My first step toward freelancing was moonlighting. Actually, it
was the unintended result of interviewing for a staff job as a medical writer
but being offered a consultant contract instead of a full-time position. Not
knowing if it would work out, I kept my “day job” while I completed my first
projects. I made the jump three months later when it seemed that my work was
well-received and I continued to get writing assignments. Whether a career in
freelance writing starts with an offer of a writing project that arrives
unexpectedly, or is a carefully considered decision or a change made simply
because one’s job disappears following a company merger, reorganization, or
being laid off, there are a number of short-term steps to take.
If you are a writer
now and are making plans to be a freelancer, try to broaden your experience
with your current employer. Try to get
exposure to new clients and get involved in new projects and new areas. Be
proactive to broaden your network. Start by connecting
with current and former colleagues to say “hello.” Reconnect with old friends.
Make sure you’re on LinkedIn and
that your profile is up to date. It’s often the first place that potential
clients will go to learn more about you. Plus, LinkedIn makes it easy to
reconnect with former colleagues in a low-key way. Join relevant discussion
groups and respond to some of the questions and comments in forums. Add value.
Demonstrate your expertise by answering questions in an intelligent way and
helping others. Start discussions that might answer some of your own questions.
Raising your visibility elsewhere is also beneficial.
If you aren’t already, start attending your local professional
meetings and events. You can get to know a lot of people and gain a lot of general
insight into freelance and medical writing from groups like the American Medical Writers Association
(AMWA) and the International Society for Medical Publication
Professionals (ISMPP). The most visible and well-connected freelancers
fare the best. You want to be one of them.
When you do go out on your own, getting found online is part of
the game. Make sure you can be easily found. Build a website for your business.
Develop and include a brief statement describing what you do. List on your
website what you’re capable of doing, what you’ve done, and what you can do for
others. Surf the net to find websites of other freelancers for ideas that you
might also use. There is no rush in settling on a business name or structure.
You can begin independent writing under your
own name as a “sole proprietor,” with no up-front paperwork
required. When tax time comes, your accountant or online tax filing service
will help you sort out all those 1099s that you’ll have received. And, by the
way, keep track of your expenses. Keep your receipts for anything professional,
such as networking lunches, association dues, meeting attendance fees, office
supplies and computer-related expenses. You’ll be surprised how quickly it adds
So far so good, but
what about marketing yourself? Start with your network. Email everyone in it to
let them know about your business. Send them the link to your website along
with the news of what you are now doing. Ask them to share the info with their
friends. Tell the people in the company that you are leaving that you are ready
to help them with their ongoing and new projects. After all, no one knows more about
those things than you do.
You can offer the
same services as a big agency, but at a much lower cost because of your low
overhead. But what will you charge? If you
worked with freelancers in your previous position, you probably have an idea of
what they are charging in your area. You might also find out what others are
charging from friends and online medical writer forums. Be sure not to short-change yourself! In many ways, the
market will perceive your level of expertise based on your fee level.
One last thing about
perspective. I started my own freelance medical writing company after working
in both medical communications agencies and biopharma companies, and have
written this blog from my own viewpoint. It’s easier to make the transition after
getting some experience than it would be to go directly from academia, basic or
medical research. Anyway, good planning and good luck. Cheers until next
time……..Clement Weinberger, PhD – The Stylus Medical Communications