There’s no lack of freelance writing career advice in this world. Between the blogs, the newsletters, the social media posts, and your Twitter feed, it’s easy to fall into a state of information overload.
But hear me out on why you should keep right on learning…
In any new business venture (and that’s what your freelance writing career is), you’re going to make mistakes – some for no other reason than inexperience.
Many of these pitfalls you won’t even see coming until you stumble head-first into them. But you can’t anticipate what’s ahead very well if you’re doing something you’ve never done!
This list of tips for beginner freelance writers is like a map, pointing out the quicksand, cliffs, and brambles – plus how to avoid them.
Tip #1: You Must Cast a Wide Client Net to Book Your New Business Solid
As a self-employed freelancer, it’s your responsibility to line up the right amount of work. Too much and you’re burned out; too little and you can’t pay your bills.
While established writers might selectively market themselves only when they have availability, new writers need to cast a much wider net to gain traction.
This means possibly applying for writing positions outside of your ideal niche and marketing regularly until you’ve built a comfortable workload.
Tip #2: It Takes More than One Client (One-and-Done Assignments Don’t Count)
One of my biggest tips for beginner freelance writers comes down to the “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” idiom. Only in this case, we can replace the word “eggs” with the word “income.”
Whether it’s a new client or one you’ve been working with for a year, it’s still best to err on the side of caution and protect yourself from sudden un-self-employment. (Un-Self-Employment: When you’re not unemployed, you’re self-employed, but don’t have any work.)
Tip #3: Your Freelance Writer’s Website Is No. 1
Having a website has become the industry standard, and not having one sends up unprofessional red flags for editors.
So if a job posting asks for writing samples and a résumé, by all means include them – along with a link to your website.
Then use your site as a marketing tool that allows potential clients to not only see what you have to offer, but convinces them they’d be silly to hire anyone else.
Tip #4: Get 3-4 Queries Circulating to Build Your Portfolio
Queries and pitches are those one-and-done assignments I mentioned earlier.
You’re not applying to be a regular contributor, you’re trying to sell your idea for a feature or one-off article. And while these gigs can earn you nice side income, they’re usually not your bread and butter.
Instead, use them to build your portfolio, gain credibility, and cement your niche experience. Think about your writing goals and identify a few “someday” publications you’d love to write for regularly.
Maybe you’re trying to build your reputation in a niche, like health and wellness. What writing samples would help you achieve these goals? What publications would sparkle in your portfolio, impressing editors and readers alike?
Tip #5: Exercise Matters
Here’s a trade secret not many writers talk about: You’re going to spend a lot of time sitting on your butt.
Yoga pants aside, you’ll need to make time for exercise – or at least get up, stretch, walk, and get the blood flowing a couple times a day. If your previous (or current) 9-5 job kept you hopping, you’re going to lose that incidental activity once you start writing from home full-time.
Plan accordingly or you’ll likely find yourself buying bigger yoga pants.
Tip #6: You Need Another Kind of Net
No, not the Inter-net. Remember when we talked about having more than one client? Well, consider what would happen when you already have a handful of clients, but you lose a good one.
A nice chunk of your income would go with them. If you don’t have a financial safety net in place, you’re not only going to stress heavily over the loss, you’re going to be on a time crunch to replace that income. Oh no!
Now that same scenario with a net: “It’s too bad I lost that client, but I’ve got time to replace them. Maybe I’ll start sending emails to those dream clients of mine and peruse my favorite job boards over coffee each morning. Then again, maybe the lighter workload makes this the perfect time to plan a weekend away.”
See the difference?
Tip #7: Know When to Stop Organizing and Start Working
Many a would-be freelancer has gotten so distracted with setting up their office, filing, and bookkeeping systems that they neglected to actually market their services and land clients.
The same holds true for reading industry advice, blog posts, and newsletters. Eventually you need to stop studying “how to be” a freelancer and actually “be” a freelancer.
Tip #8: Your Niche Is More Than a Topic
When most freelance writers think niche, they think topic – what subject a writer specializes in – but a niche can also be a specialty, like menu descriptions, product descriptions, landing page copy, sales letters, white papers, press releases, grant proposals… the list goes on and on.
Plus, many of these technical niches pay more than your average content-creation gig. Of course, specializing in one of these formats is not essential, but knowing about them opens you up to opportunities you might not otherwise consider.
For more suggestions on choosing a niche that’s perfect for you, check out AWAI’s free webinar How to Choose a Copywriting Niche.
Established freelancers have often learned all the lessons I’ve discussed here through trial and error.
But if you take these tips for beginner freelance writers to heart, you’ll be well prepared for the ups and downs of life as a freelancer.