The thought of becoming a freelance writer has crossed your mind many times.
You love the idea of making a cool 4- or 5-figure income from home.
But you hate the fact that it all seems so hard.
In fact, you’ve been sitting on the fence for so long, day-dreaming about the big world of non-fiction freelance writing.
You promise yourself that someday, very soon, you’ll take the plunge. Clients will line up to work with you. Magazines will love your pitches and commission you juicy stories, earning you thousands of dollars a month.
Alas, it’s still a day-dream and you snap yourself out of it.
“Who am I kidding?” you think. “The idea of breaking into freelancing and making top dollar is simply too far-fetched. I don’t have professional background, business cards, industry contacts, or relationships with the editors. . .”
Before you go any further, put a brake on your thoughts.
Because here’s the thing:
To make money at writing, there are just three bare-minimum things you need:
- The ability to string sentences together
- The ability to convince clients
- The drive to keep going
Do you see business cards, contacts, a background or college degree on the list? No.
From the threee items, you already have number 1.
Number 2? It comes easily as your writing produces results for your clients.
Number 3 comes as you write for more clients and publications – just like an airplane that takes the most energy at the take-off, the start is the hardest. It gets smooth once you’re cruising.
Those are the three bare-minimums to start with.
By the way, freelance writing isn’t limited to writing for magazines and trade publications. That’s just one way to go.
There is another, much more lucrative field, known as commercial freelance writing where you write for other businesses.
What is Commercial Freelance Writing?
Business competition is mushrooming everywhere you turn. There are so many new companies around you that you cannot help wonder how many are there really.
If you’re interested in the numbers, there are 145,000 businesses born each year. And know what they are looking for?
Writers like you who can help them write content that brings in more customers.
In short, right now, small and large-sized businesses are hungry for quality content to share with their audience.
This content includes:
- Website content
- Press releases
- Sales copy
- White papers
- Direct mail copy
And there’s a new breed of writing emerging, namely content marketing:
- Content marketing (which includes blog posts, ebooks, reports, e-newsletters, autoresponders, lead magnets, landing pages, squeeze pages etc).
Personally, I like to write for clients such as online entrepreneurs and small businesses that are growing at a speedy rate.
Have I written for magazines in the past? Yes.
But, I choose commercial or content writing hands-down because the pay is much quicker, and usually the same as writing for magazines.
(Unless, of course you’re writing for a magazine that pays $1 per word, but even in that case, you have to wait to see a paycheck because you’re paid upon publication.)
Secondly, unlike magazines, commercial or content writing brings you retainer clients who keep sending you work month after month.
But the prospect of breaking into freelancing seems so huge, doesn’t it?
So what do you do?
Here are 3 surefire ways to break into freelance writing as a newbie:
- Find a niche:
You’ve probably heard about this before. But what does it really mean and how do you find a niche?
Before we go any further, I’ll be the first to admit that I started out as a “generalist” freelance writer. I didn’t have a niche five years back and I still managed to find clients.
So my point? If you’re stuck at finding a niche, take up what interests you and run with it. As you keep writing, you’ll peel the layers and come to a realization of what works best in your case.
Coming back to niches, here is my three-step strategy to pick one (I can’t recall where I learned it, so if you have the source, please let me know):
Draw three circles for answers to each of the following.
- What I know from experience/knowledge
- What I’m passionate about
- What’s in demand
The intersection (orange) where the three circles meet is your niche.
Lastly, I knew marketing as a niche was in huge demand.
Tip: To find whether a niche has potential, go to Alltop.com and check out if there are any major blogs and publications talking about it. Next, go to Subscriber.com and see if there are any magazines dedicated to the subject. Lastly, go to Amazon.com and see if there are latest books being written. All this shows you there’s a good market demand.
- Pick the low-lying fruit
To gain entry and attract freelance writing clients, you need some clips in the beginning. Clips are nothing but samples of your writing on relevant subjects (aka your niche).
That means if you’re a fiction writer, you’ll have to come up with new non-fiction clips that can act as samples.
A good idea is to start writing probono for a local business or not-for-profit. They are always looking for quality writers and would appreciate your help.
“But isn’t that writing for free?” you ask, wide-eyed.
No, not really. First, you’re getting to set the foot in the door. Second, you don’t write anything unless you have an agreement as to what each party can expact from this arrangement.
Although this is probono work, you should still treat it as a paid gig and produce nothing less than stellar. In exchange you can ask your client for a testimonial and refferal.
And you never know, they might love your work so much that they end up hiring you.
Probono or not, always produce your best work.
Other examples of low-lying fruit could be your local grocer or café, people whom you know and meet on a daily basis, and friends and family who own a business.
- Employ social media to work in your favor
By social media I mainly mean LinkedIn. I’ve attracted many clients over the platform and you can too.
Running a freelance business, I was too busy to go out and network in person. Plus, I cringed at the thought of those huge “speed networking” events that attract people from all type of background.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the concept of networking and it has gained me a lot. But it soon becomes a time-suck if you keep attending events which don’t’ attract your ideal target market.
One example of my target markets is tech-savvy entrepreneurs who realize the power of content marketing and engaging their prospects via a blog or social media. Another example is consultants and coaches.
Does a recruitment manager appeal to me as a client? No; at least not at this time.
Therefore, I need to be very clear about the events I go to. If they don’t attract my target clients, I cross them off my list.
You have to be ruthless in where and how you network and be very clear about your target market.
Lately, my in-person networking activity has been limited to the three Meetup.com groups that I run. Apart from that, I don’t need any more networking because platforms like LinkedIn have got me covered.
LinkedIn has helped me bigtime in finding ideal clients. I don’t have to step out of the house either. I can source new clients at the click of a mouse button.
Here is a true account of how I made over $7,500 with one LinkedIn email.
But for those who want quick tactics – here are three things you can do right now:
- Start by creating a complete profile.
- Then, check in every day to see who’s looking at your profile.
- Shoot them a quick greeting and ask if they are looking for a writer. Always ask how you can help. Don’t worry about getting business at this time – think about how you are helping this prospect.
- Build a relationship and be genuine. If everything goes right, they will see how you can be of help and hire you.
Tip: Be open to LinkedIn requests – it’s not Facebook so you don’t have to be so “private” about it.
For a detailed, step-by-step approach, I urge you to check out the post I’ve linked above.