How (and Why) to Get Started as a Freelance Writer

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how and why to get started as a freelance writerIf you’re like millions of other people who are looking to make some extra money you’ve probably considered a number of different side hustles, part-time jobs, or business opportunities. Every now and then I have friends or family ask for my suggestions about how to make money online. Freelance writing is always one of my first suggestions, and I’d highly recommend you consider it as well.

Before I worked online full-time I did a lot of freelance writing for several different blogs. It was flexible work and allowed me to make some money while I was also working to build up my own websites and blogs.

Although it’s a great opportunity, most people have no idea where to start. The thought of trying to find paying clients can be very overwhelming if you’ve never done it before.

In reality, finding your first clients usually isn’t all that difficult, and so I wanted to write this article to lay out all of the facts about freelance writing, why it’s a great opportunity, and how you can get started.

You Don’t Have to Be Amazing Writer!

One of the biggest misconceptions about being a freelance writer, and one of the things that holds many people back from trying, is the idea that you need to be an amazingly talented writer.

The truth is, you really don’t need to be a great writer to make money as a freelancer. Sure, writing skills can help, but even average writers can make money.

Most freelance writing gigs these days are for online publications like blogs, and the tone and voice of most blogs is much different than term papers or formal writing. You’ll need to pay attention to things like grammar and spelling, and of course you’ll want to improve your writing over time, but you absolutely do not need to be a highly-polished writer to make money with freelance writing. Blog readers like to feel like they are hearing from a real person, so writing in a conversational tone is appropriate and effective.

Why Freelance Writing is a Great Opportunity

Ok, so what makes freelance writing an opportunity worth your time? With a lot of other possibilities for making money, why would you want to consider being a freelance writer? Here is a look at some of the reasons why I highly recommend it as a great side hustle.

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Flexible Schedule

As a freelance writer you’ll benefit from a flexible schedule. Most of your assignments or gigs will have a deadline, and bigger projects may even have some milestones that you’ll need to hit throughout the project, but you’ll have the flexibility to work around your own schedule.

You can have a full-time job and write for clients in the evenings or on weekends. You could be a stay-at-home parent and write during those peaceful hours when your kids are napping. You can choose to only take on projects when your life offers you some down time in your schedule.

Not only do you have flexibility in the specific hours that you work, but you can also make it as big or small as you want. Just looking for something to do a few hours a week and make some extra money? Or looking for something that could turn into a full-time business? Either way, freelance writing could be a good fit.

You Can Start Making Money Quickly

This is a huge factor, and one of the main reasons why I highly recommend freelance writing as a side gig. It’s possible to find a paying client today and you could start earning money right away.

I’ve mentioned on Vital Dollar before that blogging is my favorite side hustle. There are a lot of reasons I recommend blogging as a way to make money, but the fact is, building a successful blog takes a lot of time and effort. In most cases you’ll need to put in months of work before you start to see any rewards.

A lot of people want or need to start making some money right away. If that’s the case for you, freelance writing could be a better fit than blogging (you can always work to build your own blog while also doing some freelance writing).

There is a Lot of Work Available

Many of the people and companies looking to hire freelance writers are websites and blogs that are constantly in need of new content. With the amount of new content that is being published online, the need for freelance writers is only going to increase.  By following the tips that I’ll cover later in this article you should be able to start finding paying clients pretty quickly.

Very Little Investment Required

Many business, both online and traditional offline businesses, require a significant financial investment. That’s not the case with freelance writing. All you really need is a domain name, web hosting, and maybe a premium blog theme (if you need help setting up your website or blog, please see my guide How to Start a Blog).

You Can Make a Good Income Per Hour

There are a lot of side hustles and ways to make money that don’t pay very well. The amount of money that you can make as a freelance writer will really vary depending on the types of projects that you’re able to land. Some of the work out there for freelance writers is low paying, but there are also plenty of gigs that pay very well.

Even as a part-time freelance writer I was able to find work that paid me $50 – $75 per hour, and there are many people who do even better than that. Most freelancers are paid per project, not per hour. But even with a per project fee you’ll want to track how much time you’re spending an calculate an hourly rate.

