Three Things to Do Before You Start Freelance Writing … and Three Things Not to Bother With
This post was first published in June 2018 and updated in June 2020.
Are you thinking about freelancing?
I’ve known a lot of writers who spent ages in the “thinking” stage without moving forward. They had plenty of great reasons to try freelancing, but they just couldn’t quite seem to begin.
It’s understandable. Launching a freelancing career can feel like an enormous step, and you probably want to get everything right before you begin.
I was lucky, in a lot of ways: I fell into freelance writing by accident. Twelve years ago, I wrote a guest post for a blog that (unknown to me) happened to be looking for paid writers. The editor asked if I’d like to join the team … and that became the first of many, many freelance blogging gigs.
At that point, I’d just turned 23 and had a full time job in tech support/software testing. In terms of freelancing, I had nothing set up. I had a blog, but it wasn’t writing-related at all. I was still using my old email address, provided by my university’s alumni team. I only had a personal PayPal account that I used for eBay. I definitely hadn’t thought about anything like contracts or a business plan.
And it still all worked out fine.
Even so, I probably would’ve made faster progress as a freelancer if I’d got a few things set up before I began.
Three Things to Get in Place Before You Start Freelancing
If you’re at the stage where you’ve not quite launched your freelancing career (or if, like me, you’ve stumbled into freelancing and now need to backtrack a bit), here are the three crucial things that you’ll want to set up as soon as possible.
#1: A Professional-Looking Email Address
Your email address is – in many cases – the very first thing people will know about you (possibly before they even know your name). It needs to look as sensible and professional as possible.
Ideally, your email address should usethe domain of your website. E.g. mine is email@example.com.
However, any sensible-looking email address will do fine to begin with. I’d suggest avoiding Yahoo and Hotmail, which have a bit of an “amateur” vibe to them, and instead going with an email provider like Gmail.
Something like firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (I don’t actually have a middle name which limits my options a bit) is a perfectly good choice.
Once you’ve got your email address set up, create a signature (footer) for your emails that very briefly explains what you do. For instance:
Freelance writer, specialising in blog content
Find me at www.aliventures.com
This will automatically appear beneath all the emails you send – a very simple way to market yourself and your services.
You can see this example signature includes a website link, which leads me on to the second thing I strongly recommend setting up …
#2: A Website That Explains What You Do
If you already have a blog or website, it’s fine to use that for now. Add a page called “Services” or “Freelancing” or similar that details what you do and who you do it for.
If you don’t already have a website, get a simple one set up. Having an online presence really helpful because then you can share the link to your site with people who might be interested, and (even better!) they can share it with their friends and contacts too.
If you want a very simple one-page website, you can use About.me to set up a free one. However, I’d definitely suggest working towards having a full website with your own domain name (URL).
For a full website, I recommend using Dreamhost for web hosting. They’ll give you a free domain name, you can easily install WordPress (the most popular website building software in the world) on your site, and their support team is great.
#3: A (Separate) PayPal Account
Some clients will be happy to pay by cheque / bank transfer, but others will want to pay by PayPal (most blogs, particularly international ones, pay me this way).
PayPal is relatively easy to set up but it takes a few days to link it to your bank account so you can withdraw money, so you’ll want to do this before you’re bringing in money from clients.
I’d recommend setting up a Business account rather than a Personal account as it gives you more options, though a Personal account should be fine when you’re starting out. (PayPal has a help page about the differences between the two types of account.)
Even if you already have a PayPal account, I’d strongly recommend setting up a new account for business purposes.
These days, I have two (firstname.lastname@example.org for business and one under a different email address for buying things on eBay etc) – it used to be a real pain in the past to separate personal and business expenses line by line.
It’s also a very good idea to set up a separate bank account at this point. You don’t need a specific Business bank account: a regular current account that’s separate from your personal one should work fine.
Three Things Not to Bother With
Some of the things I worried about in my very early days as a freelance writer turned out to be things I didn’t end up needing … at all, in ten years! All three of these can probably be ignored when you’re starting out.
#1: Your Own Contract
Don’t bother perfecting a contract template to use with your clients-to-be.
In my experience, most clients will have their own template contract or will simply not bother. I’ve never had to come up with my own contract in 10+ years of freelancing. In all that time, I’ve only ever once had an instance of not getting paid. It was a small amount and, to be honest, even having a contract probably wouldn’t have helped with that particular client.
Of course, I’ve signed quite a few contracts over the years for larger jobs but those have always been provided by the company in question (e.g. Wiley gave me a contract when I wrote Publishing E-Books For Dummies).
