One of the many questions asked a lot is how to get started as a new freelance writer without any professional writing experience and sample works to show. The answers vary for each and every professional freelance writer out there. In this article, I’ll approach it by answering the who, what, where, when, why, and how in the way they happened to me.
Who is the Freelance Writer?
A freelance writer is a self-employed professional who offers his services to one or more clients, either long-term or short-term commitment to them. He is someone who is hired to write or is paid in exchange for written work that is done within an agreed period of time.
A freelance writer is also known as an independent contractor. Other terms for a freelancer are gig worker, online platform worker, or contract firm worker.
Although others include the terms on-call worker and temporary worker, these two may not be self-employed.
On the other hand, a person who works full-time for a company but doesn’t have to be at a fixed office location every day is called a remote worker.
These terms are sometimes used interchangeably and may be confusing to others who are not in the gig economy.
Why Prefer Freelancing?
Who doesn’t want to be your own boss? Because freelance writers are considered self-employed, you can set your own rates, choose your clients or the number of clients, set your own schedules and appointments, and set your own terms with your client. Being a freelance writer means you are in control. You’re the boss. Imagine that you can have all these freedoms in the comfort of your home.
But be aware that being self-employed has other responsibilities, too, like filing taxes, paying Social Security and insurance contributions, and other admin work.
When to Start Freelancing
The time when to start freelancing depends on you. Pre-pandemic, most freelancers started once they resigned from their day jobs. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic when most were laid off or lost their jobs, freelancing and working from home became a trend because people looked for ways to earn income amidst the crisis.
But how would you know if you’re ready? If you have enough savings to last you for the next three months, you can plunge into the sea of freelancing. Otherwise, you might end up in a hand-to-mouth existence, which usually perpetuates the myth that there is no money in writing.
I have read in an old issue of Working Mom magazine that it is recommended to plan your shift to freelancing a year before you send your resignation letter. This way, you’ll be able to plan your capital, home office, equipment, marketing collateral, etc.
What Do Freelance Writers Need To Have?
In this digital age, as long as you have an internet connection and a computer, you can start working. Of course, you should have your writing tools set up on that computer. Having a printer, business cards, letterhead, and envelope may follow or be optional depending on the nature of your freelance writing job.
Of course, you need to assess your skills. What types of writing do you love doing? Can you beat deadlines? Aside from writing, what other skills do you have which will help you further?
You may say, “But I don’t have any experience…” or “I don’t have anything to show…” That’s fine. Most freelance writers would claim that their first writing experience was back in school writing for the school paper. Or they claim that they were not journalism graduates but have a passion for writing. Before I became a writer, I was a registered medical technologist and nurse. It was only in 1999 that I decided to become a full-time writer.
Therefore, you don’t need to worry about having an experience. Start building your portfolio and gather writing experience as you go along.
Where Do Freelance Writers Work?
Freelance writing is a good example of a work-from-home setup. Some start working on the kitchen counter or dining table. I used to have a desk beside my bed when I started. However, having a dedicated desk may not be enough. It is recommended that you have a dedicated home office space (separate from your bedroom) for your desk, books, office supplies, and files as well.
Another advantage of being a freelance writer is to become a digital nomad. Many millennials and Gen Zs are digital nomads, traveling and working at the same time. This kind of freedom can surely lure anyone to become a freelancer.
So if you plan to become a digital nomad, add your cell phone, chargers, and pocket Wi-Fi to your list of equipment.
How to Start Freelance Writing
If An Opportunity Opened Itself, Grab It
The start of my freelance writing career came at an opportunity in 2001.
I was already employed at Star Cinema for more than a year and I felt something deep inside me that I couldn’t pinpoint at that time. Being in show business is not all glamor, it could also be toxic. It already came to a point when I didn’t feel appreciated and happy anymore.
So I resigned from my job after my three friends and I decided to pool our talents together in creative writing, sales, and marketing. Another friend offered his apartment to be our office since he only stayed in his room upstairs.
After setting up our office, we tried to market our services, and events and pitched our proposed projects. This was challenging back in 2001 because all four of us just came out from employment and were experiencing freelancing for the first time.
In between projects, another opportunity opened itself again when another friend of mine asked me to accompany him to Valenzuela. When we arrived, we met another friend. So the three of us talked to this couple whose business was publishing romance books. And that’s how I started writing novels.
