It's been roughly two years since I started building up my portfolio as a freelance writer. I thought it would be all lax schedules, inspired articles, and glorious antisocialism. In some ways, it has been — the antisocialism, especially; I've since taken in a kitten that was born in my backyard, and most days, it's the only interaction I get. In other ways, however, freelance writing isn't at all what I expected it to be.
The fact that I get paid to write from home is something I've woken up feeling grateful about every single day since I started, but there are a few things I wish someone had told me beforehand. Whether you're looking to get into the industry or just want to keep the possibility in your back pocket in case you ever develop a severe allergy to people, here are the things no one tells you about being a remote freelance writer.
1. You Probably Won't Be Writing What You Want
When I tell people what I do for a living, I simply say, "I'm a writer." I leave out the "affiliate marketing" part for two reasons: 1). They probably won't know what it is, and 2). I'm hoping they'll assume I'm something epic, like a novelist or cross-country blogger with an RV. The truth is, those things can be lucrative, but it's much harder to get there. In order for someone to pay you for your work, they need to get something out of it, whether it's revenue or hits.
In my case, I'm usually writing articles that tie in products from vendor websites. The publication gets a portion of the sale, the vendor gets a portion of the sale, and I get paid an hourly or per-article rate. Because it's such an exact science (and because the publication loses money if the article doesn't do well), I pretty much never choose my own topics. I write what I'm told to write, even if it's stuff I know pretty much nothing about, like anal toys. Yep. That happened.
2. You Might Have to Work For Free... At First
For a writer, a portfolio is potentially more important than a resume. Yes, employers want to know what you've been doing, but they also want to see it first-hand. Pretty much every job application asks for links to published articles that you've written. That way, they can check your grammar, voice, and ability to resize an image without it looking like an NES graphic.
When you're first starting out, you probably don't have any published content (besides maybe an article you wrote for your college literary magazine about legalizing marijuana). Since it usually takes published work to get hired to write published work, it becomes a bit of a catch 22. That's where pro-bono stuff gets necessary.
Talk to friends who have casual blogs or start-up magazines. Check the submissions pages on your favorite websites to see if they take readers' essays. You probably won't get paid, but it's a starting point and a move in the right direction. Websites like Thought Catalog and Upworthy are also open to pitches from unpublished writers.
3. Networking Is a Lot Harder When You're Freelance
I've been writing for Bustle for over two years now. I've never met my editors face-to-face. Personally, I'm very happy working outside of an office, but you do miss out on the networking side of things. Rather than coming in contact with people every day, you're pretty much lessened to an email avatar and a LinkedIn page.
Consequently, I try really hard to answer every email that comes through my inbox, whether it's spam from PR agents or opportunities to work with specialists. I also have an excel document of every person I've ever interviewed for any article ever. It pays to remember everyone, and it's important to stand out. You never know when someone random might reach out with a job or opportunity.
4. Working From Home is Great — If You're the Right Personality Type
Pretty much everyone likes the idea of working from home, but it takes a very specific personality type to actually do it. If you'd go crazy sitting by yourself in silence while staring at a computer screen for ten hours straight, this job isn't for you. Similarly, if you enjoy the background noise and social aspect that typically comes with office culture, you might be better off with a full-time job at a magazine or publishing agency.
I need absolute silence and zero distractions to work. My editors have actually asked me if I was feeling okay after I submitted an article that I wrote with the television on. After working freelance for two years, I don't think I could ever go back to working in a public setting, but to each his own — figure out how you work best, and then find something that fits that description.
5. Multitasking and Organization Are Essential
I'm always on the look-out for new freelance positions, and in all the Indeed e-mails and job listings I've read, I've never come across a remote position that's also full-time. Publications look for remote writers to contribute part-time because after you surpass a number of weekly hours, they have to offer you benefits. They probably won't do that if they've never met you. You can find weekly writing gigs that provide a regular income, but you'll likely have to supplement with several at a time in order to pay your bills.
As a result, multitasking, organization, and self-motivation are all musts. You need to be able to remember your deadlines, create your own schedules in order to meet them, and keep everyone's differing style guidelines in mind in the process. Also, your taxes will probably be a nightmare, so keep an excel doc of every article you've ever written.
6. Your Online Presence is Everything
How are clients going to be able to tell that you're legit? Same way they tell anything else. They're gonna Google you.
I'll be the first one to admit that this is my weak point. Instagram is lost on me, I don't have Snapchat, I haven't tweeted since 2015, and in case you couldn't tell from the fact that this is my first blog post in two years, my social networking commitment isn't too impressive. I'm also incapable of posting any of my own articles on Facebook without being self-deprecating about it. But clients want to know that you're someone online, you've got a following, and other people actually hired you.
The first thing I did was build myself a swanky website to make it look like I knew what I was doing, even though at the time, I didn't. I did all the research I could on SEO, so my pictures and articles came up before anyone else's of the same name (sorry Maria Cassano, Diet Coach from Italy or whatever). After that, it was all about building my portfolio. The more your name is plastered around the internet like a graffiti tag, the more impressed people seem be.
7. It Pays to Be a Little Ballsy
I think because we're millennials, we tend to be a little more timid than other generations. We're growing up in a time where almost everyone has their college degree and pretty much no one is indispensable because of it. We're told from both our high school and our college guidance counselors that the job market is fierce, creative work doesn't pay, and pensions are a dying practice.
This is exactly why you need to be confident in both yourself and your writing. Apply to any job that interests you, whether or not you're really qualified. E-mail your favorite magazine and ask them if they have any openings. Make some business cards that say PROFESSIONAL WRITER in big, obnoxious letters and hand them out any time you get the slightest hint that there's an opportunity for you. Yes, pensions are dying, but so is the passion and the go-get-'em attitude that employers might actually find impressive.
If all of the above sits well with you, Ed2010 is a great website to look for any job postings in the field.