A lot is a vague and relative word, so if you are just thinking about becoming a freelance writer, I’m going to get you started. If you are earning something as a freelance writer, even as little as $60 a post, I’ll show you how to get it up to more. If you are beyond that in the “couple of hundred dollars per article” range, I still have something for you. If you are looking to make a living as just a freelance writer, you can benefit from the experiences of some real freelancers who are already really doing it!
It is easy to believe you can’t make any money writing, because with writing, everyone is doing it…blogging, microblogging, and self-publishing. So the first thing you have to do is BELIEVE that you can make money writing. The second thing you need to do is BELIEVE your writing is worth money, a lot of money, because it is uniquely yours. But you still have to build your career as a paid freelance writer brick by brick, just like a house.
2. Start Your Website/Blog
There are freelance writers without websites and social media pages, but more and more DO have their own websites. I build websites for individuals and they are older professionals who already have been published in print or on other outlets. They have been told by their agent or their publishing company that they have to have a website. You need to at least go to WordPress or Tumblr or Blogger and start a free site. Start blogging. Get yourself comfortable online.
3. Start Contributing
I’m sorry, but sometimes you have to start from 0, and that means self-publishing on your lonesome on your little-known website, and then from there, find websites that allow you to contribute for little or no compensation. I’ve found some just from dumb luck, like Engaged Marriage and here on Lifehack, but I also found websites that need freelance writers by following where other writers publish their works.
And if you want to get paid, says Professor Rich Martin of Illinois University, a professor and freelance writer, you must remember everyone has opinions and opinions are free, so doing something more akin to reporting on a subject with market value is the way to go. Before you pitch a story, you must understand the value of the pitch to the outlet itself, adds Professor Mike Taylor of Henderson State University. So find some outlets that pay you to contribute, but don’t underestimate. You are still applying for a job. Respect that. You have to be able to point to previously published work, or what can be called an online clip file or portfolio. The more outlets that have published you independently (even if they didn’t pay you), the more help you’ll get to land jobs that will pay.
And you never know where writing will take you!!!
4. Promote Thyself
So you have self-published and blogged, then found a few outlets that allowed you to contribute, but you still need help getting paid. What you need to do is demonstrate that the public likes you. By putting yourself out there on social media and by cultivating a fan base you are bringing your name market value. So, when people find you, can they follow you on Twitter? Can they like your page on Facebook? Are you G+ worthy? Can they Linkedin? Go forth and promote thy self! And ask family and friends to do so, too! Also, writers scratch other writers’ backs! So follow back, share, and promote others.
*Caution: Don’t let social media suck you in so much you neglect your real writing!
5. Be Professional
You can be creative and quirky on social media and in your writing, but you want a completed professional profile on sites like LinkedIn with growing lists of your previously published works. All professional and creative writing experience is worth mentioning if it is complimentary to you career.
6. Learn To Network
Learning to network is actually something that will not only get you more writing gigs or a permanent salaried position, but it will help BOOST number four – PROMOTE THYSELF. High school is not too early! College is not premature! Now is not to become NEVER. Learn how to make contact and network. It is a NUMBERS GAME. And if you don’t do it, you are liable to be watching others do it, skillfully, while your dreams become dusty.
*FYI: Did you know if you are in need of interviews, you can post a story idea and solicit experts called Help A Reporter Out? That tip came from just talking to another freelance writer.
7. Be Credible
It isn’t worse than underselling yourself… but overselling yourself can hurt your credibility. So be enthusiastic and not shy about your accomplishments, but don’t stretch them.
Also, if someone didn’t say it, don’t print it as if they did. Making up direct quotes can seem harmless and even justifiable, but when it becomes a practice, like with the Independent’s star columnist Johann Hari, you wind up risking getting known as someone who doesn’t have credibility. Believe me, you’ll have enough doubters and nay-sayers in your future, but you don’t want to give them the appearance of being right about you. If they are the only ones crying foul when your print goes live, then your editors and your public will have your back. But if you are being less than credible, you’ll get blackballed.
