Freelance writing is a great career or side-gig for anyone with an interest in writing. That said, between creating a portfolio, marketing yourself, working with clients and getting paid, getting started can be the toughest part.
This article breaks down everything you need to know to get started as a content writer.
From creating a professional profile, to expanding your writing range and tips for researching new writing topics. In this article we will cover:
- Creating a Professional Profile
- Building a Portfolio
- Finding Your First Client
- Expanding Your Writing Range
- Research Tips
Creating a Professional Profile
One of the first steps to starting as a freelance writer is creating a professional biography. Not only does a great author bio give your potential clients a summary of your skills and experience, but it also offers a glimpse into your personality and the overall value you bring to the table.
Here are tips to creating a great professional bio:
An Elevator Pitch
The opening sentence of your bio should be a concise summary of what you do and who you are. You might be a writer who specializes in topics related to nutrition and fitness or you may be a copywriter with serious SEO skills. Whatever your skill set or specialty is, make sure to share it in your opening sentence and you’ll be more likely to attract the right kind of clients.
A Great Photo
Let’s face it – first impressions count.
Your bio should include a quality headshot that portrays a professional image. If your budget doesn’t allow for a professional photographer, ask a friend with a great Instagram profile to do a quick photo shoot or just take a few pictures yourself.
Have your photographer take several shots that you can choose from and pick the one that best represents your “brand” as a professional writer. Don’t know any photographers? Check out this great article on how to take a professional photo of yourself at home.
List all the qualifications and achievements that reinforce your credibility as a writer.
Tell potential clients about your writing experience, especially if you’ve written for well-known companies or respected publications. If you belong to a writers’ guild or any other writing-related organizations, be sure to mention those affiliations.
Your educational background may or may not be worth mentioning, depending on space limitations and the relevance of your degree.
A Personal Touch
If you have enough space, it is helpful to add a bit of personal information to your bio. These details give your bio a human touch and help readers feel like they know you. You don’t have to get overly personal – you could talk about your love of hiking or you could tell readers how you love spending free time playing with your two dogs. You could even mention which city you live in.
In the world of marketing, a good call-to-action (CTA) is essential and your writer’s bio is no different. What do you want potential clients to do next? You might want to have them read more of your material or you can invite them to contact you.
Here are a couple great examples of professional profiles courtesy of Ann Handley and Jane Friedman – notice how they both include a CTA at the end?
Even if you don’t have a ton of writing experience to include in your bio, it can still showcase your personality if you have a bit of fun with it. Take a look at this inspiring example from a HubSpot author:
When you’re crafting your writer bio, you only have a small amount of space to make a big impression. While there’s no single formula that’s guaranteed to work every time, including certain essential elements in your bio helps portray you as a professional that provides value to clients.
Now that you’ve got a professional bio, the next step is to start building a portfolio of content.
Building a Freelance Writing Portfolio
Having a portfolio of work is an important part of becoming a freelance writer because it showcases your writing ability to clients and acts as a source of passive income.
There are a variety of ways you can build a portfolio of content but the simplest strategy is, as you may have guessed, to just start writing. It’s no secret that the best writers write every day.
One way you can take your portfolio to the next level is by guest posting on prominent blogs and websites in your industry. Sites like Huffington Post and TechCrunch commonly feature pieces from freelance writers trying to build their portfolio and expand their reach. While you likely won’t be paid for these guest posts, being able to call yourself a “TechCrunch contributor” (or something similar) lends credibility to your writing.
A second consideration for building your portfolio is having a variety of writing and content types. Businesses look for a lot more than just blog posts, so there can be huge value in expanding the scope of your writing ability.
Finding Your First Writing Client
New writers (and experienced ones) often ask: What types of content do clients want to buy? The simple answer is all kinds! Well, almost. Every client has unique content needs and goals. While blog posts tend to sell well, many companies are expanding their content beyond blog posts alone and are working with a number of different types of freelance writers.
There is a wide variety of content that clients typically look for:
- Product descriptions
- White papers and ebooks
- Legal documents
- Request for proposals/RFP Responses
- Video scripts
- Case studies
- Website copy
- Ad copy
- Email newsletters
- Press releases
- Technical writing
- Frequently asked questions (FAQS)
So, when you’re thinking about writing content to pitch to clients or add to your portfolio, remember that there are a variety of different types – not just blog posts.
Expanding Your Writing Range
In a perfect world, content creators would focus on the topics that they’re really interested in and knowledgeable about. But often, real-life doesn’t work like that.
