Freelance Writing: Ten Steps, Tons of Resources

by Ali on November 11, 2010

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This is the guide which I wish I’d had when I was getting interested in freelance writing. It’s a step by step walk-through for the adventure that lies ahead of you.

You’ll find tips for each stage of your journey, and summaries of great resources to help you along the way.

Tip: You’ll probably want to bookmark this post or even print it out, so you can come back and dip in at each new step of your journey.

Ready to get going?

Step #1: Is Freelancing for You?

jousting

(Image from Flickr by Jeff Kubina)

In medieval times when knights roamed the land and fighting was done on horseback with a long pole known as a lance, the mercenaries of the time were referred to as ‘free lances’.

That quote (from freelancer extraordinaire, Collis Ta’eed of Freelance Switch) pretty much sold me on freelancing. I get to follow in the steps of knights and mercenaries; what’s not to like?

You can’t know for sure whether freelance writing is for you until you try it out. That said, you’ll want to think about:

  • Do you enjoy writing?
  • Are you any good at it? (You don’t need to be Shakespeare, you just need to be able to write clearly and competently.)
  • Would you like to work for yourself?
  • Are you prepared to keep learning?

You don’t need to be certain in order to start, but if you can answer “yes” to all or most of those, you’re probably going to get on well as a freelance writer.

Further Reading:

10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Jobone of Steve Pavlina’s most popular articles. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek in tone, but well worth a read – particularly for the decoupling of your value from the hours you work.

Is Freelancing Right For You? – an in-depth look at freelancing by Vandalay Design, running through the key reasons why you might be thinking about freelancing.

101 Reasons Freelancers Do It Better – from HR World. Admittedly a bit one-sided, but if you find yourself reading and agreeing, it’s a fair bet you’re cut out to be a freelancer.

11 Smart Tips for Brilliant Writing – by Dean Rieck on Copyblogger. If you think you need to brush up your skills a bit, this post is a great place to start.

Step #2: Before Your First Client: Working for Free

typing(Image from Flickr by plugimi)

If you’re new to writing and don’t have any published work, then begin with some pro bono (ie. free) writing to get some pieces for your porfolio. Charities and non-profits will be hugely grateful for your help, and a lot of blogs will publish guest posts with a byline.

Just don’t quit your day job on the strength of pro bono work. When you’re producing something for free, your “clients” won’t be too demanding. Once you’re being paid for your writing, your skills, professionalism and your client management all matter much more.

Keep a record of what you do – including screenshots if appropriate – so you can use it in your portfolio. And ask for a testimonial, too.

Further Reading:

The Upside of Working for Free – six reasons from Martha Retallick, on Freelance Switch, why working for free can be a good idea.

A Comprehensive Guide to Starting Your Freelance Career – by Collis Ta’eed of Freelance Switch. Covers branding yourself, getting paid (including setting your rates and providing quotes and estimates), recognising trouble clients, and going the extra mile with your services.

30 Days to Become a Freelancer – by Skellie, on Skelliewag.org. A great step by step guide that takes you through everything from deciding on your business name to building your portfolio and getting testimonials.

Step #3: Creating Your Website

keyboard(Image from Flickr by William Hook)

Even if you’re only working part time, you’ll want to look like a professional. (After all, no-one’s going to hire a knight who doesn’t have a suit of armour.)

Online, it’s easy to look the part without necessarily spending a lot of money. A website is pretty much essential:

  • Clients expect it
  • You’ll have a 24/7 showcase for your work
  • New prospects will visit your site every day (especially if you put a bit of time into search engine optimisation, or write a blog)

Of course, you could spend thousands on getting a website designed and created. But for most freelance writers, that’s not a realistic start-up expense. You’ll want a route which lets you do most of the work yourself – but with a clean, professional-looking result.

Setting Up Your Business Website

This is the easiest way I’ve found to get a nice-looking, robust, website together.

Pop in the code “ALIVENTURES” for a $50/year discount (if paying yearly – also gives $5/monthly or $80/two-yearly). Note: I’ve been using Dreamhost since I started freelancing, and have a full review of my experiences with them here.

  • Install WordPress using the “one-click install” feature.

Why WordPress? It’s free, it’s powerful, you can customise your site in any way you like, it’s fairly easy to use, there are tons of articles and tutorials about it on the net. And Dreamhost lets you install it by clicking a button: no need to touch a line of code.

  • Get a great theme.

I’d really recommend paying for a premium theme; it will cost you a bit of money, but it’s well worth it for the high quality and technical support. I personally use Thesis because of all the extra features it comes with (you can read my full review here).

If you want something to use straight out of the box, you might want to pick a different theme. ThemeForest has some fantastic ones, though you may have to dig around a bit to find writing-themed ones.

Further Reading:

WP Beginner –  a whole site/blog. If you want to learn how to customise some particular bit of your blog, WP Beginner (WP stands for WordPress), this blog’s likely to have the answers – in a nice, clear, easy to follow tutorial.

Making Friends with Technology – an hour-long free eclass from Wendy Cholbi of WordPress Swimming Lessons. Covers websites, email lists and shopping carts. Some of this will be overkill if you just want to get your website online, but very useful for the future.

