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I’ve been freelance writing for a total of about 10 years now, but it’s been my full-time business for almost three years. You can read more about my journey to becoming a freelance writer or hop over to my business page to learn more about what I do every day.
If you love writing (and I mean love it – this isn’t a job you can do if you only like to write once in a while!) and want to start your own business, then starting a freelance writing career could be perfect for you. This freelance writing how-to will explain the basic steps toward launching your career!
What is Freelance Writing?
Freelance writing encompasses a lot of stuff, which is why you’ll get different explanations of the job from different people. To put it simply, freelance writers are paid writers who write for magazines, blogs, companies, etc. Freelance writers are self-employed, meaning they have their own business rather than work for a company as an employee.
Successful freelancers spread their wings to work with multiple clients at a time, rather than putting all their eggs in one basket, so to speak. This helps freelancers diversify their income and keep their finances steadier than they’d be if they work with just one client for a couple of months, stop, and then spend another month or two finding a new one.
Types of Freelance Writing
Freelance writers wear a whole lotta’ hats. I’m not kidding. That’s why you might find one writer call himself a content writer while another one coins herself a copywriter. They all can be freelance writers, but some identify more with a specific title than others.
For example, I call myself a lifestyle content writer. I write blogs, articles, newsletters, and marketing materials for entrepreneurs and businesses in various lifestyle industries, like home improvement and parenting.
That’s because there are so many forms of writing you might do as a freelancer, like:
- Ghostwriting: Writing on behalf of a person or company without your name (byline) attached.
- Blogging: Just as you’d blog for your own site, you can blog for other businesses and bloggers to help them increase traffic and engagement.
- Copywriting: Copywriting can encompass several forms of marketing materials, like landing pages, white papers, and brochures.
- SEO Writing: Writing SEO-optimized content for websites.
- Resume Writing: Creating well-formatted and detailed resumes to help work seekers land jobs.
- Journalism: Writing for magazines, newspapers, etc. Journalism usually requires good interviewing skills and a solid network of experts to tap into.
- Academic Writing: The ethics of academic writing is debatable, but it exists. With this type of writing, you’ll write essays and papers for students.
- Long-form Article Writing: This sometimes blends with blogging, depending on who you ask and what sites you write for. Long-form articles, though, are typically 2,000 or more words in length and cover a topic in depth, while blogs tend to be shorter and more concise.
- Content Strategy: In addition to writing content, you might help clients with their content strategy, such as placing content on other blogs (guest blogging) or creating an editorial calendar for pumping out consistent content.
- Video Script Writing: Writing the scripts people will use for videos on their sites, social media pages, or YouTube.
- Speech Writing: Forming speeches for professional speakers, lawyers, and other professionals.
- Grant Writing: Grant writing can be one of the best-paying types of freelance writing because it uses a special set of skills to help non-profits and other organizations receive grants.
- Curriculum Writing: With educational experience, you can create a curriculum for students at any grade level.
Whew – that’s a lot, right? And that’s really only the beginning. If you can write it, there’s probably a market for it.
What Do You Need to Start a Freelance Writing Career?
One of the best things about being a freelance writer is it takes almost nothing to start your business (assuming you already have a computer/laptop and internet connection!).
You’ll have people tell you that you need some type of fancy degree to get started.
Get yourself set up with a PayPal account to get paid. Or, you can use the 100% FREE And.co, a service that lets you invoice clients and let them pay you securely to your bank account.
You’ll also want to get a professional email address for business use only. You can do this by using a free Gmail account (try to get something that just uses your name or your future business name – nix the weird characters and numbers), or you can get a custom Gmail address for $5 a month.
Building Your Freelance Writing Business
The first step in positioning yourself as a professional is setting your business up professionally. As a freelancer, you’re a business owner – congrats! But with that title also comes the responsibility of treating your business like a legit one.
Here’s how to get started with the business side of things:
Setting Up Your Business
Setting up my business as an actual business was one of the most confusing things for me when I started. People have different ideas of whether to keep your business a sole proprietorship or launch an LLC. Honestly, it all boils down to your goals for your business, such as keeping it a one-person show or potentially hiring employees in the future.
The best advice I can give is to do your research before you ever write your first paid piece of content. Look up the laws for businesses for your state and town (some towns may not even allow you to work out of your home). Review the common types of business structures. Run some figures to see how each one might affect you at tax time. And, most importantly, talk to a professional accountant for advice.
You can also use Incfile to help you get started. Incfile guides you toward the right business entity for you and your goals and helps you get it all filed in your state for as low as $49, plus your state’s filing fee.
Finding a Freelance Writing Niche
Ah, the dreaded ‘niche’. A niche is the writing focus you’ll have as a freelancer. It can be an industry (real estate or education), a target audience (marketing agencies or lawyers), or a type of content writing (copywriting or grant writing). It can also be a combination of any of the above.
