So, you want to be a freelance writer, huh? Or, you may already be one and looking at earning money from your writing. While anyone can write for money, it may take a bit of planning to see ahead, and set your (and your client’s expectations) right. Here we look at how you can get started with freelance writing and how you can organise yourself to success.
The ongoing big-C situation has increased the availability of writing services from the market. The market demand is expected to be low in the next year (or two) and this means even more people looking for work.
The availability of talent and time, and the promise of riches promised by many a blogger will naturally make people consider freelance writing as an income stream with or without blogging :). There are more than few benefits of freelance writing –
- Flexible hours – work from anywhere and any time
- Unleash your creativity in ways that will not be possible if you simply write for yourself
- Earn supplementary income with or without your main job
- Easy to get into – you are off to a good start if you have some command on language and willing to learn
- Just find your niche and there’s something to write – teachers, scientists, engineers, doctors, et al.
But, freelance writing has its risks –
- Commoditisation of services: lower bar for entry means you are almost always on your toes about new work. Increased competition puts pressure on your work, money that can be earned and the quality at which you can churn out new materials
- Lower potential for growth: Increasing focus on other media like video will mean that you may have to be flexible on what you want to write vs. market expectations
- Cost conscious markets like India may care less about quality and more about what it takes to get the job done
The idea is not to dissuade you from freelance writing but, again, to set expectations.
All this said, let us see how a freelance writer in India can get started as efficiently as possible.
1. Create an online portfolio
Everyone and their dog will ask to see your work when you pitch them your services. So, what’s the best place to direct them to? No – it should not be to your other client sites, and no – don’t send them summaries or copies.
That’s what a portfolio site is for. Create a portfolio of work you want to feature – they may be
- A brief of your business association with companies/individuals: the nature of work you have done for them, and more importantly, how you measured success with your content (page views, increase in sales of a product/service, low bounce times as compared to rest of pages – it may be anything that can quantify benefits).
- Summary of what you have written so far and what you are (or.. want to be) known for. This will primarily focus on the niche of your choosing and nature of work similar to the work you are pitching for
- Include pointers to the content you have written for other companies (provided you have permission to do so, of course). Or a summary of the content.
- Articles you have written on your own blog, or as guess posters to publications, other blogs or websites
The portfolio should address primarily two things –
- Quality of your work, ability to hold people’s attention, customer support post the transaction, and tools that help you maintain consistency (deduping content, grammar and language checks, formatted content that can be posted directly to websites, etc.)
- How are you positioning differently from others – it may be the expertise in the niche, value-additions you provide and so forth
Beyond the core focus, there is certainly a “more the merrier” aspect to the work getting showcased. But, at the same time, hide it away from plain sight. You can certainly advertise the fact that you have “500+ articles for 10+ Fortune 500 companies under your belt in the last year” – you may not want to have links to all of them.
Where to create portfolio?
A lot of the decision on “where” will be influenced by
- What platform you use to find your work: It may be easier to maintain a portfolio on Upwork if you are using just Upwork to find work
- Chosen niche: It may be an expectation to structure things in a certain way for your niche. For e.g. technology professionals may be happy to see articles on Dev.to, Hashnode or Github, but companies may want to see your portfolio site that has a formal ring to it
There are more than few options to build your portfolio site.
a. Create your own site
It will be a great idea to establish a neutral ground that you can call your own to create your portfolio. All it takes is your domain (must for branding), a free theme, cheap hosting, a couple of clicks and some text, and you are off to the races.
Seriously – it will cost less than Rs. 2,500 a year to get your site up on WordPress, and you don’t even need any technical knowledge to create or maintain the site.
If you lack the will or expertise, just find someone from Fiverr, Upwork, or similar sites. Work with the said professional to find appropriate WordPress themes, install everything, and provide you a link from where you can start posting your content. It does not get easier than that.
Cash strapped? Well, you always get started posting on Medium, Github (free websites at Github.io), 2. for free. You can always map your own domains later once you have a surplus (well, I was kidding – there is nothing called ‘surplus’ in the normal human dictionary).
b. Use third party sites for writing services
You can always use websites that provide writing services to create your own portfolio. There are some inherent advantages in doing that –
- Free advertising, leads and work from the platform. People who visit the service provider’s website are already looking for writing services and are more easily converted to customers
- Advertise your portfolio elsewhere using the same link – a portfolio page for free
While you can certainly invest some effort into this option, don’t get emotionally attached –
- Other service providers may not like your portfolio showcase directing customers elsewhere
- You don’t want to falsely advertise that you are tied up with this provider and your services are available through them and them alone (not really a problem if you are doing substantial business)
- These services don’t stay forever and you don’t have control. If they go down – either technically or close down business, your portfolio goes down as well – feedback, “stars”, content, et. al.
Here are some example sites where you can create your portfolio.
- Clear Voice: Create a portfolio for free. 4% commission if you find clients on their platform.
