There has never been a better time to be a freelance writer. Freelancer jobsites like Upwork have made it easy to find work and to secure payment, and everyday there are dozens of new opportunities. In 2013 I had never even heard of these platforms, but by 2015 I was one of the most sought-after writers on Elance and oDesk, which would later merge into Upwork. There is no single reason why this happened and no easy way to emulate it. It took a lot of hard work and sleepless nights, as well as a little alcohol (okay, maybe more than a little).
I wrote about my experiences in The Online Writers’ Companion, but there are four main tips to take away from this, things that all new freelancers should know:
You need to be resilient and you need to be professional. You will encounter clients that expect you to work for free, clients that make you question your own sanity. I have personally encountered several clients who wanted a “bestselling” novel and didn't want to pay more than $100 for it. One of them insisted I should work for this amount because writing should be “my passion” and I should “enjoy writing for writing’s sake”.
These people exist, but you can’t let them get to you. You can’t snap at them either. Just ignore them. And if a client is rude, offensive or difficult in any way, make sure you are professional, polite and courteous in response. That way you look like the sane one if things escalate to a dispute.
Many freelancers give up because they can’t find the work. They use up all of their ‘connects’ – Upwork credits used to submit proposals to recruiters - buy more, get frustrated and leave. But don’t worry. This happens to everyone. I had many dry spells when I first started and at one point I worked for just 5 hours in an entire month. The good thing is that these spells don’t last. Take another look at your profile and your approach and try again. If it still isn't working, be patient. If you are good at what you do, if you are quick and professional, it will come together eventually.
Once you've made it through the first year you’ll find that the work is there when you want it, you have more money than ever before and you have connections in all sorts of industries.
In The Online Writers’ Companion, I created a list of all of the different client types. It felt wrong to group clients like this, but the truth is that every single client I have worked with fitted into one of those groups.
There are those who expect a lot, pay little and will always screw you over, and there are those who will treat you like a friend, will always pay more for good work and will never expect freebies. The trick is to figure out what they are going to be like as soon as possible. I like to prolong the interview process under the guise of asking for more information. This gives me a chance to figure them out and if I get the warning signs I’m looking for, I back off. Listen to your instinct, and remember that a demanding client who is constantly rude and demeaning, is unlikely to make the process easy or to give you good feedback.
One of the main benefits of using a freelance platform is that you don’t have to wait for a client to offer you more work, simply because you don't have to work for the same client again if you don’t want to. You can finish one job and then dive into another.
But that’s not how you make money in the long term. The vast majority of the money I make comes from long-term clients. I helped them out by delivering what they wanted in a timely manner, so they continue to come to me when they are in need. It’s much easier to get a constant stream of work from a single client than it is to get lots of little opportunities from several clients.
When one job finishes you have to go through the process of applying, interviewing, sending samples (if need be) and then eventually working on the job. This is a pain. So, do what you can to keep your clients onboard. Go out of your way to impress them, to be nice to them. Always ask if they need more work and always tell them that you can give them a discount if they order more work from you.
PJ Aitken is a market-leading online freelance writer and bestselling author of ‘The Online Writer’s Companion: A Complete Guide to Earning Your Living as a Freelancer’ (Skyhorse Publishing), which is released on 4th October priced £14.99 in paperback.