By Jill A. Chafin
Have you ever read an article and thought, "I could've written that!" Well, that's what I thought for years and years. And then I finally decided to do something about it.
I'd dabbled a bit in freelance work here and there, writing a few articles for Amazon affiliate sites, as well as some random product reviews. But I decided to step it up, making it my New Year’s resolution in January, 2019 to make x-dollars per month from writing.
My goal was a small amount, meant to supplement my husband's income, who was the main bread winner. I reached that goal after two months of serious dedication, commitment, and a I-won’t-give-up attitude, while also being the main caregiver for our two wild toddlers.
Are you ready to give it a try? Well, I’ve broken down the key steps, hopefully making the process a little less overwhelming for you.
Decide if You Want to Be a Writer
First, you have to decide if you love, or at least like writing.
If the thought of creating an article or essay from scratch makes you break out into hives or a cold sweat, then stop reading this article and move on.
Alternatively, you can check out 10 Side Jobs You Can Do While Your Kids Are in School.
Now, if you’ve decided you do like to write, and that you’re a somewhat decent writer, then let’s move forward.
Create Your Own Blog
Honestly, the best way to see if you’re cut out to be a writer is to start your own blog. This is an excellent way to dabble in creating some low-pressure, fun, and expressive content for the world to see. Set yourself the goal of writing one blog post a week for at least a month.
There are tons of resources out there on how to start a blog, which cover the basics on purchasing a domain name and what to do about hosting. I started with a free site through Weebly, and then paid a small fee to have the ads removed. However, I wish I had started with a WordPress blog since it's the most popular platform and super easy to use (I plan on switching sometime in the future).
Then, select a few interesting topics to write about, such as your hobbies, your favorite recipes, travel tips, crazy stories about your kids, or how you’re staying sane during the quarantine. Or read this list for more inspiration.
Lastly, don’t forget to share your blog. Even if only your friends and family are reading it, you can call yourself a writer. I landed my first regular gig with a site that specifically said they wanted to see people’s blogs as a way to gauge their raw, unedited writing style. So there you go---writing a blog actually pays off.
Search for Jobs
The hardest part about freelancing is finding the jobs. There’s no quick and easy solution. Plus, it’s different for everyone, depending on your field or genre (also called niche).
I started off on UpWork, which has literally hundreds of job opportunities. However, most of the assignments pay crap (like, less than $10 an hour). But in saying that, the jobs are generally pretty easy, thus earning you a few clips with minimal effort.
Almost everything I did through UpWork was ghostwritten, meaning they didn’t include my name on the final published article. I still shared them when applying for better jobs, trusting that people would believe me when I said that I'd written them.
Here are a few samples of what I did via UpWork:
When I first started out, I applied for basically everything that I came across. I landed my first ongoing gig via PitchWhiz---which is a freelance job platform that's completely free to use (for now). Although the rates aren’t through the roof, they're definitely a step up from UpWork.
And as always, social media is overflowing with opportunities. I’ve landed a couple of gigs from the various binders groups on Facebook, such as Binders Full of Writing Jobs. There are also plenty of jobs being posted on Twitter and LinkedIn, although I’m still learning how to navigate those platforms successfully.
Depending on what type of job you apply for, you'll probably need to write a pitch or include a letter of introduction (LOI).
A pitch is used mostly for journalistic outlets, but not always. You basically need to generate a story idea from scratch, then "pitch" the first couple of paragraphs to see if your potential client wants to "hire" you to write it. Here's a great post about How (and Where!) to Pitch Your Writing.
The LOI, on the other hand, is a letter used to introduce yourself to various clients, businesses, and agencies. Here are 7 steps to help you get the most out of your LOI. You can also read sample LOI's here.
One thing to note: sending the pitch or LOI is only the first step. Don't forget to follow-up a couple of weeks later. Editors and business owners are flooded with hundreds of emails, causing your initial email to get lost in the shuffle. The key to success is remembering to do that follow-up (even two or three times)---the squeaky wheel and all that, right?
Start with Low Paying Jobs
I belong to a few freelancing groups and everyone says to aim high, always. They adamantly say to never settle for anything less than x-dollars an hour, or x-dollars per word.
That’s all great advice. But in reality, you have to start somewhere. And you really need clips to build your portfolio (at least 3-5 solid ones). Even though your blog helps, some places want to see clips published by a variety of popular sites.
So, don’t be afraid to take low-paying jobs with the sole intention of building your portfolio. This doesn’t mean to settle for a lower pay rate for the long-term. In fact, you can set a limit, such as doing whatever it takes to get 5-10 decent clips. After that, set a base pay rate for yourself, such as $30 an hour, or .30¢ a word, or higher. This rate is entirely up to you.
One point that I can’t stress enough---don't write for free. Even though you want clips, there’s no point in giving your work away. Obviously writing your own blog (or as a guest writer on a friend's blog) doesn’t apply. But beyond that, don’t be so desperate for work that you slave away for free (remember, even UpWork will pay something for your work).
Research and Network
We’re blessed that even if we’re self-isolating or working from home, we don’t have to live in a lonely bubble. There are plenty of resources out there and I highly recommend you taking advantage of them.
I was quite surprised to find that most freelancers are helpful, generous, and super friendly. Aren’t they afraid of me snatching up all the work? No, they’re not. Because when you connect with other freelancers, they share work and then you share work. For example, perhaps you write about parenthood and they write about technology. So you find a job for technology and pass it along. And they do the same when they come across a job that's in your field. It’s a give and take relationship, one I suggest you explore.
Start by reading the Freelance Content Marketing Writer by Jennifer Goforth Gregory, which outlines the steps to take to turn freelance writing into a lucrative career. Then, join Jennifer's Facebook group, as well as signing up for her newsletter.
You can also join paid groups, such as Freelance Success.
Set Higher Goals
Okay, now that you’ve landed a few jobs, you’re wondering what next?
It’s easy to coast along with low or medium-rate jobs. But at some point you’re thinking, how do I get to the next level?
Basically, you need to hone your niche, directing your skills to the areas that interest you most and pay a higher rate. For example, writing B2B (business to business) content in fields such as finance and technology tend to pay more than articles about how-to clean your oven.
In order to bridge into those more lucrative fields, you need to have a solid plan, which includes increasing your clips in that niche, and then reaching out to businesses and agencies. It takes a lot of work and I’ll be honest, I’m still learning as I go. But Jennifer’s book is a huge inspiration. She’s a high-earning freelancer---bringing in 6-figures!---and if she can do it, so can you (and me).
Go forth and see where it takes you. Remember, persistence is key!
If you have any questions, ideas, or stories of success, please share them!
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist & dancer, food enthusiast, and mama. She was runner-up in the 2012 America's Next Author Competition and holds a BA in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She's currently working on several novels.
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