I’ve picked up a few lessons during my freelance writing career, which spans five years.
During my undergrad in journalism school, I took a freelance writing course.
Initially, I never had a need for it. I worked full-time in newsrooms across the globe for nearly 10 years after J-School.
Fast forward to 2016. Print journalism continued its bloodletting and I was part of a mass layoff at the Toronto Star.
It was then that the freelance writing course came in handy. I grew a roaster of clients in the corporate space, which needed my journalistic storytelling skills.
But whether you’re writing for media outlets, or for corporations, these tips will come in handy if you plan on becoming a full-time freelance writer. Here are my top five tips on succeeding as a self-employed freelance writer.
Create A Website
As a freelance writer vying for new contracts, a website is necessary. Many clients want a quick and convenient way to see your work. A website showcasing your published articles does a great job of that. A website is your online portrait. It gives prospective clients a quick impression of your past projects, your writing style and—if you like—your per word rate or retainer conditions.
I use Weebly to host my website, which costs around $100 a year to keep online. But there are other options out there for around the same price.
Use Social Media
In this remote landscape, one of your best bet in landing new freelance opportunities is through social media. Whether it’s LinkedIn, Twitter, or another channel, social media is a great way to connect with prospective clients and to land those freelance contracts.
I’ve gotten many contracts through my LinkedIn account. Remain as active as you can on social media channels in order to reel in those writing gigs.
Find Your Niche
If you can become a specialist writer in any one industry, it’ll pay off in dividends for your career as a self-employed writer. When you understand a specific industry in depth, it makes you a better—and faster writer. And that pays. For example, if your per word rate for a 1,000 word article is 70 cents, you make $700. If you can research and write that piece in six hours, you end up making $117 an hour. If you can research and write that piece in four hours, your hourly rate jumps to $175.
When you find your niche, you understand the subject matter better, in turn, making you a better writer. And you also write faster. By writing regularly on the B2B SaaS space, for example, your writing will inevitably become more in tune with what editors in the industry are looking for. That’ll inevitably create more demand for your work.
Read, Read, Read (And Write) Daily
To become a good writer you need to read constantly. Journalism schools ingrain that into students. As a J-School undergrad back in 2008, I subscribed to several newspapers and magazines. And I was voraciously reading any book I could get my hands on.
My favourite horror writer, Stephen King sums it up well: "Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness."
As a freelance writer, it’s up to you to hone your craft. Reading daily helps with that.
Keep That Line Of Credit Handy
Like with any business, self-employed writers experience an ebb and flow of work. For those dry spells, it’s good to have a line of credit to keep you going. There comes a point in a self-employed writer’s life where the influx of clients keeps you in the green all year long.
But if you’re just starting out, a line of credit will keep a roof over your head and your stomach full when the client work dries out.
When setting up a contract with a client, always agree on the rate prior to any work. Some clients pay per word, others by the hour. More long-term clients may develop a retainer for your work.
Create clear guidelines on how many revisions you’re willing to do after you’ve written an article, and what the revisions entail. You don’t want to end up doing full-on rewrites, so it’s best to make that clear with your client ahead of time.
Finally, don’t take on work that undersells your worth. Figure out the freelance writer rate in the industry you’re working in. Do some research prior to signing any contract.
And relish the fact you’re succeeding as a full-time writer working on your own terms, and creating your own schedule.
Writers spend a lot of time on that first sentence in their story.
If the first sentence doesn’t entice readers to the next one, all that hard work creating the story goes down the drain.
In case you’re stuck, here are seven tips on creating the perfect lede.
1. Don’t start off with numbers
There’s no easier way to kill a story than by starting off with numbers. Just don’t. If your story is number heavy, keep the figures farther down in the body of the text. And always round them to the nearest whole numbers, unless the exact number is necessary to the story.
2. Read it out loud
By doing this, you’ll be able to hear whether you stumble as you read. If you’re stumbling, so will your reader. By reading the lede out loud, you can finesse it prior to publishing.
3. Tell me in one sentence
I always jot down in one sentence what a story is about before I begin to write or research my story. You could write this sentence on a sticky-note and post it on the corner of your computer screen, or just write it out on the corner of your notepad. This is a great habit that’ll help you focus on what your story is about. That crisp, clear focus also helps with crafting the perfect lede.
4. What’s the big deal?
Tell readers what makes this story different from all the other ones on your blog. I write a lot about SaaS businesses and I’m constantly considering fresh approaches to writing stories on the same subject. What makes this SaaS software’s function different from the last one’s? Your lede should indicate why your story is fresh.
5. Keep it short
A short lede that focusses on one key point is better than a long lede stuffed with confusing or conflicting elements (a problem that often comes up in the B2B space). You’re not answering the who, what, where, why, when, and how in your lede. And try to keep your lede to around 25 words. Anything longer and readers will leave the page.
6. Buried gems in your story
It’s a good idea to read over your story once it’s complete. You might have a nugget of interesting content in your story that may work better as a lede. If something within the story sounds more interesting than the lede, consider starting off with that point. It’s important to rework your story a few times. Don’t settle for a lede.
7. Got writer’s block? Don’t stare at your screen.
It happens to every writer. The worst thing you can do is sit in front your screen. Go out for a coffee. Stretch. Play with Fido. Relax. Do anything but work on your story. When your mind is fresh, come back and start again.
I help companies grow by telling their stories.