You’re thinking about taking the plunge and becoming a freelance health writer, but you don’t know much about what freelancers do or how to take the first step. If that sounds familiar, this guide is for you!
Getting started as a freelance health writer: The beginner’s guide contains my top resources for aspiring freelance health writers. The guide is perfect for you if you want to start a freelance health & medical writing business or learn more about what freelance life is all about.
Bookmark the guide so you can refer to it again and again!
Contents of ‘Getting started as a freelance health writer: The beginner’s guide’
- What should I consider before I become a freelance health writer?
- What do I need to know about life as a freelance health writer?
- What do I need to do before I launch a freelance business?
- What skills and qualifications do I need to become a freelance health writer?
- Who do freelance health writers work for?
- What work do freelance health writers do?
- Where can I find clients for my freelance health writing business?
- How much money can I make as a freelance health writer?
- How do I develop a freelance writing portfolio?
- How do I market my freelance health writing business?
- How can I grow my confidence as a new freelance writer?
- How can I manage work/life balance and my mental health as a freelance writer?
- Do I need a website or blog before I start working as a freelance health writer?
- Should I stick to health writing, or can I write in other industries?
- What is the plan if I want to be a freelance health writer?
First, let’s get one thing straight: going freelance is not easy.
As a freelance writer, you don’t just write. You find clients, market your business, pitch for jobs, get quotes approved, lose out on jobs, manage client expectations, manage your blog, build connections, do your accounting and manage your website.
You’ll spend a lot of time on non-billable work – even when your business is running smoothly years after you’ve established yourself.
For that reason alone, freelance writing isn’t a suitable career choice for all writers. It’s important to take time to reflect on whether being a freelancer or an employee is best for you.
You can also read our blogs on the essential things to do before you start freelancing, the questions to consider before becoming a freelance health writer and considerations if you’re contemplating a move from working as an employed health writer to working for yourself. These articles can help you determine if you have the right personality for a long-term freelance career.
Once you’ve decided that you are keen to give freelancing a crack, you’ll need to ponder your long-term goals.
One key focus area in all my health writing courses is the importance of long-term goal setting.
For example, do you want to have a work/life balance?
Do you want to make six figures as a freelance health writer?
Would you like to balance parenting and freelance health writing?
Or, do you want to be able to travel the world and work at the same time?
In short: Why do you want to be a freelance health writer, and what do you want to get out of your career choice?
Taking the time to set your health writing career goals at the beginning of your career will help ensure you have thought through all possibilities and scenarios before you commit to taking the plunge.
Life as a freelance health writer differs from working as an employee!
When you’re an employee, you can just go home at the end of the day. Your paycheck arrives in your bank account on schedule, and you can leave work in the office. You have colleagues, and you share the workload. You get sick pay, holiday pay, superannuation. You have an IT department when your laptop dies.
When you’re a freelancer, on the other hand, life is not that straightforward. You’ll have to get used to:
- No guaranteed income
- Periods with zero income
- Clients who pay late
- Working alone
- No sick pay, holiday pay or superannuation
- Being an accountant, IT help desk, marketing expert, and more.
When you get sick, you’ll have to manage client expectations and workflow.
Despite these challenges, the positives that attract writers to freelance life in the first place are 100% worth these sacrifices.
The freedom to run your business your way is incredibly rewarding, and since taking the plunge myself, I have always loved my job as a freelance health writer.
Something else you’ll need as a freelance health writer is a thick skin, and over time you will learn how to manage and prevent negative feedback, and learn from complaints.
Before you start freelancing, you’ll need to plan and refine the following items:
- Business plan and goals
- Templates, processes and must-have documents
- Niche or key selling point as a freelance health & medical writer
- Marketing plan and strategy
- Your ideal clients
- Your key services
- Strategies for networking with other writers and freelancers
If you’re at the beginning of your freelancing journey, you might be wondering if it’s worth having a freelance writing niche for your writing business (it is). Taking the time to find your niche is an essential step for all freelance health writers.
Chances are you are interested in freelance health writing because you already have some transferable skills in writing, communications, healthcare, science or medicine. However, there are no rules about the qualifications you need to become a freelancer.
What’s most important is that you can do the job to brief and be a pleasure to work with. Seriously!
While excellent writing skills and strong medical knowledge are essential skills, you also need to be:
- easy to work with
- highly organised and reliable
- care about health writing best practices
- motivated self-starter
Also, many freelancers want to offer a range of health writing services but don’t have practical experience in all areas: It is possible to get freelance work without direct experience.
Making sure you gather your requirements effectively before you start writing will be an essential part of your project management process.
Health brands and businesses, healthcare professionals, journals, magazines, newspapers, websites, bloggers, government, not-for-profits, vets, natural health companies, beauty brands, pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies, agencies, and more!
