How to become a freelance writer: The complete guide to getting started

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March 15, 2021
5 minute read

Freelance writing holds major appeal—both as a side hustle and as a full-time job. Not only is it a great way to earn money, it’s also a good opportunity to acquire new professional skills and learn about interesting topics.

Getting started as a freelance writer takes more than motivation, though. In addition to resourcefulness, persistence, and writing skills, you also need a basic understanding of the path ahead.

If you’re wondering how to become a freelance writer, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading to discover what freelance writing is and how you can get started today.

What is freelance writing?

Freelance writing refers to any writing-related work done by freelancers or independent contractors. A freelancer is someone who works for multiple different companies as a 1099 contractor, rather than working for one company as a full-time employee.

Like freelance graphic design or consulting, freelance writing is a broad field that spans a wide range of industries and niches. Many businesses—regardless of their size—hire freelance writers to write everything from brochures and restaurant menus to website copy and press releases.

Most freelance writers fall into one of three categories: hobbyist, hustler, or business owner. For some people, freelance writing is purely an intellectual or creative pursuit. For others, it’s a practical way to earn side income outside their full-time job. And for some, freelance writing is a full-time business and career.

As with all types of freelancing, there are benefits and drawbacks to freelance writing:

Advantages of freelance writing

Autonomy over your schedule: As a freelancer, you can set your own hours and work when it’s most convenient for you.

Control over your projects: You can pick and choose projects, pitch topics you’re passionate about, and say no to assignments you’re not interested in.

Flexible rates: You can set your own rates and change them whenever you need to.

Freedom to learn and grow: When you’re not bound to writing for one particular publication or company, you can follow your interests and passions wherever they lead you, changing course as often as you like.

No ceiling: How you progress and develop as a freelancer is totally up to you. You can take on a handful of assignments every month for fun, or create a full-fledged freelance writing business if you want.

Flexibility in how and where you work: You aren’t bound by location or rules when freelance writing. You can work in whatever manner and place suits you best, whether you're writing from home or working while traveling.

Minimal equipment required: All you need is internet access and a computer—and you’re good to go.

Low barrier to entry: You don’t need a degree, specialized certification, or even years of experience to become a freelance writer. You just need a good work ethic and decent writing chops.

Disadvantages of freelance writing

Burden of securing work: Until you’re more established, no one is going to assign you work out of thin air. As a freelance writer, it’s on you to actively seek out writing jobs and assignments.

Lack of structure: Unless you’re working hourly with a manager overseeing you, you’re responsible for managing your time and deadlines.

Inconsistent income: The amount of money you earn is directly related to the quality and volume of assignments you’re submitting—not the hours you put in. As a result, some months will be leaner than others.

Slow growth: It takes time (and patience) to build up a portfolio and secure steady, well-paying work. Depending on your skill level, expertise, and niche, you could be working for months or years without consistent assignments and regular clients.

Tough feedback: Part of being a freelance writer is conducting revisions and learning to take feedback. Some clients don’t know what they want until they see it, while others will have detailed (sometimes harsh) feedback on your work.

Rejection: Being turned down for freelance writing gigs and getting ghosted by editors and clients is normal. You’ll likely encounter more rejection than acceptance as a freelance writer, especially when you’re just starting out. You'll find rejection in grant writing, ghost writing, technical writing, and all sorts of niches...it's a natural part of this type of career!

Multiple hats: Writing isn’t the only skill you need as a freelance writer. You also have to be good at researching, marketing, communicating, networking, editing, negotiating, and doing administrative work.

Freelance writing isn’t for everyone, but it could be a good fit for you if:

  • You’re good at writing and you enjoy it.
  • You like researching.
  • You’re comfortable with a changing workload and uncertain income.
  • You like writing about a variety of different topics.
  • You don’t mind reaching out to people to ask for work.
  • You want to work when it’s most convenient for you.
  • You’re interested in learning new skills.
  • You have a healthy attitude toward rejection.
  • You’re good at managing your time.
  • You can write quickly to meet deadlines
  • You’re tenacious.

Understanding the different types of freelance writing

There are countless types of freelance writing—and each one pays differently and requires different skills. Depending on the type of writing you’re interested in, you could do anything from penning health articles for a national news publication to writing grants for non-profit organizations.

Here are the most common types of freelance writing:

Journalism

When most people think of freelance writing, they think of journalism. Journalism is when you write for a newspaper, magazine, or news site. Unlike marketing writing, journalism is objective in nature (with the exception of opinion pieces). As a result, journalism writing usually requires a substantial amount of reporting, interviewing, and fact checking.

