If you have a love for putting pen to paper, or fingers to keys as the case so often is these days, a career as a freelance writer could be for you.
Before getting started
You do not need formal training, to take a course or read a book to become a freelance writer. All you need is a firm grasp of language, spelling, and grammar. This does not necessarily mean the English language. You can become a freelance writer in almost any language known to man. However, your spelling and grammar should be incredibly precise in whichever language you choose.
You should also have the desire to be a storyteller and to share information, as that is what a writer sets out to do. You don’t need to be a novelist or want to create great works of fiction, but at its core, any writing is the ability to tell a story well.
What is a freelance writer?
So what is a freelance writer? Well, anywhere you see written words, they could’ve been written by a freelance writer. Freelance simply means you don’t work in-house for any one company. These days being a writer doesn’t equal getting published in magazines or attempting to be the next George R R Martin.
In fact, even the words used to describe products on an online site could have been specifically crafted by a freelance writer. Here are some example of content you can create as a freelancer:
- Content marketing
- Product captions
- Social media captions
- Long-form sales copy
- EDMs (email)
- Sales funnel/drip campaigns
- Real estate listings
- Web copy/landing page copy
- Ad copy
- Case studies/white papers
- Press releases
Six steps to become a freelance writer
Select a niche
This can be a niche content type or a niche topic. Or both. As we have mentioned many times before, selecting a niche is very important. Casting a wide net will most likely not garner more work. In fact, those who claim to be an expert in many fields often come across disingenuous.
This isn’t to say you can’t have a few areas of expertise or a few styles of writing that you exceed at. But different types of writing require different skill sets. For example, writing captivating and convincing long-form sales copy is very different to crafting the 25 characters of Facebook text and a video ad headline to get a customer to click through. And though similar techniques could be applied, writing email marketing campaigns for a beauty product is vastly different to those for B2B tech companies.
Create a blog or website
Unless you have an in-depth writing career that spans decades, you need to be visible online. Regardless of how you feel about various social networks or search engines and the way they gather data if you want to make money as a freelance writer, people need to be able to find you. Without accidentally stumbling upon your business card, they will be searching for you on the internet.
A blog or website is the best way to do this and these days these are incredibly easy to set up, even without much technical knowledge.
Keep the URL as simple as possible, as this will help you appear on the first SERP (search engine results page). If you are trading as your own name, simply ‘www.YourNameFreelanceWriter.com’ would be best, if available.
On your website, you can sell your skills and services. This doesn’t necessarily mean listing your rates, though you are welcome to if you have these set. Explain your passion for your niche and provide straightforward contact information.
You can also use your website to showcase your previous work.
Create a portfolio or writing samples
Every writer needs to be able to demonstrate to new clients their style. Your writing style won’t suit everybody and that’s a good thing, because it means you can do your best work for those who it does. Having a portfolio or examples of your writing readily available for potential clients to peruse will quickly weed out those who you are not a good candidate for. This saves time for everyone.
Creating a portfolio also means you don’t have to waste time trying to collate your previous work when someone asks for examples in a specific area. It’s all on hand and presented in a convenient way. Potential clients prefer a prompt and professional response.
If you are a beginner in the field and don’t have anything published to demonstrate your work, that’s fine. You can still create writing samples. These are examples of your work that highlight your niches, skill level and writing style. It is important to state these are writing samples and not fabricate work for real brands without their permission to do so.
However, if you do create writing samples for a brand (without publishing them) you could reach out to the company and pitch your content or ideas.
Once you become a freelance writer the pitching never stops. This is where you reach out to clients to show your interest in their available positions or demonstrate how you think your work could benefit them.
If you are pitching cold, i.e. you have never worked with this company before, it is vital that the core message of your pitch is what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. Show them you understand their business or their audience. Keep in mind it may not be well received if you simply highlight to a business all the things you think they are doing wrong. Lead with positivity.
You can also position yourself on job boards, explaining your passions and skill set as a type of broad pitching.
Job boards are a good place to be visible to prospective new clients. They act as a virtual recruitment agency, bringing together freelancers seeking work and companies seeking freelancers.
It’s important to source professional job boards. Though those that are popular may seem like the market is saturated, there is still an opportunity for everyone to succeed. There are job boards out there that are less than professional and can exploit your information in various ways without actually providing any legitimate work in return.
Another space to be wary of is ‘content mills.’ Content mills are sites that appear to be giving work opportunities but their objective is to pump out high volumes of content at a minimal cost. This is not only disenfranchising to writers but it undermines the industry. Churning out masses of low-quality writing at below reasonable wages sets poor expectations for clients and pollutes the online sphere with unnecessary white noise.
Always strive to produce high-quality, valuable writing and research industry standards for pricing.
Happy clients are your best advocates. When you work with someone who loves what you’ve created, don’t hesitate to ask for a testimonial. Placing testimonials on your website (preferably a few on the home page) and even on suitable social media channels shows potential clients that it’s not just you who thinks you’re a great writer, others do too.
People are far more likely to be swayed by the opinions of others, particularly ones they know but also those they don’t. Use this to your advantage and let your testimonials become word-of-mouth marketing for you.
Recommended online platforms for freelance writers
There are many useful platforms to be aware of as a freelance writer. Some are purely sources of information and can keep you informed of occurrences in the industry. Others are areas you can source work or gain an understanding of what people are looking for in your industry.
