I totally understand — you just found out about the wonderful world of writing, or you are finally ready to make that first step towards becoming a paid author — but where do you even start? You are eager to get that first freelance writing gig and earn some cash, but the ‘where’ and the ‘how’ can be more complex than initially expected, especially if you want to properly and steadily generate income as a freelancer. Being a freelancer means becoming CEO of your very own micro-company — and to help you organize your business set-up strategically, WordBend has compiled a list of 5 essential first steps every novice freelance writer must take before getting down to business. Let’s go!

1. Build A Portfolio

Are you absolutely sure that you want to make a living out of your writing talents? Trying your hand at the craft will help you decide whether you truly want to turn your passion into your job — and if you actually enjoy the idea of writing for clients. 

After some trials and tribulations, you now have a collection of writing samples. That’s great! Now it’s time to expand this collection and create a proper portfolio. This is a collection of all of your best writing samples and job experiences which serves to reel in clients. Your portfolio reflects what you are capable of as a writer — and whether you are a good match for your client. Clients look for writers who can match their brand voice and write within their business niche. For example, a blog on motherhood will likely look for a writer who can match their conversational and light brand voice and is interested in writing about topics relating to parenting.

Keeping expertises and topics in mind, it is important that you start defining your specific, professional niche. A niche is a sub-category within which you will produce most of your work. So for example, a novelist might be most interested in writing young-adult feminist faerie novels, and will thus work within those parameters as a niche. It is extremely important that you distinguish yourself through your niche — a targeted audience will yield far more jobs than a very large, generic audience. Because after all, if you were to say “I write books”, you would appeal to far fewer people than if you were to say “I write young-adult feminist faerie novels”. Your niche tells people what you are all about, and what they can expect from you.

But then again, where do you start? It can feel overwhelming to start writing out of the blue — so take your time and schedule your writing. Make a list of types of writing you would like to practice with and add to your portfolio — and try finding a brand for which you would like to write it. You won’t have to dive in the deep end just yet — just imagine that this is your client. So if you are for example a copywriter feel free to re-interpret the existing copy of your imaginary client, or re-write their entire website for them if you are feeling confident! You can even try writing free texts for family members, local businesses or social media pages, just to get your name out there as a novice writer. Trying out as many different types of writing within your expertise will help prepare you for any job request you might get as a freelancer in the future — and as we all know, practice makes perfect!

Even more than just practice, a portfolio is a necessity! Most freelancing platforms require that you include your portfolio in your profile. Think about it — if you were looking to hire a professional for your writing needs, you would also want to see a testimony of their skill — and a portfolio does just that. No portfolio, no clients!

2. Sign Up With the Chamber of Commerce (or Your National Equivalent)

Now that you have decided that the freelance writer life is for you, you can start setting up your freelance writing business. As a freelancer, you will be the CEO of your very own micro-company. Most countries see freelancers as a proprietorship, which is defined legally as a small, one-person business.

This step seems very official and formal, but it is one of the most important steps to set yourself up for (legal) success. After all, the government will want to know where all of that cash is coming from. You will generally be required to file taxes (depending on the tax policies in your country) either semi-anually, every three months or monthly

But fear not — you get benefits too! Most countries allow you to deduct VAT from your business purchases. This means that big purchases such as laptops or other business-related machinery will suddenly cost a lot less. But be careful: you are only allowed to deduct VAT from purchases for your business — so buying a phone for personal use under the name of your company is a no-go! Importantly, you are required to save the invoices of each business purchase, and track them in your accounting as proof. Tax-free business benefits!

“Accounting?”. Yes. Accounting. 

You might think “but I’m here to become a writer, not an accountant!”. And I fully understand your frustration. However, accounting is part of every business in existence, big or small. But don’t let this keep you from starting a business — accounting is truly easier than it seems. There are dozens of downloadable Excel accounting sheets for small businesses available on the Internet: you will only have to fill in your details in the corresponding slots — the sheet is programmed to do the rest for you!

3. Set Up A Website

Your personal website is the only thing that is truly YOURS. Just imagine if all social media or freelance platforms would suddenly disappear or go bankrupt for any given reason. Your very own website is the only place where your clients will be able to find you no matter what happens to the media or freelance platforms you might be using to run your business. As a writer, you should see such platforms as tools to gain recognition, find writing peers and build connections with your clients — but they ultimately function as tools to lead visitors to your website.

Hence, it is important to understand how the use of a personal website, social media and freelance platforms can be utilized as a strategic business structure when balanced.  In your business structure, your website is king to all — followed by freelance platforms, and lastly social media platforms. 

