You just landed your first gig as a freelancer. There’s nothing quite like that feeling. You have flexibility, freedom, and a chance to shine as a writer. Whether you’re freelancing as a side gig or trying to transition to full-time freelancing work, scoring that first job is exhilarating. But what do you do next?
Growing your client base is essential. It means more money, more opportunities, and more connections. It’s also an incredibly daunting task. Gerri Detweiler from Nav stopped by to share five action steps that anyone must take to be a better freelancer. Detweiler walks you through each part of freelancing, from perfecting that first pitch all the way to making it easy to get paid. She even shares some uncommon advice, like why reading your published pieces can make you an editor’s go-to choice for freelancing.
Detweiler shares the top five moves to become a better freelancer no matter what career stage you’re in. If you’re looking to be the best, here’s how to start.
Freelancing Tip #1: Perfect Your Short & Sweet Pitch
Crafting a perfect pitch email feels impossible when you’re first getting started with freelance work. But Detweiler says it doesn’t have to be difficult. Be direct and thoughtful. That will help you stand out.
Before drafting your email, make sure you really take time to look at what the brand is doing. Review their blog and any other existing content that they have. Make sure you understand their mission and their purpose. Detweiler gives an example from her own work at Nav. Many people assume the brand’s name is written in all-caps, like an acronym. NAV is a Canadian rapper and a type of cryptocurrency, but it’s definitely not the name of the brand. Detweiler says this isn’t a deal breaker, but it is something that people notice.
After you’ve done your research, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and write. Start with a subject line that is direct and clear. Anyone who clicks on the email should know from the subject that you want to freelance. To learn more about how to write an email that gets opened, check out this article from Sarah Li Cain.
As for the body of the email itself, make your pitch short and sweet. Tailor your pitch to what the brand is doing and explain how you can contribute to their work. After that, include links to several relevant articles that showcase your skills. Before ending your email, make sure that you include ways for them to reach out to you.
Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to brands more than once. In fact, contacting a brand every 3 or 6 months might be exactly what it takes to get the gig. Detweiler shares that funding changes, new projects start, and other opportunities arise. A brand might not have needed a freelancer when you first reached out, but as brands grow, they often look for more help later on.
Freelancing Tip #2: Meet Your Deadlines
Freelancers spend a great deal of time focusing on their own assignments and calendars. But to truly appreciate the importance of deadlines, consider the brand’s perspective. As brands grow their content, they might publish a dozen times a week. They might also be focusing on building out a particular topic and need 25 or even 30 stories on it. If something comes in late or never arrives, that throws a huge wrench in their content calendar.
Of course, life happens. Detweiler says that the best thing freelancers can do is to reach out to your editor as quickly as possible if you’re going to miss a deadline. Make sure you specify what you can and can’t do. By being transparent, that helps the brand decide if they need to push the piece to another freelancer or can simply reschedule the content.
Meeting deadlines can make or break your freelancing career. In fact, it’s one of the top reasons freelancers get fired according to our recent talk with Robert Farrington of The College Investor. That means you need to prioritize being consistent and turning work in on time or even early if possible. Detweiler says there’s no question about it–people want to work with people who meet their deadlines.
Freelancing Tip #3: Produce Quality Work with Each Brand in Mind
Making sure that you submit work on or before your deadlines is important. But if you want to be an even better freelancer, you also have to meet specifications accurately. Your ultimate goal is to produce the highest quality version of what you’ve been asked to create.
Understand The Brand
So what does high-quality work look like? The first thing that freelancers need to remember is that the content should be suited for the brand. That means that you want to write in a way that shows you understand the purpose and the mission of the client or company.
But this doesn’t mean giving up your voice. Instead, Detweiler says that the best freelancers understand a brand’s voice and use their own to complement the style of the brand. One easy way to do this is to inquire about any style guides the brand has. You can also spend time exploring their archived work to see what they’ve already produced. To find out other ways to produce quality work for brands, check out our chat with Darbi Masters from FreshBooks.
