark perfectly. You need to be able to face criticism – and edit your copy harshly. This might be difficult at first. But it gets easier over time; you’ll learn that while it’s never nice to see parts of your beautifully crafted copy go to waste, it’s an essential part of the editing process and it ultimately results in a better end product.

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