These days, you don’t necessarily need a journalism degree to do freelance journalism writing, but it can help you land pitches and connect with editors more easily. Even if you don’t have a degree in journalism, though, you may still want to take a journalism class. Not only are there distinct stylistic and formatting rules to be aware of, there are also lots of ethical considerations around reporting and interviewing subjects.

The pay: Local or online news outlets may pay $50 a piece or a few hundred dollars; more established publications can pay up to $1 or $2 a word.

Content marketing writing

Content marketing writing, also called content writing, is any type of online editorial-style writing used for marketing purposes. Content writing can take the form of reported articles, blog posts, how-to guides, customer success stories, white papers, ebooks, infographics, thought leadership articles, and video scripts.

Some companies want B2C (business-to-consumer) content writing, which is written from the business’s perspective to the general public. Others want B2B (business-to-business) writing, which is when a business speaks directly to other businesses.

You don’t need marketing knowledge to do content marketing writing, but you should be able to do the following:

  1. Adapt the voice and tone of your writing to align with different brands.
  2. Incorporate specific brand messaging and product mentions into your writing in a cohesive way.

The pay: As more businesses recognize the value of quality content in digital marketing, more companies are investing in content marketing writing. As a result, it’s becoming increasingly more lucrative. Depending on who’s hiring, you could earn a few hundred dollars for an article and thousands of dollars for a white paper or ebook.

SEO writing

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the science and art of improving website traffic. A lot of companies hire SEO writers to help them redo their written content in order to appear higher in Google search results and bring more visitors to their websites.

SEO writing can take a number of different forms, from blog posts and articles to web copy and advertisements. Writing with SEO in mind isn’t particularly complicated, but it does take a certain amount of finesse to do it well. You also have to understand your audience and be able to speak to their unique challenges and goals.

The pay: Everyone from bloggers to major corporations depend on SEO, which means the pay for SEO writing varies widely depending on the company or individual hiring you. For blog posts and website copy, you could earn anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand.

Copywriting

Copywriting is writing designed to sell something. Also called advertising or marketing writing, copywriting can take the form of website copy, brochure copy, emails, social media ads, and much more. Organizations of all types—from local coffee shops and nonprofits to hospitals and tech startups—need copywriters.

To be a successful copywriter, you should have good persuasive writing skills and at least a basic knowledge of sales tactics. You also need to be able to write in a specific brand voice and adhere to strict brand messaging guidelines.

The pay: Because copywriting is closer to the point of sale, it usually commands a higher price. Depending on the type of writing and company hiring, you could earn anywhere from $50 to upwards of $200 for a single email, or a few hundred dollars or several thousand for a website landing page (home page).

Academic and educational writing

Academic and educational writing can take the form of grant writing, proposals, research papers, textbooks, curriculum material, and scientific studies, to name a few. Universities, nonprofit organizations, large academic corporations, and think tanks may need academic writers.

Because academic writing is more specialized and formal than other types of writing, you may need a degree, certification, or work experience in a particular field.

The pay: Rates vary widely for academic writing. Depending on how well funded the hiring organization is, you could earn a couple thousand dollars for a grant, for example, and potentially tens of thousands or more for a textbook or curriculum compilation.

Blogging

Blogging is an umbrella term that applies to a handful of different types of writing. Content writing and SEO writing, for example, can be blogging, but not all blogging is considered SEO or content marketing writing.

Blog posts generally have an informal, conversational tone, and exist on dedicated blogs and company websites. Global corporations like Disney and Apple have blogs, as do many sole proprietors and small business owners. Blog posts provide a flexible outlet to share information that may be more challenging to communicate in other methods, and has a relatively low barrier to entry. Blogging is one of many writing roles that let you work from home.

The pay: Depending on the hiring entity, you could earn $20 a blog post or upwards of $1,000.

Creative writing

Creative writing has a broad and loose application—and every kind of creative writing requires different skills and qualifications. Creative writing can be anything from blogging or ghostwriting someone’s novel to writing a screenplay for a TV network or a book of poems for a publishing house. Ghostwriting opportunities in particular can come in many shapes and forms.

The pay: Scoring a well-paying creative writing job can be tough if you don’t have any connections. Plus, the pay is all over the place. Writing for a successful TV show, for example, could net you a hundred thousand dollars or more, while picking up odd jobs ghostwriting may only get you a couple hundred dollars here or there.

