Freelance writing is one of the best jobs available today. It’s not surprising at all that it has seen renewed interest! It offers flexibility, good pay, and the freedom to express your creativity. And if you love writing, then you’ll never have to work a day of your life!
Knowing how to become a freelance writer can save you a lot of pain and wasted time. Many aspiring writers don’t know where to start, which is why I’ve prepared this step-by-step guide to freelance writing success.
I asked Ema Globyte. a freelance copywriter and UX writer, to share her advice, tips, and guidance on how to build a successful freelance writing career.
Ema started her own journey seven years ago and is now a full-time freelance writer, making over $70,000 a year. Let’s dig right in.
What You Need To Know Before Starting
Taking the first steps toward becoming a successful freelance writer is exciting, but before you get started, it is worth taking a few steps back to consider what you want to take out of it and what you can put into it.
Ask yourself the following questions before becoming a freelancer – and you’ll get a better sense of the direction you want to head in.
Full-Time or Part-Time?
While you can choose to do freelance writing as a side hustle, it is also perfectly possible to make it your full-time job. The approach you take will be different depending on the answer to this question.
Do keep in mind that there is nothing stopping you from doing this part-time than switching to full-time once you have a steady stream of clients. This approach can allow you to lower the risk associated with going freelance.
What is Your Skill Set?
If you’ve never written anything before, now is the perfect time to start. Everyone was once a beginner! Do keep in mind that writing skills improve over time and with effort. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be able to write well.
Also, consider what other skill sets you might need to become a successful writer. Basic SEO knowledge and an understanding of content marketing are both important as these can influence how you write.
When Do You Want to Start Earning Money?
As with any job, when you’re starting a new career, there’s a chance you won’t get paid much at the start. It’s how it is until you have a portfolio to back up how incredibly talented and experienced you are – so it’s a good thing to think about how soon you want to be able to make money from freelance writing.
If you don’t have other sources of income, you’ll want to start making money right away – which means you should give it all you got. If, on the other hand, this is a bit of an experiment and you also have other sources of income but are looking to move into freelance writing slowly, then you’ll know you don’t need to rush as much to make money.
How To Start Freelance Writing from Scratch
Here’s how to start out as a freelance writer, and build a career that allows you to work from anywhere:
- Step 1: Build a Library
- Step 2: Find Your Writing Space
- Step 3: Improve Your Writing
- Step 4: Get Your Name Out There
- Step 5: Build A Portfolio Website
- Step 6: Promote Yourself
Step 1: Build a Library
Good writing is the sum of many different things working together. Grammar, structure, flow, and vocabulary are some of the elements you need to understand to become a good writer.
While there are courses you can take online to improve your understanding of the language, there is a far easier (and way more fun) way to do so; reading.
One of the best ways to start out as a writer is to build a library of different books, making sure to include timeless classics as well as business books and everything in between. Take the time to read and absorb the words literary greats have penned. It will not only help you learn new things but improve your writing many times over.
Step 2: Find Your Writing Space
Writing can be quite a labor-intensive affair. Having the right environment in which to write can not only help you write better and faster but ultimately be more productive. One of the biggest perks of being a freelance writer is that you can work from anywhere (but this doesn’t mean that you should).
Take the time to experiment with different setups and locations to see which one you’re most comfortable in. Some like the bustle of coffee shops, and if this is something that inspires you, then you should go for it. Many other professional writers prefer to work from home, helping them keep their costs down while making it easier to divide their time as they see best.
If you decide to work from home, make sure you separate your working space from your living space. You can dedicate a corner in your apartment or a whole room – the important thing is to designate an area for your work as otherwise, it is going to be very difficult to concentrate and write.
If you don’t have the space required to work from home – or there are simply too many distractions – you might want to consider renting out shared office space. These usually come with monthly subscription plans and have the added benefit of offering the opportunity to mingle with other freelancers and entrepreneurs, some of which will be looking for content for their websites.
Step 3: Improve Your Writing
Improving your writing is a life-long journey as you learn to refine your style and build upon your experiences working on different projects with different clients. To help you speed up your progress, there are a number of different writing tools available that not only help you get the job done but do a better job of it.
Document Writing and Editing
There are many different solutions when it comes to writing software. You can use something generic like Google Docs or Microsoft Word. There are also other specialized solutions that offer a distraction-free writing environment. In some cases, clients will expect you to write according to their workflows, and in this sense, you need to maintain some sort of flexibility to keep the client happy.