Getting Started Blogging – a free course from Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett (who literally wrote the book on professional blogging). Aimed at beginners who’ve never blogged before, or who are very new to blogging.

Note – if you get stuck at this step, there are a ton of people who can help you get a basic website online. Let me know if you’re looking for a recommendation and I’ll put you in touch with someone trustworthy. :-)

What To Include On Your Website

You can either write the content for your website directly into WordPress, or write it in a word processor. WordPress has a “paste from Word” feature which preserves formatting.

The exact pages you have will depend on what sort of freelancing you do, but a good start is:

Home

A quick introduction to who you are and what you do. Tip: don’t offer every kind of writing under the sun (with editing and proofreading thrown in too) – clients want a specialist, not a generalist.

Portfolio

Include examples of your best work: photos, screenshots, or links to pieces online. Pro bono work or mock-ups are fine.

Testimonials

Quote satisfied customers. If you don’t have any testimonials, write to the clients you’ve had and explain you’re putting together your website – ask for a few words of recommendation which you could include. Ask to include their name, and if possible, a photo of them or link to their own website.

Contact

Make it very easy for prospective clients to get in touch. Add a contact form (if you’re using WordPress, the Contact Form 7 plugin works well). Give your email address too. If you’re comfortable putting your phone number online, add that.

Further Reading:

Five Tips (and a Bonus) on How to Write a Fantastic About Page – by James Chartrand on Write to Done. Great advice on putting together an “About” page which will encourage potential clients to hire you.

Presenting Your Portfolio, Part II: What to Include – by Mandy Hougland on Writing-World.com. Don’t be put off by the rather 1990s feel of this site; the tips here are solid.

How to Get (and Leverage) Glowing Testimonials – by Adrian Try on Freelance Switch. Lots of ideas on how to encourage people to give you testimonials which you can use to prove that your writing works!

Step #4: Your Social Media Presence

socialmedia(Image from Flickr by Saurabh Goswami)

Facebook. Twitter. MySpace. Bebo. LinkedIn. There are so many social media sites that it’s hard to know where to start. As a freelancer, it’s especially crucial that you manage your time effectively – and constantly updating half-a-dozen different social sites isn’t the best way to do that.

On the other hand, having some social media presence is vital. Prospective clients who follow you on Twitter are likely to be well-disposed to hiring you. And if your current clients become “fans” of your business on Facebook, their friends might well check you out.

Twitter

I’d really recommend having a Twitter account. It takes minutes to set up and seconds to maintain. It’s a great forum to let people know that you have a new blog post up, or to announce new services or a sale. You can also follow other writers and freelancers (like me!) – it’s a great way to get to know people in your field.

LinkedIn

You may well want to have a LinkedIn profile. This site has historically had a much more corporate focus than others, and it lets you list (and ask for testimonials from) the colleagues you’ve worked with in the past. If you plan on working with organisations rather than individuals, LinkedIn can help add credibility.

Facebook

Once you’re a little more established, set up a Facebook page for your business. Many people – especially those outside the techy world – use Facebook rather than Twitter, and may well prefer to contact you via a Facebook message than by email.

Whatever form of social media you use, think hard about the message you’re sending and whether it’s how you want to brand yourself. Tweeting about your hangover on Monday morning might not fill your clients with confidence…

Further Reading:

Twitter:

Twitter for Freelancers (A Basic Overview) – by Laura Spencer on Freelance Folder. A good place to start if you’re not sure what the point of Twitter is. Note: published 2009 so gives you the basics but doesn’t mention newer features like lists

What Should I Tweet About? –characteristically honest and useful advice from Naomi Dunford on IttyBiz.

50 Freelance Follows on Twitter on Freelance Switch – when you’re new to Twitter (and to freelancing), you might struggle to find people to follow. This gives you a great start. Check out the comments, too, for more names.

Facebook:

The Facebook Fan Page Recipe — 0 to 1000 Fans In 35 Days – a detailed guide to setting up a fan page and attracting fans, written by Ritu on Freelance Folder.

Create a Writer’s Profile in Facebook – Meryl from Meryl.net teaches you how to set up your Facebook account and what information to include.

Linked In:

The Freelancer’s Guide to Getting Started on LinkedIn – by Laura Spencer on Freelance Folder. This is a great basic guide with technical step-by-step details

Using LinkedIn — A Must for Freelancers – by Kristen Fischer on Freelance Switch. This one’s a more strategic guide, and complements Laura’s post well.

General Social Media:

How Freelancers are Using Social Media for Real Results case studies from several freelancers, by Mashable.

7 Ways Social Media Helps with Business Networking – by Chris Garrett on ChrisG.com. A great look at the interaction between online and offline networking.

Step #5: Finding Your First Clients

clients(Image from Flickr by Lars Plougmann)

So you’ve got a website set up, and you’ve done some pro-bono work for charity or friends. You can devote a few hours a week to freelancing – but how do you get clients? Who’s actually going to pay you for your writing?

LOOK OUT: Be wary of sites like elance where freelancers bid to get clients – you’ll need to be patient in order to get  a good rate. If you do plan to use elance, I highly recommend Alli Boyer’s ebook Out of Thin Air: The Freelancer’s Guide to Finding Work When Bills Are Due, which has a great section on elance. (NB: I’m a proud affiliate for Alli’s ebook.)

