So you want to be a freelance writer?

By Mel Sim

Here’s how I went from full-time to being my own boss.

It’s the dream isn’t it – writing that Great Malaysian Novel, sipping matcha latte in your favourite café while you do a little bit of writing. Writing is and always will be a dream job for many, and the pinnacle of that dream? Being a freelance writer who gets to write whatever you want yet making loads of money.

When I tell people I am a freelance writer, I get a lot of oohs and aahs. First, the “wow, how nice to do what you love as a living,” and then the “wow, how nice to be your own boss doing your own thing!”

There are a lot of truths in the above. It is nice to do what I love for a living and it is a bonus being able to do it on my own terms. I first worked as an editorial assistant in a lifestyle magazine when I graduated. I slowly moved up the career ladder and at my last fully employed position, I was an editor of a magazine. Glamorous, right? It is but underneath all that glitz, I felt something was missing. I wanted more of a challenge and after some soul-searching, decided I wanted to return to my first true love – writing, and even more so, being able to do this at my own time, being my own boss.

So I quit.

Has it been easy? No. Was it challenging in the beginning? It’s still challenging now! Would I do it all over again? Absolutely. It’s been more than 10 years now since I’ve been freelancing and I still wake up every day loving the idea that I am a freelance writer with all the opportunities to explore my creativity and even do other things on the side (like selling sourdough bread on IG!)

Is freelance writing something you’ve always wanted to explore but not sure if it is the right thing to do? Here’s my checklist on how to get started.

#1 Can you write?
Of course this is the most important thing to ask yourself! A lot of people envision themselves as a writer but when you really get down to it, so many people can’t write (I know, I edit on the side and oh boy, the kind of writing I get sometimes from fully employed writers!). So before you even think of exploring the idea of being a freelance writer, be honest with yourself: Do you have what it takes to provide a service that will be your main source of income? Yes, you do? OK move on to the next question.

#2 Do you have anything to show for it?
Because I had a lot of writing experience (I graduated from journalism school and went to work in the publishing line straight after graduation), my portfolio as a freelance writer is as good as it can be the minute I decided I wanted to go freelance. Know that when you present yourself as a freelance writer to potential clients, the first thing they want to see are some samples. Even after 10 years of being a freelance writer, I still get asked this (but thankfully, not as often anymore).

Are you working in the same capacity in your full-time job? Whatever work you’ve done can be considered as your portfolio. But what if you don’t have any proper writing samples? I suggest taking a few months to build it. You can offer your writing services to friends who may have started their own brand by creating content for them. Or if your job allows it, venture into some writing/content projects within the company itself. Maybe you can even write to some online platforms and say you want to contribute as a writer. Whatever chance you can get to get published or showcase your writing capability, take it.

#3 Do it on the side first
Before you jump head on to being a freelance writer (and be gainfully unemployed), you may want to consider giving the whole stint a part-time try first to see if you like the freelance lifestyle and if you have what it takes to survive. Say you have writing experience. There are many online sites to create a freelance profile where you can connect with potential clients. Upload your samples, share your CV, and constantly scour the site for opportunities. You may have to start small first to get the momentum going and for clients to leave you with a glowing review so others will be more willing to go with you on their writing needs. See if you like writing as a job and if you have what it takes to understand the client’s brief and give them exactly what they want.

Know that being a freelance writer also means client managing. Signing up to these sites can give you a taste of what it’s like to freelance. If after a while you get the hang of it and love what you’re doing, you might want to step up your effort and see if you can get more work as a freelance writer.

#4 Find a niche!
Specialising in something will always work in your advantage… even as a freelance writer. If you have a specific interest and love writing about it like cars or tech, then it can be easier for you to venture out as a freelance writer as you’re more likely to be hired than someone who writes more on generic things. Hone that interest and really own it. It will come in handy when you are seeking out writing opportunities!

Photo by Wilhelm Gunkel on Unsplash

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