– Free advice for the would-be freelancer


A year ago, my friend and fellow teacher, Lauren, wrote and asked me for advice on establishing herself as a freelance editor. She recalled that I had worked for a while as a freelance… something. Indeed, from 1994 to 2003 I worked independently as a writer and researcher for nonprofit organizations.

Lauren liked my advice, and I believe she put some of it into practice. I dug it out today, after I found myself talking near the photocopy machine to another teacher about the many ways to make a living. When you’re in education, it seems, it’s not enough to have just one way; you must have supplementary ways.

Here’s the advice, copied and pasted verbatim from my e-mail archives. If you’re looking to make some money with words, this might help you on your way. And if you have any suggestions to add or even corrections to make, please comment on the post or write to me directly.

Jane’s Guide to Getting Started as a Freelancer

1 — For yourself, figure out what [editing, writing, coaching, etc.] services you’ll offer and who your client might be.  Figure out what you’ll charge — look at mediabistro.com to see what industry standards are, and  keep in mind that you won’t get paid for every minute you work (about 1/3 of your time is spent on getting gigs and dealing with the client and paperwork).

2 – Establish some sort of visible presence in the world. A website is probably how you would do it now, but when I started in ’94 I had a brochure.  On it, I would include a brief bio of yourself that establishes your credibility (regarding the service you’re offering), a description of your services, and a statement about what separates you from the pack.

3 — Send a brief e-mail to everyone you know, letting them know you’re available as a freelance editor.

4 — Send a more substantial, tailored e-mail to people you know who might have use for your services: former employers, for example, can be good first clients.

4.5 — Is there some place or person for whom you’d really like to work?  Well, what the hell, then.  Send them a letter and say, “I admire you/your company.  I’d like to do some work for you.”

5 — Is there some sort of association you can become a member of that might help you develop connections?  Join it.  Join a few.

6 — Give free advice in some sort of forum: local women’s business association, chamber of commerce, whatever.  Just find a nearby group that has regular meetings that you wouldn’t hate to go to, that you could showcase your expertise and thereby attract business.

7 — Is there an inexpensive place online where you could place an ad?  Is there a local craigslist?  What about mediabistro?  You might get some nibbles from this kind of thing; I wouldn’t, however, spend tons of money or time on advertising — just enough to reinforce your “presence” and cred.

8 — You can respond to help wanted ads.  Say someone is looking to employ an editor.  You could respond to that ad, and be upfront about offering your freelance services while the job search is underway.

Note: You don’t have to do all 8, obviously, before you even start, but I do think it’s good to have at least done the first 3.


Cup in hand image from Realm of Randomness.

2 thoughts on “– Free advice for the would-be freelancer

  1. This is really interesting advice! I have been thinking about doing this. Though every time I think about it, I get scared.

  2. Your final note is my favorite piece of Jane advice, and one I just gave to someone yesterday: Any big change begins with the first small steps. A change won’t seem overwhelming if you break it up into meaningful checkpoints.

    The person I gave the advice to (a post- college, currently employed, potential job seeker) was immediately calmed. She had her three tasks for the next 2 weeks – write a resume – tell her friends – and identify three job listings that sound interesting.

    The second best piece of advice is from our dad–on buying our first house. We had done the research and had the mortgage secured and I was beside myself. He said, “you obviously did the research, you have made the plans, why worry? You’re not having surgery, having a baby, or ill – this is a house-if you don’t like it you can change it.”

    Practical Family – eh?

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