For almost two years out of college, I worked the worst job in the world: long hours, terrible pay, no benefits, and a toxic work environment. But since I wanted to work in book publishing, what choice did I have? I needed the experience.
In my mind, freelancing was a side gig, not a full-time job—I had no idea I could make a living that way. Thanks to some wise advice from a veteran editor, though, I realized that most people in book publishing work on contract. In other words, freelancing is where it’s at.
I quit my awful job and started a freelance editing business, The Editing Skeleton. It was a rough journey (and still is sometimes), but I set my own hours, choose my own clients, and make more than I ever would have at that job.
If you’re thinking of putting your English degree to use as a freelance writer or editor, here are a few steps to success I’ve learned along the way:
1. Figure out what you want to do.
This is a more important step than it might seem. In the world of freelancing, it’s not enough to say, “I’m going to start a freelance writing business.” What are you going to write? Who are you going to write for?
Your answers will determine everything from who you need to network with to how you need to present your skills. Making these kinds of decisions early will help you navigate the rest of the process.
2. Get the proper training.
This is a step geared more toward editors than writers, although it can apply to both. Depending on the area of work you decide to go into, you might find that simply having an English degree isn’t enough.
In editing, for example, if your degree program didn’t focus on publishing or involve specific editing courses, many publishers won’t consider you a qualified editor. You can remedy this by taking a few online classes with organizations like the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) or enrolling in an editing certificate program like the one offered by the University of Chicago.
If you plan to specialize in a more technical kind of writing, taking classes online or at the local community college can help you brush up on important terminology and give you an edge.
3. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s.
Part of starting a freelancing business is, well, starting a business. The steps for that depend on where you live, but a few necessities are
- choosing an appropriate business structure (sole proprietorship, LLC, etc.);
- choosing and registering your business name; and
- taking care of the required paperwork and fees.
I would also suggest having a lawyer draw up or review the contract(s) you plan to present to clients. And, although you probably don’t need a lengthy business plan (unless you need financing), drafting one might help you figure out the smaller business-oriented details.
4. Put yourself out there.
No, I’m not giving you dating advice. I’m saying you should develop a web presence. People need to be able to find you and learn more about you. At the very least, you need a functional website and one professional social media account where you regularly post and interact. Most branding specialists I know suggest an additional presence, like a blog or a second social media account, but it’s better to start small and work up to that than to overwhelm yourself.
5. Find your people.
To make it as a freelancer, you have to network, and you have to do it well. You need to connect with people in your field, get advice, make friends. Perhaps most importantly, you need to find clients.
The best place to start is with professional organizations such as the EFA or the National Writers Union. The colleagues you meet through such organizations can provide helpful tips and even introduce you to clients.
Another good idea is to join groups or communities on social media. With a bit of research, you can figure out where your colleagues and prospective clients like to hang out online. (Twitter is big for writers and editors.) Once you know that, use your newly created professional account to go find them.
Pursuing a freelance career requires time, effort, and at least a little money, but for me, it’s a worthwhile endeavor. If you decide to pursue freelancing, I hope it brings you all the joy it has brought me!
Are you a Sigma Tau Delta Alumni member? Consider submitting a blog to WORDY by Nature to share with your fellow Sigma Tau Delta members how you have been using your English degree.
Sigma Tau Delta
Sigma Tau Delta, International English Honor Society, was founded in 1924 at Dakota Wesleyan University. The Society strives to
- Confer distinction for high achievement in English language and literature in undergraduate, graduate, and professional studies;
- Provide, through its local chapters, cultural stimulation on college campuses and promote interest in literature and the English language in surrounding communities;
- Foster all aspects of the discipline of English, including literature, language, and writing;
- Promote exemplary character and good fellowship among its members;
- Exhibit high standards of academic excellence; and
- Serve society by fostering literacy.
With over 900 active chapters located in the United States and abroad, there are more than 1,000 Faculty Advisors, and approximately 9,000 members inducted annually.
Sigma Tau Delta also recognizes the accomplishments of professional writers who have contributed to the fields of language and literature.