There are hundreds of ways to find clients – and the more you can put your name out there, the more likely people are to think of you when they need a writer.

Your Current Contacts

When you’re starting out, send an email to anyone who you think might be interested – or who might have leads. Family and friends will often want to help out. Keep it brief:

Hi! You may already know that I’ve recently launched my own business, Flying Ducks Copywriting. I specialise in jargon-free, reader-friendly copy for websites, and I’m particularly keen to work with small businesses and not-for-profits.

If you’ve got a website that needs sprucing up, or if you keep meaning to get round to writing one and can’t find the time, drop me a line! Or if you have any friends who need a copywriter, please forward this email on.

Thanks!

Job Boards

A number of sites have job boards where clients advertise a gig, and freelancers apply for the job. Pay rates vary, and competition can be stiff for the best jobs.

These are the best two I’ve come across for writers.

ProBlogger jobs board. Some of these are low paid or paid based on revenue (e.g. advertising) generated. There’s the occasional gem, though. Worth keeping an eye on!

Freelance Writing Gigs jobs listings. A human-aggregated list of jobs posted around the web, with comments and tips. Great way to filter down the mass of information into something useable.

Further Reading:

5 Ways to Step Away from the Freelance Job Boards and Create Your Own Freelance Writing Opportunities – great advice from Deb NG on Freelance Writing Jobs. Basically does what it says in the post title!

How to Apply for a Blog Job – focused on bloggers, but applicable to all writers. Darren Rowse from ProBlogger gives the inside scoop based on feedback from the companies advertising jobs on his own board.

Blogging

I’m guessing you know roughly what a blog is. Clue: you’re reading one right now. :-)

A blog is part (sometimes the whole) of a website which is updated with new material on a regular basis. The newest blog posts typically show up at the top of the page, with older ones further down and in the archives.

Blogs can be used for a number of purposes – they can be a hobby, or a means of making money in themselves. As a freelance writer, your blog will do two key things:

  • It attracts potential clients – through search engine traffic and regular readers
  • It gives you somewhere to showcase your writing

There’s tons of great advice for would-be bloggers out there. The blogging community is also a great one to be part of – exciting, welcoming and supportive.

But…

Don’t forget your reasons for blogging.

Aim your blog posts at your clients. Think about:

  • What questions do they typically have? (Perhaps quite basic ones about grammar or sentence structure.)
  • What content would interest them? (A discussion on the 18th century novel might fascinate you and me, but it’s probably not what your typical client is looking for.)

Many newer freelancers fall into the trap of writing for their peers, rather than their clients. You might well get some comments and attention – but you’re unlikely to make sales.

Also, don’t see blog posts as something to dash off when you have a few minutes to spare. Potential clients will be put off by careless typos, clunky sentences or incomplete thoughts. Sure, you know that your standards are much higher when you’re doing client work – but they don’t know that.

Further Reading:

What Every Freelancer Ought to Know About Blogging – from Laura Spencer of Freelance Folder. A focused post about how blogging can help freelancers, with an honest look at the potential drawbacks.

Do Blogs Really Earn Business? – a must-read post by James Chartrand of Men with Pens: too many freelancers see blogs as a magic-bullet solution. You may also want to read James’s posts Your Blog Readers Aren’t Buying and Are Your Blogging Efforts Worth It?

Blog Business Funnel – an ebook by Skellie which teaches you how to use your blog as a showcase and promotional tool to attract clients for your writing. I’ve written a full review of it here.

Step #6: Working With Your Clients

fingers-crossed(Image from Flickr by ~*Gillian*~)

Setting Your Rates

From a distance, this obstacle doesn’t look too scary. It’s pretty innocuous. You might not even notice it till you start getting close.

But once you’re nearby, it starts to loom larger … and larger … until you realise that it’s blocking the path ahead.

“How much do I charge?”

It’s a tough one.

Too low, and you’ll barely scrape by – plus, clients will be put off (they’ll equate a low price with shoddy quality).

Too high, and no-one will buy.

Relax. Seriously. Pricing is no big deal. You can put your rates on a web page and update them every week, and no-one’s likely to notice. You can provide individual quotes to potential customers, adjusting your rate as you see fit.

My advice?

Pick an hourly rate. You won’t be able to do 40 hours of paid work a week – 20 is more realistic. (Allow for marketing, admin, professional development, and down time – writing is tiring.) $30 per hour is a realistic starting rate, though, depending on your experience and qualifications, you may want to go higher.

BUT … charge by the project, not by the hour – especially if you’re a fast writer. Telling clients that you charge $30/hour isn’t very helpful: if they’re not writers, they won’t have much idea how long it takes to write a page of content. Figure out how long it takes you to write that page (say, two hours) and price accordingly.

Further Reading:

Freelance Switch’s Rates Calculator – a nifty little tool where you can plug in your various expenses and figure out what you need to charge per hour just to break even.

Ask Me Anything: Subscriptions, Corporate Writing, Pricing and More – scroll down to Leigh Macdonald’s question (about half-way down the page) for Thursday Bram’s thoughts on pricing.

Why You Should Never Charge Hourly – a post by Amber on Freelance Folder: worth reading the comments too for some constructive debate on project vs hourly pricing.

