What it Means to Be a Freelance Writer
For the purposes of this course, a freelance writer is a professional who provides services related to writing. These services include:
- Copywriting: Writing text used for advertising or publicity
- Blogging: Creating content for a client's blog
- Ghostwriting: Creating content for a client that is published under his or her name
- Co-authorship: Helping an author create written work
- Content marketing: Helping clients market their work through written online content
- Web content and copy: Creating content for websites
- Article creation: Writing articles for clients and online publications
- Grant writing: Writing grant proposals to gain funding for a client
- Legal writing: Creating technical writing used by those in the legal profession (lawyers, etc.)
- Speech writing: Writing speeches that clients will deliver verbally
- Technical writing: Creating written content pertaining to a specialized, technical niche (e.g. engineering) that is often instructive in nature
- Research writing: Composing written summaries of research conducted on behalf of a client
- Report creation: Writing reports for a client on subjects such as an event, research, or company's performance
- White paper creation: Writing an authoritative report on an issue
- Business plan creation: Creating business plans for organizations
- Press release creation: Drafting information about a person, product, or company to be released to members of the media
- Procedure, tutorial, or FAQ creation: Composing instructions or explanatory content
- Resume creation: Creating resumes that attractively and accurately depict clients' professional backgrounds
- Copyediting: Editing copy
- Content editing: Editing written content
- Critiques and critical review: Providing constructive criticism and feedback on another individual's written work
Writers' employers and clients include small businesses, large corporations, trade associations, magazines, news organizations, nonprofits, government organizations, advertising agencies, authors, and even fellow freelance writers. Writers may work as freelancers, part-timers, or full-time employees. This course focuses mostly on those working full time as freelancers or moonlighting as freelancer writers on nights and weekends.
Freelance writers commonly sign "work for hire" agreements with clients, thereby relinquishing ownership of intellectual property generated for a specific job. This distinguishes them from authors and bloggers, who typically maintain ownership of their work.
The Perks of Becoming a Freelance Writer
Though seen as more 'professional,' in nature freelance writers benefit from many of the perks enjoyed by other creative professionals (such as artists and designers). Some of the top benefits associated with the profession include:
- The opportunity to be self-employed and call your own shots
- A flexible schedule (should you choose to be self-employed)
- The option to work remotely (even while traveling the world) and control your workspace
- More control over the work you take on and clients you choose
- An excuse to learn more about industries and niches that interest you
- Creative, varied, challenging work
- The opportunity to work with a wide variety of people and companies
- The opportunity to help, inform, and influence people through the work you create
Major Myths Associated with Freelance Writers
Because freelance writing is constantly in high demand, has low barriers to entry, and can be executed from home, it has come to be seen as a panacea by many, and is exploited as such by legitimate businesses and scammers alike.
Before embarking on a career as a freelance writer, be sure you are aware that:
- Not everyone has what it takes be a freelance writer: Few people have sufficient mastery of the English language to become professional freelance writers
- Freelance writing is not easy: Making a self-sustaining income from the profession requires constant work, determination, and improvement; you may have flexible hours, but the hours you do work will be numerous, long, and draining
- Freelance writing is not stable: If you want stability, regular income, and reasonable work hours, do not become a freelancer; only choose this profession if you truly love your work and are willing to sacrifice higher income and stability to do it
- Freelance writing does not contribute to healthy work-life balances: Flexible hours be damned- as a freelance writer, you will always have more work to do, and if you are self employed, it can be difficult to draw boundaries between work and home life
- Calling yourself a freelance writer does not make you a freelance writer: Many people online call themselves freelance writers despite lackluster grammar skills and little to no serious client work; to be a freelance writer, you must back up your title with concrete skills and experience
- Freelance writing does not give you freedom from “bosses”: Even self-employed freelance writers have bosses (many more bosses than the typical employee, come to think of it)
- Freelance writing platforms are a source of sustainable income: Many freelance writing platforms present themselves as the ultimate work-from-home solution; and, while it may be possible to earn a couple bucks from them each month, they are not ideal venues for freelance writing professionals (i.e. they downplay your personal brand, lower your income potential, and take a cut of your profits)
Major Trends in Freelance Writing
Relatively Slow Growth and High Competition
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, at 6%, the projected growth rate for writers and authors from 2010 to 2020 is slower than average for all professions. Due to slow growth and low barriers to entry, competition for writers is likely to be high. Editors also face extreme competition; the editing profession is expected to see little or no growth in employment during this decade.
You must therefore be prepared to differentiate yourself from other freelance writers, compete for the best clients/employers, and persistently seek out new work.
Online Portfolios are Becoming Increasingly Important
While it used to be common for freelance writers to send out resumes and previous writing clips attached to emails (or *Gasp!* as printed pieces of paper), online portfolios have become the de facto means by which modern freelance writers are expected to present their work. In addition to being helpful when reaching out to clients, online portfolios (along with publicly available work published by freelance writers under their own names) serve as an effective means by which one might gain new clients. If you do not already have an online portfolio featuring clips of your writing, make one.
Heavy Emphasis on Web Content
Freelance writers whom we have observed and interviewed are reporting higher pay- and more opportunities- with jobs related to:
- Content marketing
- The creation of website copy
- The creation of web content that is search engine optimized
Therefore, prospective freelance writers would benefit from offering to help clients with content that attracts people to their websites (white papers, blog posts, tutorials, etc.) and generally contributes something of value to the online world as a whole.
It is essential that you have at least a basic understanding of SEO. A study conducted by Search Engine Watch and Conductor indicates that demand for SEO professionals has increased 112% year over year, and those working in the field make close to $100,000 annually. For simple starting points, visit our basic introduction to search-friendly content creation.
For more information about content marketing trends (specifically regarding business-facing companies), review the below report '2013 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends in North America' by the Content Marketing Institute. You may also review the report's slide deck below.
New Cross-Disciplinary Job Opportunities
More and more freelance writers are beginning to act like full-service agencies, offering a myriad of services that cross into the realms of social media, community management (for which we have a dedicated course), and even website development. Because so much of the demand for today's freelance writing is related to online content, many clients are looking for writers who can create entire content ecosystems rather than a single article or report.
The more equipped you are to help clients with multiple aspects of their web content needs, the more attractive you will become. Should you be ill-suited for a specific task, consider partnering with other types of writers, such as tutorial specialists, white paper writers, and bloggers, or even other web-centric freelancers who specialize in fields related to writing (such as social media and community managers, website designers, app developers, and freelance artists). Even the ability to refer other competent and high quality professionals to clients will make you more desirable, as clients appreciate spending as little time as possible searching for and vetting competent contractors.
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Only take this lesson’s quiz if you are enrolled in the course and want to prove your skills and earn official credentials. Credentials related to a course are useful if you would like to find work related to this course’s career, as we direct businesses and entrepreneurs to our membership page when they approach us looking for specialists.
Finally, make sure you have reviewed this lesson’s required reading (displayed at the top right of the page) before taking the quiz- you will be tested on information covered in those guides!