Freelance writing has been around for many years, and has enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity as more people have begun use it as a primary or secondary form of income.
Freelance writers work with clients, or “buyers”, on a contract basis. The client could be a newspaper, magazine, charity, small business, or individual. Freelance writing assignments commonly include informational articles, sales or marketing materials, books, pamphlets, and newsletters.
The Internet has changed the face of freelance writing. Assignments are widely available, but the field is competitive. Common Internet assignments include blog posts, e-books, newsletters, advertisements, and content articles for web sites.
History of Freelance Writing
In decades past, freelance writers could expect to type out a full article “on spec”, meaning that they were only speculating that the newspaper or magazine they wrote the article for would use it. The article would then sit in an editor’s slush pile for weeks or months before it was given a full read-through.
If the article was rejected, the writer would have to start the process over again with a different publication. If the article was accepted, the writer would have to wait months or even years before receiving a paycheck for their work. Research was exhaustive (and exhausting), and was done mostly in libraries. Wages varied greatly by publication. Some magazines, such as Good Housekeeping in the 1960’s, paid as much as $5 per word.
More recently, freelance writers have become hotly sought after due to the explosion of content on the Internet. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, approximately 10.3 million workers in the US (7.4% of the US workforce) are independent contractors. In the past three years, companies have increased their outsourcing by 22% on the Internet.
This has had both good and bad effects on the freelance writing industry. Today’s freelancers can expect very few start-up costs, as most marketing can be done online for free. There are numerous Web sites and freelance marketplaces that put workers in touch with potential clients. The freelance community is open and honest about current rates and markets. Research can be swiftly carried out with the help of search engines and online encyclopedias. Best of all, freelance writers can expect to be paid for their services on a monthly or weekly basis via PayPal or direct deposit.
But today’s freelance industry isn’t without its hardships. The global marketplace has driven wages down. While freelancers could expect to be paid more than $500 for a 500 word article in the past, today’s writers are offered anywhere from $5 to $100 for the same word count. The market is extremely competitive, with skilled writers from around the world bidding on projects. Low wages and stiff competition scare away many would-be freelance writers.
The Benefits of Freelance Writing
While a freelancer’s workload can fluctuate from month to month, boredom is seldom an issue. There is always something to do, even if the freelancer does not have an active project. Marketing, promotion, bidding and networking are crucial parts of a successful freelance career. Researching new markets, polishing up the portfolio, and creating new streams of income are also important.
While this is a lot of responsibility to take on, many freelancers love the freedom of not being chained to a desk for 8 hours a day. Their work is often portable, allowing them to work from home, from a comfortable niche in a coffee shop, or even while traveling.
Compared to starting up a traditional small business, starting a freelance business is very low cost. A freelancer’s greatest commodity is their writing skill. This skill can be displayed online for no start-up cost at all. Free blog software will give you everything you need to put together a professional-looking site to market your services. Free e-mail services and freelance marketplaces let you get and stay in touch with potential clients.
Many freelancers save money on traditional work-related expenses like fuel costs, work clothes, and child care. They are more freely accessible to their family and friends, and no longer have to deal with the stress of a daily job commute.
For better or for worse, when you freelance for a living, you are your own boss. Of course, you complete projects for paying clients, but you decide how you will spend your time. You manage your own workload and client interactions. Whether you succeed or fail, you have only yourself to thank.
The Drawbacks of Freelance Writing
The biggest drawback of freelance is the lack of an steady income / work. Also the lack of company benefits can be a big drawback to certain people. The importance of diversification cannot be overstated. In the current economy, newspapers and print publications are going out of business at an alarming rate. Many Web sites have followed suit. You do not want to put yourself in a situation where you depend on one single site or publication for all of your income. What if it goes bankrupt?
Instead, submit your work to many different publications. Web writers should bid for projects at a number of freelance job sites, and monetize their own blogs and web sites to create new streams of income.
It is important to note that being a freelancer is not suitable to all people. Being a freelancer requires discipline and self-motivation along with other easier to acquire skills. If the freelancer works at home they are prone to additional stresses, that if not managed properly, could prevent them from earning an income at their profession.
Your clients need to know that you value their time and money, and that you will provide professional-grade work with a professional attitude. One sad fact of freelance writing, especially on the Internet, is that writers are a dime a dozen. Even very good writers must go above and beyond expectations in order to stand out from the crowd.
If you feel that you are deficient in time-management skills, work at improving those skills before you leap into full-time freelance writing. You must be able to be consistently productive, manage your workload, and manage your stress level. Otherwise, your work quality and reputation will suffer, and you will be anxious and miserable more often than not.
As a freelance writer, you are largely responsible for yourself. You market your services, make bids for projects, finish and submit your work, and request payment. You keep track of your financial records and client database. If scheduling conflicts arise in the middle of a project, you are responsible for telling the client and working out a revised deadline.
Since most freelance writers operate as sole proprietors, the cost of marketing and supplying their business is usually an out of pocket expense. Some of these costs qualify as tax deductions. Always keep your receipts when you make a purchase or pay for a service that will be used for your freelance writing business. You might also find it beneficial to talk to a tax professional, since self-employed individuals must pay taxes on a different schedule than regular employees.