Negotiating Deadlines

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

(Douglas Adams)

Some writers need deadlines to work. They thrive on all-night sessions and last-minute heroic efforts.

When you’re working for clients, that’s not the best approach. Sure, you might think you’re going to have all day Tuesday to write – but stuff happens.

When you’re agreeing a deadline with the client:

  • Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need.
  • Consider charging extra for a “rush job” – if they want it by Monday, they’ll probably be happy to pay you more for working a weekend.

Further Reading:

How to Set Deadlines and Keep Them – although this post by Monji on DevGrow is aimed at designers and developers, the advice on deadlines (and on what to do if you miss them) is just as applicable to freelance writers.

Freelance Bootcamp #2: Finding Your First Clients, What To Charge, And Dealing With Deadlines… –  Good advice on deadlines (and other issues, as indicated in the post title) from Alex S of Freelancer Magazine.

Setting Contracts

Confession time. I only tend to sign contracts when I’m working with a bigger business. The bulk of my work is with individual editors of various websites and blogs, and I trust them to pay what we’ve agreed by email.

But… it is good practice, for many reasons, to have a contract. If nothing else, it makes you look more professional.

You can find plenty of template contracts online: I particularly like Kristian Fischers

Further Reading:

Legalese for Freelancers: Creating a Contractgreat post by Kristen Fischer on Freelance Switch, including a sample contract which you can download and modify to use yourself.

Example of a Basic Contract for Freelance Writers – a simple, straightforward contract template from Jodee Redmond on Freelance Writing Jobs. This should take the fear out of contracts!

Freelance Contracts: Do’s And Don’ts – although this piece, from Robert Bowen on Smashing Magazine, is aimed at designers, the advice on contracts is pretty much universal. (The post just has prettier images than many…)

Step #7: Sending Invoices and Getting Paid

coins(Image from Flickr by Jeff Belmonte)

Invoices aren’t scary. They’re essentially just a sheet of paper laying out what work you’ve done, what you’re owed and how you can be paid.

(You can swipe my invoice template here – feel free to build on it for your own invoices.)

If you’re super-organised, there’s lots of software which lets you track billable hours and generate invoices. I’ve heard good things about Fresh Books, which has a free trial.

If you’re working for individuals rather than companies, you may find that a PayPal money request, or an email, suffices. (I’ve even had one client ask for an invoice by text message…)

Getting Paid

In an ideal world, all clients would pay promptly. 95% of mine do.

But … sometimes, a friendly-looking client can metamorphose into a freelancing nightmare. The non-paying client.

What do you do?

First, check that the due date on your invoice has actually passed. It’s easy, especially when you’re new to freelancing, to want instant payment – even when you’ve allowed 30 days.

Second, send a polite reminder. “Just checking that you got my invoice? I haven’t heard from you yet about payment, which is now two days overdue.”

Third, keep reminding. If you don’t get any response, look for other avenues to contact the client – Twitter or Facebook can work.

Usually, you’ll get your money around the second stage: your invoice is just buried in your client’s inbox – they weren’t trying to get out of paying.

In my experience, non-paying clients are a tiny minority. If you’re particularly worried about this:

  • Ask for 50% of your fee up front (this is a good general practice anyway)
  • Check them out online – you may be able to find the names of other writers who’ve worked with them
  • Weed out problem clients. You don’t have to accept everyone – if someone gives you bad vibes, turn them down.

Further Reading:

I Don’t Want These Clients! – post from Anne on About Freelance Writing, setting out the types of problem clients you’ll want to watch out for.

The freelancer’s short guide to getting paid – a step-by-step guide on how to respond of your invoice isn’t paid on time, from Dean Rieck of ProCopyTips.

The Last-Ditch Letter That Might Help You Get Paid – a sample letter from James of Men with Pens for the (unlikely) chance that the worst comes to the worst and it looks like you’re not going to get your money.

Step #8: Prepare to Go Full-Time

thinking(Image from Flickr by karola riegler photography)

You’ve made it through the first stage of your journey. You’ve scrambled over obstacles and tackled some nasty monsters. You kept going even when everything seemed too hard.

And by now, you’ll have the answers to a couple of crucial questions…

Do You Like Freelancing?

You won’t necessarily have loved every minute of it. But look for a sense of fulfilment and fun in your work.

If you found that dealing with clients terrifies you, or that writing feels like a chore once you’re treating it as a business, then ask yourself whether this is really the path for you.

Can You Make a Living Freelancing?

However much you love writing, a part-time stint may reveal your particular style really isn’t in demand, or that the admin side is such a headache that you end up working long hours for very little money.

(A caveat: You may well have started off at a low rate, perhaps $20 or $25/hour. You will be able to raise this as you get more skilled, and as you get more recommendations.)

Hopefully, you’re enjoying freelancing, and making some money (even if it’s not much yet). Writing brings you alive. It’s what you were meant to do.

Not all freelancers want to quit their day job; some enjoy the job and enjoy freelancing on the side. But many decide that they want to take the plunge and launch themselves as full-time freelancers.

It’s an adventure – a great one. But with any big adventure, it pays to be prepared.