- Contently: Free portfolio. See freelance-friendly content that you want to consume at contently.net
- Skyword: Create your own portfolio, and get paid writing for Skyword
2. Choose your niche
While it may be attractive to do everything in one go – you only have a limited time at hand. You can make more effective use of your time by choosing your niche.
- It is great if you have expertise in a specific field. For e.g. house-hold remedies, personal finance, or more advanced topics like those in Math, Engineering or Medicine
- Or, choose something that you relate with and love to dissect and write about – cinema, sports, world news analysis, fashion, and so on
Create posts, guest posts, articles in publications, and posts on social media / Medium in that space. Engage in conversations, learn more, and improve your writing.
The “niche expertise” will translate into –
- Better pitch for your prospects and clients
- You can differentiate from other writers in a much better fashion and connect with your clients
- You can more easily and readily write about anything in the field – that’s quicker time to delivery
- Demand more money since your quality of writing will be superior as compared to more “generic” writers
You can always expand your niche – but better do it one or two at a time, and preferably, go through related niches.
3. Choose your platforms to find work
Again, you have limited time. While one wishes to keep track of every work item being asked for in this galaxy (and possibly the next), it is simply not possible.
So, work wisely and target customers on a handful of platforms. Some of the platforms I have worked with in the past and can recommend –
- Upwork: Diverse opportunities, more professional in approach/outlook, more demanding
- Fiverr (gulp!): Advertise yourself against some tough competition. Low-value, high volume traffic. Difficult to differentiate and stay at the top of your game (this is an opinion – don’t fret. If Fiverr’s working for you – that’s great)
- Freelancer: Older platforms for uniting freelancers of the world. Again, you advertise against a million other writers – your content, portfolio, and your pitch have to stand out. A hit or miss for me
- Sites dedicated on freelance writing services like allfreelancewriting, Clear Voice: More demanding, higher quality, possibly lower competition
- Alternatives like Truelancer, Guru, and many many more: Same problems as Fiverr/Freelancer, etc.
- Niche-specific sites like Blackhatworld where more than a few writing services are advertised or asked for
And.. always have local businesses recruiting their writers offline as an option. If you are not satisfied with the results, you can always switch platforms.
4. Choose your rates
You can charge by the word or have a fixed charge for the pre-agreed volume of work. Either way, make the pricing and terms clear and leave no confusion about pricing. If the client is not able to grasp how things pan out, show examples of outcome, and sample pricing structures.
- Be flexible and willing to negotiate – especially at the beginning.
- Always keep measuring the market against yourself. Prices vary, market conditions change, and your customers, however loyal, may also be scouting talent and making their own cost-benefit analysis
5. Create a workflow
It is easy to get lost in the quagmire that is finding jobs, delivering them, and repeating the process. As humans we strive to improve continuously and reap those sweet benefits – more money, more pride in our work, better recognition, and the list goes on.
In my view, one needs to fully know the “present” to know how to change the “future”.
One of the good ways of achieving that is by creating a workflow that can be repeated and improved upon for the work you do.
The workflow may be a graphical depiction or a simple to-do list that you (and possibly your team) find easy to follow. It really helps to –
- Standardise your work – clients can expect consistency, a minimum guaranteed quality when working with you.
- Make it harder to skip tasks/steps that may lead to unexpected results. Follow tactics that have helped earlier and improve upon them make them better all the time
- Run business even without your involvement (someday if not today) – your teams should be able to follow the same flow and arrive at the end result
Below are some of the high-level activities that can be part of your workflow.
a. Track your contacts, leads and opportunities
Any new contact, lead or opportunity goes into a list. This helps you track your own business over time –
- high-value clients
- profitable niches
- better platforms to find more business
- bids vs. wins (and what you could learn from them)
You don’t need a complex CRM system if you don’t want to use it. All it needs is a simple Excel spreadsheet, or better, Google / Zoho spreadsheet. List down all records and do a bird’s eye of your data every two-four weeks.
b. Track your work and time
Similar to the last point, but more execution focused. Tracking your time helps you –
- measure yourself against you from the past. Set goals for your future
- measure your own productivity
- profit percent – effort vs. money earned across opportunities
- determine effort vs. revenue over time
Ideally, you would link the effort/work/time against the projects. You may find it easier to track time (and invoice) in tools like Toggl, Clockify. You can summarise time weekly or monthly and enter it against the project tracker.
c. Collect and showcase feedback
You may find it a chore to follow-up with clients to gather feedback (and nudge them towards your expectations). But, it makes you stand out a lot more and people (for some strange reason) trust other people!
Gather feedback! A rating and some glowing positives go a long way.
- Collect feedback on the platform on which you delivered their work (this is important)
- Showcase the same as a screenshot and/or with a link on your portfolio
d. Establish Standards
Create standard documented procedures for your tasks. It will take some time, will and effort – but will be advantageous in the long run when you have to get additional help from other freelancers or from your employees.
