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Freelance writing tips that will help grow your career

By BUTCH DALISAY, The Philippine STAR Published Jun 21, 2021 6:00 am

A group of freelancerspeople who write for a living but who prefer not to be tethered to any single employerrecently asked me to share some advice on how to get the most out of their job.

Even in normal times, freelance writing has never been easy. You are basically on your own, dependent on your network of contacts and on your resourcefulness to get that next assignment and get that story published. While the Internet may have opened up new opportunities, it has also intensified competition and imposed new demands.

Having been a professional writer and editor for almost 50 years, I was happy to give them these tips:

Broaden your interests

If your main interest is arts and culture, learn something about science and technology. Know your history, and gain even a basic understanding of economics.

Dont be choosy. As long as the job pays fairly and will not harm you in any way, do it because it will be another learning experience and will add more value to your résumé.

Expand your capabilities

Learn the basics of good photography and invest in a good camera (even a good smartphone), as it will add value to your articles and make them easier to sell. Learn to write bilingually, especially as many clients will need scripts or articles in Filipino.

Expand your genres, so you can write not only features but scripts, speeches, reports, and other marketable materials. Master the language, so you can also do editing work. Learn the basics of web design.

Ask yourself: if someone were to Google my name, what will they find? Provide a positive answer to that.

Know the market

Writing single articles can be fun, but I doubt that they will make you enough to support yourself and your family. The physical magazines have shrunk to almost nothing, and while there may be money to be made online doing nearly mechanical work, you will want something more engaging and more remunerative.

In my experience, a freelance writer can make the most from writing commissioned books.

Learn to market yourself

This means you have to put yourself and your name out there, meeting people from all backgrounds. You may have to attend art exhibit openings, book launches, anniversaries, and other functions to make contacts and get to know whats going on.

Get on the mailing and invitation lists of embassies. Make friends with key media people. You may even have to do a few freebies” — free publicity just to get known. Maintain a blog that will display both your writing and your photography indeed, your style so potential clients can have an idea of how you write and how you will treat their material.

Write a book that will be the best way to get yourself noticed as a writer. Ask yourself: if someone were to Google my name, what will they find? Provide a positive answer to that.

Be thoroughly professional. Treat every job, no matter how small, as your first, last, and only job.

Be thoroughly professional

Be mindful of appointments, contracts, deadlines, accreditation, receipts and taxes. Treat every job, no matter how small, as your first, last, and only job. Attend meetings promptly, dress smartly, speak knowledgeably all of these contribute to the impression your client will make of you.

Digitally record all interviews, after asking prior permission; never rely on handwritten notes. Back up your files to the Cloud and to an external drive. If the job is big enough, ask for a written contract, or at least a signed conformé to your proposal.

Treat your work as a business

You will get more—and also more substantial—writing jobs if you are able to issue official receipts. This means getting properly registered as a business enterprise with the SEC, the BIR and other agencies.

To get government contracts, you need to be accredited with PhilGEPS, or the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System. These accreditation processes can be tedious and expensive; you will also have to file taxes every year and do your own bookkeeping. But if you want to write for a living for the rest of your life, it’s an investment that will pay for itself in the long run.

The writing life can be full of delightful freebies

Im not telling you to reject them outrightLord knows your professional fees are small enough, so these can be taken as compensation in kindbut dont lie, and dont be a party to fraud or misrepresentation.

If you cant write honestly about a product or a service, dont take any favors coming your way. Like they say, theres no such thing as a free lunch but make sure your lunch isnt poisoned and will kill you later.

Maintain your integrity

As I said, dont be too choosy and too proud, especially if youre starting out and trying to build a name. But dont undersell yourself, either, and try not to get exploited. I say try, because in practice, at some point or other, someone will exploit you, whether youre aware of it or not. Learn to say No if and when you have to.

Compromise is good and even often necessary, but draw a line in the sand, beyond which you will not go. Money is important, but it is not everything. Other and better projects will come. Unless you are desperate, do not take on jobs that will not make you happy; at least, make them pay well for your unhappiness.

Computer graphic by Scott Garceau