By Lisa Tanner, freelance writer and contributor to this blog
Back in 2015, my family was broke. We were deep in debt, well below the poverty line, and struggling to make ends meet. But I didn’t want to go back to the classroom as a teacher. I really enjoyed staying home and homeschooling our kids.
Desperate to find a way to stay home and help improve our financial situation, I started researching legitimate ways to earn money online. I stumbled across freelance writing. The more I researched, the more confident I became that I could do this.
So even though I was terrified to put myself out there, I launched my freelance writing business in July of 2015.
I’ve been making money for my writing every single month since then, while continuing to homeschool my large family. In fact, I’ve completely changed the financial outlook for our family. My writing business truly has changed my life!
And guess what? Writing can change your life too. There is room for your voice in the writing world.
If you’re interested in becoming a freelance writer, this post is for you. Keep reading to discover:
- What a freelance writer is
- Why companies hire freelancers
- What skills you need to succeed as a freelancer
- What else you need to get started as a freelance writer
- How to decide on your niche
- What a sample is and how you can create some
- What your rates should be
- Where to look for your first freelance writing gigs
- How to send a freelance writing pitch
- How to negotiate rates with a freelance writing client
- What to do after you get a gig
- How to deliver your content
- How to handle invoices and payments
- The art of scaling your business
It’s my goal that by the time you finish this post, you will have the information you need to start making money from freelance writing. Are you ready? Let’s go!
And if you’re ready to go deeper with your writing business, Sally and I have an incredible resource for you. In our Freelance Writing Success course, we walk through the steps you need with more detail. It gives you everything you need to become a confident writer. Click the image below to learn more.
1. What Exactly Is a Freelance Writer?
A writer is someone who writes. But what does it mean to freelance? Dictionary.com defines a freelancer as:
“A person who works as a writer, designer, performer, or the like, selling work or services by the hour, day, job, etc., rather than working on a regular salary basis for one employer.”
That means a freelance writer is someone who sells their writing services, but who is not employed by a single company. As a freelance writer, you will run your own business. You will be your own boss.
2. Why Do Companies Hire Freelancers?
Knowledge is power. In this case, understanding the why behind freelance writing can help you escape the scarcity mindset. There is plenty of freelance work out there for everyone, including you.
Here’s why… Did you know that there are over a billion websites online currently? Just think about the number for a second. A billion.
It’s crazy how many websites that is. Those websites?
They need content.
Now, every single website owner obviously isn’t hiring someone to write. But, many of them are. And, even if only one percent of websites hired someone to do their writing, that’s still 10 million sites looking for content.
Companies know that in today’s digital marketing world, fresh content is important. Having an active website can improve their bottom line.
But, not everyone in those companies can write well. Or want to write.
This means many companies outsource their writing. And while some will hire their own on-site writer as an employee, most won’t. They just want someone to write this content, without having to pay for health insurance or sick leave or anything else. So, they work with freelancers, like you.
There is so much opportunity out there, so tell yourself right now, “I can do this.”
3. What Skills Do You Need to Become a Freelance Writer?
If you are interested in becoming a freelance writer, there are some essential skills. To succeed as a writer, you need to:
- Enjoy writing. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t want to do it.
- Fluently speak the language you plan on writing in. In fact, many companies will only hire writers who are native speakers. The good news? Not all websites are written in English. There are sites from all around the world.
- Know how to write. If you can’t string your sentences together and have them sound good, you probably aren’t going to make it as a writer. You must have some talent for turning your words and ideas into written material.
- Be self-motivated. As a freelance writer, you won’t have a boss staring over your shoulders ensuring you get everything done. There’s no time card to punch. You must keep yourself motivated to do the work.
- Stick to Your Deadlines. Clients are counting on your content, so deliver it when you said you would.
- Be flexible. Flexibility is key to success as a freelance writer, especially if you’re trying to juggle your work and your family. You must be willing to take things in stride and change your plans if necessary.
- Have self-confidence. Putting yourself out there is hard. You need to be able to face rejection, push past your fears, and still believe that what you are doing matters. Your voice is special. Keep telling yourself that. And remember that if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will believe in you either.
What do you think? Do you have what it takes to be a freelance writer? If so, keep reading to learn what services you can offer.
4. What Else Do You Need to Get Started as a Freelance Writer?
You can start a freelance writing business without a lot of upfront investment. Here’s a list of what you must have:
- An internet connection
- A computer
How’s that for a bare minimum list? With those two things, you can launch your freelance writing business. As you grow, you can add:
- A writing website
- Courses to help you improve, like Sally’s Freelance Writing Success course
You don’t need a lot to start, so don’t let a lack of equipment stop you from starting your business.
