The World of a Freelancer

I always knew my wife could write – those long, beautiful romantic letters she wrote during our courtship are etched forever in my mind. Back then, it never occurred to me that her immaculate English speaking and writing skills were actually a gift that could be used in the future.

The Start

A few months ago, my wife secured a technical writing assignment as a freelancer. This assignment was outsourced by a US-based publishing and trade show company focused on the telecommunications industry. The company publishes hundreds of articles on their website each week. For this assignment, they were seeking freelancers to write technology-related articles for their website, which implied they only wanted to hire a tech-savvy writer.

My wife's education is in commerce and French. She strongly detests computers. On any given day, she would rather sit at Starbucks with her favorite Paulo Coelho novel, instead of burning the midnight oil in front of a computer. This was until she entered into the world of freelancing.

It is amazing what freelancing does to you. For one, it makes you disciplined. It certainly adds variety to your life. This is one profession where each assignment is different, and you get to choose the subjects you wish to write about.

The Preparation

Many people believe that freelancing is quite a tall order. I could not agree more. If you do not have any industry exposure, getting started as a freelancer can be extremely difficult. My advice would be to build a professional résumé and a portfolio of your work, which you can display to the hiring companies. You may also maintain a blog that demonstrates your writing prowess.

Some companies conduct an online test to choose the right person for the job. My wife was asked to pass a written test, which required her to paraphrase an actual press release. She had to put the news into her own words and create an original story. Luckily, she was given the flexibility to add her own elements to the story either general information about the technology itself or additional background information about the company from any sources (with proper attribution of course!)

The company made it clear that they wanted the article to be completed within 24 hours with a maximum limit of 1000 words. Could she deliver the results? You bet! She did well on the test and the company extended the job offer to her.

Freelance assignments are largely driven by time and commitment, and you need to honor both. In case you have problems with any one of these, you must back out immediately. As a freelancer, you must be able to answer in the affirmative to the following:

  • Are you available to work Monday through Friday?
  • Can you work eight hours a day?
  • Do you think you can generate a minimum of two articles a day, to start?
  • Can you eventually work your way up to five stories a day?

If the company has extended a freelance job offer to you, do not start until you have signed a contract with them. A contract not only ensures timely payments, it also details the agreed terms and conditions that both the parties must agree to. Read the terms and conditions of the contract carefully, and clarify any questions you have about the contract with the hiring company. The agreement is valid upon affirmation by both parties via email, fax, or snail mail. Usually, the basic agreement is for the writer to provide written content on a for-hire basis to the company in exchange for a fee. In case the hiring company is situated in a different geographical location, sign the printed version, scan it, and return it via email to the company.

One of the most important things you need to clarify with the hiring company is who owns the copyright to all works produced under the agreement. Some companies ask for a limited-period unrestricted copyright. Usually, authors own the work completely and all reuse or reprint requests should be directed straight to the authors.

The Process

As a freelancer, you are expected to write compelling content, be it articles based on press releases and news stories, or user manuals for an application. Did I say original? You must agree to provide good-quality original content according to guidelines stated by the company, which may be updated from time-to-time. You must warrant that all content is original and that any quotations from other works are excerpted according to "fair use" guidelines and are properly attributed.

When my wife started writing the freelance assignments, she struggled to find stories on her own using the Internet, yet she never resorted to plagiarism. If she did not understand the context, she used to politely request that the editor provide her more time or resources.

Most freelancers work in the convenience of their home setup. For my wife, the only investment she had to make was to procure a decent Internet broadband connection and install a word processor on her personal computer. She also advocates using open source tools. There are many free software tools, which you can download and use from the Internet. This way you save on the extra overhead.

The Result

Always produce your invoices on time. Timely payment is a big issue in freelancing, especially if you are being paid using a wire transfer services, such as PayPal or Xoom. Check your PayPal account on the stipulated date to see if any funds were received. In addition, assure the reliability of the mail system if you receive payments through checks. The freelancer may invoice on the terms and conditions agreed in the contract. The company then must clear the payment for the invoice within the defined period.

It is necessary to maintain the confidentiality of your dealings in freelancing. You must be tightlipped about the amount of fee and other contract terms; these are strictly confidential, and the freelancer is not to divulge these to any other party.

Freelancing can be fun provided you do it the right way. It is true that freelancers choose their own destiny. As a fellow freelancer says, "We don’t see watches while working, nor do we count the days we work. We never wait for Sundays to enjoy, because we enjoy every day. We constantly look out for new challenges and never say I cannot do it."