Essentially, freelance writing is a good job if you’re comfortable with a certain level of risk, don’t mind doing things yourself, and have enough income or savings to get you through times when work is sparse. If you need a regular and reliable income and benefits, you might consider doing some freelance writing on the side, but keeping your day job until your writing business really takes off.
Freelance Writing and the Internet
The Internet has opened up many freelance opportunities, expanded available markets, and has contributed to service sector growth in many economies. Offshore outsourcing and crowdsourcing are heavily reliant on the Internet to provide economical access to remote workers, and frequently leverage technology to manage workflow to and from the employer.
Much of the computer freelance work is being outsourced to poorer countries outside the United States and Europe. This has spurred conflict because American and European workers are not receiving the benefits. The compromise has led to student freelancers who now provide a steady source of cheap labor while keeping jobs American and European.
The global marketplace is much maligned by freelancers who feel that their work is undervalued and underpaid. While it is true that most freelance writers cannot command the same prices they did 20 years ago, the Internet has provided countless job opportunities. It is no longer necessary to pound the pavement and mail articles to editors who may or may not want them. These days, freelance writers have a good idea of what sells and what doesn’t, and they have direct access to millions of paying clients all over the world.
Changes to the publishing industry since the 1980s have resulted in an increase in copy editing of book and journal manuscripts and proofreading of typeset manuscripts being outsourced to freelance copy editors and proofreaders. The troubled economy has made it unprofitable for publications to keep an in-house staff of editors and proofreaders, so publishers often view freelance outsourcing as a cost-effective alternative. Many freelance writers supplement their income by providing these editing services in addition to writing.
Using Freelance Marketplaces
Freelance marketplaces (or outsourcing marketplaces) are websites that match buyers and sellers of internet-provided services. Buyers and sellers of these services each setup profiles on the marketplace website. Seller profiles provide a description of the range of services offered, sample materials, rates, and details about the provider. Buyer profiles include descriptions and specifications of the work sought. Buyers and sellers are able to rate each other and provide positive and negative references/feedback
Some freelance marketplaces, like Elance, provide escrow services that hold the buyer’s funds until project completion. This service protects both the buyer and the seller, ensuring that the funds are available and that they are released in a timely manner once the project has been completed according to the buyer’s specifications. If the freelancer does not meet their obligations, the funds are returned to the buyer.
Freelance marketplaces have their pros and cons. The primary benefit of using a freelance marketplace is that there are often hundreds or even thousands of jobs available. Clients create job listings and list the details of the project, the project deadline, and the characteristics they are looking for in a freelance writer.
There is a record of all on-site communication between the freelancer and the client. This protects both parties if disputes arise. Also, most freelance marketplaces offer arbitration services when the client and the freelancer cannot resolve a dispute on their own.
For these services, freelance marketplaces charge modest fees. Some require a monthly subscription, while others keep a percentage of the project price. Some sites do both.
While writers should be wary of scams that require them to pay for the privilege of working, most freelance writers consider the price of a marketplace subscription to be a cost of doing business. The subscription fee actually saves them time and money because their profiles are listed on highly visible websites with millions of visitors.
The global nature of freelance marketplaces can be problematic for freelance writers living in the US and the UK. International writers can usually provide their services for lower prices, and some clients will always award their projects to the lowest bidder. This has led to discontent among freelance writers, some of whom feel that the global marketplace is driving down wages.
Western writers can overcome this hurdle by carving out a niche for themselves. Writers who have specialized knowledge in medical, technical, legal, or other professional fields can command higher prices. Native English speakers are sought after as well. Some writers emphasize the high quality of their work, or their rapid turnaround times, when bidding on projects. A long history of positive buyer feedback can also help a writer win projects for a reasonable price.
To become successful on a freelance marketplace, it’s important to possess good interpersonal and communication skills. Communication is vitally important to prevent misunderstandings. You should also be aware of your strengths, and emphasize them in your profile and resume.
You might be nervous the first time you bid on a project, but rest assured that even the most seasoned freelance veterans felt the same when they were starting out. There are some techniques you can use to improve your chances of winning the project.
First, structure your bid in a way that grabs the buyer’s attention. Keep it concise; most buyers will sort through numerous bids before settling on one. Give them the maximum amount of information in the minimum number of words.
Start with a friendly introduction. Then briefly explain why you are a good candidate for the project. For example, if the client needs a series of articles about landscaping, and you have personal experience in that area, tell them! If your portfolio includes an article about landscaping or a related topic, attach that article to your bid so that the client can easily decide if your writing style is compatible with their project.
Finish up with a proposed schedule and a breakdown of your fees. Buyers like to know that you’ve fully read through their project description, and that you’ve put some thought into your bid amount. Invite them to ask questions, and provide additional writing samples if you have them.
Always be courteous to the client. Just because they choose another freelancer today doesn’t mean they won’t consider you for a future project. They might even refer you to a friend or colleague. It pays to be polite.
