How to Become a Freelance Writer in 10 Simple Steps
Just recently, I sat with my laptop on a sandy beach in Thailand, using my mobile hotspot to write an article about marketing. As a freelance writer, I was my own boss. My office space - a hammock in Bali, a mountain hut in the Alps, a yurt in Mongolia - was a product of my own desires and dreams.
Becoming a freelance writer brings with it adventure, freedom to manage your working hours, and a strong sense of professional empowerment. On top of that, it’s achievable for anyone, regardless of your work experience or educational background.
Of course, working on your own isn’t easy. Not only do you need a knack for writing, but you also have to manage your online presence, promote your services, and connect with potential clients. However, with a systematic approach, hard work, and the right guidance, you’ll be able to build a writing career of your own.
Here’s a step-by-step guide for how to become a successful freelance writer:
01. Become a great writer
The first step in becoming a freelance writer is to improve your writing skills. In 2020, many freelancers find themselves writing online content, so you can get started by learning how to write specifically for the web.
Generally speaking, online content is clear, straight to the point, and relatable. Your audience will want information that will help them solve a problem or give them valuable new insights. As a rule of thumb, sentences need to be short and enable skimming, since people read 25% slower from computer screens than from paper.
Online content can be presented in a range of different formats, including blogs, web pages, social media posts, eBooks, and guides. For inspiration, you can take a look at other freelance writers’ portfolios, and even check out your favorite writing blog and other outlets. You’d be surprised, but a lot of the content you’ll read in most blogs and online magazines is crafted by freelancers - writers like you and me.
You can also try out some online writing and content marketing courses. Grammar Lion is a great option for budding writers thanks to its grammar refresher course. Freelance University offers a broad range of classes that cover everything from writing techniques to business management. Depending on how comfortable you are writing, you might find them to be a worthwhile investment because they can equip you with new skills.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with some of the basic skills and techniques, practice writing. This will help you develop your writing style and build confidence as a writer. You can even create a blog to help you hone your craft, establish your online presence, and display samples of your work.
02. Find your freelance writing niche
As you publish your own blog posts and check out other writers’ work online, you can start thinking about the type of writing you want to do.
While you should, especially at the beginning, be open to taking on different kinds of tasks, you can also consider which types of companies or organizations you want to start pitching to as a freelance writer.
Content writing is a huge marketing trend across all industries. Both online and print content helps companies market themselves to potential customers and grow their brand’s presence. Consequently, there’s lots of demand for freelance writers who are able to produce high-quality written work.
Depending on your interests, you can try pitching to tech companies, as well as more traditional industries, and brick-and-mortar stores. Another option is to write for other kinds of organizations, like nonprofits, educational institutions, and healthcare organizations.
Now that you’ve chosen your preferred industries, you should get an idea of your favorite types of freelance writing projects. As a writer, you may be asked to take on a wide variety of tasks, including:
Thought leadership articles
Social media posts
And much more
While you can sometimes get paid writing guest posts under your own name, content writing for company blogs is often a type of ghostwriting, in which another person (e.g., the company’s CEO) is the named author. Keep in mind that the more experience you have, the more selective you can be with your future gigs.
03. Create your online portfolio
In this day and age, how can you expect to get clients if you don’t have a website? Showcasing your writing samples online is a critical part of developing your business. You’ll want to create a website for your freelance writing activity that serves as your online portfolio.
A professional website adds credibility and authority to your business, bolstering your online presence, and spreading word of your service. Because it’s entirely your own, it gives you the power to shape your brand image, allowing you to put your best work front and center. Having a website is also a great way to put your contact information on the web so that potential clients can easily reach you.
With a Wix website, you’ll have access to an all-in-one platform for managing your content calendar, coordinating with clients, and taking payments. This will help you better organize your tasks and finances, meet deadlines, and maintain regular communication with your customers.
Finally, be sure to link to your website wherever you can. This includes all your social media pages, as well as the bio of your future blog posts and articles.
04. Set your rate
Let’s get to what we’ve all been wondering: How much do freelance writers actually get paid? To determine how much to charge as a freelancer, the first step is deciding between the different types of rates. You have a few options here:
Charge by the hour for any type of work, including articles, short-form copy such as landing pages or social media posts, or long-term projects. This is an effective choice for time-consuming projects.
