In our last post, I wrote about various types of medical writing you can do as a physician freelancer. This article is full of info about how to get started.
Getting started in freelance medical writing
I know from experience that getting started in a new side gig can be challenging and slow-going. Over time, I’ve seen several benefits from my own involvement in medical writing:
- Increased income
- The satisfaction of doing work from home
- Increased knowledge in certain medical and clinical topics
- Improved writing and communication skills
- Being listed as an author on publications
- Professional network growth
So if you’re brand to medical writing, keep at it!
Where to find freelance medical writing work
Probably the most difficult part of getting started with freelance medical writing as a physician is finding your first few jobs. They most likely won’t fall into your lap. But worry not – there are great ways to go about finding them. I discuss four methods below to help you get yourself established. You can focus on one, or combine techniques to maximize your chances of finding gigs that are a good fit for your interests.
1. Reach out to potential clients directly
This one is first because I think it’s the most effective way to find your first few medical writing projects as a physician. Even if you don’t have experience as a freelance medical writer, high-quality potential clients will see the value in your MD or DO degree and your clinical experience.
To select companies worth contacting, first determine a field that you’re interested in writing for – such as test prep, CME, pharma, or online medical communications. In some cases, you can get a sense of whether a company uses contracted medical writers by looking at some of their publications or perusing their website. If you’ve used UptoDate or MDLinx, for example, you may have noticed that each article has a physician author listed.
Try to find the name and contact info for a staff member that can give you more details or the name of the employee who hires writers. If you can’t find a contact on their website, take a look at their LinkedIn page.
Your initial contact to a potential client should be as specific as possible regarding the type of word you’re looking for and your qualifications. Although you may be open to a broad range of medical writing jobs, indicate why you’re looking for assignments specific to that company or field. If you don’t have any relevant experience as a medical writer, consider these as possible indicators of your qualification for a medical writing job:
- Journal articles you’re been an author on
- Presentations to a medical or patient audience that required research and slide decks
- Curriculum materials you’ve developed for teaching experiences
I suggest attaching a resume, as well.
2. Start a business and build a brand
Presenting yourself as a true business rather than “just” a freelancer is a great way to be taken seriously and ramp up your involvement in medical writing.
You don’t necessarily need to start a business such as an LLC for this (though in many states, opening an LLC is fairly easy and inexpensive). A sole proprietorship is probably sufficient when you get started. Think of your writing services as a brand, and put in the time and effort to determine what sets you apart from other medical writers. This could be:
- A certain area of expertise
- Your combination of professional experiences and clinical work
- Proficiency in a certain area, such as data analysis
At the least, have a well organized and detailed Linkedin profile that you can refer people to. Think about having your own website, as well. Mandy Armitage, MD, is a great example of a medical writer who has been very successful establishing an online presence for herself and her writing business, known as Armitage Medical. Her website screams out experience and professionalism. It also allows her to show up in potential clients’ Google searches for writers.
Running your freelance hustle as though it’s a small business sets you up for success, both by changing your own mindset and projecting your proficiency to clients. So advertise for yourself. Stress your areas of expertise or concentration. And let others know how your services meet their needs.
3. Use a freelancing platform
Online freelancing platforms connect freelancers to business or individuals that need work done. This is typically work that can be done from home and on a computer, so writing assignments are quite common. I recommend heading to Upwork to look for medical writing projects. Other options that I’ve tried – including Fiverr, iWriter, Zerys – are far less lucrative, less professional, and less appropriate for highly trained medical professionals.
To get started on Upwork, create an account and write a descriptive profile about your experience and background. You can set a minimum hourly rate, as well. Then you can start searching for work. Try these search phrases to find medical writing work:
- “medical writer”
- Medical md
- Physician writer
- Md writer
Here are a couple examples of promising results I came across with a quick search using these terms:
The main downside with Upwork is that many freelancers work for very low pay, especially those outside of the US. You need to differentiate yourself by highlighting your medical training, credentials, clinical knowledge, and grasp of the English language. If you’re contacted by a potential client who doesn’t seem to value these qualifications (ie proposes a low compensation), just say no.
After you’ve completed a few jobs on Upwork, you’re more likely to show up in client’s searches and be contacted directly by them for new or repeat work.
4. Use your network
Word of mouth and personal connections can be an incredibly fruitful way of finding freelance writing jobs. Other professionals that you know may be able to offer you work directly or introduce you to individuals or organizations that are looking for medical writers.
Don’t have any medical writers in your network? That’s okay! With the wide spectrum of industries and business types that utilize medical writers, your connections can be helpful even if they work in other divisions within pharma, education, journalism, or healthcare.
If you can’t think of anyone to reach out to off the top of your head, try one of these:
- Search through your LinkedIn connections for professionals you can contact or companies you can follow
- Expand your professional network by joining a society or organization that attracts writers
- Join Facebook groups like “Medical Writers,” “Medical & Healthcare Content Writers,” and “Medical Writer & Editor Jobs”
- Let your colleagues and connections know that you’re on the lookout for medical writing jobs
- Ask other writers for introductions to contacts what may be sources of work
I won’t lie, just the word ‘networking’ gives me stomach butterflies. Don’t make this a chore. Make your writing interests known to your network, but there’s no need to go beyond what feels natural.
How to get repeat freelance medical writing clients
Repeat business is essential because it minimizes the need for you to spend uncompensated time searching for new jobs and leads. To increase your changes for repeat clients:
- Do an excellent, thorough job on your assignments. Follow instructions closely, respond to all communications in a timely manner, and meet all deadlines.
- Make sure the client is aware that you’re interested in additional work. “Out of sight, out of mind” rings true for the freelancer.
- Take jobs that will require additional work by a medical writer down the road. For example, publications on a rapidly developing topic may require frequent revisions. And test prep companies often like to update their q-banks every year.
- Have a point of contact within the client company who can introduce you to other divisions that may be able to use you.
Finally, if you happen across the opportunity to sign up for a business’s job alerts, take them up on it. Some organizations offer newsletters with freelance jobs, as well. I’ll put a plug in here for Look for Zebras’ own job opportunity newsletter, The Stampede, which includes a section every week for freelance and consulting ads. We include medical writing positions on the regular!
Scaling your freelance medical writing business… or not
I’ve written previously about how, in our professional lives, opportunities beget opportunities. This is definitely true for medical writing. Once you’ve completed a few freelance writing jobs, you’ll accumulate writing samples and experience to put on your resume or in your cover letters. You’ll develop relationships with clients, who may recommend you to other clients or provide a reference or testimonial for you. You’ll also gain skills and confidence. You’re writing will improve.
As a result of all this, you’ll keep landing new projects.
Depending on how much you enjoy the work and how much effort you’re willing to put into it, you may want to consider scaling your business beyond doing all the work yourself as a solo freelancer. This can be done by:
- Sub-contracting some of your work
- Starting a medical writing agency
- Hiring your own employees
- Partnering with other freelancers who provide synergistic services, such as graphic design or data analysis
Alternatively, you can simply turn down projects that don’t excite you. Or raise your rates. The beauty of freelance work is that you can take it or decline it when you want. It’s work that you do on your terms.
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