Standard email / WhatsApp communication templates help cut down the time needed to send out emails – for updating work status, asking questions, or for gathering feedback.
You can use the standard Gmail templates and should be well set. You could also check out Chrome extensions like Gorgias, email-templates. For most advanced uses, you can use the mail-merge functionality available in MS Word and friends, or use a CRM tool.
Want something more sophisticated and make it easier to work in teams? Evaluate Right Inbox, YesWare, and friends.
Never get into writing assignments without pre-agreed terms and clear expectations on the end deliverables. This will lead to bad outcomes.
- Create a standard template
- Outline the timeline and nature of work in writing
- Define deliverables – for e.g. 2 articles of 1000 words each in a formatted Google Document
While the template content depends on the clients and your nature of business, here are some standard items in a contract –
- Scope of Project
- Nature of work
- Changes and Revisions
- Terms and Conditions
There is a slew of payment platforms available for freelancers – all you need to do is choose based on your convenience, whether you are a legal business entity, and based on where you receive payments from.
- Google Pay, Paytm, PhonePe: Really convenient. You can upgrade to their business plans to increase limits when create a legal company. You can avail all these at no cost to you (when using UPI)
- PayU, RazorPay, Paypal, Stripe: Convenient to track payments and a number of customers, and you can also accept more modes of payment (like credit cards). These platforms will charge anywhere between 1.5-2% for non-UPI transactions. Some of them need you to have a business entity to start using their platform.
- You may want to get registered with Payoneer or other similar processors for accepting money from outside India (for e.g. from Fiverr, and other platforms). They make the whole process easier, but there are associated charges – check their websites for details
6. Just do it!
This part is more on the execution of your content writing and freelancing business.
Writing content for others is not a long term commitment – especially true in the beginning. So, it may be easier to overlook your own standards, skip quality checks, or take up more work than you can handle. But hey.. “one or two disgruntled customers will not cause a big issue”, right?
It is the attitude that causes issues – and the same permeates to the people who you work with. Your focus on quality, consistency, and honoring commitments to customers are the things make you great and, to succeed.
- Clear communication on expectations and terms
- Stick to timelines
- Maintain work ethic
- Make prompt refunds
Even when may loose business due to strict commitments or due to ethics, you benefit in the long run. You felt that in your bones, didn’t you?
Discipline is not applicable to honoring work commitments and following a schedule alone. While it is important to grow your business, it is equally important to divide time among your work, side business, and family & friends.
I am not quite a fan of tracking every bit of activity (sleep, eat, watch TV?) – but I like to do is –
- List 3-4 priorities and “epic” level tasks for the quarter and assign them priorities. For e.g.
- Freelance Writing: 10%
- Product development: 20%
- Day Job: 65%
- Other: 5%
- Track high-level activities that take considerable time and assign them against the epics
Now, the analysis of recorded activities should give you a clear idea about how you spend time vs. your priorities. This may look complex in the beginning but can be quite simple really – just an attribute in the task recorded in spreadsheet, a tag against a to-do list item, etc.
This is not quite a typical “self-help” post, so I will stop at that 🙂
Be on the lookout for improvement opportunities.
One way is to collect your work and taking time to go through them at some point in the future. Make a self-assessment checklist that you can use to rate your content on anything from grammar, quality of language, through more quantified metrics like no. of shares, time on page, bounce rates, conversions. click-through rates, scroll depth, and so on.
Other ways include –
- Read on content writing best practices – e.g. Copyblogger, Copyhackers
- Keeping track of what market is talking about content writing – I do it by following many websites through my feed reader
- Follow people who are creating great written content – see this list
A less-used way is to churn a lot of content with a pseudonym – against Reddit Writing Prompts, creating lot of posts for shady marketers on Blackhatworld and such sites – if not anything else, it will improve your writing, provide you with more content research sources, and exercise your brain to go on overdrive.
Any visibility is an ad for you. So, find your audience and be there.
- LinkedIn Posts: Great way to stay professional, share your story and reach more audience
- Twitter: Showcase your work, find listeners to what you have to say, and engage with your leads and customers
Choose your social platform wisely – it should reflect your professionalism.
Empathise with your client problems – it makes you even more successful.
- Why do they want something to be written?
- What are the issues that they are currently facing?
- How is your client showcasing their own products/services vis-à-vis the competition?
Create value even when not specifically asked for. Provide solutions to underlying problems and show you care. We are human beings helping other human beings 🙂
Well, hope this was useful. You are awesome to have read this to completion – if you have just scrolled down without reading, that’s ok too !
Content writing in India is not a cherished business or a profession highly sought after but can be
highly profitable if you love creating content that others love. Stay brave, focused, and willing to learn from your lessons and experiment. And.. for everyone’s sake – be super open to customers from outside India.
Have more things to share? Or, want to let me know how it goes? Just comment – I will respond, and that’s a promise 🙂