5.How Do You Pick a Niche?
As a freelance writer, you can write about so many different topics. You can opt to write about anything and everything, or you can decide to niche down a bit. When you niche down, you are setting parameters on your business.
Instead of being a general freelance writer, you are going to focus on things related to your niche. You can niche down by the type of writing, or by the topic.
If you decide to nice by the type, you might say:
- I prefer writing blog posts.
- Writing technical manuals is my jam.
- Website copy that converts? I’ve got this!
- I want my work published in magazines around the country.
If you decide to niche by topic, you might say:
- I write about parenting.
- My favorite topics to write about are cars and junkyards.
- I am a food content writer.
- If you’re looking for a great educational writer, I’m the one you need.
You can also further narrow down your business by combining these. That might mean you:
- Write blog posts for junkyards
- Write for educational magazines
Do you have to niche down?
As a freelance writer, you do not have to niche down. In fact, I didn’t for my first year. I wrote about so many different topics. I think the exposure really helped me to figure out what I enjoyed and what I didn’t. So, don’t feel like you must rush out and pick a niche.
Feel free to take time to experiment and try new things.
How do you pick a niche?
Here’s a three-step process to picking a niche:
- Brainstorm your skills, experience, education, and passion
- Analyze your list
- Research your ideas
Take some time and brainstorm all the possibilities. What would you enjoy writing about? Write down as many different topics that come to mind. If you get stuck, ask yourself:
- What do I know a lot about?
- What topics do I want to learn more about?
- When my friends ask for help, what do they ask about?
- What am I passionate about?
- What skills and experience do I have that I enjoy?
Continue writing until you can’t think of anymore possibilities.
Read over your list. Does anything stand out and make you smile? Circle those. Rewrite your list to include all circled options.
Ready for a truth bomb? Not all writing pays the same.
There is not nearly as much demand for people to write about underwater basket weaving as there is for someone to write about parenting children.
Before you settle down with a niche or two, take time to do some research. Do a Google search for “my niche + write for us.” See what you can find.
If you can easily find paid opportunities, go for it. If not, consider selecting another niche or two.
For more information on selecting a niche, please read this post:
Not sure what your passion is? Use Sally’s Passion Workbook to help you unlock your full potential. You can access this (and several other valuable resources) for free. Click the banner below to learn how to discover your passion.
6. How Do You Get Samples?
Potential clients want to see your work before they hire you. Samples give them a sense of your voice, style, and tone. They can help clients see if you’d be a good fit. But, how do you get samples before you get hired? You create them. Here are three common options:
- Write personal samples
- Submit a guest post
- Start a blog
Write Personal Samples
Do you want to write blog posts about training puppies? Sit down at the computer and write up some samples. Then you have something to show clients. Do this for each niche that you are interested in.
Submit a Guest Post
While personal samples can show your abilities, they do not have the credentials that a published post provide. When you have a guest post published, you are saying, “This other site liked my work enough to publish what I wrote.”
It’s like having a reference for your writing. There are many sites that accept guest posts. You can find them by doing a search for, “niche + accept guest post.”
This should pull up several sites that are possibilities for you. Remember to always read editorial guidelines. Get in the habit now of creating the content your clients want.
Start a Blog
If you are interested, you can start a blog. As you create regular content, you will have additional samples to use. Your blog can have a separate “Hire Me” page and contain your portfolio, where you showcase your best samples. Your blog can even bring in another stream of income if you decide to monetize.
Where to Keep Writing Samples
As a freelance writer, you need a portfolio. If you have a website, create a new page and have links to your best posts there. If you don’t have your own website, consider starting a free portfolio page at a site like Contently.
7. How Should You Set Your Rates
Freelance writing rates are all over the board. There are content mills that pay a penny or less for each word. Then there are magazines that pay several dollars for each word. Plus, there’s tons in between those extremes.
You need to set a rate that you are comfortable with, and that you can find clients willing to pay. My very first writing assignment was $0.0166/word. That means for every word I wrote, I made a penny and a little bit. That rate is super low, and I would never accept it now.
But, when you are first starting out, you may consider taking lower paying gigs to build your confidence and expand your portfolio. After you get a bit of experience, you can slowly raise your rates. A rate of $0.10/word is a good number to aim for.
For more information on picking a rate, please read this post:
8. Where Do You Look for Your Freelance Writing Gigs?
Now that you have a basic foundation established for your business, it’s time to look for freelance writing gigs. When you first start looking, you may not feel confident or prepared. But take a deep breath, you can do this. Here are three great places to look for beginning freelance writing jobs:
- Job Boards
- Facebook Groups
When you’re ready to search for gigs, here’s a little more information about each.
