As more and more Millennials turn to freelance work (either as a side hustle or a full-time job) it can seem like the ideal gig. The ability to set your own hours, choose your own clients, and work on projects you’re passionate about is basically the new American dream.
When I started freelancing full-time, I had been freelancing on the side for years, so I knew what I was getting into (or so I thought). These are ten resources that would have helped me in the beginning, from advice on finding a collaborative community to why promoting your work is always important.
1. Define your specialty.
If there’s something you know a lot about, embrace it. I started writing about Greek life, and expanded that to pop culture coverage for teens. People will start reaching out to you once you’re known for a specific topic. This doesn’t mean you should *only* write about your favorite interests (whether it’s certain celebrities or local reporting from your neighborhood), but it does mean you should have a brand. Make sure your social media pages are on brand, and then…
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2. Show off your clips with a personal website.
It seems simple, but it’s easy to get carried away promoting your presence on social media and forget about having a real website. Find a friend with HTML experience or take a couple of hours to learn the basics. You can even grab links for Tumblr or put them on a simple Contently page. Almost all editors want to see clips, and this way they’re all in one place. Even if you’re not a professional coder like Karlie Kloss, as long as your site isn’t a LiveJournal and is easy to navigate, it’s incredibly useful.
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3. Make an effort to meet other freelancers IRL.
One of the most important things you can do is connect with other freelancers, because they’re the ones who know about all of the opportunities. They know which sites are looking for content, who to pitch, and what those editors want to see in your ideas. It’s even better if you find a writing partner to bounce ideas off of. Freelancing can get lonely and you’ll miss being able to brainstorm with someone else. Having someone to talk about pitches with will always lead to you coming up with something new.
4. And connect with them online, too.
If you’re not in a big city, it can be difficult to find freelancers to network with—which is fine, because there are so many opportunities online. Niche websites are everywhere and can connect you with other freelancers in your field. They’re perfect places to brainstorm pitches, promote your work, and see what other people are writing. If you live somewhere without a large freelance community, it can be incredibly helpful to take classes in your field. Seek out lectures and professors with insight to what you’re doing. Just because you graduated doesn’t mean you’ve learned everything, especially since the weird world of the Internet is always in flux.
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5. Post your work—and don’t be one bit embarrassed about it.
It can feel weird the first time you casually post your own piece on social media. The truth is that everyone on social media is promoting themselves in some way—their perfect relationship in the pumpkin patch, their abilities as an amateur chef—you’re just promoting what you do. If you don’t post your link, then no one who follows you will ever read it. If you do, you’ll get clicks you never would’ve otherwise. Think of how many times you’ve casually clicked on a Facebook friend’s link and read and enjoyed it. If they hadn’t posted it, you would’ve missed out.
6. Research editors extensively before pitching them.
Cold-pitching an editor can end in a byline just as often as it leads to an unanswered email. Unfortunately, when you don’t have a connection to them, it’s easy for them to ignore you. If you mention a piece of theirs that you loved or explain why you read the site, you’ll have a much better chance of connecting with them. Same goes for following up—worst case scenario it goes ignored, best case they give you insight that will help you land your next pitch.
7. Know that editorial information found online is usually out of date.
If someone you know has access to Cision or Mediabistro, it seems like they have the golden goose when it comes to contacting editors. Unfortunately, so much of that information is out of date, especially since the editorial world is constantly shifting. Before you waste time crafting the perfect pitch for an editor who no longer exists, do a quick check on the company’s site to see if she’s recently posted, or look up her Levo or LinkedIn profile.
8. Ask about rates upfront.
Don’t feel awkward when it comes to asking a potential client what the rates are like. If they won’t give you a range, move on. The last thing you want is to handover a perfect piece, only to find out it’s unpaid. If the site has a trial period where you write a couple of articles for free, decide how important the work is to you. If it’s a byline you’re dying for, or if you believe that becoming a regular writer at the site would benefit you, it’s worth it. If you think it might not be the right place for your voice, don’t give them free content. After all, in other jobs no one would expect you to work for free for hours or days just because.
9. Read sites you want to write for (it could be your ticket to actually writing for them).
Start following the magazines and sites you’d like to contribute to on all social media platforms, along with their writers and editors. There are so many times when they’ll post specific pitch opportunities on Twitter that won’t be anywhere else. Once it comes time for you to write for them, you’ll know what they’ve been covering and what their tone is. It’s far easier to craft a perfect piece when you’re comfortable with who’s on the other end of your pitch.
10. Consider other side hustles.
When you’re first starting out as a freelancer, it’s beyond helpful to have a little nest egg saved up, but that’s not always the reality. If you find yourself struggling, pursue other opportunities. It could be something that has nothing to do with writing, like nannying, which will still give you the opportunity to write once the kids are asleep. Or, it could be creating sponsored content for websites and brands. Many times sites can’t have their own editors create #sponcon, so they’ll outsource it to freelancers. It’s a great way to get more clips and to have a steady(ish) income.
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