Writing is probably one of the few industries where basically, anyone can set up shop and offer writing services. But what differentiates you from millions of other freelancers out there?

The myth of the freelance lifestyle

From the outside, freelancing appears to give the best of both worlds, namely; you get paid to do what you love, and on your terms.

Theoretically, this means that you can work anywhere with an internet connection and create the lifestyle you want.

The long commute to work, annoying colleagues and unreasonable boss? Gone, just like that, in a puff of freelance smoke.

In reality, freelancing looks very much like this:

  • An irregular pay cheque becomes the new normal
  • You substitute unreasonable bosses for demanding clients – that’s if you actually get any
  • You will long for the days in the office with your former annoying colleagues; freelancing can be quite lonely.

How to become a freelance writer

Now we’ve punctured the myth of the freelancer, we can talk about how to become one.

It seems obvious, but the first thing to do is to be absolutely sure that this is what you want to do.

I hate to put a downer on your freelancing dream, but I have to be honest; it really is not for the faint-hearted. I freelanced for about 80% of my writing career and this is what I learnt:

  • It is as much about having negotiation skills than it is about writing skills
  • You will only ever make as much money as the effort you put into finding new clients and keeping your current ones (yes, you have to market yourself)
  • You are now a service provider, a business owner and your own brand ambassador, so there is no room for shoddy work
  • Time management is critical to success.

Step 1: before you make the move to freelance writing

Still want to be a freelancer? Here are five things you must do before making the jump:

  • Make sure you have enough money in the bank to help you through the transition period
  • Spend some time finding out your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). This is what will differentiate you from competitors
  • Have a website, even if it is just a landing page. This is critical – your website address is the first thing people will ask for and the first place they’ll go to check out your services
  • Get an accountant or book keeper: you’re a writer, not a tax guru
  • Start networking like crazy, online and offline.

Step 2: Making the move to freelance writing

When you do make the move, there are several things you would need to consider:

  • Legal: make sure you have a contract in place before  to protect you/your business 
  • Finance: make sure you secure a 50% deposit from your client BEFORE starting the work. A deposit will ensure their commitment to the project and will also help you weed out time wasters 
  • Your copywriting contract/agreement should have a clause for your deposit
  • Have an invoice/expenses tracker to help you track your accounts. 

Remember: keep a record of everything – emails with clients, expenses, invoices.. everything.

Step 3: Your first gig as a freelance writer - what to do

So now you’ve got all the boring business stuff out of the way, how do you actually land your first client?

If you’re just starting out as a writer, I would suggest going on to freelance websites like Fiverr, PeoplePerHour and Upworthy, to help you build your writing portfolio.

I know people who started on those sites and within a period of six months to a year, started commanding much higher fees for their work.

But if you are an experienced writer who’s been working in-house or for an agency and is now making the move to freelance, where can someone like you find clients?

Easy. Drill Linkedin for decision makers in your target industries and sectors to pitch to, scan the news for the latest company takeovers (yes, really. There will be a LOT of rebranding and marketing comms materials to update) and scour the latest patent registration list (always best to get in early).

Step 4: Making money from writing - being a successful freelancer

Like most things in life, being a successful freelancer doesn’t happen overnight. It is the result of strategic planning and hard work, and it is achieved by delivering great work and being pro-active and consistent with your marketing. 

Abidemi Sanusi

About the author

Abidemi Sanusi is a writer and founder of the Ready Writer website. A former human rights worker, she is also the author of 10 books, including Looking for Bono, and Eyo, which was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Abidemi has been featured in Forbes, the BBC and the Guardian.

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