I’ve had a few people ask me about how to become a freelance writer or editor so I thought I’d pull together some of things I learned while I was full-time freelance. I recently took a full-time job that was extended to me from one of my clients so this website is evolving in a more personal direction. But still, the topic comes up frequently: How did you do it?
I don’t mean to brag but in less than two years I completely replaced my full-time income with freelance income. I know that sounds like an infomercial. But the answer to how I did it is that I was lucky and I hustled like crazy. It’s important to make that clear off the top: luck has a lot to do with it. And the generosity of your friends, former co-workers and even acquaintances can make a big difference.
So I started by getting laid off from a place I was miserable at anyway. And, after going out on several job interviews and finding myself unhappy with the prospects, I took matters into my owns.
Here are the basics:
- Shake the trees! Tell everybody who might be in a position to hire you or know somebody who might hire you that you are available for work. My husband asked a friend I was too embarrassed to ask if she knew of anything and she hooked me up with her company (who I now work for). It turns out they did need a freelance editor who could turn things around quickly with minimal supervision. So I started out there. Once I realized the hourly pay for freelance editing was reasonably attractive I started seeking more clients. I learned to network and talk to people in ways I never had before.
- Learn to network. And then wait. I told everybody at parties I was a freelance editor. I was all over social media as a freelance editor. That taught me that laying the groundwork for this takes a great deal of time. A friend of a friend took my card, I friended her on Facebook, and I never bothered her about work again. But six months later she sent me an email asking if I was interested in working with her company and she kept me busy the entire summer with work. Lots of the groundwork I laid never paid off (for example, I’ve been approved as a line editor at Harlequin for over a year but they never sent me a single project) but the ones that did made it worth it.
- Act like a business even if you don’t feel like one yet. I had business cards made. I used www.vistaprint.com because it was cheap but I can tell you the cards were quite nice! <–not an advertisement.
- Utilize social media strategically. I’m not great at Twitter. I’ve gotten friendly queries via Facebook. But LinkedIn gave me one of my best paying and nicest clients. Join relevant groups on LinkedIn and then actually skim those groups. Know yourself and pick the social media platform that best suits you.
- Befriend freelance pros. A friend of a friend invited me out for drinks and told me all about her freelance life and how she managed it. And she said that she loved to tell people how feasible freelance is as a full-time gig. And she was right. Sharing knowledge is something many freelance pros like to do (clearly) and the ones who are confident in their careers very often deliver leads to newbies.
- Join associations. I joined the Editorial Freelancers Association. It was a bit pricey but they delivered real job leads regularly. They also have a supportive e-mail group that is always ready to help with any questions.
- Be a great vendor. When you get a client? Always put them first on your list. Always make their deadlines and always deliver your work with a smile. Be pleasant and accommodating. They have plenty of options. And you want to be sure you leave a positive feeling with them in every interaction, particularly when you are establishing your relationship. And make no mistake: It’s a relationship business.
- Aim high. Give yourself a living wage. You have overhead, even if you don’t understand what it is yet. You have to pay for the internet and electricity to do business. You need health care. You need to pay for food for yourself and maybe a family. Don’t leave yourself impoverished. Aiming high also means aiming for great clients–ones who pay without hassle, provide a steady stream of work, and are pleasant to deal with. You should always be looking out for better clients, great projects, and a good wage. If you’re not getting it from your current clients? You need to reassess and weed some out so you can get the most from your freelance life.