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Freelancing

What is a Freelance Writer?

A freelance writer is someone who works for a company or individual on a contractual, or project basis. Typically a freelance writer will work on a project or piece of writing with a set time frame, working, generally, on projects such as articles or shorter works that are defined by a set of boundaries established by the contractor.

Freelance writers most often do not have a long-term commitment to one employer; instead, they may be working for multiple contractors at a time.

Freelancers may write a variety of assignments including:

  • Writing articles for magazines, newspapers and other periodicals;
  • Writing for websites;
  • Technical writing such as instruction manuals, policy and procedure manuals and quick reference guides;
  • Copywriting, writing newsletters, business brochures, annual reports and sales letters;
  • Writing greeting cards;
  • Short stories; or
  • Ghostwriting

Pros and cons of freelance writing

Pros 

  • A freelance writer has the opportunity to write on a variety of subjects and areas of interest.
  • There are no set work hours. Freelance writers are only bound by deadlines, which they agree upon with their contractor.
  • Freelancers are able to choose how much they will work/write. This may allow a writer to pursue other career opportunities both in and out of the literary industry.
  • Freelancers are able to work from home. And, with the internet, are now able to work from anywhere in the world.

Cons

  • Although freelance writers may be writing often and steadily, their income may be low. There are very few freelance writers who earn a large annual income. Unless the writer is well established within the industry they may be paid minimum amounts for their work, and jobs may be sporadic.
  • Many freelance writers must maintain other jobs. Although freelancing can provide some freedom for a professional writer, they may be forced to subsidize their income from another source taking time from their writing careers.

Tips for the freelance writer

  • Begin by doing some research on possible markets that you may want to write for. Search online databases which provide listings and want ads for freelance writers.
  • After you have found some possible clients/publications, send out a query letter. It is much harder to sell an article that you have already written, so wait for a response before beginning to write. Sending out a query letter will signal possible clients of your interest and will allow you to write a work that suits both you and the client.
  • Freelance writing is a business. If you wish to earn a living as a freelance writer it is important to conduct your work in a professional manner. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Keeping track of deadlines. Failing to hand in an article on time reflects poorly on you and may be a lost client. Have an organizational plan in place. Using spread sheets, daily planners and calendars can help a busy writer stay on schedule and helps to keep track of the status of each project they may be working on.
    • Establishing contracts with clients. Under the Saskatchewan Arts Professions Act a contract is required for all transactions between an artist and client/contractor. Contracts will outline deadlines, payment, rights held and sold, and a description of the project. Contracts protect both parties. Remember to keep a copy of old contracts they may be needed if there is ever any question of copyright infringement or questions concerning the project.
    • Taking time regularly to organize your files and keep track of your work progress. Keep a filing system with your checks, past writing projects, contracts and any other pertinent information sorted and at hand.
    • Once you have one or more projects it is time to write. Planning out when each project is due and how long it will take you to complete will be a great asset as the deadlines draw near.
  • Freelance writing can open many different avenues for writers. If you are struggling to find work writing in a specific field, switch gears and try something new, you never know where your talent may take you.

Applying for a project

  1. Read the advertisement properly. Many writers fail to read through all the requirements outlined in an advertisement, thus applying for a project they are not qualified for or simply not submitting all the required documents and forms.
  2. Reread your query letter and submission package. Check for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. Remember that when you apply for a project your mailed application is often the first impression you are making to the employer, and poor spelling and grammar do not speak well for you as a writer.
  3. Address the possible employer by name. A generic greeting is not personal and generally does not stand out. Addressing the person directly shows them respect and tells the employer that you have read their advertisement clearly and have done some research on who exactly to contact.
  4. Send a sample of your writing. Telling an employer how well you write, does not prove anything to them, instead by showing them clips or samples of your work they can judge for themselves your skill level and whether you are the right writer for the specific assignment.
  5. Follow a standard format for your query letter and submission. Editors and other employers are not impressed with fancy font and multi-colored text. Use a simple Times New Roman font in 12pt font in black ink.
  6. Have references to show to prospective clients/employers. The more you write the more contacts you will make. If you are doing good work for your employers ask them for references or testimonials. Client references will only back up your query letter/resume and attract further projects. 

