Stop Being Brash: Freelancing Tips

The talk of the town at the minute seems to be on new freelancers and how they should approach the industry they're trying to break into. As I've learned in my seven months of freelancing, the industry can be tough, exploitative, and sometimes unfair. Nonetheless, I've spent the weekend thinking about how to approach this post, while also speaking with other freelancers, and I'd like to share a few pieces of advice.

1. Start a blog

This is something you should try before attempting to find work, as it help your chances later on. Start up a blog on Blogger or WordPress and get writing. Write some articles in the style you feel best represents your skill as a writer. Once you have a few posts that you feel look good in your portfolio, you might be ready to start the freelance life.

I started this blog in my final year of university in 2015. It was originally a platform for me to write longer posts about films and videogames than on my Twitter account, but eventually evolved into deeper, analytical essays and reviews of things I enjoyed. I used all of this in my applications for freelance work, and it'll do wonders for you too.

2. Working for free doesn't mean working for nothing

This is a conversation I see a lot. Many say that you shouldn't ever work for free. I've agreed in the past, but now I think working for free can have its benefits. Firstly, many places will offer feedback and advice on every piece you write. You'll also have access to contacts in the industry and have opportunities to network that will help grow your portfolio and experience. 

If a writer is willing to work for no pay, it means they see value in something other than money. This is the biggest reason why outlets should treat their unpaid writers with the respect they deserve. They're not doing it to get paid, they genuinely need help to grow and integrate with the industry.

This may, however, become problematic when an outlet that can afford you won't pay, so I'm directing this more at the smaller places.

3. Research the place offering work

There are many reputable outfits, both paid and unpaid, looking to take on new freelancers all the time. Remember that while an offer may look tempting, it's worth checking up on their history, their work ethic, and their treatment of both current and former writers. Seek out the people who have written for these places and ask them questions. Not only will you get the information you seek, but you'll also have done a little bit of networking.

The problem is that there are many places that won't send you feedback, or allow you to flourish as a writer. There are some places that will even remove your author byline and call you lazy after you've left! If this is the case, don't be afraid to say no to them. It's the best choice in the long run, and you'll feel good about it once something better comes along.

4. Focus your brand

Narrow down what topics you can cover to one or two specialisations. For me, this is film and videogames. Put this into your brand identity, on your blog, your social media, your portfolio. Use keywords and phrases. Learn SEO (I am still terrible at this). This'll make finding work easier because clients will begin to see a consistency in the type of work you contribute and will be more likely to take you on.

As for your portfolio, don't just put any old work into it. It'll come off as messy and unorganised. Instead, you should opt to only place what work you are offering to your clients. If you can narrow down what you can do, it'll look great.

Thanks for reading. This is something I've been wanting to write about for a while, but recent events have kicked me into gear. I surfed Twitter for a bit and asked a few freelancers for their contribution to this post. Here they are:

"I know it's a little trite but just write, write, write. And don't forget to read, too! Take your time to find your own unique voice. Everyone wants to see a little bit of personality shine through in your writing, so try and nurture that and let it grow -- don't stifle it. Be reflective. Realise that like many things in life, you're continually learning and growing; writing is very much the same!"

- Dylan Chaundy (@DylanChaundy)

"Never be afraid to ask questions, especially surrounding arranged payment. Unless it’s been made explicitly clear you’ll be working voluntarily, you have the moral and contractual obligation to ask to be paid for your hard work. Don’t hesitate in chasing your money too once your piece has gone live, or a timeframe as to when to expect it and how. Whether it’s your first paid gig or your 100th, everyone has equal rights to what’s been agreed."

- James Bralant (@TGK_22)

"Decide what you want to write because you enjoy it and what you want to write to earn your living, and remember that there's not always going to be a crossover, especially at first. I blog because I love it and I don't think it's ever going to be something that pays for me, but I also do the odd bit of copywriting because I need the money."

- Rachel Ellis (@rachelkellis)

"Just remember that if you're working for free, websites and publications have no right to make demands or try and overwork you. Know your worth and never do anything you're not happy and comfortable with, especially if you're not being paid for it. Publications and their writers work best together if there's a mutual respect and understanding between them."

- Meg Read (@triforcemeg)

"There's nothing wrong with working for 'free', but if you aren't getting paid, you need to ask yourself 'What am I getting in return?' That answer will be different for every writer, but I found that consistent feedback on my work warranted the hours I put in."

- Thomas Hughes (@Poonikinz)

"Perhaps the best tip I can give to freelancers, regardless of industry, is to make sure that you consistently network with other individuals. Engaging with others on social media such as Twitter can easily build a list of acquaintances. Most importantly, make sure that when traveling to events you not only have a fresh pack of business cards, but a warm and friendly smile. Leave a good impression on people, make them want to remember your name."

- Dan Thompson (@ShadowForks)

"Make sure you know what the work is you're actually being asked to do, then ask yourself 'is it worth it?' If you feel you're being taken advantage of as a freelancer, there's no shame in backing out of a job; but also don't be afraid to go the extra mile. People like it if you put in that tad bit more effort because you'll make yourself noticed and probably get more work. Offer more than what's asked for, but if they don't want it don't feel bad."

- Charlotte Mednick (@Lottie_Mednick)

"Whenever you're walking down the street and think of an interesting topic for a story or discussion piece, write it down! Believe me, you will forget it. Keeping track of them allows you to come back to them and start forming a full-fledged piece that you can pitch to sites. But remember: pitch the idea. Don't write the whole thing and then shop it around."

- Morgan Park (@MorganRPark)

"Voluntary roles can still provide experience, a portfolio, and opportunities to go to E3 or Gamescom. Even though you're new, remember that they need you more than you need them, so don't be afraid to walk away if you're no longer getting anything out of a project. Always ask questions. Communicate with your boss often. How they reply will indicate if they are worth working for."

- Ben McCurry (@gaysteelmill)

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