*Tip: If you are interviewing, ask to record and then keep the recording as backup. Video chats allow you to record and save. A mini voice recorder is only a few dollars. Most computers have a jack for a microphone or have an internal microphone. RECORD asking for permission and getting consent!!!
8. Be The Boss
No one likes to be caught making mistakes by a superior, and that is why YOU have to be the boss – or as a writer – you have to be your own worst editor, a fierce editor, if you want to make good money. From being around professional editors, people publishing their own books, and having done copy editing on books, articles, and essays, I know mistakes can go unnoticed all the way up to print. We all go blind to print. Errors just don’t pop up and wave a red hand! They don’t correct themselves. I know there are disagreements about what is more correct, as well as there are stylistic disagreements. And we all go blind to our writing after reading it a dozen times. But you have to be your own fierce editor, or it will be the hordes that will notice your slip-ups. And if you are UNLUCKY, your mistakes will erode or corrode your professional career.
*FYI: The internet promises to haunt us forever every time we publish something. It even backs-up our mistakes! Like with the Way Back Machine!
9. Get The Bible
No, I’m not talking about religion, but I might as well be, because different organizations whether they are online magazines or newspapers or publishing houses, they have what are called writer guidelines or just style guides. The more academic the writing, the more tricky and sticky the guides can become. On a copy editing assignment, the draft of the book I was to copy edit came with a book of its own – the publishing house’s style guidebook. And yes, I did have to refer to it. I even had to use the copy editing symbols per their instructions on the hard copies. It was like learning another language, a short and symbolic little language from tiny little people with pointy heads.
I think that was the year my vision got worse…
10. Take Care Of Your Eyes
Along with taking care of your brain and the body that houses it, just know, that the more screen time you take on, the more of a strain your eyes can be under. If you want to be a writer and a writer that makes money, take care of your eyes. Get the glasses with the better coatings – glare is bad. Buy UV protection, too. The ability to focus on near and far objects begins to diminish at age 40, but don’t accelerate the process. Other things to help alleviate the strain of screen time are keep your screen within 20 to 28 inches of your eyes, adjust lighting to reduce glare, and look away from the computer for 20 seconds or longer every 20 minutes. For comfort, keep your eyes hydrated. For more tips, check out the American Optometric Association or Google “Computer Vision Syndrome.”
11. Become A Follower
I’m not talking in the cultist, drooling-zombie sense, but you need to find writers you like, love, and admire, then follow them and their careers. Check out successful writers’ websites. Pick-up their tips. Mimic some of their tricks. If they have successfully contributed to X, Y, or Z, then why not you? Follow the breadcrumbs. After researching the outlets, apply and pitch stories.
12. Be Organized
Start bookmarking and revisiting the articles, writers, and outlets that you like and love. Find apps and extensions that will help you keep your stuff however you need. You’ll develop a system that works for you, and this will make you faster and less frustrated. No two people have the same system, but if a friend has one you like, try it. If a knew app comes out that is getting a lot of positive feedback, check it out. And just because it works for others, don’t think it has to work for you. The most important thing in being organized is that it works for you! I liked to fold paper length ways in half to write notes. I even have a special way of underscoring that is more aesthetic than anything. But being organized MY WAY has been great for me. It isn’t a matter of HOW. It is a matter of just DOING.
13. Start Specializing
Sometimes a theme picks you and sometimes you pick a theme, but when it happens, recognize that you might be able to build a career out of it. Right now, people who can write about apps seems hot, just like it seems hot for people to be able to create them. If the technology thing is your thing, great, go for it! If you are more into all things cats, then maybe you need to focus on outlets that have a cat fetish, too. Writes get known for certain topics. I know a writer who makes a living writing about Southern American authors only. She loved Southern literature and it just evolved into a career for her. One gal loved action movies, so she started the blog Action Flick Chick – she blogged her theme into a career. Alex Langley loved all things geek, so he turned them into a writing career and sells books and more!
