This article was last updated on December 2
Like gasoline for an automobile, data is fuel for the internet. Without data (content) the internet is a useless tool, just like a car that runs out of gas. The internet continues to grow and because of that, an increasing amount of content is needed to fuel it – and the economic engine it now drives.
If you enjoy writing or are good at developing engaging audio or video content, the internet is full of opportunities to start your own freelance business. As the number of online business grow there is an increasing demand for freelancers (roving experts) across all specialties like writing, graphic designers and development; and if you have the right skills and attitude you can definitely make a living on your schedule. I regularly use online freelancer service sites to find ad-hoc help for operating this website and am amazed at the opportunities available as both a purchaser and provider of freelance services.
Here are some tips from personal experience on the freelancing business and from others I know that are making real money providing “fuel” for the internet.
Don’t be Average – Take That Extra Measure
The number of people trying to run an online freelance small/side business has grown exponentially – over 20 million according to the latest BLS data, so standing out in this profession is like sitting in a packed stadium and hoping to be noticed. Despite the availability to advertise and reach customers through a variety of channels, you must keep from becoming just one more person in a sea of sellers and hence you cannot be average.
Everything you do must be well above the curve. If you haven’t taken a creative writing course or studied the AP style guide, do it. The average freelancer hasn’t done it. If you haven’t read and analyzed some of the best literature in history, do it. The average writers haven’t done it.
If you’re not noticeably better than others, two things will happen: First, it will be difficult to get freelance jobs. Second, people won’t be willing to pay professional prices for your work and taking an unskilled labor job (near minimum wage) in your community will likely pay better. If you want to make professional money, you must first be a professional.
Last but by no means the least, make sure your customer service isn’t average either. For example, the average freelancer will only offer two rewrites. Maybe you should offer unlimited rewrites. In short, the old business cliché still holds true: under promise and over deliver.
Work for Free – Establish Your Reputation
Say What? How are you going to make money as a freelancer if you work for free? Remember the stadium analogy above? Beginning freelancers have the problem of proving that they’re good writers, i.e. establishing a good reputation or brand. For those who will hire you, how will you make them feel confident that they will get professional quality work? You could send them samples but how do they know that you didn’t copy it from another online source?
The way most people establish a solid reputation is to work for free initially. Contact blog owners and offer to write for their blog in exchange for a small bio about you at the bottom (a byline) or start your own blog to showcase your work. If you provide quality work, it won’t be long before people are willing to pay you for your work. It won’t be much at the beginning but your rate and amount of work will slowly but surely rise.
Create What You Know and Practice Consistent Quality
What do you know well? Do you have a degree in psychology? Then write about psychology at first because you have instant credibility. Have you been a recreational pilot for 20 years? You’re an expert so write about aviation. Been in debt? Then write about how you got out of debt and other money issues. When you are starting out as a content creator, stick with what you know. Later, as you improve as a freelancer, you can write about other subjects.
Further be consistent and maintain quality in ALL your articles. It takes many good articles to establish your credibility, but only one to destroy it. So just because you get paid less for one job than another, don’t skimp on quality. It is better not to accept the lower paying job, then to do it badly. Consistency is also important so that people who purchase your services on a regular basis know what they are getting and can rely on you to deliver what you say you will.
This is something that you learn with experience but it’s still worth mentioning. As a freelancer, you will learn that some jobs simply take too much time. Here’s an example. You have a background as a brick and mortar small business owner. Two clients e-mail you. One asks you to write 5 articles about Yoga and the other client asks you for 5 articles about tips to grow a small business. Which job will take you longer?
You could take on both of these jobs but as you get busier as a writer you will find that 3 jobs about topics you know a bit about will pay you a much better hourly rate than taking jobs that require a lot of new research. As you get busier and can only take so many jobs at a time, take the jobs (where possible) that require less research and leverage your own (or team’s) existing knowledge and experience. Writing is the fastest part of most jobs. The research and search for unique content is what will eat away at your hourly rate.
How Much Should I Charge?
It’s tough to answer that question but here’s the first word of advice: As a beginning freelancer, you will have to keep your day job for quite a while and as your business grows and you approach the act of quitting your day job to be a full time freelancer, you will work every spare minute you’re awake.
Here are some thinking points when figuring out what to charge. You aren’t worth a lot when you’re first starting. Work for cheap as you get your feet wet. Plan on writing one article per hour when first starting. Once you get more experience, you may finish 3 or 4 per hour. How much do you need to make to equal your hourly rate at your old job? What will you do for health insurance, retirement, and more?
The best way to set your prices is to go online and see what others are charging for similar services. Another way to look at this is to see what kind of income you need to make ends meet on a monthly basis (keep a budget). Can you make this income from freelancing, charging what clients are willing to pay you?
If you’re hoping to be a freelancer because you believe that it will be less work than your job now, you’ll be disappointed. Freelancing requires you to be the business owner and the operator. It will take a lot of time to get your business started but in the end, it’s the most rewarding career choice possible to know that you have built something from scratch, and where you are the boss!