Category Archives: Freelance Writing

There’s no such thing as a free lunch – should you write for free?

Actually, there is such a thing as a free lunch! My church put on a free lunch on the first Saturday of every month. They offer soup, fresh crusty bread and cakes, and it is very popular. Some of the homeless people in the town are waiting eagerly outside, at 12 pm, ready to come and eat and stay until the end, at 2. I have known people who are struggling, who are down on their luck, or just not making ends meet that month, come and enjoy a free hot meal. Not even a collection is taken – it is completely free.

However, when you are setting out as a writer, where do you find opportunities to write, if not for free? There are job ads everywhere, offering internships, voluntary positions, or even, the old chestnut, more paid work will be along soon! How do you know whether this is a position that will give you good experience and bring along better things, or whether you are just being taken advantage of? Here are three opportunities, where you might consider offering your services for free, and three where you would be well-advised to stay clear.

Take it!

  1. A local charity is looking for someone to help with writing some articles for the magazine. It is a subject that you know something about, and you would like to write more about. Yes – especially if you are looking for some clips for a portfolio. This kind of thing is fine, especially for smaller, local charities. The only time I would be hesitant, would be if this were for a charity that could afford to pay. Also, make it clear that it would take second place to paid work, and limit how much you produce for them.
  2. A friend is starting up a business and wants to set up a website. They are looking for help to put content together. You agree to write some pages for them, if you can link to their website on your portfolio. Yes – but with provisos! Not everyone chooses to work with friends – it can be a fast way to lose a friendship! Decide on the scope of the work before you start – how many articles, and know how long it is going to take you. Again, free work should only be done after paid work is done.
  3. You decide to join an article-writing website. The article titles are chosen by you, so you can write about what you want, and the website puts advertising on your articles. You can collect the money for the advertising, once it reaches a certain amount. Your articles are passed by an editor before being published. Again – a qualified yes! This is something that I did, when just starting out. I liked the idea that the article had to be passed by an editor, so that meant it had to pass certain style guides. It taught me how to write a headline and how to write for the web. I made a little money out of it – but don’t expect to get seriously rich from this kind of set up! Also do some research before joining such a website – some are better regarded than others. It’s best to check out reviews first.

Don’t Touch it!

  1. A company posts on a job board, looking for writers. They suggest that the opportunity will be great exposure and experience for a writer – but they can’t afford to pay yet. They say that there may be payment somewhere down the line… no! The problem is, that you don’t know the person and you have no idea about their circumstances. They may be telling the truth, but they may not. Stay clear or be taken advantage of!
  2. You are emailed by a person you don’t know, out of the blue. They offer minimal compensation, but ask for a free trial of your writing to check whether you are up to the right standard. Not recommended! If they receive enough writers willing to do a free trial – will they need to pay at all? They may have emailed you, but you have no guarantee that this work is going to be worth your while. I have occasionally sent over a trial piece – but on the understanding that if they want to use it, I want to be paid for it!
  3. You offer an article to a publication that pay for print and online pieces. Their reply tells you that they won’t be paying you because your piece will published as a blog post. You are a new writer, looking for clips – what do you do? This happened to an experienced freelancer who pulled the piece rather than give this publication free work. They would not have offered the work if they had thought that they would not be paid. This feels like a scam – and you should value your work too much to be taken in by it. If something doesn’t feel right – then walk away. There will be other opportunities.
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How to start using Twitter as a Freelance Writer

One of the main things about becoming a freelance writer is the need to network and connect with other writers and clients. How successful you are in connecting with people is partly dependant on getting to grips with social media and learning to use it to your advantage. Here are some tips on getting the most out of your social interactions.

Do you use Twitter?

Do you use Twitter personally? What is your attitude to meeting people through social media. It is easy to be wary and restrict interactions with friends when it comes to our own personal accounts, but the whole reason for using social media for our business means that we need to reach out to others that we will not necessarily know. You may need to change your mindset in order to use social media effectively.

Where do your clients hang out?

