Although I’ve been a writer — in one form or another — for a number of years, I’ve only been a writer by profession for three to four years. To be completely honest, I’d always wanted to be a writer, but I never thought it was a realistic, sustainable career choice. I was under the impression that unless you lucked into becoming a J.K. Rowling or had the right connections, people who called themselves writers were just that… people who were simply calling themselves writers. I can call myself a professional chainsaw juggler, but that doesn’t make it true.
When I got out of grad school, I realized that I’d sort of painted myself into a corner with my education. I studied psychology as an undergrad and anthropology in grad school, so when it came time to get a job, I had too little psychology education to be a counselor and if I wanted to be the next Indiana Jones or a museum curator, I’d need a Ph.D. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
As I applied for a hodgepodge of jobs, I toyed with the idea of being a freelancer, which was both exciting and terrifying to me. On the one hand, I wouldn’t have the same security as I would with a traditional job, but I’d be able to negotiate my own income and assume complete control over my schedule. Although there are many different types of freelancing jobs, I immediately knew that freelance writing was the right choice for me.
When I look back on myself at the start of my writing career, I recall feeling as if I was stumbling around a dark room because there’s no easy way to navigate the freelancing world. As well, it took a while for me to realize that writing could be a permanent career choice, but I still had no idea what I was doing or how to really get my writing career going. This is actually why I write offer tips for freelancers and writers on my website: I want to provide helpful information I wish I’d had when I was getting started and was feeling so unsure of how to find success.
Recently, I was invited to participate in a series called “Freelancing Tips” by Invoice2Go, a really useful mobile invoicing platform, and it got me thinking about how I got my start as a writer. To date, I’ve written about several aspects of freelancing, including how to prepare yourself for freelance success, the essential components of a blog post, how to create content people want to read, the emerging micro-blogging trend, and a number of other topics. Today, I want to offer three simple, essential tips for freelancers that will be helpful to anyone who’s just starting out as well as those who are more established.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
Read, Read, and Read Some More
It might seem odd that the first tip I offer to anyone who wants to be a writer is to read a lot, but hear me out. Being a voracious reader is an absolute necessity for any writer. Just ask Jeff Goins, renowned author and blogger, who has written pretty extensively on the subject. On a basic level, reading is known to prove vocabulary, helps you to learn new sentence structures (which is an absolute must for any writer), and reading is still the best way to learn about new subjects — some of which you’ll surely find yourself writing about sooner or later.
Read about anything you fancy, but make sure to read, at least occasionally, books or articles or essays or blog posts that relate to being a writer. This is crucial and a tip I wish I’d been given when I was starting out and should have been learning about how to be a good freelancer. In particular, I find myself frequently recommending Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success by Kelly James-Enger. I’ve read quite a few great books on freelancing, but Writer for Hire has a really nice variety of tips, including lots of practical information on how to approach prospective clients, how to effectively market yourself, and how to find writing gigs. My own copy has quite a few miles on it; it’s been highlighted, dog-eared, and there are dozens of post-its sticking from in-between its pages because I still find myself picking it up and flipping through it now and then when I’m looking for productivity or freelancing tips.
Now it’s time for a bit of a reality check: If you don’t like reading, you’re not going to like writing. Reading and writing are profoundly and inextricably linked, so if you can’t bring yourself to do your homework, you’re going to have equal difficulty doing the actual work.
Be Diligent and Organized With Your Time
No list of freelancing tips is complete without some mention of time management. You’ve probably heard the expression that time is money, and while that’s definitely true sometimes, time is a lot of other things, too.
In the early stages of your freelance writing career, you’ll probably find yourself with more time than you have work to do. That’s just how it goes when you’re starting out since you’ve not yet had the time to build up your client base. With so little work on your plate, it might be tempting to piddle around on social media, sift through Netflix, or play Candy Crush on your phone, but try to resist the urge to do that. Take this opportunity to develop some freelancing “best practices”, so to speak.
One particular problem that plagues many freelancers is a tendency to lose valuable work time to distractions. This is an unfortunate side effect of working from home. When you work from home, you have to consciously get out of “home mode” and shift into “work mode” while remaining in your home environment, which can be much harder than it seems. My advice is to use time management to offset the temptation of your bed or the couch. Create a set work schedule for yourself and make sure that you’re spending that time on something related to your writing career each day. That can mean working on a blog post for a client, researching potential writing topics for your own blog, searching for new writing opportunities, or creating a longer-term plan for your career. If you have a home office in which to spend your work time, that will be immensely helpful with separating your work time from your free time.
Another piece of advice I often give is to resist the urge to do too much multitasking. Even if you’re skilled at juggling multiple complex tasks at once, there’s no escaping the fact that your quality of output is significantly greater when you can focus your energies on an individual task instead of splitting your attention between multiple tasks at once. On days when you have an abnormally long to-do list, resist the urge to multitask by outlining a detailed schedule for your day: Plan to have that essay completed by 11:00 AM, make your business calls between 11:10 and 11:40 AM, revise your résumé from 11:50 AM to 12:30 PM, and spend the rest of the day doing research, taking notes, and preparing for tomorrow’s projects.
Part of the allure of being a freelancer is getting to be your own boss and work from home, but this can also be one of the biggest downfalls to freelancing and a major inhibitor to freelance success. If you get into the habit of being diligent and organized with your time at the very beginning of your freelancing career, you’ll be able to take on more clients and more projects (which means making more money) as you become more experienced.
Seize Every Opportunity That Comes Your Way
Every single person, no matter what his or her vocation might be, will occasionally encounter some type of job or task that is, in a word, undesirable. For a writer, maybe it’s a topic that’s boring or you’ve been offered a project with a lot of tedious keyword requirements. When you get such a topic, you might be tempted to decline in favor of waiting for a better writing gig to come your way; however, I strongly advise you not to do that, and here’s why.
As I mentioned before, in the early stages of my writing career I wrote for a couple content mills. Although I dislike content mills from a business perspective, I like that they offer an accessible way for people to dip a proverbial toe into the pool of freelance writing.
In those first days and weeks of writing for content mills, I was very picky about the writing gigs I would take. I only wanted to write about interesting topics and I avoided taking any writing jobs that had very strict keyword requirements. But over time, I realized that the really fun, interesting jobs I wanted were very few and far between; meanwhile, I was missing out on the best thing that content mills can offer: practice.
Every time you write an essay, article, blog post, landing page, or some other piece of content, you improve as a writer. Whether it’s because your knowledge of a certain subject has grown, you’ve picked up new words to add to your vocabulary, or simply more practice with using keywords for search engine optimization, each writing job is another rung on the ladder of your career and a step on the staircase to success.
It’s often said that practice yields perfection, and that’s as true for writing as anything else (although total perfection might be too lofty a goal). If you want to become a better writer, the best way to do that is to seize every writing opportunity you can. You’ll find that as you get more and more finished pieces of content under your belt, even the types of projects you previously disliked and avoided are much easier to write.
As an added bonus, writing a greater variety of content means having your name published in a much more broad range of places, which in turn means that there is a much wider audience reading your content. In other words, seizing every writing opportunity will significantly increase your exposure, making it much more likely that people who need custom content will come across something you’ve written and, due to being impressed with the quality of your work, track you down to hire you. So it’s really a win-win situation.
What do you think of my freelancing tips? Do you have any tips of your own that freelancers might find useful? Feel free to leave your thoughts, questions, and comments below. If you enjoyed this post, please share with your friends on social media.