You’ve heard the old saying: “You have to spend money to make money.” That’s true in almost every field of work, whether you want to open a restaurant or start a blog. The problem? Some people with entrepreneurial spirits have just enough to get by and not a penny more. Not everyone has a good amount of dispensable income to spend to start a career.
If you’re struggling to launch your online career, and if you’re good with words, freelance writing is a wonderful option. Believe it or not, you can start freelance writing for $0. That’s right – nothing. The only thing you’ll need is Internet access. You don’t even need to own your own computer as long as you can get on the Internet.
Before we dive in, I have to say that freelance writing isn’t for everyone. You obviously must have a strong command of language (most likely English), the ability to pay attention to the smallest of details, and the drive to create a piece of content that is both compelling and eye-catching. Writing is no easy task, so you have to be up for the challenge.
That said, if you’re a word-oriented entrepreneur with a tight budget but a lot of aspiration, then you should consider freelance writing.
There are six steps to starting a freelance writing career. Note that they’re not six easy steps––they will take some time and work to complete.
Step 1: Study Writing
If you have a background in writing, you can skip this step. If you’re uninitiated but interested, you can study a plethora of resources to learn the craft. There are classic books like The Elements of Style by Strunk and White and On Writing Well by William Zinsser. These will provide you with a sturdy foundation, but keep in mind that to be a great writer, you need both education and experience.
Step 2: Choose a Niche
To begin, ask yourself, “What do I want to write about?” Find niches you’re interested in — consider your skills, hobbies, activities, and so on. Find an area that you could talk about all day. There’s a market for everything, from yo-yoing to stock trading, so don’t feel limited here.
Step 3: Study Your Niche
Take a look at what kind of content is prevalent in your niche. Blogs are a great source of intel for this step. What elements of the niche do blog posts cover? What are people commenting about? Find out what the trends are in your niche and study them. You can use BuzzSumo to see the most shared articles in your niche.
Step 4: Develop an Online Presence
This step is a time-consuming one, but it’s worth it. The two most important elements here are a portfolio and a LinkedIn profile. You can opt for other social networking profiles too––Twitter is second to LinkedIn in terms of effectiveness for networking.
Contently is a great option for a free portfolio. It’s a no-brainer to set up, and the result is a tidy, block-based layout that displays all your work clearly. This is ideal for linking to sites or blogs where you’ve been published. If you have samples but no published work, you can upload your work to Google Docs and then link to the samples on Contently.
Next, set up a LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is hands-down the most important social networking profile to have as a freelance writer. It allows you to connect with other writers, approach prospects, and join groups. Fill out as much of your profile as you can. The most important sections are your headline and summary. Your headline is your first impression on LinkedIn, so make it eye-catching. Your summary is where people will go next, so make sure it’s compelling and describes your abilities well. Finally, add your skills and education history as well.
Now it’s time to make some connections. While there are no easy ways to do this, one of the best methods is to frequent forums or online communities (like Quora and Reddit) in your niche. Contribute to the discussion and slowly build relationships. This will take some time, but it’s a particularly effective long-term strategy.
Step 5: Find Work
At first, this will be the most challenging step, but after you develop a system around it, getting work will be second nature to you.
Many people recommend using freelance platforms like Upwork or Fiverr. These are good for getting work almost immediately, but they also take a 20% chunk out of your pay, and these sites are notorious for having bad clients. If you choose to go with a platform, research it thoroughly and decide whether you want to give up certain liberties or not.
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Job boards will be your best bet for finding high-quality work that pays well. Some of my favorites are Problogger, FreelanceWriting.com, and Reddit’s /r/forhire and /r/hireawriter communities. Craigslist can be good, but it’s not as good as these job boards. That said, all of these boards have occasional spam and horribly low-paying jobs, so be sure to read the descriptions thoroughly.
You can also look for work in your area. If you live in a city, you’ll be able to find several companies looking for a writer. Going to some local businesses doesn’t hurt, either.
Step 6: Network
Just as you always want to find new work, you always want to make new professional connections. Once you’ve found your first client, add them to your LinkedIn network and email contact list. Follow up with them every three to six months. Ask them for referrals – that’s important. Their testimonies will go a long way, and you may get some of your best jobs from referrals.
There are tons of methods of online networking. You can start conversations on online communities, email influencers in your niche, and follow people on social media networks. You can also attend any local networking events if you enjoy those.
What’s most important is that you make networking an ongoing priority. Each day, devote some time to expanding your network and reaching out to old clients.
Bonus: Free Tools for the Writing Life
To ensure you’re well-equipped to write the best you can, here are some of the best free tools I use in my own writing career:
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Ian Chandler is a professional writer based in Kent, Ohio, currently studying English at Kent State University. He serves as Editor at Nukeblogger, contributes to Freedom With Writing, and writes for Haircut Inspiration.