14. Become The Expert
After you specialize, you need to become THE expert – or as near to it as possible. This mashes up with CREDIBILITY. If you write a lot about health and medicine, you don’t need to be a doctor, although that would be GREAT, but you need to be able to converse comfortably with doctors about health and medicine, then break it down for the general public to understand. With a topic or theme like running, maybe you should train for a marathon to get a real expert understanding of the topic. You don’t need to have a medal in the sport, but you need to have a deeper than average understanding about what you are writing about – then you need to demonstrate your expertise all ways possible.
15. Write WRITE WRITE!!!
It is cliche, but as Billy Crystal said in Throw Momma From From The Train, “A writer writes – always!” (check out minute marker 2:44) Like with any skill, it gets honed with use and challenges. I’ve read the prose and cons of writing everyday. I’ve read opinion blogs that claim minimum word counts each day are imperative. I can’t vouch for that. I do know that when the muse is with me, I have got go with it and write my heart out; because when the muse is gone, and I am staring at the blank page of death, I’m going to need all the skill I have to defeat it. Learn what loosens you up, like journaling, or poetry writing, or even a DEADLINE!
One of the sayings I’ve come to believe in is “Deadlines make writers.” So take on assignments even when you feel the muse is slipping away.
But while you are writing, you might as well be getting paid, so look into content mills: Text Broker, iWriter, Skyword, Zerys, Constant Content.
And look into Reddit For Hire.
The more places you can be found on the internet, the larger that online portfolio becomes, the more credibility you have. So write, Write, WRITE!
Now, you have started something. You are a contributor. You’ve gotten paid. And you write Write WRITE!
Now it is time to aim higher because you have become a professional, built-up a network, a career, and have credibility.
16. Ask For Testimonials And Endorsements
Just like with “Promoting Thyself” you need to ask people for some testimonials and endorsements. These you place on your website, but you also need them on your very professional LinkedIn page.
Be prepared for people to ask you what you want them to say. It is OK to have something prepared. Some people just need to know what you want to highlight. Be polite, but persistent. You are probably asking for the endorsements of people who are successful and therefor busy. But you need them none-the-less. Don’t bug them everyday. But tapping colleagues on the shoulder once a week or every two weeks isn’t bad. You may be better off asking them when you know their workload is lightest. But get those endorsements in writing IN WRITING!
17. Target Your Pitches
You want to make money? By now you need to have some idea of who to target so you can write for money. Then you need to decide who has the money that you want to make. This requires researching the companies or outlets as well as just going for it on a whim. Trust your instincts. But you need to be writing and targeting your pitches for profit. Know the market value of what you are pitching. Know what the outlet values that you are pitching to. Pitch a lot and often adds Professor Taylor. Few pitches get accepted, so develop a thick skin.
18. Name Your Price
No, you’re not worth a million dollars yet, but you aren’t chump change anymore. Ask yourself how much you are worth. You can approach this from two ways – by thinking of your competency and amount of time OR what you think they are willing to pay. It is a good idea to consider that you could get paid more doing short fluff pieces you bang out in 15 minutes versus the heart and soul research piece you did about your passion. Sometimes there is payday. Sometimes writing will b barely worth the effort if it wasn’t for that annoying desire to pen something.
You will be worth more than you are ever paid.
$250 – $500 per gig shouldn’t be unrealistic for a decent story.
Blog posts seem to be hovering at $60.
19. Build Your Skills
Do you know what SEO is? Do you know what a hashtag is? or trending refers to? Or are you #clueless? You can’t be. You shouldn’t be. It’s time to learn. Get on a browser and start asking questions. Find some books and read.
