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How Freelance Writing Works

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I wanted to add to and build upon my other post (and some of the excellent comments that followed) by clarifying what "freelance writing" is and how it works.

by Elizabeth Hanes Elizabeth Hanes, BSN, RN (Trusted Brand)

Specializes in Freelance Writer, 'the nurse who knows content'. Has 13 years experience.

How Freelance Writing Works

When I talk about freelance writing, I'm talking about making a living as a writer. I'm not talking about writing fiction or poetry. It's tough to make a living at those.

I like to break down the field of freelance writing this way... There are two major categories: journalism and everything else. Let's take a peek at how journalism works, to give you an idea of how it is possible to make a living as a freelance writer.

I find that a lot of people who read consumer magazines think the stories contained inside were written by staff writers (people employed by the magazine). This is not true at all. At a magazine, most of the staff people are editors of some sort. They may write a few of the stories, but mainly their job is to assign articles, oversee the writing, make edits for grammar and style, and work with designers to create a visually appealing presentation of the work.

The bulk of stories in any magazine are actually written by freelancers like me. The way we get assigned to write these articles is by pitching stories directly to editors. For example, let's say I have a great lead on some new research into breast cancer. I may contact an editor (figuring out exactly which editor is a whole other story) and basically say, "Your readership consists of women between the ages of 18 and 35. Here's some new research that may change the way they approach breast cancer screening. Can I write this for you?" (That's a very condensed version of a pitch.)

Then the editor comes back to me with a yes or no. If she gives me the assignment, then I get a contract that specifies the deadline, number of sources, word count and rate. I do all the work, turn in the story, and BOOM! Next thing you know my name is on the article in a glossy magazine at your friendly local supermarket.

That's how freelance writing works on the journalism side. But what about the marketing side (which is what I do)?

Freelance writing is basically a service industry. The client needs content. This could range from blog posts to marketing brochures to white papers...the list goes on. The client doesn't employ its own writers because it's cost-prohibitive to do so. Instead, the client looks for a contractor like me to handle these writing tasks for them.

If you're wondering how much potential work is available in this sphere, just look around your own hospital, clinic or facility. How many items around you have printed words on them? Someone (like me) had to write all that stuff. Seriously. Nothing writes itself.

Still skeptical? I urge you to spend one week collecting everything you encounter in your daily life that has words on it: brochures, magazines, junk mail, you-name-it. Clip web pages, blog articles, celebrity news, whatever. At the end of the week, remind yourself that someone got paid to write all that stuff. It could have been you.

But I digress...

To obtain this type of work, I have to market myself by locating potential clients and sending them a "letter of introduction" (LOI). In this email, I tell the client how I can help them or their clients (if it's an agency, for example) achieve their content marketing goals. Most of the time, these prospects yawn and delete my LOI. But sometimes they write me back and say, "Excellent timing! We need someone to write a case study, and you'd be perfect for the job. Let's talk."

My personal strategy for earning a living as a freelance writer is to form ongoing relationships with as many clients as I can handle. I currently write regularly for about 5 clients, plus I take on one-off gigs as time permits.

So that's basically how freelance writing works, at least for journalism and marketing typewriting. It's a little different for hard-science writing like regulatory writing for pharma.

Questions?

~Beth

Freelance Nurse Writer with 5 year(s) of experience in PACU, perioperative nursing.

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9 Comment(s)

flying_ace2

Specializes in Pharmaceutical Research, Operating Room. Has 1+ years experience.

Thanks for another informative post about freelancing!

I'm still researching the process of becoming a freelancer, and was wondering at what point you created your LLC? Was it immediately when you started writing as a nurse, or before that, or did you wait until you had a few paying jobs before forming your company?

When you first started freelancing as a nurse writer, how many queries/LOIs would you typically send out every week/month? I'm sure the number varied depending on your other time commitments. I'm not planning on quitting my day job yet since it might take a little while to build up a client base, but I want to make sure I'm also putting in a good effort to find clients and get paying jobs - my portfolio isn't going to build itself! I'm guessing that the number of queries I should be sending out depends on how quickly I want to find work, but I'd like to know what your experience was as well!

I've been looking for clients at the hospitals and healthcare non-profits in my area, and in several of these places all I've been able to find is an email address that goes to the "marketing team" or the "editors". I've also found this with a few online magazines. When you run into this scenario, how do you figure out who to actually email a query to? Do you simply send a LOI to the marketing team email, or do you make a call to dig deeper to see if you can actually get a name of someone to contact?

I really appreciate all the information and am so excited to take this step! Thank you for all the great information!

Elizabeth Hanes, BSN, RN

Specializes in Freelance Writer, 'the nurse who knows content'. Has 13 years experience.

Thanks for another informative post about freelancing!

I'm still researching the process of becoming a freelancer, and was wondering at what point you created your LLC? Was it immediately when you started writing as a nurse, or before that, or did you wait until you had a few paying jobs before forming your company?

I wrote for many years under my own name, without an LLC. I formed mine in 2009 when I transitioned to full-time health writing because I felt the liability involved was greater than when I was writing about art, antiques and history. I don't think too many people will sue you for erroneous information about collecting Molesworth furniture. haha

When you first started freelancing as a nurse writer, how many queries/LOIs would you typically send out every week/month? I'm sure the number varied depending on your other time commitments. I'm not planning on quitting my day job yet since it might take a little while to build up a client base, but I want to make sure I'm also putting in a good effort to find clients and get paying jobs - my portfolio isn't going to build itself! I'm guessing that the number of queries I should be sending out depends on how quickly I want to find work, but I'd like to know what your experience was as well!