We can visualize such business structures with the following pyramid diagram.

As we can see here, freelance and social media platforms mainly function to lead your audience to your business website. By doing so, you can gain credibility and achieve a sense of trust and community with your audience, while showing them where the home base of your business is. So, try making social media content which leaves your audience wanting more — and provide that “more” on your website.

When it comes to freelancing platforms, having a business website radiates professionality and thus builds implicit rapport with a potential client. Even more so, your website can function as a testimony to your writing skills, or as an extended portfolio. Your website, if properly (SEO) written, will even reel in new visitors roaming the Internet — who can then be led to your freelancing or social media platforms, creating a circular structure where all of your business platforms are interconnected and serve one another.

You might be worried about the cost of having your own website — but you can set up a website even if you are on a budget. WordPress offers affordable domain packages, and your local website hosting company might offer even more affordable hosting options. BlueHost, STRATO and HostGator are respectable and affordable website hosts you might want to consider as a beginning freelance writer. 

And no — you don’t need to be a skilled website builder to create a website which functions effectively and matches with your brand image! WordPress in particular allows its users to easily adapt existing templates and arrange pages to fit with their business needs.

Another benefit is that websites have the potential to generate passive income for your business. If you sign up for Google AdSense, you can allow Google to run ads on specific placements on your website. Each ad click will earn you a small amount of money – but in the long run this might yield you some extra cash, especially if your website audience grows, and your ad clicks increase.

Bonus: you can use your website to sell your own books, services, courses, merchandise, etc,. to generate extra income!

4. Start Up Social Media Platforms

Social media? A big Yes! Modern society equals short attention spans — so lure your audience in with catchy, short but sweet, picture-oriented content. However, make sure to post quality content! Your audience values their time now more than ever, and will swipe or unfollow without batting an eye if they feel like you are baiting them with low-effort content.

Just imagine how you would behave — I am quite sure that the accounts you love most post genuine, interesting, high-quality content. And that is exactly how you get people hooked to your account and get them to visit your website. Try creating a regular posting schedule based on what is realistic for your business. Some Instagram gurus might swear by “three reels, two stories and a post a day”, but it is completely fine to adapt such schedules to the needs and schedule of your business — as long as you remain consistent! Consistency radiates professionality.

From there onward, you can reveal to your audience that you have even more for them in store — on your very own business website! Always give them snippets of the content you are posting on your website, and call them to action by asking them to see the full piece by clicking on the “Link in Bio”. This will help lead potential clients and followers to your website.

Importantly, don’t bet solely on social media – social media is great for building rapport with your audience or potential clients and to garner social proof, but your main focus should always be on your website, and then your freelancing platforms. Even more so, you should spread your attention among several social media platforms. Potential clients can be found anywhere, so increasing your reach might increase your chances of reeling in new customers.

Many social media platforms offer ad functions — don’t jump right into purchasing them! It’s better to wait until you’ve grown a little, and have a variety of content to present to your potential audience and get them properly hooked. You can start growing your page by being interactive. Genuinely interacting with other creators can help you build a network and might create new opportunities for your business. Most of all, the point is to get your name out there and make yourself known to the world.

5. Sign Up On Freelance Platforms

Freelance platforms are your place to be! Platforms such as Fiverr, Upwork and Freelancer allow you to post gigs, find jobs and approach clients to reel in orders and explore the market. They can help you bring your business to the next level, and build credibility by gaining job experience. This is great for developing your portfolio: including custom pieces can lift your business’ trustworthiness to the next level. 

Moreover, feedback on your platform profile from your clients is an extremely important form of social proof. Who would know better than the person you’ve actually worked for? Potential customers will see such comments and ratings as a testimony of your skill in practice, which might convince them to hire your writing services — so always ask your clients to rate the work you’ve done for them.

You have set up your freelancing platform — but no orders are coming in yet? Your potential clients might be waiting for your talents elsewhere, so don’t sign up for just one platform. Instead, choose three platforms which you feel match best with your services. Each platform has its own benefits and structure, so find the ones that fit best with you! Some respectable freelancing platforms that you might want to consider are Fiverr, Upwork, Udemy and Freelancer.

So, all in all, freelancing is about running the business show! Starting up your freelance writing services might seem like a technical task, but the (financial) freedom and satisfaction of working for your own business are more than worth it. Freelance writers are currently in extremely high demand: the writing business is a trillion-dollar industry which offers great opportunities to those who actively seek them. After all, if you don’t start today — you will never know how successful you could be as a freelance writer.

For Writers, By Writers

-the WordBend Team

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