When I first started my freelance career nearly two years ago, I had several friends tell me I should feel “so lucky” to be able to just chill out at home and not have to do anything. They had this idea that I was just lounging around in bed, watching my favorite shows on Netflix, eating junk food, and writing something every now and then.
Now, I may have been working for content mills at first, but I was still working. In fact, I was working all the time. I was putting in tons of work, but not getting much out of it.
When I realized content mills aren’t the way to go, and that I really should be getting credit for my work, I decided to take my freelancing in a different direction. In order to grow my business and bring in some better-paying clients, these are the steps I followed for starting a freelance business from home on a budget.
Understand: Freelancing is hard work
You may not have a boss holding you accountable, and may not need to punch in and out with a time card. You may not have anyone telling you to stay off Facebook, or don’t waste time browsing around on YouTube.
This is great, but it also means you are accountable for yourself. If the work doesn’t get done, it’s on you. There are no co-workers or long lines of customers to blame. It’s all on you. Freelancing isn’t all just Netflix and snacks. It’s hard work, but it can certainly pay off in the end.
Now, I’m not saying you’ll dive in and immediately start making $70,000 per year. But, I am saying that your hard work is very likely to pay off, even if you start out on a budget.
But, you have to be willing to put in hard work. One of the biggest things for me was to establish a set routine, much like I would if I had a job anywhere else. I get up at the same time each day on my workdays (M-F), I get dressed like I would if I was going to work (albeit one that allows metal band t-shirts and baggy jeans), I eat breakfast, and then I dive into my work day. I take breaks, but I stay focused on working until the end of my scheduled work day.
Consider your major end goal
I know you’ve probably read tons of posts that shove the whole “set goals for yourself” speech down your throat. I know, I know. But, it’s actually far more helpful than you might think. Having a major end goal helps you focus your business, preventing you from just floundering around without any real intent.
How do know you’re doing well if you don’t have anything by which to measure success? Your goal could be anything, as long as it directly pertains to your business.
For example, your major end goal could be to make at least $70,000 per year after the first year of starting a freelance writing business. Then again, you may just want to make an extra $1000 per month for going out. You may want to place a featured article in PC Gamer. You may want to be able quit your day job and start selling your art full-time.
Whatever your major goal is, you need to give it some life. Put your goal on paper. Read it aloud. Post it somewhere in your home or office where you will be forced to see it all the time. Make your goal tangible, or it will just remain an idea.
Goals need action before they can happen.
Pick your freelance writing niche
You want to pick a topic that satisfies these three major areas:
- You know a lot about the topic, or it’s one you are willing to learn a lot about.
- There will be enough clients willing to pay you to write about this topic.
- It’s a topic you are interested in.
Many new freelance writers go about picking a niche based on personal experience, yet seem to completely disregard their professional experience. You don’t need to have been super high up in the company for you to have gained valuable knowledge.
- If you’ve worked in a shoe store, you know about customer service, sales, and retail.
- You’ve worked in a veterinary hospital, so you know a good deal about pet health and how to properly care for an animal.
- You worked in a bank, so you know about financial services.
- By working in the office of an apartment complex, you know about real estate trends and property management topics.
- Did you just graduate from college? You very likely know all about student loans, college life, finding jobs, career planning, and frugal living.
All of these examples provides enough background to convince your client you know what you’re talking about. Start with your professional experience, and make a list of all of your previous jobs. What types of things did you learn from each one? How can you leverage that experience and knowledge when it comes to building your freelance career?
Decide what type of writing you would like to do
There are numerous types of paid writing: Blog posts, articles, website copy, white papers, case studies, brochures, product/catalog descriptions, email newsletters, direct mailer copy. . .and so many more!
With all of these options out there, it’s best to narrow down your favorite types of writing to just one or two specific types of freelancing writing, just to start out with. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, it’s time to do a bit of research to determine which type of freelancing writing pays the most.
Poetry, personal essays, and reviews aren’t the most lucrative. Novels take such a long time, and aren’t the most reliable sources of income unless you’re one of the big names, like Stephen King. The same goes for short stories, novellas, and flash fiction.
Articles, blog posts, marketing materials, case studies, white papers, government contracts, web pages, business plans, and resumes – these are the types of freelancing writing that pay the best.
Smaller publications and businesses tend to have a smaller marketing budget, which mean less pay. However, starting out with a smaller publication will give you some experience and clips to add to your new portfolio.