Technical writing

Technical writing refers to writing that describes the technical abilities or process of a device, product, or type of software. Technical writing usually comes in the form of user manuals and software guides, although sometimes white papers require technical writing.

To be a competent technical writer, you need the following: An extensive knowledge of how a particular product or system works, the ability to think analytically, and the ability to write with both jargon and layman’s terms.

The pay: Because it’s so specialized and tedious, technical writing usually pays well. You could earn the equivalent of $1 a word or more.

Social media writing

Social media writing is a growing field. Though it can fall under the umbrella of copywriting, it doesn’t always. Many businesses and organizations want social media writers who can craft compelling captions, write in a clear and consistent brand voice, and occasionally put out calls to action to buy products or sign up for services.

Being a good social media writer requires staying up to date with changing social media language and trends, as well as understanding how images and words work together to tell a story.

The pay: Most social media writers charge by the hour, and make anywhere from $20 to $50 an hour.

How to get started as a freelance writer

If you’re eager to become a freelance writer but don’t know where to start, don’t stress. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and intimidated in the beginning, but with some research and preparation—along with a healthy dose of discipline—you’ll be freelance writing in no time.

Here are our 10 steps to becoming a freelance writer:

Step 1: Do your research

Before you start freelance writing, you need to understand what you’re in for. After all, there’s a lot more to freelance writing than simply stringing sentences together. You also have to work on marketing, researching, and negotiating—and those are just the basics.

Getting a better understanding of the ins and outs of freelance writing as a job and a lifestyle can give you more clarity on how you want to approach it. Instead of diving straight in, take the time to familiarize yourself with freelance writing by reading books or scouring the internet for information. Helpful sites include:

You may also want to join a couple of online writing groups, such as The Write Life Community on Facebook or r/Writing on Reddit. You can also browse local or niche-specific groups on Google or Facebook by searching “freelance writers + [your location]” or “[type of writing] + freelance writers.”

Community groups are a great place to gather information, ask questions, and connect with other established and aspiring freelance writers.

Step 2: Assess your skills and interests

When you first begin freelance writing, it’s crucial to have direction and purpose—and figuring out what you’re good at can help. To assess your skills and interests, start by creating a list of all your education and work experiences. Include everything from the after-school jobs you held to the online courses you took for fun, even if they weren’t relevant to writing.

Then, for each item on the list, write down the various skills or knowledge you needed. For example, if you worked as an administrative assistant, the skills might be communication, scheduling, task management, and organization. If you took an interior design course, the skills and knowledge might be: design history, styling, spatial planning, creativity, visualization, and problem solving.

Next, in a separate list, write out all of your interests and passions, no matter how seemingly trivial or strange. Your passions may or may not intersect with your job or education experience—and that’s okay. On this list, everything from cooking and hiking to fashion and playing guitar is fair game.

Once you complete both lists, give them a thorough review. Circle any repeating words you see and make note of any patterns. Then ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where do I have the most experience?
  • Where do I have the most specialized knowledge?
  • What are my favorite things to learn or talk about?
  • Do my interests overlap with my work or education history? If so, where?
  • If I had to write an article right now on any subject, what would it be?

Answering these questions will give you a better idea of what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing. From there, you can figure out how to apply your life experiences to your freelance writing endeavors.

For example, if you’ve worked as an IT manager handling security systems, you could potentially write about corporate security software or consumer products for a security company. If you love decluttering your closet, you might be able to find work writing about organization tactics for a storage or moving company. If you teach elementary school, you could write articles for a news publication’s education vertical or blog about curriculum updates for a company that publishes textbooks for teachers.

Once you’ve spent some time brainstorming possible writing avenues, the next step is to identify a niche.

Step 3: Identify a niche

A niche is simply a specific topic you want to write about. You don’t have to adopt a niche to become a successful freelance writer, but having one—or a few—can help you stand out and gain traction with your work. Here are a few benefits of having a writing niche:

  • It gives you credibility and authority on specific subjects.
  • It makes it easier for potential clients to find you.
  • It helps you specialize and build a portfolio quicker.
  • It can give you the confidence to charge more.
  • It can help you narrow your search when looking for work.

You’ll have the most success if your freelance writing niche is an area where you have tons of experience and expertise. Like video games? There are countless video game writing jobs out there, whether you want to review games or write about the industry. Passionate about sports? It's an exciting industry to be a part of, but look out for the qualities you need to be successful as a sports writer.

