Who doesn’t want to make their own hours, decide which clients to work with, where to work, what projects to take on, and even command their own pay? Well, I do.
Many people are attracted to freelancing because of the thought of being “your own boss” and that’s great. However, starting a freelance writing career on the wrong foot can backfire badly and see you beat a hasty retreat back to your cubicles. While freelancing has its benefits, it can also be scary.
As a freelance writer, you are practically a small business owner, this sees you wear multiple hats and take on multiple roles to keep your business running and generate more income. You are responsible for scheduling meetings, creating content, finding clients and convincing them to hire you, delivering quality work on time, keeping records of your finances (bookkeeping), amongst other tasks.
So, if you are a new freelance writer or someone interested in dipping their toes into this world, here are 10 must-know tips you must keep to your heart and mind as you navigate the cunning and treacherous waters of the industry:
Start your freelance writing business with adequate savings
Not having a regular paycheck is something you’ll experience as a full-time freelance writer. Therefore, I’d recommend that before leaving your job and deciding to go freelance, do have three to six months’ worth of living and business expenses.
Of course, you might not need to hire employees, outsource projects, or rent office space as you start your freelancing writing business. However, you’ll need money to get your own laptop (if you don’t already have one), include data expenses and other stationery you will need to start work. You’ll also want to cultivate a professional image online by having a LinkedIn profile and setting up a business account on other social media platforms, therefore, investing in a photoshoot is something you should also consider.
Define your freelance goals and revise them constantly
One major mistake I’ve seen new freelancers continuously make is to dabble into business without a clear-cut goal. For example, ask yourself, “What do I want to achieve from my freelance writing career?”
If you’re quitting a full-time job to start freelancing professionally, one of your primary goals should probably be to make enough money to support yourself. You should figure out how much you can charge for your work, how many projects you’ll need per month to meet your monthly financial expectations, and how many potential clients you’re going to need to reach out to in order to land those projects.
And if freelancing is a part-time project for now, your primary goal might be to achieve brand awareness and visibility before going full-time.
Once you decide what your goals are, set a timeline. Check in at set intervals to make sure you’re achieving them, and know that it’s okay to revise your goals as you learn more about your needs and the market.
Market your freelance writing business across multiple platforms
Don’t just sit back and relax once you’ve set up your business accounts on social media or built your website in the hopes that clients will find you. They won’t if you don’t “go out and meet them.” Advertise your freelance business via WhatsApp, Facebook groups, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other sites that your potential clients can be found.
Plan ahead and have your portfolio ready
Before you begin to advertise yourself or start looking for clients, ensure that you’ve got all the tools you need. For example, as a freelance writer or copywriter, you must have work samples to show clients if you want to convince them to hire you.
Don’t have any article or content you’ve written for a client? Brainstorm on subject matters or niches you like and start to write sample articles about them. Alternatively, you could create portfolios by guest posting or using the published posts on your business account to show off your writing skills.
Never sell yourself short
Many times, we are told that bragging is bad. Well, in the freelance world, if you don’t speak up, no client will look your way. While I’m not recommending that you become arrogant or go overboard with your self-esteem, you’ll do your business more good if you speak out. For example, if you are trying to land a client who needs a SaaS writer, there’s a higher chance of converting that potential client into a paying one if you send them samples of SaaS articles or SaaS blogs you’ve written for.
In simple words, actions speak louder than words. Also, double whatever you make at your current day job when talking to clients. Does it sound crazy or horrendous? Maybe. However, you must remember that being a full-time freelancer means that you no longer live on a steady paycheck. Therefore, you now have to pay for overhead expenses and your rate has to account for that plus profits.
Don’t dive in too soon
It’s a good idea to get your freelance writing career off the ground while working a full-time job for a few reasons. First, when you start it on a part-time basis, it allows you to try out different kinds of jobs and clients to determine which ones you like best.
Secondly, it allows you to make mistakes – and fix them – which is better than making them when freelancing full-time. When you make mistakes earlier, it’s very easy for you to learn from them and take steps to avoid making the same ones after transitioning to a full-time freelance career.
Finally, it helps you build the emergency fund or saving you’ll need when you decide to go full-time into freelance writing, and the best way to build a nest egg while you’re contemplating a freelance career is by setting aside your earnings from any extra work you take on while you still have a full-time job.
Never forget or underestimate the importance of a contract
Maybe handshakes worked in your 9-5 but as a freelancer, it’s advisable to have a written agreement signed by you and your clients. Not only does having a written agreement protect you from dubious clients who want to take advantage of your writing, but it also defines expectations on both sides. Each party knows what to deliver, when, and where. It’s better to keep it this way to avoid stories that touch down the road.
Build a system
Ask successful freelance writers and they’d tell you that one of the secrets to achieving a successful freelance career is to have a system and stick with it. Keep track of your records, including expenses, payments due, and payments received.
As an independent worker, you don’t necessarily need to shell out for small business accounting software, you just need to have a system. As long as you’re keeping (and keeping track of) receipts, organizing invoices and bills, and paying your own bills on time, you’re in good shape.
For some freelancers, an Excel sheet and an envelope for receipts will be enough. Pick whatever system works fine for you.
Stick with your skillset/niche
When you’re just starting, it can be tempting to just take on any gig that you feel you can do. If you want to connect with the right clients and target audience, stay within the skillset/niche that you want to make money in.
If you spread yourself thin initially, it will be difficult to get traction and will be more than annoying when you find yourself in a situation that’s unfavourable to you.
Don’t put yourself in this situation upfront. Yes, you can diversify your skills further down the track, or expand the niche that you’re writing about on your blog, but do this once you’ve got yourself well established in what you’re starting with.
Wondering how to prospect new clients to hire you for your specialized skillset? You’ve got to position yourself as an expert in your space and share your knowledge with anyone who will listen. Here are some ways you can market yourself and your specialized skills for little to no cost:
- In-person networking.
- Create a blog or business social media page.
- Guest-post on authority sites.
- Keep your social media profiles up-to-date.
- Speak at events (virtual or physical).
Be sure to get a deposit upfront
It can be tough being out there on your own. So, you want to make sure you get paid for your hard work. Before beginning any work for your client, secure a deposit. You can do this in any number of ways: receive ⅓ upfront, ⅓ halfway through the project, and the final ⅓ upon completion, pick another percentage of payment that works best for your business, or even 100% full payment before you start a project. Whatever payment type you choose, never forget to collect payment.
Freelancing is hard, especially for someone who has steadily lived on paychecks. However, it has its perks too. Finally, I’d like to add that apart from the other tips mentioned above, never take on wrong or difficult clients. Not everyone is your customer, once you know and understand this, it’s easier for you to sieve and decide who to work with.
A good client should be relatively easy to communicate with, will pay you on time and in full according to your contract, and never stress you to the point of oblivion. If a client doesn’t meet any of these criteria or your instinct tells you a person is trouble, never take on that. And if they are already an existing client, you should fire them.
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