What is a freelance writer?
A freelance writer is a writer that works independently for companies. In contrast to staff writers, freelance writers are not full-time employees of a company. They work on projects with companies without the commitment of a full-time staff writer. Instead of being a normal W2 employee, freelance writers are 1099 contractors.
Freelance writers can work with companies either remotely or in the client’s office. The vast majority of freelance writers can work remotely from anywhere. This flexibility given by freelance writing allows freelance writers to have many clients at once.
Instead of hoping for one client to provide a full-time income, most freelance writers have to build a client base that will equal or surpass the income of a staff writer. Since freelance writers are self-employed, they must find clients, do the writing and do all the other administrative aspects of running a business. By being able to do this, freelance writers can set their rates, work as many hours as they want and work from anywhere in the world.
How I became a freelance writer
I started my journey to become a freelance writer almost 3 years ago. I was a college student that was going to graduate in about a year and I definitely did not want to get a 9-5 job. I started frantically trying to find online jobs, but I qualified for nothing.
After scouring Indeed.com and other job sites, I kept seeing writing jobs. I became a pretty good writer from doing school work, so I figured it couldn’t be too hard. I started to look at other freelance writers’ sites and see how they were doing it.
I started pitching clients and working for free to build my portfolio. Once I got a few pieces to my portfolio, I emailed hundreds of prospects per week until I landed some work. Once I did, I quickly figured out in order for me to make actual income, I’d have to keep emailing clients to get work for the next month.
This led me to start offering retainer work. Retainer work is basically saying to a client I’ll publish a certain number of blogs for you each month at a price. Once you have a few good retainer clients, you can actually start building your business. Fast forward a few years, I make my full income directly from freelance writing alone.
It definitely is a journey with ups and downs, but it’s definitely doable with persistence and a ton of work. The thing most new freelance writers don’t get is that it will take years to succeed and make a full-time income. This means you’ll have to deal with clients who ghost you, clients with bad communication, etc, until you establish yourself as a freelance writer. Although freelance writing has not been easy, I would rather do it 100 times over than go to a job.
How to become a freelance writer
To become a freelance writer, you need three things:
- ability to write well
The first thing you will need is expertise. Companies are looking to work with writers that specialize in their services. For example, an HR company wants to work directly with HR-focused writers. By having a focus in one niche, you will be able to understand the client’s needs.
If you’re a new freelance writer working with an HR company, you might write about employee engagement or burnout. You need to understand those terms to even do the project. This is why it’s important to niche down and reach out to companies in your desired expertise.
In my 3 years of freelance writing, I have written for probably every niche at least one time. Don’t let expertise scare you. You can literally Google it and learn anything you need to know. You can gain expertise by doing client work instead of trying to make yourself an expert.
It does not matter if you’re Shakespeare, if you don’t market your services, no one will hire you.
Your income is directly tied to how well you can market yourself. An average writer with exceptional marketing will out earn an excellent writer with average marketing. This will happen 10 out 10 times.
Marketing is about 80% of my time as a freelance writer. This is because marketing drives 80% of my revenue. The work that I did this month is a direct impact from my marketing efforts a few months ago.
After freelance writing for three years, I’m very confident in my ability to write well. I can write a simple 500 word project in 30-40 minutes.
My main job is to find quality clients and a lot of work. Some of the important marketing methods for freelance writers include:
- Cold emailing: If you’re looking to find work soon, cold email is the best approach. Finding the email of your ideal clients and sending them will likely land you the quickest jobs. Do this for a few hundred clients and see how much work you can land
- Job boards: There are many job board that display jobs for freelance writing. This can also be another way to get quick work. Since everyone else is also going to be seeing these jobs, you need to stand out to land the client
- Content marketing for your own site: This is probably the best way to get work, but it takes a long time. Finding the keywords that you’re client is looking for and actually ranking for it on Google shows clients you’re one of the best writers in the market. If you can write quality content that ranks on Google for your own business, you can definitely do it for a client.
Ability to write well
Writing is a skill. The more you write, the better you will get at it. If you are a poor writer, make sure you check your work over before sending it to clients. Clients are paying you because you’re a proficient writer.
If grammar mistakes are all over the writing, they will be extremely displeased. Check it over a few times before sending it to the client.