One of the keys to making a good hourly rate as a freelancer is to find recurring gigs, which is the case with a lot of blogs that hire freelance writers. Gigs where you have a regular assignment (like an article every week) allow you to earn great money because you won’t have to spend time looking for new work all the time. Land a few recurring gigs and you can make a really good hourly rate.

You Can Build Your Own Profile in the Industry/Niche

Most freelance writing projects will allow you to get credit for your work and will list you as the author (if a job is described as “ghost writing” you will not be credited). If you’re writing for a popular blog or magazine you can quickly establish your own reputation in the industry while making money!

After a while people will get used to seeing your name and reading your writing, and your reputation may open up other possibilities in the future.

You Can Write About Topics That You Enjoy

There are freelance writing opportunities on just about any topic you can imagine. It’s possible that you could find work on topics that you know and enjoy, and you’ll actually be able to make money by writing about something that interests you.

It Can Serve as an Excellent Supplement to Income from Your Own Websites

When I worked as a freelance writer I was still working to build my own websites and blogs. Because it takes time to grow a profitable blog, I looked to freelance writing as a way to make some money in the meantime. As the income from my own blog grew I was able to slowly scale back on freelance writing until I didn’t need that income any more.

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How to Get Started as a Freelance Writer

Now that you’re convinced that freelance writing is a great opportunity and could be a good fit for you, you’re probably thinking “Yeah, that’s great, but I have no idea how to get started and find paying clients.” So let’s take a look at the steps you can take if you’d like to get started.

1. Select Your Topics

The first step is to think about what types of topics you would like to write about. As I mentioned earlier, there are opportunities for all different types of things. I’d recommend choosing something broad to start with, and then you can narrow it down and focus even more later if you’d like. But don’t put yourself in a bind by focusing only on one very small niche when you’re trying to get started. For example, choose a broad topic like travel, health & fitness, finance, photography, or parenting. Those are just some examples, but the point is, choose a broad topic that reaches a large audience. Go with photography instead of concert photography so you’ll have more options when you’re getting started.

You may decide that you want to cover a few different topics rather than just one, and that’s fine too. Some freelance writers will write on just about anything, but I recommend having a specialization, or a couple of specializations. Landing clients is a lot easier when you can show them your existing work that is highly relevant to the topics that they want you to cover. Plus, you’ll be able to network in one industry and build up your profile as an expert on that topic.

If you choose a topic, or topics, that you know very well you should be able to save time in your writing because you won’t need to research as much. Being able to write faster will essentially improve the hourly rate you earn.

2. Create a Blog of Your Own

When you’re applying to job listings or contacting potential clients you will need to provide some writing samples. If you haven’t written for other clients yet, the best thing to do is set up your own blog. You can write and publish at least a few articles that will serve as samples of your work. Of course, make sure that you do a good job with these articles since people will be using them to evaluate your quality of work.

Even if you have articles on other sites that you can use for your writing samples, it’s still a good idea to set up your own blog. Include a bio/about page, a page with information about your freelance writing services, and list your email address or include a contact form that people can fill out if they want to get in touch with you. Your blog can serve as a valuable asset for helping you to land clients.

The main purpose of your blog is to have writing samples that you can show to others. You don’t need to worry about trying to get a lot of traffic to your blog, especially at first. Just focus on having it for the purpose of writing samples.

If you don’t have a blog and you’re not sure how to set one up, it’s really simple. Check out my How to Start a Blog page and I walk you through the process.

3. Determine Your Ideal Rate

One of the hardest things to decide as a new freelancer is what you should charge. Most projects will pay a set amount for the completed project, not an hourly rate, and those rates can vary widely. Some blogs may pay $10 per article, and others may pay $500. Of course, there are a lot of factors that will influence how much a client is willing to pay.

Since we’re talking mostly about writing for blogs here, let’s continue that thought process. In order to know how much you should charge you’ll need to know things like how many words the article should include, the amount of research needed to write the article, and the specific tasks that you’ll be expected to perform. At a bare minimum you will be expected to write and proofread the text. Some clients will have editors who provide additional proofreading, but you should always do your own proofreading as well.