It also pays to do some research before you decide on a bid price. Look at the amounts other writers are charging for similar projects. You might have to bid lower at first until you establish a reputation as a trustworthy and skilled freelancer. Once you have successfully completed a few projects, you can raise your rates.
Note that freelance marketplaces vary in quality. Sites like Elance and Guru have name recognition for a reason: they have many rules in place to protect buyers and sellers. Other freelance job sites might not provide escrow or arbitration. Always read the fine print (and worker reviews) before you sign up with a freelance marketplace.
How to Become a Freelance Writer
Freelance writing is a competitive field, but there is always room for new talent. After you make the decision to become a freelance writer, the next step is to brush up on your writing skills. You need to have a good command of grammar, spelling, and logical sentence structure. It helps to be able to write in a variety of tones, like conversational, persuasive, humorous, and formal.
If you will be writing for the Internet, it is important to learn how to write for search engines as well as for a human audience. This type of writing is called “search engine optimization”, and incorporates keywords and phrases that will help search engines find and index the pages you’ve written.
Experienced Internet writers have learned to use keywords and phrases in a way that looks natural to human eyes. Their words flow smoothly to capture the reader’s attention, and their choice of words attracts the attention of search engines. This is a valuable skill for Web writers. Mastering it will make you much more marketable to clients.
Web writing differs from print writing in another important way: paragraph length. While readers might not mind reading a long paragraph in a book, they tend to better digest information on the Web when it is presented in smaller blocks of text.
Fortunately, there are plenty of print and online tutorials which can help you get the hang of writing for the Web. Look them up at your local library, or do an Internet search for “writing for the web” or “writing for the Internet”. Read all you can, and then write some practice articles using the techniques you learned from the tutorials.
After you’ve sharpened your skills (or developed new ones from scratch), it’s time to create a portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of written pieces that you can show to potential clients. The pieces should represent your very best work, and should cover a number of topics. Write 5 to 10 articles, approximately 500 words in length. Carefully check your spelling and grammar. Too many errors will make your work appear amateurish, and may cost you a job.
Many freelance writers create a personal blog to use as their portfolio. Potential clients can simply visit the blog, read the posts, and decide if they like the blogger’s writing style. If you do not wish to create a blog, you can host your portfolio online through various freelance job sites. If you intend to submit your work to print publications, you’ll need to keep a hard copy of your articles to show around.
Next, you’ll need to find work. This is often the most challenging step for new freelance writers, but it will become the most rewarding step as soon as you land a paying project. Newcomers usually find writing assignments through online publishing portals, freelance job sites, and print or online advertisements.
Publishing portals are places where anyone can write articles about any topic, and make money through upfront and/or residual payments for those articles. Some of the best-known publishing portals are Associated Content, Demand Studios, and Suite 101. While the payments are typically quite small, sometimes just a few dollars per article, these sites have high search engine placement and can serve as highly visible platforms to host your portfolio.
Online personals like Craig’s List are another source for freelance writing assignments. These sites give writers the opportunity to advertise their services for free, and many clients look through the listings to find a skilled service provider. Clients also post their projects on these sites.
The primary drawback of sites like Craig’s List is the prevalence of scams. Unscrupulous people ask writers to demonstrate their skills by proofreading several pages, or by creating a writing sample specific to the project. Inexperienced writers often fall for these tricks, not realizing that the work they are submitting is the actual project, and not a test. The scammer, having received the project for free, never contacts the writer again.
Never submit work unless you have a signed agreement from the client that outlines the scope and deadline of the project, what you are expected to provide, and the date and amount of payment for the completed work. If a client asks you to create a writing sample, move on to someone else. Honest clients won’t mind looking at previously-written samples of your work, especially if the samples were written about topics related to the prospective project. These rules apply whether you’re responding to an online ad or a printed one.
Magazines are another source of work for freelancers. Most magazines list their article submission guidelines somewhere in the publication or on the magazine’s official web site. Do some research to come up with a dozen or so magazines featuring topics of interest to you. If you have expertise with animal training, write and submit a piece to a magazine for animal enthusiasts. If you are a fitness buff, write and submit an article to a health and fitness publication. There are print publications for every niche and genre, so don’t get discouraged if your first submission doesn’t pan out. Persistence is the key.
Print publications tend to pay significantly more than Internet work, but it can take months for you to receive your paycheck from a magazine. In contrast, the Web writing you do is often paid for within days of project completion. Many freelancers produce work for a variety of clients, both print and digital, to maximize their income.
Once you’ve established yourself as a good freelancer, you will land more projects. This is the point where time management skills become very important. If you overextend yourself, you will produce shoddy work and possibly burn yourself out. If you don’t schedule enough work for yourself, you could have a long wait between pay periods.
Just keep writing, and never stop learning. Reach out to other professionals for support and advice. Web sites like Pro Bloggers and The Freelance Writing Jobs Network contain thousands of articles to help new freelancers break into the field with a minimal amount of pain. Remember, you are boldly going where thousands have gone before, and their accumulated wisdom can help you stay motivated through the rough times and grounded during the boon times.