The ins and outs of being a freelance writer

Samuel Clennett
31.05.20
5 minute read

Becoming a freelance writer is a tempting proposition for anyone who’s keen to avoid the daily grind of an office job. Whether it’s because you want to work from home, travel the world, keep your schedule flexible, or simply build up some new skills, freelancing as a writer could be the career of your dreams.

But it’s not easy. For one thing, Freelance writers face a ton of competition from other freelancers based all around the world. That means you’ll be up against vastly experienced writers on the one hand, and people writing vast amounts for next to nothing on the other.

So how do you carve out a successful career for yourself as a freelance writer based in Australia? In this article we’ll share a few tips.

Dealing with your finances as a freelance writer can become cumbersome. Wise Business can help mitigate part of that hassle.

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How to become a freelance writer

Technically speaking, setting yourself up as a freelance writer in Australia isn’t hard at all. You’ll almost certainly be a sole trader, so you should apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN). That’s the key point in terms of paperwork¹.

But even though it’s straightforward to get set up, being a freelance writer isn’t an easy ride.

While you don’t need official qualifications like a doctor or a lawyer does, writing is still a skilled job. If you don’t have any relevant experience or training, you won’t just struggle to get work – you’ll struggle to do any work that you do get.

So, long before you become financially dependent on freelance writing, you must build up experience. Here are a few ways you can do that.

  • Start up a blog. Anyone can do this in seconds these days, so it’s a great way to get started as a writer. However, be aware: professional writers work with editors, who help with both developing ideas and briefs, and then thoroughly checking written articles before publication. That’s not just a nice-to-have – it’s a key part of the professional writing process. But personal bloggers don’t have it – they have to do it all themselves. So think very carefully about quality control before you hit “publish” – especially if you want to be taken seriously.
  • Seek out some entry-level gigs. If you’re an aspiring freelance copywriter, there are loads of online platforms – some listed below – that offer all kinds of opportunities. They’re often open to bidding wars, so you might end up badly paid. Similarly, aspiring freelance journalists will probably have to write for low-paying publications at first, or even work for free. You won’t be raking it in when you’re starting out, sadly.
  • Do some training. Especially if you’re aiming for journalism or creative writing, there’s a lot to be said for going back to school and developing your skills formally. Don’t underestimate the amount of professional expertise that writers have. Formal training can open all sorts of doors for you.

Building a portfolio

One of the most important things to do as a freelancer is putting together a portfolio. This should be a collection of some of the writing work you’re most proud of, or the work that you think highlights your best or most relevant skills.

Make it as easy as possible for your prospective editor or client to look through your portfolio. It could just be a selection of PDFs stored in Google Drive, Dropbox, or wherever, or even a nicely selected list of hyperlinks, if all your work is online.

However, there are ways to make your portfolio look really dynamic – you could consider using a specialist platform like clippings.me, Contently, Journo Portfolio, or Pressfolios. Check out the great portfolio examples on those sites for inspiration.

The line between a portfolio and a personal website can be a little blurry. The thing your future editor will be most keen to see is examples of your work – so prioritize a great portfolio. However, if you can fold that in to a killer website that provides a broader overview of how great you are to work with, then so much the better.

Where to find work as a freelance writer

Here’s an overview of the different ways you might be able to find some work.

Copywriting – online platforms

This is one avenue that’s opened up relatively recently – online marketplaces where companies (or individuals) invite freelancers to apply for particular copywriting gigs.

The gigs in question can be absolutely tiny – one sentence of marketing copy for online retail, say – or pretty massive – even ghostwriting an entire book.

Be sure to check what sort of fee you’re being offered, and do a basic calculation to work out what that equates to per hour. You will not always be offered reasonable rates. Use your discretion – go for it if it’s manageable and you need the experience, but don’t commit yourself to months’ worth of work for the price of a tin of lager.

Here are some of the platforms you could consider exploring:

  • Upwork – one of the biggest worldwide, so you’ll find loads of opportunities but also stiff competition.
  • Fiverr – another major international platforms, not just for writers but for freelancers of all sorts.
  • Freelancer – another major player, established as far back as 2009.
  • Problogger – despite its international outlook, this site is Australian-founded. It’s more like a traditional jobs board, so a great way to find a range of specific writing projects.

Copywriting – working with clients directly

Going through these platforms isn’t your only option. It can be harder to break in, but if you can build up a relationship with a specific client then that can be even better in the long run. You’ll get to know each other a lot better, and build up some expertise in their line of business. It can be a more reliable way to manage your schedule, too.

How do you get that sort of work? Traditional jobs boards are a good place to start, and don’t forget about LinkedIn. You could also get in touch directly with any companies you’re particularly keen to work for.

And of course, if you set up a website that really sings, you might even find that people get in touch with you.

Journalism – pitching

The art of the pitch is a complex one. Suffice to say, if you want to go for it as a freelance journalist, you need to be overflowing with great ideas for articles, and full of enthusiasm for explaining them to your potential editors.

You’ll also need to have a thick skin, as you’re likely to face a lot of rejection. Plus, you’ll always need to be sure you can actually pull off writing the article you’ve pitched. Pro tip: don’t promise your editor an interview with the Pope, if you have no idea how to get in touch with him.

Getting paid as a freelancer

As a freelancer, you’re forgoing the comfort of a monthly paycheck. Instead, you’re likely to be getting a greater number of smaller payments into your account.

Typically these days, these payments might come from anywhere around the world – freelance writing is a truly global business. So it’s a good idea to be prepared to receive payments in multiple international currencies.

That process becomes significantly easier – and quite possibly cheaper – if you have an international account. Wise Business is a great way to do that. It’s perfect for freelancers as there’s no monthly fee, but it gives you bank details in AU, NZ and US dollars, euros and GB pounds – so that you can receive money in any of those currencies just like a local.

Plus, making international payments through Wise can be as much as 19x cheaper than PayPal. You also get a free debit card.

With fees kept to a minimum, Wise Business is an ideal way for freelancers to keep a lid on the costs that can come with doing business internationally.

Legal and tax implications of being a freelancer

As already mentioned, as a freelancer in Australia you’ll need an ABN to start doing business.

And as a sole trader, you’ll need to keep decent control of your own finances. You’ll have to file income tax returns each year and pay tax accordingly. So don’t forget to put enough money aside so you can afford to pay that income tax bill. You should generally be able to pay it off in quarterly instalments via a pay-as-you-go scheme. Seek professional advice if you’re not sure of any details.

Ultimately, your tax responsibilities are just one more reminder that being a freelance writer isn’t really an easy ride. In fact, in a lot of ways it’s tougher than having a job.

So it’s vital to cut down on unnecessary complication where you can – which is why Wise Business might be a great help as you’re starting out. Take a look now and see if it could save you money.

Sources:

  1. https://www.abr.gov.au/business-super-funds-charities/applying-abn/abn-entitlement/sole-trader

Sources checked 31 May 2020


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