Pick a Niche
Generalists don’t make the money. Pick a niche and go after it and you’ll see more money, faster. You can always add or change your niche later. When starting out, you have to specialize in one area if you want to get clients quickly.
Imagine you are a business owner (or the marketing manager, content manager, etc.) looking to hire a writer to write a series of blog posts on the company’s new health supplement. These are the two writers who have sent you an email:
- Hi Jack, I’m a freelance writer and I can write on any topic you need. I’m great at SEO and editing blah blah blah
- Hi Jack, I’m a freelance writer who specializes in the health and fitness industry blah blah blah
We’d all go with writer number two. Why? Because as a business owner needing to sell products or services, you want someone who can come in and write the copy without a ton of direction or training. You don’t have time to hold the writer’s hand and teach them about the fitness industry, no matter how great of a writer they are.
Create a Portfolio
I don’t care if you have no samples at all, you have to create a portfolio. Potential clients will want to see something you’ve written so they can see your style. If you find an ad from a potential client who needs a writer, they will almost always request 1-3 samples. If you are sending out cold emails to potential clients, you’ll want to send samples up front so they can see how well you write.
Now I know what you’re thinking. You don’t have any samples and the thought of someone dissecting your work makes you queasy. I want to calm your fears. Most people who read your work are just looking to see that your work makes sense, reads well and looks good. Sometimes, potential clients don’t care what topic your sample is on, as long as you give them something to read.
But here is where we take it a step further and give you a better shot at the gig. Since you don’t have any samples yet, create some on the niche you are targeting (this is why picking a niche is so important). Write at least 3 or 4 samples in your niche. Go for the easy stuff, just write a blog post/article and don’t try to write a press release, white paper or something longer. Again, they just want to see that you can write. Showing them that you can write and have already written in their niche is a win-win. This will grab their attention and earn you the gig over others who may be great writers, but don’t have samples for this niche.
Where do you showcase your portfolio?
You can create your portfolio different ways. The fastest and easiest way to do this is write your 3 samples in Word, combine them so that they are all in the same document (put a page break between each piece), and save them as a PDF. This way you can send one attachment that anyone can open.
The best way to showcase your work/portfolio is on your own website. I know, that sounds like a huge task to create a website when you don’t even have your first client yet. But if you don’t do it now, you will eventually need to have a website for your freelance writing business. Yes, you are running a business and having a website shows instant credibility. You can share links to your site on social media, add it to your email signature and include it in your cold emails. If writing a sample in your client’s niche catches their attention, imagine what an entire website will do!
You don’t need a huge, shiny website. You can do it all on one or two pages and have it work for you. Read my step-by-step post on how to create your writing website. Trust me, it’s not hard.
Forget Content Mills!!
They are places to find paid work. If you call $.02/word paid work. And some are even less than that. It’s just sad. Some people will tell you that it’s okay to go to these sites to get started. It’s not. You take a job or two and think you’re just getting some experience under your belt or a few samples. Wrong. You’ll get stuck in the trap writing 800+ word articles for $7 and fall into the trap of feeling like that’s all you can do. Don’t. Skip ahead, avoid this “step” in your writing career.
Set a Schedule
And stick to it. Don’t work too much, but don’t take breaks every 5 minutes. If you don’t get serious about your writing as a real career, no one else will either.
And hey, I get it, you’ve got kids running around the house with finger paint, toddlers crawling under your desk chewing on the big Legos, dinner to think about and a mountain of clothes ready to swallow you whole. Been there, got the t-shirt, lost it in the mountain.
But you have to find time to write. There’s no other way to get better at your craft. If you need to wake up at 4:00am to work for 3-4 hours before the kids get up and then go to sleep with them at 7-8pm, so be it. This is a season in life and it will pass. They will start school eventually and you will have 6-8 glorious hours of solitude. Or you will decide to homeschool (like me) and have them home all day. 24/7. It’s not funny. But even then, they get older and more independent. They can nap, read, watch a movie on TV as a reward, play in the yard, go with dad, etc. You will find a way.
I’m not going to lie. When I first started really digging into freelance writing as a career to make money, I worked crazy hours. I had a baby and one on the way. Once my second was born, at around 6 months old, I kicked it into gear and stayed up late nights, just about every single night. I’d wake up with my husband in the morning, feed the baby, fall back to sleep and wake up with the kids. I’d do the mom thing all day and then after dinner was their bedtime. My saving grace was being very strict with the kids going to bed by 8pm no matter what. I’d work until 1:00am and go to bed. It was tough, but I made it work.
Work With a Mentor
To really jump start your progress, work with someone who has been there already. The insightful tips you’ll get could be invaluable. Think about it like this, you can find everything you need to know right there on good ol’ Google, but it may take you 2 years to accumulate the knowledge you can get in 30 minutes from someone who started in the same place you are and succeeded. I’m not saying you need to go out and find one of those professional mentors who write three magazine articles 24 years ago and has been mentoring writers ever since. For one thing, they want way too much money for it to be worth it to an up and coming writer like yourself.
I’m talking about finding an experienced writer who has created a career similar to what you want. See if they offer training or classes and check them out. At this point, a course or class could help boost you to where you want to be faster than you can go it alone.
Side note here: don’t catch shiny object syndrome. Don’t buy every course you see and become stuck waist-deep in them. Take a course and then take action. Do something with what you’ve learned before jumping to another course.
Track Your Income
This is for your encouragement. If you find a client who pays you $50 to write a blog post, awesome! Write it down in a notebook or make an Excel file to put it in. Keep track of it however you’d like – weekly or monthly – and give yourself a pat on the back each time you update the totals. So what if you only get 3 clients and earn $240 your first month? That’s $240 and 3 clients you didn’t have last month! That makes you a PAID freelance writer, momma! Do a little dance to celebrate and make your kids think you’re crazy. Keep going and build on what you’ve done to make your next month even better.
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