A Walk-Through of the Freelance Writing Project Process

Typically, the first indication that you've snagged a project comes through email, although phone calls are a close second. Either your client has chosen you via a job ad and your writing resume, or your marketing efforts have paid off, and the client has approached you directly.

Of course, this second scenario is preferable, as it may indicate less time on your part- you weren't combing through freelance writing job lists, writing targeted cover letters, and choosing a matching resume and the right clips to send in. You want to spend your time on doing things that you can charge a client for, as much as possible.

They Will Want to Know Rates

person at laptop

Quite often, the first question you'll need to field will be some variation of "How much will it cost to have you...?" or a similar line of questioning. The best case scenario here is that the client will be willing to fill out your screening questionnaire (more about that in the next step) first so that you'll have a much better idea of what the work is truly about.

In the absence of that, the best thing that you can do is have a soft set of your freelance writing rates already figured out (and perhaps listed on your website), along with some policies such as "I up charge for rush jobs" and "My minimum total rate is X." Ideally, you've set your rates according to some research and trial-and-error.

Get More Client Information

Most freelance writers don't take on all the clients who approach them. You need to match your rates, your schedule, and your expertise with their needs. One of the best ways to do this is by having them fill out a client questionnaire. If you can get them to fill out such a form before you give them a hard quote, you'll be that much better off at accurately matching your quote to the project.

Please, Don't Tell All My Secrets!

Another common occurrence early in the work relationship is the request that you, the freelance writer, signs a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Often, this occurs when companies are working with new systems, products or ideas that they don't want anyone else to snatch up. This is also a common practice of authors, who want to protect the idea, story, plot or characters of their book when they are seeking an editor.

I've personally never hesitated to sign an NDA. Anything you can do to make your client comfortable is worth the effort. Of course, this often occurs before an agreement is in place, and therefore you are spending your own time printing, signing, scanning, faxing, copying and/or mailing. That can be annoying, but it's a necessary part of the business.

You Sign a Contract or Letter of Agreement

Yay! All the details are worked out and your negotiating has helped you to settle on a rate. The next step is for you and your client to solidify and formalize the relationship by signing a contract or an informal Letter of Agreement.

Most companies prefer to use their own contract. You may read this over, and try to deal on some of the finer points. You may also decide to run all of your contracts through a lawyer, or seek help from a writers union (such as ​the National Writers Union or the American Society of Journalists and Authors) in vetting contracts.

For those clients without a contract in place, you have some choices. You may make the investment in having a lawyer write you a template contract that you personalize for each client. Or, you may ask your client to sign a less formal and more simple Letter of Agreement or LOA. Again, check with your union or lawyer about these arrangements and if they are binding in your area.

The Initial Directions Arrive

At this point, you get the assignment. The pieces that your client might send you could include style guides, past documents relating to the assignment, instruction documents, directions for invoicing, and so on. I've found that these items often come in one email with several documents attached, and you as the contractor then have to sort them out and figure out how to get started. ​

I've seen many new writers panic at this moment, because it's one big lump of information. Don't do that. Sort out the documents little by little. Rename them if possible. Organize them in a folder on your desktop specifically for your client. Whatever you do, just don't panic.

Put Your Head Down and Get to Work

It's time to work! Be proactive about getting started. You may choose to schedule the project in sections, for example. Whatever you do, don't miss the deadline, and don't skimp on quality. If you're looking for hints on the writing process, be sure to check out the section on Writing Mechanics.

You're Done! Can You Invoice Now?

Once you turn in the work, your thoughts must turn immediately to invoicing. Can you do it immediately? Turning in an invoice immediately may help you to get paid faster. However, some companies have guidelines and rules about invoicing. 

Get Paid...And Pay Uncle Sam

Once the cash arrives (either in the mail as a paper check, or, if you're lucky, via Paypal) you have to initiate a couple of to-dos. First, you need to push that money through your separate bank account that you (hopefully) have set up for your writing income. That helps you keep records and could help if you're ever audited.

Wait! Audited? Yes, it's true. The moment you start making money as a freelance writer, the government will want their cut. You do have to pay taxes on your income! Many freelance writers will set aside a percentage of their pay in a separate bank account for tax purposes. I set aside almost 25%! I know! It's a lot! But freelance writers are Independent Contractors. We pay a regular tax rate, and a self-employment tax for our social security and payroll taxes (which no one else, such as an employer, is paying for us. That's sad. I know.)

You're Not Done Yet!

Just because the check comes doesn't mean that your project is done. You now need to ask you (former) client a couple of questions. First, ask if they were satisfied with your work. Ask for feedback.

If your client was happy, ask them if they would be willing to give you a recommendation to put on your website or your LinkedIn profile. Next, ask if they have more work, or might in the future. It's even smarter to suggest some next steps (that, of course, include services you can provide!). Last, ask if they have colleagues who would benefit from your services.