Just keep in mind that you usually won’t end up writing about what you love every single time, and still get paid well for it. I mean, if this was the case, I’d spend most of my time writing $700 blog posts about coffee, beer, and old horror and sci-fi flicks.
Set up a website
This may sound like one of the more complicated steps for starting a freelancing writing career, but it doesn’t need to be crazy complicated. All you need is a simple website to use as a way to attract your clients.
There are several options available to get started, such as Squarespace, Wix, and WordPress.
Once you’ve got that part figured out, and have your domain, it’s time to create a blog under a header tab. Alternatively, you could link to a blog you maintain on another site. This isn’t completely necessary – unless you want to get paid to write blog posts – but it does give your prospective clients a feel for your writing and voice. If you write about your niche, it also demonstrates your expertise.
Your website should also have a strong Home page that makes it easy for visitors to immediately tell what type of freelancing writing services you offer, your portfolio, a compelling About page, and easy-to-find contact information. You also want a call-to-action that tells your prospects exactly what you want them to do next: Contact you!
Your branding should be consistent. Your personality, voice, and other branding elements should remain consistent. Figure out how you want to convey yourself (authenticity is always best), and make sure that is clear throughout all of your content (including emails) and on every page of your website copy.
Add a logo that helps you stand out from the rest of the other freelance writers out there. If you want to operate like a business, which you most likely do, you need a logo that prospective clients and readers can associate with you.
When it comes to picking a logo for your business, you need to keep in mind how you want your brand to come across. Your logo should convey this in seconds. Do you want to be considered formal? Active? Trendy? Casual? Are YOU your own brand?
Read up on the basics of color psychology. Color plays a pivotal role in branding, marketing, and customer engagement. Color, or even the lack thereof, can invoke multiple meanings. As a freelance writer, you are a business owner, which means you need to keep the basics of color psychology in mind when picking your logo. This is why it’s important to choose a designer who understands how to carefully pick colors that will adequately convey your brand’s message.
If you’re like most new freelance writers, you’re probably trying to start your business on a budget. If you’re a woman, you don’t have to shell out tons of cash just yet for a logo. GraphicSprings is offering a Women Entrepreneur Initiative (GWEI) that offers free logo design services to female freelancers/entrepreneurs. It’s the company’s way of fixing the gender gap, helping women overcome the challenges they face in business, inspire women entrepreneurs, and initiate a new generation of start-ups.
Other branding aspects, such as blog images, headers, graphics, etc., can be created for free with sites like Canva and PicMonkey.
Market your services
Set up social media accounts for your business. You’re going to need a professional Facebook page, Twitter, Google+ account, Pinterest account, and LinkedIn Profile. You could also get an Instagram and Snapchat account, if they line up with your prospective customers’ demographic.
Having professional social media accounts will help you connect with prospective clients, increase website traffic, and network with others in your freelance writing niche. You will be able to share your content, demonstrate your industry expertise, and share links to articles relevant to your niche. As you’re working to build up your client list, you need to start growing your online presence.
It’s important to learn how to marketing your freelance writing services without resorting to content mills. You are worth more than mere pennies per word, and don’t need to join content mill sites to get clients.
You can use job boards and freelance bidding sites to get started, but it’s important to be selective about it. Remember that many Craigslist ads are incredibly low-paying, scams, or only willing to “pay in exposure.” You can find some good clients in there, but they are few and far between.
Set your freelance writing rates
It can be a bit tricky to set your freelance writer rates, but it gets easier once you have taken on some paid gigs and have built up your portfolio. If you have absolutely nothing to put in your portfolio, you may want to take on some small projects pro bono. This will be a great way to build up your portfolio and collect testimonials to include on your website.
Once you’ve earned some clips within your chosen niche, it’s time to start taking on some paid gigs. Pay attention to what other freelancers in your niche are paying, so you get an idea of a ballpark range of what to charge. You could also try asking your prospective clients what their budget is, or what their regular article rate is (if you’re speaking to the editor of a trade publication).
You also need to figure out how much you need to earn per month to meet the financial goals you’ve set for yourself. Come up with a rate, earn some clips at that rate, then give a higher rate for the next client. Keep doing this until you’re earning a decent wage that meets your financial needs and business goals. You want to be earning at least $50 per hour starting out, taking into account the time it takes to complete the project, the taxes, expenses, and knowledge.
There really isn’t one simple, step-by-step path for becoming a freelance writer. Everyone has taken a different career path, with some paths being a bit windier than others. Everyone launches their career differently, and it’s all really just a process of trial and error.
The best thing to do is just put yourself out there and try.