Building Your Freelance Writing Career
Today the topic is freelance writing—how to start if you’ve never done it before and how to do it better if you feel like you’ve hit a wall. We’ll cover freelance writing in three sections: the basics of freelance writing, the freelance writing tools I use every single day, and no-bullshit answers to your questions.
Freelance Writing Basics
Because freelancing is one of those things I’ve been doing for a while, I’ve blogged about it a lot. I don’t want to be redundant and rehash what I’ve already covered though. So before I really get into the nitty-gritty of today’s post, I want to link you to some other articles that might be helpful for beginners (and maybe even the pros).
Interested in a Freelance Writing Career?: An interview with Missy from Literal Mom where I answer questions related to time management, breaking into freelancing, establishing fees, and building a portfolio.
Four Clients Every Freelancer Needs: A guest post for Outright.com, a site that helps business owners with accounting and bookkeeping, outlining the importance of blogs, websites, and social media accounts for freelancers.
5 Reasons Not to Be Afraid of a Freelance Career: On Grow with Stacy I explain how you can be shy, poor, ignorant, have a full-time job, and still be a freelance writer.
How to Get Deadbeat Clients to Pay Up: As a contributor to the Small Business Bonfire Blog, I often write from the perspective of a freelancer. This post tackles ways you can more effectively deal with clients who don’t pay on time.
Top 10 Signs of the Worst Freelance Job Ever: In this guest post, I help you avoid scam freelance writing jobs by identifying some of the most common red flags.
5 Tools I Use Daily As a Freelance Writer
Freshbooks: I invoice clients and track my expenses with this cloud bookkeeping system. If you’re just starting out, you can maintain records for up to three clients for free.
Evernote: I use this for collecting notes and grabbing little bits of the internet that might be helpful for upcoming projects. There is a paid version of Evernote too, but I find the free version has everything I need.
Small Business Bonfire: It’s no secret I’m a contributing writer for the Small Business Bonfire blog and that SBB is also a sponsor of Writer’ Week. But did you know I am also an active member? Some of the past guest authors on Suess’s Pieces are Bonfire members, and I’ve guest posted for other members as well.
AP Stylebook: I have an online subscription that I bought for freelance writing jobs, but I also use it a lot at my day job. I’m such a nerd that I also frequently read the “Ask the Editor” archives for fun.
Google Alerts: Several of my clients have been with me since the beginning. Without Google Alerts to keep me informed about their industry-specific topics, I’d probably pull my hair out trying to brainstorm new topics.
Freelance Writing Q&A
Q: You said no bullshit answers. I want to know how much you charge.
I sense a little frustration in your question, and I think I understand why. Everyone one wants to know how much they can expect to get for their work. The thing is, freelance writers don’t frequently publish rates or share them with the general public. Here are a few reasons why:
- Part of it is about protecting the freelance writer’s clients. Financial information is considered confidential by individuals and businesses alike, and a lot of freelancers err on the side of caution, even if a client has never said outright, “Please keep our rate agreement confidential.”
- Part of it is about the freelancer’s ability to maintain flexibility when quoting new projects. Maybe the freelancer wants to charge different prices to non-profits or small businesses and adjusts quotes based on the client’s budget. Maybe the freelancer is having a difficult time finding clients and wants to lower rates for a few months. Maybe the freelancer wants to keep existing clients at an old rate while taking on new clients at a higher rate. All of these things are a lot easier to manage if you don’t publish or otherwise blab about what you charge.
- Part of it is about competition. Some freelancers don’t publish rates or share them with colleagues because divulging that info means someone out there knows precisely how much they can undercut on a bid.
- Part of it is that it’s just nunya damn bidnezz. (That’s the no bullshit part of this answer.) I know what it’s like to start out and feel like you don’t have a clue. But I do wonder why it’s acceptable to ask a freelancer what she makes but at the same time it’s uncouth to ask the bank teller or the guy in IT what he makes. Anyway, the reality is that you might not be able to command the same rates as a person with different skills, a bigger portfolio, and more experience. So if you’re new to freelance writing, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to ask someone who’s been writing for 30 years what he charges. Just something to ponder.
Setting rates is many times a trial-and-error sort of process. All freelance writers have to set their fees on their own, and there is no magic number that the pros are trying to hide from the newbies. With all of that disclaimer junk out of the way, I will tell you that once upon a time I wrote 500-word articles for $10 each. It was worth it to me then. It so totally isn’t now.
Q: I’ve been freelancing for 8 months now… I can get jobs consistently, but I don’t really feel like I’m advancing at all. Any advice?
I don’t know where you’re currently getting jobs and how you market yourself, but I can offer some general advice.
- Stop looking on junk sites for work. Many of my clients look for me, I don’t go looking for them. In fact, my top three clients all found me by doing the same thing: searching Google for “freelance writers in Indianapolis.” If you don’t have a website, get one. If you have a free website that’s 5 years old, hire a professional to make it better. If no one is visiting your super-duper new site, get your SEO on.
- Make it easy for people to check up on you. Create a rockin’ portfolio and build a LinkedIn profile to serve as your resume. Get testimonials from clients. (Two of my clients decided to hire me before I ever knew they were looking.)
- Try branching out. If all the jobs you ever apply for are blogging jobs, you probably won’t be able to satiate your drive to be creative. Step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Some people aren’t cut out to be trapped or limited by a niche or specialty.
- Are you worth more than you’re getting paid? Raise your rates.
Q: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever written for money.
Most of the stuff I write isn’t weird at all—blog posts and web content for small businesses and large businesses make up the majority of my content. However, there was this one time that a guy asked me to give him a quote for writing messages on his behalf to women on a dating site. He told me that he’d pick the profiles he liked, and then I could write introduction letters for him. I declined. I guess money can’t buy you love or even love letters.
Q: Are you ever going to write a novel?
You need to be familiar with writing contracts. Even if you don’t have your own (and you really should have one ready to use), somewhere along the way a corporate client is going to ask you to sign their contract. It will likely cover things like publication rights, compensation, confidentiality, approval and cancellation terms. Always read before you sign.
If you need help drafting your own contract, there are a few free templates online. I’ve used a variation of this contract and so have some of my clients. You can make tweaks here and there to make it fit your unique situation.
As Laura Spencer wrote on Freelance Folder, sometimes drawing up a contract for a small project is a waste of time. However, if you plan to work with a client on a big project or on a long-term basis, I highly recommend you get an agreement in writing. On little projects, you may decide that a simple email outlining the scope and pay is enough. In the end, the decision is yours, and it all comes down to how much you’re willing to risk.
Have a question for me but didn’t submit it? That’s okay! Just ask in the comments.