To be a successful freelance writer, you need more than just sound writing skills. Freelancing, after all, essentially involves running your own small business.
You're not just doing your writing work; you're also managing all the other bits and pieces yourself – from invoices and payments to marketing and networking.
It all sounds a bit overwhelming, but don't worry! With a little extra work and a bit of experience, you'll become the self-employed all-rounder you need to be to succeed.
Here are a few skills you should acquire or brush up on in order to make the most of your freelance writing career.
1. Accounting and business management skills
We know, we know – the word 'accounting' strikes fear (and boredom) into our hearts, as well. But as a freelancer, you do need to know how to manage your own income and finances. You also need to develop a bit of business acumen and learn how to sustain and grow your business.
In terms of accounting, here are a few basic things you should know how to do:
- Create professional invoices. Luckily, invoicing your freelance clients is easier than ever nowadays, with programs and tools available to help you out. Our round-up of some simple invoicing tools for freelance writers will get you started.
- Keep accurate and thorough records. This involves tracking the invoices you send out and the payments that come back in, as well as maintaining records of any work-related purchases so you can make a claim at tax time. Speaking of which...
- Understand and calculate tax. It's not a fun subject, but you should understand the basics of what taxes you do and don't have to pay as a freelancer. It'll vary depending on your individual circumstances, but here are a few general guides for:
When it comes to the business management side of things, you'll thank yourself for the recordkeeping skills you've developed. Your records will help you to measure your progression over time, and to make decisions about how you can grow your business.
You should aim to set achievable goals for your freelance writing career and review your progress on these goals periodically.
2. Time management and organisation skills
Good time management and organisation are some of the most fundamental skills you can have as a freelance writer. When you work for yourself, it's up to you to stay organised, efficient and on-task at all times.
This can be tricky, but here are a few tools we recommend using to help you manage your time and stay organised:
- A calendar. Doesn't matter if it's digital or physical – just make sure you plot all your jobs and deadlines on it, and keep it on hand at all times for easy reference.
- A to-do list. Same deal with this one: you can use one of the countless to-do list apps out there, or stick with an old-school handwritten list. Whichever method you choose, we recommend having a daily to-do list at the very least. You might also like to create a weekly or even monthly list, where you can note down everything that needs to be accomplished in that period of time, then break it down by adding tasks to your daily lists.
- A tidy filing system. This refers to both digital and physical files. We recommend keeping a separate folder for each of your clients, as well as sub-folders for individual jobs. Ensure everything is clearly labelled, and back up your digital files periodically just to be on the safe side.
The nature of freelance writing work means that you'll usually be juggling multiple projects at a time. To keep on track and ensure you get everything done, we also recommend establishing a writing routine.
3. Editing skills
When we said freelance writers should be all-rounders, we meant it! Even though writing is your main focus, you should also possess decent editing skills.
First and foremost, we're talking about self-editing skills, which will vastly improve the quality of your own work. Learning how to distance yourself from things you've written and edit them successfully will be one of the most important things you do as a freelancer.
Basically, successful freelance writing and good self-editing go hand in hand, so developing your editing skills is extremely important. Polished pieces will help you attract new and repeat clients, and create a professional portfolio that showcases your best work.
Developing your ability to edit the work of others can serve you well in your freelance career, too. Perhaps consider taking an editing or proofreading course – it could help you land some additional editing and proofreading jobs to complement your freelance writing income.
For more about freelance editing, check out our tips on how to get started as a freelance editor.
4. Networking skills
Networking takes most people out of their comfort zones, but it can be a particularly scary word for freelancers. The majority of freelance writers work largely in solitude, and may find it hard to pursue opportunities for connecting with others, both in and out of the industry.
However, networking is one of the best ways to connect with potential clients. Many freelancers get work through recommendations, referrals and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth; networking can have a great impact on all of these.
Don't worry, though – not all networking has to be in person! While attending events and conferences is a great way to make business connections, these days it's just as viable to meet and interact with people online.
Social media networks and sites like LinkedIn can be great for landing jobs and connecting with new clients. We'll talk more about developing your online presence on sites like these below.
If you're still intimidated by the idea of networking, here's how to network in four painless steps.
5. Marketing skills
Marketing is essential for any business. As a freelance writer, you run your own business, so it's completely up to you to ensure you're marketing your skills and services effectively.
Here's a list of key marketing tools for freelance writers:
- A professional website. This is absolutely essential – it's the hub of your freelance business, the place that most potential clients will go to find out about your services and decide if they want to hire you. We recommend creating a site with an established host such as WordPress, Squarespace or Wix.
- A blog. Blogging is a great form of content marketing and can be really useful for freelance writers. A blog lets you show off your writing skills, get your name out there and provide useful content for followers. You can even try out guest blogging to gain further exposure for your business.
- A social media presence. You should have a presence on at least one, preferably a few, of the following: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. Together with your website and blog, your social media profiles will help you create a solid and consistent online presence, making you easy to find and giving you the chance to showcase your services and skills.
We also recommend developing some basic graphic design skills to help out with your marketing ventures.
With a variety of free graphic design tools like Canva and PicMonkey available these days, it isn't too hard to create your own decent images and graphic, which can really help you project a professional and consistent image.
Are there any other supplementary skills you think freelance writers should have? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!