How to do online freelancing

Have you ever considered trying to make a living out of writing? If you have and you’ve been put off by the plethora of freelancing platforms and worries about the level of payment you might receive, P. J. Aitken’s new book,  The Online Writer’s Companion, provides an expert and honest guide by someone who has been there and done it and managed to make a decent living from it.



P. J. Aitken doesn’t mince his words. Freelancing is hard work. He says: “Making it as an online freelance writer – and any sort of online freelancer for that matter – requires a lot of hard work and commitment. In fact, being reliable and hard working will do much more for you than being a great writer ever will,”

The book covers everything from how to create a profile that attracts commissions to which sites to use.

It discusses the main sites and suggests that Upwork, formerly Elance and oDesk, is the best site for freelance writers, with Guru also worth being considered. Aitken says most time and effort should be directed at them. He states that they have “created an environment where quality is expected, appreciated and valued”.

Aitken then takes readers through the process of setting up a profile – making it professional and relevant to the jobs you want – and advises them to do all they can to be a top rate freelancer on Upwork as well as taking a few of the exams on the site to boost your profile.

Negotiating terms

He says it is important to negotiate the terms of a job before you begin and to be aware that being invited to pitch for a job does not mean you are the only freelancer a client is approaching. He also advises freelances to ditch rude clients. “There are imbeciles as far as the eye can see on these sites, so just turn tail and run as soon as they display any signs of shameless stupidity. If you don’t, they’ll waste your time, and as a freelancer time is your most valuable commodity.”

On pay, he says not to undersell yourself, but not to charge higher than your ability. He also advises doing special offers, for instance, discounts for bulk work and being wary of time wasters and clients who only want free information and work.

Time wasters are a key theme – Aitken counsels, for instance, to give up on clients who “only want to talk and make promises”, but don’t actually seal the deal, given that time is money.

Getting paid

Other issues include payment – the freelance platforms offer a secure payment method, but for other work it is worth thinking this through, particularly for larger projects where PayPal might not be appropriate. The book is littered with cautionary tales about, for instance, hiring poor quality or rude freelances and dealing with clients who try to blackmail you with the threat of bad feedback [Aitken counsels that the most important stage of the process is getting to know your client before you commit and doing all you can to secure more work from good clients]. One chapter is simply called Horror Stories.

The book also details the whole writing process, doing your taxes, doing longer projects such as writing a book and there is a chapter on troubleshooting and another on creating your own website/blog.

It’s definitely not a book about selling the ‘freelancing dream’. It is an honest, realistic approach and ends saying the author is probably likely to curtail his own freelance career because freelancing was always a door to other options for him. However, Aitken remains an enthusiast for the freelancing life and clearly believes that, with his insider advice, he can help others follow in his footsteps while avoiding some of the pitfalls.

“[Freelancing] is not a smooth ride. This is still a job, and like any job, you have to deal with bosses you don’t like and co-workers who get paid more than you and get jobs ahead of you, despite being massively underqualified…Just because I am taking a step away from it doesn’t mean I have lost interest. It certainly doesn’t mean you should think twice about signing up.”

*The Online Writers’ Companion by P. J. Aitken  is published by Allworth Press, price £16.40.

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