There are a few overriding myths when it comes to freelancing as a writer. I see these all the time and want to address the top 3.
- 1. You have to work for free or at a very low price to get “experience.”
2. You have to specialize in one niche to make decent money.
3. You should do stuff for free or little money to build a “portfolio.”
You have to work for free or at a very low price to get “experience.”
I have been very clear that you should never ever work for free. Never. There is NO REASON anyone would ever need you to work for free to “prove yourself” or as a “trial.” That is what writing samples are for, and your time is worth money. Your skills are valuable. Any potential client who asks you to work for free — even on just one piece — is scamming and taking advantage of you.
Pricing yourself appropriately is understanding that you and your skills have value and not compromising that. It took me some time to learn that just because writing comes easier to me does not mean it is WORTH LESS than writing from someone who struggles.
In fact, it is worth more and is more valuable because writing does not come easily to all people. Which is why they hire you. If they could do it themselves, they wouldn’t need to hire someone.
Also, as a side note, all freelancers will tell you that the clients who negotiate and dicker and force you down to the lowest possible price are the most demanding and negative “bad” clients and always looking for something for free.
You have to specialize in one niche to make decent money.
When it comes to this second myth, it could not be more wrong. It is also not the only or necessarily “best” way to do it. Specializing is just ONE way to be a writer, and it drives me up a wall that writers preach like this is gospel. Yes, specializing could make searching for clients slightly easier, but I have gone in-depth explaining how choosing to be open and work in many different topics has allowed me to have more clients, more diversity in my work, make more money, and market myself to ANYONE instead of just those within a small niche.
Sometimes people say that because they are bad at (or don’t like) selling themselves or marketing their business. They find it easier to market themselves when they are only going after one type of business, so they can say “See? I only work on your topic, hire me!” They may even claim you can get paid more for specializing.
I like to market myself and see everyone as a potential client, so I have a lot of clients. While you may be able to charge more for super-technical or specialized topics (“I only write about drones and understand all technical aspects!”), most general topics like business, law, beauty, fashion, medical marijuana, entrepreneurship, etc., are fairly general and require little research to create a great article.
It has been my observation that deciding not to go into a specific niche has made for more successful and well-rounded writers.
In addition, being a generalist has given me a lot of knowledge on many different topics and I find my clients like that I am a jack-of-all-trades because it means I can help them with more types of things.
You should do stuff for free or little money to build a “portfolio.”
You don’t need a freaking portfolio. You don’t even actually need a website to get started. Not many people really go to my website, but I knew I “should” have one eventually.
You need writing samples.
That’s it. I have been completely profitable and sustainable as a freelance writer for almost a year and when potential clients ask for writing samples, I send them here to my Medium so they see various posts and styles and topics. Before I had a Medium blog, I sent prospects a couple of PDFs of articles I have written.
Just examples of your writing. If you are just starting out, do what I did. Go to your blog and grab a couple of pieces you like, re-edit them and then throw them into a PDF. You can also write up 2–3 new articles if you want some new pieces or more diversity. In total, you should have about 3 well-written writing samples of 500–700 words.
Potential clients don’t care about a beautiful website or a perfect portfolio. They just need to know you can write well.
When you are first starting as a freelancer, don’t waste your time trying to make the perfect website or write ads or any other of the million excuses there are to NOT reach out and find a paying client. And there are so many ways to find clients!
I’ve written before about finding clients and how they are everywhere! And about how being open to new opportunities is what allowed me to have such diversity in my clientele. I’ve spoken about how important it is to be confident in yourself and your writing.
Build a business you are excited about and interested in. Work with people you like, writing things you enjoy and learn from.
Be interested, confident, excited, and happy!
But Christ on a cracker, you do not need a freaking portfolio.
Check out my new YouTube channel!