In addition to capturing their vision and voice, you must make sure that your work is accurate. If you use outside sources for research, document them so that everything can be fact-checked by editors or even readers. Familiarize yourself with different writing styles. Many companies work in AP style since that is the traditional journalism writing style, but you can also explore other official writing manuals and style guides. Furthermore, you want to make sure that you inquire about compliance requirements. Perhaps there are certain sources that are off limits or there are other brands that they want you to intentionally include.
If you find yourself writing outside of your niche, do the extra work to familiarize yourself with key terms and descriptions. Show that you are capable of doing your own research and have a willingness to learn. This makes for smoother on-boarding, and it’s a way to set yourself apart as a better freelancer. By becoming a trusted, reliable freelance source for a brand, they’re much more likely to come back to you with future assignments.
Freelancing Tip #4: Read Your Published Pieces
After you’ve submitted your work, gotten the green light, and received your payment, the job is over, right? Not so fast, says Detweiler. One of the most important things any freelancer can do is to actually read their published pieces.
This step is especially important if you don’t receive editing notes or formal feedback before your piece goes to print. By reviewing your published piece, you can start to see what changes the editor makes. By noticing their preferences, you can incorporate feedback even if it isn’t given to you directly. Showing that you can adapt as you go along is huge. By making the editor’s job as easy as possible, you’re likely to become a fast favorite.
Freelancing Tip #5: Establish an Invoicing System That Makes It Easy to Get Paid
Every freelancer wants to get paid. After all, we’re not doing this for exposure. If you missed that memo, check out why you probably shouldn’t be writing for free according to veteran freelance writer Miranda Marquit. But in order to be paid, you need to set up a system that makes it possible for brands to pay you.
The first step is to invoice on time. When you first land your freelancing job, make sure you communicate with them regarding invoicing. Some brands might expect you to invoice after each completed assignment, while others might want an invoice biweekly or monthly. Accounting departments may need to close out invoices within a certain period of time, so ask and then follow through.
In addition to setting up a system to invoice efficiently, you also want to make sure that you have options for getting paid. Most brands will pay by check or use direct deposit. When you are first starting out freelancing, you will likely want to create a PayPal account and set up a US-based bank account.
Detweiler also suggests making sure that you have a US mailbox to collect checks. Even if you’re a digital nomad, having a home base–or even just someone who collects your mail and deposits checks on your behalf–is key. Avoid creating extra headaches for the brand who hired you to get paid on time.
To learn more about how to get paid well as a freelancer, check out our interview with Paula Pant.
Final Thoughts on Becoming a Better Freelancer
Following these five steps will make you a better freelancer. But let’s say that you want to be the best. Detweiler says that one of the most important things you can do as a freelancer is to focus on building relationships with brands and with clients. That comes naturally as you build a reputation for doing a good job and submitting consistent quality work.
It’s no secret that startups sometimes shutter or that companies pivot. People also make more career changes nowadays than ever before. What freelancers need to remember is that people do move jobs, and they remember who they enjoyed working with. That means that there is plenty of opportunity for you to get jobs from other places as your reputation and network grow.
Freelancing can be a very satisfying way to get your work out in the world and build a solid business for yourself. Whether it’s revamping your pitch, reworking your invoice system, or digging through your work that’s already been published, there’s at least one step that you can take today to become a better freelancer.
What is the next step for you to become a better freelancer?
To hear the full episode with Gerri Detweiler, check out the latest episode of Money & Media podcast. Plus, you will hear a podcast-exclusive discussion between our hosts, Joe Saul-Sehy and Bethany Bayless as they break down the interview with Gerri.
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About Our Guest
Gerri’s been guiding individuals through the confusing world of credit for 20+ years. Her articles have been widely syndicated, and she is the author or coauthor of five books, including her most recent, Finance Your Own Business: Get on the Financing Fast Track. She’s education director for Nav, which gives small business owners free personal and business credit scores and guidance, and helps match them to financing. She recently downsized to a tiny house.
About Our Hosts
Joe Saul-Sehy is the co-host of the Stacking Benjamins personal finance podcast and operates the Stacking Benjamins blog.
Bethany Bayless is a public speaker and emcee who co-hosts the podcast The Money Millhouse.
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