1. Free Job Boards
Job boards often have a variety of writing gigs. My very first writing job came from the ProBlogger job board. My latest one did too. I still frequently check it out. I like that it’s free.
You can also check FreelanceWritingJobs.com and WeWorkRemotely to find jobs. We Work Remotely doesn’t specialize in freelance writing jobs, but they do have a writing section, so just check the headings and scroll to the appropriate place.
Job boards get new listings often, so make it a point to check back several times each week. You can put a reminder on your phone or calendar to help you remember, at least until you form a habit.
If you don’t mind sorting through some scammy ads, you can find writing jobs on Craigslist. There are more freelance writing gigs posted in the major cities (i.e.: Los Angeles, New York, Boston).
Instead of looking in the “Jobs” section on Craigslist, go to the “Gigs” section. From there you can select writing gigs and see what is available. Read each posting carefully. Always remember, if it seems too good to be true, it is. Never reveal too much personal information if your gut is telling you it’s a scam.
3. Facebook Groups
You can find great freelance writing opportunities with people you have built relationships with inside of Facebook Groups. Take time to join and participate in groups where your ideal clients hang out.
But, don’t just pitch your services and walk away. You will just look like an ad and people will ignore you. Instead, answer questions. Participate in threads. Get your name out there as someone who knows what they are talking about.
You can also join writing-based groups. Often people who have too much work post job opportunities inside. If you’re quick to respond, you can often land a gig without as much competition as you find in other places.
For more ideas, Sally has a post on two overlooked places to find Freelance Writing Jobs for Beginners.
9. How to Send a Freelance Writing Pitch
When you find a job you think you’re ready to apply for, it’s time to send a pitch. That’s what it is called when you apply to a freelance writing gig. My first pitch wasn’t beautiful. But I landed the gig and made a bit of money. Most importantly, it helped me gain confidence. Here’s what your pitch needs:
To briefly explain why you’re the best writer for the job.
That’s it. Your goal is to show why this client should select you and not another candidate. Let your voice shine through. Here are some tips to help you send your first one:
- Follow the directions to a T – read the gig carefully all the way through
- Double check your spelling and grammar
- Explain briefly why you are a great fit
- Use language from the job listing (if they ask for excellent communication skills, mention those)
- Be professional in tone and never lie
- Select gigs you are confident in at first
You might get butterflies in your stomach. You might be really nervous. But take a deep breath, make sure you spelled the recipient’s name correctly, and hit send. Push past the fear. It will be okay, even if they say no. Just keep pitching.
10. How to Negotiate Rates with a Freelance Writing Client
Hearing back from a prospective client is so exciting. And when you do, it’s often time to negotiate rates. There are five things you need to do during this stage:
- Be Confident
- Know Your Minimum Rate
- Start High
- Learn the Details
- Focus on Value Instead of Cost
Let’s dive in.
1. Be Confident
Don’t sound wishy-washy when communicating with clients. You can do this. So, take a moment to reread anything you write and make sure your language doesn’t imply that you are so eager for work that you will do anything. You are going to create wonderful content. Breathe. And then change any wording you need to so it sounds confident.
2. Know Your Minimum Rate
When you set your rates, always have a minimum. Know what you need to make to have the gig be worth your time. Once you have your beginning minimum rate, don’t go below it. If you don’t get the gig, you can use the time to look for other opportunities instead. That way you don’t burn yourself out writing content for pennies.
3. Start with a Higher Rate in Your Negotiations
I encourage you not to start at your bottom-line rate when emailing clients. Bump it up just a little bit. That way if the client comes back and asks you to consider a lower rate, you can still ensure you can list your minimum rate. You never know, you may end up with work at your higher rate. But if you never ask, you never will. So, start a little high and see what happens.
4. Learn the Details
Price isn’t the only detail you need to work out. You must find out:
- When the post is due
- How long it needs to be
- The style guide to reference
- How you should submit the post
- What extras are needed (like images or social media quotes)
That bottom one? Those are upsells. You can charge additional information for them, as they take another responsibility off the client’s plate. If you wind up with a price you don’t love, see if you can flex these other details. Can it be shorter? Or not rushed? The goal of negotiations is for both of you to be happy with the arrangement.
5. Focus on the Value
You are providing a valuable service for your client. Blog posts can live online for years. They can continue driving traffic long after they’re published. And by creating content their audience will enjoy, you can help them make more money. Don’t focus on the cost now, emphasize the value in what you provide.
For more information about each step, read Sally’s post How to Negotiate A High-Paying Freelance Writing Gig.
You can also read about how Sally landed a $1,500 writing client her first month as a freelancer.
