If you’ve been a salaried employee all your life the allure of a home-based self employment gig can be awfully compelling. And it seems that there are several economic and cultural shifts occurring today that are opening up the freelance market to people in many industries. It’s an open secret that corporations have taken to hiring “consultants” or contractors both for specific projects and for an indeterminate period of employment.
Software engineers and network experts often hire out on a contract basis. Case managers and clinical study professionals for pharmaceutical firms, even executives with backgrounds in finance or operations management are to be found today working under contract. But this article is about people who are interested in starting a freelance writing business in partnership solely with a computer and high speed online service. One of the cultural phenomena that are driving the freelance writing business today is the remarkable range of online commercial enterprises. Those that are depending on using the internet for marketing purposes need quality content, and a lot of it, to establish their presence.
Beware the Bidding Wars
Some freelancers read everything they can about blogging and set out to develop a site with sufficient quality to build a following that in internet terms, translates into a revenue stream from advertising dollars. Others who are casting about for a starting point in the business gravitate to one of the bidding sites for freelance services such as Guru, Elance, oDesk, ScriptLance, and many other lesser sites offer the freelance writer an opportunity to sign on and bid on posted writing jobs.
Most of these have a premium subscription level that provides full access to listed jobs, so you’ll be paying a monthly stipend. In addition, once you land a job with one of these services payment is handled through their site and they take a cut of up to 10% of your earnings. If you’re being paid through PayPal, that’s another deduction from your earnings.
But the real high wire act with these services is the bidding. You can count on some ridiculously low bids, usually from offshore writers; it’s a phenomenon that has skewed the entire pay structure in the business (see the comments on the article How Much Should You Pay a Freelancer, for example). The best you can do in these situations is to develop your profile on the site with a focus on quality work. You can’t sell yourself out for jobs that end up paying $4 or $5 an hour; you’ll just have to wait until a potential employer comes along who is looking for quality along with price and hope that you get the job. Once you’ve established contact with an employer and made a favorable impression with your work, you may have your first steady client.
The Craigslist Carnival
I turned to Craigslist when I was first starting out in this business. There are postings for legitimate writing jobs to be found there, interspersed with a remarkable variety of hustles. You’ll learn to recognize the frauds fairly quickly; the most obvious being those that promise instant income of thousands a month while working from home. Don’t even think about responding. Then there’s the “paid internship” opportunity and the listings that are looking for bloggers or content writers for unspecified topics, work available instantly wherever you are. Those sorts of open ended ads are usually a waste of time. There are also ample placements for non-profit organizations involved in social activism; generally they are counting on your dedication to the cause as justification for starvation wages.
There are also listings for legitimate positions at various seniority levels, but many of those are for office jobs. Occasionally you’ll find one that will consider telecommuting but often those are for technical writing or specialized work that doesn’t require interacting with a team. Most of them want some sort of background: could be SEO, could be medical writing, and could be finance. If you meet the qualifications for experience it is sometimes worth submitting your resume and bona fides with an inquiry about at least part time telecommuting.
Sometimes the best legitimate gigs on Craigslist are the most boring but they can mean steady work. Commercial websites that need a paragraph of written material to accompany every picture for the hundreds of items that they are selling are in need of a ton of content. It’s assembly line work but it’s steady – and if the proprietor has a list of keywords then you can raise the pay scale a bit. The best way to find these and other legitimate telecommuting jobs is to check the twenty five largest cities in the country every couple of days. Listings do vary from market to market although you will see the same listing in each of the cities; usually those are listings to avoid.
Building a Client Base
If you explore the writer profiles on Guru or Elance you’ll read about writers that have earned a handsome living working with the one-off proposals put out to bid by employers. That’s one way to do well in the freelance writing business but it requires a lot of personal marketing through the site, and the ability to write on many topics knowledgeably without much time for research. The job bid sites and Craigslist all have listings from employers who need quality product and will continue to need it, but you’ll have to search through a lot of writing opportunities to find them.
Those are the people that you want to connect with and stay connected with, if you don’t wish to spend endless hours bidding on jobs. Once you’ve proven your worth as a writer, employers are going to stick with you because if they’ve been in the business for a while, they’ve encountered lots of inexpensive writers for whom English is a second language. You’ll also find that the entrepreneurs building out commercial websites tend to know one another and are not averse to recommending a writer who has given them good service.
Basically, creating a freelance writing business requires a startup period when you get your first jobs and in so doing, establish some experience in the business. From there if you keep up your trolling for new clients eventually you will find a few that are a good fit for you, that pay a decent sum for your work, and that have constant needs for additional content.
It is simply a matter of working the odds: connect with lots of people who need content, stick with those who don’t haggle over price, and develop a group of clients that keep you working full time. Good writers are not that easy to find, even though the competition is fierce. Employers who connect with a quality writer will often take steps to maintain those writing services – it’s not always the employer that holds all the cards.