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How to become a freelance writer

Last updated: 11 May 2022

Words are everywhere… from books to magazines to the advertising copy that adorns the pages of catalogues, flyers and newsletters. There are also the sumptuous selection neatly sprinkled upon menus in restaurants, and not forgetting the endless stream that fill the vast World Wide Web. What does all this mean? It means that there is plenty of opportunity to take a slice of the market because all prose has to be written by someone!

If you have a flair for words, punctuation and spelling, whether formally trained or not, you may have decided that you have what it takes to set yourself up as a freelance writer. Although people might put you off about there being “thousands of writers out there”, you have to remember that many of these are ‘aspiring’ writers who have romanticised ideas about penning a novel, not pushing themselves furiously in the working world. If you are ready to market yourself and move into the avenues that in particular the www offers in abundance, than you could be setting up a lucrative business.

So, what do you need to do and how easy is it? In my experience… it’s a piece of cake. Most freelance writers set up on the side of a full or part-time job because the most important tool to have is work under your belt so that you can go to potential customers and say: “look, this is what I can do”. The easiest way to get this experience is to start writing pieces in your spare time and build up a substantial portfolio. Consider doing a selection of work for free to build up your published repertoire; local newspapers/magazines and Internet magazines are a good place to start but once you have enough work behind you to start bagging customers, make sure you start charging a fair rate.

A website is your best tool because it allows you to showcase your work without the fuss of sending copies by email or post. People are too busy now and just want to see it there and then so if you send out direct mail advertising your services and you have a website, they are more likely to take a quick peek. Whether you get someone else to design it for you or not, make sure you have the ability to update it regularly with new work. Not only is this good for potential customers to see that you are always working, but it will improve your ranking on Google too.

When it comes to the cost of setting yourself up, it really is minimal. Get some business cards and a letterhead printed and buy yourself a computer with a good internet connection – the latter will be a godsend when you find yourself trawling through the web for hours on end in the name of ‘research’. If you’re planning to use email as your main form of communication, this is really all you need because you will find invoices will usually be emailed and for this you simply need a template in word. Make sure you declare yourself self-employed even if you work full-time on a payroll because failure to do so could incur you a fine. Also ensure that when you start getting paid for your writing you keep a percentage back for your yearly tax bill. (See further Duport articles in the ‘Starting a Business’ section for further details on becoming a sole trader and getting an accountant).

Other tools that are useful are a good dictionary and thesaurus! Even talented writers get stumped for words at times. If you are not sure where to market yourself or need some inspiration you will find some good writers’ magazines out there but the book that will help the writer looking to work more across-the-board is the Writers & Artists Yearbook. This little gem is filled with invaluable advice about where how and who you can sell your writing to and also has a good section on the copyright laws which, as a writer, you will need to be up-to-date on. (Also see Duport articles on copyright in the Marketing & PR section).

There are literally thousands of avenues that a writer can tap into, not just centred on magazines, newspapers and copywriting. You could even look to write slogans and greeting card poems if you have a talent for short snappy copy. Make sure you approach companies directly and in the case of submitting work, request their guidelines in doing so. If you send completed work on-spec and not to their requirements, it is likely to not be looked at.

The most important thing is to remain positive and confident about what you are doing and be prepared to push push push… get your details onto as many freelance writing sites as you can and leave your website link on relevant web forums all over the world. You might be surprised at the amount of hits this can result in. Target particular business areas, find out the name of the Advertising & Marketing Manager and send a tailored proposal to them. Pick a different sector each month and think of it in the way that, even if you send out a proposal to 100 companies, if you get 1 solid regular customer, it is worth it.

As a writer you have to have a passion for words and you need to be flexible and willing to research so that you can write captivating copy on a variety of subjects. There are literally hundreds of people out there looking for a writer to put across what they want to say in a way that they are unable to say it. If you love words and are happy to put the hours in to write, get published and start marketing yourself, then that person could be you. Good Luck!

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