How To Grow Professionally As A Freelance Writer
Because Simply Earning More Money Isn’t Enough To Keep Satisfied
One of the many difficulties of working as a freelance writer, as compared to an in-house team member, is not having a fixed career ladder to climb.
Freelancing doesn’t bring with it the promise of periodic promotions. While there may be no bosses looming over one’s shoulder all the time, equally, there’s no guarantee that the type of work you’re doing now will evolve.
Working on the same types of projects for largely the same types of clients year after year isn’t just going to lead to professional stagnation and an insipid erosion of skillsets. In fact, left unchecked, it could eventually drive you crazy.
For many freelance writers, increasing income is the key objective. For some, getting past the six figure threshold is something of a crowning achievements.
But money alone isn’t enough to be enough to make freelance writing fulfilling. Just as well-paid jobs can feel soul-suckingly vacuous, a well-paid freelance writing business might be just a solopreneur’s version of Dead End Avenue.
Here are some suggestions to prevent that.
1. Take On Bigger (Or Different) Projects
Taking on bigger and better projects is one good way to keep your skillsets sharp.
If you work predominantly on social media posts, then perhaps moving up to deep dive blogs could be a step in the right direction for you.
If blogs and articles have become the bread and butter of your writing life, then writing white papers, e-books and books could be the path forward.
You don’t only need to aspire towards greater wordcounts — for one, unless you plan to make a living writing encyclopedias, there’s a finite limit to this approach. But you can seek out clients who are looking for a contribution that goes beyond ‘just the writing’.
Perhaps you can find a client who needs SEO and strategic insights in addition to your writing expertise?
One that wants to tap your insights about PR and distribution?
Doing the same thing over and over again will eat you up inside if you let it go on long enough. Mix things up. Work on something different.
2. Take On Bigger Clients
If you mostly work with local small businesses, then landing your first medium sized company could be a great learning experience.
For one, working with a larger organization might bring you up to speed on compliance and guide you towards becoming proficient at signing and examining contracts, NDAs, and sending over whatever their A&P department requires.
If you work for a larger organization, you may have more stakeholders on the other (client) side of the relationship. If you get on the good side of a large company or agency, then they could have quite a lot of work to send your way.
Becoming partially embedded into a larger organization could be a perfect opportunity to learn client management. They might need you on-site; gifting might be appropriate; and by drawing closer, you might learn about their industry.
Larger organizations might also have more experienced resources manning the marketing and content departments. This could provide a great opportunity to grow professionally be learning with people at the top of their game.
Finally, you might wish to freelance for organizations with brand recognition — like household names. This should undoubtedly give you a leg-up in the freelancing ranks.
3. Change Business Structure
If you’re a one man shop, then you could be working towards setting up an agency.
Your business structure might have to change by necessity as your revenue grows.
Making the switch from being a lone operator to part of an agency team can provide the chance to learn or apply skills such as teamwork and relationship management.
You could also begin outsourcing work to your own network of trusted freelancers. This can be a chance to add delegation and management skills to your list of credentials.
4. Grow Your Personal Brand
Freelance writing can provide a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of clients in a variety of industries and geographies.
Over time, you might accrue significant expertise about best practices in whatever your area of focus is.
Perhaps you could become an authority on how what clients in the industrial IoT space are doing for content marketing?
Or maybe, after writing about VPN technology for 10 years, you’re now a bona fide expert and could sell your consulting or commentary services to media organizations?
As freelancers, marketing and self-promotion are already staple parts of our diet. So while we’re at it, why not try to do more than just land new writing gigs?
Developing a personal brand can be a catalyst for realizing indirect opportunities from freelance writing such as speaking opportunities, invitations to be a podcast guest, and becoming an expert commentator to media outlets.
5. Build Your Professional Network
It’s true that the life of a freelance writer can be a lonely and (home) office-bound one.
However, it’s equally true that as freelance writers we’ll end up working with more clients than your average worker might have employers over the course of our careers. And our flexible schedules add another perk.
This provides a great opportunity to build up a professional network, even if it’s one that you mightn’t meet, in real life, every day. A strong professional network can become a source for referrals which are a great source of leads for new writing opportunities. Former or current clients can also be potential employers should you decide to go in-house.
Work with clients in different countries and consider paying them a visit. Hold on-site meetings with clients where possible and meet the people you’re working for. Attend relevant industry conferences and meet marketing and content mangers at potential clients face to face (when possible!). Build up and maintain a network.
6. Broaden Your Skillset
Continuous Professional Development (CPD) is another concept from the corporate world that, as freelance writers, it might be worth borrowing.
Picking up new skills and then integrating them into our service offering keeps things fresh.
Consider setting aside some budget each month for watching a Udemy course. Focus on those skills which you could integrate into your existing service offering. SEO and content strategy are popular choices, but there are many more.
Stagnation Isn’t A Must
While relentlessly pursuing the mission of increasing income, many freelance writers — including this one -have made the mistake of overlooking their career development.
It’s easy to underestimate the negative effect which repetitive dead-end work has on our mental health. Prioritizing projects that lead to professional development and fulfillment makes working more enjoyable, keeps doors to opportunities open, and can give us a sense of evolution and direction that we might be otherwise be missing. Often, that’s worth more than money.