Freelancing has always been around, but it has exploded online in the past decade. This evolution of self-employment is often referred to as the “Gig Economy” or “Freelance Economy”, with both the freelancers and businesses of all sizes embracing it. Specialized freelancers can earn serious money, depending on the demand and level of competition in their chosen niche. Today, no niche has more potential than digital content writing.
More Canadian companies are hiring freelancers to help them reach their marketing goals. In fact, 66 percent of employers plan to increase the number of freelancers they use, according to State of Creative Hiring data.
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What Kind of Digital Content Will You Produce?
Digital content freelancing jobs may include:
- Writing (blogging and guest posts, articles, special reports or eBooks, tutorials and technical writing, press releases, newsletters, editing, PLR products and copywriting)
- Printables (anything from checklists to colouring pages)
- Webinar and video production/editing
- Graphics design (such as infographics and memes)
- Photography (Instagram and other visual social media, blog post illustration, product features, and so on)
- Audio (audio formats for eBooks, voice-over, etc.)
Freelance content writing businesses can focus on a type of digital content for any industry, or specialize in a specific industry and offer several types of content for it.
Regardless of how you carve out your online freelancing business model and niche, it’s important to at least familiarize yourself with Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It will play an important part in most online content production. More importantly, you need to familiarize yourself with your intended audience. You cannot be successful with digital content unless you know, and serve, your audience.
“Content may rule, but your online content must be the right sort of content: Customer-focused. Authentic. Compelling. Entertaining. Surprising. Valuable. Interesting,” writes Ann Handley in Content Rules. “In other words, you must earn the attention of people.”
Creating engaging content requires talent as much as skill, but that doesn’t mean you have to be gifted. If you love to create content and enjoy learning about it, you can do very well in this high-demand category. That said, it’s important to know the difference between doing something and doing something well. There are many people who have made graphics, written on their blog, or created a video, but that doesn’t mean they’re good enough to be paid for it.
Develop your skills with reading and research. One of the best ways to improve is to learn from top talent so you can recognize what “good” is. You’ll find them in the freelance job markets listed below, in books on Amazon, and by searching online. Study digital publications that use freelance content on a regular basis. What do they publish? What do they feature on their main page? What is their end-game and how are they getting there?
You’ll also learn a lot about the skills that are in demand from job listings. If you see a demand for a certain software, go learn how to use it. If many job postings mention a certain video editing style or program compatibility, get it under your belt.
Then, you’ll have to practice and apply what you’ve learned. Your best testing ground is your own website/blog. It’s cheap and easy to start a blog these days. Just choose a website host that’s suitable for Canadians and has one-click WordPress installation, and away you go. You can also post your work in applicable forums or groups to ask for peer reviews.
How to Get Freelancing Clients
The best part of being a digital content freelancer is its ease and flexibility. You can do it part-time or full-time, work from home or anywhere else you want, and become a thriving online business in record time. Initially, all you have to do is set up a simple website and focus on promoting your personal brand. Learn how to market yourself and you’re on your way to success.
- Post your profile on LinkedIn, social networks and freelancing communities. Build those networks. Use the network you already have by letting everyone know about your new freelancing business, from friends to co-workers. You never know when they (or someone they know) may need your services.
- Reach out to people in related niches and offer mutual referrals or a referral commission. For example, a content writer might reach out to a website designer to propose a mutually-beneficial arrangement.
- Your website is your profile and portfolio, but you should also have a portfolio profile that you can submit when applying for jobs. A professional .pdf can tell people about you and demonstrate your talent. Study profiles and portfolios of established professionals for ideas and best practices.
- Promote your unique selling propositions to land more contracts and win against the competition. Your unique selling proposition could be something that makes you exceptionally qualified, such as bilingualism or related industry experience. It can also be anything you can do to win the contract (beyond price). For example, a writer could provide free illustration when bidding for a special report, or a video producer could throw in a transcription at no extra charge. Adding value sets you apart and automatically upgrades your work.
- Post feedback and testimonials on your website, and that includes feedback you’ve received on freelancing sites. Any site can disappear in an instant and all of those awesome reviews will go with it. Plus, the potential client will have to be a member to view it. You can also take screenshots of five-star rankings. Having everything in one place is an impressive link to include with applications.
- Proudly declare that you are Canadian. Online freelancing is drowning in terrible content writers & producers from around the world. They may use bot-generated or “spinner” articles, violate copyrights, not be fluent in written English/French, and so on. The trust factor in North America can be multiplied considerably just by saying you’re in Canada. Additionally, Canadian businesses often prefer Canadian freelancers for a number of reasons. Both Canadian and American businesses are particularly influenced by the Canadian dollar value.
- You’ll have to pay your dues when you first start out. How much you make isn’t always the most important thing, especially in the beginning. Be willing to bid lower until your reputation is established. Produce content for exposure on popular sites and use their fame to boost your resume’. Charitable organizations can always use freelance volunteers and you’ll find that grateful people will recommend you highly.
Demonstrate Your Talent, Prove Your Expertise
Getting clients for freelance content production takes more than just saying “I’m capable.” Luckily, proving your content creation skills has never been easier, thanks to online platforms that allow you to showcase your work. Start a blog, submit guest posts to other blogs, write for well-known publications, post to social media networks like LinkedIn, YouTube and SlideShare, or consider writing an eBook.