However, you can still choose a niche where you have little knowledge or experience; you’ll just have to work a bit harder to educate yourself and get relevant writing samples.

To pick your niche, the first step is to choose an industry or field. The second step is to choose a focus within that industry. The third step is to zoom in on an even more specific focus. Let’s have a look at a couple examples.

Imagine the industry is health and wellness. Within the health industry, you might want to focus on fitness, and within that you might want to zoom in on running. That means you could write running-related articles and blog posts for running publications, fitness apps, or apparel companies.

If the industry is business, you may want to focus on leadership, then zoom in on female CEOs and executives. That means you could write ghostwritten thought leadership articles from female entrepreneurs and business owners, or write email and website copy for companies that market software to entrepreneurs.

Identifying a few different writing niches gives you an idea of where to start looking for clients and work, but remember: You can change your niche at any time. The good news about niches is that they’re flexible. Plus, certain clients and styles of writing will span a few different niches at once, so you might have the opportunity to develop expertise in multiple areas without extending your job reach too much.

Step 4: Find out who your ideal clients are

Once you define your niche or niches, there are two main ways to get work:

  1. Search for freelance writing gigs and jobs within your wheelhouse.
  2. Reach out to potential clients or editors directly.

The second strategy takes more upfront work, but it’s also a more straightforward path to the people in charge of hiring you. Plus, identifying your ideal clients inevitably makes it easier to filter and search for relevant writing opportunities on job boards.

Here are the two steps to follow to find your potential clients:

1. Research the companies, businesses, and publications within your niche.

Grab a cup of coffee and settle down for some intensive Googling. Start by searching “[your niche] + companies,” “[your niche] + websites,” and “[your niche] + outlets.” Play around with your search terms by incorporating the name of your city or region, or searching “top [your niche] businesses” or “best [your niche] blogs.”

As you hunt around each website, try to answer the below questions:

  • Is there a good amount of written content?
  • If so, what is the writing like in terms of subject matter and style?
  • Are they hiring freelance writers?

If you’re browsing a news publication or blog, look for a section that says “editorial guidelines,” “submissions,” or “staff.” You might find a web page that gives you more details about the outlet’s submission process, pitch guidelines, or pay rate. If you’re lucky, you may even find the name and contact information of the various people on the editorial team.

On the other hand, if you’re browsing a small business or company website, keep an eye out for a blog, resource center, or customer story section. From there, take note of the byline for each article or blog post, then scroll down the page to see if there’s an author bio.

If there are a handful of different bylines and the writers don’t work for the company or business in question, there’s a good chance the company hires freelance writers to create their pieces.

2. Create a prospect list.

After you’ve done a healthy amount of research, start making a list of prospective clients by niche. Use an Excel or Google spreadsheet to compile information and organize it by category. Include the following:

  • Website link
  • Name and description of company and/or outlet
  • Description of the site’s content
  • Idea of the writing services you could offer (e.g. website copywriting or blog writing)
  • Link to a submissions or staff page, if applicable
  • Contact information

If you don’t find contact information for an editorial director, content manager, or business owner, you may have to do some extra digging. This is where LinkedIn comes in handy. You can search a company’s name along with job titles like “content manager,” “marketing director,” or “editor-in-chief,” depending on what seems most relevant to the work you’re interested in.

Read each person’s profile, looking for an indication that they work with freelancers. Some people might say they manage blog content as part of their job description; others might say they’re in charge of reading pitches from freelance writers or handling the company’s digital marketing campaigns. If someone seems like a prospective client, record their name, title, and email address (if available) in your spreadsheet.

You’ll reference this list later when you’re reaching out to clients directly.

Step 5: Build an online presence

As a freelance writer, it’s critical to have an online presence. At the very least, you need a website or portfolio to showcase your skills, sell your services, and share your contact information.

However, that’s not the only digital footprint you should have. Prospective clients and editors may also want to see your LinkedIn profile and social media handles, depending on the type of writing you’re doing.

When you’re building out your online presence, keep your niche and target clientele in mind. Instead of simply calling yourself a freelance writer, describe yourself in specific terms, such as “technical copywriter” or “freelance education journalist.” You should also keep your niche in mind when choosing which writing samples to share and how to position your services.

Ready to get started? Here are four steps to take when creating or revamping your online presence:

1. Create a website.

Think of your website or portfolio as the first impression you make as a freelance writer. Not only is it an example of your writing skills, it’s also a window into who you are as an individual. A good website doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated, but it should be personal, professional, and detailed.