Use Grammarly to Spell-Check
Grammarly comes in 2 versions; free and paid. If you have some experience writing, the free version should be more than enough. It finds common mistakes for you automatically as you are writing and suggests edits that you are free to accept or decline. If you need more help with writing, the Pro version also suggests stylistic improvements that can help you with writing in a clearer, more concise way.
Use Hemingway To Make Your Writing Stand Out
Hemingway takes its name from one of the greatest authors of the modern era, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway was known for his clean writing, which is exactly what this app helps you to do. If you’re hoping to build a successful writing career, then improving your writing daily is what you’ll want to do. Both Grammarly and Hemingway can help with that.
Step 4: Get Your Name Out There
When you’re starting out as a freelance writer, it’s important to write as much as you can – and to get your articles up on as many media platforms as possible. There are plenty of really great websites you can get published on and become a contributor to, and some are quite easy to start with. I’ve listed the best ones for new freelance writers below:
Start Writing on Medium
Medium is a publishing platform that allows you to build your portfolio. You can publish different articles on a wide range of subjects and can even make money from home as a ProBlogger by joining their partner program. It’s really excellent as, not only do you get to improve your copywriting and blogging skills as a new freelance writer, but you also may land freelance work doing so, because your articles will be visible to many potential clients.
Get Published on Thrive Global
Thrive Global is another excellent site that can help you get your name out there and create a portfolio that attracts new clients. Launched by the co-founder of The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, Thrive Global is a business focused on improving how people work, and feel at work.
You can become a Thrive Global contributor very easily – just sign up on their website and start submitting posts. There’s a chance that your article will get featured as one of the Top Stories, which means your articles could be read by millions – but even if you don’t make it to the Top Story page, your article will still be posted in the community section. You can write on any topic you like – from mental wellbeing to boosting productivity at work.
Start Your Own Blog
WordPress is a very flexible CMS (Content Management System) tool that allows you to build your own blog. You can install your own WordPress website or use one of the free accounts. Having your own website gives you more flexibility, but you need to nail your SEO to ensure customers can find you.
Step 5: Build a Portfolio Website
If you’re new to freelance writing and don’t have any client recommendations yet, building your writing portfolio can be a great way to showcase what you can do and attract potential clients.
Your writing clients want to see that you’ve done similar work to what they’re looking to commission and that you’re good at it. That’s exactly what a writing portfolio shows – and it’s one of the best ways to convince a potential client you’ve got what it takes to deliver the best results.
Take the time to understand what type of content you can and want to produce, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Write as much as you can on your computer then upload what you feel are the best examples of your work. Never be afraid of asking for opinions from friends and family – after all, content is written to be consumed by people just like them.
If you’re writing about a subject you have no experience in, make sure you take the time to research and learn about the topic you’re writing about. This will help you make sure the content is not only relevant but also useful for its target audience.
Once you’re happy with your writing samples, upload them to an appropriate platform. Earlier, I mentioned LinkedIn, WordPress, Medium, and Thrive Global, as some of the platforms you can use to get published – and there are plenty of platforms you can use to build a portfolio website. A few of these include Squarespace, Wix, and Journoportfolio.
This is not an exhaustive list. There are many other platforms you can use to showcase your work. Pick the one you’re most comfortable with and let yourself shine.
Step 6: Promote Yourself
From looking for your first client to looking for potential clients that can generate repeat business, promoting yourself and your freelance writing business should be at the top of your priority list.
Use Social Media To Build Your Reputation
Social Media can help you build your brand and online presence as well as reach out to potential customers. Use platforms like LinkedIn to build your professional reputation and connect with customers and industry insiders.
You can also publish articles to offer advice and showcase your writing skills as well as get testimonials for jobs well done.
How To Land Your First Gig As A Freelance Writer
Landing writing gigs is quite a skill in itself – and landing your first client can seem like a daunting task. While it may take some time, you have to trust that you will land your first writing gig (and many more after that).
The important thing with looking for freelance writing jobs is to do so strategically – especially when you’re just entering your freelance writing career.
You can decide to cast a wide net and see which channels work the best or you can try to specialize from the beginning, especially if you have a freelance writing niche in mind (for example, you have a lot of knowledge about a specific topic, like physics, the environment, personal finance, or anything else).
Freelancer platforms are another great way of landing your first client and many more clients after that. These platforms have the added benefit of being global, meaning you can get work from anywhere in the world.
