Becoming a Writer

Yes, those really are my hands on my laptop. I was a stand-in at a photo shoot for a client. I vainly thought I could be a hand model at one point in my life, but I think that could only happen if someone needs vampire hands (pretty pale, eh?).

I get asked quite often how to go about becoming a freelance writer, or how to bolster business if the person is already a freelance writer. The key to all of it is the same thing: networking. I use a few online tools to help. My favorite online helper is LinkedIn. If you aren't familiar with it, consider signing up. It's a wonderful, business-related social networking site that allows you to link with people who you know professionally. It's like Facebook, but it's just for work purposes. I've linked with several people from my past who now give me work on a regular basis. Some of my largest clients have come from Linked In. I also make it a policy to have lunch or coffee with everyone who asks, unless of course they're selling something. I think every single person I meet could be someone who I could help, or who could help me, and I treat everyone that way. I call people and ask for meetings if I want to do work for someone. If I can't get them to call me back, I call around to friends and try to find someone who can help me get my foot in the door. Every meeting you have can be valuable. I had a meeting four years ago with someone, and I really thought it would turn into something. It didn't - until last week. He recommended me to someone else, who found my web site, sent me an e-mail and hired me for some steady work that will likely be a great fit for me.

You also have to ask for work. Don't just tell people that you're a freelance writer. Tell them that you're a writer, and you're looking for new clients, and ask them to recommend you to someone who may be able to use your services. I can't tell you how many times I've had pleasant conversations with people who actually did, at that very time, need a writer for a project - but they didn't give me the work until I asked for it. It's like dating. Except that being overeager isn't quite as deadly.

So how do you figure out who uses writers? Remember, every single thing that you pick up, from a cereal box to a package of light bulbs, has writing on it - and someone had to do it. Every spoken word you here on TV, radio and the Internet was written by someone. Why not you? Here's some places to start.

1. Who have you written for in the past? Would they give you more work? Even if that editor has moved on to another publication, if they liked your work, chances are, they'll give you more. Find them. Ask for work. Repeat.

2. What magazines do you read and like? Do you have any hobbies (say, collecting antique dolls, backgammon, tennis... etc.) that bring some publications into your home that you'd like to write for? Many of those publications would love to have someone who can write and knows the material. The pay may not be great, but try anyway.

3. Who do you know from other cities/publications who might give you work? If you used to live in another city and have a friend who is doing marketing, chances are, they could use someone to write for their magazine.

4. Who do you know in the city you live in who could give you work? Ask for some work from people who work for organizations that maybe could use freelancers.

5. Define what you want to write. Are you willing to write anything? If you have a friend at an ad agency, see what they could give you.

6. Keep up. Make sure you know how to use Twitter, how to post to a blog, and that you're on Facebook. Don't let the big trends pass you by. Figure out a way to use them for your benefit (and for the benefit of your clients).

If you're offered something you aren't sure you can do, just say confidently that you would be happy to do it, take the work and do some research. If you feel that it's necessary, charge a lower rate for that type of work until you gain more confidence. I've taken many a job that I wasn't sure I knew how to do it - and I did it. There has to be a first time for everything. And you really don't know if you'll like doing something until you try it. I thought writing ad copy would be incredibly dull, until I tried it. Coming up with a snappy, memorable slogan is among the toughest jobs for a writer, and I love it.

 If you have more questions, I'm happy to try to help you. Many people have done the same for me along the way, and I'm grateful. I believe in passing it on. (This is the part where we all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.)