Can You Help These Freelance Writers Figure Out What to Do?

Baffled young freelance writerJudging from the emails and Facebook questions I get, some freelance writers think I am the oracle of all knowledge.

Fact is, I do not know everything about freelance writing. I get questions I don’t really know how to answer now and then.

They might be about writing niches or types I’ve never done, such as applying to gigs on online portals.

Like this one from my Facebook:

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 9.24.53 AM

Or this one, about a sticky ethical situation I haven’t experienced:

I provide ghostwriting for self-help professionals, like monthly newsletters or short weekly blog posts. They either don’t have the time or aren’t good at writing short marketing-style pieces, and it’s reliable and entertaining work for me, so it’s a fine arrangement.

But one of my clients has been contacted by an editor at a print magazine. He likes her blog, and wants her to start writing articles for him. One problem – my client doesn’t want to come clean to him that her blog is ghostwritten!

In fact, when she told me, the topic wasn’t even up for discussion. She just tacked the directions for this new venture on to her usual content requests for the month.

This is a real dilemma for me! I’d appreciate any insight you have.

Thank you, Alexandra

This would-be writer is juggling a lot of balls already, but would like to know how to get into freelancing:

I stumbled across your website and found it very interesting.  I’m currently working the normal M-F 8-5 with a 4 hour daily commute into the city.  I’m also working on my MBA and will graduate in May with a 4.0.

In going through work and school for many years now, I have not been able to find my niche.  I’m a finance manager now, and my prior positions have included marketing, accounting, recruiting, anything business related—I’ve done it.  I’ve never found any type of happiness or healthy challenges any time in my career.

My passion has always been in writing.  I would love nothing more than to use my passion and do it for a living.  My problem is I have no idea where/how to get started.

I recently found freelance positions on flexjobs.com and other places.  I will admit that it is a bit overwhelming.  I’ve written many papers and have always been nominated to proof, edit, and write throughout my education.

Any help and/or direction is greatly appreciated.

Best Regards, Natalie

I haven’t tried to freelance while getting an advanced degree and working full-time. A little flummoxed on that one.

I’ve also never worked as a lawyer while trying to launch a freelance business, like this writer — but I’m thinking maybe some of you have:

I have a question about starting a writer’s website. For beginning writers who are currently working at a day job in another field, how do you recommend creating a writer’s website without putting your current job in jeopardy? I am an attorney at a law firm, but I want to transition to working as a freelance writer.

I am starting to work part time at the firm to allow more time to write and eventually, I hope to be able to leave that job entirely. Until I get to that point, however, I need to pay my bills. I am afraid that if I create a writer’s website with my name and my firm finds out about it, I could lose my job. Of course, it is hard to get started as a writer without a website.

Could you provide some insight into how to avoid this Catch-22? Thanks, Charise

So I turn to you. If you have any thoughts, ideas, insights — this is your day to share them and help other writers to break in to the freelancing biz and earn more.

 Got some advice for these writers? Leave it in the comments — thanks!

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34 comments on “Can You Help These Freelance Writers Figure Out What to Do?
  1. Mirta says:

    @Charise: You could make a legal consulting blog. Since it may be in breach with your current job, you might want to provide some general information first, or provide examples with respect to any potential NDA issues.
    Legal forums, google search results, etc., might be a good source of ideas for legal issues people need information for. You could also provide a source of hot topics (news, etc.) related to legal matters, and you could also include your expert opinion on these. That might be an elegant way to avoid any issues with your company, and a good way to shine on the net and also attract new clients for legal, writing, or a combination of both (legal writing, or writing articles on legal topics).

  2. Bruce Hoag says:

    Alexandra,

    If it was me, I’d explain that there’s such a huge need for content, that many blog hosts use ghostwriters. In other words, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. If anything, it demonstrates that the host is successful enough at what he/she does that she can afford to pay someone to do it.

    Not only that, but all of us needs to focus on core business. That’s what customers pay us and them for. None of us can do everything really well. I read somewhere recently that few people can do more than one or two things really well. And so that means that unless you sell the content on your site, then that’s not your core business. And so being the smart entrepreneur that your client is, he/she has outsourced it to someone whose core business is writing.

    That’s good business sense.

    And so you may find that if you put it like that to him/her, that you’ll get a hearing.

    If your client really won’t discuss it, then it seems to me that he/she shouldn’t be permitted to tack anything on.

    By that I mean that you are being given a new assignment, and new assignments means discussing rates, topics – the whole shebang.

