Getting started can be extremely overwhelming to new freelance writers.
There’s just so much information out there – blogs, books, courses being pitched right and left, experts and teachers – that eventually cripples you and prevents you from doing what really matters; getting started.
You’re just so excited and passionate about getting started right that you can’t stop yourself from looking for the very best information.
Before you know it, you’re overwhelmed with so much information you don’t know what to do.
Expert A says “do this”, and expert B says “this is the best” and, then there’s confusion.
Exactly what is essential?
I could relate when a reader responded with the following when I asked what her biggest struggle was in the Writers in Charge reader survey:
“I would like something like “Three Simple/Most Important Steps You Can Take to Get Started”–something to give me an idea of what to do first, because I’m overwhelmed by all of the options.”
I felt many others would want something similar, so this article is my answer.
If you’re a new freelance writer, here are the 3 most important steps you can take to get started today:
1. Start by Knowing that Your Freelance Writing Endeavor is a Business, and Treat it Like a Business
I’d say treat it like a real job, but I believe “business” and “job” are the same in this context without necessary associating the boredom most people associate with a job.
Treating your freelance writing business like a business is the most important step you can take when getting started, because it is indeed a business.
Getting clients, negotiating the right terms, being disciplined enough to deliver client work, etc. are all things you’ll need to do, and it’ll be difficult really committing to them when you see your freelance writing as just a hobby or some other fun endeavour.
So, come up with a fixed time you have to be “at work” every morning; map out how you want to start your day, and how your activities will revolve for the day.
When you’re running a real business, you can’t spend 4 – 5 hours daily on Facebook or Twitter instead of working; it’s easy to do this when you don’t set clear boundaries, and when you don’t see your freelance writing endeavors as a business, though.
You can start by coming up with a work schedule.
For example, here’s what a perfect schedule for me looks like:
- 9 am – 9:20 am: be at the “office”, rest a bit and mentally familiarize myself with the environment
- 9:20 am – 10 am: Do some writing (this could be a blog post, client article, or some other writing to ensure you’re well primed for the day)
- 10 am – 1 pm: Do marketing-related activities (this could be guest posting, sending cold pitches, applying to write for paying publications or scouting for and applying to job offers across the internet)
- 1 pm – 4 pm: Do more writing; this is usually client work, but possibly some more personal work in the absence of client work. If you don’t have clients yet, it won’t hurt to use this time for more marketing.
- 4 pm – 5 pm: Reply to emails and do other miscellaneous stuff before finally going back home.
A schedule like the one above can work wonders, and my best performing months as a freelance writer are based on something similar.
2. Be Clear About What Services You’d Like to Offer
Once you’ve internalized the fact that your freelance writing is a business, and you’ve made adequate plans to start treating it as such, including creating a working schedule, the next step is to decide on what services you want to offer.
It’s not as simple as saying; “I want to be a freelance writer”. Instead, you need to say “I want to be a freelance writer specializing in writing blog posts, newsletters and ebooks” or something of that sort.
If you tell potential clients you’re a freelance writer, one of the first questions they’ll ask is “what are your services?”; being confused about this can set you up to fail.
Start by coming up with a list of services you have “basic” to “advanced” knowledge on.
First outline those services you’re really good at, that you have “advanced” knowledge and experience in; they’ll be your main offerings.
You shouldn’t ignore the “basic” services you’re not as skilled at as well; remember, experience is the best teacher and you have to start from somewhere.
So, outline those basic services as well; once they are outlined, do some brushing up on them to better familiarize yourself with these services and to see how the pros are doing them.
Now, list all your services in one place as services you offer; start the list with the advanced skills and end with the basic ones.
When prospecting new clients, you will have to tell them about these services.
You can take things a step further by creating a writer website that lists your services, while avoiding the following mistakes.
You don’t necessarily need a writer website to earn money as a freelance writer, but it can make a lot of difference in your marketability. However, you need to clearly establish the services you’re offering to clients.
3. Work on a Marketing/Client Acquisition Plan
The final step is to work on a marketing/client acquisition strategy.
There are several client acquisition strategies you can use, and a recent article here featured 41 ways to get clients; so you can start with that list to find what you will prefer. If you want something simpler, my article on 10 ways I’d get clients if I were to start again is a good start.
No matter your approach, though, you don’t want to get started without a plan for getting clients.
Even more, as a beginner, you should at least spend a day or two learning about your preferred client acquisition strategies; read more about the approach you want to use, look for case studies and success stories from people using a similar approach and look for best practices so that you start right.
Once you’ve carefully studied the strategies you’ll be using, map out a plan you’ll be using and ensure you are as specific as possible; e.g. “send 20 – 30 cold pitches daily using XYZ approach”, outlining each steps you’ll follow when doing this.
At first, marketing won’t be easy; you’ll need to ensure you’re doing the right things, but over time you’ll get used to it.
Marketing is one of those things you absolutely MUST do as a beginner freelance writer if you want to be successful; the best freelance writers are usually 50% marketers and 50% writers, so you definitely mustn’t ignore the marketing part.
Are The Above Three Steps Enough?
Following the above 3 steps alone, you should be on the right track to success as a freelance writer.
To be a fully successful freelance writer, you’ll need more than just the above 3 steps, most of which you’ll learn along the way, but if you want to get started without the overwhelm, the above 3 steps should do the trick.
If you want something much more comprehensive, that isn’t overwhelming, you should get my Freelance Writer’s Success Starter Guide. It is a concise and practical guide distilling knowledge from my years of experience as a freelance writer. Get it here!