It’s no lie that being a freelance journalist and copywriter affords me the kind of freedom most people dream of. I work where I want (e.g. my sofa, the local Caffè Nero, a quirky teahouse in Hoi An), when I want (middle of the night, middle of the day, at the weekend, never at all), and wearing whatever I want (PJs, pants, my birthday suit). I won’t lie; it’s pretty damn awesome to be able to make myself a mid-afternoon mojito while I work. Yes, it’s been known to happen.
Freelancing is also what allows me to travel and lead a nomadic lifestyle.
I remember when I used to work in an office and I’d dream of what it would be like to have this kind of power over my life. But while there are plenty of upsides, there are also a number of negatives you need to be aware of. Freelancing really isn’t for everybody. When you give up your office job, in many instances you’re also giving up:
- A stable paycheque
- Health insurance (this is a big downside in the UAE, where I was living)
- Paid leave (something I certainly miss)
If, however, you’re willing to forego the above and would relish the opportunity to build your own personal brand and take your career in to your own hands then this is the route for you. I have now been working as a full-time freelancer for two years, and while there has been the odd low along the way, overall I know that this is the perfect career for me. And it’s what allows me to be able to work while I’m on the move.
But a friendly warning; you’re going to have to work really, really hard, especially at the beginning. Freelancing isn’t for those who are afraid of putting in the hours.
Pros? Being your own boss. Working on what you want to work on. Freedom to work when you want and where you want. Immense personal satisfaction when you have a happy client.
Cons? Can pay badly at times. There will be months when you’re swept off your feet with work and months when you have nothing. It can get incredibly lonely if you don’t have a network of freelancers to meet and work with.
Still with me? Great. So here are, in five steps, the basics of how to become a full-time freelance writer. These are the steps I followed myself a few years back when I was first getting started (Note: although this post focuses on freelance writing, these steps can be used with other careers, such as PR, graphic design etc).
1. Develop an impressive online presence
If you’re considering taking the freelance route, it’s highly likely that you have already become pretty established in the line of work that you do. So while you’re still working full-time, start to develop your online presence. First prerequisite? An ass-kicking website. The market is saturated with people who claim to be freelancers, but the number of those who go the extra mile to brand themselves properly is surprisingly low, which is where you can make your mark.
If you’re on a tight budget, you can set up a free WordPress blog. It’s amazing how you can get these blogs to look like actual websites now – all you need is a bit of patience. Your website can literally contain anything you want, but I think less is more. You can split your site in to sections that suit your specific specialities/areas of interest, but I recommend having an about me section, a published work/work samples section, a contact me section, and a blog section.
If you are prepared to spend a little bit of cash to make it look even more professional (which is what I’d highly recommend), set up a self-hosted WordPress website. What this means is that you will need to buy a hosting service for a small monthly fee and then install WordPress. I highly recommend Bluehost for this.
Additionally, build a meaty LinkedIn profile complete with recommendations from the people you have already worked with, as well as a Facebook page and Twitter account. The more potential clients can see of you on the Internet the better.
2.Save as much as you humanly can
Working as a freelancer means giving up the security of a monthly paycheque. When I quit my job back in 2012, I had a good amount of savings behind me, which really gave me the ability to focus on the task at hand (i.e. getting clients) rather than wasting time on worrying about how to make rent. When it comes to savings, more is definitely best, but at the very least you should have enough to pay your bills and essential expenses for six months.
I always hear people say “but it’s so hard to save.” Well, yes and no. Personally I’ve always found it easy when I have a goal in mind. If you want to work for yourself, think of the bigger picture and you’ll quickly find that it’s easier to sacrifice that daily Starbucks latte. I personally worked out my monthly expenditure, figured out what my essential living expenses were, and decided that I was going to save x amount every month. I then forgot about that money and watched it build up. Great feeling.
3. Start working on freelance projects in your spare time
It’s crucial to make sure you have work lined up before you even think about quitting your job and going solo. Before I took the plunge, I started working on freelance projects during the evening and weekends in order to build up a client base. I contacted a number of UAE magazines and newspapers to see which publications had a freelance budget; once I established who was looking to hire freelancers, I sent them targeted story pitches to get the ball rolling. If you’re not sure on how to put a pitch together, I recommend you buy the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2014. This is packed full of tips and also contains the contact details of most of the UK-based publications.