Charge by the word or by the page for writing articles or blog posts. If you write long content pieces quickly, this may be the best option for you.
Charge a flat rate for bulk assignments or long projects. This only works if you know exactly what you need to do to complete a task; otherwise, you could find yourself putting in more hours than you're getting paid for.
Charge a retainer fee for ongoing work. This is a safe choice if you want a predictable base income while billing for additional projects and tasks.
As we mentioned, a huge part of freelance writing work takes the form of articles and blog posts, which typically range from 600 to 3,000 words each. Advanced freelance writers can charge up to $1.00 per word. However, to attract your first clients, you’ll probably want to start with $0.10 to 0.20 per word, or around $100-$200 for an 1,000-word article. A fair hourly rate is between $20-$40 per hour, depending on your experience and expertise. While you should keep your rates fairly low toward the beginning to attract clients and build a portfolio, you can increase your rates later as you gain experience.
All in all, a typical freelance writer in the U.S. averages about $23 per hour, or $40,000 per year. This can vary greatly from person to person, however. Keep in mind that there is a direct correlation between how much you charge and your level of experience, the length of your content, and how quickly you write. Also, remember that the freelance work schedule doesn’t always follow the usual 9 to 5; you might find yourself working for nine hours one day, and only a couple hours the next.
05. Pitch potential clients
LinkedIn is a useful platform to find companies looking to hire freelance writers. Start by browsing the LinkedIn job board. Even when companies say they’re looking for a full-time writer, there’s a good chance they’re open to working with freelancers for occasional gigs. You can also pitch to startups that may not yet have an in-house content writer or blog content of their own.
Now, for the art of the pitch: It is quite similar to an elevator pitch, with a quick summary of your skills and expertise. Just follow these pitch guidelines, one step at a time, to perfect your cold messages:
Outline your experience: Describe your relevant background, whether it’s freelance writing, digital marketing, or blogging.
Explain why you’re a good fit: If the job you’re applying for is set for a specific type of candidate, be sure to touch on those qualifications in your pitch email.
Use bullet points: Clearly outline what you can bring to the table in the form of easy-to-read bullet points. Be specific about how, exactly, you’ll help them if they hire you.
Link to your portfolio: Refer to your website and social media pages to provide samples of your written work. Even if your experience is limited, having links to a professional website and dedicated social accounts helps establish your credibility and authority.
Keep it short: No one has all day to read your pitch email. You’ll want to grab your readers’ attention right away. Don’t over-explain yourself; highlight the central information and for the rest, provide links to your work.
Show your personality: Stand out from other applicants by spicing up your pitch with humor, creativity, or a personal touch.
Here’s a sample pitch email you can use as a guide:
My name is Sandra, and I’d love to apply to your freelance writing position. As a freelance writer and blogger, I have experience creating high-quality, compelling web content that attracts customers and builds brand awareness.
I’m also an entrepreneur and busy mother of twins, so I identify strongly with the benefits of your new task management platform.
As a writer for [X] company, I will produce pieces that:
Establish your brand as a voice of authority in the industry.
Combine an engaging brand voice with top-quality insights and research.
Rank high on search engines to increase your brand’s visibility.
Provide value to readers and help convert leads.
For more information about my previous work and freelance writing experience, feel free to check out my website and LinkedIn page.
Thank you and looking forward to hearing from you,
If you’re pitching a specific topic rather than applying as a freelancer more generally, replace the broad bullet point ideas with a concise outline of your proposed piece.
If you aren’t getting responses to your pitches yet, don’t be discouraged. We’ve all been there before. To get work as a freelance writer, you’ll need to pitch potential clients often, around three to four times per week. Consistency is key.
06. Check freelance writing job boards
There are lots of options for getting work as a freelancer, but the first place to check are freelance writing job boards. These are platforms that post job openings specifically for freelancers like you. While you’ll meet with competition from other writers, browsing their job openings is still worth a try.
