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Do you know what the worst thing is about being a new freelance writer?
There’s just so much you don’t know.
The learning curve isn’t as steep as say, starting a blog, but still — it’s pretty overwhelming trying to figure out all the things, like:
- Finding places that will pay you to write
- Picking a niche
- Deciding who your ideal client is
- Building a network
- Creating a portfolio
I’ve been there and I totally feel your pain.
But the thing about freelancing is that if you can get over the hump, it can be pretty awesome.
As far as online businesses go, it’s definitely one with major profit potential. And freelancing is flexible enough that you can make it fit your lifestyle.
But when you’re new, you can feel like you’re on the outside looking in. You see other freelancers making money and you wonder what they’re doing that you’re not.
And that’s a terrible feeling, right? It gives me flashbacks of getting picked last at recess.
So, because I want you to rock this freelancing thing I’m going to share my best tips for getting over the new freelance writer hump.
10 Things to Know to Be Successful as a New Freelance Writer
1. Jobs Will Not Come to You
…at least not right away.
As a beginning freelancer, you’re going to have to go out and look for jobs (unless you have some super secret underground freelance writing hookup that I don’t know about.)
You’ll have to pound the virtual pavement, so to speak, to find freelancing gigs at first. Some of the best ways to find work as a new freelancer include:
- Scouring freelance job boards like JournalismJobs.com, ProBlogger Jobs and Virtual Vocations
- Checking out job boards, like Indeed.com or ZipRecruiter
- Asking for a referral from friends and family
- Networking through LinkedIn
- Facebook groups for freelancers (I personally love Freelancing Females)
- Cold pitching to online brands and websites (or offline to local businesses)
If you don’t know what cold pitching is, it just means reaching out to websites or companies you’d like to write for and offering your services.
You can read this post on cold pitching, then check out my Freelance Launch Plan email course. It’s totally free and it includes cold pitch templates, a cold pitch tracker and some other tools you can use to start your freelancing biz off on the right foot.
2. You Need a Niche
There are some freelance writers out there who can write anything about any topic. But that’s not what I recommend for new freelancers.
Here’s why. When you’re writing about everything under the sun, you don’t get a chance to really fine-tune your skills in any one area.
And that’s what you need to do if you want to become an expert in a specific niche.
My niche is finance. Was I an expert in finance when I started out as a new freelancer?
Nope. I wrote all kinds of random stories in the beginning because hey, I was getting paid.
But I wasn’t getting paid well and that was my goal. So I decided to focus on writing about just finance because that’s what I knew the most about and was most interested in.
Now I make multiple six figures writing about personal finance, investing and small business, which all fit under the finance umbrella.
So what I’m saying to you is, if you want to make real money as a freelancer and not just peanuts, you need a niche.
If you’re clueless about a niche, think about:
- What interests you
- Which topics you’re most knowledgeable about
- Things you’d like to learn more about
And most importantly, consider whether that niche is profitable.
3. It’s Okay to Say No
So here’s something that happens to a lot of new freelance writers:
You start getting gigs here and there and making money from your writing. And you want to keep that money rolling in so you become absolutely terrified of turning down work.
Totally been there and done that.
In fact, it’s something I still struggle with sometimes if it’s getting late in the month and my next month’s calendar isn’t fully booked out yet.
So what do you do when you feel that pressure to keep working as a new freelancer?
Well, if you’re like I was back then you end up saying yes to work you don’t really want just to get a paycheck.
And that’s a crappy strategy for getting ahead with your freelancing.
Sure, you’ll make some money. But think about how much time it takes you to earn that money.
If you’re spending three hours writing a blog post that pays $50 but your target hourly rate is $30, you don’t need to be a math genius to know that the numbers just don’t add up.
That’s time that could be better spent:
- Combing the job boards for higher-paying gigs
- Networking on LinkedIn or other sites where your ideal clients or brands hang out
- Connecting with other freelancers on Facebook or Twitter
- Cold pitching businesses and brands that have the budget to pay you what you’re worth
So before you agree to work for the sake of having work, ask yourself if the time and effort you’ll put in is a fair trade-off.
And if it’s not, say no and focus on doing something that’s going to have a higher return on investment for your business. Always be looking up the ladder, not down.
4. Learn From Everyone
I told you there was a learning curve with being a new freelance writer. But that’s not as scary as it sounds.
For example, here’s what you don’t need to start (and keep) making money as a new freelancer:
- A degree in English or communications
- Years and years of writing experience
- Perfect spelling or grammar skills
Here’s the truth about freelancing: what you don’t know, you can learn.
There free and paid courses you can take online to learn how to be a better freelance writer. But don’t limit yourself to just learning from courses.
The people I’ve learned the most from in my freelancing career are other writers and the editors I’ve worked with.
Editors are huge fountains of knowledge you can tap into for free. They know their stuff when it comes to style guides and formatting and how to inject a certain tone or voice into your stories.
You can learn from other freelancers in your niche by studying how they write. And of course, you can get smarter about freelancing by reading blogs.
For example, one of the ways I learned to write better ledes was reading this post from Smart Blogger.
It’s essentially a sponge approach to freelancing. You soak up information, filtering out the best advice and ditching the rest.
And learning doesn’t stop once you’re established either. After 5+ years in the game, I’m still learning every day how to be a better freelance writer.
5. You Won’t Be Everyone’s Cup of Tea
Freelancing writing is in some ways a popularity contest.
There are editors and brands that have favorite writers they want to work with. Those writers get consistent work and make tons of money.
Hint: You want to be one of those writers.
But you’re not going to be right for every client and every client isn’t going to be right for you.
You might do an interview with someone and have what seems like a great vibe going. You submit your assignment, expecting it to turn into an ongoing gig and then…
You never hear from them again.
