How To Break Into Freelancing

Have you ever responded to an ad for “Native English-speaking article writers” and found that the pay for a blog post was barely enough to cover a cup of coffee? Then you’ll appreciate Brodie Norris’s post on Brazen Life called Don’t Get Deceived By These Six Freelance Job Post Scams.

The article, while very funny, does underline the big challenges facing folks who are plunging into freelancing without years of work experience or lots of connections in their field. How do you actually get established without being forced to write your blog posts while living in a tent?

There’s not really an easy route. In the beginning, you’ve got to do whatever you can to get some work samples, so you have some proof to future clients that you can deliver the goods. In journalism, I’ve seen friends build a portfolio through internships, volunteering their writing services to a nonprofit organization that has a newsletter, taking on reporting gigs for a small, local publication that is willing to teach them or, if their writing is very polished, tapping their contacts until they can get to an editor at a bigger publication where they want to write. Online freelance marketplaces can also be a good route to getting projects that will give you a chance to practice your craft and get better at it.

When I first got out of college, I started out writing for any publication that would give me a chance. I did some freelancing for an alternative newspaper in Connecticut where a journalism professor I knew was the editor, writing about things like the state’s ‘zine scene. In another gig that I think I found out about through career services at my college, I interviewed executives about their charitable endeavors for a local newspaper in a wealthy enclave of Connecticut. I worked at a nonprofit organization during the day that didn’t have a big budget to pay the staff, so when I did the interviews for these weekend assignments, I had to rely on a car my boyfriend at the time had kept parked at his mom’s house. It was a rusty yellow VW beetle with a rattling front fender that had been painted purple. I can only imagine what these donors thought when they heard what sounded like a malfunctioning lawnmower outside and then saw that car coming up their long driveways.

These first few articles paid very little–I think I made $35 a pop for the pieces on the charitable donors–but they turned out to be very valuable. I got a chance to practice my reporting and writing and get better at it. And when I applied for my first full-time journalism job, those were the clips I submitted that won me a chance to work as a writer every day, something I’ve done ever since then.

That was a while back, but I don’t think the rules of breaking into creative fields as  freelancer have changed all that much. You still need to persuade someone to give you a chance–and then you’ve got to run with it. Just follow Brodie Norris’s advice and avoid writing those blog posts that pay .50 for 500 words.

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