How to Become a Freelance Writer

Dear Dr. Civitelli,

I am a former newspaper journalist who was finally affected by all the layoffs in my industry. I don’t have a lot of savings so I need to make a career decision fairly quickly. I’ve read about hundreds of careers and the only thing I really want to do is write, but everyone says becoming a freelance writer is the worst decision ever, that content mills have destroyed the profession, and that I would be foolish to try to make money as a freelance writer. What do you think?

Thank you,
Ambivalent Writer

Become a Freelance Writer

Dear Ambivalent Writer,

I am glad you asked this question because I, too, keep hearing negative things about freelance writing and yet I know several highly successful freelance writers. I decided to ask them their opinions about the current state of the freelance writing profession. Their advice can help guide you in deciding whether or not a freelance writing career is a good fit for you.

“When I first set out to work as a freelance writer, I felt a little overwhelmed by the lack of structure. There was no one to tell me what to do or when to do it – which was great – but it also meant there was no one handing me work. I knew that in order to gain traction, I needed to figure out how to dig in and utilize my network. Now, when new freelance writers ask me how to get started, I offer these three tips:

* Be ready. All of the best assignments happen when readiness meets opportunity. Make sure you have the basics covered: a website or LinkedIn profile, a portfolio, and a letter of introduction. When the right opportunity comes along, you don’t want to be scrambling to come up with samples, rates, or a way for clients to contact you.

* Make sure that you are getting out and meeting people. As a freelancer, that’s the only way to build a solid network. Don’t be afraid to tell people what you do. All of my clients have come to me as referrals from people I’ve met. As an introvert, networking can seem daunting; however, it can be as simple as joining a few writing groups. I joined a poetry society, a scriptwriting group, and a storytelling group. I get a chance to be out doing something I love while making valuable connections.

* Stay connected. Once you start building your network, stay connected to them. Build genuine connections; don’t just collect people to use for referrals. People love to help, but no one wants to feel used. Creating genuine connections with other writers and business owners has provided me with ample writing opportunities and some wonderful friendships.”
Ava Love Hanna, Writer and Storyteller

“I wouldn’t encourage anyone to pursue freelance writing without many months of income saved up or a part-time job on the side, but I’ve always felt that way, even before the internet was all encompassing. It takes time and unpaid hustling to build up a business from scratch, so if someone has immediate financial needs, they might be better served by getting a contract gig onsite while building up freelance contacts.

As to the perception that it is impossible now to make a living as a freelance writer, the writers I hear complaining the loudest are often seasoned journalists who don’t want to adapt to the way things are now, which are admittedly not as rosy as decades past for writers. But a lot depends on the kind of freelance writing you want to do and how you define success (how much money, the types of publications and clients, etc.).

‘Freelance writer’ is as broad a term as, say, ‘dessert.’ There are many types and flavors. If a writer wants to only do book and food reviews and lit journal essays, then yes, that writer will likely starve. If a writer can take some less glamorous work (copywriting, grant writing, blogging, editing, crafting press releases, managing social media accounts, consulting, teaching, and/or anything that’s an extension of writing) to help supplement dream work, then it’s 100% doable. Business writing is one of the more accessible niches. Write web copy for small and large businesses, anything in health care, tech, and finance. There is real money to be made.

Admittedly, I have 20 years of credits, experience, and contacts behind me, which makes it much easier, but I am in a number of online groups where I see newbies of all generations getting published and making a living all the time.”
Michelle Goodman, Writer, Journalist, Author

“The first thing aspiring freelance writers need to know is: You’re starting a business. Most don’t treat it as a business, so it doesn’t become one. Businesses do marketing. Regularly, and in quantity. If you’re uncomfortable with that, don’t quit your day job.

There’s really never been a better time to BE a freelance writer, in my opinion. It’s possible to connect with prospective clients all over the world and in your own town, with a strong online presence. And with the rise of content marketing, there’s never been more demand for good writers who can help companies build authority and get leads.”
Carol Tice, Freelance Writer and Founder of Freelance Writers Den

“It is absolutely still possible to be successful as a freelance writer. I started my writing career when I was a college student in India. There were many challenges but I worked hard and I was persistent, and it paid off.

One of the most important skills is to learn how to write a good query letter. This is foundational because it will help you to land writing work.

I also recommend treating your freelance writing as a business. Writing is one of the lowest cost businesses to start, but you will still need to set up a website, to create a business plan, and to follow action steps to meet your income goals.

I wrote this article, New to Freelancing? Start Here, to offer detailed suggestions and links to many free sources of information and resources.”
Mridu Khullar Relph, Freelance Writer and Founder of The International Freelancer

Recommended Reading:

A Day in the Life of a Freelancer

The 15 Worst (And Best) Parts About Becoming a Freelance Writer

The 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2019

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