How to Become a Freelance Writer

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How to Become a Freelance Writer

If you’re like millions of other people who are looking to make some extra money, you’ve probably considered a number of different side hustle ideas, weekend 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. Over the past 10 years, I’ve continued with freelance writing off and on. With a freelance writing side hustle, I’ve been able to make $500 – $3,000 per month on the side.

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. If you want to learn how to become a freelance writer and get paid to write, read on.

Why Freelance Writing is a Great Opportunity

Ok, so what makes freelance writing an opportunity worthy of your time?

With a lot of other possibilities for making money from home, 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.

Flexible Schedule

As a freelance writer, you’ll benefit from a flexible schedule. Most of your assignments or gigs will have deadlines, 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. Freelance writing is also a great job for stay-at-home parents. You can write during those peaceful hours when your kids are napping, or after they are in bed at night.

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.

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 you need to start making $1,000 per month quickly, freelance writing could be a better fit than blogging (you can always work to build your own blog while also doing some freelance writing).

Plenty of Work Available

Many of your clients will be 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 businesses, 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. You can easily start with less than $100. And truthfully, you could get away without any of those things by using a free website and make money online without paying anything at all.

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 freelance writing gigs that pay very well.

Even as a part-time freelance writer, I’ve been able to find work that pays me $50 – $100+ per hour, and there are many people who do even better than that. Most freelancers are paid per project or per word, not per hour. But regardless of how you are paid, you’ll want to track your time so you can calculate how much you are making per hour.

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. With recurring gigs (where you write an article every week or month), you won’t need to be constantly looking for work. Land a few recurring gigs and you can make a really good hourly rate.

Of course, most freelance writers don’t start out with great-paying gigs. You may need to take some lower-paying projects to gain experience and to build your portfolio, but know that an excellent income is possible as a freelance writer.

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 “ghostwriting” 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.

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.

→ Related reading: 40 Exciting Hobbies That Make Money

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 anymore.

No Experience Required

While some writing experience can help, working as a freelance writer is one of the best entry-level work from home jobs. Many opportunities will not require any specific experience and you can definitely find work as a beginner. For proof, see our lists of ways to write and get paid instantly and freelance writing jobs for beginners.

How to Become 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.

Step 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.

It’s also important to point out that not all niches will offer the same income potential. Generally, the industries that produce a lot of money online (finance, business, health, travel, etc) will offer the best opportunities for freelance writers. Topics that tend to be hobbies or are more for personal interest are less likely to pay well.

→ To learn more, check out Freelance Writing 101: Build a Successful Writing Career on Skillshare.

Step 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.

What About Guest Posting?

Another way to get writing samples is to write unpaid guest posts for other blogs in the niche you are targeting. Many blogs are open to article submissions from other writers, and this can be an ideal way to get your first experience. Honestly, the people who are looking at your writing samples may not know whether you were paid for an article or if you did it for free. Treat these free guest posts as if you were being paid. If you have some high-quality articles on established blogs in your niche, they can prove to be extremely valuable writing samples.

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Step 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 or an amount per word, not an hourly rate. The pay for freelance writers 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 (unless you’re being paid per word), 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 into the price 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 the rates vary so much. 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 much lower than the rates charged by professional (full-time) freelance writers. Ultimately, you’ll probably want to increase your rates a good bit, but in my opinion, it’s good to just get started.

As a new freelancer, you may need to have some flexibility with your rates if you have trouble getting clients at the rates that you want. Some successful freelance writers started at $10 per article.

Step 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 they provide 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 requested information. 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:

Step 5: Contact Sites That Hire Writers

My favorite way to find quality freelance writing gigs is to proactively contact websites and blogs that 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 writers. 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 writer 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’ve 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 in 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.

Don’t expect to reach out to one website/blog and land your first gig. But if you make an effort to reach out to a few each week, you should be able to have some success.

I’d also recommend starting small. Don’t reach out to the biggest, most popular blogs in the niche right away. Get some experience and build up your portfolio of writing samples before going after the bigger gigs.

Should I Use Upwork and Other Bidding Sites?

There are a number of sites like Upwork and 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.

Step 6: 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.

Step 7: Work on Your Pitch

If you want to take your freelance writing income to the next level, perfecting your pitch is something that you will want to work on. As I mentioned earlier, my favorite way to find freelance writing is to reach out to people that I think could benefit from my services.

In order to have success with cold emails, you’ll need to pitch yourself and your services effectively. A good pitch will:

  • Show your credentials or expertise
  • Show your capability to deliver quality articles
  • Show that you are familiar with the website or publication that you’re contacting
  • Ask for a response

As you get more practice, your pitch will improve. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. As you skills with the pitch improve, you’ll be able to land more work, and better-paying gigs,

Step 8: 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 have time to spare, 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.

Step 9: 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 website owners 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.

Step 10: 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’re 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’re willing to help promote the articles that you write.

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.

→ To learn more, check out Freelance Writing 101: Build a Successful Writing Career on Skillshare.

READ NEXT: 20 Ideas to Help You Land Your First Freelance Client

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