I can remember attending an interview for a builders’ merchants who were looking for a social media person to build up their Twitter accounts. I didn’t get this job, but I still wonder whether builders actually have time to hang out on Twitter and pick up their offers. Most businesses these days offer email, many send out newsletters and have a website, usually developed by a third party, but Twitter and Facebook are very personal choices that not everyone wants to use. Check whether potential clients that you want to contact are choosing to use the method of social media that you are planning to use.

Where do you begin?

Choose a username that reflects your business. All the social media make it very easy to set up an account and the hardest thing can sometimes be finding the right name that has not already been taken.

Set a profile picture and a cover picture too. Most social media accounts also give you the option to reach out to people from your contacts list, so that you have a ready-made list to start connecting with. It is best to set up your profile as fully as you can.

Write your first post and publish.

Check in with your account regularly and monitor the activity. There are tools available to help schedule posts to help save time, depending on the form of social media.

What to post?

Social media is great for promoting your blog posts, website, offers and promotions, or just for sharing an article that you found useful or news. Decide how often you want to post. Posts should never just be self-serving promotions but full of useful information for others. Keep in mind the people that you want to reach and what they might be interested in reading about, or the knowledge that they might like to acquire. When you post, include a link and an image if possible.

You can also share videos, podcasts and infographics. You can curate news to post, writing the headlines in your own words and including a link. This can be a useful way of posting more often. Keep it relevant to your business and make it useful to your clients.

Social interaction

The most important part of social media is the social bit! Each form of social media has its own way of interacting. Twitter allows likes, replies and retweets. Retweeting other people’s tweets is a good way to begin your interactions. Follow people and their tweets will show on your feed. Look for people and companies that align with the people you are trying to reach. Thank people for following you and use hashtags.

Hashtags enable your posts to be found by interested parties. The most popular hashtags will appear when you start to type a word after a hashtag. Choosing one of the more popular ones will help people find you. Post regularly and follow up when people try to contact you. Some companies set up automatic replies to people who follow them, to let them know that it is appreciated. This can be a good idea, but make it a thank you and possibly a freebie that you offer rather than a hard sell.

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How to work at home and get stuff done

Working from home sounds like the ultimate dream – no motorway car park to negotiate, no need to wear tight uncomfortable clothes – you can even work in your PJs if you want and you have 24 access to a fridge! However in order to stay focused and get your work done, you may have to be a little more organised.

Here are some top tips for getting on with work when you’re working from home.

1. Have somewhere to work. You need a clear space of desk, kitchen table or laptop stand to work. You need to be able to keep the things you will need close to hand, and you need to be able to use your printer or scanner when necessary. This means that you will also need access to plug points. It can be somewhere like the kitchen table where things get cleared away each day, or you might like to create a work station that can stay as it is for whenever you have some work to do.

2. Find a comfortable chair. Try to set up your workspace as ergonomically as possible to suit you and your needs. Make sure that you are not straining joints like wrists, that you are sitting with as good a posture as possible and that you take time to walk around at regular intervals.

3. Take time to exercise. There are a number of studies that point out that sitting still all day is not what the human body was designed to do. Do some stretches, go for a walk (or walk the dog) or take some other form of exercise.

4. Remember to shower and change into clothes. Tempting as it sounds to stay in your onesie all day, it does not help to put you in a work mood. In order to get work done, sometimes you have to take care of yourself and then get on with the day.

5. Check emails only once or twice a day. Three times if you’re addicted. Remember to turn email notifications off so that you can work undisturbed.

6. Turn social media off too. Social media managers get some leeway on this – it’s part of the job! However remember to keep on the client’s social media and away from your own unless you have scheduled it in.

7. Organise your paperwork. One of the most important things about working from home is to keep track of your income and expenditure, keeping paperwork filed and organised for those all-important tax returns.

8. Keep on top of your invoices. Set aside time to make sure that you generate and send invoices out. Don’t forget to chase any late payments.

9. Try and set aside definite times for work and times for housework. It can be hard to work with a pile of washing up behind you, so either get it done before you start work or agree with yourself a time to get it done. Sometimes I enjoy the fresh air and hang up the washing at the same time. House work can be done in small chunks as a way of getting away from the keyboard for a bit.