Tip: If you’re working with someone new, it’s always worth a bit of Googling to make sure they have an established web presence and look reputable. Get payment details in writing (e.g. by email) but don’t worry about a formal contract if it’s a fairly small aount of work.
#2: A Formal Business Plan
Some freelancers spend a lot of time making a very complex, formal plan.
While I’m all in favour of planning, I don’t think it’s worth spending AGES planning before you dip your toes into actual freelancing.
(What if you hate the world of freelance writing? What if the type of freelancing you thought you were going to do turns into something quite different?)
Instead, I’d suggest setting aside an hour or two to have a coffee and write down some basics, including:
- Your minimum rate per hour – which you can translate into a rate per piece, if you know roughly how fast you can write.
- What hours you will (and won’t!) work each week – it’s particularly important to figure this out if you’re freelancing around a day job, or if you have young kids.
- What type of freelancing you’re going to focus on initially – e.g. copywriting for local business will be very different from freelance blogging for sites that might be halfway across the world from you. Your focus might change once you get underway, but it’s useful to know where you want to begin.
- Who can help you when you’re starting out – don’t be afraid to ask for help. People are often very glad to give a hand and it can mean a lot to them to have the opportunity. Good possibilities include former colleagues, parents, family members, or fellow members of any sort of community group (like a church or local volunteering group).
#3: Business Cards or Other Printed Materials
Unless you’re doing tons of in-person networking, you really don’t need businesss cards. Don’t get them printed because you feel that you should. The same applies to any other printed materials you might be tempted to create, like leaflets.
During your first year or two as a freelancer, a lot might change. Your branding / design, your ideas on what exactly you do, your website URL, and your email address could all be different in 18 months time.
Plus, during Covid-19, most people aren’t going to be too keen on the idea of taking anything from you unnecessarily.
If you’re at an event and want to connect to someone, ask for THEIR business card (or their email address, if they don’t have a card) – then follow up a day or two later. This means you can be proactive, rather than waiting and hoping that they’ll get round to contacting you.
Are you thinking about freelancing, or are you in your early stages of a freelance writing career? Try my freelancing self-study pack, which includes four full seminars (plus worksheets and nicely-edited transcripts) for just $20. It’s packed with expert tips and advice from experienced freelance writers and editors.
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
If you're new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:
Can You Call Yourself a “Writer” if You’re Not Currently Writing?
The Three Stages of Editing (and Nine Handy Do-it-Yourself Tips)
My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.
- Your Summer Reading: The Blogger’s Guides, Study Packs, Blog Posts, and Novels | Aliventures - […] 2018) Three Things to Do Before You Start Freelance Writing … and Three Things Not to Bother With –…
Some great tips Ali, I’m crossing ‘Draft a contract’ off of my to-do list which makes me happy! I like the idea of an email signature, I’ve stuck that on my list. I assume it can be set up so that it pops up automatically.
Yep, the email signature should be automatically included on all your messages. If you Google “create email signature” plus the name of whatever you use for email (e.g. Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo etc) then you should hopefully find instructions on how to set one up. 🙂
Great, thanks Ali, I’ll check it out.
Claire’s last blog post ..Hello world!
Thanks for a quick bit of sound advice for newbies.
Glad to help!
hey nice post on freelancing, come to know a lot…thanks
Incredibly helpful! Thank you!
Nice post, Ali! I think people tend to overthink things when really that basic list is all you need to get started. There’s plenty more you can do, of course, but it can come later.
Thanks Andrew! Yeah, I think it’s all too easy to get stuck at the “about to launch” stage, trying to get everything right … when it’s often best just to get the basics in place and start making progress.
This was so helpful! I literally only had the idea to become a freelance writer today and reading this made me even more determined to at least give it a try. Thank you so much for such an informative and inspirational post.
Thanks Mira! So glad this was a helpful post for you. 🙂
Thanks for this post. I’m in the beginning stages of starting a freelancing business. How do I create an email signature?
It depends on what email software you use (e.g. I’m using Gmail). You can search online for “create signature” and the name of your email software, and that should bring up a tutorial. Good luck!
Good post. As someone who has been freelancing (and earning a living) since 2003, let me add: Freelancing does not mean working for FREE. You are a professional. Professionals are paid. If you work for free, then you don’t value your writing. (Got this on Chris the STorytelling Ape blog)
Judy Penz Sheluk’s last blog post ..New Release Mondays: In It For the Money by Cathy Perkins
Thanks for this good advice, Ali. 🙂 — Suzanne
Hi, I wondered what payment method is most secure online. I have already had somebody hack my pay pal account and get into my bank account. I don’t trust them. What do you recommend?