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Freelancing His and Misses - Reflections from Sharon Hurley Hall

When I first decided to go freelance I had no idea it would turn into a permanent life choice. At the time, I already had almost 20 years of solid journalism writing experience under my belt, but going online felt like an unfamiliar and slightly scary world. So I did what I do best: experimented till I found what worked.

Looking back on it after more than 10 years as a freelance writer, I can see that there were areas where I got it right and others where I got it wrong. Here are some of my hits and misses, in the hope that you will learn from my successes and avoid my mistakes.

Hit: My Website

One thing I did right was to setup my own website. Like many websites back then, it was pretty basic, with only about six pages. But it gave me a place to send clients to see examples of my work and also provided a way for them to contact me.

But it wasn't all golden. One thing I did wrong was not to have a clear plan about what services I would offer. As a result, I chose the wrong domain name. Over the next couple of years, it became clear that nobody knew how it related to my writing business. That meant it had to go.

Eventually, I got rid of that and started again with the domains I use today. (Yes, I said “domains” because I have domains for both my full name and a short version – sharonhh.com – which is the one I actually use.)

Here are a few things I've learned from that experience:

  • Choose a domain name that reflects your brand. That might be a business name or, as often happens with writers, your own name.
  • Make sure the associated social media handles are also available so you have a consistent appearance online.
  • Having your own website trumps having a social media page EVERY time. You don't own your social media profiles, and they can disappear anytime, so make sure you own one online space you can use to promote your writing business.

Miss: Valuing Blogging

I still think it's ironic that when I first came across Google's Blogger, I tried it for a few days then dismissed it. That was a mistake, as I'd have got some early practice in blogging and would have started online freelancing with a lot more examples of my work to show.

Luckily, I turned it around and gave blogging a second chance, which is just as well, as it's a big part of my freelancing life now.

For writers, running your own blog can help with:

  • writing samples for clients
  • learning how blogging platforms work so you can offer an additional service
  • learning about search engine optimization, analytics and related matters
  • perfecting your writing

That's why if I were starting a freelance career today, I'd add a blog to my site and blog regularly, knowing that it would pay off in the medium term.

One important point here is that you’re blogging for clients, rather than your fellow writers. My early blogging efforts resulted in Get Paid to Write Online, which I’m very proud of, but that didn’t win me many clients. When I started sharing published work and writing posts addressing client concerns on my client-facing site, I got more of a response from people I wanted to work with.

Hit: My Writing Community

Another thing I did right was to hook up with a great community of freelancers. It's true that writers aren't your clients, but when they get to know you in a group or forum setting, they are happy to share tips and leads, and even pass on overflow work. I've benefited from this many times over the last 10 years and have also been able to return the favor.

My tip is to select your writing community carefully. Ideally it must be active and supportive and either be geared to freelancers or have a section for freelancers. When I started blogging in earnest, I was part of a group blogging site called WritingUp, where I met many writers I’m still in touch with today.

My current favorite writing forum is the Five Buck Forum on About Writing Squared, run by veteran freelancer Anne Wayman.

By the way, joining a forum isn’t the only way to connect with a community of writers. You can also do that by visiting and commenting on writing blogs or by building a Twitter list of writers and interacting with them there. Those two tips put me in touch with many of the writers who are in my network today.

Miss: Self Worth

One of the biggest things I did wrong as a new freelancer was to undervalue my skills and experience so at the start, I accepted some extremely low-paying gigs. That was a mistake. I was an experienced journalist which, if only I'd realized it early enough, was great grounding for writing online.

The thing is: almost everyone brings something to the table. Even if you haven't freelanced before you have life experience, work experience, and industry knowledge. Those things have a value to the clients who need you.

So if you're starting your freelance writing career, think about what you know and what skills you have that your clients will value. Scout around to see what other professionals are charging and know what your bottom line is (the number below which it's not worth taking a writing gig). That gives you a figure to work with. If you feel slightly uncomfortable about asking so much, then it's probably about right.

I’ve found that when you put those numbers out there, for example, by publishing them on your site, you eliminate the timewasters and improve your income.

Conclusion

Despite the things I got wrong, I'm enjoying a successful freelancing career. My income has increased almost every year since I started (recession year excepted) and I've been able to maintain good relationships with a diverse client list, many of whom stick around for years.

That's why my last message for you is if you want to freelance, don't let the mistakes stop you. Keep going and you're sure to find your way to a successful freelance writing career.

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Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger who has previously worked as a journalist, editor and journalism professor. Her work has been published on CrazyEgg, GrowthLab, Mirasee, Unbounce, Search Engine People, Search Engine Journal and elsewhere. Connect with Sharon on her website, LinkedIn or Twitter.

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