Starting your own business and becoming an entrepreneur can be a terrifying prospect.
While we’d all like to use our talents to earn money, actually finding the motivation and time to sift through all the billions of gigabytes of digital information available can make even the most committed individuals want to hide under the covers.
I started this journey five years ago, and although it’s been a little scary at times, it’s also been invigorating. If you have a dream of sharing your passion with others, then it’s time to start now.
Here’s my story. I hope it inspires some of you to take the leap and be the best you can be.
I’ve always considered myself a little above-average when it came to communication skills.
I like to talk—probably a little too much at times. I like the interaction with people and really enjoy sharing experiences.
But I really love to write. Like many before me, my love of the written word started with my first pad of paper and ballpoint pen.
I’d write about anything and everything. I was definitely teacher’s pet in every English class—not because I needed the help with my grades, but because I wanted to learn as much as I could about creating stories people would want to read.
Through each school year, I was the geeky one.When the other kids moaned about the essay portion of the final exam counting for 50% of their grade, I rejoiced. As long as I had the chance to write out my answers, I had it made!
Well, I took business classes in high school to learn the fundamental skills I’d need to work in an office, but my dream was to become a journalist AND some day write a book.
Like a lot of childhood dreams, mine got derailed by an overly critical Creative Writing teacher I had in my senior year of high school. While I was accustomed to reading the rave reviews about my work from teachers throughout my school career, this one was different. Every single short story, every poem, and every assignment I turned in were met with harsh criticism and disinterest.
I was mortified! “Had all my teachers been lying? Were they just praising my work because I was their favorite? Now, what was I supposed to do?”
I decided to put “Ms. Creative Wrong” to the test. For a writing assignment, I submitted an award-winning poem I wrote in fifth grade. It had been a class assignment when I was 10, and my teacher liked it so much, she submitted it to the school magazine. I won $50.
Fast-forward to my twelfth-grade recycled poem…and I got my one-and-only “A” of the course. I was convinced I HAD a gift and LOST it, so I gave up on my dream of becoming a writer.
Have I lost YOU yet? Or does my story sound something like your own?
As you may have guessed, that dream was resurrected (even if it was 35 years later.)
“People become really quite remarkable when they start thinking that they can do things. When they believe in themselves, they have the first secret of success.” -Norman Vincent Peale
I went on to become an administrative assistant (see, those business courses did come in handy!) I never stopped writing, only I was invisible when I did it. For years, I’d been ghostwriting articles for my company’s marketing and advertising campaigns—I just never got credit. I thought I was okay with that, and I was until “I wasn’t.”
My nephew, a brilliant millennial who took a leap of faith, moved to NYC without a job or a place to live, and who is now a wildly successful videographer, came home to visit. He also composes music, plays in a band, and spent some quality time writing a graphic novel.
He’s read some of my “stuff” and has always encouraged me to pursue my dream of becoming a professional writer. After years of staying in the background, my confidence really took a hit. I actually heard the words, “But I’m not smart enough to write a book” come out of my mouth when he questioned why I hadn’t followed my passion.
While I didn’t realize it at the moment, a few days later, I started remembering some of the things my nephew mentioned. One word, in particular, stood out…FREELANCE.
I honestly wasn’t even sure what a freelance writer was. I’d heard the term before but had no clue just how big the industry had gotten. I really was more curious than anything when I sat down at my computer five years ago and started to see what was out there. I hadn’t intended to launch my second career at that moment, but that’s what happened.
This is what started me on my way to becoming a successful freelance writer…
Yep, my first Google search for “freelance writing opportunities” gave me:
I thought I hit the “Mother Lode!” I was not prepared for such an unbelievable number of opportunities from one simple search. Obviously, this was a “thing,” and I needed to start learning immediately.
The wonderful thing about being a freelance writer today is that the tools of the trade are at my fingertips. Anything and everything I want to learn about can be found online. I’ve got to admit that in the early stages of my career, with so much information available, I quickly became overwhelmed. I had no idea where to start, what I was getting myself into, or who to trust.
Educational and Business Tools:
The best advice I can give you is that you can’t start a business alone. I’m not suggesting you take on a partner or hire employees (yet.) I believe it’s important to seek out reputable companies that offer the services and tools your start-up business needs.
Technology can feel like a runaway train where you’re always trying to catch up. In the five years I’ve been freelancing, I’ve often struggled to understand how to manage social media, cyber-security, and digital marketing.
Working with amazing companies like HP Business Solutions and HP Life, I’ve had opportunities to learn the fundamental skills I needed to start my own business through coursework, such as Basics of Finance, Business Communications, Social Media Marketing, Selling Online, and even Setting Prices. The best part…It’s all free of charge.
