July 14, 2014 at 4:05 pm #28488
I am not a young man, but I am new to writing as a business. With that in mind, what is the first thing a prospective freelancer should do? I know everyone is different, but I just need some guidance on that first step. My problem has always been starting…anything! I see so much advice and so many how to books and blog posts that I freeze up. It’s just overwhelming, particularly if you dwell in the land of ADD. All that information should be useful, but instead it becomes frightening.July 15, 2014 at 8:55 am #28495
Welcome to freelancing.
The question is a common one, and it’s not easy to answer. So let me do my best. And know that every writer is going to give you a different answer. Take the advice that resonates best. Only you know what will work for you.
Start simply. You’re not just writing — you’re starting a business. But that doesn’t mean you have to complicate things. Every business needs a few things: clients and a way to get them. There are other things, but they come later. For now, you need work.
Ignore any advice that suggests “Write what you know.” That’s too limiting. Instead, write about what strikes your fancy. Today it could be technology. Tomorrow it could be healthcare. If something catches your eye, explore it. This job is nothing if not great for those of us with ADD.
As for clients, start with magazines perhaps, or if you’re interested in writing for corporate clients, look for local clients first to cut your teeth and earn a few bucks. You can find clients on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and magazines through their websites. Start small for faster results. However, small does not mean working for free or for those gawd-awful content mills. Stay away from the gigs that pay $5 an article or anything that doesn’t compensate you adequately. Think in terms of how much per hour you’ll earn. If it’s minimum wage or less, don’t.
I hesitate to add job listings and Craig’s List, but there are a few gems to be had. Just don’t spend all your time passively searching for work. It’s so much more rewarding to take charge of your business and seek out clients you want to work with.
Also, market every day. Marketing is a huge part of the job, and it’s as simple as connecting with someone on social media. Build a manageable plan — something like you’ll send out two queries a week and connect with four new people on LinkedIn — and make sure to be consistent. If new writers fail for any reason, I’d say lack of consistency is primary.
Connect with other freelancers personally. Start by commenting on forums (hey, you just did!), visiting their blogs, making friends. Also, you’ve touched on this already — pay attention to what advice they’re doling out. Some writers are in it for the cash, so they’ll churn out ages-old information you can get just about anywhere for free. Keep your radar up and your BS meter finely tuned.
And ask questions. Try to make them smart questions — what should my rates be? What are your invoicing strategies? When should I follow up? What’s the best approach for new clients? Make them specific — you’ll get better answers that way.
And expect the ups and downs. This is a cyclical business, and the work you’re inundated with today will be completed and you could sit idle the next few weeks. Always market to try to avoid that!
And good luck. It’s the best job you’ll ever have if you can give it your all.July 15, 2014 at 11:51 am #28498
I second most of Lori said. There’s plenty of good advice there to get you started.
Do check out the job board here though. Lori mentioned that the bigger boards occasionally have gems. What I do is search for them and curate the best leads here on our job board (in addition to ads posted directly by buyers). I only post ads that disclose pay rate information, so you can quickly scan the list and only check out gigs in the rate ranges you’re interested in.
Keep asking questions and making connections. That’s key, especially if you keep getting hung up at the same early places in launching your freelance business.
Choose a specialty. Lori mentions not writing about what you know. That’s a place where she and I disagree a bit. I put more emphasis on writing what you love. That doesn’t mean you’ll love every single project, but loving the type of work you’re doing helps a lot with motivation (for example, if you hate corporate writing don’t focus on white papers and sales pages just because there’s money to be made). At the same time, having expert knowledge in your specialty area makes you much more valuable to clients which means you can charge a premium. So in that sense, write what you know. Or find something you love and get to know the subject matter well. In an ideal situation what you know and what you love will already be the same thing.
And as Lori said, stay away from content mills if at all possible if you’re in this for more than hobby writing. Clients generally do not take that work seriously in your portfolio. And it immediately sets the tone, telling prospects you don’t value your work highly. And if you don’t, why should they?
Just keep at it. The little things you do to build your visibility and promote your services each day (writing a blog post, guest posting, commenting on blogs, posting to forums, sending email pitches, making cold calls, etc.) add up.
And hey. It sounds like there are ADD families all around here. Who knows? Maybe it’s actually an asset in the freelance game. While I’m not personally diagnosed, I’ve always credited those genes for my ability (or compulsive need) to juggle many projects at once. Look for ways to make it work for you. I think Lori’s tip on starting with the small things first is a great way to kick things off. It’s easy to focus on the smaller things, and when your brain is urging you to jump to something else, there are plenty of other quick tasks you can move to. Before you know it, they’ll have worked together well enough that you’ll have the foundation of a new freelance biz.July 17, 2014 at 9:43 am #28513
Jenn, what a boring world if we all agreed on everything.
She’s right — the job boards here are trustworthy. That the prices are listed makes all the difference. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and energy on a huge question mark. Imagine spending an hour crafting a few queries only to find out they pay pennies or worse, they pay in bylines.
And you’re right, Jenn. We do disagree on a few things. I like specialty writing (it’s my bread-and-butter), but I think at the beginning of the career, it’s best to try on different things. I fell into my specialty, but I tried a lot of things beforehand. I knew what I didn’t like and it turned out to be those things that didn’t pique my interest. I think we agree more than you think about the “write what you know” stuff. I mean don’t limit yourself to what you know. When I was living in the middle of nowhere, where I’d been all my life, I had zero exposure to corporate stuff and even less exposure to the really fun things.
Jenn, do you think he should build a small plan now? I would if it were me. I’d be learning about simple ways to get the word out and easy, no-cost ways to market to new clients.July 17, 2014 at 3:34 pm #28519
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