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Storytelling Communications

The Tactical Typist: Freelance Writing or Full-time Career?

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Five years ago, I was writing about car insurance and vacuum cleaners. The content farm I worked for paid very little—just cents on the dollar—but I didn’t care. I was getting paid to write. Thanks to hard work and more than a little luck, I’m now a full-time freelancer, able to support my family and set my own hours. Still, I sometimes feel like I’m just starting out, especially as I watch the freelance writing market evolve. Content farms are out, pushed aside by brand journalism and the rise of sites such as Skyword, which see writers as an asset rather than a resource. Freelancing is a viable career choice, one I’m happy to say I took a risk on, but success doesn’t come easy. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Find Your Price

Figuring out a standard rate is no easy task. If you’re dealing with larger companies or content management services, you may not have to worry, since many offer a set price per item. In other cases, you’ll be approached by a new client or apply for a new job and be asked to supply your usual rates. So, what do you do?

It’s tempting to lowball yourself so you look like a more cost-effective option, but if your price is too low, clients might start to worry that all they’ll get from you is spam content. If it’s too high, you’ll never hear back.

When I was first approached by a client via LinkedIn, I scoured the Web for a definitive guide to freelance writing costs. Guess what? It doesn’t exist. The Professional Writers Association of Canada suggests that advertising articles should cost between 40 cents and $2 per word, while it recommends 30 cents to $1.50 per word for newsletters and 25 cents and 60 cents per word for work that doesn’t easily fit into any other category. Other guides argue for much more, or much less.

Along with figuring out your standard rate, you also need to decide how you’ll charge. I prefer per word, but some freelancers like per page or per hour. The bottom line? Decide how much you want to work and how much you’ll need to get paid to make that viable. There are several free calculators available online that you can use as a starting point, and you may also want to consider a discount rate for large-volume orders or steady clients. My rate is around 40 cents per word.

Craft Your Brand

If you’re really serious about doing full-time freelancing, get a website. I recently launched a site with the help of some local Web designers as a way to drum up new clients and have my name (and work) rank higher in Google searches. As pointed out by online comic XKCD, very few users make it to the second page of search results, let alone the third. If you’re not out in front, no one will find you.

So, how do you get there? A website is one step, but it’s not enough to fire and forget. Along with basic service descriptions and a bit about you, the talented freelancer, you also need to showcase your current work and have a blog. Write about freelancing, write about your life, write about whatever you want, but make sure you write at least once a week. Recent Google algorithm updates focus on active pages, which means regular updates equal better rankings. Whether you’re trading on your name or creating a company, you’re building a brand. Your site needs to be concise, clutter-free, and clearly communicate to prospective clients why you’re the right choice.

Socialize

Of course, getting the best freelance writing jobs doesn’t come easy, even if you have a killer website. Social media networking can make or break your brand. And guess what? Just tweeting out links to your articles or posting them on a company Facebook page isn’t enough. You might get a few shares and the occasional like, but the trick here is building an organic social network. This means hitting the big four—Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+— then devising a content update schedule for every week.

Let’s look at each one. On Twitter, it is important to cultivate a personality. Are you aiming for funny? Informative? Introspective? Pick a persona and stick with it, then make sure to tweet (and retweet) regularly. Follow other writers, brands, and businesses, and you’ll start to rack up followers.

On Facebook, consider a business page in addition to your personal one. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date, since many freelance job posts now ask for a résumé or a LinkedIn profile. I’ve had very lucrative opportunities come directly from LinkedIn.

Google+ is last on the list. You’re probably asking why it’s here at all, since the site has no hope of competing with the other social giants. Here’s the thing, though, it’s Google’s baby. I’ve talked to successful Web design companies and freelance writers who have firsthand experience, and the consensus is that if you don’t have a Google+ page, you won’t rank as highly in Google search results.

Of the three tips listed, I still find networking to be the most difficult, since I grew up in a world of landline phones and face-to-face meetings. Forging connections sight unseen is more than a little odd, and it takes me far too long to craft even a moderately funny tweet or clever Facebook post. But, a freelancing career isn’t built in isolation. You might be the most talented writer in your city, but unless you’re networking, you’ll be passed over for other, more active authors.

Want to do freelance writing full-time? It’s possible in a world where high-quality content drives page views and companies want writers, not spammers. But it’s hard; freelancers commonly struggle with pricing, crafting their brand, and feeling confident on social media. At the end of the day, though, it’s worth it.

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