Start by developing a landing page that explains who you are and what you write about. You can choose a layout, font, and color scheme that fits your personal style and brand, but the page should still be clear and easy to navigate.

If you want to keep your site minimal, you can include all your information—from writing work to contact information—on the landing page itself. However, if you want more space to explain your work process and services, you may want to create separate web pages for visitors to click.

Arguably the most important part of your website is your portfolio. Keep in mind, though: Your portfolio shouldn’t include every single thing you’ve ever written. Rather, it should display a selection of strong writing samples relevant to your niche.

As you get more experience and work, you can add the names of brands you’ve worked with or list the various outlets where you’ve been published.

Here are a few website platforms where you can pick a template and design your own site—no design knowledge necessary.

If you want to create a portfolio separate from your website, or if you don't have the money or bandwidth to build a website yet, you can still make a freelance writing portfolio. Contently and Writerfolio let you create free, simple portfolios to show off your work.

2. Clean up your social media profiles.

Do you plan on using your personal social media profiles to get freelance writing work? If not, you may want to set them to private mode to keep your professional writing separate from your personal life.

However, if you’re interested in social media writing or want to use your personal platforms to connect with prospective clients or hunt for work, it’s a good idea to give your handles a professional refresh. Try the following:

  • Switch your profile photo to a more professional image/
  • Change your social media handles to your full name or something with the word “writer” included.
  • Update your bio to mention your work as a writer and link to your website.
  • Delete any inappropriate or unprofessional posts or images.
  • Consider updating your profile from a personal account to a business account to give you more credibility.

3. Build out your LinkedIn profile.

LinkedIn is an amazing place to pitch editors, apply to freelance writing jobs, and connect with potential clients. Instead of letting your profile sit idle with outdated information, take the time to update it in a manner similar to your website. You might want to:

  • Change your job title or description to reflect the writing work you want to do.
  • Update your photo.
  • Specify that you’re available for freelance writing work.
  • Update your “about” section to explain what type of writing you do, what your niches are, and which brands or outlets (if any) you’ve written for.
  • Add relevant writing samples.
  • Ask your former colleagues or peers to write you a recommendation referencing your writing capabilities.
  • Include your website link and contact information.

4. Create a writing-specific email address.

Unless you already have a professional-sounding email address for personal use, it’s a good idea to make a new email address for your freelance writing work.

You could base the email address off of your website URL, your full name, or your name with “writer” or “freelance writer” added on. Just make sure whatever you choose has lasting power. You don’t want to box yourself into a certain brand or writing niche if you think your career may develop and change over time.

Try one of these free platforms to create a business email account:

Step 6: Learn how to pitch and craft a cold email

There are two skills you need to develop in order to secure work as a freelance writer:

  1. The ability to pitch a story idea.
  2. The ability to write a stellar cold email.

Let’s discuss pitches first.

Pitches

A pitch is a brief message you send to an editor describing a story or article idea you have. A pitch isn’t just selling your idea, though—it’s also selling yourself a writer. Pitching is an art, but there’s also a structure to follow. Here are the three components every pitch needs:

  • A succinct, compelling description of your idea.
  • An explanation of why the idea matters and why it’s relevant to the outlet’s audience.
  • A sentence or two that explains your credibility as a writer.

Good pitches are original, concise, and detailed. Here’s an example of a pitch for an online magazine:

Hi Jerry,

I saw your Tweet looking for pitches for the community issue of Runner’s Magazine. Here’s an idea for you to consider:

How Runners Are Banding Together to Clean Up Their Communities

Thanks to a popular Swedish fitness trend called plogging, new running groups are forming nationwide. Their goal, however, isn’t to race or discover new trails—it’s to pick up trash as they jog.

Plogging, which combines relaxed running with eco-conscious action, is uniting communities in cleaning up the roads and trails pedestrians, runners, and cyclists all love to frequent. The individual and communal benefits are obvious, but why is the trend picking up steam now? As climate change becomes an increasingly urgent matter, people are looking for ways to make a difference within their own areas of interest.

I’ll interview certified running coach and owner of Nashville Run Group, Melissa Davis; Tommy Jones, a runner who started a plogging group in San Francisco; and Amy Newark, a professor of environmental awareness and change at Georgetown University.

My work has appeared in Men’s Health and Prevention. You can see samples here [link]. Please let me know if you have any questions or feedback.

