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One of the most common topics we get asked to cover at Underground is freelance writing. It’s never a straight up question, rather it’s a somewhat vague ‘tips on freelancing would be nice’.
When someone asks about being a freelancer my first question is always: what type of freelance writing do you want to do? This is usually met with something of a blank stare. People have a tendency to think that there’s only one or two types of freelance writing, but in truth there’s lots of different types and therefore lots of different ways to do it.
This post is the first in a series on being a freelance writer, and we’re covering the basics of what types of writing options are available to freelancers. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives you an idea of the sheer breadth of work that is available for freelance writers at this time.
Magazine Feature Writing
Let’s start straight off the bat with something most people know. Feature writing, particularly for magazines. This one is a big draw for many people. The opportunity to write about niche topics that you have an interest in is always a great way to start. One of the most popular examples here of course is Travel Writing, particularly for In-Flight Magazines. Then there’s a large number of niche magazines ranging from business, property, finance, defence, and mining, to cars, food, gardening, craft, and beauty. The world is your oyster!
Personal Essays and Op-eds
Another popular choice in the freelancing world. One could argue we’re in the age of the personal essay. This form allows you to reflect on anything from large scale news to smaller social issues, but from the personal angle. Personal essays are reflective and exploratory whilst op-eds are persuasive and sometimes inflammatory. It’s a chance for you to give a personal take on something that really means a lot to you.
Once upon a time this was the only freelance job other than magazine features that writers would have considered. This form usually falls within the realm of journalism, but with so many news outlets now encompassing so many different types of writing, it’s as good a time as any to look at writing for a newspaper. Most newspapers now come with a travel section, a health and beauty section, a fashion and entertainment section, property and real estate… the list goes on. If you’re interested in writing in a particular genre, this may be your calling.
Another popular form. This one is also commonly referred to as content writing. Writing content for website’s news and blog pages is a great way for businesses to keep people coming back to their website and a great way to build your portfolio of clients. It’s common for a business to take on one or two particular writers who can get to know the product well in order to continually produce high quality content. If you follow a blog or a business with a frequent news feed, it may be time to get in touch and offer your services.
The internet age means that just about every business now has a website, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their website is generating traffic. Website copy needs to be concise, to-the-point, and engaging. It needs to be visually appealing on the page and needs to grab a reader’s attention in a very short amount of time. There’s money to be made here with SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) specialisation to help drive traffic to your client’s website. In fact, there are copywriters who specialise and make the majority of their money out of SEO alone.
Ever seen a catalogue with all those product descriptions? What about those snappy one-liners on poster ads? This is the work of copywriters and it’s a thriving industry for people entering the freelance writing market. It takes skill to describe a group of similar products in different ways that still make them sound appealing rather than just your stock objective description. Remember, a copywriter’s job is to sell.
Pamphlets, promotional posters, employee manuals, annual reports… businesses produce a lot of content both internally and externally, and for anything that’s made public many businesses want a professional eye that can turn their jargon into something understandable for stakeholders. For anyone who is business-minded this is a great option to take and can lead to referrals with other businesses.
Real Estate Copywriting
I’m sure you’ve read one of those funny articles about the ways real estate agents describe things that would normally be a turn-off to make them sound like a good thing? Like cosy = small. Renovators delight = this place is a shit-hole and you’ll need to fix it up. The job of a real estate copywriter is to make a place sound appealing. And a single look at all those online real estate sites, the window of a real estate shop, and the real estate section of the newspaper is proof that there’s plenty of work to be done!
If you’ve ever tried to write a grant, you’ll know its damn hard and it takes a lot of skill to be able to pick out exactly what the grant reviewer wants to hear. That’s why there are companies, not-for-profits, and universities who will hire grant writers to do this job for them. If you’ve got the experience it’s a worthwhile path to pursue.
Ghost writing is when someone pays you to do all the writing but to take your name off the work and put their name on instead. It’s most commonly known in memoir writing, where someone will tell you their story and ask you to write it out but keep their name on it. It’s a lot of work, writing a full manuscript for someone else, but it can pay well.
Press Release Writing
Press Releases are another area where business and individuals will always be looking for help. Writing press releases to make them interesting to media outlets, who receive hundreds of press releases every day, is a skill that takes some practice. It’s all about identifying the angle that is most likely to get picked up and writing in such a way that outlets don’t need to do too much extra work. Essentially what you’re asking for with a press release is free advertising, so you need to make it sound good if you’re going to get the story you want.
Technical writing can take many forms, from writing manuals to writing how-to guides for a website. The key to technical writing is research. You need to be spot-on with all your information. Writing in this form is detailed and in-depth and can be tedious; however, it can also be lucrative.
Today’s job market is competitive and outside agencies are often hired to go through resumes. Hell, there’s computers that do the first round of sifting now as well. That means that now more than ever resume writing is a skill. Picking out keywords and laying out a resume in a way that makes your client stand out from the crowd is a booming market that people will pay good money for.
Politicians, CEOs, company representatives… chances are anyone you ever see giving a public statement or speech did not write their own material. Speech writing takes into account the need for sound-bites for reporters, dramatic flair, careful word choice to avoid potential problems down the track, as well as needing to be engaging and interesting. Depending on the situation a speech needs to have a certain tone and the speech writer needs to write in such a way that the speaker will naturally fit into that tone.
As you can see, there’s a lot of different types of freelance writing and this is only scratching the surface. The first thing to look at here is what type of writing really jumps out at you. What interests you and what do you have the experience for? If you’re still just starting out and don’t have a lot of experience in any one area, it’s often a good idea to start small on a number of projects and see where your clientele takes you. After all, freelance writing relies heavily on referrals and a lot of self-marketing.
In our next post for the series we’re going to focus on what you need to know about being a freelance copywriter. The nitty gritty details about what it takes to survive the freelance business and asking yourself the question: is this really what you want to do?