For busy college students, a regular part-time job isn’t always the best option. But then there’s the wonderful world of freelance writing—a genius alternative of freeing up your weekday calendar while still being able to stay afloat financially. And for a job that’s in high demand and has easy entry, it’s the perfect side hustle for anyone looking to channel their inner love for writing. Ready to launch your own freelancing career? Keep reading to get the real advice on how to be your own boss, from students who’ve done it themselves.
Identify What You Want to Write About
One golden rule we learn in journalism school is that research is key in helping you find which angle you want to take. Terriann Mohamed, a student at Savannah College of Art and Design, knows that accuracy equals priority—you can’t get away with writing a top-notch story without having your facts straight first. Terriann says, “I want to make sure that I have the correct information on anything I’m writing on. After that, it’s usually pretty easy to tell which niche topic interests me the most and I begin writing out my first thoughts into sentences.” Terriann says that after knocking out those first few steps, words and thoughts come very naturally.
For Rianna Bernabe of De La Salle University in the Philippines, she waits to see what her clients have to offer and then starts her route from there. Rianna says, “My clients usually assign me a specific topic and it’s always interesting because as I do research, I also get to expand my knowledge and writing abilities. Otherwise, I simply write about current trending topics or things that inspire me at the moment. “
Consider Writing on Campus for Extra Practice
Your college newspaper or magazine are perfect opportunities for honing in on your writing skills and finding your own personal voice. And not only is it good practice—it’s a great stepping stool, especially when you’re just starting out and want to have a couple published pieces under your belt. Besides, it’s never too early to start that portfolio.
Senior Shanelle Harris began by writing for the college newspaper at the the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. Terriann, on the other hand, got her experience when she started writing for her school’s online fashion publication, The Manor. This was an opportunity for refining journalism skills and new insight into the world of freelance writing. Terriann says, “We have several different student media outlets at SCAD and anyone can attend meetings. If you are a freelance writer, attending these meetings are wonderful opportunities. The editor will offer stories and anyone can sign up to write them. Being brave enough to step out of your comfort zone and volunteer is the best thing you can do at these publication meetings. It’s how I scored my first story at The Manor.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Be Reach Out
When these students aren’t using their on-campus resources, they’re finding every possible way to take initiative and find themselves their next writing project. Terriann’s trick? Following up with her contacts and not being afraid to call when she doesn’t get an email reply. She says, “I mainly write for my own blog, however, if I see an online publication that I feel focuses on topics that I have in the past, I shoot them a quick email to see if they accept freelance work. If they do, I send them either a topic idea or an essay that I’ve already written and the conversation typically progresses very naturally from there.”
Build Your Network Off the Connections You Already Have
Keep in mind that each job or internship you take is not only another great addition to your résumé but an opportunity to grow your network, too. Rianna says, ”I worked for a start-up during my first month of freelancing and we were tasked to write for foreign clients. I was able to expand my network from there because those clients were associated with different companies.” Besides holding on to her connections in the workplace, Rianna turns to her fellow freelance writer friends as well as her experienced professors when she needs the extra advice.
Hard work shows, and sometimes even enough to get you a good recommendation. “I’ve had companies email me to ask for editing and writing help because they’ve heard good things from past contract writing jobs I’ve had,” says Terriann.”
Perfect Your Pitching Techniques
Pitches are like first impressions: you only have one chance to make them good. But success in this stage requires a lot of planning. Rianna says, “I usually make a deck, or a presentation, to organize all of my ideas. I always include the objective of my piece, explaining what kind of message I’m trying to convey to my audience. I never include unrelated topics that would stray the reader away from my main point.” Some sites also include resources that tell you how to submit a pitch and even the types of articles they’re looking for, so make sure to do your research and take advantage of that if it’s available.
If you don’t get it right the first time, don’t stress too much. And just as it’s important to keep your mind at ease, it also helps not to take things to heart in the professional world. Shanelle says, “You’re going to be dealing with a good bit of rejection when it comes to freelancing, especially when it comes to pitches and trying to garner people for interviews. So definitely don’t take it personally and keep it pushing.”
Start Building an Online Portfolio of Killer Samples
To prove that you have what it takes, an online portfolio is the best way to show off the work you’re most proud of and where you’re at writing-skills-wise, all while displaying your personality. You want to make sure your work is being presented well and in an easy-to-read manner, so consider having a well-thought-out theme and even having your own logo for a more established brand. This is your chance to stand out by providing accessibility with creativity. Websites like Squarespace and Weebly are very user-friendly and offer an easy way to set up an online body of work that you can send along with your pitches.
Do Your Research on Rates
And now, the biggest question of them all—how much should freelance writers be getting paid? Rates change depending on the industry, company, writer, and location. It’s a number of factors, really. Shanelle says that being an undergrad student, she especially relies on the information and resources that are given to her through her professors. But when that isn’t enough, she turns to the abundance of info that’s available on the internet. Sites such as Who Pays Writers? and Social Bluebook are great tools that can help in understanding payment rates.
Stay on Top of Your Work With an Organized Schedule
Lola Adewuya, a student at Dartmouth College, stays on top of her game by listing off her tasks in multiple places such as her reminders app, her calendar app, and Asana to make sure she doesn’t miss anything. “I had to learn to prioritize. That’s definitely key as I’m getting closer to graduation. It’s easy to let the desire and demand of wanting to see your pieces published distract from what needs to be done academic wise, so in that respect, I learn to put first things first and do what’s required of me,” Shanelle says. Rianna says, “For me, the most important thing you need to be good at is time management. It’s difficult to balance school work with freelance work, and even more with extracurriculars, if you have any. Always remember that you are a student first, so it’s better to adjust your working hours to your class schedule than vice versa.”
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Opening image by Shirley Mak.