There’s no way to sugarcoat it, your first months as a freelancer are probably going to be tough. You’ll chase a lot of leads, send dozens if not hundreds of pitches, and you might not get any decent work for a while. We’ve all gone through those growing pains. After you power through, things do get better.
The trick lies in knowing how to transition from a fledgling freelance writer to someone who earns a living from it. It’s not a simple process, but it’s doable. Plus, you have a lot of collective wisdom to draw from (especially from this blog).
In this article, I’m going to give you the full breakdown of what you can expect when you start freelancing. Then I’ll teach you three tips you can use to break from that phase sooner. Let’s get to it!
What to Expect During Your First Few Months as a Freelance Writer
If my first months as a freelance writer are anything to go by, you’re in for a tough time. Like a lot of people, I tried my hand at other freelance work before I found my way to writing. Back then, I gravitated towards content mills because I didn’t know any better and in most cases it was quick money.
It wasn’t until a lot later I discovered just how badly paid content mill work was. The way I saw it, if I could earn $5 per hour living in a third-world country, it was all good. Plus, better work wasn’t exactly knocking on my door. Then I started reading about other freelance writers and how they drummed up business and applied to job postings.
That was when things began to turn around for me, but I was still not in a great situation because:
- I couldn’t land any of those high-paying clients other writers kept talking about.
- My portfolio was still unfinished.
- I kept getting low-paying offers I needed to take to get some money, which took away from hunting better work.
- The few decent clients I got were for one-off work.
For me, turning things around took about a year. During that time, I wrote for a couple of small websites, covering everything from celebrity news to cryptocurrency. Then I landed my first well-paid long-term gig, and that’s where things began to have a better outlook.
The point of this story is it took me about a year to land that first long-term gig. If you’re just starting out and you want to become a successful freelancer, it’s going to take time. The good news is, you can learn from all the things I did wrong, so the wait won’t be as long in your case.
3 Ways to Break Out of the ‘Beginner’ Phase of Being a Freelancer
As far as I’m concerned, there are three things that set aside a professional freelance writer from someone who’s just doing it as a side gig (not that there’s anything wrong with that). In these next sections, I’ll talk to you about what those are and how you can tackle them.
1. Get Your Portfolio Ready to Go
The first thing potential employers are going to look at when you establish communication is your portfolio. A professional-looking portfolio with plenty of examples of good work tells people you know what you’re doing. If you don’t have one yet, it’s time you sat down to work on it.
However, creating a portfolio is easier said than done. In practice, these are the two most common problems people face when they want to set up a portfolio:
- They have no idea what platform to use and how to tackle the project.
- They don’t have enough work examples to fill out a portfolio.
The solution to both these problems lies with WordPress. With the platform, you can set up a professional portfolio quickly and you can also use it to publish your own blog posts. If you still don’t have any real-life work examples, some well-written blog posts may still be enough to get your foot in the door with a starter gig or two.
2. Stay Away From Content Mills and Move Towards Job Boards
My biggest mistake when I began freelancing was relying so much on content mills. They did get me a significant amount of money for a while, but not nearly as much as I could have made if I started hunting for jobs outside of them.
The problem with content mills is they attract a lot of clients that don’t see the real value in your work as a freelance writer. There are outliers, of course, but instead of competing with thousands of other people for a few well-paid jobs, it makes more sense to play better odds.
Personally, I’ve had the most luck using freelance writing job boards, such as Paid to Blog Jobs. The great thing about job boards is clients submit job postings directly or someone else compiles them. That means all you have to do is pitch those clients and you always have a list of potential jobs waiting for you.
Plus, unlike with content mills, a lot of the postings you find on job boards are for recurring work. If you want to become a successful freelancer, recurring work is the name of the game since it’ll enable you to build a more stable income.
3. Refine Your Pitching Process
If your portfolio is ready and you’ve found a few freelance writing job boards where there are good postings, it’s time for the last step of the process, which is pitching clients.
Pitching is a complicated process. In most cases, you do it via email, and you’re probably competing with a lot of other well-qualified people, so you need to look for ways to set yourself apart. What I like to do is change each pitch depending on the kind of work clients are looking for.
For example, if you’re applying for a tech writer position, you should mention past experience in the area and link to some tech-related blog posts. However, if you’re pitching a beauty blog, you probably shouldn’t mention your experience as a tech writer.
That’s a broad example, though. Most successful freelance writers I know focus on a specific niche, and they learn its ins and outs until they’re experts on it. This enables them to command higher rates and get more referrals, so pitching becomes less necessary as time goes on.
Starting a new job is always though, and freelance writing is no exception. The thing is, as a freelancer, you have to start from scratch when it comes to building your own business, which is always a tall task.
If you’re motivated about becoming a full-time freelance writer, here’s how to move on from those awkward first months and start getting better work:
- Get your portfolio ready to go.
- Stay away from content mills and move towards job boards.
- Refine your pitching process.
Do you have any questions about how to become a successful freelancer? Let’s talk about them in the comments section below!
Image credit: Pixabay.