Still not sure how to start freelance writing when you have never been published? Here are my three quick ways to help you discover what to write and motivate you to get your first piece published.
1. It’s Okay to Start at the Bottom
So, you don’t have a writing niche, per say, or you love to research and write about many topics? While I don’t recommend this approach for long-term writing success, it can serve you well at the beginning of your freelance career. Interview all the freelancers out there, and most will tell you that their first paid writing job was something completely random or horrible.
My first paid writing gigs a decade ago were for children’s baby boutiques, a plastic surgeon, and a site that specialized in colon cancer. In a given week, I would write a post about fancy children’s clothes that cost $100-200 an outfit, an article on what a mommy makeover was, and a quick post on colorectal cancer treatment. Fancy, right?
I make more now for an article that took an hour to write than what I use to make in a week back in the beginning. I don’t regret it for a minute. This type of work developed me into a better researcher, a faster writer, and ultimately gave me the drive to find a better niche and more prominent clients.
I know a lot of other professionals encourage new writers to jump into the high-paying clients right away. This can result in a lot of wasted time pitching and emailing potential clients, and when you need to pay some bills, this can cause a lot of stress. Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom. You won’t be there forever. You don’t have to charge $4 an article or anything crazy like that, but a $25 a post client can pay off in significant ways later down the road.
2. Have a Brainstorming Session
Get out a piece of paper or open up a new document on your laptop. It is time to have a serious brainstorming/brain dumping session. I want you to think and write down the following:
- What topics would I consider myself an expert in? (i.e., What is your degree in? Are you passionate about something? What is your current or past job title?)
- Have I gone through unique experiences? (i.e., Did you adopt a pet with a disability? Did your mom commit suicide? Have you parented a child with special needs?)
- What makes you unique? (i.e., Did you graduate top of your class despite going through cancer? Did you become a janitor at your kids’ school to get a discount on tuition?)
- Where are some interesting places you have visited? (i.e., it could be the taco shop in your small town that serves tacos in the shape of celebrities or somewhere more popular, like Disneyland.)
The point of this brainstorming session is to get your brain to see how much value you have. There are many writers out there, but only you can share your unique view or unique stance on a topic. Look for connections between your points. Don’t shy away from negative points or experiences. For example, you might suffer with severe anxiety or IBS, but you are also a Disneyland pass holder or mommy of three. Seem insignificant? Think again. Here are just a few topics you can pitch:
- How to Survive Disneyland with Severe Anxiety
- Disneyland and IBS: How to Plan Your Trip Accordingly
- What I Want My Kids to Know About My Anxiety Struggles
- Anxiety Struggles I Wish I Could Confess to Other Moms
- 5 Ways IBS Made Me a Better Mom
With the right audience and publication, any idea can be aninteresting, reader-worthy article.
Research Publications in Your Market
Once you have a better idea of what to write about, find your ideal audience and clients. When I first started, I picked baby clothing boutiques because I saw that there were many online shops but not many of them had blogs. I would research and study these shops and eventually email the owner asking if they were in need of someone to update their blog or content. Surprisingly, many owners got back to me excited because they did need help but didn’t know where to start. This is the same approach I have done for many years as a finance writer too. Of course, with a much more polished email pitch and experience under my belt.
Start searching your desired topics or article ideas that you came up with in the second step. For example, a quick search of “Disneyland with Anxiety” lead me to find the following:
- The Mighty website that published a similar article and is open to contributors (not sure if paid or not)
- Disboards had a discussion on their member boards, and the site has an articles page which might mean they are open to contributors
- BayAreaParent posted a first-person article on the topic, but might be open to a pitch for a how-to piece on dealing with anxiety at the park
This is just a quick example of what you can find when you do a little research. I don’t know if any of these sites are interested in the topic, writers, or if they are paying, but if I wanted to break into the market, I would spend more time researching these sites and emailing the right point of contact about my article idea.
Remember, you might only hear back from a small percentage of sites or your idea might be a bad fit for the site, but it can lead to a potential job opportunity. Also, a free guest post can lead to paid opportunities too if the site owner is impressed with your work.
There is no clear, cut way to land jobs. You can do X, Y, and Z perfectly and still end the day without any leads or paid jobs. On the other hand, you could take a risk and put time into writing a free guest post, and it pays off in big ways. In my career, I have wasted time on a lot of free or underpaid opportunities that went nowhere, but there were also some opportunities that didn’t pay the bills but landed me much bigger clients.
Go get your feet wet. You might land in a shallow puddle and get muddy, or you might jump into a deep pool of potential income.