Life as a freelance property journalist

When I tell people I’m a freelance property journalist, the reaction generally combines interest and a tinge of envy. ‘Wow, what a great job’, people tend to say, before adding ‘you must see some amazing houses.’ For a few seconds, they think wistfully of old Grand Designs episodes, or their cousin’s friend who had a £600,000 budget to buy a retirement cottage in the countryside.

However, being a freelance property journalist isn’t all about photographing swimming pools and exploring landscaped gardens. Many of the houses I’ve visited over the years have been empty, dirty or even unsafe to be in, with wasp infestations and crumbling floorboards. I’ve seen homeowners collapse into chairs, overcome with grief because their beloved home is being sold due to divorce or death. My visit to one flat in Glasgow’s west end was complicated by a ramraid on the shop downstairs the night before. At another property, I will never forget a child telling me she didn’t want to move, while I stared over her head at the broken glass her parents had cemented onto the top of their brick boundary wall in an attempt to deter any more burglaries.

Completing the cycle

Property experts often talk about an 18-year property cycle, where the market goes from boom to bust and back again. As Governments try to cushion the blow of economic downturns, interest rates are slashed and mortgage lending is encouraged, leading to an unsustainable property bubble which then triggers another economic downturn. An important attribute for any freelance property journalist is to recognise these effects on the housing market, depending which part of the cycle we’re currently experiencing.

When I started working as a full-time property journalist in 2003, investors were paying students to camp outside construction sites for several days before sales suites opened their doors, holding a place in the inevitable queues so they could swoop in at the last minute and reserve their favoured plots. Six years later, with prices in freefall, I saw good homes being sold at silly prices, as speculative companies specialising in distress sales presented an easy way out to people desperate to escape unsustainable mortgage debt. Six years after that, we were back to multiple sealed-bid offers, as families fought over homes in affluent commuter towns.

Flat out?

Today, the property market has finally slowed down after three years of post-pandemic growth. Prices have been falling in inverse proportion to interest rates, which have hopefully peaked after 14 consecutive monthly increases by the Bank of England, with inflation figures finally dwindling. We’ve rapidly switched from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market – not that too many people are looking to buy right now, with concerns over the Chinese and American economies allied to ongoing strikes and a cost-of-living crisis at home. Forecasts for 2024 suggest a broadly flat market nationwide, encompassing the odd local hotspot.

It’s become obvious that flats are less popular nowadays, with pre-existing concerns over cladding compounded by the memories of social distancing in communal areas and the echoes of families forced to endure months of lockdown without any outside space. Help to Buy schemes have already enabled a generation of first-time buyers to skip the starter-flat stage of the property ladder and move straight into a house, and this flight to the suburbs may continue even as these controversial state-backed schemes end. Only commercial-to-residential conversions and increased urban populations can seemingly stem the decline – there’s only so many coffee shops any city centre can support.

Whatever happens to the property market, I’ll be writing about it in my role as one of the UK’s leading freelance property journalists. Where the market leads, I will follow – experiencing the literal and metaphorical highs and lows of life as a freelance property journalist. Click here for more details on my property writing services, or view some of my recently published freelance property journalism articles here.

Why freelance limited company status is preferable to being a freelance sole trader

Why freelancers should be limited companies

It’s exactly sixteen years since I founded G75 Media as a limited company. It’s also exactly twenty years since I started freelancing as a copywriter. In late autumn 2003, I was approached by a former employer to quote for completing a key element of the job I’d recently left on a freelance basis. I did so gladly, using my Yahoo email address and submitting an invoice in my own name.

It didn’t take me long to realise that companies would rather deal with another company than with a private individual. That’s especially true when it comes to something as nebulous as copywriting, where the quality of work can vary hugely between one contributor and the next. Companies often have to trust a hired freelancer to be professional, and that’s much easier to do if they have a recorded trading history and a proprietary email address. Who’s to say greatwriter101@gmail.com won’t simply take a paid deposit and vanish into the ether, or deliver a load of ChatGPT-penned nonsense?

How does a freelance limited company operate?

By setting up a company, you are making a series of pledges:

  • To maintain an accurate list of directors, secretaries and employees with Companies House.
  • To prepare end-of-year accounts, ensuring that any incurred taxes are paid timeously.
  • To ensure all debts are paid off before the company is closed down.