    Bruce
    Bruce Hoag recently posted…The Road Not TakenMy Profile

  3. Alexandra –

    I’m a ghostwriter too, and I feel strongly that you should not ghostwrite your client’s column for her.

    Columns don’t only present someone as a writer. They present them as an authority in their subject matter. That makes a ghostwritten column a complete lie, one which the ghostwriter is an accomplice to — unless your client provides the raw material for the columns, and you’re just re-working her original comments and research.

    It doesn’t matter how badly you need the money — the income can come from other projects. If you sell-out on that level, you set a very low ethical precedent for the rest of your work as a writer, and that’s a deflating, uninspired way to work.

    Explain to your client that if she would like to present you as co-writer in the byline, then you’re happy to take on the project for her. Otherwise, you will have to politely refuse.

    Even that is a generous offer. I would say, do that or say No entirely.

    Best wishes, and keep at it!
    Caroline Oceana Ryan recently posted…MLK: No Ordinary LoveMy Profile

  4. Carol Tice says:

    I knew I could count on all of you to come up with super-useful stuff! Thanks to everybody who helped out here — especially great tips on juggling school and law and freelance writing.

    You rock, MALW readers!

  5. Hi Natalie,

    I have tried to freelance while working full time and getting an Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing and it’s hard work. It sounds like you have inside knowledge in big money-making topics.

    You mentioned that you have a 4 hour commute. That’s a lot of time for writing and doing course work.

    Why not draft articles or ideas on the way in? Even if you spend 45 minutes on it. Then let it go, work and revisit on the way home.

    I used to commute 3 hours a day and did all of my course writing work and freelancing on the bus with a notebook/laptop.

    By thinking hard in the morning, letting it go, and revisiting later – I found that half of my writing did itself (call it right brain work, I don’t know) and it was more like taking dictation than writing.

    Good luck and I really hope that you find some joy in your career. Nothing more de-energizing than a career that looks great on paper and withers the heart.

    Amy

  6. Hello Alexandra,

    This is a great opportunity for you even if you don’t get a byline. It proves the quality of your work to your client (and you).

    First, you need to charge appropriately. This is not the kind of writing that anyone can do – it’s professional writing and must be paid for properly.

    Second, it’s an idea that you can use in your own marketing and write up as a case study for your site without revealing anyone’s name of course.

    Third, you can start marketing this idea to other clients and pitching ghost articles to other sites. As a former publicist in a marketing communication agency, we used to pitch ghost written columns to magazines and newspapers for clients. (For example, a dentist or a plumber provides a weekly or monthly column to get exposure, position themselves as an expert, etc.) We charged a premium for this service as not everyone could do it.

    I hope this helps and good luck to you!

    Amy

  7. Anna Roberts says:

    Natalie: Use your 4 hour commute (assuming you’re not driving!) to do some work, even if it is just social networking / research while you’re starting out. I once deliberately took a job that had a long train commute so that I could concentrate on my own work outside of the 9-5 hours.

    Charise: I went through this dilemma and I ended up telling colleagues I had a blog for fun, and then expressed an interest in writing during my one-to-ones to indicate I wanted to use that skill within that role. And then I left that company and told my new employers up front that I wrote for clients while asking if that would be a conflict of interest. Their reply was that it was fine, as long as there were no client cross-overs with theirs. Most importantly though, they wanted to know if it was paid work, as I’d need to declare that through my payroll.

  8. Oludami' says:

    @Natalie. How to get started? You are on a great path already. You only have too many options to choose from.

    The best way to break into successful freelance writing – in little time – is to leverage on your background and work experience(s).
    MBA on one side, and on the other side a financial manager who’s done marketing and other business-related stuff. And you love writing too!
    With the last two, you’d fit perfectly into the highly-lucrative business writing world, either business-to-consumers (b2c) or business-to-business (b2b). And also perfect for the financial niche.

    So I’d say, develop your writing in the business writing (or copywriting) area – hone your already-gotten skills – and pursue clients that have a lot of marketing promos to write. They are too many in the finance niche – with too many work.
    With this you can take on projects like Direct-mail and online sales letters, newsletters, white papers, case studies, press releases, blogs, brochures, web content, email marketing, and hundreds of other projects. You only need to hone your persuasive writing skills to near perfection, and learn to market your services.

    Carol’s got you covered on the marketing and freelance writing part, especially blogs and articles – and recently PR too. Get a *paid* copywriting training too.

