How to Get Started as a Freelance Medical Writer

How-to-Get-Started-as-a-Freelance-Medical-WriterThe medical communication field is expanding at a record pace. At the same time, remote work is becoming mainstream. By demand, many experienced medical writers have begun offering freelance writing or editing services. 

If you’re a medical communicator interested in transitioning to freelance writing, it’s important to set yourself up for success from the very beginning. Below, we briefly outline the steps to get started as a freelance medical writer. Whether dipping a toe into the freelance market or aiming to build a sustainable full‑time business, these recommendations apply.

Define your freelance writing as a business

Freelance medical writing is a business and, as such, entails all the activities and areas of expertise needed to successfully run a business. Knowing how to provide excellent medical communications is of course a requirement, but you also need to develop many other skills. In addition to crafting high‑quality documents, freelance writers need to market themselves, keep track of business finances, and establish themselves as a legal business. 

Defining your freelance writing as a business will remind you that you now have two roles: a writer and a business owner. To succeed as a freelancer, you must succeed in both roles.

Reach out to prospects 

Landing your first freelance project can feel like a monumental task, but it doesn’t have to take long. Here are a few ways to use leverage and expand your professional network to find new clients:

  • Leverage your network. Start with your current contacts. Do you personally know the managers or directors of hospitals, professional associations, or companies that produce or need medical documents or health communication? Get in touch with the prospects who know you, including those at the company where you currently work. Tell everyone that you are available for freelance work. 
  • Stay active on LinkedIn. This social media platform is an important marketing tool. Your summary should be compelling and interesting; make sure that it represents you. Once you’ve perfected your profile, develop a targeted network. Share relevant information and comment on your connections’ posts (don’t just “like “them). 
  • Go after prospects with direct email. Send short, to‑the‑point emails to professionals in your network and the managers and directors of organizations related to your medical writing specialty. Focus on what your writing can do for them. You will rarely get a job on the first attempt, so make a note to send a follow‑up email in a few weeks. 

Establish your fees

At first, your income as a freelance medical writer might vary wildly from month to month. This makes it tempting to accept jobs that decrease hourly earnings because they are time‑consuming or because the client offers a low project fee. 

Before you take on your first freelance writing assignment, assess how much you need in gross income. Consider how many hours you expect to work per week, but remember that not every hour will be billable. Calculate your taxes and your direct and indirect expenses. After taking the time to work it out mathematically, you’ll be prepared to set up your freelance medical writing rates.

Set clear expectations

If you’re considering retiring to freelancing after a successful medical writing career, you should know that you might end up working harder than you’ve ever worked before. When you’re a freelance writer, you wear a lot of hats. Some days will be spent on writing, but other days might be consumed with email, marketing, or business accounting. 

Expert freelance writers, sharing their expertise in the AMWA Journal and AMWA website, have offered these tips on setting reasonable expectations:

  • “Track the time it takes to do every single task, so that you’ll be able to estimate fair project fees now and in the future.” — Gail Flores
  • “Don’t say ‘yes’ if you mean ‘no.’ Think about what you are taking on. Do you have the time to complete a quality product in the client’s timeframe?” — Alisa Bonsignore
  • “Expectations for what you’ll do and what the client will do, and when, should be clearly defined in writing.” — Lori De Milto

Managing your freelance business is a crucial part of being a successful freelance medical communicator. Once you’ve launched your business and landed your first freelance projects, you can take command of your future by taking on only the projects and clients that are a great fit for you.

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November 2, 2020 at 9:00 AM

American Medical Writers Association

AMWA is the leading resource for medical communicators. The AMWA Blog is developed in partnership with community members who work every day to create clear communications that lead to better health and well-being.