Get Hold of Some Solid Resources

There are some great books and ebooks aimed at freelancers taking the plunge from part to full time. My favourite is Freelance Switch’s How to be a Rockstar Freelancer, which you can get in either paperback or ebook format. (I wrote a review of it here, if you want to know a bit more before you buy it.)

Depending on your particular flavour of freelance writing – and your current skills – you may want to buy books on copywriting, grammar, blogging, websites, article writing and more. Ask around online for other freelancer’s recommendations.

If your budget is tight, try your local library – though bear in mind they may not have anything very recent, so if you’re writing online, you may want to look elsewhere.

I also recommend the whole of the Copyblogger blog for very good, very focused freelance writing and business advice, in particular:

Build Your Emergency Fund

Once full-time freelancing glitters as a possibility on the horizon, start saving.

I’m not going to give you a ton of personal finance advice here (“ditch the Starbucks habit!”) – but I’ll give you a couple of freelance writer specific tips:

  • Put your part-time freelancing income into savings.
  • Resist the lure of shiny new gadgets. As a writer, you can work on a fairly old computer – you don’t need a ton of memory or a super-fast processor. So long as your equipment is reliable, it’ll do.

Further Reading:

Emergency Funds: How and Why You Should Get Started Right Now – a  post by Trent Hamm of the popular personal finance blog The Simple Dollar. This isn’t freelancer-specific, but it’s solid advice on an emergency fund.

How to Save: A Short Guide for Freelancers – a great guide from Raj Dash on Freelance Switch, with in-depth advice on different types of savings that work for freelancers.

The Other Side of Freelancing – a cautionary table from Fabulously Broke, plus some good advice about emergency funds aimed specifically at freelancers.

Talk to Your Loved Ones

This is tough. And I’ll be honest with you – a lot of people don’t “get” freelancing. You’ll probably have some family members and friends who think you’re totally crazy to quit your job.

But you’ll almost certainly find that many people are much more supportive than you’d expected.

My husband backed my freelancing right from the start (I now know he had serious doubts at the time – but he didn’t voice them). The rest of my family took a little while to grasp that I wasn’t simply looking for a different job… but they’ve been hugely supportive throughout.

If you suspect that your nearest and dearest will struggle to understand why you’d want an adventure instead of a nice safe cage:

  • Start talking about your part-time freelancing early on. Mention how much you enjoy it, and how it pays twice as much per hour as your day job.
  • Get the most supportive and sympathetic people on board. If your dad sees that all your siblings think it’s a great idea, he’s more likely to understand.
  • Be prepared to quell people’s worries. Explain that you have money saved up, in case business is initially slow – and that, in a worst case scenario, you could just get another full-time job.

Further Reading:

Career Renegade – this book by Jonathan Fields has some great advice on how to talk to your loved ones about your plans to quit your day job. (The book has a ton of other useful info too; you can read my review of it here.)

Cut Down Your Hours at Work

If you have any option to, don’t quit straight away. Cut down your hours at work instead. Ask to work 3 or 4 days a week instead of 5: you’ll have the safety net of a regular income, along with extra time to devote to building up your freelancing.

That’s not possible for everyone. I ended up taking six days of holiday over six consecutive weeks to try out something similar. You could try:

  • Booking off all your Fridays for a month, to freelance
  • Take a week’s vacation to try out the full freelancing lifestyle
  • Negotiate slightly changed hours: perhaps working 10am – 6pm so that you can do a couple of hours’ freelancing in the morning

Further Reading:

Switching to Freelance: How to Negotiate to Work Less Hours in Your Job – by Adrian Try from Freelance Switch. Simple, step-by-step tips on how to negotiate fewer working hours with your boss.

The 4-Hour Workweek – Tim Ferriss’ book has some more radical suggestions on how to shift away from your day job (like asking to telecommute so you can get your work done in fewer hours and spend the rest of your time on your own projects). Not for everyone, but worth a look. My review is here.

Step #9: Freelancing Full-Time

desk

(Image from Flickr by jnyemb)

You’ve taken the plunge. You’re a full-time freelancer – the majority of your income is from your writing.

(There’s nothing stopping you doing something else on the side, for regular cash flow. I spent two afternoons a week childminding when I started out freelancing.)

Of course, your adventure isn’t over. Full-time freelancing might be what you’ve dreamt of doing for months or years – but you’ll find yourself facing some new challenges along the way.

Getting Your Work Done (Without the Stress)

Time management. Self-discipline. Focus.

These aren’t words that come easily to writers. Your freelancing relies on a certain degree of creativity – even if you’re writing something fairly mundane, you still need to put words and sentences and paragraphs together.

Writing takes energy. That means:

  • You can’t write for eight hours solid
  • There’ll be some days when you just feel flat
  • You’ll have “peak” and “trough” times for your writing

A lot of time management and productivity advice is aimed at corporate employees, not freelancers. Here’s what typically works for writers:

Find your peak productive hours. Charlie Gilkey has some great resources for this at: How Heatmapping Your Productivity Can Make You More Productive

Protect your writing time. Avoid interruptions (phone calls, flatmates). Avoid distractions (Twitter, email). I use Tick Tock Timer to help me focus.

Be organised. A paper diary and a to-do list in your notebook may well be enough. Just have some method of tracking projects and deadlines – constantly thinking “Did I forget something?” or “I must reply to that email” is a huge distraction.