Be careful, though. Accepting all opportunities that come your way might overwhelm you in the end. Accept only the jobs that you can handle.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Around
Being a freelancer, you ought to constantly look for opportunities. Asking relatives and friends within your network is one of them. Do not be afraid to tell everyone that you’re a freelance writer.
In late 2002, I asked a friend for a gig that he might know of. So he introduced me to an editor. This editor happened to be looking for comic manuscripts to be considered for publishing. And that was how I started writing comics.
Pitch Your Ideas
Another way of looking for writing gigs is to look up the submission guidelines of publications you would like to write. Study the different publications and gather information about their target audience, style, and tone of writing, what kinds of articles they usually publish, who’s the editor, etc.
In 2003, I saw a new tabloid and I wanted to be a part of it. So I bought a copy, studied its contents, and compared it to the well-known tabloids around. I found an opportunity for this new tabloid that I got an idea to pitch.
So I wrote a letter to the editor, pitched my idea, and attached a sample article that showed how it would look once published. After a few days, I got his reply, and set me up for an appointment. I was in Moncada, Tarlac at that time so I traveled back to Metro Manila just to meet him. The meeting went well and that’s how I got my daily column for a tabloid.
Sign Up On A Job Platform
The first three I’ve mentioned happened in pre-social media. Online job platforms were not a thing then.
In mid-2012, I resigned from my 9-to-5 job in a BPO company to complete a novel I’d started ten years prior. At the same time, someone told me about oDesk (now UpWork), an online job platform.
I checked the website, created a profile, and started looking for gigs. My first job was easy and it was the first time I experienced being paid by the hour every week, the first time to encounter a monitoring tool and the first time to encounter PayPal.
Then I discovered Elance (which merged with oDesk and became UpWork), PeoplePerHour, OnlineJobsPH, and other online job platforms. At this point, I’m constantly searching for writing gigs that pay well.
Some writing gigs were good. These jobs provided me with good experiences and positive ratings. Unfortunately, I also encountered different types of bad clients which I will discuss in another article.
For beginners, signing up on an online job platform may be one of the few steps to beginning a freelancing career. But as you progress, you should not be relying on these platforms for gigs because most of the time, the writing jobs available pay lower than what you would expect.
Nowadays, I don’t use these online job platforms. I just set my profile to “not available” but continue receiving notifications in case something interesting comes up.
Invest in a Website
This should be your ultimate goal. Imagine being reached out by a potential client because they saw your website. For the past few years, this has happened to me.
In 2016, I launched my personal website which acts as both a blog and portfolio. Since it has a blog, I tried my best to come up with articles that would establish myself as an authority in my expertise which is freelance writing.
The hard work paid off when in late 2019, a potential client sent me an email via my website and asked for my services. I’m happy that I’m still writing for him until now.
Another client saw my website and she was impressed that she asked me to redesign her website and write blogs and e-books for her.
Someone asked me before and said, “I have a personal blog that is different from what I’m actually writing for clients.” I gave her two options: (1) revise her current blog site to make it a portfolio website and select a few blog posts to show as samples, or (2) create a portfolio website completely different from her personal blog. Personally, I advised her to do the latter because it would look more professional from a potential client’s point of view.
You see now how beneficial it is to have your own website.
Join a Group or Network
One of the advantages of social media is to connect with like-minded individuals. It is recommended to join groups that you know will further your knowledge, skills, and network connections. You may not know when a potential client may come your way.
Joining a Facebook group and being active in that space opened another opportunity for a writing gig for me. Even though I wrote only a chapter of an e-book, my contribution will be shown side by side with other writers’ contributions and will benefit freelance writers across the country.
Another social media platform to be in is LinkedIn, which I always refer to as social media for professionals. Being active on LinkedIn may provide more opportunities for writing gigs. A client saw my profile on LinkedIn and checked my website before she reached out to me. As it turned out, she’s the best client I had so far.
My Final Thoughts
Just like writing, starting to become a freelance writer is like staring at a blank page. The who, what, where, when, why, and how of freelance writing came to me in a way I never expected. I just acted upon the opportunity. I may have had the come-what-may attitude but it helped me conquer my fears of starting up.
I hope I was able to answer your question on how to get started in freelance writing. If you think I missed anything, let me know. Your questions are welcome. And if you are interested to read more about freelance writing, creative writing, and productivity, subscribe to our quarterly newsletter and join the tribe.