As far as my career goes, I transitioned into freelance writing almost imperceptibly.
Writing was in my career plan all along, but being self-employed never had been. I’d worked for newspapers and magazines, and loved that work. I loved having an office space, pounding the city pavement going to and from interviews, and crafting stories for publication. But when I found out I was pregnant with twins in the summer of 2016, I knew that likely, I was going to have to find a creative way to continue doing the work that I loved. When I left my magazine writing job, I kept in touch with a former boss. She soon became a mentor and opened up new writing opportunities for me — content that I could produce from home while raising my new babies.
As I took on assignments, I built a portfolio and started to discover more about the landscape of freelance writing. I gained the confidence to pitch my own story ideas to other publications I wanted to write for. I began to network, expand my skills, and build a brand. It unfolded naturally. Through the process of time, I realize that freelance writing wasn’t just a means to an end — it was something that I really enjoyed doing, and could see myself continuing in my future. I loved the ability to work flexibly on my own terms, establish a wide portfolio spanning various industries and fields, and maintain (and even strengthen) my writing ability. And I still do. Sure, maybe one day I’ll return to an office. But right now, freelance writing is fulfilling and well-tailored to my lifestyle.
Now, I’m no expert, but I have been in the biz a few years now, and along the way, I’ve traversed the learning curve and picked up a helpful handful of tips, tricks, and tools that have made my journey more fulfilling — and more prolific. And of course, I’m here to share them! I find myself musing on this topic often because I began a freelance journey from a very humble (and amateur) beginning, and I want other writers to find success in their own writing efforts at a more accelerated rate. Plus, the freelance industry is growing and you need to set yourself apart. Let me help. Here, I’ve compiled 10 enduring principles, practical ideas, and foolproof tools that will aid you in seamlessly navigating the world of freelance writing.
- Keep Yourself Organized. Managing a revolving Rolodex of clients with different requirements, needs, and deadlines can be like running a browser with too many tabs open. Eventually, things will get lost — or your computer will crash. Yikes. In order to stay on top of your work and manage your diverse list of responsibilities (and like, not go crazy), take advantage of tools that will help you stay organized. Use a calendar to keep track of the content you need to produce, and color-code based on which client or publication it’s for.
- You can use a traditional pen-and-paper planner, or an online tool, like Asana (handy digital check-list software), Trello, Monday, Todoist, Evernote, a WordPress plugin, an online to-do list app, or a simple Google Drive. Nifty is also a great all-in-one tool that allows teams (through a sweet freemium option!) to plan, track and deliver projects all in one tab. Yep, ONE TAB. (I know all of our brains are running 50 open tabs at once!)
- Make Time. Any type of freelance work requires a fine-tuned level of discipline. There’s no boss pushing you to get work done or a set schedule dictating the management of your time. To use your time most productively, (and to more easily tally up time if you’re calculating rates by hour), use a few simple method and tools to maximize the productivity of your working hours and keep yourself on track. One is called The Pomodoro Method. Essentially, the strategy instructs you to work on a task for 25 minutes (use the FocusBooster timer or a simple online timer tab), then take a break. After four pomodoros, take a longer break. That’s the gist! You can, of course, adapt this technique to fit your personal work style, just continue embracing ways to increase your productivity and use your time wisely. Keep your phone away from your workspace (the OFFTIME app can help) and eliminate other productivity-sabotaging distractions with the Freedom tool or SelfControl app (and if you need ambient coffee-shop sounds, but don’t want to leave the house, try Coffitivity). And focus on one task at a time — multitasking kills productivity and costs you $$$.
- Be Professional. I don’t care if you write at your kitchen table in your pajamas. You’re still a business — and you need to be professional when it comes to your brand and the work you produce. A big part of running a credible freelance writing business is putting your best foot forward online. That means a profesh-looking and functional website. Owning dedicated real estate online that houses a portfolio, blog content, and contact info is important so that potential clients can find and engage with you. Setting up a snazzy site doesn’t have to be expensive, time-consuming, or difficult. You just need a CMS (like WordPress, the powerhouse site that fuels more than 30 percent of the internet), a domain, and a web host. For an easy-as-pie package of all three, I use DreamHost’s Shared hosting plan for my site’s hosting needs.* Plus, with DreamHost Shared Unlimited plans, you get a free domain and a dedicated email address. Score! (I wrote a detailed article about creating a freelance writer website for DreamHost here).
