There are many reasons people get into freelancing (whether they’re a designer, writer, photographer, etc.). Sometimes people begin their freelance careers because they want the work freedom it allows. Sometimes people do it because they want to spend more time at home with their newborns. Sometimes people like me do it on accident. If you want to become a freelance writer, keep reading to see how I started.
I’ve had many peers and even my doctor ask me how to break into freelance writing, and the online groups I’m in also have their fair share of digital nomad hopefuls asking the same questions every day. I can’t speak for everyone because everyone begins their freelance career differently, but today I’m going to share with you how I started mine.
I never knew I wanted to be a freelance writer. Heck, I didn’t even really know what the term “freelance” really meant until a few years ago. It isn’t something I was taught about in school. It isn’t something a kid blurts out at age 5 when asked what they want to be when they grow up (my answer was an indy car racer, obviously). How did I become a freelance writer? By way of stumbling through college classes, hating my first desk job, and following my heart.
In college, I was an English major and had no idea how my classes related to my dream of being a magazine editor. But I kept pretending I read the gajillion novels assigned to me, kept bullshitting papers, and eventually coasted through the finish line of my English degree. Sometime during my third year of school, I was in a lull financially. I had quit my job as Hot Dog Cart Girl At The Beach (seriously… photo to follow) and couldn’t get anyone to hire me. All I wanted was a simple hostessing or serving job, but with no restaurant experience and the industry’s slowness in summer, I couldn’t land any kind of job. I was downtrodden and frustrated–suddenly, that hot dog gig wasn’t sounding so bad anymore.
So I did what any desperate person would do. I turned to Craigslist. This time, though, I wasn’t searching for some crap job at some deserted restaurant. This time, I was looking for things I knew I was actually good at. I searched under the “Writing/ Editing” tab to see what was out there, and next thing I knew, I had my first paid writing gig.
Read that again: My very first writing gig was PAID.
Many novice writers trying to break into the industry make the mistake of giving away too much work for free. The fact that I as a 20-year-old still in college could find a paid writing job on Craiglist means that there are plenty of ways to start in the industry. Now, it wasn’t the best paying job (I was paid $10 per blog post), but it was more than nothing, and it was enough to fund my Thirsty Thursdays and Sunday Fundays.
The client was a fine jewelry store who needed me to write relevant/timely blog posts that also included their products–content marketing. I worked with them for about half a year until they told me they were switching over to a content mill-type site. There are a few of these out there, the most popular being Elance, Upwork, Odesk, etc. The one my client decided to use was a newer model called WriterAccess. So I went through the (very thorough) application and writing test process and got accepted to the site so that I could continue working with my First Ever Client. While on the site, I had other clients find me, and eventually I had some steady ongoing people that always requested my work. It was then that I realized I must be pretty damn good at what I do.
I learned my value while working on WriterAccess. My clients would tell me how much they loved my writing. They would pay me extra because the website’s structure didn’t allow them to pay me enough (it went by cents per word, based on my “star rating” earned in the application process). The only unpaid writing work I ever did was during my unpaid internship at a regional magazine while in college–but I considered having my byline in many print stories was compensation enough for a budding journalist in need of a portfolio and experience. Even following my unpaid internship, the editorial team mailed me a Thank You card with $100 Visa gift card in appreciation, so technically, I was still paid for my work. I learned that people are willing to pay for good content and a reliable business relationship.
Luckily for me, I had kept my profile on the site as I managed to get a hostessing job at a sports bar and finish college. I landed a job in PR before I graduated, and for the year I worked at the firm, I kept randomly picking up writing gigs to make up for the terrible pay I was making in PR.
It wasn’t until I quit my job at the PR firm exactly a year ago (!!!!) that I started to pursue freelance writing a little bit more aggressively. I was moving out of my apartment in Miami, I had no other job lined up, and I had no plans whatsoever. So I started to actually try. I researched the industry. I looked up income reports, rate sheets, job boards, newsletters–I scoured the web for everything I could find that might help me gain a better understanding. I reached out to both print and online publications. I told my clients from three years prior that I was transitioning to full-time freelance and asked them to refer me to anyone in need. I spiffed up my website with recent clips. I started applying to higher paying gigs. I started taking freelance more seriously as January 2016 rolled around and I was applying for a new apartment.
And what became of a little elbow grease and ambition? Well, I’m still in said new apartment (haven’t been kicked out yet), I have a repertoire with local publications, I have potential new clients coming to me, and I am just about ready to refine my business model and make it even more kickass.
I do believe that if freelancing were a conscious decision, I would’ve been more successful by now because I could’ve planned things out, but I also believe I would have never done it if I had thought about it in advance. I would’ve let fear and doubt get it in the way. Sometimes it just takes a leap (or stumble) of faith to get where you want to be. I never knew I wanted to be here until I got here, and friends, it feels real good to wake up at 10 a.m. on a Monday.
What are your fears or questions about going into freelance writing?