As a writer it’s worth looking in to all of the types of writing that can make you money – don’t just limit yourself to journalism, even if that’s your area of expertise. Your skills are transferable to so many other areas. For example, you can delve in to copywriting, press release writing, website writing etc.
A good way of getting experience in these types of mediums (which is a must for when you want to target bigger companies, as they’ll ask for samples) is to ask your friends if the companies that they work for have any copywriting jobs. Most organisations are always in need of some form of copy, whether that’s a website update or brochure. Small business owners are also likely to need some work doing; they’ll pay less, but they’re more likely to offer you bigger jobs that you can then use to build your portfolio.
4. Develop a good relationship with two to three key clients
It takes a lot of time and effort to establish a relationship with a new client, whether that’s a magazine that commissions work to freelancers or an organisation in need of brochure copy. It’s therefore crucial that you try and turn your clients in to repeat customers. The way to do this is to ensure you’re exceptional every single step of the way.
Make sure you website is up-to-date, that you’re always professional and friendly in your correspondence, that you’re quick to reply and that you meet your deadlines. If you encounter a problem and think the deadline date will be affected, make sure you communicate this as soon as you can. Also once you’ve submitted your work, follow-up after a day or two to ask for feedback. When you submit your invoice, thank them for doing business with you and ask if they have any upcoming work for you.
When I started I had three main clients. Now my client database is much broader, which is essential for when you encounter quiet times, but three should be enough to get you going.
5. Take a deep breath and GO!
Quitting your job and going it alone will always be a bit scary, but once you’ve got some savings and a regular client base, you’ve covered yourself as much as you possibly can. When you’re first starting out it’s wise to set yourself some ‘office hours’ that you can stick to; it’s always tempting to sleep in or to spend the day watching TV, but this is the time when you really need to get serious and make this work.
There will be plenty of opportunities later on to take a day off when you feel like it or to have that midday mojito (these are the perks after all!) but you’ll only get to really enjoy these things when you know you have a steady stream of money coming in.
Make sure you have a great workspace at home that is for work and work alone; a desk, notice board for to-do lists and calendars, a comfortable office chair, a printer, and plenty of natural light are essential.
Another important point to consider: freelancing can be an incredibly lonely existence. Make sure you seek out other freelancers and network as much as you can. Facebook is always a good place to look for writer or freelancer groups – if there isn’t one in your area, set one up!
So there you go – the basics to get you started! I hope that this has been of some use to you, but the main thing you need to remember is that you’ll get back whatever you put in. That means if you’re dedicated, professional and stick to some basics you should see results within six months.
Important note: These are just the basic steps you need to get started, but there are a few other things you should take in to consideration depending on where you are in the world. For example, to freelance in the UAE you need an appropriate work visa. Contact me if you’d like more specific details on how this works. A good place to start is TwoFour54 (www.twofour54.com).
ResourcesHelpful websites for your to browse
Bluehost (www.bluehost.com) This web hosting company is used by most bloggers and website owners that I know (including us). We have three various sites operating through them and cannot recommend their service enough.
Nabbesh (www.nabbesh.com) If you’re based in the Middle East, this is the go-to website for all freelancers. People post jobs up on the site which you can then pitch for.
My website (www.andreaanastasiou.com) My work website. I’m guilty of not updating it as much as I should these days (Scribble, Snap, Travel takes up all my time!) but you can get a rough idea of the kind of content you need to include on your site.
Odesk (www.odesk.com) Another great go-to site if you’re looking for new clients. Works in the same way as Nabbesh, only this site is based in the US.
Copyblogger (www.copyblogger.com/self-hosted-wordpress-course) This site is a great resource for those who want to build a self-hosted WordPress website and need some guidance.
The Bare NecessitiesWhat basics you need to invest in to get started
A good laptop I recommend a laptop over a desktop computer because you’re going to want to work in places like coffee shops.
A large desk The bigger the better I’d say.
A logo and business cards Want business? Then look the business. You can hire a graphic designer to do this for you.
A website Self-hosted WordPress sites are the way to go.
Branded stationary At the very least you’ll need an invoice and quotation template with your logo on it.