Give yourself margins. As well as leaving some slack in your deadlines, which we covered earlier, make sure there’s slack in the other areas of your freelancing. Keep some money in your emergency fund, for instance.

Further Reading:

5 Easy Ways to Start a Productive Day – simple but useful tips from Mason Hipp, editor of Freelance Folder.

8 Productivity Questions Writers Need to Ask – characteristically solid and practical advice from Thursday Bram.

Full-time freelancing: 10 things learned in 180 days – this post by Cameron Moll has a lot of productivity tips and other lessons learned. A great read if you’re about to go full-time, or in your early days of full-time freelancing.

Your Companions on the Journey: Other Freelancers

If you’re used to working in an office environment, you’ll probably miss having colleagues around – especially if you’re on your own at home during the day.

Even if you’re fairly introverted (and a lot of writers are), you may well like having people to chat to and brainstorm ideas with.

The good news is, you do still have colleagues. They’re your freelancing peers: other writers. They hang out on Twitter, write blogs, participate in forums, go to meetups and conferences, and more.

Sometimes, you’ll cross paths with someone briefly. Other times, you’ll make a new friend for life. You might well find a business partner or mentor who’ll walk your path with you.

I’d recommend the forums at:

You’ll also find plenty of other freelance writers blogging and commenting on:

Loads of writers are on Twitter. You might start with:

25 Writers You Should Be Following on Twitter

(You’re welcome to follow me too! I’m @aliventures on Twitter.)

Avoiding “Feast or Famine”

Talk to most freelance writers, and they’ll mention times when work just dried up – clients went out of business, no new leads came in, their marketing efforts got nowhere.

They’ll also often have times when they were overloaded with work, and even had to turn down new jobs.

This is the “Feast or Famine” cycle. When you’re really busy, you don’t have time to market yourself and find new work — causing  a dry spell once the busyness is over.

To get your work on a more even keel:

  • Look for a mix of longer and shorter term gigs. Blogs and magazines, for instance, might want weekly or monthly pieces; clients looking for web copy may just want to hire you once.
  • Encourage referrals. Ask your clients to recommend you to friends. (You may want to offer an incentive, like a money-off voucher for them and their friend, but simply asking is often enough.)
  • Keep up your marketing – even when you’re busy. You can often get ahead in a dry patch; perhaps writing some posts for your own blog, or guest posts for others.

Further Reading:

101 Ideas to Get More Freelance Work and Generate New Client Leadsa great list of ideas from Collis Ta’eed of Freelance Switch, split into different sections.

How To Stop Scrambling For Clients And Get A Steady Stream Of Paying GigsDave Navarro’s advice on making sure you get enough billable work on your books, posted on Freelance Folder.

How to Ask for a Referral Without Sounding Like a Jerk – James Chartrand’s advice (also posted on Freelance Folder) on encouraging your clients to tell all their friends about you.

Step #10: Keep Learning

magazines(Image from Flickr by splorp)

Whatever you want to learn, there’s almost certainly a book (or a dozen books) on it. If your budget is tight, try your local library – they may be able to order something in for you.

There are lots of magazines aimed at writers, too – here in the UK, Writers’ Forum and Writing Magazine are good.

And then, of course, there’s blogs…

You may have noticed that quite a lot of the “Further Reading” resources are from a relatively small handful of blogs. Why? These are valuable, reputable sites with really good articles – well written and packed with expert advice.

(Though, if you think I’ve missed out anything stellar, just add a link in the comments!)

These are the blogs I highly recommend for freelance writers. Ideally, you’ll want to get their RSS feeds or subscribe by email – but if not, make sure you visit regularly.

You’re also welcome to subscribe to this blog, Aliventures, to get upcoming articles on writing and freelancing. (Next week, I’ll be posting a review of an awesome ebook for freelance writers.)

Where Next?

Got questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments or grab me on Twitter (@aliventures)

And if you’d like some one-to-one support with your writing or your freelancing career, head on over to my coaching page to see how I can help you.

{ 12 trackbacks }

links for 2010-11-11
November 12, 2010 at 1:02 am
Do You Care About Being Normal? — Aliventures
November 12, 2010 at 9:45 am
Aliventures | Storyteller’s World
November 12, 2010 at 1:49 pm
Reach Our Dreams: News Round Up #3 | Reach Our Dreams
November 19, 2010 at 8:13 am
The Huge-Ass List of Job Hunting Resources « After Graduation
November 19, 2010 at 9:10 pm
Beyond Freelancing: The Shift to Entrepreneur — Aliventures
December 16, 2010 at 11:12 am
Fifteen Ways to Enjoy Your Work More—Whatever You Do
February 15, 2011 at 1:17 pm
Nine Ways to Spice Up Any Blog Post—Fast
February 24, 2011 at 1:06 pm
Nine Ways to Spice Up Any Blog Post—Fast | Wizpress.com
February 25, 2011 at 7:39 am
Our Favorite Resources for Online Workers | Single Grain Blog
May 25, 2011 at 2:12 pm
Nine Ways to Spice Up Any Blog Post—Fast|LiveOffTheWeb.com Guest Post | Live Off The Web
June 25, 2011 at 4:32 pm
Freelance Writing: Ten Steps, Tons of Resources — Aliventures - Chris Stott
December 22, 2012 at 10:17 pm

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Eoin Meegan November 11, 2010 at 3:33 pm

This just landed in my laptop. It looks amazing. Thanks so much Ali. I know there is tons of helpful information here (judging by yourf other books) and I can’t wait to get stuck in.
.-= Eoin Meegan´s last blog ..Nov 9- Venus =-.

