104 Freelancing Tips 🕺
Updated: Sep 7
Oh my days. I've now been a full-time freelance writer for four years and two months! It's been a journey. I've had to battle my tiny business through Brexit, COVID, huge fintech redundancies, bereavement, and the cost of living crisis ... all while living in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
But despite everything - and to my huge surprise - I've been able to make a real success of it so far (touch wood!!). I bought a flat with my partner, made some small savings and won a couple of industry awards. Of course, I couldn't have done it without some incredibly valuable tips and tricks from fellow freelancers. So, here is a list of my own. 104 tips to make it as a freelance writer today. I hope it's useful! 🙏
Make a proper website - it costs about £300 a year, ish.
Write something that you would like to read. Answer a real question for a real person. Or make a joke that you find funny.
Practice SEO on your own website, before you charge clients to do it on theirs.
Blog. It's an obvious way to hone your writing techniques, attract clients and attend industry events for free.
Read about writing. I know that sounds lame, but study the way language works. Take it seriously. Every tiny improvement is a major victory.
Add stats. At least three per article.
People will try to avoid answering the question. But it's your job to find the answer. So keep trying, Research why they might be trying to avoid it. Ask again and again until you get a satisfying response.
Try to keep late payments in perspective. It's annoying, but it's not the end of the world.
Ask obvious questions.
Be open to all kinds of work and clients at the start
Each article should be original. Say something that's never been said before.
Google Ads are a good way to reach new clients
Embrace criticism. Really listen to it, it will make you better. Editors will break you, then make you.
Write even when you're not working. Funny poems, dystopian sci-fis, enter short story competitions... flex that muscle!
Interviews are never as good or honest when they are written. You can tell that every word was analysed by Compliance and it doesn't read as well. Try to do them over the phone or in person.
Be honest. Especially when you've f**ked up.
Get business cards. It's quite affordable and helps you seem more professional.
Get an email domain. It's so much more professional than @gmail.com.
Enter awards: You don't need to win. But the process will help you remember what you're good at, where you need to improve and why you do what you do.
Tight word count? Try handwriting the article with an uncomfortable pencil.
Writer's block? Try reading what you've done in a different voice. Get your guitar and sing it. Stand up and perform it like the president. Do an accent. Put your brain in a different gear.
Keep your business name short. (I seriously f**ked up here).
Never prioritise a new client over an old one (this is harder than it sounds)
Attend events (for free - see point 4): This is where you can meet new clients, discover ideas for new content and get loads of quotes for your articles.
Prioritise referrals from existing clients.
Research the rules on slander and fair game. In a nutshell, if someone is putting out misleading information to the public, and there is a public interest, you can report the truth. Greenwashing fits.
Be bold. Say the thing that needs to be said.
Don't be afraid to take someone to court for non-payment. It's a lot easier than it sounds!
Write up interviews straight away! (I never do this and always regret it).
If it feels wrong, don't do it. Trust your gut.
You will meet narcissists. Brace yourself for some hellish egos.
Ask more questions than you answer.
Write for the people who don't have a voice. When I write about greenwashing, I am thinking of the 15 million Pakistanis who were flooded out of their homes last Summer.
Get an accounting platform. I have FreeAgent.
Be inclusive. Use references that everyone can understand.
Do become a limited company (if it's right for you!) It helps set you off on the right path. Plus clients take you more seriously.
Don't pay VAT if you're under the threshold. (I did this for three years and it was SO stupid).
Don't punch down. If you're going to attack, go for the big banks, investment powerhouses, global corporations or governments. Don't blame the most vulnerable. Unless you work for the Daily Mail.
Go out. Anywhere. Work from somewhere else.
Don't undersell yourself. Keep your rates in line with inflation. Give yourself a raise occasionally.
Aim for retainers. Once you have a good client, try to get regular work with them.
Sign up for reward programs at coffee shops. You are going to get through a lot of hot drinks.
Don't let people take the piss. If they ask you for way too many suggestions, quotes, samples or ignore your emails... Politely but firmly tell them that you don't have the capacity, and they should find a different freelancer.
Practice what you preach.
Collect recommendations from clients. I keep mine on LinkedIn.
Write your follow-up question as the person is talking. That way you avoid the whole awkward "I had a question but I forgot it" thing.
Throw in a little joke here and there. It's finance, they need something to keep them awake.
Proofread like a barrister.
Be careful with references. Not everyone can relate to buying Father's Day cards, moving out from home or having a first kiss. Try to be as inclusive as possible with analogies.
Zoom out. What does this piece of finance mean for the wider world? The next generation? The planet?
