So, you’re ready to build a career working as a freelance writer online. You’ve got your digital portfolio set up and you’ve signed up for a business email address, but there’s one problem in your plan: you’re no expert writer.
While there is no shortage of business owners ready to connect with marketers online, most companies want to work with industry leaders. Being a newbie isn’t shameful—after all, we all have to start somewhere—but convincing would-be clients to shell out for your services can be a bit of a booger.
Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to fake it until you make it. As you build momentum, you’ll find it easier and easier to land contracts with the right clients and build upon your past success. These are the same tips I used when I first started writing online for money, so take heart.
Pick Your Niche
“The most lucrative niches are those that correlate with your experience and passion.”
I probably wouldn’t get much work if I started pitching my services to say, veterinarians or construction firms. I’d like to think I could write intelligently on pet health and home improvement projects, but I don’t have an impressive portfolio of clips to back me up. Furthermore, I have limited experience in these fields.
Instead, I focus most of my time writing on subjects I’m passionate about: travel, foreign language learning, small business development, and real estate. How did I end up in those niches, you ask? I think the most successful freelance writers come by their areas of expertise honestly. For example, I spent five years living in Europe, where I studied translation and linguistics. You can understand why someone who want me to write on travel, living abroad, and learning a new language.
A lot of amateur writers tell me they’re focused on finding the most lucrative freelance writing niches, but truthfully, the most lucrative niches are those that correlate with your experience and passion. Not only can you command higher rates for subjects you understand inside and out, but choosing to work with topics that interest you on a personal level is a surefire way to make your everyday work more interesting.
Remember, as Carol Tice helpfully points out in this blog post, you don’t need to choose a single niche and call it a day. As Carol puts it, “Want to know your best niches? Start writing, and let them find you. You’ll see what you enjoy writing about.” Great advice!
Rework Your Resume
Whether you’re cold pitching, responding to a job ad, or following up with a potential lead, it’s important to get comfortable selling yourself succinctly. Most new clients don’t have a vested interest in working with you. A long query expounding on your working history and vast knowledge of a particular subject isn’t going to do you many favors.
Brevity is truly an art form, particularly when it comes to landing a sale. And yet, what if an editor or would-be client needs an extra push?
I will often include a writing resume with my queries and pitches as extra reading material. My writing resume is a variation on a traditional CV: instead of covering every last detail of my working career, it highlights “real world” experience that directly relates to my writing, along with links to my various portfolios, social accounts, etc. I send this document as a PDF attachment with my message.
If you’re new to the writing game, you might not have much published material to showcase. This is where I find a writing resume contributes some extra oomph. Just as a human resources officer might glance at your cover letter before digging in to your resume, including a “resume” is a clever way to build additional interest in your skill set. If nothing else, it’s one more tool you can use to try to get someone’s attention.
Affiliations with industry groups and organizations help demonstrate your expertise working in a particular field. Some groups require little more than signing up to become an affiliate member, allowing you to proudly display the badge or logo on your portfolio. In other cases, you may need to pay membership dues or qualify for membership based on your professional credentials.
Looking for ideas? Simply Google, “organizations for [industry] professionals” to get started. You might also join want to join writing groups or freelance organizations, such as Freelancers Union or the Editorial Freelancers Association.
Start Writing ASAP
Yes, I understand, you need a paycheck. Without some writing experience under your belt, however, few editors are going to jump at the chance to work with you. Now is the time to start writing, even if it means working for free.
I’m not advocating for giving away work to clients who should be paying you, but you need to do what it takes to get your name out there. If you don’t already have one, start a blog covering your area of expertise. Start partnering with other bloggers and pitch guest posts. Write for startups, volunteer your services to nonprofit groups, submit an editorial to your local newspaper…I don’t care what you do, just start writing.
Firstly, the more you write, the more clips you’ll have to show potential clients. Each piece you write also serves as a de facto advertisement for your business. If you’re contributing to the right publications, there is a good chance the audience is full of targeted customers who would like to partner with you.
Choosing to write, even when you’re not getting paid, will also help you get more comfortable with your craft. You can also consider writing for Constant Content or another article database, which help generate residual income for writers. This will ensure you’re putting your writing muscles to work, while creating the potential for future earnings—it’s a win-win.
Ready, Set, Go!
Very few freelance writers manage to launch a vibrant career in a month’s time—it takes hard work and a bit of luck to land the right clients. Try to apply these tips to build your credibility, but don’t get discouraged if it takes some time to see your dream career come to fruition.
Treat every day like a new opportunity to network and promote your services. As you build on your past success, you’re bound to see great results.
Go get ’em, tiger!
How did you find work in your chosen niche? Do you have advice for writers struggling to land the right contracts?