In addition, they have developed an initiative to bring together groups of global entrepreneurs to “share ideas, issues, and solutions to make businesses more successful.” This provides worldwide networking opportunities to grow your business.
While HP Life is getting you up to speed online, HP Business Solutions can provide the equipment and accessories you need to get the job done. Their state-of-the-art technology and reputation for high-quality products were all the reassurance I needed when I bought my HP laptop and printer, and I’ve never been disappointed.
Find Your Niche:
As I said at the beginning, I didn’t think I was smart enough to be a freelance writer. What I quickly discovered was that I had many unique work and life experiences that I could share through my writing.
By establishing a niche (or several) for topics I was familiar with (mine has been in the home improvement industry, and now, freelance writing), you’ll be better equipped to target your specific audience and create a following.
Build Your Brand:
This involves establishing a platform through website development, blog and content creation, and a social network presence. This is no easy task.
After a lot of stops and starts, I discovered that WordPress offered a package of tools to fit every branding requirement. With pre-packaged themes, tutorials, and a blogging community willing to answer any question, you’ll have a website up-and-running in no time.
Blogging for fun or for financial gain will give you the best opportunity to practice your craft and improve your writing. Initial packages are free, so you’ll have the time to learn how things work before committing to significant expenditures.
Social network sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram can all drive traffic to your website. If your ultimate goal is to monetize your blog or other services, you must be active on social media. It’s impossible to keep up with this ever-changing world, so pick just a few sites and schedule posts in advance. This will save you the time and frustration of daily posting.
WordPress Plug-ins also allow you to link your website to your social media pages, so your published post is automatically sent to your network. Pretty cool, right?
Getting Your Feet Wet
Even though I’d been writing for most of my life, I wasn’t really prepared for how different it was to write for the web. Everything has a unique format that takes some time to learn. Blog posts, for example, have a more conversational tone and short paragraphs. (My apologies to my fifth grade English teacher who taught me that there was no such thing as a single-sentence paragraph. There is now.)
You may be surprised, but my first 100 posts were done through a content mill. Not always known for having the best ethics, content mills offer an inexpensive option for companies to obtain articles, blog posts, and website content. In turn, they take a commission for every order and pay writers extremely low per-word fees.
I thoroughly researched content mill companies before finally jumping into the game. I chose Textbroker to start my freelancing career and will be forever grateful for the experience.
There is no charge to become a member, but you are required to take a test to gauge your writing abilities. A “star rating” is used from 2 to 5. The higher the rating you achieve, the more writing opportunities will be available and the more money you’ll earn per word. While 1.8 cents per word may not seem like much, the first time you get paid to write, you’ll feel like you made a million bucks!
The open order topics are varied, so you’ll be able to write about things you know or test your research capabilities as you try to find your niche.
Unlike some unsavory mills, the Textbroker team truly cares about their clients and their authors. The first few orders you produce will be reviewed for grammar, punctuation, and content. They’ll give you suggestions on how to improve (there are specific rules you must follow), and they even provide free classes to help increase your star rating and earning potential through direct client orders.
Sales and Marketing:
If you’re going to be a professional “anything,” you need to develop a sales and marketing plan. For freelance writing, this involved learning how to sell my skills through pitches.
Much like the old-fashioned, face-to-face interview, those skills must now translate into a digital footprint. Many jobs are done remotely where employers and employees never meet. It took me a while to learn the new rules for finding clients. I enrolled in courses that taught me how to pitch clients, build a portfolio of sample work, and even establish price structures.
Online job boards are often the best places to find work that matches your niche. To get the first shot at higher-paying opportunities, you may need to pay for a membership, but the return on investment can be significant.
You may not always have a say on how you’d like to be paid, but when you do, the easiest way I’ve found is through PayPal. Establish a free account with an email address and password. It’s a safe system that protects your privacy while allowing you to transfer funds to your personal bank account. International payments are no trouble—for a small fee foreign currency is exchanged for USD. You can even create invoices right in the PayPal system so you can get paid quickly.
Are you afraid to take that first step? Don’t be. You can move as fast or as slow as you want. This is your business, so you’re the boss!
It’s taken me several years to break into the freelance writing business, and I’m committed to being a life-long learner. The industry is constantly changing and evolving, and when it does, I want to be ready.
“It’s not the destination, but the journey that matters most.” -Wizard of Oz
A plaque on my desk reminds me of this every time I sit down to write. So far, my journey has been life-altering. How about yours?
You really are smarter than you think! Get started today.
Has my story inspired you to start your journey? Have you already taken those first steps? I’d love to hear where your path has taken you. Won’t you share your experiences in the comments section below?