LinkedIn (or wherever your clients are): Learn, build connections and share your work.
Save for tax: Everyone has a different system, just make sure you have something. Trust me, I speak from experience when I tell you that overdue payment plans suck the life out of you like Dementors.
Channel your negative experiences. For years, I found the way bankers described things as "sexy" to be deeply irritating. It actually put me in a bad mood. But I channelled it into a blog, which has since become one of my most popular articles ever! In the first week alone, it got 800 views.
Pay attention to how newsreaders introduce topics, and see if you can replicate it in your introduction
Write for free sometimes. Your local newspaper needs you!
Know the rules of your trade. For me, it's the FCA. I've mapped out the essentials here.
Write on different surfaces. Biro on a banana skin is tantalizing.
Save for you! I try to put 10% of my invoice money into a separate pot... I am not great at this, but trying to get better.
Sort out a pension: Even if you are a bit crap at filling it up, it's better than nothing. I opened an ethical SIPP with Wealthify.
Write down lines when they hit you. Any lines. For example, yesterday I was walking through a tunnel thing in Angel; past this strange-looking couple who were making out a bit too passionately. I got my notepad out as I strolled and wrote this: "In the piss-soaked street, Next to a trodden-on turd, A couple are kissing, Without a care in the world, They linger in the shadows, In lip-locked amour, As passers-by pass by, And life continues as before". I find that doing this helps to sharpen my brain a bit. It helps me find the right words quickly when I need them.
Share research on LinkedIn. Someone else might appreciate it.
Carry a notepad with you. Sometimes on the London Underground, I get a brain pop and write an entire introduction to an article. Inspiration strikes in random places. For me, it's usually on the Northern Line between Archway and Euston.
If a client thinks they are entitled to not pay you on time, get out. Like asap.
Elements of Eloquence is a really good book for improving writing techniques.
SWAP THINGS! I swapped three articles for an office space :D When you need something, see if you can negotiate a swap.
Work while you're on the train. Make the most of this time. In some cases, you could also expense the cost of the ticket.
Try to include at least one sense in every article to make them 3D. If you're really feeling it, pop in a synaesthesia. (I.e: "The admin report looked like the smell of feet").
Listen to snippets from other people's conversations. At events, waiting for a bus, working in a coffee shop... They can come in really handy for articles!
Make a to-do list every day
Find a good editor. Someone who trusts you.
Clients WILL pay you late. They just will. Have a strategy for dealing with this. People are always telling me to start charging deposits. Maybe I should.
Get an office plant
Treat free lunches with a healthy dose of scepticism. (Unless it's diversification. BabomChhhhh... investment joke).
Be organised (tricky!)
Don't work for less than 25p a word. That's really taking the biscuit.
Consider a co-working space ... for your own sanity.
Tight deadline? Set an alarm of 20 minutes per paragraph. You can always go back later, but getting a first draft done will help you psychologically
Ditch the coffee and get a cocktail occasionally.
Writing an article isn't always linear. Sometimes you need to start in the middle and work outwards.
It helps to have a lot of screens! Occasionally you will do this weird thing, where you write three or four articles at the same time. Just go with it.
Make sure your sources are watertight.
Research like hell. Then write quick!
Sometimes people are nervous of journalists. Try to be kind and reassure them that you're only interested in the truth.
Choose background music wisely. Match it to the tone of your articles if you can.
Keep questions short.
A good way to get experts is by contacting the authors of research papers.
Go easy on your expenses. You don't need to buy your client three rounds of wine.
You don't have to do panels if you don't have capacity
Sometimes you can tell more about how someone answers a question than what they are saying. I see this all the time with sustainability. If the interviewee deflects the question, that tells me volumes about the bank's culture. If they won't take responsibility in front of me, they're not going to take it in front of shareholders either.
Stroke a cat as often as you can. You have no idea how stressed you are.
Look the part! You're basically Carrie Bradshaw now. Enjoy the freedom!!
Help out other freelancers with recommendations and tips
Challenge interviewees. Don't just blindly accept the first answer, they are usually being paid by a company to say something.
If an interviewee keeps dodging the question, tell them. Write it.
Take regular breaks from the screen.
Don't sleep in late on a weekday!
Light a candle ... I like to feel like a monk while I write!
Enjoy the little things. Walking to a meeting. Getting barista-made coffee. Seeing your name published.
Be kind to yourself. Don't be the worst boss you ever had!
Slash a paragraph. Sometimes, it's exactly what the article needs.
Jump at opportunities! This is how I got to report in Morrocco!
. Have fun! The world is your oyster! 🦪