Picking a niche seems to be one of the things new freelance writers dread the most when they’re starting out. For some reason, the process of narrowing their niche is daunting, confusing, and scary.
It doesn’t have to be though.
The thing about a niche is that it’s yours to choose. A niche is crucial to your success as a freelancer. Why? Because clients want an expert, not a generalist.
Don’t take that too literally, though. Your niche could be blog writing, for example. That’s super general, but also very targeted toward a specific group. Your clients might be business owners who are too busy to blog. That niche will help weed out clients who are looking for a newsletter writer.
No matter how broad or targeted your niche is, you need one. So start thinking of what you love to write about and who your ideal audience is. Those two factors will help you target your writing focus in no time.
Starting a Website and Social Media Accounts
Some freelance writers are totally successful without starting a website, while others swear by it. I didn’t have one when I first started my business, but I’ve seen the benefits of having one since I started mine.
Your website will act as your hub for potential clients to learn more about you, your services, and how you write. Basically, it’s like a portfolio that can also act as a sales funnel for landing clients. It should be professional, engaging, informative, and easy to navigate.
I personally recommend SiteGround for getting your business website up and running. I’ve been a SiteGround user for years now after using other website hosts with less-than-stellar results. I’ve never run into issues with downtime or slowness with SiteGround, and reliability is key when running a business.
SiteGround even has WordPress hosting plans specifically for users who want to work with a WordPress site (again, highly recommended!). These plans start at just $3.95 per month.
Social media accounts can be just as important as your website, not so much in the beginning, but eventually. Social media acts as social proof – proof of your experience and professionalism in your niche. Your pages can also help drive traffic to your website when you use them consistently.
Your social media accounts should reflect your name or business name (for example, my business name is my name, so my social media usernames are all amykboyington). Keeping everything consistent will help potential clients find you and remember your name!
Building Your Content and Guest Posting
Since you’re a writer, it’s necessary for you to showcase your writing skills on your website. There’s no room for silly errors and crappy writing if you want to prove your skills to potential clients.
A blog on your site can act as a portfolio of your writing skills. And, if you focus on blogging for clients, you can also prove that you know what you’re doing when it comes to blogging, from formatting a blog post to writing engaging content to practicing SEO optimization techniques.
Your blog can also drive traffic to your site, making your pool of potential clients broader! Posting awesome content relevant to your niche at least once weekly will build your content at a nice, steady pace.
You can also guest post on other blogs relevant to your niche. Guest posting is a great way to position yourself as an expert by writing about topics you’d want to write about for clients. Potential clients may see your work on a high-profile site and hop over to your page to hire you.
Plus, guest posting gives you even more published samples beyond your website to show to potential clients.
Writing Samples and Showcasing Your Work
In addition to your blog, you’ll eventually want a separate portfolio page to house your best work. You can place this page right on your website or use a portfolio building service, like JournoPortfolio, to do it for you.
The trick is to have super-relevant sample pieces that will impress clients. Your portfolio can be a good showcase for general pieces related to your niche. However, you might also want to tailor some sample pieces to each client you pitch.
For example, you might write in the health industry and have a published piece about the downside of fad diets. A client who runs created a meal plan based on whole foods approaches you with potential work. You might consider writing a more targeted sample that explains why a lifestyle change using whole foods is more effective for long-term weight loss than a fad diet.
You won’t need to create a sample for every client (in fact, I recommend not writing for free!), but building up a foundation of solid samples will eventually keep a steady stream of clients coming to you.
Finding Freelance Writing Jobs for Beginners
As a beginner, there are a lot of ways for you to find your first freelance writing gig. The only thing I’ll tell you to stay away from is a content mill. Places like iWriter and Crowd Content won’t pay you what you deserve because there are middlemen involved. Writers do the work and the content mill takes a chunk out of their earnings because they landed the client.
It’s easy to get tempted as a beginner when you don’t yet know your worth. But, trust me, a little time and effort will get you high-paying gigs without needing to resort to content mills.
Here’s where to go instead:
A lot of freelancers will tell you “Don’t EVER use a freelance marketplace!! Upwork is the DEVIL!!”.
And my reaction is this: These people either are following the crowd or haven’t taken the time to learn how to use the platform the right way.
I don’t normally recommend other freelance marketplaces like Freelancer or Guru because there are, unfortunately, a lot of scams on those sites.
Upwork, however, is one I’ve worked with for three years now and have had incredible success with. No, it’s not perfect. There are plenty of crappy clients. Sometimes, it does seem like you’re digging through a pile of garbage just to find that one diamond. It’s all true.
But Upwork does take a lot of steps to weed out the crap and keep the good clients and freelancers working with each other.
It took me only a couple of months to become a Top-Rated Freelancer on the platform, which has led to more clients sending me invites and less time I have to spend searching through relevant gigs. Some invites are still crap, but some have led to lucrative, ongoing jobs.