10. Connect with like-minded people through social media and find your own ‘watercooler’. It can seem lonely at home on your own if you are used to being in a busy office. However the internet is a great place to find other people who are doing the same thing that you are doing. Find your people and swap ideas.

Finally, the best thing about working from home is the flexibility. If the day is clear and you want to go out for a couple of hours and take your camera, you can do it! You choose your hours and as long as you get your work done, you set the pace and the schedule.

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Freelance Writing – How to Write Great Product Descriptions for a Website

One of the many freelance copywriter jobs available is to write product descriptions for a website.

Writing Tools by Pete O'Shea on Flickr CC
Writing Tools by Pete O’Shea on Flickr CC

This is a description for each product on an e-commerce site which describes the product, gives a potential customer information on the product, often including dimensions and colour choices as well as materials that it is manufactured from. There can be some scope for creative writing as you describe the product to enable the customer to make a buying choice. A product description will be required for each product on the website, so this job could potentially last a long time, especially if more products are added to the website.

The first product description writing job I got was in the early days of my freelancing career. I was required to write descriptions for a sports and workwear clothing company. The descriptions were written in an Excel spreadsheet which was useful to enable me to know if I had used the exact same description before. There were about 800 products to describe, so it was time-consuming and I had a deadline to keep. I managed to make the deadline, but only by getting up early in order to finish the writing. The vendor was pleased and I was glad that I had managed to finish, but it was hard work.

More commonly these days, product descriptions are written straight into a content management system or CMS. The person who hired you will tell you what they want in each field, so you should be given instructions as to what to write. The information can include a product number or SKU, a product name, manufacturer, and a description.

The description is usually what takes the time. Each description should be unique. It’s not enough just to copy and paste the same description over again. This product information is seen as updating information by Google – new content which encourages the search engine to search the website, so rewriting website product descriptions can be helpful to your search results. The descriptions should not match other similar websites so the more unique the content the better.

However customers need to be able to match the information to what they are looking for. As much information about the product as possible needs to be included such as dimensions and colour choices.

Using Photos

You might be asked to collect and upload photos. You need to make sure that the website owner has the right to use the photos as they may be copyrighted. You may need to own a copy of an image manipulation programme as many websites have been optimised to suit a particular size of photo. This may also mean always using a landscape-orientated photo as opposed to a portrait photo.

It takes time to get into writing and uploading product descriptions, but once it becomes second nature, it can be a great job. You will quickly find yourself becoming knowledgeable about the products that you are writing about. You will probably be asked to upload a few descriptions and have them checked out before continuing with the work. This is a good idea as you can check that you are doing things correctly before getting too far into the work.

It can take a little time for your boss to check over your work and let you know that you are good to go. They may have some suggestions for you to improve your work. Try and follow them as much as possible and if necessary, have them check over your work again. It is better to get it right from the start than find that you have been doing it wrong halfway through the work.

Pricing

Some companies are looking for a fixed price while others want to pay by the hour. Certainly by the hour will give you a more true idea of how long it will take. Some bosses will want you to achieve a certain target number of product descriptions an hour while others will want to negotiate a price for the whole project. Don’t undersell yourself. Writing product descriptions is hard work and slow going in the beginning while you are getting used to what is expected of you. Your hours will almost certainly be more than you expect.

So, DO

  • negotiate price before you begin
  • make sure that what you are doing is what the vendor wants
  • include the time it takes to resize photos and upload them
  • make every description different
  • act professional in your dealings with your boss

but DON’T

  • be late delivering your work. If a problem comes up then talk to your boss and let them know.
  • just plough ahead without checking that your work is ok
  • get upset if you don’t get things right straight away. Everyone needs to know whether what they are doing is right and this is particularly important in copywriting
  • expect it to be easy straight away
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Four More Qualities of Successful Freelance Writers

Some people just find writing hard work. The physical effort of putting pen to paper or fingers to keypad just does not do it for them. They are unsure that what they are doing is correct and they find the very act of writing a chore. Other writers love it. They enjoy the physical act of writing, whether it’s on a computer or with a favourite pen and paper. They love the feeling of the words flowing out from the brain and onto the page.