It’s best to follow a structure when writing. Following a structure gives you a system to follow. This allows you to spend more time writing instead of thinking of what to write. A basic structure you can follow when writing is:
- outline the entire piece first
- paragraph 1
- paragraph 2
- paragraph 3
- conclusion and call to action (link back to the client website)
Finding your first job
Freelance writing, just like most things in life, is a number’s game. The more you are able to pitch potential clients, the more jobs you will likely land. I still remember trying to get my first few writing jobs. It was very discouraging to say the least.
Coming from school, my thought process was very simple. Do the work and get a grade. In business, nothing is guaranteed. You can do your best and still fail. It wasn’t until I sent a few thousand outreach emails and messages that I knew freelance writing is a number’s game.
If you send 100 emails or messages, getting a 5% open rate and a 1-2% reply rate can be very good. To actually get your first good client, you may need to send anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand emails or messages. The more you can outreach, the better your chances are of landing a job.
When you pitch to clients, do not spam them. Make the email personal and make sure to include their name and company in your email. Mass sending emails can get your email account flagged and all your emails will be sent to spam. You can guess who made that mistake.
Here’s a list of best places to search if you’re looking for a freelance writing jobs as a beginner.
Day to day
The day to day aspects of freelance writing can vary significantly. On an average day, a freelance writer will:
- Go back and forth on emails with clients
- Write, edit or publish client work
- Prospect for new clients
That’s it. Of course, there are many other things a freelance writer can be doing, but these are the activities that directly relate to how much money you will make.
If you are not doing these three things listed above, you’re just doing busy work. The best freelance writers are the ones who can do communicate with emails, write content and prospect for clients as efficiently as possible.
This was the schedule I followed for years until I reached a full-time income with freelance writing:
- 2 hours of client work (about 500 words done each hour)
- 6 hours of prospecting (sending emails, finding client emails, replying back to prospects, etc.)
I did this for about 2.5 years until I had a group of clients I was satisfied with. I did this at least 5 out 7 days each week. Other freelance writers may have different methods, I’m just explaining what worked for me.
Setting your rate
Your rate will define how much time you can spend on prospecting for new clients. When you’re first starting, it’s easy to low ball yourself in hopes of getting work from a client.
Not all clients are good clients.
It’s much better to spend your time prospecting for new, good clients than work with one that pays you pennies for your work. Additionally, this is why it’s important to niche down and become an expert in a niche. By positioning yourself as an expert, you can charge more.
When setting your rate, remember that you will likely need to do some edits to some client’s work. If I had to start over today as a new freelance writer, I’d charge around $75/500 words. This is on the very low end, but I’d keep raising my rate until I start to hear pushback from clients.
You can keep testing out which rates work with clients. This will allow you to set a minimum rate for your work.
Never ever agree to work that’s less than your minimum rate.
I promise it’s not worth it and you’ll waste your time. When you’re talking to a client, tell them your rate early on and don’t beat around the bush. State it and if they’re OK with it, do the work. If not, find someone else.
As you get experience, you can increase your rate. My rate right now is over triple what I started off with.
How to get paid
There are a variety of ways to get paid as a freelance writer. Just stick to one platform that allows you to send invoices. Personally, I use PayPal. PayPal allows me to make a professional looking invoice and the customer can pay with most accepted credit cards.
It’s key to get payment terms sorted out initially when communicating with the client. As soon as you figure out how much work they need to get done, clarify payment terms immediately.
The last thing you want to do is finish work for a client and the client refusing to pay. This happens and you should be cautious.
Within 5 emails between you and the client, payment terms should be clearly stated. Many clients will often pay later than you think, so plan ahead for that. About 50% of my clients pay on-time and the other pay weeks after.
Types of writing that freelance writers do
Depending on the type of writer you are, there can be several types of writing you may do. Some of the main types of writing you will come across as a freelance writer include:
Blog writing: This is pretty straightforward, you will be writing blog posts for clients. Blog writing is my favorite type of writing because it’s easy to do and you can do it every month for a client. Blog posts are generally shorter than other forms of writing, so it can be done quicker.