When I have space open in my schedule, I do occasionally search for gigs using several filters to weed out anything that’s below my standards. For example, I look only for clients looking for writers with experience in my industry and are willing to pay expert rates. Depending on the type of work I’m looking for, I’ll also narrow the results with keywords, like “white paper” or “blogger”.
The keys to winning on Upwork are optimizing your freelancer profile and sending out amazing proposals clients can’t ignore. Your profile is where you’ll set your hourly rate, tell clients what you do, and win them over with your knowledge. The proposal is where you’ll explain what you can do for the client and answer any questions the client asks in the listing. Both work together to win YOU the job over the sea of writers who apply.
Freelance Writing Job Boards
Another way to find writing jobs without seeking out your own clients is to use job boards specifically for these gigs. Everyone posting jobs on the boards are looking for writers, so you already know they have an interest in what you do. It’s only your job to win them over so they choose you.
Here are some freelance writer job boards I love:
You can also use regular job search sites to find writing jobs using some keywords in your search. I’ve found several on Indeed and Snag-A-Job. Make sure you search for ‘Remote’ or ‘Home-Based’ in the location section.
Freelance Writing Facebook Groups/Networks
Facebook groups can be amazing places to network with other writers and potential clients! I’m a member of several Facebook groups for freelance writers and have connected with some great clients through them.
Some groups don’t allow clients to post jobs while others do. This should all be outlined in the rules that you can read before you join.
Even if the group doesn’t allow job postings, it could still be a good idea to join simply for networking. Sometimes, writers will have an overflow of work to outsource to other writers. They often turn to their trusted network of writers in these groups to find help (I’ve done it myself!).
You can also join other freelance writer groups on LinkedIn, or look for in-person networking opportunities near you.
Cold pitching scares the crap out of many freelance writers because it’s a whole lot of putting yourself out there and not guaranteeing results. But, it’s also probably the most effective way to land your own clients. You know, like that dental office you’ve been dying to write for.
Other methods of getting freelance writing jobs leave the client as the driver and you, the passenger. If you want to turn the tables and put yourself in control, you cold pitch.
Cold pitching refers to the process of reaching out to your ideal clients to offer your services. You can do this over social media, email, phone calls, or even in person. I prefer cold emailing, but you can take the route you prefer.
Once you’ve chosen several businesses or people you want to contact, take time to research them. Visit their sites and social media pages to learn about their services, their mission, and their audience. You can then tailor every pitch you send to that client, rather than sending everyone the same pitch (clients will see right through that).
Cold pitching is totally a game of numbers. The more you send, the more results you’ll see. Don’t expect to send a pitch a day and get a bunch of new clients. Instead, set a goal to send anywhere from 10 to 50 pitches each week. If your pitches are spot-on (tailored to the client, focused on what you can do for the client, and include relevant samples), you should start getting responses.
Converting Clients with Your Website
Don’t forget about your website! You bought that thing (and spent several agonizing hours setting it up!) for a reason.
Once your website has a solid database of SEO-optimized content that you remember to promote, you should start seeing your traffic grow. That’s awesome because it means more clients will learn about you.
But you have to take the time to promote it and work on it, just like you do your client work. I set aside one day each week to make sure my business needs are being met, which usually ends up with me writing content for my business, whether it’s a new blog post, social media content, or an email newsletter.
Treat that website as your baby and keep nurturing it. It’ll eventually start to bring you clients without you needing to spend as much time on it. Whatever you do, don’t forget about it being a vital marketing tool for your biz.
Get Started as a Freelance Writer Today!
I’ve given you the basic information you’ll need to understand what a freelance writer does and how to begin a career in freelance writing. If you’re like me, though, you love digestible tools that can give you even more helpful info.
Get in on all the freelancing mama action by joining my Facebook group, The Freelance Motherhood, where I and other freelancing moms discuss landing clients, getting jobs, and parenting while doing it all.
When I started, I dug into books and online resources about freelancing. Some were helpful and others didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. The helpful ones, though, are ones I still recommend to this day to anyone looking to get started in this field.
One book I’d absolutely suggest to any freelance writer is the annual Writer’s Market, which gives an updated yearly list of professional writing markets, marketing tips, sample query and pitch letters, and more. It’s amazing.
If you’re looking for a supportive community with valuable resources about growing your writing career, you should check out the Freelance Writer’s Den by Carol Tice. Inside, you’ll find tons of information about pitching, landing clients, and finding jobs.
Carol also has this awesome Pitching 101 course to help you learn the ins and outs of cold pitching to get clients:
And, there’s also the incredible Write Your Way to Your First $1k course by the awesome Elna Cain. Here, she gives you the tools you need to make your first $1,000 as a freelance writer.
I came across Elna’s course after getting established as a freelancer, but I’ve had the opportunity to dig into it later and she offers some really solid advice for beginners.
I hope you’re ready to make the leap into freelance writing! I’m here to answer any questions you have, so feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me an email.