Thanks,

Jamie Jordan

[Website]

[Contact information]

Let’s break down why this pitch works well. First, the writer gets straight to the point by presenting the pitch at the top of the message. The pitch has a clear headline, a lede (or opening sentence), an angle that ties into the magazine’s upcoming issue theme, and an explanation of how the writer would add color and interest to the story with interviews.

The writer also mentions their credentials, includes a link to their portfolio, and says they’re open to feedback and questions.

Cold emails

Unlike a pitch, a cold email or letter of introduction (LOI) isn’t necessarily about pitching a story idea, but rather pitching yourself and your writing services. You could send a cold email to a potential client, professional contact, or HR person with the goal of introducing yourself, offering your services, or inquiring about work opportunities.

The recipients of your cold emails should walk away with a clear understanding of who you are, what you do, and why they might want to hire you. A good LOI typically includes the following components:

  • A sentence or two explaining who you are, what type of writing you specialize in, and which businesses/publications/websites you’ve written for.
  • An explanation of what you can offer and how it ties into their needs.
  • A link to your portfolio or two or three links to specific writing samples.
  • A way to contact you.

Here’s an example of a cold email:

Hi Rachel,

I recently discovered your company’s resource center and wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the in-depth articles comparing various smart home devices. I especially loved the piece on voice assistants [link], which was full of practical information.

Are you looking for any new writers to contribute to the resource center? I specialize in writing reported articles and blog posts about consumer health products. I’m comfortable using SEO keywords and data in my work, as well as interviewing subject matter experts. I’ve written for websites like ConsumerProducts.org and HealthTechTrends.com. You can see some of my work here [link].

I’d love to send you some pitches for the resource center or discuss your content needs. If you have questions or would like to set up a time to talk, please feel free to get in touch.

Sincerely,

Derrick Johnson

[Website]

[Contact information]

This cold email works well for a few reasons. First, the writer makes it clear that he knows about the company’s resource center and appreciates it. Second, the writer demonstrates his knowledge of consumer products and ties in his offerings to the company’s potential content needs. And third, the writer ends with a call to action.

The wonderful thing about a cold email or LOI is you only need to write it from scratch one time. Once you have a good template to work with, you can tailor your LOI to each potential client’s style and needs.

Step 7: Find work

Now that you’re armed with a website or portfolio, a list of potential clients, and a strong LOI or pitch template, you’re ready to begin hunting for assignments.

Keep in mind that finding freelance writing work is an ongoing endeavor, one that takes resourcefulness, consistency, and perseverance. It’s also a numbers game. The more people you email and the more opportunities you apply to, the more likely you are to get a positive response.

Ready to get going? Here are some of the best ways to find freelance writing assignments:

Apply to jobs on LinkedIn.

Change your LinkedIn job settings to filter for “freelance” or “contract” jobs. Then turn on your notifications for job alerts and start browsing the new postings every day. Some jobs allow you to attach your LinkedIn profile as your resume, while others will require you to send in a separate resume and cover letter or email.

Apply to jobs on job boards.

There are a multitude of job boards that cater to freelance writers. Some of them are hit and miss, but if you spread out your search and look regularly you can find plenty of well-paid job opportunities, many with the potential to turn into ongoing work.

Keep in mind that some job boards are free to browse, but others require a monthly fee for access. Here are a handful to check out:

Make a portfolio on job sites.

There are content platforms, such as Contently, ClearVoice, and Skyword, that connect freelance writers with legitimate clients. The only catch? On most of these platforms, you can’t actually search for writing jobs yourself. You have to make a portfolio and wait for a client or platform administrator to contact you about a work opportunity.

Send pitches to editors.

If you’re interested in freelance journalism or blogging, sending pitches to editors or content managers is a great way to get work. You could even try a double or triple pitch, which is when you include two or three story ideas in one email.

Just try to be thoughtful about which pitches you send, when you send them, and to whom. Many editors don’t like simultaneous pitching, which is when you pitch the same idea to several different publications at a time to see who bites first.

Send cold emails to prospective clients.

Send an LOI to as many potential clients as you can. Use the instructions from Steps 4 and 6 of this guide to build a prospect list and write a stellar cold email. As you send your emails, note the dates in a spreadsheet, then schedule follow-up emails for two weeks later if you don’t receive a response.

Respond to tweets that ask for writers.

If you have a Twitter account, it’s a good practice to follow the companies, businesses, and publications in your niche, as well as the people who work at those places. Think: editors, content managers, creative directors, and digital marketing specialists. That way, you’ll be one of the first to see if these people post about needing a writer.

