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Considering A Freelance Writing Career?

Posted: August 23, 2010

A freelance writing career seems to be among the hottest jobs for Indian women today. But is it easy? Here’s how to get started.

By Aparna V. Singh

Many women at work who take a break from their careers often consider a freelance writing career. Freelance writing sites and project boards like Elance and Guru make it appear as though clients are just waiting to hire you. It sounds fun. It sounds easy. No wonder it is among the hottest jobs for women today!

Well, we hate to be the bearer of bad news, but – it isn’t. The competition is tough and writing as a hobby just isn’t the same as writing to specifications.

When Women’s Web previously interviewed Dr. Nishi Viswanathan, Director, Chillibreeze, a writing services firm and writers network, she agreed, saying, “Today, almost everyone wants to work from home and write for the web. No wonder there is a lot of competition on project boards with dozens of writers from all over the world bidding for projects, which in turn reduces the amount a writer can charge for any project.”

Does that mean you should chuck away the idea of fashioning a new freelance writing  career with your love for words? Not necessarily, but be prepared for slow progress and hard work. Here are some tips to smoothen your foray into a writing career.

Identify a niche for your freelance writing career

As with any career change, don’t abandon the skills you acquired in past roles. For example, if you’ve worked as a software professional, consider looking for technical writing opportunities. It may not be as ‘creative’ as travel writing, but clients are more likely to value the expertise you bring.

Be prepared to re-write/edit

Writing for a client is completely different from writing as a hobby. Clients have every right to demand changes that will make the writing work better for them – whether it is to achieve clarity, bring in more sales or suit their brand personality. Of course, some clients will ask for endless changes and you need to negotiate this at the outset. But, if you are the kind of sensitive writer who cannot bear to see their work being picked apart, think again if you want to write for a living.

Be your own ‘tough boss’

When you had a ‘regular job’, would you wait for 2 days before replying to an email from your boss asking about a deadline? Then, why do that to a client? As a freelance writer, you are your own boss, but that is not a license to be unprofessional. Be as tough on yourself as an imaginary boss would be. After all, if you have unhappy clients, they are unlikely to hire you again. Referrals are the simplest way to get new business, so be hard on yourself.

Make sure you deliver your freelance writing assignments absolutely on time, and inform clients well in advance if there is going to be a delay due to reasons beyond your control.

Practise, practise, practise

When you start out on your freelance writing career, you may not immediately find a whole lot of clients. Use the time to practice. Start a blog in your niche and share your thoughts there. Read other popular blogs on the subject. Ask them if they would like a (free!) guest post from you. Perhaps offer your services to a voluntary organization. Writing a lot is the only way to practice your skills. It may also help you get your name out and create a visible portfolio.

Be hardnosed about money

One of the reasons a freelance writing career sounds like an attractive job for many women is that it costs little money to set up in business. A computer and broadband connection is all you need. But, returns can be low too. Due to the competition in the field, rates tend to be negotiated hard.

It can be tempting to take on very low-paying freelance writing assignments, especially if you are in a situation where you can’t take up a full-time job. However, avoid doing this except in the first few cases, where you may take on such freelance writing assignments just to get some practice.

The real costs of doing business may be higher than you think. Factor in all aspects such as the cost of childcare (if you’re hiring someone to help with small children while you’re working) and the added expenditure on telephones, electricity or even transportation to meet clients. More importantly, you do not want to get tagged as a ‘cheap resource’ – once you do that, it is very hard to raise your prices.

Instead, focus on your strengths, work on improving them and identify work that you can do in areas where you have specific skills.

Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas

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