If you hadn’t noticed, I’m a pretty big fan of freelancing. When I first heard that you could work without going to a standard office job, I was fairly skeptical. Wouldn’t it feel like a part-time job? Wouldn’t I miss the structure of going to work? At the time, I wasn’t looking to switch careers or leave my full time job. Admittedly, I was starting to feel a bit bored with going to an office every day and having an endless string of routine tasks to complete. That’s when I started to take some causal steps to give freelancing a try. Here are some of the things I did to get started building my freelance career.
Tip 1: Get Paid for Helping
This 100% how I got started freelancing. While reading over writing for your friends may not feel like a lot, think about how often you do it. Are people always coming to you asking for a quick proofread of emails or some suggestions on a work presentation? Start charging!
I’m not advocating going back to your friends and making them pay you per word for projects you’ve done. But after a certain point, you need to make it clear that you’re spending valuable time and putting a lot of effort into these projects. Freelance writers and editors often get roped into providing our services for free.
How to do it: There are a few ways to go about this. If you’re really uncomfortable charging your friends, then you can get compensated in other ways. You can ask them to write a testimonial for your resume website, or have them recommend you to friends. A lot of the time people forget that word of mouth is a huge gateway to freelancing jobs. If you think you should be making money for helping, then just ask. Most friendships aren’t thin enough to be damaged by a kind but direct payment request. Now, when a friend asks me for substantial editing help I usually say, “That’s no problem! I typically charge $$ for projects like that. What’s your timeline?” That way you’re being upfront and you can set their expectations immediately.
Tip 2: Start Profiting from Your Hobby
Similar to Tip 1, but a bit more concrete, charging for your hobby can be a great way to get into freelancing. If you’re a writer or an editor, you probably spend some of your free time writing as well.
Take me, for example. I moved to a new city and wanted to find the best restaurants in town. However, I found the online resources had a lot of gaps in recommendations and some really great places that weren’t even on the map. To remedy this situation, I joined a popular restaurant review website and started writing about my eating experiences. The site noticed my reviews, and I was soon getting perks like the occasional free dinner out and access to decent discounts.
Eventually, this hobby translated into actual earnings. So many jobs are looking for people with concrete social media experience. While food reviews might not be a traditional social media channel, putting an accurate but interested voice into your reviews is extremely similar to blogging. I was able to note my elevated status on the site when I was talking about experience on social networks to prospective clients.
How to do it: Figure out what makes you happy in your writing. If you love commenting on celebrity gossip blogs, like chatting with other hobby mechanics on automotive websites, or like to write detailed movie summaries, there could be an opportunity to find a freelance gig buried in there. If you think you might like to try freelancing in a certain genre, test it out first and see if you’re good at it before selling yourself as an expert. Remember knowing a lot about something is very different than being able to write about the topic in an engaging way.
Tip 3: Mentor or Tutor Other Writers
Writers always need help with their own writing. Getting some perspective from another writer can improve the final product or even keep a project from getting thrown in the trash. We’re all our own harshest critics, and sometimes we get in our own way. If you’re great at giving perspective, offer your help giving other writers the assistance they need.
Being a writing tutor can be extremely rewarding. I tutored in college, and continue to use the tutoring skills I learned in that job throughout my freelance career. While your clients might not consider themselves to be writers, pretty much every field requires some writing. Small business owners, professionals, and website owners all need help crafting content that they can use.
How to do it: You have a few options with this type of writing. If you’ve seen our recent post on finding inspiration, you know that the well can sometimes run dry. Maybe you’re great at overcoming the challenges that come with writing, or you can offer helpful advice to other writers who are struggling to make a piece work. Providing a creative spark to other professional writers can be a fun way to freelance. You can give them the constructive comments they want and the inspiration they desperately need. It might feel like a tough sell at first to convince a writer to hire a writer, but adding the motivational component to your services can usually persuade them to try coming to you for help.
Tip 4: Help Language Learners Perfect Their English
Right now, I spend a lot of time naturalizing English for freelance clients. This job centers around the fact that while direct translation may capture the correct words (at least most of the time) the meaning often gets lost or the flow is wrong. There are a lot of companies willing to pay decent rates to have you review their translations and make them sound more natural. It’s also a pretty simple job because as a writer, you know what sentences sound wrong and can easily modify them to correct the issue.
This is an extremely popular service for websites looking to have a global presence. Often, they want to put the text they have written in their native language into a translator app and be done with it. Some places go the extra mile and hire a translator to do an accurate translation. Those projects tend to run a bit more smoothly than the former option. Still, when you’re dealing with translations there will always be tiny details that are obvious to a native speaker but not to anyone who falls outside of that category.
Here’s a tip within this tip: Get ready to defend your grammar choices. While this is a great freelance opportunity with a lot of fun clients, the grammar rules are often pretty strict. Only saying, “I don’t know that’s just how we say it,” typically won’t cut it. Make sure you have a good explanation for your choices and you’ll be golden.
How to do it: This type of work is a bit like a puzzle. You’ll need to understand what the client intends to say first. Even if they can just give you a short summary of the document’s purpose that can be a great help. Sometimes in these projects, the goal of the work gets buried in confusing language. I’ve gone through projects cleaning up language for several hours before reaching the actual point of the writing. It’s very frustrating when you have to go back and revise after discovering what the meaning actually is. Learn from my mistakes, and get a sense of what the author wants to get across. It’ll help you target the language and give you a clearer picture of the puzzle you are constructing.
Tip 5: Try Some Writing Contests
If you want to know if you’d be any good at freelance writing, then you might want to start by entering a writing contest or two. Admit it, you have some pieces lying around that you’re pretty proud of, don’t you? Dust off that file (or computer folder) of fairly polished samples and see what you have. Then look online or in publications for some contest opportunities. These can be anything from creative writing to journalism and everything in between.
These contests can help put you in touch with publishers, and will allow you to explore different types of writing. While there are a lot of entries, the winners can often get a decent amount of exposure. It’s also a great thing to be able to brag about to prospective clients.
How to do it: It might help to get your best writing publication-ready now. That way, when an opportunity presents itself, you will be good to go. Each contest typically has different rules for everything from format to content to length. Check the rules, and get you submission in on time! The worst thing that they can say is no thank you.
Try NEW Things!
So those are a few unconventional ways to break into the freelance writing field. The traditional route of finding clients and writing in your field doesn’t always cut it. Sometimes, like with any job that can become routine and you’ll want a bit of diversity in your project roster. Throwing some fun and unique projects into the mix will keep you excited and engaged while still helping you to earn money!
How did you get into freelance writing? Did you have a mentor, did you seek out jobs by yourself, or did it just happen naturally? Let us know in the comments below!