At some point virtually all freelance writers will discover the unpleasant reality that, although covering major news stories is exciting, what really matters is covering the bills. Sadly, a weekly report for the village newspaper on the local cricket team's lack of success and the occasional 500-word feature on a conference for a trade publication won't keep the wolves from the door.
Thankfully, there are alternatives.
Opportunities for freelance writers
Agencies and websites that specialise in freelance corporate writing opportunities are the obvious first port of call. It doesn’t take long searching the web to find them. The work can be well paid but it is often in-house and that can be a problem for anyone who doesn't live within commuting distance of London.
On a more local level, PR firms are a good source of potential work because they need to generate press releases, case studies and the like. Advertising agencies need people to write advertising copy. Website designers need written content for the websites that they build.
In fact, each and every day a wide range of things need to be written by someone, from financial reports to newsletters to business plans. If you can identify the businesses in need and develop a relationship with them, that someone could be you. Spend some time thinking about where words are used and you will be able to identify numerous potential clients in your local area.
When you are thinking about which businesses could use your services, remember that not every business employs a PR firm, an advertising agency, a website designer, etc. There are nearly five million small businesses in the UK. Many of those cannot afford to pay a consultancy so even when they realise that there are marketing opportunities that they should be taking advantage of, they take the DIY approach.
As an example, a small business might use a software package or template to build their website rather than using a professional website designer. Templates are fine but they are only as good as the content that they are filled with, and that is where a freelance writer can help.
Having identified your potential clients, how do you convert them into actual clients?
First, you need a website, particularly if you intend to market yourself as a provider of digital content. You are unlikely to see any serious volume of work coming in as a result of people finding you via Google, but having a website means that you will have an online portfolio that will show potential clients that you know what you are talking about. Make sure your website address is on your business cards, all of your stationery and in your email signature.
Once your website has been sorted, you need to start approaching businesses in your local area. There may be networking events that you can take advantage of, or you might just have to trawl through Yellow Pages to identify local firms that could use your services and cold call them.
There are thousands of books and online resources that discuss strategies for dealing with networking opportunities and cold calling, but the main thing is to make sure you can answer to the question, "what do you do?" in less than thirty seconds. Potential clients won't be prepared to give you any more time than that. Your answer should explain what you do and, more importantly, how what you do can help the person you're talking to.
Lastly, don't forget, in an age of digital communication, that exchanging business cards can be an essential part of finding freelance work. Your potential client needs your business card to remind them to look at your site, and you need your potential client's business card so you can send a follow up email later, summarising what was said, asking them to contact you if there is anything that they think you can help them with, and reminding them of your website address.
There are a lot of freelance journalists out there competing for work from traditional publishing companies. Take time to think about where and how written content is used, identify businesses who could use your writing skills but might not know it yet. Showing those businesses how you can help them might create great opportunities and ongoing work. You won't necessarily find these opportunities advertised though. If you want to take advantage, you need to be proactive.
Sign up for Journalism.co.uk's own 'Successful Freelance Journalism' one-day course on 29 January. Click on this link for details.