Hi, I’m Glynis and I’m a recovering-opera-singer-turned-freelance-writer.
Yup, you read that right.
The singing life is a difficult one to maintain once you become a parent, so my foot was already halfway out the door when I stumbled into content marketing and freelance writing. I started out writing listicles and profiles for a local business directory and a year later, I was publishing parenting humour and feminist pieces on a new Millennial moms website as a staff writer.
These days, my bylines include The Washington Post and Today’s Parent.
While there’s no doubt a little bit of luck was involved in how I began my freelance career, I also worked my butt off and followed most of the rules set out below. The rules I didn’t follow, I learned the hard way!
If you’re a Canadian freelancer just starting out, follow these rules to get an effective jumpstart on your career.
1. Write, write, and write some more. I can’t stress this enough. When you’re relatively new to freelance writing, the “10,000 hours” theory Malcolm Gladwell put forward is bang on, even when you have a natural talent for writing.
Try out different writing styles to flex your creative muscles. If you specialize in copywriting, try writing some flash fiction. If you write lifestyle content, attempt a personal essay.
Writing in a new style can help you finesse your writing in the genre you get paid for.
My most substantial growth as a writer happened during the year I was working as a staff writer for a particular website. I got used to taking an assignment and turning it around in a few hours with minimal need for edits. At the same time, I participated in NaNoWriMo, writing the first half of a fantasy novel.
2. Reach out to local agencies. Contena is a great source for landing jobs, but chances are, the nearest major metropolis has a few gigs as well. Often, some of the higher paying magazine work is taken care of by a content marketing agency that has a roster of freelancers to call on.
Sending out letters of introduction (LOIs) to 30+ local agencies has landed me several short-term assignments and has gotten me on the radar of some big agencies.
3. Take your business seriously. If you’re truly planning to make freelancing your career, you need to get serious about the business end of your, well, business. There are a few things you’ll want to get sorted out to be legit.
- Register yourself as a sole proprietorship. When you register your business, you can begin to make claims when you file your taxes. Your internet, part of your rent or mortgage, hydro–all of these things are expenses related to your business. Note that not all provinces require you to register your business if you plan to operate under your own name, with zero employees.
- Familiarize yourself with Canadian business tax laws. Once you’re making a certain amount per year, you’re going to have to pay GST or HST, depending on which province you live in. To do that, you’ll have to register for a GST/HST number in your province. Once you have your tax number, you’ll need to include it on all invoices to Canadian companies paying you.
5. Go global. While it’s nice to have clients in Canada, you can and should search for work outside the country as well. I’ve had recurring content marketing work come from England and a large number of my editorial assignments come from the U.S.
While you can expect to be paid via PayPal most of the time, work from overseas is often paid through wire transfer. Make sure to ask if the company can absorb the fee your bank charges. If they are unable to do so, this is one of the costs you should make note of for tax write-offs.
The other important point to make note of when writing for an editor in another country is spelling norms. Writing for Canadian and British editors is always a relief after spending weeks or months spelling “colour” and “neighbour” improperly for American editors!
6. Plan ahead. Don’t ever get comfortable with anchor clients. Think you’re making enough money?
But when you’re a freelancer, contracts can be terminated with very little notice or a client can be late paying, and suddenly you’re a few hundred dollars short this month.
Always have some money set aside for that type of emergency, and never stop marketing yourself. Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and make sure you have a portfolio website where you can post clips.
That way, if a client (or three) should suddenly drop you, you’re able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off in no time.
7. Read. Maybe this is a no-brainer to you, but in case it isn’t, writers need to read.
We need to read what people in our industry are writing, and how they’re writing, so we don’t end up writing in a bubble.
We need to read books or blogs about our craft, whether that’s copywriting or narrative nonfiction.
Don’t allow yourself to think you don’t have time to read; make it part of your personal development. Schedule it in. You won’t even realize the impact it’s having until you’re getting better assignments.
I hope this helps you find success as a Canadian freelance writer. I truly believe there’s room for everyone in this industry and the more we help each other, the more we help ourselves.