I get a lot of emails from people who are just starting out on their online freelance writing journey and feel utterly overwhelmed by how they should start.
Having been a beginner freelance writer myself not so long ago, such memories are still fresh and I can empathize. When I was starting out the very concept of getting paid to write was completely alien and the idea that I should approach people and sell myself as a professional writer was almost absurd. It’s easy to become paralyzed under such circumstances, as you may well appreciate.
With that in mind, I want to break down the process of getting started as a freelance writer into the most basic steps possible. Whilst you can take your approach a great deal further than this, I am going to cover strictly the “must-dos” and push all the rest to one side. If you want to get paid to write but are feeling paralyzed by the perceived enormity of the task ahead, this is a great place to start.
1. Write Great Samples
Forgive me for stating the obvious but you’re not going to get paid writing gigs without first demonstrating an ability to write. As such, putting together some samples is of utmost importance.
However, most beginner freelance writers subconsciously define the word “samples” as “work that I have previously done for other clients”, and immediately see an unavoidable roadblock in their journey to freelancing success. After all, how can you win your first client if you have no samples? The simple answer lies in changing your definition of “samples”.
Put simply, a sample can be any piece of writing. It could be a front page article in The Times or a 200 word stream of consciousness on the back of a napkin. You probably already have samples and didn’t even know it. For instance, I got my first freelance writing job off the back of the blog posts on Leaving Work Behind and nothing else — and the posts weren’t even related to the job I was applying for.
Here’s a brief list of the type of samples you can produce right now:
- Posts on your blog (as mentioned above)
- An article written in a word processor (just pretend you’re writing an article for a client)
- Guest posts on other people’s blogs (download my guide to guest posting)
With the solution of where to procure and how to produce samples out of the way, I will leave you with perhaps the most important piece of advice when it comes to freelance writing — your chances of winning a job are most affected by the quality of your samples. Work hard to ensure that your samples are as good as you can make them and you are far more likely to see a positive return from your efforts.
2. Write Great Pitches
First of all, let’s dispel the myth that there are no freelance writing jobs out there for people who are just getting started. If you are willing to be paid $20-$30 per hour to write whilst you build your reputation then there are no shortage of opportunities, and you can ramp that figure up very quickly after a matter of weeks if you apply yourself.
If you want to know more about finding freelance writing jobs online I would recommend that you read the following posts:
- Freelance Writing: How To Find Your First Job
- How to Spot Viable Freelance Writing Opportunities on Job Boards
- Freelance Writing Jobs for Beginners (Without Using Job Boards)
Now let’s talk about great pitches. If “write quality samples” is the best piece of advice I can give you, “write great pitches” follows just behind it. These are the two key pieces of the puzzle — in theory, if you have perfect samples and a perfect pitch, you can land any freelance writing job on offer.
But what makes a great pitch? Well, if you’ve read the first post listed just above then you’ll already have a pretty good idea — here’s a direct link to my tips on creating quality pitches if you haven’t.
3. Improve as a Writer
So many people tell me that they can’t write “naturally” or in a “conversational style”, or that it takes them a long time to write an article. In fact, these are the most common excuses I read for people not getting into freelance blogging, as if the aforementioned abilities are in some way innate and unobtainable.
But back in the real world, nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s not forget that I only started blogging in June 2011 — have you checked out any of my posts here on LWB from back then? Whilst I have gone back and edited a lot of them (out of embarrassment), you can still find the occasional gem that reveals how fresh I was to the world of blogging. My point is this — someone who makes their decision as to whether or not they should be a freelance writer based upon anyone else’s ability is looking at the issue from the wrong perspective. The simple fact is this — you are in control of how good a writer you become.
Let’s take a moment to consider the now infamous “10,000-Hour Rule” popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s fascinating book, Outliers. The principle of the rule is quite simple — in order to become “great” at something, you must put in 10,000 hours of quality practice. Gladwell asserts that this theory debunks the notion that some people are simply more inherently talented than others. And whilst I believe that our genetic makeup does still play a part in our “natural ability” at any given thing, I for one consider my fate to be far more in my hands than anyone else’s (tweet this).
To come back around to freelance writing prospects, this means one thing — if you want to become a better (and therefore more successful) writer, you need to put in the practice. No excuses, no “but I’ll never be good as so-and-so” — concentrate on your own ability and how improving it will lead to your own success.
How do you do this? I have three recommendations:
- Purchase and devour a copy of the Yahoo! Style Guide. I consider it compulsory reading for anyone producing content on the web.
- Read. Subscribe to blogs with quality writers and learn from them.
- Write. Put what you learn into practice on an ongoing basis — whether or not you’re being paid for it.
That’s it — rinse and repeat.
What Else is There?
Above I have outlined what I consider to be the three key steps to getting paid to write. As I alluded to at the start of this post, my guidance above is intended for those who are feeling utterly overwhelmed by the prospect of becoming a successful freelance writer. Whilst there is plenty more that you can be doing, these three steps represent the barebones necessities.
I have not written this post as some kind of “freelance writing is a piece of cake — just do these three things” quick fix. In reality, there is more than you should do to improve your chances. But if you start with the above three steps then add layers as your confidence permits, you will no doubt reap the rewards down the line.
If you’re interested in finding out what else you can do then I would recommend you explore the other articles on freelance writing that I have published here on the blog. And if you’re ready willing and able to commit to the world of freelance writing then I recommend my freelance writing guide.
One more thing — if you have gotten value out of this post and know of anyone else who might benefit from reading it, please take a moment to share it with them — via email, social media (click here to tweet!), or any other means.
Photo Credit: splorp