Each of these actions reassures a potential customer that they’re not dealing with some fly-by-night scammer, especially as limited companies need a registered head office address to which correspondence can be directed. Companies usually have a website and a proprietary email address, alongside business reviews by past and present customers.

CASE STUDY: Imagine you’re a prospective employer, advertising a freelance job vacancy. You receive two responses – one from info@g75media.co.uk, with company details and a registered head office address at the bottom. The other is from g75media@mail.com, complete with a Sent From My Mail.com Account footer. Which one would you regard as being more plausible and promising?

Some people opt to be sole traders because it’s easier – no annual statements to be filed, and no VAT returns if your annual turnover exceeds £85,000. However, ‘easier’ does not necessarily equal ‘better’. It certainly won’t impress a prospective client as much as a registered business, even if that business is effectively a one-man band. G75 Media has always been a trading vehicle for my own freelance services, and despite a few unsuccessful attempts at employing other freelancers, it remains my own business. People who contact G75 Media speak to me directly; people who engage our services benefit from my award-winning writing; people who receive invoices do so alongside a friendly message I’ve penned specifically for them. Being a limited company doesn’t make you seem impersonal or distant.

Taking care of business

If you’re concerned that setting up a freelance limited company sounds intimidating, it really isn’t. Companies House do most of the legwork for you, registering the business with temporary personnel who immediately step aside and appoint you as the director. All you need to do is find a company name not already in use, select a legally permissible head office address, and appoint an accountant to handle financial affairs. From there on, the development of the business is entirely in your hands, including decisions about websites, social media activity and marketing. Because a freelance limited company will be more appealing to clients than a sole trader, you’ll have the best chance of growing rapidly and establishing a name for yourself.

How to become a freelance copywriter

“You’re a writer? How did you get into that?”

If I had a penny for every time I’ve been asked a variation of that question, I’d probably have enough money to buy a nice bar of Swiss chocolate. It’s usually the first response to telling a new acquaintance that I’m a freelance copywriter, while the second response is often along the lines of “I’ve always wanted to do that” or “how do I become a freelance copywriter myself?”

To anyone unfamiliar with this industry, freelance copywriting can seem impossibly glamorous. And in some respects it is, but it’s still a job. It requires dedication, organisation and creativity at all times. The pay is often modest, time off is either unpaid or made up in the evenings, and you have to deal with clients who can occasionally be unreasonable and/or rude. Crucially, this is a hugely over-subscribed industry, where companies can be highly selective about who they commission.

Sounds great! So how do I become a freelance copywriter?

First of all, if you’re reading this as a student or in the early years of your career, there’s one key thing to remember:

There are no shortcuts.

With so much competition from established writers, it’s going to take a long time to build your own identity and become a freelance copywriter of repute. You’ll probably have to work for free, and you’ll certainly have to work on projects that don’t interest you. There may be clients you don’t get on with, deadlines that require burning the midnight oil, and articles which are never published.  The latter scenario is especially frustrating, because you can’t promote them if they’re not published. Most freelance copywriting job vacancies request several hyperlinks to published online features with direct relevance to the industry or company in question.

This is why it’s far harder to become a freelance copywriter than it is to remain one once you’re established and known within the industry. I have a Word document containing links to a hundred of my best articles, arranged by category with one-line summaries and URLs. If I spot a tempting freelance writing opportunity, I can call upon a stockpile of relevant articles demonstrating my expertise in that specific area. A new or aspirational writer won’t have such a portfolio to draw on, but you can start by linking to your own blogs, or offering to write guest posts for clients in industries you’re passionate about. Every time an article is published, make a note of its URL for future job applications, or save a screenshot onto your PC to compile a portfolio like this one.

You’ll also need other resources to become a freelance copywriter, including a comfortable workspace. We’ve previously discussed how to create the ultimate home office, even with a small budget and limited space. You’ll need a laptop which can be used at home, at the local café and at client meetings. You’ll have to create some administrative templates, including a professional-looking invoice and a spreadsheet to track income and expenditure. Some writers remain sole traders rather than going down the limited company route, since the latter brings additional layers of bureaucracy and responsibility. However, clients tend to prefer dealing with a registered company than with a private individual touting for work with a generic Gmail address.

Windows onto the world

Above all, you’ll need a website. This is your digital shop window, where you explain what you can offer and highlight key achievements. Its contents will evolve over time, as you work for more clients and build up greater expertise. Freelance copywriters usually develop one or two niches – the G75 Media website outlines how we’re property writers and motoring journalists first and foremost. Nobody will be impressed if you claim you can write about anything, because topics like SaaS or property law demand expertise and an intuitive knowledge of the subject.

