How I became a freelance writer - and how you can too!
A pretty huge amount of bloggers will tell you that they want to make this online lark their full-time job and honestly, who can blame them? Although we all know it will be hard work, we all love the idea of being able to work in our PJs and buy all the candles we could possibly want.
For some bloggers, working online means being a Zoella-esque influencer, getting paid to live yo’life and make stuff online. I won’t lie, I would love that (although a much swearier, less classy version of Z-Sugg), but I am also a realist, and am not sure why people would want to listen to me, so I am glad that there are other ways to make money online too. A lot of bloggers tell me they want to “go freelance” but when I ask what they want to do, they’re not sure. That’s a pretty important distinction as you can be a freelance accountant, hairdresser, decorator, artist or dog walker. Freelance isn’t exactly a job in itself, it’s a way of working.
I am lucky enough to have been able to quit a Big Girl job, make a living freelance, and then transition back into full-time work (with freelancing on the side!) in order to get a shweeeet maternity pay deal, with plans to go back fully freelance at some point so I thought I’d write a post explaining how I did it, and hopefully help others see how they can make it work too.
Okay, so ‘journey’ sounds a little XFactor, but you know what I mean. I’ve been in love with the internet since you could get AOL on free discs at the supermarket, and I wasn’t allowed to use it at home. I’ve also always loved writing and, let’s face it, the sound of my own voice. However, I took Dance and Drama with Design for Performance at Uni (Got a First Class Hons degree thank you very much!), and went on to be Vice President of my Students’ Union. Other jobs at this point ranged from being a Senior Booker for a Children’s Casting Agency, a Barmaid, a Telemarketer, a Charity Fundraiser and a Cleaner at the Travelodge back home. As you can see, I wasn’t quite qualified for the job I got after my VP year, where I became a Digital Marketing Executive at a fancy Manchester agency.
So how did I bridge the gap?
During my VP year, the person who was running the social media for the Union left and got a new job (shout out to Colin!). They didn’t have time to hire anyone and I had experience running a few Facebook pages due to running the Amnesty Society and doing our student media platform comms, and so I asked to give it a go. I really threw myself into it all, trying out different techniques, writing up analytics reports and reading everything I could on the topic. I was a social media nerd.
I realised that this was something I was good at, and that I loved, so I looked around for online courses to take it to the next level. I did an online diploma in digital marketing which cost me around £50 on an offer. I studied like a nerd and passed with flying colours. I knew I wanted to make this my job. So I started looking.
During this time, I was working hard on my blog, getting a few paid sponsored posts and generally upping my game. It was around this time that I became friends with the amazing Bex who hired me to do some content writing for her. This was a big ol’ turning point, but at the time I did a few articles a week and wrote my little blog.
A job at a marketing firm came up and although I was absolutely, not qualified, the application was really fun, so I decided I’d apply for a laugh. They wanted 10 reasons I would make a good Digital Marketing Superhero, and so, punny as I am, I give them 10 reasons that were superhero themed (yep, I used a web/Spiderman joke). They decided they liked my style and took a risk on me, agreeing to train me up.
Scheduling Tweets does not a digital marketer make
Maybe you have a few thousand followers across various social media platforms and a paid Buffer account. Sadly, this isn’t enough to call yourself a digital marketer, especially in a world where everyone and their dog (or in my case, my cat) has and manages their accounts. I was naive to think that my first job as a Digital Marketing Executive would involve sitting around and writing hilarious Facebook status’ a la Innocent Smoothies.
In the real world, social media management, and digital marketing are very different things, so it’s important to know what it is you want to do. Nowadays, one of my freelance ‘hats’ is social media management but I am (now) qualified in digital marketing too.
My job in Manchester was really freaking hard. I had to learn about SEO on a deep level, from alt tags to the actual functioning and speed of a website. I learned how to do website audits for clients, basic html coding and about design. I wrote keyword focussed content and did my Google Adwords exam. I went to meetings and presented my proposals and analytics to clients in very unsexy sectors - such as health insurance, machinery and shop supplies. I had to write for these markets that I knew nothing about, and didn’t really care about. It was not as glamerous as you are made to believe, but I gave it absolute beans. I became an expert in my clients and their weird, slightly boring products and I managed to get some amazing results.
Now, don’t get me wrong, we had a lot of boozy lunches, an amazing Christmas party and sometimes I got to wear badass business bitch outfits to meetings. My boss was an amazing mentor, and as the only girl, and the youngest by a decent amount I was very competitive which made me hungry to learn and develop. It wasn’t a sexy job but I learned so bloody much.