Or you do but it’s them telling you thanks for your work and they’ll be in touch again if they need anything else.
The gist? They’re just not really that into you.
And that’s okay. Sure, it might sting a little. Rejection always does.
But honestly, they’ve done you a favor. They’ve freed you up so you can go out and connect with your ideal client somewhere else.
6. If You Undervalue Yourself, Other People Will Too
I spend a good amount of time in freelancing groups on Facebook because I genuinely want to offer helpful advice where I can.
So when I see a post like this from a new freelance writer, I die a little inside:
Hi guys! I’m so excited! I just got my FIRST freelance gig! They’re asking for two 1,000-word articles and paying me $25 each. Is that a good rate?
My first thought every time I see a post like this is girl, no. (Or boy, depending on who’s posting.)
As a new freelancer, you might not have the expertise to command $1 or $2 a word — yet. But you don’t have to settle for peanuts either.
Because if you get into that pattern, it’s easy to get stuck there.
If you undervalue the work you do, you’re going to end up with clients that do the same. This is what I call low-hanging fruit.
The work might be easy to get but it won’t make you rich (and in some cases, it might not even pay the bills.)
So, my freelancing friends here’s what you do instead: you start by setting a target rate you want to make.
It could be per word, per piece, per hour — whatever you want.
Then, tell yourself that you’re worth that rate. Every day.
Self-doubt can be a huge confidence crusher. Believe that you are good enough at what you do to earn your target rate.
Then make clients believe it too by turning out your best work every time.
7. Persistence Is Your Best Friend
Being a new freelance writer is all about the ask a lot of the time.
When I say the ask, I mean asking people to hire you.
But here’s the thing: you can’t just ask once. You have to be prepared to ask over and over again.
It’s persistence that will help you grow your business.
Editors, content managers, digital marketers, business owners — all of those people are busy.
They get tons of emails every day and you can’t sit around waiting for them to respond to your pitch or job application.
You have to master the art of the follow-up.
Following up just means circling back on your last email after a reasonable amount of time has passed. It could be a week or a month (I once followed up a year later and got a gig) but the point is that you’re keeping yourself in that person’s sightline.
You don’t want to be a pest, so don’t email them daily or stalk them on social. ‘Cause that’ll get you some serious side-eye and guarantee your emails get blocked.
Do be courteous and professional. And if you still get a “no, thanks”, don’t count them out altogether.
The timing may not be right now, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be later. So work on establishing those relationships and putting a bridge in place that you may eventually be able to cross.
8. You Need to Be Comfortable With Selling Yourself
Some people are just natural salespeople.
They have no problem putting themselves out there and their milkshake brings all the clients to the yard.
But if you’re an introvert like me or just a new freelance writer who’s still learning the ropes, the idea of selling yourself might make you a little panicky.
It all goes back to that self-doubt thing I mentioned earlier. You have to be confident that you can deliver what a client wants, every single time.
A good way to work on your selling skills is to create an elevator pitch.
An elevator pitch is a brief (usually 15 to 30 seconds) spiel that states exactly what you do and what value you bring to the table.
It’s short, sweet and to the point. So if you’re a copywriter for fintech startups (and yes, that’s a thing) you might say something like:
I produce compelling copy for new and emerging brands in the fintech space to help them grow their online presence and connect with their target audience.
Writing a good elevator pitch is all about knowing what you do, inside and out, and who you help.
If you’re looking for a good guide to writing an elevator pitch as a freelancer, check out this guide from Skillcrush.
Then practice, practice, practice delivering your elevator pitch until you’ve got it down so well you’ll want to hire yourself. 🙂
9. Goals Are Critical to Your Success
If you’ve ever read this blog before, you’ve heard me talk about how much I love setting goals.
I get such a rush from setting some crazy big goal, then doing my best to smash it.
That’s how I became a six-figure freelancer.
I set a goal to make $10,000 a month or $100,000 a year from freelancing. I didn’t care which number I hit specifically, as long as I made it to one of them.
And having that goal gave me huge motivation to focus on landing better-paying clients and making a name for myself as a freelancer.
You don’t have to set big goals like that right out of the gate but you should have some goals. For example, you could set goals like:
- Pitching three new prospects every day
- Applying to five jobs via job boards each week
- Adding 50 new LinkedIn connections over the next 12 months
- Making $500 more from freelancing each month
Set your goals, make them as specific as possible and figure out what action steps you need to take to reach them.
Then go all in to achieve them. And once you mark a goal off your list, raise the bar a little with a new one.
Keep doing that over and over and you’ll be floored by the results you start getting in your business.
10. Being a New Freelance Writer Isn’t Perfect
Okay, here’s my last secret:
The freelance life can be crappy sometimes.
People won’t pay you on time and then you have to chase after them.
An editor will rip apart something you worked hard on, making you feel completely deflated.
You’ll apply for a dream gig and you won’t get it.
Someone steals your work.
Or you get a hate email about something you wrote. (Happened to me — but the upside is that’s when you know you’ve made it. :))
I could go on and on but I think you get the point.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade the freelance lifestyle for anything. If I ever have to go back to a regular job out in the real world they’ll have to drag me kicking and screaming all the way.
But there will be hard days, especially in the beginning. On those days, you have to remember your why and what (or who) you’re doing this for.
Give yourself a day to feel bad about it. Indulge in some self-care if you need to.
Then pick yourself up and shift the focus back to where it belongs: making your freelancing business as successful as possible.
What’s the Biggest Challenge You’re Facing as a New Freelancer?
It’s your turn — is there something you’re struggling with as you start your freelancing journey?
If so, head to the comments and tell me about it. I’d love to help!
And please pin and share this post with another newbie freelancer you know who could use it.