The Essential Skills Nurses Need to Launch a Freelance Writing Business

essential skills freelance writing basics freelance writing for nurses nurse writer Oct 05, 2021

Many nurses email me to ask if they have what it takes to become a freelance writer. And many of them seem shocked when I explain exactly how low the barrier to entry is in this profession.

In my opinion, you need to have a rudimentary understanding of these three things to launch a writing business. That’s it: Just these three.

1. Basic Grasp of English Grammar & Composition

Keeping in mind what I’ve said before on the podcast and YouTube channel about style guides, you should not assume the grammar you learned in high school or college is The One True Grammar – because that approach can make writing frustrating when a client asks you to write in a way that seems to violate your concept of what “correct” grammar is. Always follow the style guide, even if you think it’s wrong.

That said, you do need to come into this career with a fundamental understanding of the basic concepts of grammar and composition. I would say you need to know:

I want to stress you do not need to be an expert in any of these things. You need not be able to diagram sentences and wax eloquent about dangling participles.

If you ever wrote a C paper in nursing school, then you know enough English grammar and composition to get started as a freelance writer. Honest!

2. Basic Understanding of the Freelance Writing Process

I’ve written posts before on the subject of “How Freelance Writing Works,” so I won’t belabor the point here. I will, however, encapsulate the very basic components in a bullet list:

  • You pitch editors (journalism) or solicit clients (content marketing)
  • You receive assignments
  • You complete assignments
  • You revise
  • And revise
  • You invoice
  • You receive the check in the mail

Lather, rinse, repeat.

3. A Smidgen of Business Acumen

Listen, I can’t think of anyone I know (nurse or otherwise) who went into freelance writing as a savvy entrepreneur and businessperson. We all learned it as we went. You will learn how to be a great businessperson, too.

That said, you need to grasp the basic concepts of how run a business:

  • How to get a business license if your jurisdiction requires it
  • How and when to file your estimated tax withholding
  • How to manage a rudimentary business budget
  • How to organize your work life (email, deadlines, etc.)

But, again, you don’t need to be Mark Cuban to set up and run a successful freelance business. In truth, you’ll learn as you go. That’s the fun of it!

Things You Do Not Need to Know Prior to Launching Your Business

I think because nurses are expected to have a deep understanding of nursing, pathophysiology, etc., before they’re allowed to practice that some aspiring nurse writers feel they need the same depth of knowledge to plunge into freelance writing. It’s simply not true. That is not how the professional writing industry works.

Clients do not expect you to walk into an assignment knowing precisely how to execute it to their specification. Clients, in fact, usually provide very detailed instructions for each assignment. If they do not, then your job is to ask detailed questions to elicit the information you need to complete the assignment – a topic veteran nurse writer Marijke Vroomen Durning and I discussed on The RN2writer Show. How can you possibly read a client’s mind? Believe me, every client and every assignment is different. Writing a blog post for Client A will not be the same as writing it for Client B. Different style guides, different sourcing requirements – and so on.

When you’re getting ready to launch your freelance writing business, don’t overwhelm yourself by adding a lot of non-essential skills and knowledge to the list of “things I need to know before I launch my business.” Instead, start learning how to separate the truly essential business and writing skills from the “gee it would be helpful to know that” ones.

The list of things you don’t need to know prior to launching your business could fill an eight-volume encyclopedia. But here is a sampling of things you’ll learn about and develop after you’ve launched, and over the course of your career:

  • Understanding of SEO
  • Understanding of content marketing
  • Ability to use style guides
  • Ability to set marketing goals and create strategies to accomplish them
  • Improved skills in writing different types of content (blogs vs newsletters vs infographics, e.g.)
  • Improved reporting skills
  • Improved interviewing skills
  • Improved organizational skills
  • Better decision-making skills
  • Better financial savvy
  • Better time management
  • Improved client relationship skills
  • Ability to juggle multiple clients/projects
  • Understanding of which industry news to keep up with – and how to do it

The fact that freelancing writing is a learn-as-you-go career might make some of you feel scared or intimidated because it’s not tidy. Entrepreneurship can be gloriously messy, and if you feel anxious about that, it’s perfectly all right. Entrepreneurship can evoke an array of emotions that appear at different points in the journey:

  • Fear
  • Exhilaration
  • Excitement
  • Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Sadness
  • Triumph

You know what else evokes those same emotions? Your first shift as a graduate nurse. Do you remember nervously trying to get yourself organized that first day/night? Do you remember trying to figure out how to prioritize the long list of tasks you needed to accomplish while also dealing with myriad patient care issues that arose on-the-fly? Did you perhaps wonder if you would survive this?

Launching a freelance business is like this, too. You feel all those things, but at the end of the day you just have to jump in and start doing it. No amount of preparation can possibly prepare yourself for every single contingency that could arise during the course of your writing career.

So this is what I advise all of you to do: Just jump in. Stop trying to arm yourself with knowledge and skills you simply don’t need to get started. Just. Dive. In.

And the moment you achieve your first success, you’ll feel triumphant and know it was worth every moment of nervousness – because now you can call yourself “writer.” And there’s no sweeter feeling than that!

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