Some clients will want you to enter the article into WordPress or another content management system for their website. Some clients will want you to find photos that can be used along with the article. Some clients may even expect you to promote the article on your social media profiles after it is published. All of these things should factor in to what you are charging, because it will all impact how much time you need to spend on the project.

There really is no going rate, because there are a lot of people writing for extremely low rates, but in general I would recommend starting with at least $25 for a 500 word article and $50 for a 1,000 word article. Those prices are higher than the bargain-basement writers that churn out a lot of low-quality content, but many freelancers charge much more.

As a new freelancer you may need to have some flexibility with your rates if you have trouble getting clients for the rates that you want. Once you get some experience under your belt you should be able to increase your rates.

4. Search Job Boards

There are a lot of ways to go about finding freelance writing opportunities, and we’ll look at several of the best ways. One of the easiest and fastest ways to get started is to browse several job boards that publish opportunities specifically for freelance writers. Companies can place a listing on these sites when they are looking to hire a writer. There are several of these job boards and some good variety in the opportunities that you’ll find.

Some of these job listings will mention the rate they are willing to pay, and others will ask you to provide your rate information. Any time you are responding to one of these ads be sure that you are following their instructions. If they ask you to send writing samples and rate information, be sure to do that. I’ve placed several ads over the years to hire freelance writers. You might be surprised at how many people will respond to say they are interested, but won’t follow the instructions by sending the information that is requested in the ad. If you don’t follow the directions you’re probably not going to get hired.

I recommend checking these job boards frequently (at least a few times per week, if not daily) because new opportunities are added often and the faster you can respond the better chance you will have.

Here are some of the job boards that are worth checking out:

5. Contact Sites That Hire Writers

You can also proactively contact websites and blogs that you know hire writers, even if they haven’t posted a job ad. Depending on the size of the business you may or may not have difficulty reaching the editor or the person in charge of hiring writings. If you’re just filling out a generic contact form I recommend that you ask to be put in touch with the editor, or ask for your message to be passed along to the editor. You can also search on Google or LinkedIn to see if you can find the name and contact information of an editor. For smaller blogs, in many cases the contact form will go directly to the editor or person in charge of hiring writers.

For these cold emails I suggest keeping it brief and to the point. Mention that you are a freelance writing specializing in the same type of content that they publish, and provide a link to a few of your blog posts as writing samples. Mention that you are interested in writing for them on an on-going basis and ask them to get back to you if they would like to discuss more details.

I landed several clients through cold emails like this. The key is to contact the right people/businesses. Many blogs and online magazines are always looking for writers, so if you get in front of them you could land a nice recurring gig.

This is another reason why I recommend that you specialize on a topic that you’re already interested in. Chances are, you already follow several active blogs and websites on the topics that interest you most. You probably already know of a few blogs that publish articles from multiple writers, and this would be a great place to start.

You can also visit blogs in the industry, go to the About Us page or skip to the site footer and look for a “write for us” link, or something similar. If they do have information on the site about writing for them, be sure to follow their instructions for getting in touch. If you can’t find any information about their hiring process, it’s still worth the effort of a cold email.

You can also use lists to help you find great opportunities. Many websites and blogs have compiled lists of sites that pay writers. There will be some overlap on these lists, but you may find some good opportunities on lists like these:

There are also many other lists like that if you want to do a Google search. If you’re writing in a very popular industry you could also search for an industry specific post, like this one that focuses on travel blogs: 34 Travel Magazines and Websites That Pay Freelance Writers.

6. Craigslist

Craigslist can also be a great place to find freelance work. You can look for opportunities in the Gigs > Writing category. You can also post something about yourself and your services in the Services > Writing category.

It may seem that a classifieds site like Craigslist would only be a source for low-quality opportunities, but that is not the case. You might be surprised at the work you can get through Craigslist.

