Two weeks ago I wrote about five things I can’t believe about my financial life, and it was a great way to reflect on where I am, financially and otherwise, right now. While creating the whole list was fun, I got a few questions about #1, where I wrote about becoming a paid writer, so I reluctantly decided to write a separate post about it.
Why am I reluctant to explain how I started freelancing, you ask? Well, two reasons:
- I kind of hate when people write “how to” style posts on their personal blogs. Unless they’re writing about a topic that they have legitimate expertise in, it seems really boast-y and self-indulgent to me.
- My path to freelancing was unusual in that it mostly happened by luck and chance; I never intended to become a paid writer. I’ve avoided writing about it up until now because I think, in general, I’m a bad example of how to get freelance work; however, when I gave it a little more thought, I realized I did have a few probably relevant tips to share.
Ok, so even though I’ve taken a non-traditional path to becoming a freelancer, I’ve cobbled together a fairly respectable roster of steady jobs (and income) since I started nine months ago. I’m definitely not an expert, but if you’re interested in pursing this path, here are a few tips I’ve picked up:
If you have a blog, take it somewhat seriously
Normally, I don’t encourage people to blog unless they want to do it as a hobby. I’m not a fan of blogging exclusively to make money or become well-knonw, because I think it’s obvious that those bloggers are doing it for the wrong reasons and their writing appears very phony. This is why I don’t think it’s advisable to blog only as a stepping stone to becoming something else.
But if your ultimate goal is to become a freelance writer, it’s wise to keep your blog in decent shape. This means devoting some time to the quality of your writing – develop your ideas fully, proofread, check facts if you’re using them. I used my blog as proof to one of my now-editors that I can actually put words together in a coherent way, so maintaining a standard of quality in your writing is a good step towards securing freelance work.
Be prepared to hear “no”
After I stumbled upon my first staff writing job, I realized how much I enjoyed it and started actively seeking more work as a writer. And mostly, I got rejected. Nearly every writer out there will say the same thing – there is a lot of rejection in the process of obtaining paid jobs, so don’t take it personally or give up. Make as many contacts as possible and keep plugging away – eventually you’ll find the right job at the right time.
Be prepared to say “yes”
Once you’ve gotten a freelance job or two, be ready to work. Like, really, really work – say yes to every article that’s tossed your way. Say yes to special projects. Say yes to overtime and working late into the night. Especially at first, you’re proving to your editor that you’re a worthwhile contributor to his or her site. Remember that, at least for the time being, you’re highly disposable. There are a million other people out there that could replace you in a hot second. That sounds really negative, but writing is a competitive business, so be realistic about how much work it really is to freelance.
Let’s put it this way – if you’re not exhausted from churning out articles a couple of times a week for the first few months you’re working as a freelancer, you’re probably not doing it right.
Don’t be a flake
No employer likes a flake. No one wants to hire someone who’s unreliable, non-communicative, or flighty in any way, so don’t show these behaviors as a freelancer. Turn in your assignments on time. Respond to emails as quickly as you can. Be flexible and willing to make edits and changes to your work at your editor’s request. I was able to turn one freelance job into two largely because my employer saw that I was able to reliably turn around decent quality; I guarantee I wouldn’t have been asked to staff write for his second site if I’d flaked out on assignments for the first.
Again, there’s nothing worse (or more cliche, actually) than a flakey writer, so don’t become one!
Don’t be an idiot
It has been my observation that some bloggers who become freelancers try way too hard to be funny/relatable/quirky in their writing and end up coming off as idiots, even when they’re probably not. I would advise against this; as a beginning freelancer you’re probably not composing great works of hard-hitting journalism, but you are a writer and writers are supposed be smart and insightful. So be smart and insightful. Use high-ish level vocabulary, make references to politics and literature, and generally portray a tone of relatable intelligence in your prose. No one wants to feel as though they’ve been made dumber as a result of reading your work, so don’t sell your writing short in the interest of getting a laugh or two.
So there you have it! My five tips for getting a keeping freelance work. Are you a freelancer? Do you have any suggestions to add to my list? Share!