When I tell people about my freelance work and how it allows me to work remotely and keep my own schedule, I’m often asked, “How did you get started?” This is usually followed up with a second question, “And, could I do it, too?”
My response to the second question is always some variation of the following: “Yes, you CAN be successful if you are easy to work with, can meet deadlines, and are a good writer/editor. There is a massive demand for people with this combination as more and more businesses rely on their websites and social media to reach customers. Savvy clients know the value of a good and trustworthy freelancer. It is much easier to succeed if you develop that reputation while building a solid portfolio.
However, how does someone with little to no experience get started? Many people immediately start searching for the best websites to find freelance work and quickly become overwhelmed and frustrated. Before jumping into the world of freelancer job boards, social media, Fiverr, and Upwork, it's best to take a step back and take care of the fundamentals.
My Freelancer Journey: All About Connections
To answer the first question above, when I was teaching full-time at a Japanese university, I began thinking about becoming a freelance writer/editor as part of a long-term plan for transitioning back to the United States. As a long-term English teacher, I'd spent countless hours writing, reading, and editing, and I knew I was good at it.
My big “foot in the door” chance came when my wife, an already successful freelance writer, was contacted by one of her early clients about a new project: writing bi-monthly blog posts for a cloud-based storage IT company. As she was too busy to take on the project and knew that I had experience in writing about technology, she recommended me for the task, vouching for my skills and reliability.
Maybe they were on a tight deadline to find someone. Perhaps it was my background in science and academic publications about teaching with technology. I don't know, but they gave me the project, and it's been upward and onward since then.
Getting Started: The Basics
Even though websites and apps are increasingly becoming the norm in job hunting, a traditional resume is still a must. Many clients, especially more established or conventional ones, will ask you for a traditional resume - sometimes even on paper!
If you are entering a new field of work, obviously you will need to create a new resume. You may need to re-examine and analyze your skills and experience from a different perspective. This will help you think about the best way to pitch yourself to opportunities as they come to you. In addition, going through this process will help you refine and condense the information you need when filling out online forms and applications, saving you time and effort in your job search.
It's also important to have different versions of your resume tailored to the different fields or niches you are interested in. Spend some time researching how to create effective resumes in those areas, paying careful attention to the keywords and phrasing that are used. For example, I have resumes that are specifically targeted at the IT/technical, educational, and marketing fields among others.
First Impression: Only One Chance!
In many situations, your resume will be the first thing a prospective client will see. It also may be the last if you are not careful.
I cannot emphasize this enough: You should have absolutely no mistakes in your resume. Not one. No typos. No formatting problems. Nothing.
Let me tell you a story.
When I was in graduate school, working on my MA in English, a teacher friend of mine was on the hiring committee for a basic adjunct teaching position. He told me that they had received over 700 applications from qualified candidates.
I said, “700!? How did you process that many? It must have taken forever.”
He replied, “No, it was easy. We each had a stack in front of us. The instructions were quite simple: Take a quick look at the application and resume. If you see any mistakes with typos, spelling, or formatting, it goes right in the round recycling bin.”
“Wow! That's brutal. What's the logic behind that?”
He answered, “If you can't take the time or don't have the ability to create an error-free document, you don't make the cut. We were short on time and had to quickly separate the wheat from the chaff.”
Not Just Resumes: Everything!
This “No error” rule should be applied to everything you do when starting this process. I can't tell you how many times I've seen people who claim to be professional writers and editors with mistakes in their emails, social media posts, and even LinkedIn profiles. I know it's not fair, but in these contexts, you will be judged on your writing.
Potential clients are busy and focused on their needs. If you are pitching yourself to them as a writer/editor, and they see mistakes in your initial communication or resume, what do you think their first impressions of you will be?
Double, even triple-check your public-facing work. Use Grammarly to review spelling grammar, punctuation, and clarity. Find a reliable and trustworthy friend or colleague to be your editor and proofreader.
Mistakes can be fatal, and you can't afford them.
Another major challenge for someone just getting started is being able to show prospective clients that you are capable of producing the kind of writing that they need.
Luckily, there are a variety of options for showcasing your writing skills on the Internet, with many of them being free. Also, many of these let you be in total control of the process in terms of text length, photos, posting schedules, contact forms, etc.
Your Own Blog
One of the most popular free blogging sites is WordPress, a website used by over 40% of the Internet. You can quickly and easily create a blog to showcase your abilities and portfolio. You can also choose from a wide range of different themes, features, and functionalities that best suit you, your writing style, and your target audience.
WordPress also has paid options, especially if you want your own domain name and other advanced features.
If you don't have the time and interest to create your own blog, there are a variety of portfolio websites where you can open an account for free. You can create a portfolio that matches your interests, experience, and potential target audience.
Below is a list of five possible candidates for an online writing portfolio:
Now that you've created an easy way for potential clients to see examples of your writing, you need to consider how to show your skill, accuracy, and range. One idea is to look into the industry or specific niche you would like to write for and see what kind of texts they use. Are they long, chatty, and casual blog posts? Short, focused, and informative texts? Instruction manuals? This will give you an idea of what is considered “successful” and also give you examples to work from.
However, if you don't have a clear idea of your target audience, it might be best to have writing samples that cover all of the above and more.
To learn more about creating freelance writing samples, consider checking out How to create freelance writing samples (as a complete beginner).
Your Online Presence
Of course, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok are very popular social media networks and are often in the news. There are also many stories of people becoming wealthy and successful through the content they post. However, it takes a lot of time and effort to achieve those levels of success on those platforms and only a few people actually rise above all the competition.
In terms of establishing your online presence and networking as a freelancer, LinkedIn is perhaps the best place to start. Created in 2003, this business and employment-focused social media platform now boasts over 900 million registered users from over 200 countries and territories.
With LinkedIn, you can easily find and engage with other freelancers and related groups to create a supportive network as you get started. You can also research potential clients and companies and connect with just a click of a button. In addition, it is a great place to showcase your writing through original posts or links to your blog or online writing portfolio.
Invest time and effort in creating a LinkedIn profile that best represents you and what you offer. Many potential clients will check out your profile, often before your website or blog, to learn more about you and decide if you are worth their time.
To learn more about creating freelance writing samples, consider checking out 16 reasons why freelancers should use LinkedIn.
Next Up: Looking For Work!
Once you have completed the steps above, you'll be prepared and ready to start the next portion of your freelancing journey. In a later blog post, we will take a deep dive into that process and explore different options for finding clients and paying gigs.
Originally from Ohio, USA, Bailey is an experienced freelance writer and editor, especially for technical and scientific content. With an MA in English and a background in science, he also has more than 20 years of experience in teaching English around the world.