Last Updated on August 23, 2021 by Tony Lopes
Everything you need to know about becoming a freelance writer is here. You only need to find the will to become a freelance writer and pursue your dream of working at your own pace, on your own terms, from anywhere in the world. If writing is what you love, then freelance writing is the career for you.
In these uncertain economic times it’s good to know that, with a bit of entrepreneurship on your part, if the unthinkable ever happens and you get retrenched or made redundant, you will have a sustainable career to pursue as a freelance writer.
A SOUTH AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE
South Africa is a developing nation. There are opportunities everywhere, if you find them using non-conventional methods. In developed countries where a telecommunication monopoly hasn’t hampered the adoption of the Internet, the market is mature enough for a pure Internet business. There are many bidding sites where writers can bid for freelance work – but in South Africa the market is still growing and the Internet is not a reality for many businesses.
This is where South Africa becomes interesting – you will need to embrace the old and the new, the Internet and the brick and mortar business. Search for business by meeting people, talking to shop owners, posting flyers, getting your name out there. At the same time however, you should use the developed world tactics of registering on job sites and directories, and emailing prospects. South Africa is a hybrid economy with the wealthy, middle class and poor living and working side by side.
As a result, opportunities abound where you least expect them.
QUESTIONS YOU MUST ANSWER BEFORE YOU BEGIN
Read these questions and answer them in your mind. Take as long as you need until you are 100% satisfied with the answers to these questions. After that, read on.
- Why do you want to be a freelance writer? What is your objective? Be very honest with yourself
- Look carefully at your finances and work out exactly what income you will be able to live with: not just scraping by but really live with. Do you have money saved up you can fall back onto during the quiet months when business is scarce? Remember, this is a BUSINESS – treat it with all due financial care as any other business owner would
- Have you got a clear business plan in place? Imagine you had to take your freelance business plan to the bank to ask for a loan – put down your strategy in a formal business plan. Doing this will not only highlight your strengths and weaknesses, but will also clarify your objectives and goals for the future
The Marketing Department
It goes without saying that unless you are engaged in a joint venture with someone, you are pretty much on your own and therefore YOU NEED TO SELL YOURSELF.
People are not going to throw themselves at your door begging for you to write for them, unless of course you have marketed yourself as a writer. Think about how you can let people know that you are in the writing business. Start off small with friends and family – email or phone them to let you know that you are available and ask if they know of anyone who needs writing done.
How to promote yourself:
- Have a website that showcases your work, gives people information about you and how you work and that gives your contact details
- Prepare a good resume and link to it from your website, or email it to people, post it on job sites or directories
- Your website should be dynamic (regular content updates for repeat visitors) and interesting (keep visitors on your site for longer)
- Get some business cards made that you can give to interested people
- List yourself in business directories both online and offline (depending on your budget of course, but many directories are free to list in)
- Meet with people in the real world: fellow writers, friends, colleagues and BECOME VISIBLE
- Attend writing conferences or gatherings of people in your industry or field of interest so you can mingle with your peers and talk about what you do and how you can help others
The infamous Ps of Marketing
Anyone who has casually opened a first year marketing text book will have read about the 4 (or 5, 6, 7 or 8 ) Ps of marketing, as follows:
In the case of the freelance writing business:
Product = your services as a freelance writer
Price = what you charge for your services
Place = the Internet – typically your content gets emailed to your client
Promotion = the steps you take to market yourself as a freelance business, to ensure your customers keep coming back for more, and to attract new business
People = the people you interact with as a freelance writer: family, friends, colleagues, clients, other writers (The Competition) and so on
Most of the Ps are rather straight forward, but the one that keeps most people guessing is PRICE – what should I as a freelance writer charge for my services?
What rate to charge as a freelance writer
Some people charge per word, but I find that charging by the hour works best. Be sure to make a good, realistic prediction assessment of how long it will take to perform a specific writing job and then quote on this. Your rate per hour will be determined by a number of factors:
- Your qualifications and experience
- Your business requirements – you need to make sure that your business expenses are met and that you make enough profit to sustain your lifestyle
- What competitors are charging – do not fall into the trap of trying to undercut your competitors on price, in truth you will be cheating yourself. Do not price yourself out of the market but have a good understanding of industry averages
- What type of work are you doing? You may have a different rate for article writing, editing someone else’s work or advertising copy – be sure your clients know what your rates are by category
- Your flexibility: you may be willing to negotiate for more work at a lower rate, or you may even accept a monthly retainer (which amounts to a monthly salary that you get paid for any amount of work you do for that client throughout the month)
- Type of client: corporates in banking or technical industries generally pay better
Do some research and find out what other writers are charging – you will be amazed that some writers are getting paid upwards of R700 per hour (2009 rates).
The Business Management Department
You need to run a tight ship when you’re running your own business – be as professional as possible and maintain the highest of standards, even in the little things.
Create a corporate identity
You are a business – now look like one! This includes:
- Business logo
- Business stationary (for invoices and correspondence via email)
- Business card
- Go all out and promote yourself with stickers on your car or promotional t-shirts
- Be inventive and get your name out there: think outside the box (as a writer, you should be doing this in any case)
- Be CONSISTENT: keep your corporate identity consistent wherever you promote yourself – you are building a BRAND
It’s the little things that add up to being very important:
- Your personal appearance when you meet clients is important
- Be punctual – not too early, not too late
- Deliver the goods: your work builds your reputation, so if it is shoddy or delivered late, your reputation will crumble, and so will your business
- Fight home distractions: it’s easy to procrastinate and go for a swim, a coffee, or let your mouse start wandering around the Internet – so be diligent. Reward your hard work with some time off having fun (your time is your own, which means you have to manage it)
- Find a balance: you can easily fall into the trap of working too long hours. This will hurt in many ways: your family life, your physical health and eventually your ability to produce good writing. Don’t become a workaholic – rather do what you can and don’t overextend yourself
- Be prompt with returning a call or an email – your speedy response shows you care
- Remember: under promise and over deliver
Your working hours
The fantastic thing about freelancing if that you work when you want to – there’s no clock-watching manager giving you the evil eye when you clock in 5 minutes late in the morning.
