Here’s another guest post for you all, this one comes from the fabulous Laila who shares how she began her career as a freelance writer and offers advice to those aspiring to make a career out of writing – hope you enjoy!
“I’m going to write for a living”, I thought to myself as I scribbled personal notes and pretty stories in my battered notebook. “I’ll make money doing what I love, and only what I love”.
When you’re 18 and dreaming up the perfect life, there are no limits to what you can achieve. Your idea of success is a magnified version of the real deal—you plunge into it with all your might, only to get hit with a reality check on the way down.
Well, my reality check could’ve been a little gentler on me.
When adulting comes creeping in, you find yourself doing what you can to make ends meet. You need the job, you need the cash, and you need to hop to it, otherwise you’ll lag behind. It’s scary at first, but there’s a silver lining: it’s one hell of a self-discovery journey.
“You can’t do that”, and the like
I never wanted writing to feel like work. The magic is exactly in the passion, the unknown, and indefinite deadlines. Don’t you wish you could just go with the flow forever?
But, alas, the moment I turned 20, the adult life was a screaming fire alarm. I wasn’t already emotionally shielded to hear the following words:
“This won’t make you any money. A decent life isn’t made of fairytales. Go get a real job, or you’ll be hungry”.
Writers and artists of all types can relate. I wouldn’t mind if I heard such nonsense today, but it was a shock at the time, especially coming from someone who should be my right hand. That’s why I memorized every word, verbatim.
No experience? No problem!
As an avid believer of “do what you love and the rest will follow”, I began to work on my online visibility as a writer. That was one hell of a leap out of my comfort zone!
Besides reading a lot and writing a lot (amen to Stephen King), I had no proven experience as a writer. I wasn’t a professional, and that made my stomach churn. Unbeknown to me, that didn’t really matter.
It’s fair to say that I started my freelance writing career from dead grounds. I didn’t know a thing, my friends. All I had was my laptop, my writing skills, and unwavering confidence that it would all work out.
If I did it, you can, too. For those who dream of working from home and are going down the same path, please follow me through this little 8-step guide.
Disclaimer: this whole process took me about 6 months, and it may vary for everyone. But it was worth every minute! Don’t give up.
Step 1: Find out what you love writing, and create your own blog about it.
Do you like writing diaries about your trips? Product reviews? Makeup tutorials?
I love writing about writing, as you can probably tell.
Find out what it is you’re good at writing, and make a blog about it. The idea might sound daunting if you never owned a blog before, but this first step is where your inventory will start to grow. Trust me, you’ll need it soon enough.
During this phase, all you need to worry about is writing on your blog regularly. Not exactly a worry, if I do say so myself.
Start following similar blogs and interacting with your followers. This is a great way to start collecting feedback and building an audience. In turn, it’ll also build your confidence!
Step 2: Start contributing to other blogs
Yep, this is what I’m doing right now. Thanks Jenna!
You’d be surprised at how many blogs accept guest posts from other writers. Although guest posts are usually unpaid, they’re great for experience and confidence before you actually start working. We’ll talk about that in a minute.
First things first: how to find those blogs? Props to social media! If you have Instagram, it’s as easy as looking up the hashtags #guestbloggerswanted, #guestbloggers, or similar. You can also google blogs that accept guest posts in your niche, e.g. “lifestyle guest posts”, and you should find a few pertinent links.
After reading the blog owner’s guest post guidelines (if there are any), get in touch with them via e-mail or direct message. They should let you know which medium is better for contact, and which specific rules you should follow when it comes to topic, word count, etc.
Send them a pitch of what your blog post will entail, and hope for the best.
One of my very first guest posts was published at Tiny Buddha. I’m so happy to tell you it’s where it all started!
Step 3: Build proof of your skill
Once you have enough material to showcase, you can take things up a notch. Yes, I’m talking about portfolios and resumes. Take a deep breath, and come with me.
The “good” part is that not all employers ask for a resume and a portfolio. They sure will ask for one of them, but not necessarily both. But it’s always good to have both handy.
