How to be a freelance writer | Documenting my journey

To be a freelance writer and earn significantly from it is an aspiration I come across often. While some of them harbouring it are talented enough to actually make it happen, it still isn’t an easy task. Talent in writing alone will obviously not get you work, especially if you live in a rural area like I do where digital consultancies and the communication industry is not as flourished as we would like them to be.

There are, however, a few things that did work for me to a notable extent. I never joined any writers’ guild or move to a city where you can get hold of projects easier. (Joining a writers’ guild might be a good idea but make sure that you find the one that fits your niche.) From where I live and with zero idea when I started out, this has been the agenda and action plan that has helped build a notable career in freelance writing.

1. You have to start early – because it is a process.

If you’re already skilled at writing, that’s great. But if you don’t feel confident yet, know that it won’t happen overnight and you have to give yourself time.

[Here is my journey at becoming confident with my writing skills. Might help you]

Whatever your game plan is to establish yourself as a freelance writer, it is best if you start as early as you can – preferably when you’re a student. Through the years, you can make your name seen and get noted as a credible writer. I’ve spoken about that later in this article.

2. Get excellent at research and language.

Two languages are better than one, mainly because a lot of freelance projects are translation. But if you want to stick to one, that’s okay too but become great at it because you’ll feel like your works keep repeating or are very monotonous otherwise.

Take some online language courses, work up your vocabulary and tone of writing so that you can have a signature style of writing that will set you apart from the rest.

Research makes for a vital skill when it comes to writing too. Know how to use the search engines and social media well. Learn the regulations of plagiarism, licensed photos and SEO so that there can be credibility to your work.

Also, there are ample tools that can allow you to get better with words, grammar and content curation. Research can help you make the best use of them in building your skill.

3. Pick a niche that you can master – but certainly be a jack of all trades.

Employers are usually looking for a particular type of writer – technical, creative, social media, website, business, etc. If you can be an expert in one of the areas, that could be great and it would be easier for you to track down potential clients.

 However, sticking to one area might not be ideal for people looking to earn a significant income from freelancing – so it is best if you can do everything. Have a diverse portfolio that reflects your ability to handle anything that’s thrown at you.

4. Have a significant content platform that you can use as work sample.

How to be a freelancer

[You may want to go through this article to get some context here.]

Do not fall prey to the illusion of perfection and wait for a perfect day to display your work to the world. Whatever you create, put your work out for the world to see online. Regardless of the feedback, it will be a worthwhile learning experience and when you feel like you’ve reached a point where you’re confident about your work, you will have an easy portfolio to share with potential clients.

If this portfolio is a blog, learn SEO skills and optimize your blog well. If it is social media, use images and illustrative content to build your own notable brand.

5. Target a few major publications for bylines.

Speaking of a portfolio, you can benefit from your name appearing on some prominent newspapers or websites that encourage freelance writers. Develop a presence beyond your own blog by writing for popular publications. Being published in noted magazines, journals and blogs is a testimony in itself.

However, it is a challenge to get them to accept your work. Establishing a network through some academic mentors might be the way to go; that’s what worked for me. It is a good idea to target newspapers at first. Even though the digital world is way more advanced, the old fashioned bylines have an air of credibility that is yet to be matched by the websites and blogs.

You can see my publications in Deccan Herald here.

6. Definitely highlight your work on social media.

Social media usage

There may be a number of factors stopping us from displaying our work online. But none of them is worth the loss of exposure. By displaying your work online through a blog or social media, you can keep track on how you’ve been growing overtime, as well as establish an audience that connects to your work and gives you direct and indirect feedback.

Trust me, waiting around for perfection to kick in before you can display your work is not going to help. You have to get better at the art of writing along the journey of building exposure.

7. A LinkedIn profile can really help.

You would know already that LinkedIn is a space for professional people. A lot of employers looking for writers text you directly on the platform if your profile is developed impressively. Google some tips to make your LinkedIn profile effective and make sure you keep yourself active on the platform. You’ll attract employers easily there but also make sure you do your research about them before agreeing to write for anyone.

8. Build a network – people working in the sphere of entertainment, web development, news, entrepreneurship.

Freelancing

This one’s easier said than done; but is in fact one of the most important requisites of being a freelancer. More than strangers, it is always more effective to work for people who you recognize and connect to. Building a network of people who can benefit from your work and pay for it is vital.

Expand your circle through academic activities, social media, creative events and hobby circles. Networking always goes a long way in the creative field. The more people you know, the better.

9. Online portals that offer freelance jobs.

There are plenty of them but again, research is key. I have tried my luck with a handful of online freelance platforms like iWriter. They do pay, but you have to wait around for the right project that suits your style of writing. They are worth a try, but let me give you a disclaimer – don’t be someone who gets disheartened too easily.

10. Consistently feed your mind.

This is never told enough. Eventually, there is a chance that you will start feeling that your style of writing is getting stale. Especially if you want to venture into different niches of writing, you might also feel the influence of one style on another.

In order to keep the style and mental cache afresh, it is important that writers constantly feed their mind. Activities like reading, leisurely writing and creative courses can help. The mind needs good inputs to produce commendable output.

Bonus tip: Create a rate card.

One of the first questions that every employer asks is ‘how much do you charge for your work?” Most of us do not know what to say to that. Here are a few things that can help:

  • Identify the level of competition in your area and niche.
  • Identity the kind of charges that your fellow freelancers are proposing.
  • Based on your level of expertise on the subject, start out slow and steadily increase your prices.
  • The ideal price usually begins at one Rupee per word for research based articles.
  • Translation could be lesser.
  • Technical writers charge much higher and can go upto Rs.5 per word.

This is just my journey of being a freelance writer. Building my own network, establishing my identity online and a number of bylines in major publications have gotten me where I am today. I began the commercial writing journey back during post graduation but I’ve been practicing writing since school days.

You can never call yourself a perfect writer. But you can get as far as you can push yourself – and the possibilities for improvement are endless. People in need of your skills will eventually find you.

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