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Guide to Getting Started as a Freelance Writer

According to Upwork, a freelancing network and job board, in 2017 there were 57.3 million people who freelanced either full or part-time. Upwork’s data also predicts a continual upwards trend in freelance work through 2027, making it a popular and growing industry, especially with millennials.

While working from home has become more popular in the last year — the OwlLabs State of Remote Work 2019 survey showed 48% of survey takers worked from home at least once a week — freelance work still has some pretty sizable differences to traditional nine-to-fives. These differences appear in everything from work structure to necessary tax requirements.

Whether you’re looking to freelance as your side gig or want to become a full-time freelancer, there are some things you’ll need to know before you can successfully run your own freelance business.

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Freelance Writer?

If you’re interested in becoming a writer, freelancing is a great way to break into the industry, start building a professional portfolio, and start writing the things that you are interested in on a professional level. Freelance writers benefit from a wide variety of skills, including:

  • Writing skills: Ultimately, the type of writing jobs you’re interested in will inform the type of writing skills you will need. As a freelancer, you can take a wide variety of jobs in a wide variety of industries, so expanding your skills into other genres and forms is typically a great investment for a freelance writer.
  • Time management: The freelance work structure is incredibly flexible, and you, as the person completing the projects, are solely in charge of managing your project deadlines. This makes time management an incredibly valuable skill for all freelancers, regardless of industry.
  • Basic tech skills: Freelancers, especially when you’re just starting out, typically work independently. This means it’s a great idea to be able to perform basic IT and troubleshooting on the devices you need to conduct your work. This includes your laptop or desktop, printer, tablet, and any other devices you may use.
  • Communication and networking: Networking and communication are key freelancer skills for many reasons; primarily, you need to find and secure new clients and build your business reputation. New clients and projects are what sustains freelancing, so you will need to be able to effectively market yourself and your business to your desired audience. Additionally, having a positive reputation in your industry is a great way to get recommended for more work.
  • Organization: Freelancers often find themselves juggling several clients, projects, and deadlines all at once. This is why it pays to build an organized and consistent filing system, both for digital and physical work, to reduce the time and effort it takes to switch between projects.
  • Money management: If you work independently as many freelancers do, you will also be responsible for your own business expense management. This could include filing taxes as an independent contractor, claiming freelance earnings on your personal taxes, as well as managing and negotiating invoices for clients.

Courses for Freelancers

Taking courses can be a great way to hone and develop the skills you need in order to be a freelancer. Courses and specialties may also be listed as credentials on your website or portfolio, which can help endorse your work to potential clients.

You can seek out specific skill courses, such as accounting, or business management, from your local university, community college, or online. Or, some online training sites offer specific freelancer training courses, including:

Freelancer courses offered by job boards, such as LinkedIn and Fiverr, may offer unique insights about successfully finding work on their sites, as well as the basics of freelancing.

Client Acquisition and Finding Freelance Jobs

In freelance work, there are many ways that you can go about acquiring clients and new work. Listed below are some strategies you can use to grow your client base.

Networking

Being able to network effectively is crucial for any freelance writer’s client acquisition efforts. This not only includes learning how to make connections organically in a professional setting but also includes attending industry networking events and talking to other professionals in your field. Even if you’re just starting out with freelance work, don’t be afraid to attend these events and put yourself and your business out there.

Online Job Boards

Online job boards are a great resource for freelancers, as companies and individuals are posting jobs or searching for professionals to work with every day. Below are some job boards that commonly post freelance jobs:

It’s important to keep your profiles up to date with correct information and current work samples when using these sites, so that potential clients can get the most accurate representation of your work.

Pitching to Potential Clients

A part of marketing yourself as a freelance business is being able to pitch to potential clients. This can be in the form of interest emails, phone calls, or as is commonly the case in the writing industry, elevator pitches.

When pitching yourself to clients, you should be able to condense your qualifications and interest in the project or business into a few sentences. There are several resources for freelancers to learn how to create and sharpen your self-pitch.

