Secretly aspire to make a living like Carrie Bradshaw? It can be done
Whether you’re in between jobs and looking for extra income, or you’re a stay-at-home parent needing flexibility, freelance writing may be the job for you.
I’ve been a freelance writer for nearly 15 years, mostly part-time, until a year ago when I made the leap from 9-5 to freelance writing full-time. Since then, I’ve never looked back.
Here’s why—I love what I do. Freelance writing gives me the opportunity to work with multiple clients in various industries. Every day I juggle new and interesting projects, so I never get bored. And, simply put, I enjoy writing.
I'll be honest--it isn't always easy. Freelance writing includes a lot of research, project management, and back-and-forth communication with clients. But at the end of the day, I love creating fascinating content that helps businesses grow and informs people.
Wondering how to become a freelance writer yourself? If so, I want to help you start a freelance writing business with this step-by-step guide. If you don’t have a journalism or English degree, don’t sweat it. Great writing is the result of natural talent, dedication, and practice.
All you need is a knack for the written word, the desire to improve, and a plan.
Luckily, we've got one ready for you. Ready to take the first step? Let's get started!
If you're thinking about starting your own freelance writing business, then you may have an idea of what type of industry you'd like to focus on and what type of content you plan to write.
You may plan to do freelance writing for the healthcare industry or hospitality industry, for example. Or maybe you think you'd like to focus on email marketing campaign content specifically or on longer form content, like white papers. For example, two industries I focus on are healthcare and insurance.
Whichever type of writing you're interested in, there's no better time to define your niche, or specialty, than the beginning of your journey. It's important to narrow down your area of expertise so that as you begin to grow your freelance writing business, potential clients see your wealth of knowledge on a topic or industry.
Tip: If you decide to name your business something related to your niche, that could help you stand out to potential clients. For example, "Hillary's Healthcare Writing Apothecary."
When you start gathering writing pieces (which we'll talk about in our next section), you may choose to write for industries or on subjects you don't have a passion for, just so you're able to have some type of sample to show.
The more assignments you get in a specific area, the easier it may be to sell your freelance writing services.
You may be confident you're a great writer, but hiring managers and editors want you to prove it. You could reach out to a potential client without having something to show them, but remember, your job is to make your client's job easier for them. So try to have some writing examples on hand to show them what you're capable of
To land your first writing gig, I'd recommend having 5 to 7 writing clips on hand. You can choose to make all of these writing examples one type of writing (like blog articles) or you can choose to provide your client a mix of writing samples (like a couple blog articles, some website copy, and email campaign messaging copy).
If you choose to provide different types and styles of writing, it's a good idea to have more than one of each, just to show variety.
You may be starting out in your writing career and haven’t written in-house for a company, and that's OK. It just means that you'll need to get creative--and since that's a big role in the job of a freelance writer, this is a great opportunity to cut your teeth.
You may need to create a few clips free of charge or for low pay. Remember, this is just to get your first portfolio started. Once you have samples ready, you can start charging a fair price.
To create your first writing samples:
Offer to write for a local business or non-profit. Ask your friends and family members if they need writing. Chances are, someone has a website to improve or needs a brochure on the cheap. You can start soft-pitching to people in your immediate circles right away. (We'll get to pitching pieces later on.)
Look at full time job listings. Is anyone in your identified niche hiring an entry level writer? Even though you're not interested in a full time opportunity (you want to be your own boss!), you could reach out and offer to work as a freelance writer for the company. This way, they can begin filling the need they have now and also take their time looking for the right person to join their team on a full time basis.
Write a guest post for an existing blog. What blogs do you read now? Consider reaching out to their owners to write a post. Pitch your idea in detail, making sure it resonates with the blog’s readers. If you feel at a loss for how to pitch, then don't worry! Keep a list of the blogs you're interested in contributing to and we'll cover pitching to editors and potential clients later on.
Help a busy freelancer. If you have a friend who’s a freelance writer, you’re in luck. Not only can you ask for mentoring, but you can also offer to help. Busy freelance writers sometimes subcontract work out to junior writers. Plus, they’ll give editorial direction and feedback to help you learn.
