We at The Renegade Writer have worked with literally thousands of writers — whether through mentoring, classes, webinars, or plain old emails. So every challenge a new freelancer faces — we’ve heard it.
The most common one we hear is…
“I want to be a freelance writer but I’m not sure what to do first.”
It can be overwhelming. After all, there are so many possibilities: Do you start by taking classes, finding markets, building your social media presence, contacting editors, joining groups…? And wait, do you need a business license? An accountant? Fancy business cards?
Really, to get started there are just five things you need to do — and they don’t include incorporating your business, developing invoice templates, designing business cards, or choosing an accounting system. Those can all wait until you need them, and right now they just distract you from what you really need to do.
1. Determine your niche.
Carol Tice of the Freelance Writers Den likes to say, “Work of one kind leads to more work of that kind.”
That means if you pitch a business magazine even though you don’t much like business, and you get the assignment, you’ll soon find yourself a resentful business writer.
Think about the kinds of writing you like to do — and your hobbies, education, and personal background — and where they may intersect with profitable niches. For example, if you’re a Registered Dietician, you could bill yourself as a nutrition writer — health writers are always in demand. Love decorating? Maybe you could write for the shelter (home and design) magazines and websites.
Don’t worry about choosing just one niche if you, like me, are a Jack/Jane-of-all-trades. A well-kept secret in the writing industry is that you can have multiple niches.
For example, my niches have been small business, marketing, pets, health and fitness, and nutrition. When I pitched business magazines, I would tell the editors I was a “business writer,” and list my business article credits. When I queried health topics, I would call myself a “health writer” and mention my health writing creds.
2. Figure out what value you offer (that no one else does!).
What can you offer that few other can? When benefits does an editor get by hiring you?
For example, it may be that you’re a super-fast writer. Or you have a knack for translating difficult topics for a lay audience. Or you’re amazing at writing blog headlines that make people click. Perhaps you’re an idea machine and can supply your copywriting clients with tons of ideas for new promotions (that YOU can write for them, of course!).
Every writer can write. That’s a given. So what separates you from the crowd? Think about this, because you’ll be using it when you…
3. Build a website.
Yes, you need a website. Like right now.
My editor at Writer’s Digest magazine told me that when he’s on the fence about whether a writer can pull off an article she’s pitched, he’ll take a look at her website as the deciding factor. No website = no sale.
Don’t worry if you don’t have clips to show off on your website yet. Your website is your clip. You can still include information about yourself, your services, and so on — and add your writing clips as you get them.
Taking a while to get your website up? At the very least, build your LinkedIn profile. You can change the URL to your profile so it says LinkedIn.com/yourname instead of a random string of letters and numbers, and use this in your pitches and your email sig line.
Hey, we have a related free report for you! It’s “The Top 5 Elements You NEED on Your Writer Website to Attract Paying Clients.”
You don’t need to enter your personal info, sign up for a list, or anything else. We don’t want your darn email address! We just want you to learn and enjoy. Click below to download your report:
4. Learn the ropes — but only as much as you need to.
For example, if your goal is to write for magazines, you do need to know the basics, such as how to develop a salable idea, find markets for it, and write a killer query letter or letter of introduction. And you’ll find tons of blogs, e-courses, and e-books (like The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock) that can help. Learn the minimum you need to get started, and GET STARTED.
If you want to blog for pay, you need to know how to come up with great post ideas for your clients, write headlines that will get people to click, and sell your services to prospects. Again, you can get this info by taking ONE class, reading a book, or spending a day or two browsing websites on how to get started as a paid blogger.
But too many writers feel they can’t get started until they know every last thing there is to know about freelancing — an impossible task.
Learn just as much as you need to get started, and rest assured that you’ll learn as you go along. As they say, experience is the best teacher. When I was starting out, I had a single book on pitching and a copy of Writer’s Market. That’s all. I experienced rejection (lots of it!) — but the more I pitched, the more success I had.
5. Start marketing (and marketing and marketing).
That’s it! Start churning out queries and letters of introduction to print or online publications. Or go to lots and lots of local networking events. Or send out snail-mail letters to copywriting prospects. But whatever form of marketing you choose, WORK IT. The more, the better.
Many new writers ask, “How much should I be marketing? How much did you market when you were starting out?”
The answer is: However much time you have, that’s how much you should spend marketing your writing to prospects.
As you start getting assignments, you’ll naturally have that much less time to pitch — but still, however much time you have where you’re not actually working on paying assignments, you should be using it to market.
There is no rule of thumb to how much you should be marketing. It depends on how much time you have, your success rate, and how many assignments you want and can handle. But freelancing is a numbers game, and the more you get out there, the more chances you have at making a sale.
Now…pull yourself out of analysis paralysis, get started — and start landing lucrative writing gigs!
Stick figure by Katilin Wiebe. Thanks, Kaitlin!