    You should also start your own blog in the financial advisory niche, and when you’ve been able to prove your worth (with free content of course), start your own financial newsletter that can be subscribed to for a decent fee.

    Hope this helps!

    @Charice. I just became a lawyer last year, but into private practice and starting under my dad – and I’m going deeper into blogging + freelance writing too. My situation isn’t as hard as yours, but I think transitioning into full-time freelancing can be quite easier than you think.

    Using a pseudonym is a good way to start, as long as you’d link your real name to it in the future. And as long as you reveal to clients that it’s a pseudonym.

    Better still, focus on other marketing strategies, other than a website, to get freelance writing gigs. Get some good samples under your portfolio, and start pitching prospective clients. Do the cold-callings, direct-mailings, etc. Getting 2 to 3 great clients should keep the bills paid while you transform fully.

    Good luck to you guys!

  9. Micki says:

    I have some advice for the lawyer (or anyone) who is working a full-time job, and wants to start or grow a writing career on the side – honesty! I was in this position for about 1.5 years until recently quitting my full time job to take a part time job that allows me to concentrate more on my writing.

    From the day that I started my blog and gained the first client, I told my employer about my side job. They got to know me as a consultant to their business and knew about my passion for writing (I had gotten them over $2 million in grant funding for equipment). When I left the job in October, they were not surprised and were very supportive of my efforts to move back into consulting.

    If you are going to be honest, though, have a back up plan before you tell all. If they don’t support your side business, what are you going to do? Also be prepared for them to want assurances that this work will not conflict with your day job or compromise their business in any way.

    I wish you luck as you pursue your passion!

    Micki
    Micki recently posted…Finding “Free Money” – The Five Best Ways to Find Funding For Your Next ProjectMy Profile

  10. Allen Taylor says:

    Charise, a pseudonym works, but only if you shield your name from public view on any domain name you own. The way to do that is to purchase the privacy option from your hosting company when you set up your domain. If you buy your domain name from whois.com, privacy is automatic.

    Alexandra, I’m not sure why this creates a dilemma for you – unless you are presenting your own ideas rather than your client’s. If that is the case, I would offer to the client that you interview her for each article and ask for a raise to compensate you for your time. Tell her you want to make sure you are presenting her views as accurately as possible and need to time to pick her brain and clarify her stance on things. Also, ask her to give you the topics she wants you to write about.
    Allen Taylor recently posted…How To End Writer’s Block In 5 MinutesMy Profile

  11. Rekha says:

    Anas :

    * Get your hands on a rate card for freelancers in the UK
    * Check what other same-sized publications pay for your type of writing
    * Ask your network/colleagues who have previously worked on similar mag projects

    Alexandra : Whether you should accept the project or not depends on –

    * The volume of work and pay you stand to lose by refusing new work
    * Can you live with the lack of recognition if the posts become a hit with the magazine’s audience?
    * Will the client be compensated by the editor for the work and are you fine with receiving only the current rate
    * If the word gets out (a small chance), will it affect your relation with the client and your future career?
    * Will you will be writing for a trade mag as a subject matter expert or general market/business overviews for the average mag
    — I read an article about a lawyer who faced a lot of flak in his community for hiring ghostwriters for his own blog

    Natalie:

    * If you can juggle work, studies and writing, go for it
    * Start small – in terms of project size and scope or with something you can work on, in the weekends

    Charlie: Two options – based on what you want to choose as your writing niche/s –

    Own name
    * Write posts using your experience and knowledge as a lawyer on related and interesting topics
    * Write posts based on one or two topics of interest (with a paying market)

    Pen name:
    *Write on anything you fancy.

  12. Tom Crawford says:

    Anas – this is a good route into freelance writing and blogging. Now that you have created a few articles without being paid, you need to quickly switch your perspective. You now have work samples, and there are many blogs, publications and other firms who will pay you for your work.

    Stop working for free.

    If you want a general price per 500 word (online) article: start at $75, and then quickly work your way up to a $100 flat fee. Then increase it again. You also need to cast a wider net, so submit your pitch or LOI to many potential clients.
    Tom Crawford recently posted…Are You Committing These 10 Blog Post Mistakes?My Profile

  13. peachfront says:

    Well, here are my answers based on too many years as a freelancer.

    1) I have a very strong hunch that they’ll tell you what they pay, and you’ll take it or leave it. There are a lot of unemployed news writers out there.