If you don't know anyone personally who is looking to subcontract out freelance writing work, then you can use your social media platforms to get the word out. Post on sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook to announce that you're hoping to help lighten the workload for another writer. You may be surprised at the responses you get.
Even if your pieces don't get too much engagement, I recommend taking the opportunity to post now and then anyway. You never know when a piece will get attention, and as a writer, one of the ways you get better is to keep writing. A bit more practice never hurts!
You may be able to transform one of your brochures into a white paper format. Do some research and see what you can create. If you decide to display your whitepaper on your site, you can note that you created the whitepaper based on another project.
This is the type of creativity and resourcefulness that clients look for in freelance writers!
The writing samples that you gather for potential clients will hopefully catch interest. If that's the case, then most clients will ask you about your rates. Some may even ask what your rates are upfront when they ask to see samples!
I get it--sometimes when you're starting out, it can be tough to decide how much you should charge. I know it was for me! I had no idea how to think about what I'd charge for my freelance writing. After all, it's not like freelance writing is a "typical" job (but that's why I love it).
It may take some time to see what type of rates work for you. When thinking about how to become a freelance writer, you might want to consider both hourly rates and project rates.
It took me a bit to figure out which of the two worked best for me, based on how I worked and how I'd schedule my writing time around other things in my life. That's another bonus of freelance writing--you don't have to be in a chair from 9-5!
And what works best for me now, didn't always work best when I first started out. It's okay to change your rates as you go along, as well as the structure of your offerings.
However you decide to price your freelance writing services, be sure to have a plan for getting paid from the get-go. We'll talk about why this is important further down in the article.
If you're like me, then when you think of insurance, you think about your car insurance or maybe your home owner's policy. But don't think that your freelance writing business isn't without risk. Getting business insurance for your freelance writing work can come in handy when you need it most.
Whether you’ve landed your first client or not, you need to protect your business early on. Think of the types of work you're doing. When it comes to legalities, words can hold a lot of weight. You may think that the content you're writing is harmless, but at the end of the day, the copy you're producing is in the name of the brand that hired you. And that means that if something goes wrong with your work, it could reflect badly on them.
As a self-employed individual, if the client thinks that something is wrong with the work you do for them, you're at risk of getting sued for things like negligence.
Say you're writing a whitepaper for a client in the healthcare industry. After turning in your assignment, your client accepts the content and you move on to the next project. But later, the client comes back, telling you that you cited the wrong medical study and now the hospital is losing a big donor; your client is suing you for negligence
You could've sworn you double checked all your sources and the client even accepted the work, but that doesn't mean you may get out of the lawsuit without legal fees and a damaged client relationship.
Having professional liability coverage could help to cover the legal bills--and I'll be blunt: legal bills add up quickly. There's a chance that especially when you're starting out, they could really put you in a hole that's hard to get out of. It only takes one accusation of copyright infringement or negligence to cause you to be out thousands of dollars.
Having a professional liability policy that helps you cover costs of some legal operations could also help to put you back in good (or better) graces with a difficult client.
I'll admit, back when I thought of how to become a freelance writer, having a professional liability insurance policy was the last thing I wanted to consider. I wanted to focus on all of the fun work like building my website and pitching new clients.
But trust me, business insurance coverage is kind of like an emergency room for your business. You don't really notice it's there, but when you need it, you're sure glad it exists.
Set yourself up for success by comparing quotes from top carriers to see what will work best for you.
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Your website is a digital first impression that potential clients will see, so you'll need a strong website to showcase your writing samples. Fortunately, you don’t need fancy design skills to create your first website. There are a ton of website builders that don't require code and will do the technical work for you.
Technical work aside though, there are some best practices for digital marketing that we suggest you follow when creating your freelance writing website. Here are some tips to follow:
Work prominent keywords into your page title, description, and content. You want to add phrases like, “freelance writer,” “freelance marketing writer for hire,” and “content writer.” If there's a specific niche or industry you want to target, then you can include keywords around that too. For example: "healthcare freelance writer."
Some of the website builders we mentioned above have built-in plugins that help you optimize for SEO, so keep an eye open for those. This can feel like tedious work at times, but remember, hiring managers use these terms to search for writers like you.
