Freelance Writing: A Journey
Filipino Beach Bum
Everybody wants it: the remote job, living the life of Riley in up-and-coming Bogotá, Colombia or the tropical beaches of the Philippines, your laptop in front of you, writing your heart out for a good salary and professional respect. It’s the dream of many, but very few people ever realize it, preferring to stick it out in the security of their boring corporate jobs, the mundane nine-to-five office slog, which can end up with people suffering from mental health issues and depression. The gig economy — though recently the term has been attracting a lot of negative attention with the stories of Uber taxi drivers and Sports Direct workers being exploited — is here to stay, and is certainly on the upswing. Latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly 60 million Americans are choosing this style of working to other, more traditional methods. Other countries, too, are following suit. And writing, it so happens, is just one of the more sought-after ways to earn a creative living nowadays.
With more and more companies owning blogs and developing their social media presence, these businesses need talented writers to supply them with an unlimited amount of content, be it engaging social media posts, blog content that hits a vein with their audiences and editing/restyling website copy, the possibilities are endless for those who feel there’s a Willy Shakes lurking somewhere within them. If you have the skills to know the difference between a noun and a verb, when a semicolon should be used to separate clauses (though I don’t like using them), realize when you’re writing run-on sentences and can put all these abilities down on paper — only then to be able to market those skills professionally that showcases them in the best light — you can make a small fortune. There is, without doubt, a real possibility to earn good bank as a freelance writer if you put the work in and apply yourself in a systematic way.
But first, you have to position yourself within the market in such a fashion as to give yourself a competitive advantage from others after the same thing.
1. Exploit Areas Of The Industry Not Already Exploited
The problem with this industry is that many companies don’t go out of their way to hunt for writers. It’s not a top priority for them. This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want or need professionals to do their ad copy. The manner to go about exploiting areas not already saturated is by searching for clients directly, instead of through the normal channels, i.e. employment-related search engines or services, or blogs/websites like Problogger and their vacancy listings. Yes, you heard it — direct pitches, in whatever form, is the approach to take. Pitching can come in many guises, and can also be, unfortunately, very labour intensive, but the rewards can be astounding. The first way to do this, and the best, in my opinion, is to go directly to the said company’s website and read about what they do, find out what their business model is and what kind of clients they have etc. Additional research can help you ascertain what exactly their needs are in that specific area. Once you have worked this out, you can then start on your pitch, describing what you — as a professional writer — can offer their business in terms of creative copy.
2. Work On Your Professional Skills
Working on your self-development and education can pay off. Developing yourself professionally is a no-brainer. To be a quality freelance writer takes time and effort and investing in this area, either from online courses, vlogs, books etc, will pay off further down the line. With these skills in hand, it will be much easier to gain the kind of clients who pay the big bucks and offer the more challenging and interesting assignments.
Developing your personal brand takes money and effort, but once you have done it and then gained some prestigious clients off the back of it, completed work for them they were satisfied with, you can use their glowing testimonials of you to land more of the same clients with similar projects. So, with education, experience and a top-notch portfolio you will very soon discover that gaining more clients won’t be a big problem.
“I have some skill, education too, but don’t have any clients. What should I do?” the person asks.
Yes, everybody has to start somewhere, but building your resume and portfolio up as a freelance is no more difficult than in any other profession, especially now with the swathes of blogs and websites that are always looking for content from newbies. Medium, a place where I write regularly, is one. LinkedIn, a second. For that matter, start your own blog. It’s not difficult: Companies like Squarespace, WordPress and Blogger give you the tools to start one. You don’t need to be technically minded or a genius with coding to come up with a decent looking blog, though I would recommend going for the paid rather than the free options these companies have as you will get more gadgets to play with. Oh, and one more thing to make your blog seem at least half-professional, purchase a domain name. Writing your own blog is evidence you are doing something, that you are an active writer, no matter what the subject matter. As well as your resume, you can include links to your blog, giving them access to your writing.
3. Show Me The Money
As creatives, and as in many cases not the most business-savvy of people, freelance writers tend to undervalue their skills and what they can offer a client. Miguel De Cervantes, the greatest wordsmith ever to put pen to paper in the Spanish language, once said: ‘That which costs little is less valued’. This aphorism, it must be said, has to ring true for you as a creative and businessperson in many instances. For freelance writers, and in particular for those who are just starting out or have a limited client base, we tend to undervalue our skills. By this I mean we tend to ask for less than a job is actually worth, mainly because — thought this is not always the case — we believe ourselves to be of lower ability for the needs of the job at hand. Undervaluing ourselves is a big mistake in the freelance game. It is true, no doubt, that clients, when they want a job done, believe they are in a position to know what the cost, time and parameters of an assignment entail — if a pitch by a freelancer is too expensive for them in regard to the commensurate skills required for the specific task, then it is assumed, by the freelancer at least, that the client will balk at the price, which means in real terms you will not get the contract for the work. Sometimes, but not always, reverse psychology can help this particular kind of freelancer. Offering your services at a higher price can sometimes work in your favour: clients may see you as a professional who values their own time and abilities, which they will see in a positive light.
Advertising yourself in a specific area, rather than as a ‘jack of all trades’, is another strategy that can work well for the freelance writer. Some say to concentrate your talents in one or two writing specialties, say media/marketing and/or SEO, can limit the possibilities of you finding contracts, that by having such a tactic, you are spreading yourself too thin on the ground in finding long-term, constant assignments. This can work for and against you. If you are the kind of writer who learns fast, can adapt to writing in different styles and tones, creating copy that rings true with varying audiences, then I would say go for it. Most though, at least the mortal humans not born of the Greek pantheon of writer gods, find this a very difficult thing to do. There is also the added problem that if you do it, and do it badly, you can invariably ruin — or at the very least — spoil your writing credentials.
My advice here is to stick to a few areas you feel confident in. That way, you can build up your portfolio with work you are proud of and potential clients will be impressed by. And one more thing: It is even better if you write about what you love. When you do this, it becomes easier, quicker to write and will inevitably shine through in the copy.
4. Don’t Treat Your Clients As Idiots
One of the most important things to consider when trying to build on a good, professional relationship with your client base is to always deliver on your promises. This is both in regard to the quality of the work undertaken and in the timely execution the work is done and completed. Not doing this can ultimately destroy the relationship, and as already mentioned, wreck your reputation. It is one thing to make a mistake on a project which you will be able to rectify with no harm done and completely ruin a client’s project, which will, in turn, damage your image as a producer of top-quality content. This can also kill any hopes of gaining good testimonials from satisfied customers, and testimonials — especially from the big, influential clients — can be the difference in your business as a freelance content producer taking off in the right direction or not.
Being reliable, both in terms of quality and punctuality, is one of the key attributes in this very competitive industry, and I can’t stress enough how you must always add value, even going far above it to satisfy your current clients’, as well as your potential clients’, wants and needs. Don’t skip this. If you do, you will regret it.
To be an authority, you must study the market relentlessly. Never stop in your learning of current trends and future outcomes within the industry. Become an expert, a thought leader in your area, gaining authority and insight daily as you travel the long road in your chosen profession.