- BloggingPro – Blogging software news and tips how to blog as a professional that also has a job board updated regularly
- The Writer Finder– SEO-focused content marketing agency always looking for writers in any niche
- Make a living writing – Practical help for freelance writers
- Creative Revolt – Offers tutorials, blog posts and free courses on content writing
- Inkwell Editorial – Hub of writing advice
- FreelancerFAQs – Excellent blogs about the industry and how to succeed
- Be a Freelance Blogger – eBooks, blogs and other industry resources as well as a downloadable list of publications that pay for written contributions
- The Write Life – Practical advice about freelancing and publishing from a range of successful freelancers
- Content Marketing Institute – Large agencies that are looking for freelance writers
- Freelance Writers Den – Community that hosts writing events, courses and resources as well as discussion forums
- Problogger – Over 8,000 posts with blogging advice, tips, in-depth tutorials and a job board
- Textbroker- Job board with 10,000 content requests per month
- Freelance Writing – Job board, writing resources, and writing competitions to help boost experience
- Who Pays Writers? – Current rates publications are paying for content to help understand industry standards
- Social media – There are so many ways to source work on social media. We don’t just mean posting to your personal profiles, though if you have a good network this can work. Set up professional profiles and utilize the platforms where your ideal clients might be. If you want to be an Instagram caption writer, create a professional Instagram profile showcasing your skills.
Some other platforms, including these, are good places to get started. Keep an eye out for low rates and be sure to value yourself, your time and your work appropriately.
Recommended tools for freelance writers
- Editing – Grammarly or Hemingway
- Copyright-free image sourcing – Unsplash or Pexels
- Image editing tools – Lightroom or Pixlr X
- Learn SEO – Moz or Neil Patel
- Communications – Slack or Microsoft Teams
- Task management – ClickUp, Asana or Trello
- Getting paid by overseas clients – TransferWise borderless account
- Multi-user document editing – Google Docs
- Understanding Facebook and Instagram advertising – Facebook Blueprint
Final tips to become a freelance writer
Writing can often be a space where it’s challenging to find tangible goals. However, both lofty and small scale goals are important to help carve out the writing path you hope to take. If you want to one day write for Vogue, you should work back from that goal to establish how you can get there.
For others, it may mean writing one personal blog post a week to keep consistently creating. Or to find ongoing, paying clients. Whatever it is, it’s important to set those out on paper and give yourself a timeline too. This changes mere ambitions into actual goals.
Have a routine
When you’re new to freelancing, it can be challenging to get into a routine. This is very important to establish, as it can be easy to allow all your ‘free time’ to distract you from deadlines. You do not need for your routine to be a standard 9-5 schedule if that doesn’t work for you. Having said this, knowing what you need to achieve and when will alleviate stress from your process.
It’s smart to utilize one of the many available project management tools here to lay out your workload in front of you and place tasks into their calendar functions to keep yourself accountable. Some useful free tools for beginners include:
Work out what you’re willing to be paid
This is something all new freelance writers grapple with. There are so many ways to be paid: per project, per word, per total word count, per hour, per content style. What’s important is to find a rate you are comfortable with quoting to clients and sticking to.
Finding the ‘sweet spot’ can be challenging but if you price yourself too low, you’ll work yourself into burnout very quickly. If you price yourself too high, you may find you don’t win as many projects as you need to.
Do some research into industry standards and for others in your area of knowledge. Be aware that rates of pay vary vastly from country to country and through level of experience too.
Track your time
As a writer it’s very easy to lose track of time. Finding a time tracking app can be a very helpful way to highlight ways to be more efficient. If you quote two hours to a client to write 2000 words but repeatedly feel as though you’re running out of time… perhaps it takes you far longer than two hours.
When your plate is full, it’s easy to fall off track and stop pitching your ideas. After all, you’re already super busy. But unless all your time is full with ongoing monthly contracts, the current projects you’re working on will finish and you’ll be left scrambling.
Instead, set time aside in your calendar to pitch ideas or proactively seek out more projects with potential new clients. This simple step will stop you from feeling like you’re on a workload roller coaster all the time.
Do your research
It’s great that you’re a good writer. Storytelling is a vital skill, but for many types of freelance writers this needs to be backed up by thorough research.
Research your clients thoroughly, understand their voice and tone (they should be able to provide this to you too). You should then do thorough research on the topic you’ll be writing about. If you’re stating a fact, always link to the source. And fact check your sources against other research. In a world of misinformation don’t add to the noise. This will establish you as a great writer with your clients.
Always continue honing your writing craft
It doesn’t matter how good you think you are, there is always room for improvement. Even Shakespeare could have taken some pointers. Continue to learn new skills outside of your client work. There are plenty of courses and books you can indulge in but one of the best ways to develop is to read the work of others.
Seek out those in your same field who are achieving what you want to achieve, whether that’s dream clients, publications or those who have the writing style you aspire to. Consume as much of their work as you can and you will soon begin to understand their traits.
Freelance writing is a great career if you have a passion for words. There are so many avenues and options available to you, to find success in this industry.
Starting out as a freelancer can be hard, as there is so much freedom and some may find it overwhelming. But given the right tools and some dedication, freelance writing is very versatile and rewarding work.