Determining hiring rates

  • Experience. The more experience a writer has the higher payment rates they will be able to negotiate. Having your works published is a testament to your experience, and adds credibility when you are looking to be hired for a writing job. 
  • Skill level. A client may look at specific skill sets when hiring a writer, and determining their rate of pay.
  • Rights licensed to the client. When working on a writing project, be aware of which rights the client is purchasing/licensing and how much these are worth.
  • Number of words and/or time the project requires. Many publications will pay a flat rate per word or per hour
  • The number of interviews and the amount of research needed. Some projects may not be overly long in word count, but take hours of research and interview time, a writer/client should consider these factors when determining a writer’s pay.
  • Client budget limitations. Clients/publishers may have already outlined their potential budget for a project or have established rates that they pay their writers. Often times there is little to no room for negotiations; however, it never hurts to ask or discuss a possible increase.

Invoicing

As a writer, getting paid usually requires submitting an invoice. Whether it’s to receive payment for a consignment sale of books, as a freelance writer for various jobs, or perhaps as a presenter at schools or for conferences, a professional invoice is needed.

There are several ways to create an invoice, including as a Word document, Excel, through an accounting software program, or through online services like PayPal. Many of these programs include a variety of invoice templates for you to use. You can also easily download an invoice template off the internet. Whatever method you choose, an invoice requires certain elements to ensure your payment reaches you in a timely manner. The following is taken from thewritelife.com.

1. A professional header

The first item on your freelance invoice should be your business name or your full name, in professional and easy-to-read font. If you have a logo for your business, include that as part of the header. 

2. Your contact information

Next you’ll want to include your contact information. At the very least, this includes your mailing address, phone number, email address and website, right underneath your business name. To make it easier to read, consider typing the info on several lines like this:

Your Name
P.O. Box 54321
Anywhere, CAN ANANAN
email@email.com
123-456-7890

3. The client’s contact information

Specify the recipient, or who the invoice is for. Include the recipient’s name, address, phone number, email address, website and any other information. You might look back at this section later if you need to track down payment, so it helps you to include all the client’s contact information there.

4. Invoice number

What’s an invoice number? It’s simply an identifier that helps you keep track of your invoices. It doesn’t matter what kind of numbering system you use, just make sure it’s in sequential order so you don’t get confused.

5. Date prepared

Add a date that shows when you submitted the invoice to the client. The “date prepared” line is important because you’ll need to refer to it if a client takes a long time to pay you. 

6. Due date

Specify when, exactly, the payment is due. The due date is entirely up to you, but most freelancers — and invoicing systems — use a 30-day, 45-day or 60-day timeline. You can also make the invoice “Due upon receipt,” so the recipient is required to pay the invoice promptly.

7. Payment options

It’s helpful to specify your payment options — whether you prefer to be paid with cash, a cheque, a credit card or a service like PayPal. (If PayPal is your preferred payment method, it’s smart to add your PayPal email address to the invoice, so they send the payment to the right place.)

8. Payment terms

Along with the required timeline for payment, you might want to specify whether you charge a late fee for invoices that are paid past their due date. Some freelancers use this strategy to enforce getting paid on time. A typical late fee is 20 percent of the invoice fee.

If you decide to utilize a late fee, we recommend reminding the client at least once or twice that the invoice is overdue, and giving them a chance to pay it without a fee. While it’s obviously important that you get paid, you also want to maintain the client relationship, with the goal of being invited to work with the client again in the future.

9. Breakdown of services

Add a breakdown of the services rendered so the client knows exactly what they’re paying for. If the client hired you for a number of services, add each one to a new line so it’s easy to digest.

10. Amount due

If your breakdown of services includes a number of items, show what each of those items cost. This could be a cost per service, or it might be the number of hours you worked at your agreed-upon rate.

Tally up all all those line items to show the full amount due. Bold this amount for emphasis, so it’s easy to see on the invoice when the client needs to figure out how much to pay.

11. Thank you

Why not add a personal touch to help maintain the client relationship? Below the total, add a thank you note. Or, if you need to include any additional information or reminders, this is a good place to add that as well.

Invoice template

Resources 

  • Worldwide Freelance
  • Canadian Freelance Guide
  • Professional Writers Association of Canada
  • Indeed.com
  • The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Commercial Freelancer in Six Months or Less by Peter Bowerman
  • Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer: How to Win Top Writing Assignments by Jenna Glatzer
  • Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (Second Edition) by Moira Anderson Allen
  • Secrets of a Freelance Writer, Third Edition: How to Make 100,000 a Year or More by Robert W. Bly
  • W3newspapers: Provides an online list of newspapers both in Canada and on an international level. This site is a good resource for freelance writers who are looking to write articles for newspapers.

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