Even if your focus isn’t written content, it pays to write about your chosen freelance niche. For example, your blog could include posts about the benefits of using video in marketing. You can’t create effective content if you don’t have the expertise to guide your creative process. Writing about your niche online proves you really know what you’re doing.
3 Reasons you shouldn’t dismiss low-paying jobs:
- Low-paying jobs can grow and turn into repeat business.
- Even the lowest paying freelance job sites accommodate growing projects with “extras”, so you can upsell in addition to the first task.
- Use low-paying freelance job sites to introduce people to your work with “special reports”, infographics, meme backgrounds, or 5-minute product demo videos. For special reports, you can rewrite content you already have to make better use of your time, or dip into other resources like PLR (Private Label Rights) content for inspiration and enhancement. Blank graphics designed for customization are fast and easy projects to demo design skills. Slideshows are also quick projects. Look around the low-paying freelance sites to see how others are managing to make it a good use of their time.
Keep Them Coming Back
Be reliable & efficient, over-deliver, and do your very best work EVERY TIME. Only accept projects you know you can do exceptionally well and on time. Your reputation is your bread & butter and the internet can make or break you in an instant.
The Business of Freelancing
Starting any online business in Canada requires some familiarity with our specific needs, which we’ve covered in Checklist: How to Start an Online Business in Canada. Additionally, whether you are starting a large freelancing online business or simply want to be self-employed at home, you’re going to be responsible for business tasks. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with bookkeeping, pricing, customer relationship management, marketing, information back-ups, taxes and more. A comprehensive book written specifically for creative businesses, is The Business Side of Creativity: The Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Running a Small Graphic Design or Communications Business, by Cameron S. Foote.
While I’ll chat on the phone if the client insists, I strongly prefer eMail communication. It gives both parties a written record of what was said, including task specifications and deadlines. Nobody can remember everything. Plus, your reputation may be ruined by misunderstandings or something as simple as “I thought I told you that…”
Any project should start out with a clearly defined description and expectations. Having a standard project form will save time and ensure you have all information clearly documented. For example, the client may tell you she needs a special report done in a couple of weeks.
A form for this task would include standard, specific information, such as:
- Approximately how many pages are you expecting the report to be?
- What topics and subtopics do you want me to cover?
- Where can I obtain information that is specific to your company?
- Do you have any branding requirements? (Logo, company colours, etc.)
- What date will you need this report completed by?
Freelancing Tools and Resources
When you freelance online you’re usually doing so remotely, outside of the client’s office. With today’s technology, it isn’t difficult to work effectively off-site and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Following are some free tools that will keep your freelance business functioning like a well-oiled machine.
Free Freelancing Tools
Open Office – A free office suite including word processing, spreadsheet, multimedia presentation, and drawing software. Compatible with other popular office products.
Google Docs – Write, edit, and collaborate wherever you are, free of charge.
Freedcamp – A free collaboration tool packed with features like a calendar, lists & sticky notes, unlimited users, unlimited projects and 200MB of free storage.
MindMeister – Create mindmaps, collaborate, and share. The free option allows you to create three mindmaps per month.
Trello – Both a collaboration and organization tool. Upload files from your computer, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and OneDrive. Add checklists, labels, due dates, reminders, and more. Post comments for instant feedback.
Hemmingway App – Auto-editing to improve your writing. It alerts you to sentences that are difficult to read, alternative phrases, adverbs and excessive use of a passive voice.
Wave – Invoicing, accounting and payroll are a breeze with this free app.
DropBox – 16GB of free cloud storage that you can access from anywhere.
Google Drive – Back up your files and access them from any smartphone, tablet, or computer. Up to 15GB of free storage.
Skype – Free phone calls.
Canadian Resources for Freelancers
Canadian Media Guild
Professional (Non-Fiction) Writers Association of Canada
Canadian Freelance Union
The Canadian Press Stylebook
Top Legal Documents for Freelancers
Sessions College Business Templates for Designers – Contracts and client management templates.
Standard Freelance Editorial Agreement from the Editors’ Association of Canada
Free Independent Contractor Agreement customized by Canadian province.
How to Write a Freelance Contract 101
Freelance Job Sites
You’ll find lots of freelance job sites online and lists thereof. Following are a few of the most popular websites, along with some Canadian freelance job sites.
Canadian Freelance Writing Jobs
Workhoppers – Based in Canada, this searchable database plays matchmaker between freelancers and employers. Categories include design, writing, translation and more.
Writing Jobs Online
Local Solo – Add your profile to this local freelancer search engine.
Monster Canada Freelance Jobs
Upwork – Open to every kind of freelancer imaginable. They have a “Freelancers in Canada” section.
Guru – You’ll find lots of freelance jobs here and you can filter results by country. Categories include Writing, Translation, Design, Art & Multimedia.
The Canadian Writers Market is a book that includes many publishers with digital options.
??? Are you new to online freelancing or are you an old pro? Please share your experience or questions in the comments below or discuss this and other online business topics in the Online Business Canada Facebook group!
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Melody McKinnon's formal education is in business management, which she enhanced with more than 60 certifications revolving around business, marketing, health, general sciences and writing. In over 20 years of working online, she has owned or managed both educational and eCommerce websites.
Melody has worked with many businesses & brands in a multitude of capacities. She can often be found on CanadiansInternet.com, CanadianFamily.net and AllNaturalPetCare.com, as well as other quality digital publications. Her content has earned reference links from highly-respected websites, magazines and university textbooks.