Case study writing: Case study writing is when you write about a specific business scenario that happened for a client. An example would be writing about how your client doubled the revenue of a customer. Case study writing is a little more difficult to write because you need data from your client. Some of the case study writing can be very lucrative and pay well for writers.
Web page copywriting: This is writing for a client’s new website or to update an old website. Basically, you will write content on the about page, services pages, etc. Web page writing is often big projects and they can pay very well. My two biggest projects ever were both web page copywriting.
Product copywriting: Product copywriting is more technical than the other forms of writing. In product copywriting, you will be writing a sales page for a product. Every word counts because you are trying to succinctly sell a customer on a product. These kinds of projects can also pay very well.
Email copywriting: This type of writing is for writing to a client’s email list. In email copywriting, you will write headlines, subjects and the body of an email. What’s great about email writing is that it can be done repeatedly, so you can get repeat business from a customer
One of your main jobs as a writer is to market yourself as an expert in a niche. Of course you can be a generalist writer and just write anything, but marketing yourself as an expert in a niche will allow you to charge higher prices. For example, a freelance IT writer or tech writer will be able to charge more for content than just a normal writer.
When you market yourself, it’s important to focus on the platforms where you will find your clients. For most writers, the most important platform is LinkedIn. LinkedIn allows you to connect with many of your key clients. In your case, this would be:
- content managers
- directors of marketing
- chief marketing officers and more
These are just a few of the types of decision makers you should be reaching out. LinkedIn allows you to connect with hundreds of decision makers. When you connect with people like content managers on LinkedIn, it’s important to not be spammy and bombard them with messages. Interact with them, post content, warm them up and that will increase your chances of landing work significantly.
It’s important to note that this is a long-term effort, nothing will likely happen from doing this overnight.
Displaying your own writing abilities on your blog is a great way to attract clients. This is another long-term approach but it can be the most fruitful. The fact that you are able to find this blog shows that I know how to write quality content that ranks on Google.
When clients see this, they are far more impressed than if you send a cold email or message saying you’re a great writer. If you write a long, high-quality article targeting your client’s keywords, they will find you and work can come to you organically.
It’s important to have to your blog viewable on your site. When a reader sees your blog on Google, they will land directly on your site and they can request to work with you.
Your blog is probably the best asset (long-term) for your freelance writing business. In order to organically attract potential customers to your site, you’ll have to write for free for a while. Writing a blog once a week over a few years can actually attract a full-time’s income worth of work organically to you.
Building your clientele
Now that you are familiar with the majority of ins and outs of freelance writing. It’s time to build your clientele.
Once you have got a system down for marketing and doing the writing work, you can keep repeating and grow your clientele.
When you’re first starting out, you will be spending the vast majority of your time prospecting for clients. Once you actually land some work, you still need to be sending out emails and messages to get clients.
Freelance writing can be a feast or famine experience if you don’t have a strong monthly flow of work for clients. The only way to get over the huge ups and downs of freelance writing is to consistently reach out to clients. By doing this, you will always have work to do.
It’s much better to have too much work and say no than to be begging for work. The work you do today will benefit you in the future. To this day, I still have random clients that I reached out to years ago ask me to write for them.
Focus on each day, reach out to clients, write any work you need to do and repeat. There’s no magic to it. If you do this over a few months, you will definitely get some client.
I hope this blog post gave you a realistic outlook on how you can be a freelance writer. You can definitely succeed and make good money as a freelance writer. The truth is that you will have to put in a lot of work to build your portfolio and attract the kind of clients you want.
If you are starting off today as a brand new freelance writer, start by pitching to companies with cold emails. Tell them you’d write for them in exchange for a testimonial or something similar. Once you have about 5-10 pieces in your portfolio, reach out to similar companies and start writing for them.
At this stage, your main job is reaching out and finding new clients. As your client base grows, you’ll spend less time reaching out. Keep pitching to companies until you are at a client base that you are satisfied with. It’s best to have clients that you do monthly work for so you can get monthly revenue from them.
That’s about it. Freelance writing is basically writing for your current clients and pitching new ones over and over again. It’s a lot of work, but once you have established yourself as a writer in your niche, work will tend to find you. Start pitching now, build your portfolio and a year from now you’ll be very happy you started today.
Here’s a resource of the 15 best places to look if you’re looking for writer jobs.