It’s been just over two years since I began freelance writing, and I’ve learned a lot.
There are six tools in particular that I really wish I’d known about when I began this career. If there are any other freelance writers out there, current or aspiring, I hope this gives you the head start I wish I’d had!
In case you haven’t noticed, I tend to write in a very conversational tone, something I honed over ten years of blogging.
This is what attracts many of my clients, that way I’m able to convey complex information in a friendly, approachable way. But it also means that a decade of unedited blogging has made me addicted to commas and prone to lapse into informal grammar usage. I’m not so worried about that here, where I know you’ll forgive me a comma or two, but it’s just not acceptable when I’m doing freelance writing for a client.
Grammarly is a free extension for Chrome that works like spell check but for grammar instead. It notifies you if a comma is unnecessary, if you’re using passive voice, if you’re using the wrong verb tense, etc. It also allows you to adjust the settings for what language you’re writing in, which is especially useful for me as a Canadian who writes almost exclusively for US -based clients. There are slight differences between American English and British/Canadian English and I sometimes forget to omit those extra u’s from favourite, neighbourhood, cheque etc. Grammarly catches it every time.
If you’re a freelance writer or just someone who wants to tidy up their writing, this is a great tool.
2. Writing Facebook Groups
One of the things I struggled with when I first become a freelance writer was how the hell to find clients.
Typical job boards really don’t include this type of work and web postings for freelance writers tend to turn up writing work that’s abysmally low-paying. There’s nothing wrong with taking low-paying work when you’re starting out and trying to build a portfolio of writing work. I wrote this blog for free for years and often submitted to sites unpaid, just for the exposure. But exposure doesn’t pay the bills and at some point, you’re going to have to land some paying gigs.
I’ve been very fortunate in that most of my clients have approached me, rather than having to track them down myself or submit for positions. This is because my book and my column for the Guardian gave me a lot of exposure I wouldn’t have had otherwise, but the jobs that I have applied for, I found through Facebook groups.
If you identify as female, there are several freelance writing groups that are wonderful for finding work. I’ve linked them below – you’ll need to request to join, but once you do I think you’ll find them a great resource.
Binders Full of Writing Jobs
[Full disclosure, QuickBooks is currently one of my clients, but writing for them also spurred me to view my writing as the business it is, rather than thinking of it as a rewarding hobby that pays the bills.]
While writing an e-book for QuickBooks geared towards those who are self-employed, I realized with no small amount of surprise that I am self-employed. I’m a business!
This was a weird mindset shift because I’m not a business person, I’m a writer.
Nonetheless, once I realized that freelance writing was my business, I knew I needed to start running it differently. I bought a QuickBooks subscription, and by linking my bank account and creating profiles for each one of my clients I was immediately able to see how much I’d made this year so far, how much money I had coming in, and what my expenses were.
Invoicing clients got way easier and I have the option to add a button for them to pay seamlessly right from my invoice. Things suddenly feel a lot more organized, under control, and professional.
4. Productivity Apps
I have no affiliation with any of these apps, but if you’re a freelance writer they’re super helpful, especially if you have a handful of different clients and dozens of assignments on the go at any given time.
Using an app like AirTable or Trello has made my life so much easier. I’m a bit of a Luddite in terms of books and journals. I need the physical, tangible thing to hold in my hands. So typically, as I received assignments from my editors, I would schedule it in by writing in my day planner. With ink. On paper.
The only issue with this was that if I didn’t look at my planner one day, or a little person coloured in it or ripped out a page (cough, OLIVE, cough), I was kind of screwed.
A few months ago I created a master editorial calendar in AirTable. I use the kanban view and create individual cards for each assignment listing the pay, due date, client name, and whether or not I’ve invoiced for the work. It keeps me on track, on deadline, and makes my billing process far easier.
5. A Web Presence and Social Media Accounts
I’m not a social media guru by any means, nor do I have any aspiration to be. The thought of having to mindfully cultivate a “brand image” in my Instagram photos or create a tweet schedule is way too intense for me.
Having said that, my social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram, and a business Facebook page) have been crucial to getting my name out there.
I’ve shared before how instrumental this blog was in getting my book deal, and while I usually share links here weekly (er…semi-weekly?) and often do the same on my social media accounts of my own accord, it’s increasingly common for clients to request that writers do so as part of their writing contract.
Having active, engaging social media accounts increases your scope, your reach, and the chance that someone looking for great freelance writing will find you.
6. Coffee Shops or a Co-working Space
I talk myself out of this one all the time because of the cost, but I always come back to it because when I work at a coffee shop or a co-working space, I am ten times more productive than when I don’t.
When I work from home I’m constantly interrupting myself to throw a load of laundry in, make a snack, have a shower, tackle items on my personal to-do list (like writing and mailing letters, tackling DIY projects etc.).
At a coffee shop, however, there’s nothing to do but work. I even find that I spent exponentially less time on time-wasting sites because I don’t want to look like the jerk who brought a laptop just to do some FaceBook creeping.
Whether you’re freelance writing or not, if you’re working in a coffee shop there are a few things to remember:
- Buy something. I mean, obviously, right? But make sure you’re not buying a two dollar coffee and then taking up an entire four-person table for five hours, you know? I typically like to get a latte, and I almost always get a snack or a sandwich if I’m there over lunch time. This cost can add up, but when I consider how much more productive I am and the fact that I don’t have to rent office space, it’s an insanely good bargain.
- Be respectful. Don’t plunk yourself down to work at peak times. Don’t occupy a four-person table if there a smaller table available, and be mindful of laptop cords and other work paraphernalia. Working in coffee shops has become commonplace as the gig economy has grown but I still try to keep in mind that it’s not your office. I give priority to other patrons.
- Tip. If you’re a regular, you will get to know your baristas and vice versa. They’ll ask about what you’re writing today, know your order, and remember your name. They work hard. Tip them!
Everyone has different tools that make their freelance writing life easier. If you have some I haven’t mentioned I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Madeline, I would like to offer some unsolicited advice. I think it’s a mistake to post your Friday Night Roundups here on the blog. Frankly, they lack the charm and thoughtfulness of your regular blog posts. I feel that they detract from your ‘brand’. I realize that these short form pieces pay the bills, but I’m saying this because I really appreciate your blog and your perspective on things.
Thanks so much for your feedback, I really do appreciate constructive criticism, so I appreciate you taking the time to comment and share your thoughts on this! As it happens, the weekly round up will actually be disappearing in few weeks time for other reasons, which I’ll write about shortly. Hopefully it’ll make a little more sense at that point, but yes. I agree with you 🙂