By David Turnbull on Flickr CC
By David Turnbull on Flickr CC

Does that mean it’s always easy? No. Writers’ block is very real and it can sometimes be difficult to find just the right word for the sentence, or to work out exactly what it is that you want to say next, but the enjoyment of the physical act of writing just doesn’t go away, no matter how many words you write. If this is you, then you have the potential to be a freelance writer. Here are some more qualities that you will need:

  1. You enjoy learning about new and different things

If you want to write for a living and get paid for it, then you learn to write about many different things. Sometimes Writing Gurus suggest that the best way to get paid is to find a niche and become an expert writer in that niche. If in a previous life, you were an accountant or an insurance agent, then you might well have a niche if you can blog about your knowledge in an accessible way. Most of us do not have that background, however, so we need to discover what we enjoy writing about, and most importantly, what we can write well about. The ability to discover new, reliable sources as knowledge for what you have been asked to write is a very important part of being freelance writers. A future niche may grow out of that work, if you are engaged to write a lot of material in that area.

  1. You have confidence in Your Writing

Writing confidently is part of writing well. Knowing what you want to say and making sure that it reads well is important to a freelance writer. Offering your work through an editor can help you gain confidence in your writing. It is important that you let others read your work, as they can spot errors that you might not.

  1. You can Proofread Your Writing

On the subject of errors, it is important that you can spot simple grammatical and spelling errors. Spellcheck is a great tool and even those freelance writers who are confident in their writing, use it, but sometimes it will miss a homophone, or a word that sounds the same, but is spelled differently and has a different meaning.

  1. You can Take Criticism

Most freelance writers who have had any clients have not always produced every piece of work perfectly. Quite often a piece of work will be returned with requests for revisions. It’s how you take it which is important. Your client knows what they want, and if you are lucky, they will ask for it. It’s your job to write what they want so no matter whether you disagree with them or not, you should write to their specifications. Always be professional and polite because these clients are paying you to do a job. Always turn in the best work that you can do.

 

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Could You be a Good Freelance Writer? Part 1

If you think that you have to be a perfect writer to be a freelance writer, then think again. Many of the most successful freelance writers do not consider themselves to be perfect, just good at what they do. Many of them bring other skills to their work, such as the ability to network or to research quickly. So what skills do I think you need to become a freelance writer?

 

Writers' Block
Writers’ Block

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Persistence

Persistence is the number one attribute a freelance writer needs. You need persistence to finish a blog post, you need persistence to keep reaching out to people and companies who need your services and you need to be able to keep going when it seems that you are getting nowhere. You will never know where your next job is going to come from. Persist and you will eventually break through.

  1. Good sense of voice (or able to write consistently in one voice)

This is important if you are going to sell your work. Your ‘voice’ is the tone in which your work reads. Some books are very literary in tone – they use long descriptions, unusual words and it can take a long time for any action to happen. This is a style which some readers like and other readers don’t. Other books can seem easy to read: the action bounces along in quick succession, the characters are sketchily drawn and they do not always take the trouble to draw the characters thoroughly. Neither is right nor wrong and most of us fall in the middle. Both kinds of writing draw readers.

Where do you think you are?

Read a piece of your writing and see if you can discover where you are on this scale. The most important thing is that your voice is consistent – it’s no good starting out literary and ending up friendly and jolly. Developing a consistent voice will help you as a freelance writer.

  1. Grammar and Spelling

Contrary to popular opinion, your grammar and spelling does not have to be perfect, however it is useful to have an idea of how it works. Word processing can pick up most of the problems, but it is not always helpful if the spelling is right, but the word has the wrong meaning, or you don’t know which of the options to choose.

If you are very under-confident in using spelling and grammar, then make sure that you always have a link to a dictionary such as Merriam Webster. Don’t be afraid to google sentence structure to make sure that you are getting it right if you need to.

The best way to make sure that you are getting it right is to ask another pair of eyes to look over it. Even the best writers can make mistakes and we all need someone looking over our shoulder to check that what we are producing is right.

The best advice that I can give to a freelance writer starting out is to suggest that they undertake some writing assignments either on a website or real life which requires an editor to check over their work, before it is published. It is the best way to learn writing styles and to ensure that your writing will be polished and ready to sell when you start taking on clients.

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