11 Freelance & Work From Home Tips From Someone Who's Been Doing It Full-Time For Years

Friday, March 5, 2021 New York, NY, USA

Photo by Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash

Freelancing has always been something I dreamed of doing for its flexibility and freedom to choose exactly what I'd create, when I'd do it, and where it would be published. Since the start of the pandemic, more and more people have been drawn to this flexibility, whether because they've lost their job, want supplemental income, or are simply looking to fill their time at home with something productive.

This week on the first episode of my new IGTV series, Network From Home, I FaceTimed with one of my closest friends, Mara Santilli to get the 11 tips she's learned from freelancing full-time over the last few years for publications like Brit + Co, Marie Claire, Refinery29, POPSUGAR, Women's Health, and more. Here's what she suggests:

1. Network your way into freelance gigs

Part of networking is not being afraid to introduce yourself and make connections with people you've never met before. When you want to pitch something, cold emailing is a great way to do that (despite an Instagram Reel I saw recently that said you shouldn't cold email people to which I say... you snooze you lose). In the media world, if you don't reach out, someone else will. So don't be shy!

That said, if you're cold-emailing anyone, make sure to follow these "rules": 

  • Look for the appropriate editor's email on their author page, Instagram/Twitter, personal website, or LinkedIn
  • Email with a purpose, like inquiring about an open freelance role or pitching a story
  • Include pitches in emails, whenever appropriate or relevant
  • Research the person you're emailing and the publication
Do not:
  • Send pitches to their personal email or social media DMs

2. Perfect your pitches before sending them out

When it comes to freelance pitching it's important to remember quality over quantity. While, of course, the amount of money you make is dependent on how many articles you write, throwing out dozens of pitches doesn't guarantee anything. Instead, Mara suggests you take the time to think through these recommendations to improve not only your pitch but the chance of it getting picked up:

  • Do your research
Before sending any pitches, especially via cold email, you'll want to know the audience, voice, and interests of the publication you're pitching to in order to make sure the pitch is relevant.
  • Make sure the pitch hasn't already been written
While researching, you'll also want to make sure your pitch hasn't already been covered by the outlet.
  • Tailor your pitches to the outlet you're sending them to
Though you may be tempted to send the same exact pitch to every outlet... don't. Take a bit of extra time to tailor your pitch to the publication you're sending it to—even if the changes are ever so slight. It can often make a difference!
  • Pitch the stories that someone on staff couldn't write
If your story idea is something someone on their staff could write, the chances of it being approved are low. Why? Because they're already paying their editorial team to write so they won't pay someone else to do something they can do. Share your own unique perspective and passions in pitches to make them stand out.
  • Bonus: do some pre-reporting
Should you have a unique idea that requires heavy reporting, consider presenting a bit of the research you've already done. Pre-reporting, when shared with an awesome pitch, is hard to resist!

3. Follow up on pitches but not too quickly

Mara emphasizes the importance of waiting at least a week to follow up with anyone you've pitched to and I couldn't agree more. As an editor, I know how hectic an inbox can get after receiving hundreds of pitches and press emails a day.

Unless you pitched a breaking or timely article, a week is usually enough time to have gone by before it's safe to bump the email to the top of the editor's inbox.

4. Repitch rejected story ideas to other publications

Not every pitch is good for every outlet or publication but that doesn't make it a bad pitch. If it's something you're really excited or passionate about, consider sending it to another outlet. But, be sure to tailor the pitch the second time around to fit the voice and style of the publication you're repitching it to.

5. Save your clips as you go to begin (or grow) your portfolio

Don't wait until you have to spend hours organizing all of your favorite published articles. Create a portfolio from the beginning and use it to showcase your work. Looking for an easy place to start? There are free beginner sites like Contently that can help.

6. Maintain a routine that works for you

Mara also emphasizes the importance of keeping a routine to make sure you're treating freelance life as you would any other 9 to 5 (or 10 to 6, you decide). She suggests doing the same things at the same times every day to maintain this schedule and maximize productivity.

In other words, sleep, eat, exercise, and do other daily activities at the same time so it becomes a habit. Take it a step further and be sure to stick to your set schedule, even on slower days.

7. Create a website or blog

Whether you're waiting to hear back about pitches or simply looking to write for your enjoyment, it's relatively easy to build your own website or blog to challenge your creativity and also get more clips for your portfolio. Some popular publishing platforms to consider:

8. Set up a workspace to help with productivity

Though studying in bed may have sufficed in college, chances are living that freelancer life just won't be as productive from under your comforter. Mara says creating her own un-fancy office space with a designated desk (a regular table and chair would do the trick), a laptop riser, and a planner has really changed her work from home life for the better.

9. Keep track of everything in a planner and/or online tool

Write down everything. Assignments, clients, rates, due dates, you name it. Keep it all in a planner or an online organization tool like Trello (this has been a gamechanger for me) so that when it comes time to send invoices or file your taxes you have everything in one neat space.

10. Use social media to stay in the know

Finding freelance gigs and assignments is all about putting feelers out wherever you can and social media is a powerful tool for this. Here are a few of Mara's tricks for using LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to your advantage:

  • Join freelancer Facebook groups
  • Follow your favorite publications and editors on Instagram and Twitter
  • Connect with those in your industry on LinkedIn

11. Tap family, friends, and connections about more freelance opportunities

Last but not least, don't be shy about tapping your family, friends, and connections before, during, or after you've run out of freelance leads. Using the people you love as resources to help put feelers out for you is a valuable way to learn about opportunities you may not have known about otherwise.

Check out my IGTV to watch the full interview with Mara Santilli.