College students are usually eager for a way to make extra money, while still focusing on developing their skills, and paving the way for a future career. Freelance writing fits almost perfectly here. It’s a flexible way to make extra money, with no minimum requirements for hours or strict scheduling to get in the way of your studies. If you’re an English major or if you want to be a professional communicator, it’s a great way to hone your skills. And even if you don’t, the extra writing practice will help you write papers throughout the rest of your college career.
The question is, how do you get started?
Starting With the Basics
You’ll need to treat your freelance writing endeavor like you would a business. That means coming up with a business plan and putting basic needs in order before you try to attract your first clients.
In your business plan, you’ll conduct market research to figure out who your key demographics are and how you might reach them. You’ll also review competitive research to see what other freelance writers are doing, and figure out a way to differentiate yourself from them. You won’t have many expenses to project, but this is also a good opportunity to study your financials; what are you planning on charging for your work?
We’ll touch on some of these topics in future sections.
Once you have your business plan figured out, you’ll need to brand yourself. Are you going by your personal name, or are you going to create a company name or a pseudonym to write under? From there, you’ll need a website. Even if you plan on attracting freelance clients in other ways, a website will serve as the anchor for your portfolio. Then, put together an invoice template you can use to bill your clients, and make sure you have a good way to track your income; you’ll be paid as an independent contractor, so you’re responsible for paying taxes on what you earn.
Choosing a Niche
“Freelance writing” is an incredibly broad category, so the biggest decision you’re going to make is deciding which niche to pursue. In other words, who are you going to write for, and what, exactly, are you going to write?
These are just a few possibilities:
- Reporting/journalism. Writing articles for news organizations, magazines, and reputable blogs could be a viable outlet if you have a keen sense of storytelling and an eye for detail.
- Website content. You could also write content for new websites as they undergo development. This is important for both customer communication and marketing purposes.
- Search engine optimization (SEO) requires both onsite and offsite content to be written for a brand. With a bit of research, you can learn how to “optimize” your blogs for SEO.
- Ghost writing. You could also ghost write for someone, helping them write a book or a blog of their own.
You could also work in an area that’s writing-adjacent; for example, you could provide editing services.
Developing a Portfolio
Most paying clients won’t want to work with you unless they’re confident in your abilities. That means having a thorough portfolio of your past work that shows what you can do. If you’re just getting started, of course, you won’t have a major body of work to show off. It’s up to you to create it from scratch. Depending on your industry and niche, you could put together a few pieces that show off your skills, or you could use some of the work you’ve done for school in the past.
One important note here; proofread everything like your life depends on it, and get a second set of eyes to back you up. A single typo could ruin your chances of being selected.
Once you begin to attract more clients, you’ll add more work to your portfolio organically.
Finding Your First Clients
Now for the hard part—finding your first clients. Over time, with a good reputation, you’ll be able to attract referrals and build your client base organically, but landing those first big relationships is a challenge. Talk to your professors to see if they have any leads, and start scouting the web for companies and organizations specifically looking for a freelance writer. You may need to take a lower rate or work outside your comfort zone when you get started, as a way to get your foot in the door.
Freelance writing can help you improve your skills while you make extra money, but don’t let it completely take over your life. Your first priority should still be on completing your classes, so only work on your side projects in your spare time.