    2) What kind of confidentiality agreement do you have as a ghostwriter? You may need a new contract addressing print publication. It protects her too since it will spell out the confidentiality she wants.

    3) Until she figures out what she has to offer a paying client, she’s going to continue to have trouble getting started. Nobody cares about her passion.

    4) In my experience, having a writer’s website is 100% irrelevant to getting started as a paid writer so just don’t have a website if it stresses you that much. As for your pen name, you may be amazed at how fast you get busted. I know someone who avoids Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc and still got his information linked by some random Google update. Assume your employer will find out, and that being an ethical, honest person is the best policy for your future as both a writer and a lawyer. We can’t read your employment contract from here so we have no idea if moonlighting is a firing offense at your company or not. You are the one in the best position to answer your own question. You are a lawyer and know other lawyers. Surely you can read your employment contract or get intelligent advice about whether you are allowed to moonlight. We can’t tell you that!
    peachfront recently posted…Travel Sampler: Three Funny News Stories, One Serious Blackjack Adventure ReportMy Profile

  14. Cassie says:

    Alexandra: Ethically, it’s not a problem – but you do need to check with yourself emotionally and see how you are going to feel about her getting the credit for your work when it appears in a print magazine. I have a client that I ghostwrite for and people have begun singing his praises about his writing ability and knowledge. A big-time guru has taken him under his wing and is also praising him for his contributions to his (guru’s) website (which I am writing!). I confess, there are days when confidentiality agreement be d*mned and I would like to holler to the world that this person is a fraud.But….it’s really not any different than the writing you are already doing for her, so just do an emotional check-in with yourself and if it doesn’t bother you to the point of driving you insane…don’t sweat it!

    Charise: I agree with everyone else – simply use a pen name. The only thing I can think to add to that is — choose your pen name wisely because it will be hard to change it to something else once you are established.

  15. Annie says:

    Anas, I just did a Google search for rates:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=news+article+rates+for+freelance+writers&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

    Check it out. With a little bit of research you can probably at least find a range of what to charge.

    Alexandra,
    Since you’re already ghostwriting articles for your client, then I don’t see how this is any different. Most of what I write could be considered ghostwriting and yes, the client gets the credit because that is how ghostwriting works. So I think you have the choice to accept the additional work and move your freelancing out of the ghost writing genre and into byline type writing.

    At any rate, I would consider this a win personally because it means your writing caught the eye of an editor. Perhaps this means you should be pursuing editors of magazines and pitching your own articles and columns?

    Natalie,
    Since you have a strong background in finance, that alone should help you to land gigs. I’d say find two or three listings you feel confident you could write a piece for and apply, emphasizing your strong background and experience. Most editors would give you a chance to prove yourself. If you don’t feel prepared to do that then why not start a blog or website where you give financial advise? People are always looking for ways to understand and handle financial issues, so you could be very helpful to them by providing a site where they could learn about such things. And once you’ve got some experience under your belt, writing about your topic, you will have an online portfolio to point to that would probably help you to get writing assignments.

    Charise,
    I’m not really sure why this is a problem – do you have some contractual agreement with your firm about not pursuing other endeavors?

    In your shoes I would probably talk to the managing partner and explain that you want to also pursue freelance writing in your free time and ask if you have their permission to mention their firm as part of your experience. Then go do what you want to do.

    If you don’t feel like this is an option, then link to your resume at Linkedin or lawyers.com or wherever you happen to have it.

    You could use a pen name but that kind of denies your brand and if you hope to use your experience as an attorney to obtain work that could be a problem.

    And there you have it. 🙂
    Annie recently posted…Think you can’t read a Kindle Book because you don’t have a Kindle? Think againMy Profile

  16. Bridget says:

    To Alexandra:

    I deal with this all the time and basically, when you take on a ghostwriting project it’s up to your client just how he/she wants to present, publish, or even just throw away the work.

    As long as you’re getting paid for the work that you’re doing, it shouldn’t matter to you whether he/she tells the editor who actually wrote it. Donald Trump doesn’t write his own books, and most CEOs don’t write their own articles.