Fiverr is one of the top platforms for finding freelance gigs for around the world. Sign up now for free!
One of the important things is to understand your value and ask for a fair price for the content you can produce. Some online platforms tend to attract content mills. These are the equivalent of writing sweatshops with content often being sub-par. Do not try to compete with them as it's a battle you will surely lose.
Job boards such as Craigslist and ProBlogger can include writing jobs that you might want to consider. Just like when applying for a job, the more listings you apply to, the bigger your chance of landing a job.
To make the task of applying easier, work on a template that you can use to apply for advertised writing jobs. Professionals write a few different templates and then see which one gets the best response. This is called A/B testing. The one that works the best is, in turn, called the champion, and is used exclusively since it works the best.
Local businesses are also in need of content. Reach out to the local business community and see if there is any content work you can help them with. Use the fact that it’s a local business to your advantage, and don’t forget to research the company as well as the market before approaching them.
Finding Support As A Freelance Writer
Being a freelance writer can be quite lonely at times. From spending time alone writing to figuring out the administrative side of freelancing, being a freelance writer is very different than working for a company where you have teams of specialized professionals taking care of the different sides of the business.
While making it on your own is part and parcel of freelance writing, it does not mean that you cannot get support. It is very likely that you’re not the only freelance writer in your area, and other writers are probably facing the same challenges as you are – which creates opportunities for support.
Find out where local writers hang out. Art events, the theatre, and good coffee shops are all good places to start from. Get involved in the local scene and network like crazy.
You should also be able to find other business support groups such as Toastmasters and BNI. Such groups are attended by professionals, and getting people to know who you are is an important aspect of fostering productive business relationships.
Choosing Your Niche
While it might seem counterproductive, specializing in a specific niche can help you earn more money. Choosing your writing niche does not mean that you have to give up jobs that do not fall within your category, but it does mean that you promote yourself as a writer in that niche first and foremost.
Just like every other industry on the planet, specialists get paid more for every hour work they do then generalists. Now, being a generalist is a good way to start as you can get work in when you haven’t established yourself yet and, at the same time being to explore what type of content you enjoy doing the most. This allows you to produce your best work.
Selecting your niche requires a bit of work. You need to understand what you are good at as well as what the market needs. If you manage to find a balance between the two, you’ve probably hit a sweet spot. Be also mindful of the competition as some areas can be very saturated, making it difficult to get to the top. This doesn’t mean you should give up! On the contrary, it means to you to double down on your efforts and be prepared for some hard work that is also highly rewarding.
Getting Better Clients
Better clients provide you with interesting work and are willing to pay higher rates. This can become easier as your writing skills improve, and your expertise runs deeper in the niche of your choice.
To help you improve, look for style guides such as Chicago and AP (Associated Press). Many other publishers, like The Economist, also publish their style guides. These can give you insights into how major publishers write their content. This can help you elevate your content to new levels while writing for different niches.
The other important thing is to keep writing. If you’re going through a dry spell, write for your own blog or reach out to other bloggers and ask if you can write a guest post. You might also want to consider sitting for a writing course to help you turn your hard work into success.
Is Freelance Writing For You?
So, there you have it. Everything you need to know on how to become a freelance writer, which I hope will help you get started.
The beginning will be the toughest part of the journey – but don’t let this discourage you. You may have to deal with some rejection and unanswered emails at first – but you have to keep going! Keep applying for writing gigs, polishing your resume, and building your portfolio with the help of sites like Medium, Thrive Global, and your own blog.
The truth is all freelance writers had to struggle in the beginning. If it were too easy to become a freelance writer, everyone would be writing from the beach, and there would be no opportunities left for you. Instead, see it as a test of your will to make freelance writing your job.
Another important thing to remember is to recognize that there’s always room for improvement. Understanding this will help you stay at the top of the game and keep you ahead of the curve and your competition.
I would also like to point out that there are many tools available that can help you become a successful writer. From the tools we mentioned in this very article to platforms such as Contently, leveraging what is available around you (in most cases for free) can provide you with the boost you need.
The very last concluding remark I would like to make is to encourage you to enjoy writing. Writing is a process that can be very fun once you learn to appreciate it. It can get frustrating at times, sure, but if you feel that its what you want to do, stick with it, and soon enough, you will learn that writing is not only a great way to make money, but it can also help you grow.