20. Self Promotion and Marketing
This is beyond “Promote Thyself” and “Ask for Testimonials and Endorsements.” There is a level of sophistication here that will have you reworking your website and social media pages. You are a brand. What is your brand saying? You may have lucked into a sweet spot because you are a character and can bra-ring it! You were born a social butterfly. Your momma was Paris Flippin Hilton and your daddy was JayZ. You get paid to dine at clubs because you are so poppin. You are current and trendy or deep and soulful. But if you are socially challenged, this might be the hardest pill to swallow. It isn’t good enough to be good enough.
You have got to be somebody BEFORE you can be somebody.
And somebodies get paid.
21. Ear to the Ground
By now you have to have a network worth listening to, and word of mouth is going to become more and more important. Yes, some of these same people are going to be your competition, but at the same time, they are leaving breadcrumbs. When people talk, listen up. When people are getting hired, bookmark the outlet. When someone else’s star starts to rise, what were they doing and who are they with now?
22. Time to Move
One thing I have noticed, even if it is an internet world of interconnectedness and telecommuting, the rising stars are still the ones that can live in the hotbeds of media consumption. New York. Paris. Chicago. Atlanta. Miami. Dallas. London. Sydney. Looking at job listings for freelance work, you may start seeing that what sites are looking for aren’t just bits of content about your dairy farm or maple syrup forest or your vampire fetish or love of Depression Era glassware. You want to write and write for big money? Is that seriously going to happen from your bedroom in your pajamas with the topic and themes you’ve picked?
Professor Taylor does caution that moving IS NOT NECESSARY even in rural areas, but you may have to look at outlets with interest in your area like a state outlet or specialize in a way that complements where you live and how you live. A friend of mine makes money writing about hunting and fishing and lives in the country near a lake with bass fishing competitions. But if your interest or specialty is New York crime, it might be best to be a New Yorker. Decide if your interest is regional enough to require a move.
23. Connect More Seriously
You’ve built a following, but how do you make it mean more? You take your social media connections and ask them to link with you on LinkedIn by giving them your email address. You have been a follower, but you need to start showing as worth following, and that means beefing up those numbers on the networks that matter. Where are your clients coming from or where should they come from? Susan Johnson blogged about it on her website, The Urban Muse.
24. Group Participation
Maybe you hung out in the back of the classroom and wore your hat low over your eyes to avoid being called on, but the cool kid or shy kid routine isn’t going to work – any longer. When you are on LinkedIn or another platform, you need to be in professional groups, and you need to participate in a professional manner. Then you need to take your successful interactions to build your connections, self-promote, and find better gigs.
I know, it would be great if the jobs would fall out of the sky (check out minute marker 10:18), but it seems only bird poop and acid rain REALLY does. You are going to have to stick your neck out and get real.
25. New Networks & New Horizons
Once you have exhausted a network or have just hit a wall on how else to exploit it to your advantage, it is time to find a new one. Think about Freelancer Union or any other site that allows you to connect with others. Have you heard of something new or better? Then go for it. Facebook is very much alive and kicking, but it doesn’t mean that it is the best thing if you want to continue to grow.
26. Guard Your Sleep Time
Maybe before you were not writing as much or for much, but now that you are, you need to protect your A game! And if you are 30 or over, you may start to feel a bad night in even more pronounced way. Don’t expect editors or readers to understand a slackening in you writing standards or theirs. You still have to deliver. You’ve made writing your priority and your goal of writing for money a reality, and you want to make more money, so make sure you are sleeping well. The clearer your head, the faster you can work.
27. Get Better At Math!!!
If you are serious about supporting yourself as a freelance writer, you are going to have to get better at math. You need to understand how much you get paid and how it breaks down. You have to understand how taxes, health insurance, and retirement should be factoring in. Have you joined a union? Do you need to join a union? Do you have an accountant? Is your paperweight of a dead laptop or smartphone NOW tax deductible?! You love to write, and you’ve proven you can make money and you can make more money, but can you support yourself fully? Read what other writers are saying and go check out some books. Talk to an accountant. Interview some accountants. If you want to make this your living, this is the point of switching gears.