That being said, get into a regular pattern of work – whatever works for you. This will allow your friends, family and clients to plan their activities with you, and will allow you to give good estimates on when a particular job will be done by. It all comes down to proper time management, so keep a log of your working hours and plan your working days.
At the end of each day, take fifteen minutes of your time to write down the 5 most important things you will do tomorrow. This will prepare you for the next day so you can start early and get through your work with a fixed plan in mind.
Remember, your working hours are sacred, so make sure that you have made agreements with all your friends and family members about your time. Just because you are at home or in your outside office does not mean that you are available. Respect your time with your family and friends and ask them to respect your working time.
Build time into each day for some physical exercise – take regular breaks and get your blood flowing. This will help your business grow and will also give you opportunities to spend time with other people.
Taking leave to go on holiday is important too – remember that you need to give yourself a good solid break every now and then so you can return refreshed. Make sure you plan your projects around your holidays and let your clients know well in advance of your plans.
The Office Management Department
Your working environment will be dictated by your own personal preferences – another great advantage to working as a freelance writer. No cube farms for you!
Ergonomics are VITALLY IMPORTANT for a number of reasons. You will be sitting down for extended periods of time working behind a computer – this puts severe strain on your lower back and other parts of your body. Follow these tips for healthy computer work:
- Adjust the height of your monitor so that the top of the screen is in line with your eyebrows
- Sit comfortably in an upright position with your shoulders back, stomach tucked in, head upright and arms parallel to the floor. Your wrists should not be bent to far up or down, and your feet should be flat on the floor
- Take a 10 minute break for every hour of work, and do not work for more than the regular 8 hours a day if possible
- Have a solid breakfast and lunch, with time for regular breaks in between
- Make your environment pleasant to work in – paint your room, get some pictures up, play music – whatever you like that will make your working life an absolute pleasure
What you will need:
- Computer, mouse, keyboard, printer, scanner, fax machine – lap tops are great for coffee shops
- Microsoft Word, Excel or the full Office suite (or you can use Google Docs for FREE, or download Open Office for FREE)
- Reliable Internet connectivity
- Comfortable chair and desk
- Stationary – notepads, receipts, invoices, envelopes, pens, pencils
- A space to work in (your own office, shared office, room in your house, outside cottage, coffee shop, beach – whatever works for you)
The Finance Department
Your business health depends on your cash flow – financial matters really matter!
You need to be extremely diligent with keeping track of your income and expenses.
Consider the fact that you need to pay tax on your income and figure out the best form your business should take – find out about small business taxation policies and tax rates. If you are in South Africa you can find out about running a small business by reading through the Small Enterprise Development Agency website – managed by the Department of Trade and Industry. The South African Revenue Service website will give you plenty of information about taxation.
Don’t evade the tax man – it’s illegal and can mean the end of your business, reputation and livelihood. Rather, set aside a percentage of all your income for when you need to do your tax return – you will then have the cash on hand to pay what you owe in taxes. Make sure you know what tax bracket you fall into so that you set aside enough and don’t get a rude shock when your income tax return comes back.
It helps to get a professional on your side to help you with your taxes and if you earn enough you can even hire a book keeper to manage your books for you. Hire someone reputable though.
Most people work as follows: they do the work for a client and then send an invoice, which hopefully gets paid soon. Never sell yourself short – you are writing to GET PAID and as a professional offering a professional service this is exactly what you should expect. Doing favours from time to time is very rarely acceptable – you are a business and your time literally means money.
Set up an agreement with each client that defines the terms, rate and expectations that you will be employed under.
Part of your professional image includes proper, formal invoicing. Your invoices should include the following elements:
- A title e.g. Invoice from Hot Copy
- Your contact details: name, address, email address and phone number
- A unique invoice number for reference purposes.
- The name and contact details of your client being invoiced
- The date of the invoice
- On a single line describe the nature, duration and cost of work you have done
- Split out the VAT amount if applicable and display the total amount payable
- Include your payment terms if you have any (by when) as well as how (cash, cheque, EFT etc)
- Make it clear that non-payment by the due date will have interest and legal implications
- Send your invoices in NON EDITABLE format e.g. PDF – this reduces fraud and minimizes disputes
- Make your invoices extremely clear and legible, whether transmitted by email or fax or snail mail
Department of Administration
You really do need to run a tight ship – and this includes filing away all important documents and keeping good track of invoices, receipts, expenses requests for quotations, your quotations, agreements and any other form of communication with clients or financial documents.
Keep soft and hard copies, and back up regularly to prevent the unforeseeable from ruining your business.
Keep good accounting records: an income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statements are the basics you should maintain.
There are plenty of good sites out there that can teach you a thing or two about freelancing. Read Freelance Switch for great advice to freelancers, links to freelance jobs and resources for freelancers.
The most important thing to do right now is to START – get up off your butt, leave your safety zone behind you and be adventurous! Be practical, be rational and plan everything and you will be successful, if you stick to your plan.
Good luck and enjoy your freelance writing journey!