If you want to become a freelance health writer, it’s important to know where you’re going before you get started.
If you just want to skip straight to the pitching and writing part – without thinking about everything else that helps you achieve the actual ‘freelancing’ aspect of freelancing – you’re not alone.
I’ve spoken to many writers over the years who haven’t really considered freelancing ‘as a whole’ before starting out and have struggled to gain momentum as a result. Being able to write well about health is one thing, yet turning your skills into a viable career is something else entirely.
If you consider what your approach to freelancing will be before you start, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, energy and confusion.
You’ll be more likely to have focus, direction and a clear vision – and this will help you to feel confident in your abilities and more determined to succeed.
Of course, success looks and feels different for us all, and goal setting is one way to measure your success – more on that later.
So, if you’re thinking about ‘becoming a freelance health writer’ – that is, freelancing full-time, part-time or in addition to your clinical, research or scientific work, there are 5 things I recommend you do before you even think about pitching to clients, setting up a website or positioning yourself as a health freelancer for hire.
Doing these 5 things will help you to understand where you’re going – so you can get the most out of your freelancing career.
1. Create a business plan before you start freelancing
Don’t be put off by the term ‘business plan’. It’s essentially just a fancy way of articulating that you need to understand WHY you want to freelance, WHAT you want to get out of it and HOW you will make it happen.
Whether you want to write one article per year or become a full-time, 6-figure freelancer, you’ll need a plan. Without one, you will lack focus and direction and can easily get lost along the journey. Plans help you stick to your goals and stay motivated – and, they give you an overall sense of purpose.
2. Address any fears that have been holding you back
Why haven’t you started yet? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Are you worried about finding clients or ongoing income? Do you feel you lack specific writing skills and experience – or is it that you’re not yet confident in your abilities?
Once you’re clear on the answers to those questions, consider how you can take steps to overcome these fears and hesitations – so you can well and truly commit to your freelancing goals.
3. Develop a clear picture of your freelance health writing business offering
If you become a freelance health writer, what type of content do you want to produce? Do you want to write articles, blogs, patient education materials and handouts, medical education materials, regulatory materials, social media updates, website content, media releases, and/or research papers?
Think about what you will offer – as well as what you won’t offer. These decisions shape how you will present and market yourself. Some health writers refuse to write for pharma and commercial businesses, for example. Some writers only want to write for those types of clients! Again, there is no right or wrong decision – it’s about what feels right for you personally.
4. Don’t start freelancing if you haven’t determined your unique selling point
You’ll be operating in a tight niche, competing not only with other writers but also with other health writers – so consider your point of difference. Do you have specialty skills in a therapeutic area? Have you won awards, or consistently worked with a particular type of client?
Try not to be – or sound – like everyone else. Clients and editors will want to work with you not only for your writing skills but also for the entire package that is you – your credentials, qualifications, specialty skills, quirks, personality traits, etiquette, and more.
5. Set a series of short and long-term goals before you start freelancing
I know the idea of goal setting sounds a little boring, but bear with me. Your goal could be as simple as getting published for the first time. Or, it could be a financial goal – make $75,000 in your first year of freelancing, for example. Your goal could be to work with not-for-profits, food brands, health coaches or education companies.
Think about which types of goals will motivate you to succeed – and then consider what your ongoing goals will be once you’ve achieved your initial goals (you will). The goals form an essential part of your business plan – they are the WHAT. They are also fluid – you should be able to change and adapt them as circumstances change around you.
Don’t forget your motivators
Also, consider whether you’re fueled by intrinsic or extrinsic motivators. Intrinsic motivators are internal goals – meaning they’re more autonomous and, in many cases, determined by core values and pleasures. It helps to determine your motivations before you get stuck into your freelancing plan, so you have a clear vision for your business.
Psychologists tend to agree that they are more effective when it comes to achieving long-term success or commitment.
Research has also supported this premise – particularly in the weight loss field, where autonomous motivation is often associated with greater weight losses in the long term.
In this context, an intrinsic motivator could be choosing to write for not-for-profits because you feel great about playing a role in social change, supporting companies in need and spreading positive health messages.
Or, you may decide to specialise in writing health blogs about nutrition because you love the process of researching the latest evidence in the field – and you enjoy the creative process of summarising it in a blog post that helps inform readers and encourage healthy habits.
On the other hand, extrinsic goals are more likely to be short-term motivators and incentive-based – ‘make $75,000 in my first year of full-time freelancing’ or ‘if I book 3 clients this month I’ll buy myself a treat’. Your motivation is external and determined by rewards like money, praise and fame (this article explains extrinsic motivators nicely).
Ultimately, a combination of both could work well: sports psychologists have suggested that athletes who have the best motivational outcomes, such as persistence, a positive attitude, and unflinching concentration, tend to be both extrinsically and intrinsically motivated.
As freelancers, we’re not exactly elite athletes, but just like sportspeople, we require a lot of self-motivation to perform our job and succeed at it.
Questions? Interested in learning more?
Time for the shameless plug. My freelance medical writing course covers all this and much, much more. It’s helped many writers to launch freelance businesses and understand the specifics behind setting up shop.
I really do love teaching this course as it includes ALL my insider info and specialty techniques to help you fast track your business and set up shop. There is tons of information in this course, and it is packaged into 6 lessons delivered over 6 weeks, with each lesson requiring around 4-6 hours of your time.
Also, if you’re already freelancing in the health industry, I’d love to know if you have any steps to add to my list of five things to do before you started freelancing – so feel free to share your comments below!