By Amber Hall
Considered by many to be the holy grail, freelancing is an alluring prospect for any writer. To peddle your words for sustenance is one thing, but to go it alone – with the freedom to do as you choose – well, that’s quite another.
I’ve spent most of my working life chasing this dream. I’d think about it in a half-woken haze each morning at 6.30am – my desire for self-employment growing with each decibel increase of the alarm. Monday morning commutes were for indulging in the fantasy that I might, one day, pen a Sunday Times bestseller from a beach in Bali. I may as well come clean at this stage: I’m not a morning person.
My professional life started, as many of them do, after graduating. I had what was, on paper at least, a solid degree. “You can do anything with an English BA,” one recruiter told me. “What about sales?”
But I’m not a salesperson. I was determined to write; it had been the only thing I was sure I could do, for as long as I could remember. And fortunately, I managed to find work as a copywriter. The subsequent years were spent working my way up the perennial ladder, and I somehow girl-bossed my way into a senior position within a few years.
Offices have never been my thing. Strip lighting, desk lunches, predictably unpredictable air conditioning – I found it all a little too much. Suffice to say, the shift to remote working was a welcome one. But even so, the nine-to-five slog of a steady office job has never factored into my forever plan. I don’t think that’s unusual for someone whose right brain gets more action than the left; creatives thrive on flexibility. I write in fits and starts and, honestly, I never find my flow before 10am.
After having spent much of my career working with freelance writers, I’ve decided to take the plunge myself, at least for the time being. The past couple of years have been difficult for various reasons and, like everybody else, I’ve been re-evaluating my day-to-day.
‘The Great Resignation’ has led to a freelance industry boom, both in terms of supply and demand. But before you book a one-way ticket to Bali, it’s worth weighing up the pros and cons. The fact is, it isn’t easy – especially if you’re used to a regular income and a consistent workload. That’s not to say you can’t have both of those things if you’re a freelancer; it just takes a bit more work on your part.
I’ve hired countless freelancers in my time – and, yes, I’ve even had to let one or two go. There are a few things to bear in mind when navigating this deceptively straightforward sector, whether you’re new to the game or a seasoned professional.
1: Don’t Get Comfortable: Strive To Know More
Don’t be fooled into thinking there’s nothing more for you to learn. Keep honing your craft. Invest in your development as a writer, no matter where you’re at in your career. Attend workshops and continue to write on the side, even if you’re just journaling. You’ll need to be adaptive in your role as a freelancer, so it’s important to keep a few different writing projects going at once. Ultimately, the more you write, the better you’ll become.
2: Be Open-Minded
There are endless opportunities out there for freelance writers, if you’re willing to be open-minded about what jobs you take on. You could be writing anything from short, snappy product copy to long-form articles, in-depth white papers to compelling business proposals. It’s important to approach each project with the same enthusiasm. Embrace opportunities as they come, even if you have less experience writing in a particular style, or for a specific industry. Of course, some things won’t be suitable, but variety is a good thing. You’ll end up with a well-rounded portfolio of work; invaluable when pitching for new projects.
3: Utilise LinkedIn And Find Work Via Agencies
One of the most pressing issues you’ll have to deal with as a freelancer is finding work. If you’ve spent a few years in the industry, it may be that you have a list of contacts you can reach out to periodically, which is great. But if you don’t have a little black book of industry contacts, don’t worry; there are plenty of other ways to secure work.
LinkedIn is a great platform for professionals looking for jobs, including freelancers. You can use the job search feature to find new opportunities and directly message anyone who’s hiring. It’s also a good idea to set your profile to ‘open to work,’ as this enhances your visibility to recruiters. Be sure to keep your LinkedIn profile updated, and include a link to your website or portfolio. Think of your page as a digital version of your CV. Spend plenty of time outlining your previous experience, and include details of your career highlights to really make it stand out.
You can also find work through content agencies like Copify. These companies rely on a roster of freelance writers to meet their clients’ content needs. By signing up to an agency database and creating a profile with them, you’ll easily be able to apply for any jobs that are available. Usually, agencies are overseeing projects for well-known brands, so this is a great avenue to pursue if you want to bulk up your portfolio with some notable names.
4: Update Your Portfolio Regularly
Your portfolio is your biggest asset. It’s a key element of any application you make, and it’ll be the deciding factor in whether or not you get hired for a project. As such, it’s important you keep this updated with recent work. In most cases, a senior editor will assess your writing to see whether you’re the right candidate for a job, and they’ll be a stickler for detail. Your submissions will be closely examined, so it goes without saying that they need to be error-free. Your portfolio is like a highlights reel; it’s a distillation of your work and should showcase your ability to respond to a range of different briefs. You won’t be able to include everything you’ve ever produced, so be shrewd when selecting pieces to share. Think about how you want to be seen as a professional writer, bearing in mind that a lot of work will lean towards the commercial, not just the creative.
5: Get Comfortable With Briefs And The Briefing Process
Although you may find variations in processes, one thing you’re always going to get is a brief. The level of detail included will differ depending on who’s created the briefing document but, at the very least, it will include a summary of the project, tone of voice (TOV) guidelines and some kind of outline or structure for you to follow. Remember, this is what you’ll be assessed against, so you need to make sure you’re clear on what’s being asked of you from the outset. Don’t assume anything; ask as many questions as you need to, and schedule a call with the client if you’d benefit from a more detailed overview of the project.
6: Be Mindful Of Fees
While it’s true some freelance writers really do bring home the bacon, hourly rates vary massively. In fact, they can range anywhere from £14 to £100+ per hour. Of course, you can charge whatever you want – that’s the beauty of being your own boss – but you should be reasonable.
Experience is a key factor here. Companies will only pay top dollar for writers with years of demonstrable experience under their belt, so if you’re starting out, don’t expect to make hundreds in a day. You can charge more if there’s a tight deadline, or if the project is particularly complex (for example, if you’re expected to do in-depth research for an article) but, generally speaking, an hourly rate of £20-£50 is fair. You can also charge per word, per day or per project. In my experience, clients prefer to finalise – or at least have a good idea of – fees as early as possible. So, charging per article (or per batch if you’re working on a few pieces) is usually a good way to do business. And remember, fees are negotiable. If you think a client isn’t offering enough, you can go back to them with a counter-offer.
7: Accept Feedback Gracefully
You should expect to receive feedback and do at least one round of edits, no matter what the project is. Sometimes, the feedback won’t be what you’re expecting. Perhaps there’s been a communication issue; maybe the scope has changed slightly since you started. It doesn’t matter. What does matter, is how you respond to said feedback. Don’t get offended, take it on the chin. If you need clarification on any feedback points, ask for it as soon as possible. At this stage of the project, your client will be expecting a fairly quick turnaround, so don’t sit on it!
8: Be Clear On Who’s Responsible For What
As I mentioned, internal processes can differ wildly from client to client. This matters because, as long as you’re working on a project with them, you’re part of that process. Get to know who’s who on their side, find out who your key stakeholders are, and make sure you have their contact information. You need to know who’s responsible for what for the duration of the project because, ultimately, it’s a collaborative effort. It will also help you to set boundaries, should you need to (which, by the way, you’re absolutely permitted to do).
There are, of course, a thousand and one other things I could say about freelancing. And, like any other job, you should expect ups and downs. But if you’re one desk lunch away from your next meltdown, freelancing may be the panacea you’re looking for.
You can connect with Amber on Instagram: @amber.marie.123
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Like any other job, you should expect ups and downs. But if you’re one desk lunch away from your next meltdown, freelancing may be the panacea you’re looking for.