    Good luck!
    Bridget

  17. Angel Cuala says:

    @Anas – I suggest you look for local news writers and ask them. And yes, I agree with JR John. Don’t quote too low. News writing wakes you up in the middle of the night. I should know, I used to be one.
    @Alexandra – I really don’t see any problem here. In fact, I think this is the right time to ask for a raise. But don’t blackmail your client 🙂
    @Natalie – I’m a licensed engineer turned web writer, so I understand your situation. Doing what you love most is heaven, but you should also consider the economy. I suggest you start by creating an online portfolio, which can help a lot in earning a good reputation. In my case, I lost my job and that was the sign that I should go into full-time online writing. I could not be happier…
    @Charise – I support the opinions of other commentators here. You can always hide your real name. You can also use a much younger photo for your About page.

    Wishing you all the best!
    Angel Cuala recently posted…Article Spinning vs Article Rewriting: When is One Better Than the Other?My Profile

  18. Rohi Shetty says:

    Hi Charise,

    Another lawyer who’s now a full-time writer is Aneeta Sundararajan – her website is http://howtotellagreatstory.com/ – you could ask her.

    And as already advised, use a pseudonym like Johny Truant, James Chartrand, and others have done.

    All the best.
    Rohi Shetty recently posted…The Best Thing You Can Do With Your LipsMy Profile

  19. Taiwo Adeyemi says:

    I leave this to the pros. I am still a baby in his diapers in the industry. Please, I’m hungry to sip from the blend of expert opinions and advice.

  20. Laurie Tam says:

    Hi Charise,

    I know a different “lawyer turned into a writer” vase and her name is Kelly James-Enger. She have a few books on Amazon that she wrote, and I personally own them. You should look her up. Last time I checked, she have a blog on Blogger.

  21. Roberta says:

    Charise,

    Create a pseudonym. I am a lawyer who ghostwrites marketing materials for lawyers and law firms. I also am self-publishing fiction using a pseudonym. It helps to keep the two worlds separate.

  22. Pat says:

    Charise: Use a pen name.

  23. For Charise:

    Check out Jodi Ettenberg’s blog http://www.legalnomads.com, in particular her posts on Thrillable Hours (http://www.legalnomads.com/category/thrillable-hours). It is focused on lawyers that have followed completely unrelated career paths including writing. Jodi is a great resource and may be able to offer advice.

  24. JR John says:

    Anas: Just a word of caution – don’t quote too low.
    Alexandra: Is the pay good? Then stick with it. Your client just gave you more work. You should be happy.
    Natalie: I don’t know how you do it, but I want in! 🙂
    Charise: Learn how to hide something the world wide web has access to :). Blacklist the company’s IP address maybe?

    Hope this could help!

    Regards,
    JR John
    JR John recently posted…One Quick Tip That Helps You Write Your Blog Posts FasterMy Profile

    • That’s exactly what I was going to say to Anas, but I’ll expand on it a little. If you’re charging a flat rate for blog posts, you’ll need to increase that quite a bit for a magazine article. I have ghostwritten two magazine articles, and in both cases, they were sent back for revision two or three times. When writing blog posts for this client, I almost never had him ask for changes. If you’ve never worked with a real editor before, you may not realize how much back-and-forth there can be with this type of assignment.

      Before you quote a rate for these articles, see if you can find out what the magazine pays freelancers. If you can’t determine that, try to find guidelines for similar magazines that include payment information. That will give you an idea of what to charge for the assignment. Why should you paid less as a ghostwriter than what you would be paid to write directly for the magazine?

      Good luck.
      Bethanny Parker recently posted…Fearless Forecast: 7 Best SEO Techniques for 2014My Profile

    • John, there are some people, like Natalie, who are just genuinely able to do many things at one time. I also wish that I had that special power. One was my boyfriend: he was a president of a student club, studied, worked as a software developer in one company, as a network administrator in another, had freelance gigs, and meddled with some non-profit projects. Yes, he had free time too (unbelievable even for me). The other (person, not boyfriend) has 2 jobs (software developer and software developer), founded a company and is managing it and, at the same time, works on his PhD.

      Now, where’s that magical fountain that would give me this ability?

      P. S. Sorry, Carol, for off-topic.
      Joan Anderssen recently posted…Idle You, Idle Me – Idly We Start the New YearMy Profile

      • Carol Tice says:

        It’s called DRIVE. I think it comes from within, and it’s there or it isn’t. I’ve always been like that, juggling all those balls. I worked 2 years on my blog 8-midnight 6 days a week after my kids went to bed and I was done with my freelancing gigs.

        Some folks just want it BAD…and some would rather kick back and watch TV or go out with friends or read a book and not work so hard.

        For me, I always feel an acute sense of urgency about how short life is, and we never know how short, and I want to write what I can while I can.

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