You may also want to follow handles that share writing-related job opportunities, such as @Write_Jobs, @WhoPaysWriters, and @JJobs_tweets. Responding to tweets with your contact information or portfolio link could land you a few freelance writing gigs, or at the very least a conversation with an editor or hiring manager.

Ask your family and friends.

Consider sending an email to your personal contacts asking if they know of anyone who needs a writer. Explain what you specialize in and what types of writing you’re open to, then include your website or portfolio link.

Do a guest blog post on another site to gain traction.

If you need exposure or want to build up your portfolio, try pitching a guest blog post to a site within your niche. A lot of websites and blogs accept guest posts from contributors on a variety of topics. Though some sites pay well, others don’t compensate guest contributors at all. However, if the website has a massive audience, it could be worth your time and energy to pitch an unpaid post in exchange for exposure.

Join a freelance writing group.

There are hundreds of online freelance writing groups that post job opportunities or share referrals. To weed through the muck, try searching by your writing specialty, niche, or location.

Reach out to people on LinkedIn.

Connecting with editors, content managers, and business owners in the niches you’re interested in is a great way to expand your network and keep an eye out for writing opportunities. Don’t send connection requests at random, though. Make sure you select the option to “add a note,” then spend one or two sentences introducing yourself and explaining why you’re saying hello.

Depending on why you’re connecting, you could say something like:

  • Love [your company’s] blog! It’s such a great resource.
  • I write about [your company’s specialty] and want to connect.
  • Do you need freelance writers who specialize in [relevant topic]? If so, I’d love to connect.

Step 8: Market yourself as a freelance writer

Every successful freelance writer has a marketing strategy. Marketing helps you get steady work, score client referrals, and keep your name and services front of mind. Simply put, marketing is the foundation you lay so future clients come to you with assignments and opportunities.

Marketing takes thoughtfulness and regular effort, but it’s not as complicated as it seems. In fact, you’ve probably already done a lot of marketing up until this point. Keep at it by allocating at least a couple of hours a day to marketing work.

Here are some common marketing tasks you can do as a freelance writer:

  • Post on your professional social media accounts.
  • Update your LinkedIn profile and/or post on LinkedIn.
  • Comment on your connections’ social media posts.
  • Send cold emails.
  • Apply to writing jobs.
  • Sign up for a trade conference, networking event, or virtual seminar.
  • Connect with people on Twitter and LinkedIn.
  • Optimize your website for search.
  • Create a Facebook business ad for your writing services.
  • Create a one-page digital flyer advertising your services.
  • Share the articles and blog posts you write on your social media accounts.

Step 9: Figure out your rates

Determining your freelance writing rates takes trial and error. You may be tempted to set your rates before you even look for work, but that’s a recipe for disappointment. When you’re just starting out as a freelance writer, it’s better to get an idea of how much certain clients and outlets pay before you lock yourself into a rate that may not be reasonable given your niche or level of expertise.

Here are the strategies you can use to figure out your rates:

Research your industry and niche.

Doing some preliminary research will give you a better idea of where to start when setting your rates. In addition to reading freelance writing blogs and perusing the discussion threads in your online writing groups, check out sites that gather data on rates. Who Pays Writers, ClearVoice, Contently, and the Editorial Freelancers Association give you an idea of standard freelance writing rates across different niches and formats.

Remember, however, that everything is relative. Certain companies might pay $50 for a 500-word blog post, while others will pay $400 for the same exact work. The price doesn’t always reflect the quality of the work or the effort it takes to produce it; it just shows how different outlets value freelance writing work.

Figure out how long certain assignments take.

Even if you haven’t received an official assignment yet, it’s smart to start tracking your time. Give yourself the task of writing a blog post, case study, or email on a subject in your niche, then see how long it takes you to complete.

Don’t just track your writing time, though, make sure you also factor in the time it takes to research, outline, format, and proofread your work.

Determine your minimum hourly rate.

Your minimum hourly rate (MHR) is the minimum amount of money you need to earn per hour to reach your financial freelance writing goals. Of course, you may not want to charge on an hourly basis, but figuring out your MHR can help you think about your rates in a more practical, realistic way. It’s an especially helpful exercise if you plan to become a full-time freelance writer.

