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No matter your reason for dipping your toes into freelance work, you need to start by getting your first gig.
Where do you start? Should you sign up for a site? Don’t you need some kind of portfolio? How do you even find clients?
Here’s your guide for how to start as a writer in the world of freelance.
Keep in mind that you’re generally going to use some different tactics than you would if you were doing a traditional job hunt. Generally, instead of cover letters, you’re going to be writing pitches. Instead of detailed resumes, your portfolio will be the biggest focus.
Before you overwhelm yourself with all of the possibilities and action steps, let’s break down what you need to do and how you can get the ball rolling.
How to Start as a Writer: Nailing Down Your First Gig
Narrow down what you offer
If you want to start doing freelance work, you need to be clear on what you’re offering to potential clients. You might not have an ultra-specialty niche to offer, but you at least need to know some possible areas you’re interested in.
If you’re just marketing yourself as a writer, that doesn’t specifically make it clear to clients what you’re offering. Ideally, you’ll want to narrow it down from there so you can offer a specific service to a client.
If you want to be a writer, you need to narrow down what type of writing you offer. Some ideas include:
- Email marketing
- Case studies
- Books / Ebooks
- Social media captions
You don’t always have to pick a specific industry to write for, but it can help you find clients when it’s time to look for them.
Even if you want to do multiple types of writing, it’s still better to be specific than general when it comes to describing what you offer. For example, saying you’re a blogger and editor is more specific than just telling potential clients you are a writer.
Interested in picking an industry, too? Check out our guide on current sites that pay writers $100+ to see what’s out there.
Gather your past work experience
If you want to start freelancing, you’ll need to put together a portfolio so you can show clients your skillset. If you don’t have any experience, be ready to pay your dues and do some free projects before you can start to charge so you can build a portfolio.
Alternatively, you can put together a portfolio full of spec pieces. In general, you just need something to show clients the kind of work you can do for them.
Feel free to add anything to your portfolio that’s close enough to your industry. For example, if you’ve been a blogger for a few years but you want to start writing scripts, you can put your blogs in your portfolio while you build up your script examples.
We’ll get to websites in a bit, but just keep in mind plenty of writers start by showcasing their portfolio in something like Google Docs or on their Instagram account. You don’t always have to have all the bells and whistles to start to get paid as a writer.
Once you have all of your past work experience gathered, it’s time to get out there and find clients.
Putting together your pitch/offering
As opposed to traditional jobs where cover letters and resumes matter most, in the freelancing world, pitches and portfolios are king.
Sure, it can help to have a solid resume, but more than anything, you will be spending your time pitching to clients and showing them the type of work you could do for them.
To put together a solid pitch, you need to be clear on your value proposition. In most cases, you’re either helping them save time, make more money, or help them with your overall experience and knowledge.
Never default to the usual copy-and-paste pitch that you send out to hundreds of companies. Take the time to write a carefully-constructed pitch that is personalized in some way. Show them you know their company and a few things about them. That little bit of extra touch can go a long way.
Finding people who need your service
This is where rubber meets the road and you start to put all your work together.
You have a general pitch template (that you customize with each person) and you have your portfolio. You’re ready to land your first freelance job.
You might want to start by asking your friends and family if they know anyone who needs help. It might feel awkward to ask, but you’d be surprised at how many people know someone who needs help.
If you’ve tapped out your personal circle, you will need to start hunting around the internet for potential clients. Another way to find them is to join freelance sites.
Should you join freelance communities?
Most people jump into freelancing by joining one of the many big sites out there that list writing gigs and job postings.
It can be a good way to get started, but keep in mind you’re often competing with a lot of people and it can be much more cutthroat than trying to talk to clients one-on-one.
Why not try out a true community instead of just a feeding frenzy job site. We’re obviously biased towards the Freelance Writers Den, but there are others out there too.
Should you create a website or join social media?
Depending on what kind of freelancing you want to do, having a website or social media can help you or be more of a time suck.
When you’re first starting out, you rarely need to come up with a full-blown marketing strategy that includes blogging every other day and a social media strategy. That can be overwhelming before you simply get a few clients.
Generally, it’s a good idea to put together a basic website to host your portfolio so you have something professional-looking to send to clients. If that’s not in your budget, don’t let it stop you from putting yourself out there. You can put together a decent site when you start to get paid.
When it comes to social media, however, you don’t want to set up a bunch of sites only to abandon them after a week or two. That won’t help you get clients and it won’t look professional to people who might hire you. Only jump on social media and into blogging if you are ready to commit to posting and have the time to maintain it.
LinkedIn is where most business owners hang out and where you can find clients.
If you’re going to join any of the social networks, this might be the best first step since you don’t always have to worry about posting on it. You can outline your work experience, put in some portfolio pieces, and leave it be.
Overall, one of the hardest parts about freelancing is getting started and putting yourself out there. Once you land your first freelance job you’ll often realize it wasn’t as hard as you thought it was in the first place.
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