5 freelance UX writing surprises to know before you switch

Freelancing as a UX writer isn't your ordinary gig. Learn what to expect as a freelance UX writer and see if it’s right for you.
ux writing freelance surprises
ux writing freelance surprises
In: Freelance

UX writers can make plastic surgeon money when they go freelance. And that's without the $200,000 in student debt.

Heck, you can teach yourself how to do UX writing. I did.

But, with big money, comes big responsibility. Not as much as reconstructing someone's one and only face, though.

As a freelance UX writer, I get thrown into ambiguous situations and have to take charge when no one’s ever worked with a UX writer before.

Whether you're a full-timer thinking of making the leap to freelance or a freelancer pondering UX writing, there are 5 potential surprises to freelancing as a UX writer you should buckle up for:

  1. Ambiguous tasks
  2. Lots of collaboration
  3. Throw away the Google doc
  4. Explaining what you do
  5. A swarm of content audits

Let me explain...

1. Ambiguous tasks

“Slater, can you figure out how to make the first touch with Retirable more engaging and human?”

This is an actual task I was given. And it's pretty common with freelance UX writing.

The CTO knew I could make the first touch with them more human, but he's a CTO — he has no idea how I'd go about that.

In a full-time UX writing job, a product manager would schedule a kick-off and detail the exact problem, why it's a problem, the hypothesis, measurement for success, project plan, and oh so much more.

That doesn’t happen in freelance. You gotta figure out how to take a lofty, ambiguous mission and root it in a reasonable process and way to measure success.

In this example, I sat down with the CTO, and we aligned on:

  • Why he thought the current experience wasn’t engaging and human?
  • Why it was a priority now?
  • What implication the problem had on the business?

And most important, how we'd measure success.

We pinpointed the sign-up flow to be the first touch to work on, and we'd measure the lift in successful sign-ups. Then, it was up to me (and will be up to you) to figure out how to produce results.

2. Lots of collaboration

If you want to fly more solo, expect to work with smaller startups.

The big guys like LinkedIn and Klarna hire freelancers as full-time contractors, which is basically just an hourly employee. So if you wanna get a big company under your belt, know independence isn't what you'll be signing up for.

Also, no matter if you work with a company large or small, UX writing is VERY collaborative. This is a lot different from if you're a content writer who can go weeks without jumping on a Zoom call.

When you're a freelance UX writer, you're still collaborating with product designers, product managers, and engineers daily. So if your vision of being a freelance UX writer is hibernating in a cozy corner, you'll be very disappointed.

Caveat: This is for some set-ups. If a client hires you to do web work, for example, you can fly more solo. But for product flows, expect high collaboration.

3. Throw away the Google doc

UX writing happens in Figma. You need to write where the company is working. If you don't, you create more work for the company, and you're supposed to be there to solve a problem.

If you're new to Figma, the good news is you don't have to be an expert. If you can move things around, edit text, and make boxes, you'll be just fine.

If you want a helping hand to learn the basics of Figma, check out the UX writer's guide to Figma basics.

4. Explaining what you do

After you seal the deal, you need to take the reins and outline the process you'll need to be successful. You're likely not going to be working with another UX writer, and a CTO or product person isn't going to know what info you need. They probably have never worked with a UX writer before.

Come prepared to a kick-off with a high-level process in mind and a list of things you'll need to get started. That could be access to analytics, any existing user research or insights, materials to give you a sense for the voice, etc.

5. A swarm of content audits

This'll likely be the first time the startup has worked with a UX writer. That means you're starting from ground zero, and you need to get the lay of the land.

Enter the world of content audits — the uber-tedious but magically-awesome way to uncover what's working, what's not working, what to keep, what to throw away, and what to add in. Conducting a content audit will help you form a game plan, and you're gonna need a game plan.

That wasn't so bad, right?

This isn't meant to scare you, but prep you for what you're jumping into if you decide to freelance as a UX writer. If you love challenges and work well with ambiguity, this is gonna be your dream job.

If structure makes your heart sing, maybe stay away from startup gigs and go for more stable contracts with the bigger guys. They will likely pay less and by the hour, though.

People pay top dollar for UX writing because it's hard. If anyone could do it, it wouldn't be a 6-figure business.

The good news? You can TOTALLY do it. And I'm here to help you figure it out :)

Happy UX writing 🖖

Written by
Slater Katz
As founder of The UX Gal, my mission is to make learning UX writing fantastically-simple and landing a job easy. I've held UX writing jobs at companies like Netflix, Fitbit, Verizon, Afterpay, & more.
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