Long before strip clubs and social media, I worked as a hustler of a different kind. At seventeen I was fresh out of high school and looking to make my mark on the writing world. I began by submitting articles to online publications that paid nothing. I wrote pieces on music, (hip-hop – and found out who Kendrick Lamar was) and got free tickets to DJ gigs and festivals to cover them, and sometimes even take photos of them for their websites.
A few months later I got my first paid gig and things started to look up. I supported myself on and off throughout my first years of university with freelance work.
The gig economy is a fickle one, but a necessary evil in today’s world of casual contracts. Freelance can be a wonderful lesson in business and marketing, so I thought I’d put together a few points on how I got my freelance work back in the day.
- Get your first few bylines – usually this means writing some free articles, but don’t do too much free work, it ruins it for everyone else. However it does help to have one or two writing references on your resume.
- Start pitching articles to publications – I pitch around 5x articles to an editor in each round, knowing some will get rejected. You need a catchy title and a few sentences explaining your angle. Pitches should be short, to the point, and friendly. Don’t write in cliches, & know the style of the website you are pitching, so that you nail the kind of content they’re looking for. A health and fitness website isn’t interesting in financial articles and vice versa.
- Most magazine or website articles sit at about 500-750 words and editors do NOT like when you go over this. This comes from print-magazines where the word-count had to be decided by what could fit in the physical layout. It’s a good rule to stick to, and it helps you keep your writing as succinct as possible.
- Create a writing resume with examples of your work – Alternatively you could create a media kit, particularly if you create content that isn’t just writing.
- Having a blog is a good thing to include on your writing resume if it’s professional and well-written (read: Not like mine. Mine is the antithesis of employment opportunities, this is why I don’t use my real name online).
- Send out short emails to media companies, blogs, and other companies you are interested in writing for, include said resume and links to previous articles. Having a linktree or blog with a list of your articles all in one place is very handy.
- You can also find copywriting jobs online – often these are very bland. Writing about vacuum cleaners is mind-numbing, but they are more likely to hire you than Marie Claire. Also they pay quite well. My second highest paying freelance job was for a veterinary website. So boring. I read SO many Ceaser Milan blog posts for research. But it paid the bills and gave me lots of experience in a different style of writing. It was also consistent work.
- Some companies will pay a set rate, some will pay you according to your rates. I used to charge roughly 0.40c per word each article. I wouldn’t accept less than $100 per article as a new writer with a few bylines. Eventually you can negotiate your rates to be higher. I think the most I ever charged was $600 for a single article, with unedited photos for an event at a winery. It was great, I got to take a drunk ride on a horse and cart and eat ($$) cheese.
- Then, refer back to my videos on freelancer taxes. It’s titled as stripper taxes, but it’s all about freelance. They are both sole trader businesses.
It takes consistent effort to keep up writing as a viable side hustle or main income. Keep going, because you will get a lot of rejections – you will also get a lot of valuable feedback on your writing (not to mention actual constructive criticism that helps you grow as a writer).