Freelance health writers don’t just write. Common services can include writing, copywriting, patient education, blogging, editing, proofreading, content marketing, email marketing, digital strategy, social media, graphic design, content management, web design.
First, think about the type of client you’d like to work for. Brainstorm a list of ideal clients (browse these eight essential questions for new clients). If you want to write feature articles, you’ll need to research websites that accept health article pitches.
You can also speak to other freelancers about how they found their first clients.
Work out where and how they recruit freelance writers for their projects and work on your marketing so that you appear on LinkedIn and in Google when they are searching for writers. You can also try cold-calling or cold-emailing.
In the future, you can focus on strategies for retaining freelance clients as your existing network will be an important source of future work.
Read tips and advice from other successful writers – like this medical student writer.
Spoiler alert – the sky’s the limit! You can make good money as a freelance health writer, but this takes hard work and dedication. Freelancing is not a get-rich-quick scheme; it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
If you only find clients on websites like Freelancer or Upwork, I’m sorry to say that you won’t make a lot of money.
On freelance marketplaces, writers compete on price and not quality. You will always lose out as there is always someone willing to do it cheaper.
If you’re new to the concept of rates and quotes, learn how to quote for health & medical writing projects and read our blog on setting freelance rates – is it science, art or guesswork?
And, PLEASE read my blog post on charging what you’re worth, inspired by the time someone contacted me looking for writers and offered $25 per 350-word article.
If you’re reading this and thinking that you’re not charging enough, check out this quick guide to increasing your writing rates.
Our Freelance Career Planner is a detailed questionnaire and action planner that guides you through the steps needed to plan your transition to freelance writing.
Use the Freelance Career Planner if you are ready to set up your freelance health writing business but have no idea where or how to begin!
One of the best ways to grow your freelance writing portfolio is to guest post, offer in-kind services and write for free.
I know, I know. The point of becoming a freelance health writer is to get paid, right?
Unfortunately, you’re going to have to do a little leg work – either free or in kind – while you get yourself up and running.
If you’re starting without a portfolio, you need to build one – fast. If you’re not established, clients will want to see proof that you can, in fact, write.
If you have no published writing, set yourself a practice writing task. The students in my Introduction to Health Writing course often use their homework writing assignments for their portfolio.
Remember: the writing in your portfolio doesn’t necessarily have to have been published – it just needs to demonstrate that you have the necessary skills to complete a writing project.
Freelancers rely on a combination of SEO, networking, word-of-mouth referrals, LinkedIn, directory advertising, cold-calling, and more. Marketing requires an ongoing investment in time and energy – it is never ‘done’.
How can I find my niche within health writing?
Consider what drew you to health writing in the first place and identify your unique selling points. Why would anyone hire you – what value do you have? What are your strengths, and how can you help your clients achieve their goals?
Also, think about what you enjoy doing. It’s no use specialising in a topic or writing style that you aren’t interested in or can’t write about. Remember: find you’re an obsession, make it your profession, and you’ll never work a day in your life.
Important question! New projects and the unknown can bring on jitters and make us question our abilities. Check out these tips for overcoming writing anxiety for beginners if you feel like you need a confidence boost (we all do at some point!).
When you’re a freelancer, self-care is vital. Us freelancers need dedicated strategies to maintain our mental health.
Your mental health must be a key priority – mainly as you work alone and don’t get a lot of peer-to-peer interaction.
Spending too much time online, on social media, or comparing yourself to others, can make you feel stressed or anxious, and it also means you’re spending less time on the productive tasks that need to be done (like work and marketing your business).
Schedule internet-free time and don’t worry about missing out on social media.
Make time to indulge in exercise and non-work-related hobbies, as life isn’t all about work and building a business. Staying healthy is vital, and make sure you nourish your body with healthy foods, drinking plenty of water, as eating unhealthy foods and skipping meals can impact your mood, too.
Try to avoid working at night (I’m still trying this) as the late-night screen time can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
As I’ve already discussed in previous posts, blogging for your health writing business is an important strategy that enables you to enhance your online presence.
It’s a key strategy because it connects you with potential clients and the rest of the writing community.
If you’re unsure about starting your health writer blog, here are some tips on how to get going.
The best part of writing for a niche like health is that you get to write about your passion. The downside? Your list of potential clients may be limited. However, with healthcare being the booming, behemoth industry that it is, this is unlikely as there’s plenty of work available in our field.
We all get a little bored with the same old same old eventually, though, so if you’re thinking of branching out then here are some ideas for using your health writing skills in different industries.
Working for yourself is rewarding and challenging. If you’re a passionate individual, driven to achieve success and ready to work hard to get what you want, you’ll have no problems launching your freelance career. Next steps for you include:
- Setting business goals
- Writing a business plan
- Identifying your work processes
- Developing a marketing plan
- Networking in the industry
- Setting the foundation for long-term success and future freelance career growth
If you need a little help with these steps, my freelance medical writing course can help.