During this time, I upped the amount of copywriting I was doing, and took on some social media clients. I did social media for my favourite local yoga studio in exchange for free classes, and I rewrote CVs for a little extra dollar. I carried on learning, and grafting and was essentially doing a buttload of freelance work on top of my full-time job. Thank goodness for my horrifically long commute and my ability to write on trains!
I basically did these two things for about a year, building up my clients, my reputation and my portfolio until I felt I was able to sustain myself fully freelance. Taking the leap of faith to leave a stable job and work as a freelance copywriting, content creator and social media manager wasn’t an easy decision and it took a lot of work behind the scenes. It wasn’t something Steven & I took lightly, but in the end, it made sense and I’m glad I did it. If you feel like you are in a good position, just take the leap and make it work! I find that if you don't have a choice but to make it work, you will!
Y’all might notice that I am currently in a full-time job and I feel like I should explain. I wasn’t looking for a job when this one came along, but it was in a Students’ Union (which is my jam), the CEO was someone I really liked, and it meant we would be able to get a mortgage (ahahhaha! Or so we thought!), and I could have some maternity security. So I took the job and carried on my freelance work on the side. It means I am pretty much never not working, but it also means I know I can go straight back into full-time freelance when the baby is born, but also I know I am covered for maternity leave. In Hannah Montana’s immortal words YOU GET THE BESSSSTTTT OF BOTH WORLDS.
It was never a case of failing. At the time of getting the job, I was making more from my freelance work than I had been working in Manchester. It just made sense in the long run.
So, what do you need to know? Well, if you want to be a freelance copywriter and/or social media manager, here’s my tips. If you want to be a freelance dog groomer, I’m afraid I can't help, but best of luck with that!
Just being a blogger isn’t enough
I get it. Being a blogger is bloody hard, and I will never say otherwise. You are your own one-person business, planning and writing content, taking photos, scheduling promotions, liaising with PR companies, chasing invoices, designing your website, paying taxes etc. It’s a whole lot, and to have it on your CV is really beneficial, no matter what kind of job you are going for. However, unless you are a very big scale blogger, you will struggle to be taken seriously if you use your blog as your only credentials.
Get as much work experience as you possibly can. I’m not saying work for free, but do as many jobs as you can that you can rely on for recommendations to start getting your name out there. People aren’t going to hire you if you have no experience, but at the same time, don’t undersell yourself.
It’s all about who you know
The more people who know what you do, the better. Steven has been running his business now for a few years and every single client can be traced back to the recommendation of someone else that was pleased with the work he has done. That’s how he’s built up his client base and it just keeps growing.
You probably won’t be earning £40K in your first year. If you are, girl, hit me up and give me your secrets! It’s not always going to be easy, freelancing can be super lonely, boring, frustrating. You will find yourself working late into the night to meet a deadline, while following almost an impossible brief. You don’t get to have office banter, and you might realise one day you’ve not left the house in 72 hours or seen another human. When I write for a client, it’s not my name on it, most of the time, no one ever knows it was me. This isn’t the game to get into if you want recognition, but I do like getting to hang out with my cat while I write at a time that suits me.
Develop your skills
Take online courses, do the free Google Adwords/Analytics exams. Read up and become an expert. Work on developing your research skills. I feel pretty confident writing about most things now, and just this week I’ve covered accessible cities to travel to, health insurance, autumn fashion trends, celebrities that Hollywood loves to hate and several other random things. I can research and write something pretty damn quickly now which means I can fill my days with work.
Be a nice egg
Creating good relationships with other writers and clients is very important. If you complain about your clients on social media, not only might they see it, but potential clients may too and it could put them off. Always be polite and if you help others out, they will often return the favour. Just generally be a nice bean.
Going freelance was one of the best things I’ve done, but it wasn’t a sudden, over-night decision. I started working on this career path for a while before I was ready to take a leap and I’m glad I had clients before I left a stable job. However, that’s not to say that that’s the right path for you. Everyone is different and it’s okay to get there another way. I’m always happy to help people who want to become a freelance writer, unless it seems like they think it’s an easy option. If it was easy I wouldn’t be awake at 1am, swearing at Google because I can’t find the right image for a post on safaris. (This really happened…!)
So there you go! Freelancing is hard but also amazing and totally worth it. You need to know what you want to do freelancing, otherwise, you’re just saying nonsense. Get those clients, build up that reputation and find some cheap online courses. Then take a leap of faith and build your wings on the way down - or other such cliches that you’ll find on a middle-aged woman’s fridge magnets.
I hope that was helpful, even a little. Let me know if you have any specific questions and I’d be happy to help. Now back to writing about flood planning!