I want to crank my freelancing up a notch
May 27, 2010 7:14 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for tips on becoming a successful freelance writer. I have a degree in English, and I currently write for Textbroker.

I have two small children, so I write during naps and after they go to bed at night. Right now I make a couple hundred extra dollars a month from Textbroker. This does make a difference in our family income, however, I would like to at least double or triple that amount. We have a 5k credit card bill that I am working on paying off, plus I would love to have extra money for dinners out or maybe a camping trip.

I am familiar with the other other content mills (Associate Content, Demand Studios, Break Studios, Quality Gal, etc). I have not tried writing for anyone else but Textbroker at this point. In all honesty, I would like the opportunity to write pieces that I could be happy to put my name on and add to a portfolio. If that's not possible, I would settle for writing for anyone that pays more than Textbroker - it gets to be a bit of a grind sometimes.

I also have a background in graphic design, illustration and marketing if that makes any difference. Please share your strategies and tips with me. Thank you.
posted by Ostara to Work & Money (9 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
Get a copy of The Writer's Market and find out what publications are paying for the content you provide. Then learn how to write an article proposal, and think of some articles to propose to these markets.

Get ready for a lot of rejection, but don't let that deter you. The better-paying markets are in high demand, so there's a lot of competition, but if you're a good writer with some good article ideas, you'll find somewhere to publish.
posted by xingcat at 7:38 AM on May 27, 2010

Best answer: I don't know much about textbroker et al but I do hire a lot of freelance technical writers.

Half of all new ones we hire are shite. Half. They don't pay enough attention to what we're looking for, don't hit deadlines, are careless and so forth. Good freelancers are in short supply, which is the good news.

So, what you're actually looking for is two strategies: how to get hired and how to stay hired.

To get hired you need to have something for the person hiring you to show their boss so the hiring decision looks like a good idea.

Find a few specialisms that you think you can excel at and market yourself on those. If you don't have examples to submit or references then I would think about doing some unpaid work to get those credentials.

Network furiously. A personal recommendation, hell - even a favor called in - is worth more than gold. Do your research and target companies that look like they hire people with your kind of skills. I have given work a fair bit of work before in the past to people who've contacted me. This is partly because there are an awful lot of poor freelance writers. What can you bring to the table (unique perspective, experience, skills, contacts etc)?

It sounds really cliched, but if you do get hired then make sure you deliver. A lot of freelancers are freelance by accident: they got fired, they retired, they became a mom etc. Being a freelancer is a job in itself, and the trick is to be a *professional* freelancer, not someone for whom "working freelance" is a euphemism for "unemployed."
posted by MuffinMan at 8:00 AM on May 27, 2010 [9 favorites]

Best answer: The first thing that I’m going to suggest is to specialize. Because of my specialty, not only do I get requests to write but to do online research, work at a conference with their specialists, etc.

After specializing, here are a few things that have really helped me. I don’t touch the content mills because of the rates, by the way, but YMMV:
• Send an email letter of introduction to companies that write material within your area of specialty (“I am a freelance writer specializing in X, Y, and Z”) Some companies have lots of work and will give it to you on a weekly basis, monthly basis, or whenever they are overwhelmed. Most pay better than content mills or other rates that people throw around in metafilter…. (it may take months for your emails to = work, but do it – send lots of emails)
• Use linkedin. I can’t tell you the great work that I’ve gotten from there. Leave your name open to all to search, be detailed, list your specialty, and provide contact info (I have a link to my webpage)
• When you get your first project, beat expectations (I aim to turn it in early and meet everything listed that they request – do they want you do underline refs? Do it). Some clients will immediately offer you more projects, etc.
• You have the right to negotatiate and set your own rates. I had a company approach me with a request to write an article. I told them my rate and they returned with a lowball rate. I rejected it and pointed them to places where they could advertise to find other freelancers. They came back and met my rate. This was a surprise to me…and I need to keep on working this way. But remind yourself if they have worked with you before and keep wanting to work with you, you have something that they want
• Think hourly. Don’t take projects that pay below an hourly rate (because then you will have to turn away clients that will meet your rate and you will lose $)
• Set up a procedure (and sadly, these will need to revolve around...getting paid within 30 days, etc.). So for me, 1) I tell the client "I have a pay wihtin 30 days" policy, 2) Put it on the contract if possible 3) Write it down on a calendar and if you don't see pay within 30 days send an email (most pay) 4) If they take a long time to pay or continue to have pay on time policies, drop them as a client.

There is a lot more to this, but from freelancers that I talk to – I don’t think people are doing these things. I have a lot more to learn, too, so I will be following the responses.
posted by Wolfster at 8:23 AM on May 27, 2010 [15 favorites]

Have you thought about connecting with a small local marketing or PR firm? In my area there are a number of small shops that love to have a network of reliable freelancers (they call it their "flex team") that they can turn to for content development as they get projects, rather than having to keep paid writers on staff. Then: what everyone else said (use LinkedIn, specialize, deliver!)
posted by evilmomlady at 8:42 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yup, seconding linkedin - which I also use a fair bit to source freelancers.

I'd nth a lot of what Wolfster says and add to it: don't kid yourself about your actual rate: if you're being paid a set rate, add up all the hours you spend and use that number to work out your actual pay rate. Freelancers of ours have gone to people who pay more and come back complaining they got dicked around a lot and were mislead on timings.

On payment, I'd check payment terms when you sign up. My company pays within 30 days. But lots just ignore what you put on your invoice and do what they please. Similarly, some freelancers put silly things like "pay within 7 days", which is impossible to meet.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:47 AM on May 27, 2010

Thank you for asking this question, Ostara, and thanks to everyone for answering!

A technical question: I'm surprised to hear that LinkedIn is actually, you know, useful. If I wanted to update my profile so that people looking for freelance writers could find me, what are the best fields to update?

I could literally spend 100 hours updating every single field that LinkedIn has to offer. Does anyone know which fields are actually useful?
posted by ErikaB at 12:13 PM on May 27, 2010

Response by poster: You're welcome - and that's a great question, ErikaB. I hadn't really considered LinkedIn as a source for freelance work, but I will definitely be revising my profile there now.

Thanks to everyone else for answering, and keep the suggestions coming!
posted by Ostara at 12:26 PM on May 27, 2010

Have you checked out Guru? It's a great way to connect freelancers and employers. My fiance started on it recently (he's a writer as well) and started getting jobs pretty quick. I just joined (although I haven't ponied up $150 for a full membership) and am now working on a marketing communications project.
posted by radioamy at 7:34 AM on May 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

To get found on LinkedIn by people looking for writers, the best thing you can do is decrease the connection distance between you and potential searchers. Search results are heavily influenced by how closely connected you are to the people. ("One of the most important factors in ranking search results is the searcher’s network" - LinkedIn) Take a look at this list of the most connected people on LinkedIn. I'd particularly recommend connecting with Thomas Power, Barack Obama, and one of them that's in your city. As you can see by doing some test searches, joining groups that you think your target potential searches would be members of can be helpful, too.

After getting better connected, good places to include the keywords you'd like to be found for are your name (e.g. John Smith - Technical Writer), headline, and summary. Job titles at current & previous positions can also be helpful. I'd be willing to bet that Recommendations for positions with the keywords in them help.

Best of luck!
posted by ElfWord at 8:53 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

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