To make a successful living as a freelance writer, you’ll need some key basics in your arsenal. Some of them are tangible and others, not so much, but they’re all necessary to making a steady living in the independent, creative, and sometimes unpredictable world of freelance writing.
In no particular order, here’s what I’ve found you need to succeed as a freelance writer:
1. Talent: This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised. You don’t have to be Shakespeare to be a successful freelance writer, but if you’re not able to write in a manner that keeps people reading and conveys a clear point, you’ll have a hard time earning money through written communication. I believe that everyone has the capability to be a good writer, while some have the potential to be great, but it would be wise to take an honest assessment of your skills versus those of other professional writers and see how far you have to go and where your talents might be best suited.
2. Connections: Some say it’s not what you know, but who you know. While I think this is an exaggeration, there is some truth to this statement. Because no matter how talented you are, if you don’t have any connections and aren’t able to form them, you won’t be able to deliver that talent to an audience. As a freelance writer it’s important to create connections not just with editors at publications, but with anyone who can assist you in furthering your writing goals, whether that be fellow writers, networking groups, professional writing organizations, etc.
3. Persistence: This goes hand in hand with talent and connections; even if you have those two, if you aren’t persistent in churning out new work as well as discovering and conquering new markets for it, it will be very difficult to succeed.
4. A planner/calendar for tracking work: As a freelance writer you may be juggling a number of assignments at one time. To avoid “dropping the ball,” it’s important to have a reliable planning system for your work that allows you to keep track of what you’re doing not only this week, but for several weeks to come, so you can adequately plan for how much effort you’ll need to put into securing more work along with doing the work you currently have.
I use a convenient, notebook-sized planner to keep track of most of my assignments as well as a large desk calendar that gives me a better visual idea of what I have coming up and where the peaks and valleys in my workload will be.
5. A spreadsheet to keep track of expenses: As a freelance writer you can write off most of your work-related expenses come tax time, but only if you keep records. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is build a spreadsheet in Excel and simply enter in the type of expense and what it amounted to on a daily basis (or as often as necessary), then save the receipts in a special folder. That way when April rolls around I don’t have to pull my hair out digging through boxes of receipts and scrambling to add up all the past year’s work-related purchases.
6. Business cards: A requisite for any professional, business cards are especially important for freelance writers, who rely more heavily on networking and promotion than a 9 to 5er whose stream of work is virtually guaranteed. Business cards should be simple and attractive with all of the necessary info: your e-mail address, phone number, website address and links to all your social media profiles. You can give these to friends, family and potential clients you meet at networking events and business groups, and you can also post them at coffee shops and other spots around town. You never know who might pass a bulletin board, see your card and use your services.
I use Vista Print for my business cards — their prices are very reasonable and the cards come out great. But PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, do not take advantage of their free cards that have the Vista Print logo on the back. Considering how inexpensive a batch of 250 cards is (usually around $10, including shipping) it looks incredibly unprofessional to skimp on such a small investment in your own career.
7. A laptop with wireless internet access: This one is pretty obvious and doesn’t need much explaining. As a freelance writer this enables you to write and send stories to and from anywhere. Whether you want to work out of your home, the local coffee shop, an assignment location or on vacation, as long as you have a means to write and send your work, you’ll never be out of business.
8. Writing samples: Unless you have great connections that can get you writing work based on their word alone, you will need samples of what you’ve done in the past to get you work in the future. Ideally these should be centrally-located and easily accessible on your website. And they should be high-quality pieces that convince potential clients to work with you.
9. A website: In the process of building a freelance writing career, your website acts as your foundation: It houses all of your writing samples in one central place, inspires confidence in potential clients that you are in fact an actual, legitimate writer — as evidenced by your bio, resume, portfolio and picture on your site — and serves as an always-on promotional tool attracting new business your way.
While this is by no means a comprehensive list of everything you’ll need to succeed as a freelance writer, these are some of the most important tools you’ll need to build a solid foundation.