As a freelance professional, you’re bound to find yourself creating materials about less-than-exciting topics or topics you know next-to-nothing about. But this shouldn’t prevent you from produce engaging, valuable content. In fact, topics that aren’t your usual niche are an opportunity to expand your knowledge and writing range and grow your network.
Expanding your writing range means learning to write different types of content that open up a whole new world of freelance writing opportunities. But it’s not always easy to adapt to a new writing style or explore unfamiliar topics. So, here are a few tips to help you broaden your writing skill set.
Define Your Goals
Content writing is an extremely broad field, so it’s important to figure out what new types of content you’d like to focus on and what’s in demand. Are you usually a blogger who wants to learn how to write press releases? Are you considering writing an ebook?
You might be well-versed in a particular subject area but would like to start writing about other topics. Defining your goals helps you determine the next steps you need to take to achieve them.
Ease into New Topics
If you’re nervous about branching out to new topics, take a gradual approach. Try expanding into topics that are already related to your areas of expertise. If you’ve been writing travel articles, maybe explore topics in the world of hospitality and hotel management. If you’re already knowledgeable about fitness issues, try writing about nutrition and health.
Expand Your Portfolio
It can be hard to get selected for a type of writing you haven’t done before.
Without a relevant example of your work, how can someone be sure you can write what they’re looking for? The easiest way to get around this problem is to create sample pieces for your portfolio. If you’re trying to gain experience writing press releases, for example, craft a few great samples for your catalog. When clients see that you already have experience writing relevant articles, it is easier to break into that area of writing.
Always be in Research Mode
No matter what type of writing you’re doing, good content starts with a good idea. Don’t limit your research to just when you get an assignment—keep your eyes out for new ideas at all times, and don’t let a potentially great idea slip away from you. Editors love it when you can suggest a topic that would fit with their strategy.
So, when you come across an interesting idea, jot down a few notes right away on how you could develop that concept. Using a note storing tool, like Evernote, can be a great way to facilitate that process.
Part of being able to write about a variety of topics is being able to do fast and effective research. Additionally, to be authoritative, your claims need to be backed up with reputable facts and statistics. But you can’t spend all day researching instead of writing. Fortunately, there are some handy ways to streamline the research process.
Form a Plan
If you’re not already familiar with an assigned topic, take some time to learn the basics so that you can decide on an outline. From that, you can figure out exactly what information you’ll need to gather.
Don’t Always Go with The First Source
It’s tempting to just go with the first few results that pop up in a Google search for your research, but that can backfire. Not all sources are created equal and citing less-credible sources in your writing can damage your reputation. A few great places to start researching include:
- Industry-specific websites – Reviewing websites that are specifically focused on your topic can provide you with some rich information.
- Newspapers and magazines – These publications provide up-to-the-minute facts on your topic and provide ideas for additional sources.
- Market research – Depending on your topic, you may be able to make use of relevant market research. For example, the website ComScore provides a wealth of information related to the digital marketing field.
Create a Good Note-Taking System
In addition to choosing the right sources, you’ll also need a good system to capture and save your research. In the end, it all comes down to what system and tools work best for you.
Some writers make good use of Evernote for online research, creating a robust system of tags and folders to keep notes organized.
Alternatively, pen and paper is simple and can help you keep only the most relevant points organized no matter what source you’re tapping. Try changing up your usual mix and see if what combination makes you the most efficient.
Always Have Your ‘Research Hat’ On
Don’t limit your research to only when you get an assignment. Constantly reading and learning about what you’re already interested or knowledgeable about can help you research and write faster when you do get the job. You may even find yourself stumbling upon some great ideas for content that you can pitch to clients.
When you see an interesting article or great social media post, save it for the future using your preferred note-taking system. Jot down some rough ideas you have about what points you’d make or how you’d develop the topic and see if it might fit into a client’s content strategy.
Research with Purpose
Whether you’re creating a blog post, a white paper or a press release, it’s clear that good research is essential to success. However, researching a topic doesn’t have to eat up all your time or fill you with dread.
The author Zora Neale Hurston puts the process in perspective well, saying “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”
Keep these guidelines in mind to streamline your research process and create engaging, authoritative content at the same time. If you find you’re spending too much on research, be sure to check out our post on streamlining your research and fact-checking.
Over to You
Becoming a professional freelance writer can be tough. But if you put some work into creating a great professional bio and portfolio of work, you’ll be well on your way to landing freelance writing gigs. Once you’ve got a foundation, consider expanding the content types and topics that you write.
Have a question about what it takes to become a freelance writer? Let us know!
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