To start, add up your monthly expenses, including rent, utilities, food and groceries, credit card debt, entertainment, health insurance, transportation, and personal expenses. Multiplying your monthly expenses by twelve will give you an idea of the minimum salary you need to earn per year to live comfortably.

Of course, if you want to leave room for travel, savings, emergencies, and luxuries or indulgences, you’ll need to bump up your minimum salary.

Next, figure out what it costs to do your freelance writing work. You might have the following business costs:

  • Internet subscription
  • Computer updates
  • Phone bill
  • Professional membership or subscription fees
  • Website hosting
  • Accounting fees
  • Marketing
  • Office equipment
  • Business cards

If you want to be a full-time freelance writer, you also have to account for your benefits, like health insurance and paid time off. Once you add up your business expenses and benefits, you’ll have a better idea of what it costs to do freelance writing.

Let’s say you want to earn $60,000 a year as a freelance writer. After considering your finances and lifestyle, you determine that that annual salary will allow you to cover your monthly expenses, put some cash in savings, and still have a certain level of financial freedom.

Maybe your total business costs add up to roughly $5,000 a year, and you estimate your holiday and benefits will add up to $10,000. On top of paying yourself a $60,000 salary, that means you’re looking at a total cost of $75,000 to do business as a freelance writer.

To determine your MHR, you have to figure out how many billable hours you can work in a given year. There are 261 working days (give or take a number depending on whether or not it’s a leap year) in a calendar year, and eight working hours in a work day.

However, you won’t necessarily be working all 261 working days, nor will you work eight billable hours each day. You have to account for sick time, vacation, doctor’s appointments, and non-billable work like meetings, marketing, and administrative tasks.

If you give yourself 10 days off for national holidays, 14 days off for vacation time, and eight days off for sick time, you’re left with 229 working days in a calendar year. Taking into account lunch, errands, potential appointments, and non-billable work time, let’s say you can realistically log five hours of billable work each work day.

229 x 5 = 1,145 hours

That’s 1,145 working hours in a year. Divide that by the total cost of doing business, and you’ll have your MHR.

$75,000 / 1,145 = $65/hour

Knowing your MHR can help you evaluate freelance writing rates and jobs more accurately. Let’s say, for example, that you land an assignment to write a 1,000-word blog post for $300. According to your MHR, you can afford to spend about four and a half hours on this assignment ($300 / $65 = 4.6).

If the topic requires a lot of research and you know the work will take you eight hours to complete, $300 may not be the best rate for you. On the other hand, if you’re well versed in the subject matter and you estimate that the assignment will take about three hours to finish, $300 is an excellent rate and you’ll be earning well over your MHR.

Create a pricing sheet.

To keep your rates straight, it’s helpful to create a pricing sheet that lists your target rates for different types of work. You may want to charge more for website copywriting than blogging, for example. Or maybe you charge more for articles that require quotes from subject matter experts versus articles that don’t.

You don’t have to publish your pricing on your website, but creating a basic pricing sheet can serve as a reference point when clients ask you for your rates.

Adjust as needed.

Rates aren’t set in stone—you can adjust them on a case-by-case basis. For example, you might be willing to lower your usual rate in order to get a prestigious byline or establish goodwill with a potential long-term client. In other situations, you may need to increase your usual rate to compensate for a fast turnaround or additional requests.

Set up a business bank account.

Getting a designated business bank account can make money management so much easier.

Wave Money is a no-fee business bank account that saves you time by connecting banking and bookkeeping, so the two always add up. Plus, you can send invoices, get paid directly from them, and access your money faster.

So, instead of spending time chasing down invoices or reconciling your accounts, you can focus on landing jobs and polishing your writing skills.

Step 10: Set realistic goals

Setting freelance writing goals is key to staying accountable and motivated. Beyond money matters, consider your reasons for becoming a freelance writer. What do you want to write about? Who are your ideal clients? How many hours do you want to work per week? What kind of lifestyle do you want to have?

Think about what you want to achieve within the year, then break down your goals by quarter and month. For example, if you want to earn $30,000 from freelance writing within a year, you’ll need to earn $7,500 a quarter. From there, you can calculate how many assignments you’ll need to secure per month—and at what rate—to reach your goal.

To keep your expectations in check, set goals that follow the SMART format, meaning they’re specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.

Become a freelance writer today

Freelance writing is a great way to earn money and do meaningful work, but it takes diligence and patience when you’re first starting out. To set yourself up for success, work on researching the industry, identifying a niche, and creating a killer portfolio. Before you know it, you’ll be freelance writing like a pro.

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