11. What to Do After You Get the Gig
Once you land a freelance writing gig, it’s time to do some writing. Make sure you gathered the details in the previous step, so you know what your client expects.
If your client has existing content, take time to check it out. That way you create content that’s a good fit in terms of style and format.
Start by making an outline. Decide what the point of your content is and walk readers through it step-by-step.
From your outline, begin fleshing out the details. Add internal links if possible, and an external link or two to a high-quality site.
Then move through the writing process the rest of the way. Take time to revise and edit. Always proofread your work.
- Does this piece reflect the topic?
- Does it avoid rabbit trails?
- Did the readers learn what your headline told them they would?
Now it’s time to check your word count. Do you need to add more information?
See which sections of your post you can beef up with legitimate (no fluff) information.
Here are two resources you can use to help you create content your clients will love:
12. How to Deliver Your Content
There are different ways to deliver your finished content to your client. Here are three common ones:
- Microsoft Word Doc
- Google Doc
- Upload to WordPress
Make sure you find out what your client wants.
1. Microsoft Word Doc
Take a minute to run spell check. Then, email your document to your client. Remember to attach it. Double check. And then open the attachment from your email. I recently attached the wrong version of a client post, and that was embarrassing. Thankfully my client was gracious, and I was able to quickly fix the error, but now I always open my attachments before hitting send.
2. Google Doc
When sharing a Google Doc, make sure you give your client editing privileges. You do that from the Share screen. Here’s what you need to change:
Then you can send the link in an email.
3. Upload to WordPress
If you aren’t familiar with WordPress, don’t agree to send work this way. Take time to learn your way around the backend first. That way you can confidently upload your document and ensure it is formatted properly.
Often you will not be able to add images as a contributor. Only the admin account can do that, unless specific privileges have been given. When you’re done writing, hit the “Submit for Review” button.
No matter how you deliver it, submit quality work. Your goal is to have your client like your work so much they ask you to create more. The less you have to go searching for new work, the more time you can spend actually writing.
13. How to Get Paid for Your Writing
As a freelancer, you aren’t an employee. Money isn’t going to magically show up in your account every other Friday via direct deposit. Instead, you need to send an invoice when it’s time to get paid. You need to stay on top of your paperwork, so you remember to send the invoices.
Always ask your client what their invoicing system is. Some have specific forms they use. Others need it to go to the bookkeeping department and not directly to them. So please ask about this.
I use Wave for all my invoicing. I love that I can:
- Customize my invoice
- Include my logo
- Have clients pay via ACH deposit or credit card
- Save client information to make the process easy
- Send directly through Wave or download a PDF to send myself
- Send payment reminders (if necessary, I haven’t had to try out this feature yet thankfully)
And best of all, it’s free!
There are other invoicing systems out there though. For instance, you can invoice through PayPal. You can even just create an invoice in Word and send it. Find something you are comfortable with and stick with it.
No matter what system you use, always make sure your invoice includes:
- Your name and business contact information
- Your client’s name and contact information
- A date
- A due date
- Details about what you’re invoicing for
- Instructions for payment
Getting paid is one of the best parts about becoming a freelance writer, so don’t skip this step.
14. How to Scale Your Business
Are you enjoying freelancing? Do you want to ramp up your income? It’s time to scale. Freelancing can be a feast or famine type of work. That’s because when you get busy writing, you don’t take time to apply for more work. It can feel like a never-ending cycle.
My best advice is to always make pitching an important part of your business. You need to market and get your name out there. In addition to continuing to pitch new gigs, here are some steps you can take to scale your business:
- Look for clients that need regular work
- Add additional services
- Increase your rates
- Diversify your income
Let’s look briefly at each one.
Look for Client That Need Regular Work
Clients who need regular work from you are a good thing. You can build their content into your schedule and know that you can get this done. Of course, client work may end. Sites shut down. Budgets change. So never put all your eggs in one basket. Otherwise when that basket breaks, you are out of luck.
Add Additional Services
If you’re writing blog posts, what other services can you add?
You can learn how to create social media content. Or images. You can write white papers.
Can you add formatting and scheduling the post for publication to your services?
You might decide to offer Virtual Assistant services.
Don’t feel limited. You are your own boss so explore new possibilities. You might discover an even greater passion based on a one-time project you tackle.
Are You Ready to Become a Freelance Writer?
Is it time for you to launch your own business as a freelance writer? This post gave you practical steps to follow.
If you’re ready for more help as you start this journey, Sally and I have an incredible resource for you. In our Freelance Writing Success course, we walk through the steps you need with more detail. It gives you everything you need to become a confident writer. Click the image below to learn more.