11 June 2010

5 Steps to Becoming a Freelance Writer

Not so long ago, I wrote an article explaining why you don't need experience to be a freelance writer. I really believe it's true, after all I landed my first problogging job with no experience. Although, if I had a say in how the title was formed, I would rephrase it.

You don't need experience to become a freelance writer.

Whether you stay on the job or not, is a different matter.

There are two schools of becoming a freelance writer. One saying you have to risk it, because that risk will motivate you into pushing yourself and your business into success. SelfMadeChick is a proof that approach works.

There's also the less radical idea to first keep your day job and start freelancing part-time, building your brand, getting clients, finding out what works for you and what doesn't. Save up some money, to create a safety net, before transitioning to freelancing full-time. That's me.

I decided to share the Step-by-Step Guide to becoming a Freelance Writer, which is basically my To-Do list.

1. Answer important questions:
    Do you want to be a freelance writer?
    Why do you want to be a freelance writer?
    What kind of writer do you want to be?
    Do you have a niche you want to write in?
    If yes, why this niche?
    If yes, how competitive is this niche?
    If no, why?

2. Make basic calculations:
    How much money do you need to survive? Count the bills (rent, electricity, media, food etc.). That's what you need to survive. Not counting the holidays, fancy dinners, parties and sudden natural disasters.

Now add to that health insurance, additional expenses like paper, printer, other office supplies.

You got the minimum of what you need to earn every month. Now, you should probably add at least 50% of what you calculated, to actually have some profit.

It's not a good business if there's no profit.

3. Research:
    No, seriously. RESEARCH. Before you jump in and do any actual freelancing. Research the field. Research the markets. Watch, read and learn. There are number of great, informative websites out there designed to help freelancers to build and develop their freelance business. There's FreelanceSwitch, FreelanceFolder, Problogger, About Freelance Writing, All Freelance Writing, The Creative Penn, The Renegate Writer and WriteItSideways. And that's not even half of my RSS Feed. There's a lot of material out there, all you need is to learn from all the great people.

Research also helps you to learn about rates, invoicing, marketing, branding and the business side of writing. And while there are some good freelance writers out there, it's the actual business knowledge that can turn a good freelancer into a great one.

3a. Find out what works for you:
    It could be considered a separate point, but for me, it's part of researching the business. It's about trying out different revenue streams and figuring out what works for you best. Is it blogging? Self-publishing? Writing novels? Writing online content? Writing for print magazines?

What are additional revenue streams you can pursue in addition to your main source of income? Teleclasses? Affiliate marketing? Adsense? Passive income? Anything else?

The reason why I put it in the research step is because I strongly suggest trying out every road. Try querying to magazines, maybe bid on a blogging job or two. See what works for you, makes you more comfortable. What's most fun/better paid/better for you? Sure, you could just read up on the subject, but I strongly believe that you don't really know what works, until you try it out on yourself.

Sure there can be missteps and false starts. But in the end, you'll truly know what fits you and your working style best.

4. Get a website:
    This step is actually one of the crucial ones. Nowadays, a professional doesn't exist if he or she doesn't have a website. Today, a person's first instinct is always to look up something (or somebody) online. Which means that to be found, and most importantly, to be hired, you need a website.

4a. Get a blog:
    If you decided to write in a particular niche, blog about that subject. Not only it will show off your knowledge, but blog posts (if you use proper SEO - what's SEO? Go back to step 3!) will help your website's Google ranking. And a higher Google ranking will make it easier for clients to find you. Additionally, blog is one of the best ways to connect to other people in your niche. And while being a freelancer is fun, it's much better when you have people to share the experience with. So go, and make friends.

5. Work!
    In previous steps you made some decisions about how you want your freelance career to look like. You tried various ways of earning money with your writing. You did your research.

All that's left is doing the actual work. And the actual earning money.