28. Renovate Your Online Website
We’d all like to think we could launch a professional and perfect website right out of the gate and that is what we should do, but it might be a good idea to at the very least to update your websites (yes, plural) and give them a face lift. Look at what other relevant, in the now freelancers are doing, how they are projecting themselves. Go and be in awe at their professional websites. Then HIRE whoever did one of your favorites and get your overhaul done! You can’t do it yourself. It would be like defending yourself in court or doing your own taxes. Even if you have skills, you need a team of professionals with the full toolkit at their disposal. And you have to use your time to grow, promote, and WRITE. So hire experts.
29. Realize That This Is Your Day Job
You aren’t moonlighting or part-time. Decide and commit that this is your day job, your career, your life. You are taking off the training wheels. You have even saved up for six months of unemployment and have insurance in case you are injured and can not work. This is the moment of complete realization. YOU DID IT! Now, don’t go screwing it up!!
30. Know Thyself
One of the things you will notice when people pitch their business ideas is they have done market research and know their numbers. Do you know your numbers? One freelance writer had herself broken down in charts as to where her work came from and who her readership was. She came with clout. She owns her numbers. She knew where her referrals were coming from. Do you? At this stage of the game, how many Twitter followers do you have? Facebook likers? G+ uppers? Can you SEO and metadata like a champ? You are a business. You are a brand. Know thyself, put it out there, and don’t be in the game, play it like you mean it. Where is your clout?
31. Be Ready to Diversify
Yes, you are a freelance writer, but has it become a springboard for something more lucrative? Is there a service or a product that your writing career has enabled you to take advantage of? Many writers have websites that hosts ads and sell their own books. The trend that has evolved is this:
Step 1) Write online about a topic.
Step 2) Get guest writing spots about the topic.
Step 3) Get book published about the topic.
Step 4) Get better paying gigs to write about topic and promote book and self.
Step 5) Land a sustainable job related to writing, the topic, or both.
32. Never Underestimate Technology In Changing The Game
The freelance writers I spoke to began publishing online when the internet was new, 1992. Technology has changed not only the pay scale, but the requirements of the outlets. Rules changed. Long form writing became short form. Pictures and visuals became big. Interaction is now huge. These changes were all forced by technology. Learn what the results are, like with Snow Falling, a form of writing that is a mash-up of text, visuals, and interactive graphics named after a story that personifies it.
33. Rock the Boat
It might be safe or comfortable to do what you have always done, or to do what all others have done before you, but if you are going to leap ahead of the herd and feast on greener grasses, you’re going to have to break some eggs, shake a tail feather, go for the golden ring! In a nutshell, these mixed metaphors are trying to tell you that you need to do what hasn’t been done or do what has been done DIFFERENTLY.
Be the king or queen of reinvention.
34. Keep Growing
Once you’ve had a blog, once you’ve grown your portfolio of by lines, once you clip file has gotten fat, ask yourself, can you turn a blog into a book? Because you have published and gotten attention and have a crowd of fans to prove it, you’ve already PROVEN to PUBLISHING COMPANIES that you have something worth publishing! Easily accepted, you publish, get promoted, grow a larger, new fan base, and then GET MORE WRITING ASSIGNMENTS!!! And for more money! YOUR STOCK KEEPS GOING UP! And this wonderful cycle is the one you need to shoot for – check out writers – real writers – with careers – and you will see a book!
35. Stay Thirsty My Friends
Ambition will keep you thirsting for accomplishment. Setting new goals will keep you thirsting for accomplishment. Finding more fascinating things to write about will keep you thirsting. Being in competition with other writers will keep you thirsting. Being in competition with yourself will keep you thirsting.
And staying thirsty will keep you and your career alive.