Your website will often be the first impression made on a prospective client, so update it with your best work and list the attributes which make you stand out from all the other writers. It’ll take time to become a freelance copywriter, but you’ll succeed if you persevere.

Creating the ultimate home office

Three years ago today, Boris Johnson instructed a fearful nation to stay at home, and the first COVID-19 lockdown began. When history books divide the 21st century into pre- and post-lockdown eras, the last three years will represent a watershed for millions of working-age people. Many jobs have been transformed by the Covid-19 outbreak, and entire industries may never be the same. Yet an even more seismic shock to the jobs market came from the need to socially distance – requiring millions of people to work from home for the first time.

An illustration of the ultimate home office

For the many, not the few

Working from home used to be the preserve of the self-employed, and a few select professions like freelance writers. I started freelancing at home in 2005, organised a dedicated home office in 2009 and became a full-time freelance copywriter in 2010. Meanwhile, millions of people continued to unthinkingly endure ten rush-hour commutes a week, so they could sit in an office and email people at adjacent desks. And while some staff relished the office banter and impromptu brainstorming sessions, many quietly resented the compromises of communal workplaces – toilet queues, endless gossip, other people’s pungent lunches and blaring radios…

Working from home brings compromises of its own. These include a lack of social interaction and blurred boundaries between your work life and private life. However, these drawbacks can be mitigated or even eliminated through an optimal workstation setup. Creating the ultimate home office could improve your mood, your productivity and even your attitude to Monday mornings. It also reduces your reliance on expensive and unreliable public transport. Plus, it removes the need to spend time in office buildings which are increasingly viewed as air-conditioned petri dishes.

These ten components should help you to create the ultimate home office:

  1. Defensible space. We’ve borrowed an architectural term to define a workspace with minimal household clutter or background noise – ideally a dedicated room with a door you can shut.
  2. Noise-cancelling headphones. If you can’t isolate yourself from ambient noise, a pair of these headphones will enable you to concentrate by subduing wider household noise.
  3. A proper desk. Balancing a laptop on a dining table doesn’t work, in any sense. Buy a solid desk with storage, plus an ergonomic office chair with adjustable arms and lumbar support.
  4. A bookcase. It’s amazing how much paperwork you accumulate working from home. Plus, many of us require easy access to reference books, dictionaries and industry publications.
  5. A high-end laptop. This setup combines desktop practicality and laptop portability. It enables you to run your laptop through full-sized monitors and keyboards while charging its battery.
  6. Peripherals. Every home office needs a printer and scanner, but many roles require specific tools like graphics tablets. Compromising on practicality to save money is a false economy.
  7. A landline. Chances are your house phone isn’t used much, but it’s more professional for phone interviews and dial-in meetings than crackly mobiles which occasionally drop calls.
  8. Full spectrum lighting. The crisp white light provided by full spectrum lamps makes reading very easy. It also generates serotonin in winter, minimising Seasonal Affective Disorder.
  9. Adjustable blinds. Unless your office is north-facing and several storeys up, you may need to adjust blinds during the day for privacy/sunlight/a view. Vertical blinds are best for this.
  10. A good backdrop. Project a positive image in the background of virtual meetings and video calls. Paintings and bookcases lend an air of professionalism; clutter and clothes rails don’t.

I spent years developing my ultimate home office, making gradual refinements to achieve an optimal balance between productivity, practicality and presentation. If you’d like to call on the services of a freelance copywriting agency, run with absolute professionalism from a dedicated home office, get in touch with G75 Media. We can offer assistance with freelance copywriting, journalism or editorial projects.

Ten things I wish I’d known

I left Scotland on Monday. Not in a going-on-holiday sense, but in a moving-away-forever sense. After 34 years living in the central belt, I am now a resident of England for the first time in my adult life. G75 Media remains a Scottish company (headquartered in a gorgeous Georgian office in Glasgow), but I’m no longer there with it.

My extended family’s departure from Scotland has been caused by a combination of political, professional and personal factors. And while we’re all in a better place now, I really wish I’d known this would happen. I would have been a less anxious person over recent years if I’d spent more time savouring the present, and less time worrying about the future. Does that sound familiar?