Your site’s content should also be at a suit-and-tie professional level. I suggest giving yourself at least a 24-hour break between finishing a post and publishing it — the time away will give you a fresh pair of eyes to see previously-missed mistakes and give your writing extra polish. Use Grammarly and/or the Hemingway editor tool to keep your writing clear and error-free — as you type. Utilize an IRL editor or online proofreading services to give your writing an extra professional look-over before you hit publish. And when you’re ready to officially form your freelance writing business, use LegalZoom to keep things kosher.
- Write — For Fun. Don’t let writing be all work and no play. You don’t want to sabotage your passion for writing by using it only to pay the bills. Make sure to set aside time for no-pressure, just-for-fun writing. Freewrite in a journal, craft a blog post, or send a letter. Give yourself opportunities to remember why you chose to pursue writing in the first place. Try these journal prompts or join a snail mail group.
- Set Boundaries. One great aspect of freelance writing — perhaps the one that drew you to the field in the first place — is the flexibility to work on your own schedule, without an office or 9-to-5 schedule dictating your days. But that can also increase your chances of burnout. Without establishing parameters for your work, it will follow you everywhere, prohibiting you from having needed off-hours to recharge. I love being able to set my writing hours for my kids’ naptimes, but I still have to set boundaries for work, like writing at a desk inside of my bed (I want my bed to be associated with sleeping, not the stress of deadlines and assignments) as well as sticking to a set end time for inbox-checking. Flexibility is great — but so is balance. Establish a work schedule and honor it — send an OOO message to your to-do list or deadlines when your workday is over. Then take time to relax.
- Know Your Worth. And stick to it! The sad truth about the freelance writing biz is that many clients will want to pay you much, much less than the worth of your work, and often, freelance writing newbies accept the payment, unsure of what appropriate rates are. Certain clients will want to pay by the hour, others by the word. But before you take on any job, focus on the financials. Consider your field, the time you spend on writing work, and what might be a reasonable rate to charge based on your experience, skills, credentials, training, and work output. Take a look at this infographic (or this guide) for a baseline. Then, decide on your fees and other payment details (like how a client needs to pay you, and by when) — and stick to them. It’s important that you’re respected as a writer, just like any other hired professional. Make your payment requirements clear to prospective clients and don’t work for less than you’re worth. Keep a copy of the communications you have with clients, and get all the details about a job before you accept. Use a tool like Shake for crafting and sending legal documents detailing hiring agreements. And when it comes time to collecting payments, use a handy tool like Invoicely or FreshBooks for easily sending invoices and keeping track of your income. You’ll need that info come tax season.
- Embrace Creative Blocks. It’s going to happen — a blinking cursor on a blank page and the words that WILL. NOT. COME. That utter stuck-ness is simply a reality of a writers’ life. BUT, hear this: Creative blocks don’t have to crush your spirits — or your productivity. In fact, those blocks can be a good thing. Beneficial, even. Read more about how to embrace them here.
- Say Cheese. Meaning: update your headshots. It sounds like an inconsequential (and expensive) to-do, but it can make a big difference. Because you are the face of your business, you should refresh the images that you share representing your brand. Getting new headshots taken is an easy way to boost your credibility and professionalism. You don’t have to dish out major $$$ to get a great new mugshot; you can hire a local professional or DIY it.
- Be Choosy. Be careful about which clients you work for and the assignments you accept. At the beginning of your freelance writing career, you might not be able to be as selective, especially when you need to pay the bills or build a portfolio, but as you get more experience, choose only the jobs that honor your integrity as a writer, that pay you what you’re worth, and that you’re proud to have your name on. Plus, you’ll work harder on the assignments you actually enjoy, thus producing better work.
- Always Improve Your Craft. Just like any skill — piano, painting, running, or whatever it may be — writing needs to be nourished as a craft to be improved upon. Writing is your business, so nourish your skills accordingly to be the most competitive you can be. Attend conferences on writing and others related to your specific field or industry, read extensively, and ask for feedback from a mentor or trusted colleague.
Are you a freelance writer with some additional tips, tricks, and tools? Share them below! And if you’re not a freelance writer, let me know what topics you’d like to see covered in the future. I’m here to serve! *bows*
*Affiliate Disclosure: In order to help support this site, I participate in a few, well-chosen affiliate programs. What does this mean to you? Occasionally, when I talk about products, I receive a small commission in the event that you buy one of these said products through my link. Your trust is important to me so please know that I never recommend products I don’t like, support, or believe in. That would not be cool. Thanks for the support!