You're smart not to quit your day job. That's what I always advise nurses who want to write. It's not because you can't make a full-time living as a writer. It's because, as you pointed out, it takes awhile to ramp up. In fact, I strongly recommend having at least 6 months' worth of living expense money in the bank when you make the leap to full-time freelancing. Cash flow in this profession can be unpredictable, and you'll need a slush fund for those months when you have $8,000 in receivables billed, but no one's paying timely.

But I digress.

It's hard to say how many queries/LOIs to send. Personally, I believe in "slow and steady." If you send a set number of queries/LOI per day, every day, eventually you will find success. What is the magic number? Who knows. I would say at least 5 per day, but I'm just pulling that number out of thin air.

I've been looking for clients at the hospitals and healthcare non-profits in my area, and in several of these places all I've been able to find is an email address that goes to the "marketing team" or the "editors". I've also found this with a few online magazines. When you run into this scenario, how do you figure out who to actually email a query to? Do you simply send a LOI to the marketing team email, or do you make a call to dig deeper to see if you can actually get a name of someone to contact?

That's a really good strategy: reaching out to local organizations as a starting point. And sometimes, yes, it's more efficient to just pick up the phone and call. This also affords you the opportunity to find out quickly if the entity even uses freelancers.

When I run into the problem of a generic email like "marketing team" or "editor," my first step is to go on LinkedIn and search for people with a likely job title. Then I see if I can find their email online.

Actually, I just went through this process with success. A lot of it is trial-and-error. Try putting various possible email iterations into Google. For example, if you've found an "editor" at XYZ Magazine on LinkedIn, try Googling:

- first initial last name@XYZmagazine.com

- first initial DOT last name@ XYZmagazine.com

- last name@XYZmagazine.com

And so on -- all the usual variations you can find. Conversely, reverse engineer it by Googling the name and company: "Mary Smith" "XYZ Magazine" and see what comes up.

Here's another fun strategy, for finding places to pitch: Google "write for us." You'll be amazed at how many places today put their writer guidelines on their websites. Of course, you still have to winnow this down to your preferred subject matter publications, but...

It sounds like you're doing great at pursuing freelancing! Keep up the good work.

~Beth

TheSocialMediaCoach

Specializes in Ambulatory Care, Rheumatology. Has 10 years experience.

Can you tell me about the sequence of events...as in contracts, proposals....starting the work and payment? I have had one client not pay, that is my fault as I did not have a strong contract in place.

Elizabeth Hanes, BSN, RN

Specializes in Freelance Writer, 'the nurse who knows content'. Has 13 years experience.

Can you tell me about the sequence of events...as in contracts, proposals....starting the work and payment? I have had one client not pay, that is my fault as I did not have a strong contract in place.

I disagree completely that it is "your fault" a client failed to pay. Someone else's bad behavior is never your fault!

Contracts are a tricky issue in freelance writing. I've worked on a basis of emails only (no signed document whatsoever - not recommended!), and I've worked on a basis of a 14-page contract (produced by a major television network's legal department). Either way, the client is obligated to pay. Emails can be construed as a valid contract by the courts. If you discuss project details/rate/delivery dates, that is a contract. Period.

But to your question, the general sequence of events in freelance writing go like this:

1. Prospect and I make contact (either they reach out to me, or I contact them)

2. We discuss a project.

3. Usually I submit a proposal that details what I will deliver, the timeline, and the project fee. Depending on the type of work, the situation may be that an editor gives me assignment details, timeline and fee. Either way is valid.

4. If I submit a proposal, I require it to be signed before proceeding. I also require a deposit. With an editor, there's usually a contract offered to me. But not always (see above re: email convos).

5. Once the client pays a deposit, I start working. Or, with an editor, I start working right away.

6. After I have submitted all the deliverables, I invoice for the balance due. If it's a large project, I submit milestone invoices to collect money along the way.

7. Payment sometimes arrives timely, often does not, and sometimes must be chased.

That's pretty much it.

Let me know what other questions you have.

~Beth

TheSocialMediaCoach

Specializes in Ambulatory Care, Rheumatology. Has 10 years experience.

VERY helpful. I have a couple of meetings scheduled next week. I will be better prepared, thank you SO much Beth!

tnbutterfly - Mary, BSN, RN

Specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

VERY helpful. I have a couple of meetings scheduled next week. I will be better prepared, thank you SO much Beth!

Be sure to let us know how things go. Good luck!!

TheSocialMediaCoach

Specializes in Ambulatory Care, Rheumatology. Has 10 years experience.

@tnbutterfly, BSN, RN I have a regular client! I was searching Indeed.com for my Niche, "HIPAA" ( turns out doing countless social media policies made me more familiar than I wanted to be with that law), there I saw a company that was offering a contract, interviewed and I am working with them as a Contractor. Since then someone else noticed my activity on LinkedIn, followed me on Twitter and sent me a request. I am working on a proposal for them as well. Many more proposals sent than actual clients yet I am having fun with the process!

Elizabeth Hanes, BSN, RN

Specializes in Freelance Writer, 'the nurse who knows content'. Has 13 years experience.

That's fantastic, TheSocialMediaCoach! It's true the beginning of the freelance journey holds a lot "more proposals sent than actual clients." That's the nature of the business. But from proposals come clients, and of course you're gaining valuable experience in how to craft good proposals. Way to go!!

Beth

Hi Beth,

I do write on and off. Can you suggest a good on line free editor to check my writing before I send or post.

Thanks,

Thankam