Social Media

Social media can also be an invaluable self-marketing tool. It can help you promote your finished work and increase your visibility and accessibility, allowing interested parties who have found your work to reach out to you directly. The following social media platforms are especially suited for freelance writers:

  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn is a great platform for freelance writers, as it allows you to list your resume achievements and finished works in great detail. There are also several freelancer groups you can follow on LinkedIn that may help you find new work as well as other freelancers to connect to.
  • Twitter: Twitter is a great place to manage your freelance business’s reputation and outreach. There are several freelance writing accounts on Twitter that post job opportunities and helpful articles or videos about topics important to freelancers.
  • Facebook: Facebook is another platform that lets you expand on your achievements, as well as search for job opportunities on the site. With Facebook, you can also hold virtual events, such as seminars or Q&As that allow you to build authority with an audience.

Tools and Software

There are a wide variety of tools, including software and hardware, that you may need or use in your time as a freelancer. If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, this is a broad list of tools you’ll need as your career progresses. It’s okay if you don’t have or need everything listed below — at a very basic level, all your tools need to do is fulfill your work needs, not necessarily your work aspirations.

Computer

A computer is essential for basically every freelancer, and especially for freelance writers. You may choose to have a desktop PC, for higher processing and storage power, or a laptop for portability, or both. When investing in a computer for your freelancing work, you should consider the following aspects:

  • How much memory and storage do you need?
  • What kind of processing speed do you need?
  • What’s the battery life of the device?
  • Is it portable enough when you need it to be?
  • Does it have the extra features you may need, such as a touchscreen or disc port?
  • Is it compatible with your other devices or programs?

Writing Software

As a freelance writer, you may be asked to use several different types of writing software, depending on your project and the current industry standard. For example, you may be asked to use Final Draft if you are writing a script or screenplay.

Many of these software solutions require a subscription or offer premium paid services that may be required for your work. However, there are several free and similar versions of these solutions available that you can use as practice. These include:

Organization Tools

Building a consistent organizational system for your files will save you a lot of stress around deadlines and administrative work, whether you’re performing it yourself or assigning it to an assistant. These tools can help keep your digital tasks and files organized and accessible:

Grammar Tools

For freelance writers especially, having grammar and style tools installed on your work device can be convenient and helpful when you’re writing and editing. There are several grammar and style editors available online for free or on a subscription basis, such as:

Office Supplies

If you are looking to become a full-time freelance writer, then you will most likely be working from home. In this case, it is incredibly important to set up a home office space where you can feel more productive, and cultivate a work mindset. Your home office will be as big or small as your space allows, and you can personalize it however you see fit. If you don’t have a home office and are looking to set one up, these are the basics you will need:

  • A desk;
  • A comfortable chair;
  • Necessary tools such as printers, storage, and stationery;
  • Adequate lighting.

If your home office is your principal place of business — which is typically the case for most freelancers — you may actually be eligible for a home office tax deduction.

Personal Website

Creating a personal website for your freelance business or services is an excellent investment in self-marketing. A professional-looking website will distinguish your services, as well as provide prospective clients with all the information they need, including your past works, pricing information, availability, and contact information. You can create and publish your own website through paid and free software, including:

Bookkeeping Software

This isn’t something every freelancer needs, but it can be incredibly useful if you are taking on a lot of clients, and you do your own billing and taxes. Bookkeeping software will help you keep your invoices and expenses, including payroll if applicable, organized and easily accessible. Some popular bookkeeping software solutions for small businesses include:

It may be helpful as a freelancer to get a business credit card for work-related expenses, so you can keep personal and work purchases completely separate.

Business and Money Management as a Freelancer

There are many unique facets of business and money management in the gig economy. As a freelancer, you might not encounter these elements in a traditional full- or part-time position. They include:

Subcontractors

You can hire subcontractors for your freelance business to help you with things like accounting, legal representation, or even a general assistant to manage correspondence and scheduling. If you decide to hire subcontractors, make sure you’re aware of how wage laws affect freelancers.

Financial Resources to Get Started as a Freelance Writer

If you’re a freelancer whose income has been impacted by recession, illness, or injury, you can apply for financial relief through existing grants for freelance writers. These grants may also help writers transition into freelancing full time. Here are some grants for freelance writers:

There may be additional writing and arts grants available specifically in your state or region. YCheck your local listings — these can typically be found on state or city websites — or online directories such as the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

Freelance Communities

Joining a freelance community or union can not only help you connect to new jobs, but can keep you up to date on the happenings and regulation changes in your local community or industry. These communities are places that you and other freelancers can draw inspiration and support from. There are several communities that you may join as a freelance writer, including:

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