Don’t look back in anger

Looking back, I wish I’d known a lot of things when I was younger – especially things about running a business, which was never something I intended to do until freelance work kept landing in my lap. For anyone thinking about making the frightening yet exhilarating step of becoming an entrepreneur (or for anyone who already has), here are ten pieces of advice the me of 2021 would pass onto the me of 2005 if he could. Feel free to add your own suggestions below…

  1. Setting up a limited company beats being a sole trader. It took me two years to register G75 Media in 2007, and I wish I’d done it sooner. A limited company is more professional, provides greater legal indemnity against prosecution, and simplifies mortgage applications.
  2. Choose your accountant with care. I picked a local guy who promptly retired and left the business to that’ll-do junior staff. I then switched to a remote accountancy service, who invented a director’s loan account to save me some tax one year. It took five years to repay.
  3. Pick a dependable web hosting firm. If you want to switch web hosting company, your email account could be offline for days as the server repropagates. No small business can survive that, so choose an established UK-based firm with a 99.9 per cent SLA and rapid servers.
  4. Build networks. I have diligently applied for thousands of jobs over the last 15 years. Yet most new work today comes from people I’ve worked with in the past, LinkedIn connections or word-of-mouth recommendations. It’s not what you know…
  5. …Except it is. I’ve met so many people trying to bluff their way through roles they didn’t really understand. They always got found out in the end. Your business should also be your hobby or specialist subject. If it’s not, learn it inside out before sending out any invoices.
  6. Say no occasionally. Constantly saying yes saw me working myself into the ground trying to meet deadlines, or doing work I didn’t enjoy. As a lifelong vegetarian, I still wish I’d turned down that 2011 assignment to write about an animal by-products processing factory…
  7. Hold back before being negative. I was impetuous in my twenties, but I learned to wait overnight before reacting. Reviewing something with fresh eyes gives you a chance to make a message more powerful and effective. Plus, you might change your mind the next day.
  8. Never descend into bickering on social media. Some people thrive on arguments, while the professionally outraged revel in self-righteous indignation. Plus, you never know who might read your responses later on, when topicality has passed and the context seems different.
  9. Keep detailed records. I worked from a drawerless desk for three years, losing paperwork I needed and tax receipts I should have kept for six years. Box files were my saviour, and they’ll be yours as well. File everything unless and until you’re sure it’s not relevant.
  10. Don’t spend too much time worrying about the future. This one comes from the heart. I had a really poor 2013, but 2014 was lucrative. My income halved during the first lockdown, yet I ended 2020 with record turnover. Focus on the here and now, not what might be one day.

Finally, and I felt this was too important to include in a bullet-point list, give yourself some credit. I was quite harsh on myself in the early years of G75 Media, constantly feeling I could be more professional or working harder. I gradually abandoned the elusive pursuit of perfection, focusing instead on keeping detailed records and ensuring I didn’t send out anything bearing my name until I’d proofread it twice. Providing you act professionally at all times, maintaining a calendar or Trello board of deadlines and appointments, clients can’t ask more of you. And they won’t. They’re also struggling to remain professional in an age of home working and incessant multitasking. Being good at your job makes their lives easier, and they’ll be grateful for your competence and diligence.

I want to become a freelance writer – where do I start?

If you’ve found this article through social media or a search engine, you probably want to know how to become a freelance writer. You’re not alone. A seismic event like this year’s lockdown is bound to make people question their life choices, especially since many employees will have discovered the productivity gains and stress reduction which come from working at home.

It’s entirely understandable that many working-age adults will currently be considering a career change, either through necessity or choice. And it’s equally logical that writing will figure highly on the list of alternative career paths. Writing is enjoyable, requires little in the way of specialist equipment or training, and dovetails with the modern need for flexibility. If you’ve always wanted to become a freelance writer, what better time could there be than now?

The write intentions

The sad truth is that copywriting and content production is a ruthlessly cut-throat industry. It always has been, and the recent influx of new entrants (bringing varying degrees of experience and professionalism) has made it even harder for genuinely talented writers to elevate themselves above the hordes. With this in mind, I’ve taken an in-depth look at the practicalities and challenges you’ll face if you want to become a freelance writer. I’ve added ten important tips to take away, alongside a few case studies from my own career.

