Freelance Writing: 3 Tips to Starting from Scratch

I was recently asked about my experiences as a freelance writer, how to get started, and where to go to get freelancing jobs. While there are plenty of web resources available for aspiring freelancers to learn from pros with plenty more experience than me–like here and here, and here too– I also want to share some of the things I’ve learned, in the hopes of helping those whose situation isn’t so different from how I used to be.

So without further ado:

1. It’s possible to start from nothing.

One of the biggest challenges for me when I started out was my portfolio. It wasn’t necessarily empty, but close enough to it. I always dreaded the question “can I see more of your work”, because I simply didn’t have anything else to show. This was also a problem in that I sometimes wouldn’t have anything relevant to the project for which I was bidding (only having magazine articles when the client wanted website copy, for example). This closed a lot of doors for me; it also became a psychological block that kept me from aggressively hunting projects.

But there are clients who are willing to take on new writers if they show a good command of the language (whether you’re writing in English or otherwise), and if the writers can show they understand the clients’ needs. You may have to work for free (or close to it), but at this point in your career you should be focusing on building your resume.

Think portfolio, not profit.

2. If you don’t have clients, be your own.

No need to cool your heels in front of the keyboard if nobody’s awarding you any work. If you don’t have any active projects, this is a good chance to work on your own. I recommend you spend time working on your writing skills by practicing the kind of writing you want to sell. Are you planning on writing websites? Practice writing for an imaginary client and see how your work stands up to similar, existing websites. If it’s good enough, you may even be able to show it as a part of your portfolio.

And just because you’re practicing it doesn’t mean you can’t get paid for it. You can submit articles to sites like Constant Content and get paid a (very) small commission for either page views or for sold articles (method of compensation depends on the site). Some sites only pay to U.S. or North American writers, though, so read their T&Cs carefully. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family if they need any writing/editing work done for their businesses. If you’re feeling brave, you can pitch your articles to magazines and ezines (MOTL).

Practice makes profit.

3. Grow slow.

Developing a creative freelancing business is very tricky. Here, you are the factory.

At first, you will have no idea how long it will take to create the product your client ordered. It’s all too easy to bite off more than you can chew and take on too many jobs or over-promise on a deadline. Job sites like eLance let clients review their contractors, so doing a bad job will mar your record and make it harder for you to get more work.

Until you have a better idea of your own work process, and how much time you need to finish a piece, play it safe. I suggest you do it one project at a time. Give yourself enough breathing room to finish the work properly. Only then should you move on to the next.

Work before you run.


One comment on “Freelance Writing: 3 Tips to Starting from Scratch

  1. Pauline de Guzman says:

    great tips, peej! 🙂

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