What were your biggest freelance questions as a new writer?

We get questions from new writers both here in the forum and on the blog. But when we've been at this work for years, sometimes we forget what it was like to be new. So today let's look back. When you were just starting out in freelance writing, what were the biggest questions you had?

For me, the biggest question was "how can I educate prospects so they understand the importance of hiring a professional?" That was specifically tied to press release writing, because I decided to work in a then under-served niche. That's awesome because there is seemingly endless growth opportunity. Other competitors weren't there yet. But it also means you have to take a leading role in educating the market about the importance of what you do (and why it might be better to hire you rather than do the work themselves).

How about you?


Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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13 thoughts on “What were your biggest freelance questions as a new writer?”

  1. To start with, it was ‘how the heck do you find clients who will work with you even though they’ve never heard of you and you’re probably not very good anyway?’ Once I knocked that on the head, it morphed now into your question of education, which is one I still ask from time to time. In New Zealand, we have this huge cultural DIY ethos that extends into all areas of life, which can make it hard to convince people to pay money for something they think they can do themselves. “Pay you to write something? Nah, mate. I did English at school. She’ll be right.” (‘She’ll be right’ is a Kiwi turn of phrase meaning ‘it’ll be fine’. Or ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ I’m sure that many a business has fallen, or a hospital visit been prededed, by those words.)

    Another one for me was “what do I do if somebody asks me to do a piece of work I haven’t done before, eg. a sales letter?”. Answer: say yes, read about it, and do it. Chances are it’ll be better than the client could do themselves, so they’ll be happy, and when you’ve done it once you’ll get better every time.

  2. Great examples Lucy!

    I think the questions of self-doubt are pretty common. The only reason I didn’t go through that with writing is the fact that I had already been running my own business before doing that full-time.

    The DIY issue can be a big one here too, especially when you work with small businesses like I do. Corporate clients are usually happy to pay for people to do things right. Many small biz owners and independent professionals want to do it all themselves unless you can convince them otherwise. It’s just a part of the job. Fortunately though, I find those clients are the most grateful once they’ve found you and they realize what a relief it is not to have to do everything on their own.

  3. Hello!

    I am new to this business of freelance writing and have some questions I hope someone here might be able to answer. Most of my work has been done for nonprofits and museums, as well as a couple of small article for a local gazette – all resulting in hardcopy reports, articles, and catalogs. I want to start branching out and need some guidance.

    1. How do I start writing for websites? Are there are any inexpensive yet reliable classes/courses I can take that will give me a direction? Books?

    2. What types of clips/samples do I need before I can legitimately begin creating a writer’s resume or before I start placing these items on a website? How many and how far back?

    3. Is LinkedIn use in conjunction with a website so that links placed there link to the website and the samples uploaded there? Or is it used as a source in and of itself?

    I have read conflicting sources that say a resume and website should not be created unless you have “reputable” published (meaning paid) clips to showcase, yet, how does one obtain even the smallest jobs without a resume when it’s called for? Are articles published on sites such as Suite 101 or Helium.com considered a clip if one isn’t paid for it? What is “published” and what is not?

    Thanks again for your feedback.

  4. Hi, and welcome.

    I stumbled across this a bit late, and am about to turn in for the night. I’ll check back tomorrow and publish my thoughts regarding your questions. In the meantime, I’ve sent you something via email that might help.


  5. Here are a few thoughts on your questions:

    1. I don’t know of any freelance writing books that are necessarily Web-specific. But here are a few I think all new freelance writers should read:

    The Well-Fed Writer
    The Wealthy Freelancer
    The Wealthy Writer

    As for getting started in writing for the Web, you just have to do it. While I don’t support the idea of looking for advertised gigs (because the best ones are almost never advertised publicly), go ahead and do it just to get an idea of what’s out there. You’ll see countless Web writing gigs. The pay for most will suck. Take that to the unadvertised markets though and pay easily increases ten-fold.

    Getting those gigs involves what I call query-free freelancing. Search our blog for a 30 day marketing boot camp. It’s available for sale as an e-book, but the content is on the blog in a slightly rougher form for free. That will help you get started in building a Web presence to attract clients. Also read 30 ways to build your writer platform — all things you can do to help clients find you.

    2. I believe very strongly that no freelancer should have a “resume.” It immediately puts you in a class with employees in the minds of people who might hire you. And no client should think of you as, or treat you like, an employee. You are a business owner. You don’t use a resume. You use a portfolio. I know others disagree, but I don’t think any freelancer — especially a new one — should risk that kind of confusion. It happens too much as it is.

    You don’t need any specific types of clips for your portfolio. I personally wouldn’t use Suite101 clips or those from any other content mill. (And just for the record, I used to work for them too — congrats on moving past them.) You’re better off just starting your own blog and using those posts as Web writing samples than showcasing mill work. And if you don’t feel that you have solid samples, that’s a great place to start. A handful of posts in your specialty area should be plenty when you’re starting out. Your portfolio will grow as your career progresses.

    3. Don’t use LinkedIn, or any social networking site, as simply a link-pushing tool. Yes, links there can point to your own sites. But they’re largely about on-site networking. Use it to answer questions and build authority status. Use it to keep in touch with colleagues. Use it to network with prospects. And sure, link to your site. It can help on all fronts.


  6. Great information, Jenn! Thank you. I really appreciate the e-book as well.

    I’m a little hazy when it comes to blogs. I am a “pre-Internet” writer and do not have much of an understanding of the nuts and bolts of blogs or websites. I am an end-user, primarily, and I am just beginning to get a grasp on creating samples in this way.

    My main concern has been – and continues to be – merging my formal professional/academic writing into a freelance copywriting/copyediting career, using the Internet and a few hard copy samples.

    I can see that I have much to learn!

  7. It may sound strange, but the biggest challenge was to make my relatives believe that I’m not just sit infront of PC, but actually earn money. At the very beginning, they didn’t take me seriously.

  8. Thank you, Jenn, for changing my perspective on the words “resumes” and “portfolios”. I thought of them as the same up until now, but I see the major difference and how “resume” can be a detriment to your image! 🙂

    I have just started so my biggest question is “how do I get (and keep) clients?!”.

  9. No problem Johanna. Happy to help. 🙂

    As for getting clients, by biggest recommendations are to focus on building your writer platform, and to tap your network (and keep growing it via email, social media, and local connections when appropriate). Those are the best ways to get a regular flow of prospects coming to you, so you can be much pickier about what gigs you take on.

    If you need gigs faster, you can pitch specific clients. Find companies or publications that hire writers in your specialty area and just reach out to them with an email, pitch letter, or a cold call. You can search writer’s market databases, look for companies advertising for editors (if they hire editors, they likely hire writers too), and you can see who’s hiring full-time writers and pitch them on freelance services instead.

  10. I just started about a month ago, by creating an account on iwriter.com. I’ve done over 40 articles, the pay is meagre, and my question is this; why is a owning a website important for a freelance writer?

  11. t depends what you mean by a website? Freelance writers might own a professional website for example, which is used to attract clients. Or they might own a niche website or blog which showcases their writing ability and, more importantly, their expertise in their specialty area. I recently talked about both on the blog, so I’m going to link you to those posts as a starting place. If you have more specific questions feel free to ask here, or through our new Reader Q&A feature where I answer reader questions on the blog (anonymously if you prefer).




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