In 2016, I was an undergraduate who had laid his hands on all sorts of imaginable part-time jobs. It wasn’t the meager income I was earning that was killing as much as the scarcity of those jobs in my part of the world.
Although I wouldn’t take the leap of faith to become a freelance writer until 2017, 2016 was the year I said: enough!
I came into the freelance writing industry with so much hope and enthusiasm, I knew I wasn’t quite a good writer but I was a writer nonetheless, so I was going to give it whatever it took. Nothing prepared me for what was to come after.
After four years and tens of thousands of dollars in freelance writing income, here are the eight things I wish someone had taught me as a beginner.
80% of the struggle is in being a good writer
I’m not about to tell you that getting freelance writing gigs is easy. For me, it isn’t. And it’s especially hard if you speak English as a second language.
But the bulk of the trouble you will face doesn’t come from scarcity of clients, it comes from your ability to actually come up with a masterpiece each time you put a pen to paper.
I’m a Nigerian; I only speak English as a second language and I see discrimination on job boards all the time. Plus, this industry gets more populated every day.
One important thing that can save you and keep the top dollars coming your way is to be a one-in-a-million writer.
In his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, author Cal Newport quotes comedian Steve Martin’s advice to entertainers where he says “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
With thousands of freelance writers typing their fingers away furiously at cafes across the globe, the best thing you can do for your freelance writing career is to be the best writer that you can be.
Hustle really hard but acknowledge luck
I remember being first introduced to Bamidele Onibalusi’s Facebook group. This coincided with a time he launched a challenge he tagged “Make your first $ 1,000 in 30-60 days.”
He led the challenge and documented his journey publicly for everyone to follow. He also showed us his pitching templates and guided us on several other things concerning how to get a client.
With so many freelance writers from all across the world joining the challenge and making their first $ 1,000 in a relatively short time, I joined, too.
Unfortunately, no matter what I did, no client came forth. Of course, there is no denying that the odds were against me: I was completely new, I had no niche yet, my laptop was bad, I had to write exams, I had… so many things were wrong.
But that’s not an excuse. After sending hundreds of pitches and landing no gig, I was about to give up when my first client got into my inbox himself.
Until this day, I have no idea how he came across me or even my email. I can’t seem to recall how the negotiation went but we settled on $ 170/week work. The rest is history.
My first well-paying project came also miraculously. I will tell you about that in some other section of this post.
The takeaway here is that: work really hard, practice, pitch, and do whatever hustle you can. But have it in mind that luck sometimes plays a role in this, even though working hard is what ultimately makes you lucky.
Learn to pitch your own way
While the pitch templates I copied from experts got me a few answers, it never did bring me any good luck.
In retrospect, I figured that most of my failures in the early days could be due to the fact that I followed templates hook, line, and sinker. And it was all because I lacked confidence and also believed it had to be in a specific format.
But nothing could be farther from truth. Yes, there are rules to sending pitches: start with a first name, go straight to the point, make it short and sweet, call to action, etc.
But these rules are not cast in stone. You’ve got to understand the uniqueness of each prospect and how to address them.
While it’s very important to study the templates, only use them as a blueprint to guide you on how to make yours. And change the rules if you have to.
But bear in mind that nothing makes you come off as spammy like sending un-personalized emails to a prospect. If you are using a template, they’ve seen a lot of it. The only way to stand out is to create your own.
Guest post on great sites
If I should take a look at my cold pitching conversion rate, it would be 0.001%.
We were taught to look for companies in our niche, see if they could use a copywriter, find the decision-makers, and then pitch those. As a matter of fact, this works, but not half as effective as having a client reach out seeking your services.
And guest posting on popular blogs like Business2Community will help you with that (Thanks Business2Community, two clients have found me because I wrote for you).
Remember I said I will tell you how I got my first well-paying gig? It was through a guest post I had written.
Someone read the post and reached out to me, and it was my first $ 350 per piece work ever.
There is no telling where guest posting might take you to. And it also serves as social proof.
Get your rates right
In 2018, I hadn’t yet decided on how much I would be charging yet. And it was because I still hadn’t got confidence.
I stumbled upon AirTable calling for SEO content writers, and I applied. When it was time to discuss rates, I faltered too many times and eventually gave an unrealistic rate that was handed to me by one of my mentors.
It was the last time I heard from them. Also, at a time when I was just starting, I was trying to charge exorbitant rates when my skill wasn’t up to that.
I did this because I had been educated never to undersell my skill as some clients would run away if my rate was too low.
So, I was somewhere between not making it cheap and not making it too expensive, yet I couldn’t decide what rate was most commensurate with my skill and experience. It was a roller coaster.
Don’t make that mistake, you should be able to set rates and offer them confidently. A lot of time, what ruins you isn’t the fact that your rate is too high, it’s the lack of confidence and specification that accompanies it that makes your prospect/client wonder if you knew what you were doing.
In short, there’s a psychological perspective to setting rates and I didn’t know until I read this piece on how to determine your freelance rates. It is very prescriptive and helpful.
Get your invoice in order
I was pretty naive in the early days of my career. I thought this was just about telling a client how much you’d get paid and sending them an account detail through whatever channel of communication you are using to communicate with them.
But this backfired a few times before I got the drift: it’s very unprofessional to discuss payment with clients without a carefully put-together invoice.
And not just that, some businesses specifically request it and the kind of invoice you send to them says a lot about the kind of writer that you are.
You don’t have to be an accountant before you could do this well, the rise of SaaS sees to it that supposedly complex assignments could be handled just by almost anyone. Check out these professional invoicing solutions from Freshbook.
If your freelance writing income isn’t consistent enough yet, you will see some templates you can copy on that page. Just model your invoice after those templates and convert it to PDF.
I have done it before.
Get some marketing knowledge
There are many things written across the globe today, but the majority of what is written online has something to do with marketing.
Whether this is a public relations piece, or a blog post, or even social media post.
Those who pay for content the most are those who have something to sell. Learning a bit of marketing can quickly turn you from just another content writer to a sought-after gold.
For example, I write search engine optimized blog posts majorly. What helps me to do this is my knowledge of SEO.
On the other hand, you may be a master of social media post writing if you have some social media marketing knowledge.
This is not invalidating freelance writers with no other skills than to write, but to let you know that being a marketer-cum-writer can take you really far.
Keep adding to your skillset
Even as I’m trying to give you a headstart and warn you of the grey areas you are likely to come by, I cannot pretend that everything’s perfect. Take AI for example.
As more and more people realized the power of content, a lot of people invested in it and it has reached a really advanced stage. Now Artificial Intelligence companies are turning their attention to the writing industry.
The implication is that whatever freelance writing job is left is divided between you and a machine. It is the nature of machines to get more advanced and mature with time and they are faster than humans.
So, don’t restrict yourself completely to freelance writing. For those of us who have been in this industry for some time, we know it’s a brutal circle of feast-and-famine — one month you are counting your dollars and the other you are busy looking for prospects’ contacts.
In this case, it’s becoming more and more important for writers to be able to look into other industries. You could learn web design, you could learn marketing, and you could learn to code as online coding courses usually take less than four months.
The bottom line is: adding to your skillset can keep your income more consistent.
At first, this list entailed ten things but I cut them down because I realized they may mislead a beginner. For example, don’t buy writing courses was on the list but who knows what may come out of it.
This is a highly opinionated piece but it somehow documents my experience as a freelance writer in the past four years and I hope it would be of help to you.Business & Finance Articles on Business 2 Community