Remember, just like you're finding your footing, some clients may be new to hiring outside their business for help. Keep the conversation open and talk to them about what it would mean to work with you in the future.
Sometimes a CTA can lead to a form where visitors can fill out their information or schedule a meeting. Other times, it may just prompt them to send you an email. Check the website builder you're using and see what may make the most sense given your site's design and layout.
This is a lot of information, so if you're a bit overwhelmed, I wouldn't blame you. Feel free to download this PDF with 75 FREE website tips. Then you can go through it when you're ready.
Improve your website one step at a time. Download this guide for FREE!
What type of writing do you like to do? Some writers hone in on content marketing, which involves creating:
Other writers enjoy pitching to journalistic publications that inform, like a news outlet, rather than persuade, like editors working for specific brands.
Personally, I like to do a little of both. Whether you plan to write for brands, agencies, news outlets, or magazines, you’ll want to master “the pitch.” Like websites and digital marketing, there are best practices to follow when pitching, or selling your services, to a potential client.
Here are some best practices:
Remember that the knowledge you have on subjects doesn't need to be considered professional expertise. For example, if you have kids, you probably could write a good deal about parenting. The same thing goes for hobbies like running or cooking.
The great thing about being a freelance writer is that your laptop is your office. You aren't restricted to writing for companies, brands, and publications in your area--you can pitch to any company in the country. Think of all the freelance opportunities!
Tip: Get a Twitter account. You can sometimes find editors on Twitter by searching for the handle of the publication or with specific hashtags the company or brand has used in the past. Writers on Twitter are also generally pretty friendly--you never know who may know someone at the publication you want to pitch.
Grab the editor's attention ASAP. Write an email subject line that’ll convince the editor to open your email and read. Try to keep it under 65 characters. This is actually your first chance to show off your writing chops, so even if your specialty isn't email marketing copy, take your time crafting a good subject line.
Keep your pitch short and simple. Within your email, offer a headline idea, a brief description of the story, and why your article matters (i.e. why people would want to read it). If you can tie your idea to other popular articles the publication published, then that is a good idea.
Remember, you want to think with the publication's target audience in mind. Editors want to know why your story is valuable to their readers.
It's not a fun aspect of the job of a freelance writer, but unfortunately, sometimes one of the realities is that not every client will pay you on time
I know. It's a huge pain in the you-know-what. But don't worry, there are ways you can be prepared.
The second, is to have a plan for follow up if they're late on payments.
Fingers crossed, this isn't something you'll have to worry about, but I'm here to prepare you for the (sometimes unfortunate) realities of being a freelance writer.
You have writing samples. You built a website. You sent out your first pitch. So, what’s the next step? While you wait for editors to respond, try to improve your writing. If you have a friend or family member who is a successful writer, ask for honest feedback. If not, now’s the time to connect with other writers.
Join a community of freelancers. You can easily find groups on Facebook, via Twitter, Meetup, or LinkedIn;. If you don’t see a group, start one. Chances are, you’re not the only ambitious writer in your area who’s also looking for feedback.
Once you find your group of peers, ask them for feedback on your writing. Now, listen carefully, here’s the true key to success—actually take the feedback. Over the years, I’ve worked with tough editors and I’m thankful for those experiences.
These grueling writers helped shape my work into what it is today. As you receive feedback, stay humble and open to learning. Not only is it the best way to improve, but it’s also practice for working with clients who will inevitably give you feedback on your work (which is a good thing--you want to know what they think).
Improving your writing is a lifelong journey. These 8 steps on how to become a freelance writer should get to get you off on the right foot. They'll be a strong foundation to get you started and help you earn some cash along the way.
Remember, writing can pay the bills. The more you market yourself and pitch ideas, the more you’ll earn. If you have other questions about growing or protecting your business along the way, we'll be here.
You got this!
I earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (go Bucky). After realizing my first job might involve carrying a police scanner at 2 am in pursuit of “newsworthy” crimes, I decided I was better suited for freelance blogging and marketing writing. Since 2010, I’ve owned my freelance writing business, EST Creative. When I’m not penning, doodling ideas, or chatting with clients, you’ll find me hiking with my husband, baby boy, and 2 mischievous mutts.
This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer
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