Aspiring nurse-writers frequently ask me what skills and knowledge they need before they can launch a freelance writing business. Many nurses already possess all the qualifications they need to become a professional writer, though they may not know it. So today I thought I’d tell you what I consider to be the “essential skills” required for nurses to succeed as freelancers.
1. Basic Grasp of English Grammar & Composition
You do not need to be Hemingway to become a successful freelance writer, but you do need to understand the basic concepts of grammar and composition. I would say you need to know:
The most basic parts of speech: noun, verb, adjective, etc.
Basics of capitalization
Basic punctuation to avoid run-on sentences and comma splices
A sense of how to use transitions
Basic understanding of the five-paragraph essay structure
I want to stress you do not need to be an expert in any of these things. You need not be able to diagram sentences and wax eloquent about dangling participles.
If you ever wrote a B paper in nursing school, then you know enough English grammar and composition to get started as a freelance writer. Honest!
2. Basic Understanding of the Freelance Writing Process
I’ve written posts before on the subject of “How Freelance Writing Works,” so I won’t belabor the point here. I will, however, encapsulate the very basic components in a bullet list:
You pitch editors (journalism) or solicit clients (content marketing)
You receive assignments
You complete assignments
You receive the check in the mail
Lather, rinse, repeat.
3. A Smidgen of Business Acumen
Listen, I can’t think of anyone I know (nurse or otherwise) who went into freelance writing as a savvy entrepreneur and businessperson. We all learned it as we went. You will learn how to be a great businessperson, too.
That said, you need to grasp the basic concepts of how run a business:
How to get a business license if your jurisdiction requires it
How and when to file your estimated tax withholding
How to manage a rudimentary business budget
How to organize your work life (email, deadlines, etc.)
But, on the other hand, you don’t need to be Mark Cuban to set up and run a successful freelance business. In truth, you’ll learn as you go. That’s the fun of it!
Things You Do Not Need to Know Prior to Launching Your Business
I think sometimes aspiring nurse-writers believe they need to know everything there is to know about writing and business in order to achieve success. That is not how this works.
Clients do not expect you to walk into an assignment knowing precisely how to execute it to their specification. Clients, in fact, usually provide very detailed instructions for each assignment. If they do not, then your job is to ask detailed questions to elicit the information you need to complete the assignment. How can you possibly read their mind? Believe me, every client and every assignment is different. Writing a blog post for Client A will not be the same as writing it for Client B. Different style guides, different sourcing requirements – and so on.
On the business side, realize you will not do things perfectly. You will not know, out of the gate, all the best ways to market your business, for example. You will, however, go through a lot of trial-and-error.
When you’re getting ready to launch your freelance writing business, don’t overwhelm yourself by adding a lot of non-essential skills and knowledge to the list of “things I need to know in advance.” Instead, start learning how to separate the truly essential business and writing skills from the “gee it would be helpful to know that” ones.
The list of things you don’t need to know prior to launching your business could fill an eight-volume encyclopedia. But here is a sampling of things you’ll learn about and develop after you’ve launched, and over the course of your career:
Understanding of SEO
Understanding of content marketing
Ability to use style guides
Ability to set marketing goals and create strategies to accomplish them
Improved skills in writing different types of content (blogs vs newsletters vs infographics, e.g.)
Improved reporting skills
Improved interviewing skills
Improved organizational skills
Better decision-making skills
Better financial savvy
Better time management
Improved client relationship skills
Understanding of which industry news to keep up with – and how to do it
The fact that freelancing writing is a learn-as-you-go career might make you feel scared or intimidated because it’s not tidy. It’s not buttoned down. Entrepreneurship can be gloriously messy, and if you feel anxious about that, it’s perfectly all right. Entrepreneurship provokes an array of emotions that appear at different points in the journey:
You know what else provokes those same emotions? Diving into the deep end of the pool for the first time. Do you remember? Do you remember standing nervously on the board or the pool apron, contemplating whether you would sink or float? Would you survive this?
That’s what launching a freelance writing business is like. You just have to jump in. There is no amount of preparation you could possibly do to prepare yourself for every single contingency that could arise during the course of your career.
So this is what I advise all of you to do: Just jump in. Equip yourself with the essential skills and knowledge I listed above and stop trying to arm yourself with knowledge and skills you simply don’t need to get started. Just. Dive. In.
What questions do you have about this? Post your thoughts in the comments to validate what I’ve written here or to tell me you think I’m full of crap.