Freelance Writing Quick Startup Guide
Ever wonder how to get started as a freelance writer. Consider this the no nonsense, quick start guide for freelance writing.
Many of the items below are covered in more detail elsewhere on this freelance writing blog. I’ll do my best to link them, but if something is missing, please try a search or leave me a comment.
Getting Started as a Freelance Writer Step-by-Step
- Get an EIN. EIN stands for Employer Identification Number. You don’t have any employees, but you don’t want to give clients your SSN either. So you need an EIN as a writer. You’ll use your EIN in place of your Social Security Number on W9 Forms.
- Set up an LLC for your freelance writing business. LLC stands for Limited Liability Company, or Limited Liability Corporation, depending upon where you are. While this isn’t strictly necessary, if you are going to be in it for the long-term and actually making more than a few thousand bucks each year, you’ll want this legal protection sooner or later. See this Writing Business Startup-Up Guide at my blog about how to make money writing online for more information.
- Get a domain name. It can be your name or the name of your writing business. As you can imagine, Brian Nelson is a common name and was already taken. I went with Arctic Llama because it is simple, yet unusual. Even if people only remember part of it, they’ll still find me. (Search llama writer, for an example.) — Do consider the “spell-ability” of your name. I had to register articllama because so many people don’t remember the first ‘c’ when spelling the word arctic. (Also, the double ‘l’ in llama.)
- Create an email address using your domain name. Set it to automatically forward to your “real” email address so that you don’t have to remember to check your business email every day. Use this email address on your job applications. Create a second email address that is similar but different to use on forums and public websites. That way, you’ll always know if someone is contacting you because you reached out to them in a professional manner or because they found you somewhere online.
- Put up a freelance writing website using your domain name.
- Start writing and publishing to said website. I suggest learning how to use WordPress. Not only will this make it easier to run your website, but many clients and freelance writing jobs out there prefer someone with WordPress skills. These will be your first samples. Keep writing them while you are trying to find paying gigs. Use your area of specialty. Don’t “save” your good stuff. You can always write good stuff again, but if people are going to take a chance on a new freelancer, they’ll want to see some good stuff first. Whenever you write something you are particularly proud of, be sure to make an effort to link to it from other things you write. That increases the odds that someone will read it.
- Create a freelance writer resume. Make your current job (the one on the top) your freelance writing business. If you still work somewhere else, list that job second. This makes you a professional freelance writer in the eyes of many clients versus a moonlighting freelance writer.
- If you can really crank out material, start another website that is not your freelance writing site, but your expertise website. Check out my personal finance website at FinanceGourmet.com as an example. I used to be a Certified Financial Planner, so I write articles about it. When I apply as a freelance financial writer I provide a link to FinanceGourmet.com as an additional writing sample.
- Apply for writing gigs. Paying gigs only. Look at FreelanceWritingGigs.com to get an idea of both what is out there and where writing gigs are listed. Remember, people die from “exposure”. All the exposure you need for your writing will come from your own website and your applications. When you feel like writing for free, see Step #11.
- End every message or cover letter with something like the phrase, “You may want to visit my website at www.arcticllama.com/samples.htm for more examples of my writing.” That way, if you provided a writing sample that didn’t quite “hit” what they were looking for, they may still find a better example on your website. Additionally, having a professional, permanent website with your own domain name separates your from the unemployed who are trying freelance writing as a stop-gap.
- Continue to write for your own website, but add something like HubPages.com or another free un-moderated publishing platform. Don’t believe the hype about what these sites can do for you or your websites. These places are for publishing things that don’t fit or are not professional enough for your own website but that you want to write about. Link every post you publish on HubPages to something on your own website. Don’t bother (yet) with something like ezinearticles.com or others that make you submit and wait for approval. The point of these articles is to write what you want, when you want to write it, and then to get a little something out of it. Do not point people to HubPages or other sites for writing samples. There is too much you do not control and it might make you look unprofessional.
- Build profiles on websites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and others. I also recommend a profile on LibraryThing.com. It won’t give you any gigs, but it shows that you are interested in the literary/writing worlds. Finally, build a LinkedIn.com profile and be sure it includes links to all the above. Make sure everything points to your website.
- Check your local Craigslist for writing gigs. When you respond, emphasize you are local. Even if you never meet with them, people sometimes prefer working with those who live in the local area.
- The IRS really hates businesses with lots of deductions and no revenue. If you plan to take your small business tax deductions (and you should) try and earn at least $600 from someone during the year. That triggers a Form 1099 that shows income which helps establish your business as a legitimate enterprise with a profit motive, even if you don’t make a profit.
- Continue to apply for writing gigs. Keep doing step 15 over and over again.
- Do not get discouraged. I went two months of sending out resumes and emails every day before I got my first paid writing gig. If you are doing it every other day, it might take you four months. You don’t want to know how long it can take if you only do it once per week, so hit it, and hit it hard, if you are serious about becoming a freelance writer.
- NEVER EVER NEVER EVER NEVER EVER (seriously) pay anyone up-front for anything writing job related. Anything where you have to pay (even to cover shipping and handling) for some sort of packet or background check or whatever in order to apply for a position is a work at home scam. Background checks, and the like, only come AFTER you have spoken individually about a job and they have already expressed serious interest in you, and for most writing gigs, especially freelance ones, there is no need for a background check.
There is more, a lot more. I’ll follow up this post with more. In the meantime, check out the links above and the related articles below.