How Freelance Writing Works

Jan 20, 2021

In reviewing my correspondence over the past year, I’ve calculated I receive about 16 emails per month from nurses interested in learning more about becoming freelance writers. I’m always happy to respond, though you probably can understand now why I brought back RN2Writer. It’s much more efficient for me to write posts that benefit a large group of nurses than to respond individually to every email (though I will always do that!).

Here’s what I generally tell nurses who want to pursue freelancing.

In my experience, the RN credential opens quite a few doors within the healthcare content industry (“healthcare content” being an umbrella term for any kind of patient communication, consumer health articles, web writing, newsletters, case studies, marketing writing, etc.).

A lot of people have questions about the “process” of freelancing. Like, how do I even get started? Basically it goes like this:

1. You set up your business

Yes, you can just plunge into freelance writing without giving a thought to your business structure, but I don’t recommend it. For one thing, people who anticipate success tend to give thought to what things will look like a year down the road. People who anticipate failure tend to adopt a “let’s see what happens before I commit to this” attitude. I can understand being in the latter camp, but I personally believe you’ll have more success if you commit to your nurse-writing business from Day One, and that means choosing a structure, getting an EIN, and completing a few other free or cheap administrative tasks.

NB: You don’t have to invest thousands of dollars into your nascent freelance writing business to be successful. Indeed, the fact you can set up shop with virtually no investment whatsoever is one of the things that makes freelancing an attractive career option for nurses!

2. You obtain writing samples

Before you start soliciting paying clients, it helps to have some writing samples (“clips”) to show them. I mean, who wants to hire a writer who can’t demonstrate their ability to write?  Your samples don’t necessarily have to be healthcare-related, but it helps.

To obtain your initial clips, I advise newcomers to volunteer their writing services to a worthy non-profit. For example, I initially did some writing for my local Alzheimer’s Association to get clips. You can contact the marketing director of any non-profit and ask them directly if you can volunteer to do some writing for them because you’re trying to build a portfolio of “clips.” They’ll say yes or no, and if it’s “no,” then you can move on.

NB: Receiving a “no” provides valuable experience in handling rejection. You’ll get plenty of that as a freelance writer. If you want to know what really differentiates those nurses who succeed as writers from those who do not, it’s simply a matter of grit. Successful nurse-writers have it, and plenty of it. The ability to persevere is what makes a successful freelancer, not necessarily writing ability.

Also: never, never, NEVER write for free (for a for-profit entity) to obtain clips. I hold very strong opinions on this, which I will delve into in a future post.

3. You solicit work

For greatest success, I advise you to pursue the type of writing work that directly correlates to your meager portfolio of clips. In other words, if you’ve written three newsletter articles for the Alzheimer’s Association (as I did), then solicit article-writing work from an online publisher like Healthline or WebMD or Mayo Clinic or whomever. It doesn’t make sense to try to parlay your newsletter articles into a gig to write a 5,000-word white paper. You know? As you gain more experience, with more types of clips, then you can continually expand your repertoire.

But how, exactly, do you solicit work?

Most writers (myself included) approach prospective clients by email. In the industry, this is called a “letter of introduction” or LOI.

You do have to become comfortable marketing yourself. When I was starting out, I spent more time on marketing than I did on writing. But, again, don’t let that put you off. Don’t say, “Oh, I can’t do sales.” It’s not a squeamish thing, like used car sales, because the entire freelance industry is set up for this type of “selling.” Marketing directors and editors are constantly looking for good freelance writers, and they appreciate it when you take the time to contact them. That’s the truth.

4. You land a client

You’ll receive plenty of “no thanks” and non-responses when you start sending LOIs. That’s normal.

But, eventually, you’ll open your inbox to find a message saying, “Your timing is perfect. We’d like to assign you an article…”

Take a moment to stand up and do the Snoopy dance, because you’ve just landed your first client!!

And then, after the euphoria has passed, sit back down and take a moment to vet the prospective client. It’s an unfortunate fact of freelance life that you’ll receive offers from sketchy clients, low-paying clients, or other types that I don’t advise you work for. Use my free cheat sheet for evaluating clients before you click “reply” to accept that article assignment.

5. You get a contract…usually

Let’s say everything checked out A-OK with the client, and you’re ready to start writing. The client should send you a contract, but, admittedly, this doesn’t always happen. If you don’t receive a formal contract, you can offer the client your own to sign. The contract should outline the scope of work (SOW), deadline, and agreed-upon fee – at a minimum. You should review any contract for onerous indemnification clauses, non-compete sections that bar you from working with companies in the same industry as the client, and other contract issues that can derail your business success.

NB: In 2020 I’ll continue diving into these types of issues so you can identify and mitigate them quickly.

If the client doesn’t offer you a formal contract – or if they refuse to sign a contract, at all – then you can use email to clarify the assignment’s parameters. Just send your contact/editor a message that outlines your understanding of the SOW, deadlines, and fee. Their affirmation by email is sufficient to allow you to proceed with the assignment.

5a. Or, you write a proposal and negotiate a contract

The process I’ve outlined above is how freelance works for most writers new to the business. However, you might also follow the methods I’ve outlined before, regarding writing a content proposal and negotiating for a large or ongoing project. This is the path to massive financial success as a freelancer.

NB: Coming soon, I’ll be offering a webinar on how to create killer proposals to catapult your business into the big-time.

6. You write the assignment

Regardless of which path you chose above, eventually all the Ts will be crossed and Is dotted, and then you’ll have to actually write the assignment. Woo hoo!! This is the fun part. Make sure you follow any style guide you’re given, and always, always meet the deadline.

Aside: I’ve spoken to many editors over the years who say their single biggest frustration with freelance writers is blown deadlines. Think about that. The mere act of meeting your deadline every time – regardless of any other issues with the work you submit – puts you head and shoulders above every other writer.

7. Revisions occur

You can expect the client to request revisions to your assignment several times. Don’t take this personally. Heck, my work still gets edited. It’s not a reflection on you, as a person, or even on your talent as a writer, necessarily.

Sometimes you’ll need to make small edits. (“Whoops! Forgot your publication uses the Oxford comma. I’ll make sure to go back and insert all of them.”) Sometimes you’ll need to make large revisions. (“Whoops! Didn’t realize I was supposed to write to a Flesch-Kincaid level of eight. Let me fix that.”)

Always make sure any revision requests hew to the SOW you and the client mutually established. If that statement makes no sense, don’t worry: I’ll be explaining this in much more detail in posts throughout 2020.

Eventually the client accepts the final work, and then you send them an invoice. BOOYAH!!


Or, you know, by PayPal. Or direct deposit.

But paper checks, in my experience, still tend to rule as the primary payment method. Go ahead and feel the joy of holding that check in your hands. Take photos of it and post them (with details blurred out) on social media. Email all your friends and family to tell them you’ve made it as a professional writer.

I’m only being slightly facetious. Hey, receiving your first payment really does make you a professional. Go ahead a revel in the feeling!

9. You return to Step Three

The sad side of receiving that check? It means you have no more work on your plate.

Even while you’re working on that article, you should continue soliciting new work. By marketing constantly, you’ll keep the work pipeline filled – which leads to Step Eight occurring frequently. Eventually Step Eight will occur so frequently that you’ll start considering leaving bedside nursing for good to focus on writing full-time. And when you finally make that decision to write full-time, it will give you a thrill like nothing you’ve experienced before.

You’ve made it! Welcome aboard.

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