Four Tips for Starting your Freelance Life

Note from Jodee: Freelance Writer Meaghan Campbell has contributed today’s post. I know you will enjoy reading it.

by Meaghan Campbell

After two years of technical writing I was itching for more creative work. To escape creative annihilation, I started The Word Boutique, my very own freelance business. These best-practice tips I’ve learned will help any freelancer along the way.

1. Build your network, whenever you can.

No writer stands alone. I didn’t have a leg to stand on when I started freelancing, but I built my network wherever I could. I asked former classmates to critique my samples. I joined list serves and commented on every blog and freelance networking group I could. Sometimes my networking was accidental. When I emailed an old colleague to find talent to create my website, he offered to do it for free.

Lesson learned: The key to networking isn’t knowing CEO’s, presidents, or editor’s-in-chiefs. It’s about knowing people who can help you without breaking your budget. Tell everyone you know about your freelance business, even if they’re not in your field. You never know when you might need a web developer or graphic artist, or when a fellow freelancer might need your creative mind. Just remember to pay it forward – when that software developer needs someone to write his web copy, return the favour.

2. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

My first attempts at freelance success seemed in vain. I sent out 50 query letters in my first two weeks. Three editors replied. Two said no and one published my columns with no pay. But my first real freelance assignment came from an editor who read those unpaid columns. She paid well and it gave me an in with the local publishing industry.

Lesson learned: In the beginning, you may have to take what you can get. But as you establish your name the fame and fortune follow. After my freebie columns went out, I got more paid work and I was even recognized at my local gym. Not bad for a newbie.

3. Make your limited funds work overtime

The great thing about writing is the low overhead. You can get started with your computer and an email account. It’s tempting to outfit yourself with an office fit for the freelance gods but until you have enough clients to pay off that Ikea bill, stick with what you can afford.

I started with a day planner and digital recorder. It got me to my first cheque, which I used to buy a portfolio case. I still need an external hard drive but I’ll wait until the next cheque comes in.

Lesson learned: Buy only what you need to get the job done. The only exception? A quality website that showcases your portfolio. Employers expect easy access to your samples and an online portfolio is a must in the writing world.

4. Write, write, and write some more.

Because I went straight from tech writing to freelance freedom, most of my pieces were restricted by non-disclosure agreements. To build up a portfolio worth showing, I created web copy for a small business owner and wrote a brochure for a charity. I also wrote like the devil about everything that interested me. Not all of it was published, but eventually I had enough to put together a portfolio and I even had some referrals up my sleeve.

Lesson learned: Hit the ground running. The more you write, the more stock you have. Use the best as portfolio pieces and inspiration for query letters. Just don’t forget to edit everything – twice.

Meaghan Campbell, owner of The Word Boutique, is a seasoned freelance writer. She has worked in several documentation industries, including: news and magazine reporting, marketing and web copy, and technical writing. Meaghan has a master’s degree in Rhetoric and Communication Design from the University of Waterloo and enjoys the freedom and creative inspiration freelance writing provides.






5 responses
  1. Art Avatar

    Still seems like slow going, especially if you’re trying to get things started while working a 9 to 5 job like me. But thanks for the tips. I agree you can never network enough, and leads can come from the most unlikely places.

  2. Rachel Rose Avatar


    Thanks so much for posting Meaghan’s inspirational tips! I’m a new freelancer (formerly a full-time television and online journalist), so it’s reassuring to know that it IS possible to win the beginner’s uphill battle!

    Thanks again,

  3. Meaghan Campbell Avatar

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Art, it is definitely a slow battle. I still send out countless query letters, most of which never get a response. But don’t get too discouraged; it’s all part of the freelance life. If nothing else, you can chalk it up to good practice.

  4. Natalia Avatar

    Great encouragement, thanks!

  5. Marius Avatar

    It is nice to see starting stories for the ones that have made it, along with the lessons to draw. I’m as close as you come to a newbie around the freelance writing world, about one month in, and if I hadn’t read some of these tips, I would’ve probably threw it all away from the 50th unanswered email.

    I still get discouraged and get the feeling that I’m doing something wrong from time to time, when I send 3 or 4 emails a day, only to find my mailbox just as “popular” as before. But it’s all part of the process, I suppose.

    Thanks for the advice and keep up the good show!

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