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Ali November 11, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Thanks, Eoin! Enjoy getting stuck in — and if you want more info on any point, just pop a comment here. :-)

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Lorna November 11, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Stunningly useful blogpost here, Ali. You’ve worked so hard to collate all this! I wish I’d had all this information to hand when I was setting up fictionfire! With regard to tweeting, Nick Daws is worth following. As you know, I already follow Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn – she’s highly productive and very helpful.

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Ali November 11, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Thank you, Lorna! I wish I’d had to back in the day, too.

Great tips on Twitter people; thanks! (@nickdaws and @thecreativepenn for anyone who wants to add them)

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Mary E. Ulrich November 11, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Wowsers! Ali, you not only made an amazing annotated bibliography, or maybe it could be called a blogiography, but you’ve brought in all the experts. Great job.

This will be a terrific resource. Thanks.
.-= Mary E. Ulrich´s last blog ..Dream Plan for Aaron- 1989 Part 2 =-.

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Ali November 12, 2010 at 7:37 am

Thanks Mary! Hope you (and many others) do find it useful. :-)

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Zac November 11, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Wow, Ali, great post! clear, concise, thorough and detailed. I’m still new to blogging, and writing, I’ll be coming back to this post often.

Thanks!

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Ali November 12, 2010 at 7:40 am

Cheers Zac! Glad you liked it – and hope it helps you along the blogging/writing path. (I’ll be following up with some – rather shorter! – posts in upcoming weeks…)

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Sally Bagshaw November 11, 2010 at 10:48 pm

An excellent resource Ali – I’m just about to send the link to a friend who is thinking of taking the plunge. We’ve already talked in detail about how she should do it, but you’ve hit on some things I hadn’t thought of.

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Ali November 12, 2010 at 7:41 am

Thanks, Sally! Really hope it helps your friend – best of luck to her.

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Jesse Green November 12, 2010 at 3:02 am

Terrific post indeed, and I noticed your reference to Elance early on. This is where I got my start and I think it’s a great place to get your feet wet (since the marketplace is ripe for the pickings) before branching out to secure the more lucrative business that – in many cases – requires an experience-laden portfolio…

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Ali November 12, 2010 at 7:42 am

Cheers, Jesse! It’s good to hear about your experiences with Elance – I’ve heard some positive things and some considerably less so, and haven’t used it to find work myself. Glad it worked for you! :-)

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Jesse Green November 12, 2010 at 7:52 am

I urge you and others to give it a shot – if even for a few months. If nothing else it helps hone your proposals and is a pretty good way to boost your portfolio/testimonials. And for those starting up, it offers a great place to slowly enter into the “freelance market” with a very strong customer support system and an escrow system that I have now successfully made use of twice (unfortunately!) It’s not for everyone, and many will find the more lucrative bids beyond Elance’s virtual walls, but I’d argue that it still has its benefits.
.-= Jesse Green´s last blog .. =-.

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Archan Mehta November 12, 2010 at 5:06 am

Ali,

This piece was long overdue, but the hard work shows.Probably, it took a while longer due to other priorities in your life.

I like your attention to details. The information you have put together adds value.

And you get straight to the point without beating about the bush. We appreciate it.

I think it is also a good idea to rope in the services of other experts and blogs. Have a good one. Cheers!

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Ali November 12, 2010 at 8:09 am

Yeah, sorry to keep you all waiting! I had a lot of other things going on (like my own freelancing work ;-))

Glad you liked the piece! :-)

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Young November 12, 2010 at 9:59 am

This is really a great post for how to be a freelancer with details and experiences, cheers!
.-= Young´s last blog ..Share Multiple Links With One URL =-.

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Ali November 12, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Thanks Young! :-)

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Ragnar November 12, 2010 at 10:24 am

Mammoth post there Ali!

However, really like it and will give it a proper read over the weekend.

Look forward to your future posts, R

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Ali November 12, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Cheers, Ragnar. Yeah, it’s pretty huge..! Takes a bit of digesting. :-)

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Waqas Ali November 12, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Thanks for all great advices Ali. Good to see you’ve supported it well with all latest trends & resources, it’ll surely help me & others.
.-= Waqas Ali´s last blog ..Enjoy Being Friend Of Your Customers =-.

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Ali November 12, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Thanks, Waqas – hope you find it useful (and feel free to pass the post on to anyone else who might enjoy it!)

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Sarah Arrow November 12, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Great post Ali, a huge amount of resources to go through!

With regards to telephone number, you can have a free non geographic run over the top of your normal telephone line from Switchboard Free.Having a number that isn’t a mobile number makes you more credible to a lot of people, so I would have one.
.-= Sarah Arrow´s last blog ..Citing your sources when blogging =-.

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Ali November 13, 2010 at 9:20 am

Ooh, great tip, Sarah – thanks. Didn’t know that!

