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 to 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 love creating fascinating content that helps businesses grow and informs people.
Can you relate? 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 and the desire to improve.
Still think freelance writing is for you? Then let’s get started!
You may be a great writer, but hiring managers want you to prove it. To land your first writing gig, try to have 5 to 7 writing clips on hand. If you’re just starting a writing career and haven’t written in-house for a company, 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 clips ready, you can start charging a fair price.
To create your first writing clips:
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.
Write a guest post for a 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.
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.
Sign up for Medium. Did you know there’s an online publishing platform where you can write about nearly any topic—and always get published? If your post is popular enough, you may get paid too. Tackle a few interesting topics on Medium and see what happens.
Create your own clips. Let’s say you already have a few marketing brochures under your belt, but need an example of a white paper. You may be able to transform one of your brochures into a white paper format. Do some research and see what you can create.
Whether you’ve landed your first client or not, you need to protect your business early on. As a self-employed individual, you’re especially at risk getting sued. A client could accuse you of publishing inaccurate information or other negligence that damaged their business.
Even if you did nothing wrong, you might need to defend yourself by hiring a lawyer.
At a minimum, you may need professional liability insurance policy to cover your business and your personal assets. It takes just one accusation of copyright infringement or negligence to cause you to be out thousands of dollars.
But if you get a professional liability insurance policy now, you’re protecting your business...so you're starting off on the right foot!
To land new clients, you need a strong website to showcase writing clips. Fortunately, you don’t need fancy design skills to create your first website. There are a ton of website builders that’ll do the technical work for you. All you have to do is create content and follow best practices for digital marketing.
A few tips:
Capitalize on keywords. 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.” Remember, hiring managers use these terms to search for writers like you.
Speak to your readers. Address your readers’ pain points up front. Maybe they’ve had a bad experience hiring a writer, or maybe they’re not sure how to hire someone. Speak to potential clients by addressing their concerns and reassuring them that you’re the right choice.
Include a call to action. People need to know how to find you. It’s important to add a form to your website where visitors can request clips or schedule a meeting.
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, rather than persuade. Personally, I like to do a little of both. If you’re keen on writing for news outlets and magazines too, you’ll want to master “the pitch.” Here’s how:
Find the right publication. Pitch to publications where you already have knowledge about a topic. For example, if you have kids, you know a lot about parenting. It’s the same thing with hobbies like running or cooking.
Investigate the names of editors. Heads up, this can take time and work, but once you build a list of names, you’re all set. Normally, you can find editors’ contact information on the publication’s website or on LinkedIn.
Be attention-grabbing. Write an email subject line that’ll convince the editor to open your email and read. Try to keep it under 65 characters.
Write a short and simple pitch. 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). Editors want to know why your story is valuable.
You have clips. 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 a group on Facebook, Meetup, or LinkedIn, but 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 tribe, 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, I’m thankful for those experiences. These grueling writers helped shape my work into what it is today. As you received feedback, stay humble and be open to learning. Not only is it the best way to improve, but it’s also practice for working with clients.
Improving your writing is a lifelong journey. But this should be enough 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.
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.