The First 5 Steps You Need to Take as a Freelancer

You may be a journalism major who’s looking to get some work in the “real world” while you’re in school. Or a DJ who writes on the side and always wanted to start a freelance business. Or you could be an accomplished writer with a full-time desk job who’s looking to go freelance. Either way, you all have one thing in common: you don’t have any confidence. All aspiring freelancers I talk to are so worried about taking that first freelance leap. They don’t even know where to start. Now they have no excuse. (NOTE: I’m going to assume that you’re following my theory of diversified income and that you’d like to write for print and online publications as well as for copywriting and social media clients.)

STEP 1: Build your website.
Even if you have nothing to put on it. At the very least, create an about.me page. If you only have paper copies of your work, start scanning and uploading. If you’re already lost, hire a college kid to build one for you. Just make sure you know how to update it yourself. You’re going to have to learn this eventually, people! I wrote two posts on how I built my blog/portfolio. Read part one and part two. Note that my home page is a separate entity and was built and designed by professionals.

STEP 2: Beef up your LinkedIn profile.
LinkedIn is the greatest resource ever made for freelancers. Clients can find you and you can find potential clients. Stalk editors or business owners that you’d like to work with. It’s so easy! But first add keywords to your job descriptions, job titles, and personal title. Get a professional-looking profile photo. Start updating your status frequently. Join groups. Get active.

STEP 3: Build your portfolio.
If you’re a newbie writer, reach out to a family member or friend who owns a business and ask if you can start a Facebook page for them. Or write copy for their website. Or create a blog for them. If you don’t know anyone who owns a business, start writing website copy or marketing copy for clients that haven’t even hired you. Just because they didn’t pay you doesn’t mean you can’t put it in your portfolio. Graphic designers do this all the time so why can’t writers?

STEP 4: Pitch.
I’ve already covered the overarching theory of how a newbie writer can break into freelancing — which is that all you need is good ideas. So start gathering those good ideas and finding the perfect publications to pitch them to. Or start scanning the web presences of the local businesses in your area and see if they are active on social media. If they’re not, shoot them an email and offer to jumpstart their Facebook page.

STEP 5: Apply.
One part that sucks about starting off as a freelance writer is that you’re constantly in a job search. Your goal is to build your arsenal of steady clients so that you can stop job searching. And to build your online presence so that clients reach out to you. Like I mentioned in my post on how I find freelance writing jobs, clients reach out to me on LinkedIn all the time.

One thing to remember: don’t do any of this work for free! Ok, maybe if you write some copy for a family friend’s website, you could do it pro bono because you’re building up your portfolio. But stop there. Don’t think that you have to put in your time and start with measly clients and measly pay. Think the opposite: you set your own salary and choose your own clients. Dream big.