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David Wang November 12, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Hey Ali this is an awesome post. I’d like to add some thoughts to #3: Creating Your Website. I love Thesis as well but I think most people will find that more advanced customizations will really be out of their reach. The feedback I get is, “Hooks and custom functions? Can I just use the regular functions?”

FreelanceFolder has a theme that’s designed to get all the basics for a freelancer up and running (without any code). On top of displaying your portfolio, you can also create proposals and invoices all from within WordPress. It’s called the Client Machine and is available at http://freelancefolder.com/get-the-client-machine/

Finally, I’ve been writing a series on Simplifying the Steps To Creating Your First Website. Check it out if you’re planning to create one: http://theclickstarter.com/simple-steps-to-creating-your-first-website

Cheers and keep up the fantastic writing Ali!
.-= David Wang´s last blog ..DIY Website Options- What You Need To Know =-.

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Ali November 13, 2010 at 9:23 am

Fab addition, thanks David! I’ve heard great things about the Client Machine – will take a further look at it and add something into the post.

Thanks for the link to your series; looks really comprehensive. Nice work. :-)

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Hayley Huong November 13, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Nice post! Thanks Ali :)

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Ali November 14, 2010 at 7:34 am

Thanks, glad you like it! :-)

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Johnny Laird November 13, 2010 at 8:30 pm

…looking forward to checking this post out.

Looks like there’s a ton of good stuff here.

J
.-= Johnny Laird´s last blog ..Jim Wallis coming to the UK =-.

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Ali November 14, 2010 at 7:34 am

Thanks Johnny – hope you get a chance to dig into it. :-)

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Dia November 16, 2010 at 2:06 am

Hi Ali,

Thanks for sharing this guide with us. I like your new logo :)
.-= Dia´s last blog ..How to be more productive in life =-.

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Ali November 16, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Thanks, Dia! The new banner and site design are by the fantastic Charlie from Charfish Design – http://www.charfishdesign.com/

The photo in the banner is by the lovely Antonina Mamzenko – http://www.antoninaphotography.co.uk/

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Icy Sedgwick November 16, 2010 at 9:24 am

I’m so glad you posted this – so many blogs and websites talk about freelancing but they never give you any advice how to start! Very very useful stuff.
.-= Icy Sedgwick´s last blog ..Titanic- The Artefact Exhibition =-.

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Ali November 16, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Thanks – glad it’s helpful! :-)

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dee8 November 17, 2010 at 2:08 am

quality in depth article! thanks for the share, got some great pointers

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Christine Livingston November 20, 2010 at 7:00 pm

What a phenomenal post this is, Ali.

While I never want to be a freelance writer in any full-time sense, I’d love to get to the point of being able to be paid for pieces in various on- and off-line publications. Your guide gives some fabulously, practical advice that really helps with that ambition.

Thanks so much for writing.

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Ali November 22, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Thanks, Christine! Really glad this was helpful. Lots of the writers I know freelance on the side of other things (and frankly, it’s never been full-time for me either — I’ve always been studying as well as freelancing, or engaged in slightly more entrepreneurial things).

Best of luck with your own writing!

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Sandeep@Guru Talks November 28, 2010 at 12:01 pm

So comprehensive article Ali, with these sorts of articles, you’ll explode the blogging industry :)
.-= Sandeep@Guru Talks´s last blog ..No matter how hard you tried- relationship got failed =-.

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Ali November 29, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Thanks Sandeep! Watch out for the fireworks. ;-)

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Tammi Kibler December 28, 2010 at 2:00 am

Wow, what a great foundation document. I am amazed at all the resources you have gathered here for the beginning freelance writer. I will be back to read this post often.
.-= Tammi Kibler´s last blog ..Twitter For Writers Poll Results and Format Poll =-.

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Ali December 31, 2010 at 11:15 am

Thanks, Tammi – glad you found it useful!

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Jennifer Kentmere January 24, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Wow, this was so helpful, thank you Ali! I have so many of those links bookmarked now.
Jennifer
.-= Jennifer Kentmere´s last blog ..New Year- New You- Using Project Management to Find Yourself =-.

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Handy Man, Crafty Woman May 3, 2011 at 3:21 am

WOW. treasure trove of reasources!! Bookmarking your site so I can come back & look at more. I want to get into freelancing, but I have NO idea where to start.

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Lindsey Whitney October 27, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Great tips. Thanks for sharing! This has been in my “to read later” file for months now, and it’s packed with a ton of great tips. Headed to check out the suggested further reading now.
Lindsey Whitney’s last blog post ..Tweets from The Nines

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Ali October 29, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Thanks Lindsey! Glad you had a chance to read it — and hope you enjoy the further reading too. :-)

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Shruti September 5, 2013 at 6:55 am

I have to agree with everything in this post.

I quit my job not too long ago and am struggling to find work. I’ve already carved out a niche but can’t seem to make contact with people who can give me work. It’s frustrating but the key is to just keep on moving forward. This is what I set out to do and there’s not turning back.

Thanks,
Shruti
Shruti’s last blog post ..APSC Various Posts Recruitment 2013 – Apply for 309 Post – apsc.nic.in

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Ali September 5, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Shruti, good luck! It does take time and I’m sure almost every freelancer out there will have had a similar experience when they started out.

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