Let me be clear at the outset – I’m not trying to scare anyone off a potentially transformative career change. There’s a lot to love about writing, but work won’t fall into your lap. You might think you’ve got the enthusiasm to carve a niche talking about parenting, but you’d be competing with my wife and our next-door neighbour, who both have very unusual stories to tell. Maybe you’d like to be the next Jeremy Clarkson, but you’d be staggered by how many people apply for any job involving four wheels. A recent LinkedIn advert for a freelance writing gig received 268 applications after 48 hours, and that’s not exceptional these days. A freelance content writing job on a popular recruitment site attracted 439 applications within a fortnight, meaning 438 people were ultimately left to look elsewhere.

A positive spin

Let’s begin with some good news. What are the main upsides if you decide to become a freelance writer?

  1. Getting paid for doing something you enjoy. Imagine booting up your computer every morning with enthusiasm, rather than despondency. And imagine seeing money arriving in your bank account in exchange for doing work you enjoy, rather than something you resent or dislike. Work to live, or live to work?
  2. Make your career work around you. If you’re a night owl, you can work through the small hours and sleep in the next day. If you love being sociable, you can seek the company of fellow creatives in coffee shops and shared workspaces whenever they’re allowed to reopen. Writing about topics you’re interested in or passionate about also plays to your strengths.
  3. Freedom. Freedom comes in many forms – the freedom to move outside a city and live in a farmhouse, or the freedom to use a MacBook where an employer might insist on Windows. You’re also free from office politics, the frustrations of commuting on public transport, and having to watch junior colleagues get promoted ahead of you.

This final point leads into the first main challenge anyone who wants to become a freelance writer faces – the high standards of your competitors. You’re not just up against me. You’re up against companies with entire teams of creatives in their employ. You’re up against media agencies, who can write dazzling copy but also construct websites and record radio ads. And you’re up against hardened journalists, who are increasingly being cast aside as print media continues its dispiriting death spiral. If you think you can wing your way to success just because you own a bookshelf full of paperbacks and love drinking coffee, please stop reading.

Case study

When I started freelancing in 2005, I was using a Yahoo email address and working from a dressing table in my living room. That was fine back then, but today, higher standards are required to stand out from the crowd. I’ve since launched a mobile-optimised WordPress website with a proprietary email account, but I also have a backup Gmail address for clients who prefer to communicate through G Suite (some do, most don’t). I’ve cultivated social media profiles, which are often necessary simply to get past the first stage of many application processes. And I have a portfolio of work available to view online. My website is updated regularly for SEO purposes, and if you don’t know what SEO means, it really is time to stop reading.

Two simple rules for making your content better

Play to your strengths

Once you’ve established a respectable online presence, the next challenge awaiting anyone who wants to become a freelance writer is finding specialisms which play to your strengths. If you’ve never written in American English or taken a Transatlantic flight, don’t even try to bluff your way through blogging for Stateside audiences, where every tenth UK English noun has an American variant. Similarly, if your knowledge of football doesn’t allow you to demonstrate second phase offside laws using sauce bottles on a café table, you won’t be published by When Saturday Comes any time soon.

(If you’d like to see the standard of journalism required to write for WSC, there’s an example on the Portfolio page of this website. If you haven’t already checked it out, take a look when you finish this article.)

In every niche you can think of, there will be retired journalists, redundant marketing executives and former industry insiders competing for work. And while that doesn’t mean your hopes of freelance work stand at zero, it means you’ll need to be passionate and knowledgeable about any industry or niche you’re hoping to write about. Experts recognise a bluffer when they see one.

Pro tip #1: Build a portfolio

Developing a portfolio is essential for being taken seriously by recruiters, with most job ads asking for weblinks to three published examples in the specific sector/s you’re applying to work for. However, this is a chicken-and-egg situation – how do you build a portfolio without one?

The best way is to either reference work you’ve had published earlier in your career, or – and bear with me here – do some unpaid writing to build a catalogue of online content. I’m not suggesting you apply for one of those loathsome unpaid internships which callous employers use to get free labour from desperate graduates. However, you could do worse than reach out to websites in regular need of content and offer them a freebie. Once your name is in print, it becomes much easier to secure more work, especially if your output impresses the editorial team.

Pro tip #2: Never do unpaid work as part of a recruitment process

While unpaid work offers some merit in terms of getting your name out there, it’s ruthlessly exploited. Some uncharitable recruiters are now demanding unpaid trial articles as part of their application process. I recently saw a job advert which required applicants to write three bespoke articles, three Facebook posts and six tweets, just to be considered for an unremarkable-sounding freelance copywriting vacancy. This is known in industry parlance as taking the piss, and should not be indulged in any way – especially since there’s nothing to stop the recruiter uploading a pretend job vacancy simply to harvest a stockpile of free content.

