How I Found Success as a Freelance Writer
I’m a freelance writer. Well, to be specific, my professional website and LinkedIn profile say Creative Storyteller & Brand Strategist, but whenever the inevitable question of “so what do you do?” comes up in conversation my answer is always “I freelance”. Freelance what? My words and things. So, freelance writer.
You probably don’t know me though. I don’t have a list of shiny bylines to show, though I have been published in a few publications that mean a great deal to me. I’m not a well known writer with a blue check (much to my dismay), and I’m not part of the writer in-crowd.
But, oh I write. Every single day. For businesses and brands. Ones you’ve never heard of and ones you have.
Now, for transparency sake, it isn’t from lack of trying. For as long as I’ve been writing professionally I’ve wanted to find a place in the traditional media space. To have a host of coveted bylines attributed to my name, to pen personal essays and all of my deep thoughts on things to the publications I dream about. It hasn’t happened for me (yet), but oh I write. Every single day. For businesses and brands. Ones you’ve never heard and ones you have.
My freelance writing career instead has taken on a path of its own. One that has fortunately provided room for a left-brained creative to find success and security while keeping her sanity. And the magical part? Once I decided to focus on doing what I know best, the pieces of my freelance career began to fall into place. Here’s how I did it.
1. Instead of Essays, I Wrote Copy
What I’m about to say is likely stating the obvious, but for the sake of clarity, freelance writing isn’t all about contributing to the major publications and scoring bylines. A note I would have done well to understand at the beginning of my freelance career. While I spent most of my early days blogging on my personal site hoping to get “discovered”, today the majority of my freelance work is copywriting. I write everything from about us pages to newsletters, product descriptions to social media. Any kind of content that a brand or business needs, chances are I’ve written it.
The key was finding those businesses and brands who were looking for just the kind of writer I am. An emotionally driven storyteller — with a background in marketing. The kind of person who writes things (for brands) that people can feel. I found a place for myself working with brands who were just as passionate about their products and services as I was about my words.
2. Then I Realized, Many Brands Aren’t Clear on What They’re Trying to Say
Once I found my groove copywriting, I started to notice a pattern amongst the clients that typically signed on to work with me. We would hop on these discovery calls to get to know each other and I could hear how excited they were about their thing. Whether it was a new venture an entrepreneur was starting, a new product for an already established brand, or a new service offering for a different target audience, we would chat and I’d get to witness firsthand the passion behind their brands.
Once it got down to their copy though, I found so often, they were struggling to explain what they did in a way that reflected who they were. Their current brand stories didn’t capture that fire from our conversations, their voice sounded nothing like the personality they wanted their business to portray, and the things that meant the most to them, the things they wanted their customers to know above all else, were missing or mere afterthoughts in their messaging and copy.
Calling on my intuitive ability to truly hear you, I started to help my clients identify what they wanted to say. I conducted research on their businesses, their customers, and their competitors so they could get a clear understanding of who they were, who they were speaking to, and what position they held in their market. From there I would create the messages that would drive their brands. From their brand stories to their mission statements, their taglines to their voice development, I helped them communicate and connect with the people that meant the most. Their customers.
Brand messaging became my favorite kind of freelance writing to do. It was exhilarating. It felt like a puzzle. You give me all the pieces of what you feel and I’ll write down everything I hear — and make it pretty. Or as my LinkedIn profile also says, “you bring the vision, I’ll bring the words.”
3. Finally I Noticed That Oftentimes, Brands Don’t Know Why They Want to Say Things Anyway
I’ve been freelancing for just about six years and through working with clients across the spectrum, I’ve learned a lot about what works, what doesn’t, and how to maximize the content I’m creating for a company. But also, I’ve learned that more often than not, businesses don’t have a clear picture of what they want to accomplish when they approach a writer and ask them to write a blog, email, or content for a page on their website. It’s easy to listen to the gurus and think “I need a blog! And a newsletter!”, but the why matters.
The truth of it is, in most cases, content without a strategy doesn’t work. Which is why these days the moment a potential client requests my services, I’m asking them why? What are you trying to accomplish?
Leaning on my experience I began to offer content marketing strategy and consulting services to help the clients I work with define and identify their goals and map out a plan to create the content to reach them.
How to Really Find Success as a Freelance Writer
If we’re being technical, being a successful freelance writer is about discovering what you’re good at (for me that’s emotionally driven storytelling), finding people who want what you’ve got to offer (emotionally driven brands), and giving them what they need. Both what they ask for (content!) and what they don’t (strategy). It’s about anticipating and understanding. Paying attention and evolving.
But the most important thing is understanding that: YOU define your version of success.
When I decided to ditch the commute and the traditional job for good, I had a completely different vision in mind for what my new career would look like. One that involved editors, bylines and serene writing retreats. And while my reality looks a bit different in the light, the success is even brighter. I’m making a living from my writing, on my own time, on my own terms, and it feels good.