- Your portfolio: you can either have a separate page on your blog that links to it, or create another blog (there are portfolio sites that make the job easier). I started out with very little work—around 4 to 6 articles, including guest posts and my own—and that was already enough to get started. I would update my portfolio as I published.
- Your resume: I’ll just drop this here because I didn’t even know how to write a proper resume when I first started out. Also, you should consider using a writer’s resume. Some writers have many of them for different job opportunities, but don’t think about this for now, one will suffice. Check out writers resume templates online—that helped me immensely.
My first resume was tiny: it had my education background, my skills, my courses, and a few links to some of my guest posts. Nothing fancy, and I still got jobs!
- Cover letters: not every employer asks for cover letters. Some writers even say that all you need to kickstart a freelance writing career are some samples of your work. However, I want to make this article as complete as possible, and make sure you have everything you need!
Step 4: Writing Job boards
Some experienced freelancers will tell you job boards aren’t their venue of choice. Once you’re established and start cold-emailing and have your own clients, then you can sweep the job boards aside.
They’re great for beginners, though! In fact, they were the boost I needed to start getting paid for my work. On job boards, you’ll find an array or jobs, from landing pages to brochures to articles to podcast notes—all of which your skills could fit in! You may even find remote internships and unpaid positions along the way. Don’t let them pass by! They’re great to increase your portfolio and CV.
To be honest, it took me several applications to get a single reply. ‘Tis not easy…I remember updating the job boards countless times a day to see if there were any fitting jobs for me. Hang in there.
Step 5: Online courses
If you’re like me and can’t trust yourself 100 percent unless you’re doing the very best you can, then invest in online courses.
Whether you feel like you could write better or want to be a certified professional, there are online courses available to tackle your “weaknesses”. It’s not only a matter of confidence, it’s a matter of improving your credibility as a professional writer. A certificate could put you ahead of fellow candidates, so make it a strong option.
Step 6: Learn how to get paid
Being a freelance writer means you run a one-person business, which also means you need to learn how to charge for the work you’re doing. This is a whole other post in itself, but it pays to give your work credit—some people can and will pay far less than what it’s worth, and if you have no idea what you’re doing, you’ll just go along with it and get underpaid.
Knowing how much and how to charge is part of holding yourself and your job in high esteem. Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Writer has a full chapter dedicated to teaching you exactly that. It’s worth checking out!
Step 7: Be consistent
Ain’t working from home a dream? To an extent, yes. But when you look at the “ugly” side, you might change your mind.
The not-so-good part of freelancing is that you have to be your own butt-kicker. Yes, you’ll be able to work in your pajamas while your cat watches you, you’ll have “dry” weeks in which not much work comes along, and you won’t need to wake up at 6 AM every day.
But you’ll also need to go job-hunting online, deal with clients who can’t make up their minds, and do lots and lots of rewriting for that money. Oh, and I suggest you get a planner, otherwise you’ll end up doing last-minute crappy work, which in turn might harm your reputation. The “free” in freelancing isn’t literal, just so you know.
Step 8: Don’t abandon your personal projects
Writing for clients is way different than writing for yourself. You’ve got stricter deadlines, rules to follow, people to please. It becomes a bit too technical, and you might miss writing your poems or novels or stories.
The truth is, you don’t have to abandon them. Set aside a few times a week to dedicate to the writing you’re passionate about, because you’ll need it to keep moving forward (and that’s another reason why you need a planner).
I try to remind myself that, it doesn’t matter whether I’m writing a landing page or a short story, I’m still writing. People hire me because I have skills that they don’t, and they’ll hire you for the same reason. You’re a writer. That’ll keep you going.
The person who belittled me? Today, I make more money than they do. You’re welcome.
Firstly, a massive thank you to Laila for approaching me with such a fantastic piece, it was a pleasure to share her story and post on my blog.
Also, thank you to those of you who read and enjoyed this post. It’s certainly something which hasn’t been touched on before here on my blog, but I felt it would be of great use to so many of you, so I really hope you’ve been able to take something away!
If you did like this post, please don’t forget to hit the like button and leave any comments or questions you have for Laila below. Thanks again for your continued support and don’t forget to subscribe to be notified each time I post.