A high percentage of G75 Media’s workload comes from clients I’ve dealt with in a previous capacity, such as account managers who’ve taken new jobs, or third parties who’ve reached out to me because they’ve seen my work in passing and liked it enough to remember me later. I make a point of being a single point of contact, from brief allocation to proofreading and accounting. That dependability (allied to being available at least 48 weeks of the year) sticks in the minds of stressed commissioning editors, who are sick of less diligent creatives letting them down and leaving holes all over their page plans.

Pro tip #3: Write in your natural voice

Was that last sentence too long? Nobody wants you to become a freelance writer obsessed by achieving perfect scores in Grammarly, or someone who sneers at the use of the Oxford comma. I’m not representing a specific client in this article, where a predetermined house writing style might need to be followed. Many recruiters like to hear a natural tone of voice in a candidate’s work, even though successful applicants would obviously have to adjust their writing style to meet that client’s requirements. A former boss of mine hated the use of the % symbol, while another was pathological about sentences starting with words like ‘and’. A good writer can easily work around these idiosyncrasies, and nobody will expect you to replicate their preferred TOV before you’ve even started working with them.

Having said that…

Pro tip #4: Spell-check and proofread everything you write

A contributor to a national newspaper recently tweeted a request for article suggestions. Unfortunately, she didn’t bother to re-read the tweet before posting it. The result? A request that people “make is a succinct pith”. Any self-respecting employer or editor who found two typos in a five-word sentence from a potential employee would dismiss them immediately. It’s easy to overlook amateurishness, whereas professionalism tends to linger in the memory.

Case study

Back in the late Noughties, I freelanced for one of the many content production agencies in London. Because my work was always delivered ahead of schedule and to a high standard, one of the commissioning editors remembered me years later, when she’d moved up in the world. I’m now a regular contributor to one of the UK’s leading engineering publications, even though the articles I send her today are worlds apart from the mass-produced content I used to supply in our agency days.

Pro tip #5: Record all your victories

Whenever you get something published, add a hyperlink to a Word or Google Docs file, with a one-sentence summary of what the article’s about. If you’re covering multiple industries, it’s also beneficial to note the sectors each link relates to. When you’re looking for work, you can instantly find examples of published online content to cite and include in your application.

If you don’t have any demonstrable experience in the specific areas the employer is asking for, don’t waste your time (or theirs) by applying anyway. They’ll have dozens of high-quality writers getting in touch, and they’ll have no interest in someone with no expertise “but a lot of enthusiasm” or someone who’s “keen to learn”. Such clichéd platitudes cut little ice in today’s ferociously competitive freelance marketplace.

Pro tip #6: Establish yourself in directories

A better way to showcase your availability is to create profiles on media directories and bulletin boards. Many of these are still free, though an increasing number charge either a monthly or annual membership fee. In the style of service provider platforms like Rated People, some are free to sign up to but charge you for every position you apply for. It can cost up to £10 just to make a proposal to a client looking for copywriting work.

While most free listings give you a chance to create an external link back to your website (with attendant SEO benefits), I would strongly advise against spending money through pay-to-bid platforms. They’re fine for tradespeople, where only three professionals in the client’s local area are allowed to respond. On an international copywriting site with no limit on how many people can bid on the same job, they’re basically exploiting people’s desperation. Some don’t even indicate whether you’re the first or the tenth person to get in touch, while I was once quoted a fee of £10.20 to bid on a vaguely-worded editorial project of “up to £120” in value. You’d make more profit buying scratchcards.

Penny wise, pound foolish

The thorny topic of paying for the chance to become a freelance writer brings us onto the main reason you’ve probably read this far. If you’re planning a career change, you’re not going to be writing for philanthropy or out of sheer passion. You want to earn enough to enjoy a comfortable standard of living. And yes, there are clients out there willing to pay generously. But they’re usually looking for many years of industry-specific expertise, and writing a 1,000-word article at ten pence per word once every two months is not going to pay your mortgage. It’d barely cover your broadband bill.

Pro tip #7: Be flexible about income

When I first started freelancing, I put a very ambitious per-word fee on my website. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get any work. It took a while to realise I couldn’t apply the same expectations to a 500-word listicle about interior design trends as I could to an in-depth review of CNC machines. Today, some of my clients pay three times more than others, but that’s fine because the lower-paid content is far easier to produce. You’ll naturally evolve a sliding scale of costs (per word, per hour, per project) based on how long assignments take and how straightforward you find them.

