The Internet and those who use it are, to put it mildly, content-hungry. To keep that infinite stream of thoughts, ideas, information, and entertainment flowing, the Web needs writers.
Not all of the written content you see on the Internet was paid for, but a lot of it is. From that helpful how-to page to the articles in your news feed, freelance writers provide content for a wide variety of clients.
There’s no surefire method or clear-cut path to becoming a paid freelance writer, but there are some ways to build your portfolio and increase your chances of earning real money for your writing services.
1. Work for Free
This probably sounds counter-intuitive, right?
Well, working for free is the surest way to get out of freelance writing’s central catch-22: you can’t get work until you have a portfolio and you can’t make a portfolio until you work.
More than a college degree, a strong cover letter, and a clean resume, a writer’s portfolio is the main determining factor in the acquisition of paid work.
Luckily, there are a lot of ways for aspiring writers to build a portfolio and get paid in experience, if nothing else.
- Look on job boards for opportunities labeled as internships or explicitly as unpaid assignments. Established writers won’t ever respond to these ads, so your only competition is other aspiring writers.
- Do speculative (aka “spec”) work. Look for brands and topics that interest you and create content without having a publisher first. You may be able to submit or rework that content later for pay, but in the meantime, you’ll have a work sample.
- Offer your services to family and friends. This will get you experience and may also generate referrals down the line.
The key is to be creative—like the Dutch writer featured on Adweek offering to work for free in return only for room and board.
2. Start Your Own Blog
Building a personal blog is a nice way to sharpen your writing skills at the same time that you establish a valuable voice.
Remember that content is king, so blogging on particular topics of your interest or expertise will teach you how to generate naturally search-engine-optimized content by seeing what topics and keywords garner the most traffic and shares for your blog.
If you keep things professional, you can even use your blog as a digital portfolio. This is valuable since paying clients typically respond better to digital portfolios than work samples attached to an email—they’re easier to access and are less risky for data security, e.g., computer viruses.
3. Accept Work from Multiple Sources
Busy freelance writers typically find their work through a variety of sources. Job boards like Craigslist and Freelance Writing Jobs offer a good cross-section of paid and unpaid work. Online postings will also train you in telling the difference between genuine offers for work and scams.
Writers should look for work outside of the Internet as well.
In-person networking can be helpful, and referrals from past clients are great when you can get them. For freelance creative professionals in any field, referrals become as important, if not more so, than job boards in generating consistent, high-paying work.
4. Maintain Professionalism
One of the hidden challenges of freelance writing is something that doesn’t involve any actual writing. Clients expect a professional attitude and work ethic from the writers they trust to deliver their content.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Deadlines are your life. A freelancer never misses a deadline. Delivering work late or, worse yet, not at all, is a great way to lose a client and establish a toxic reputation.
- Take criticism gracefully. Clients often have a specific idea of what they want, so don’t be surprised if they ask for edits or rewrites. Tailoring the content to the client’s needs isn’t a critique of your abilities; it’s just a part of the job.
- Communicate quickly and clearly. Clients don’t respond well to writers who are slow to answer emails or do so curtly.
- If you’re working remotely, be sure to remain in constant contact with your clients. Mobile and satellite Internet services are a good alternative to cable if you plan on doing work from very remote and distant locations.
Freelance writing is, of course, a nuanced field that can’t be boiled down to just four points, but these are good things to remember at the start. Building your skills, portfolio and professional presentation will give you a firm foundation for your writing career.
About the Author: Teddy Hunt is a freelance content writer with a focus on technology. When not behind a computer, Teddy spends the majority of his free time outdoors and resides in Tampa, Florida. Follow him on Twitter.