Freelancing is one of the most profitable and secure industries in which one can earn a living from writing, but, the field of freelancing, barring a basic definition, is somewhat obscure. So what do freelancers actually do? And how does one start a career as a freelancer?
Freelancing, at its most basic, is writing for a brand or an individual on a typically short-term contract. Within the broad industry of freelancing, there are a few subfields that are worth mentioning. Copywriting, largely the most profitable subfield of freelance, is broadly understood as writing for commercial publications. This could mean simply writing descriptions of products in an exciting way, or writing articles for brands that point customers to a certain solution: your product. For those looking to enter the field, copywriting is not only the most lucrative, it also seems to be the most accessible.
Journalistic writing, in comparison to copy writing, demands extensive experience as a writer and typically a background in writing (English majors, this is your time to shine!). As a freelance journalistic writer, one can find themselves writing for trade magazines and newspapers. This article in the NYT, titles “Why Settle for Boring Glassware?,” for example, was written by a freelancer. Journalistic freelance has a reputation for paying less than copywriting; however, it is also known to be simply more fun. Most journalistic copywriters focus on a specific niche that they find especially enjoyable, and spend their professional time researching and writing about this niche.
Creative freelance writing is the final broad sub-category of the industry and can see freelancers do anything from writing for short-story competitions to garnering their own blog, which they sponsor through ad revenue. Compared to the other forms of freelancing, creative is arguably more difficult, as the market is smaller, and it can time to foster a personal brand.
Once you’ve found a subfield that you’re interested in, you might be wondering what you need to do to break into freelancing, and, unfortunately, it isn’t for the faint of heart. As a freelancer, you must be comfortable with rejection. Companies will reject your contract offers thousands of times and they may even reject your writing after they have given you the contract. You must also be comfortable with instability, as the availability of jobs changes from month to month. Yet, if you remained undeterred, there are a few things you can do to soften your entrance into the industry.
- Consider your work as that of a business and not of an individual.
If you want to work as a freelancer, it is imperative that you consider your operations to be those of a professional business. Those who casually approach freelancing often undervalue their work and they skimp on the necessary strategic planning that would allow them to find success.
- Enter the field with a strong network.
If possible, it is ideal to enter the field with a strong network of individuals who are already familiar with some element of your abilities to write/work. This reality often gives professionals transitioning from a parallel industry a leg-up; however, the ability to largely skip the difficult stage of building one’s reputation and list of contacts through cold calls and writing portfolios can make a huge difference.
- Build your presence online.
Essential for freelance writers, especially those starting out, is some form of online presence that allows interested clients to learn more about your writing ability and your personal style. Such a presence often takes the form of a blog, which houses a series of blog posts, or a freelancing website, which houses a portfolio of your best work. An online presence alone is not enough to find clients; however, when paired with cold calls and other forms of networking, a website adds legitimacy and transparency to one’s freelancing business.
- Find your niche.
It is important to specialize as a freelance writer. In the field of freelancing, generalists rarely stand a chance against competition that has written about a relatively narrow topic for a long period of time. Thus, it is important to find a niche category of work that is both large enough to be profitable, and interesting enough to occupy the majority of the freelancer’s professional time.
Freelance writing is a truly fascinating industry that provides engaging work for thousands of writers. Yet, as has been hopefully conveyed above, it is a field that requires a strong entrepreneurial skillset and thick skin, in addition to excellent writing skills. If you are truly interested in freelancing as a career, I recommend the blog of “Come Write With Us,” a company started by experienced freelancer Kristan Wong.
Jonathan is a Second Year German and Government major. He works as a Career Peer Educator to assist students in the CJW and GLI career communities. In addition to professional development, Jonathan is interested in the cultural construction of the modern nation-state, normative constraints on rational behavior, and all things German. You can schedule an appointment with him here to improve your resume, learn more about the CJW and GLI career opportunities, and to work on anything else professional development-related.