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Deciding to be a freelance writer is a dream for many people. The ability to work from anywhere and make your own schedule is pretty appealing, especially now, when it’s more common than ever to work remotely due to the novel coronavirus.
But not everyone is cut out for freelance life. Whether you’re looking to write full-time or just as a side gig, there are a few key traits that any good freelancer should have. Here are the most important qualities to develop if you want to pursue a writing career.
Freelance writing can easily get kind of chaotic, especially if you have multiple clients. A good freelancer knows how to keep their deadlines straight, whether that involves keeping a meticulous paper planner or using a project management software like Asana, ClickUp, or Trello.
Personally, I use ClickUp – which I only just started using recently. I like their paid version better than Trello (with whom I had an account for years and used it only sporadically) because I can switch between the board and list views.
Since working on The Write Hustle, my freelance writing course, ClickUp has been a game-changer. It’s helped me keep track of what I need to get done every week for the course as well as ensure I’m keeping tabs on all my work for my own freelance writing clients.
I also use my Google calendar and set up daily reminder emails to keep track of my own content as well as my clients’ content. Between these two systems, I keep my freelance writing business on track.
When it comes to freelance work, there’s no manager checking in to make sure you’re writing at any given time. It’s easy to get distracted by other tasks you want or need to get done (hello, Netflix and all the books I’m trying to read!), but you need to have the discipline to work – even though it’s always easier (and tempting!) to nap or watch TV!
A freelancer should have solid time management skills, especially if you’re writing as a side hustle. It’s hard to maintain a work-life balance when you work from home, so you’ll need to make sure you can get your work done on time while juggling all of your other responsibilities.
It’s not always easy, but setting up consistent routines can help you get into the groove. I’ve found that having specific days where I focus on certain clients or projects really helps me to not only stay organized but know what’s coming up every week. I use my ClickUp and Google calendars religiously.
Often, writers who write for agencies or big companies will have an editor to look over their work before it goes live. When freelancing, however, you have to be your own editor. It’s important to have a good eye for detail so you don’t send over work that’s riddled with mistakes.
Not everyone is a natural perfectionist, though, and that’s okay. Thanks to spell check, the burden on you is significantly reduced. Of course, spell check alone isn’t enough to guarantee a perfect article. Read everything over several times before you send it to a client to detect any grammar or syntax mistakes that spell check might have missed.
My biggest tip is to read your work aloud. It makes you feel a bit stupid, but it works like a charm. Sounding out your sentences gives you a better idea of how they flow and grammatical errors can be more jarring when you hear them than when you read them.
If you really want to get fancy and be extra-sure of your work, try reading paragraph-by-paragraph from the end and read in a pattern of 3 to 4 words at a time. Each sentence takes on a new cadence and, believe it or not, you’ll spot things that feel or sound awkward (or straight up don’t make sense) better than you will if you’re just reading straight through from beginning to end.
Once you’ve read “backwards” and have made changes, start again from the beginning and read it aloud naturally to ensure everything still makes sense.
If all else fails, try giving yourself some time between finishing your piece and sending it to the client so you can look it over with fresh eyes before submission. Sometimes being too close to the work can blind us to otherwise obvious mistakes.
While some people might think freelancers sit at home in their pajamas all day, freelance writing is a job like any other. You have to take your own work seriously if you want your clients to treat you right.
Be on time if not early. Never send work late – I live by this rule: “Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.” Sending work after the deadline you’ve agreed on is a no-no.
Be courteous and respectful in emails and conduct yourself the same way you would if you had a boss looking over your shoulder. Know your worth and don’t be afraid to stand your ground. Your clients will respect you more if you stick to your rates and take pride in the work you do.
Freelance work ebbs and flows. One month your calendar might be booked solid, while the next… crickets. Factors like holidays, time of year, or current events can all affect the number of freelance jobs available at any given time.
That said, there is always a need for freelance writers. There is a place for every story and plentiful opportunities across the internet. Sometimes you have to hit the virtual pavement to find new gigs, but it’s doable.
If you want to rely on freelance work as a source of income, you’ll have to be resourceful and manage your workload so you’re never left with no (or not enough) money coming in. Sometimes this involves spacing out client work so you’re not overwhelmed all at once, but other times all you can do is make sure to have a savings cushion to get you through the lean times.
6. Great Writing Skills
Last but not least, the obvious answer: In order to succeed as a freelance writer, you have to have strong writing skills.
The good news is this can be learned! Writing for the web is different from creative writing or journalism. The flow is very conversational and as long as you have a solid grasp of spelling and grammar, you should be able to learn the rhythm with a little practice.
If you want to improve your writing, there are plenty of resources out there to help you learn. Udemy, Coursera, and Skillshare are three big-name online education platforms with plenty of writing courses. Hubspot Academy is another great website to learn about writing for the web.
While not everyone is cut out to be a freelance writer, it’s possible to learn if you have the drive. With a little dedication, you can master these skills and start earning money while living the freelance dream.
How to Start a Freelance Writing Hustle This Weekend
Have lofty, wanderlust-y or romanticized dreams of sipping hot drinks from mugs in cafes while sitting in front of a shiny, new MacBook? I can't help you with all of that, but I can help you get a jumpstart on your own freelance writing hustle. Download my ebook for a step-by-step playbook and get started this weekend!