There’s a spectrum of payment rates across copywriting and journalism, but most entry-level work tends to be at the disappointing end. Two or three cents per word will regularly be quoted by clients and agencies whose desire for quantity outweighs their desire for quality. Negotiating with a client you’ve never worked with before is unlikely to endear you to them, though you might be able to up your per-word price once you’ve proven yourself to be dependable and original. Originality is critically important in the age of Copyscape plagiarism checkers, and any attempt to repurpose existing content will be spotted and censured.

Pro tip #8 Build a blog

If you’re unable to get work because you’re unable to get work published, a personal blog gives you a way to become a freelance writer under your own steam. More importantly, it gives you something to post in the Portfolio section of a job advert.

Case study

I had a fairly lean year in 2013, and I spent the year blogging about whatever took my fancy. I then referenced specific blog articles in relevant job applications, until I was able to replace them with more heavyweight content. Although these blogs were personal rather than corporate in nature, they accurately represented my tone of voice and writing style.

Pro tip #9 Set yourself up with all the hardware you’ll need

My blog was rather over-engineered – written on a custom-built PC using the latest versions of Office and Windows. I didn’t need an HD webcam or a combined printer and scanner to produce foresighted articles about poor grammar, working from home and self-repairing lampposts. However, when I started attending Zoom meetings with clients (long before Boris tried to make it fashionable), having high-speed broadband and Bose speakers made the process much easier.

It’s very embarrassing to have to tell a prospective client you can’t sign and scan the Non-Disclosure Agreement they’ve just emailed you because you don’t have a scanner. Similarly, being unable to provide a landline number becomes an issue if your mobile phone is faulty or needs replacing, your network experiences issues, or your signal strength fluctuates.

Decisions about whether or not to invest in dedicated workstations and full spectrum lighting speak volumes about whether you really do want to become a freelance writer. Professionalism is easy to identify, just as amateurishness tends to betray itself in the unmodified ‘Sent from my mobile’ signatures on webmail accounts, and the typos which slip through the net without a proper spell-check. I’m not suggesting you need to invest in thousands of pounds worth of technology to make it in this industry, but at the minimum, you’ll need:

  1. A laptop you can take to meetings, events and presentations, once they resume (as they inevitably will)
  2. A large monitor and full-size keyboard at home, connected to a docking station
  3. A printer and scanner – it’s surprising how often you need to sign things, even in 2020
  4. High-speed wired internet connectivity, which is crucial for uploading media files and accessing cloud-sharing platforms like Dropbox.

So can I become a freelance writer?

The short answer is yes. But you’ll need to commit to it for many years to really get anywhere. I started freelancing in 2005, went full-time freelance in 2010 and won a national freelancing award shortly afterwards (for a client I still work with today), but it was 2012 before my career as a freelancer really took off. Copywriting and journalism are industries where – and I hate typing these words as much as you’ll hate reading them – the cream really does rise to the top.

You won’t get anywhere if you approach freelance writing as either:

(a) A short-term fix, while you plan for bigger and better things

(b) An evenings-and-weekends way of supplementing your day job

Or, worst of all:

(c) Something you try for a few months until the rejections get too much.

It’s no exaggeration to say I have had thousands of rejections over the last fifteen years. I once sent 300 personalised letters to marketing and PR agencies, offering my services for holiday cover and overflow work. It cost well over £100, back in the days when that would get you a night in a five-star hotel, and took countless hours of letter editing, mail merging and envelope stuffing.

Acknowledgements: 0. Work: 0.

It turned out that the world didn’t want or need yet another writer. And this was a decade ago. If you tried a similar exercise today, the postman would probably return your envelopes out of pity.

So if you’ve read this far and you still want to become a freelance writer, you know where to start. Set up a dedicated working environment, build a portfolio, register on directories, quality-check everything you put your name to, and…

Pro tip #10 Remember it’ll be years before your labours bear fruit

As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you will be. You’re welcome to join me in this uniquely exciting industry, and the very best of luck to you.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t finish this article with what marketing professionals refer to as the CTA – the call to arms. If you’re looking to recruit rather than be recruited, and you like what you’ve just read, I am available for copywriting jobs, freelance journalism and all forms of print and online content production. Get in touch if you’d like to receive a competitive quote for copywriting services. A typo-free reply will arrive in your inbox shortly.