7. Upwork?

There are a number of sites like Upwork and Freelancer.com where you can create your profile and bid on projects. In general, I recommend that you avoid these sites. Most freelancers spend a lot of time bidding on different jobs and have nothing to show for it, or maybe a few low-paying jobs. You’ll be competing against a lot of other writers, and many people are willing to work for very cheap. That being said, I do know some freelancers who have had decent results with these sites, but I would definitely recommend starting other places first. I wanted to at least mention these sites because they do work for some people.

8. Prioritize Repeat Gigs

I’ve mentioned this in a few other places throughout the article, but it is worthy of being a major point in the article as well. Repeat gigs are the key to making good money as a freelance writer. Finding work is one of the biggest challenges that many freelancers have. The more repeat, on-going clients you have, the less time you’ll need to spend looking for work. And that means you’ll be able to spend more time actually writing, which is what brings in the money. You’ll see the amount you make per hour of work drastically increase because most of your work will be income-generating.

This is one reason why blogs and blog editors can be such great clients. Blogs are always in need of new content, so if you do a good job for a blog, chances are it will lead to repeat work.

9. Consider Guest Posting for Free

Offering services for free may seem like a bad idea, but it can actually help you to land clients, in some cases. Increasing your profile or exposure in the industry could lead to new opportunities, and one of the best ways to get that exposure is to write guest posts for well-read blogs. Typically your guest posts will include a brief author bio, so you can even mention in your bio that you’re a freelance writer or that you write for several blogs in the industry. Other editors or blog owners may come across your work and reach out to you about writing for them.

My first freelance writing gig was actually the result of a guest post. I submitted a guest post for free to a leading blog (this was back in 2007). The blog owner liked the article and asked if I was interested in writing an article every week as a paid writer. The pay was actually pretty good too, especially for a first gig! And that led to other paid gigs.

If you have paying clients I would definitely recommend prioritizing them over writing free posts for other blogs. But if you are just getting started and need to find a first client or two, consider writing for some blogs that will start to get you some exposure. You can also use guest posts as writing samples, and if potential clients see that you wrote for a leading blog in their niche they will be more likely to hire you over someone who has no experience or profile in the industry.

10. Continue to Build Your Network

Networking is an important aspect of just about any type of business. Connections that you make can lead to unexpected opportunities, or to help you land work with a client that you’ve had trouble securing on your own.

As a freelance writer it’s helpful to have blog editors and bloggers in your network, especially those who hire other freelancers. Make an effort to get to know others through things like blog comments, social media, and even introducing yourself in an email.

You can also network with other freelance writers. Other freelancers that you know can be great for putting you in touch with a hiring editor.

Of course, networking requires that you give as much as you take. Be willing to help others without expectations of always getting something out of it.

11. Grow Your Social Media Profiles

If you are specializing in a specific industry or niche it can be very helpful, and valuable, to also have your own social media profiles and following. Focus on the social networks that are most popular in your particular industry. If you are able to use social media to get more exposure for the articles that you write you will have a big advantage over most other freelance writers that are competing for work. When you’re applying to jobs you can even mention your social profiles and that you are willing to help promote the articles that you write.

12. Get Help with Accounting

Once you start making money as a freelancer I’d recommend that you get help from an accountant. Of course, you’ll need to pay taxes on the money that you make from freelancing, so be sure you are setting that money aside. An accountant will help you to make sure that you are doing everything correctly and that you structure your business in the best way for your specific situation.

So Now it’s Up to You!

If you’re looking for a way to make some extra money, I believe freelance writing is one of the best opportunities out there. Not many jobs/businesses offer the flexibility, opportunity to start earning right away, and good income potential.

If it may be a good opportunity for you, start to put these tips into action. Pick your specialty, set up your own blog, and start to look for your first client.

how and why to get started as a freelance writer

Disclosure: Information presented on Vital Dollar and through related email marketing is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to be taken as financial advice. Please see our Disclosure for further information.

About the Author Marc

I've been working in internet marketing full-time since 2008. I started VitalDollar.com to share from my experience and to help others who want to improve their own financial situation. You can read my full bio here.

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