Popular freelance writing boards include (but aren’t limited to):
Occasionally, job boards also display opportunities in the form of tweets. Using your nifty new Twitter business account, check out tweets from @Write_Jobs, @JJobs_tweets, and @WhoPaysWriters. They’ll likely have some gigs to share.
Pro tip: Don't miss our complete guide to help you find the best freelance writing jobs!
07. Promote yourself online
Now that you’ve set the stage for your freelance career, it’s time to show the world what you’ve got! To attract the attention of potential clients, you’re going to increase your online presence and take active steps to market your services. Here are a few ways to promote yourself as a freelance writer:
Upload your writing samples to a Medium account.
Publish your articles on LinkedIn.
Write (unpaid) guest posts for online publications and blogs.
Network with other writers and digital marketing experts.
That’s right: in addition to posting your articles on your own website, you’ll want to maximize your chances of getting found online by spreading your content across the web. Creating a Medium account under your name, as well as publishing articles on LinkedIn, will help you build authority and establish your presence as a writer. The good news is that both Medium and LinkedIn allow you to republish existing articles, so long as it’s permitted by the original publication. Feel free to repurpose content from your own website or blog, and be sure to specify the original source at the beginning of your post.
Publishing articles on guest blogs requires a bit more effort, but it’s worth the experience and publicity. My go-to guest blogging strategy is to send an email to one of the writers or editors of the blog with a quick introduction of myself and a very brief outline of my content idea. You can usually find a relevant email address by searching the company’s LinkedIn page, the ‘About’ or ‘Contact’ section of their site, or by using Google Chrome extensions like Hunter and Clearbit.
At the same time, be sure to network with other writers and digital marketing professionals on social media. Many freelancers find that the most effective social media platforms for networking are LinkedIn and Twitter. Facebook groups for freelancers such as Writers Helping Writers, Creative Freelancers Unite, and the Freelance Content Marketing Writer are also helpful places to connect with other writers, learn tips and strategies for growing your business, and find job leads.
08. Keep organized no matter what
This is one of the biggest challenges all freelance writers have to face. Because you don’t have anyone to hold you accountable, you need to manage your daily schedule carefully so that you meet deadlines for your clients, juggle different writing tasks, and maintain a sound balance between your professional and personal lives. This is especially true if you’re working from home, where perception of time tends to get blurry.
The overarching tactic is to develop a clear and organized work methodology. Be sure to set daily, weekly, and monthly goals to manage your various projects. I suggest using productivity apps and extensions to keep your content schedule organized. You’ll also want tools that help you keep track of your earnings and send invoices, so that you can focus on your writing.
Some of the most helpful tools for freelance writers include:
Spreadsheets to track content creation, such as Google Sheets.
There are lots of other blogging tools you can try as well. Not only will they enable you to create each piece in a more organized and efficient manner, but they’ll also help you manage your content schedule overall.
09. Grow your professional experience
Never rest on your laurels. As a freelance writer, you need to continuously increase your knowledge, whether it’s in writing, marketing, or business. Increased experience will make you even more desirable as a freelance writer and will allow you to ask for a higher rate.
The first thing you can learn to expand your knowledge is search engine optimization, or SEO. If you write for the web, familiarizing yourself with SEO for content writing will help your text rank better on Google, and thus, attract more readers. Plus, putting down “knowledge of SEO” in your CV and online portfolio will make you stand out to potential clients. Don’t feel the need to become a technical SEO master, but do take a look at serious YouTube tutorials and free online courses, such as Moz’s beginner’s guide to SEO and the Wix SEO guide.
Together, freelancers are stronger. Make an effort to attend in-person freelance conferences and workshops, and share feedback with other writers on online writing communities. Not only will these forums and events help you improve your writing skills even further, but they’re also a great way to network with like-minded professionals. You know best which types of events are right for you, so consult with your freelance writing groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to begin your search.
As you gain more and more skills, be sure to update your online portfolio, blog, and social media bios to reflect your increased experience.
10. Be persistent
The world of freelancing is full of emotional highs and lows. One moment you’ll be popping champagne, and the next you’ll feel painfully rejected. Even when you’re at your lowest, you need to stay confident and pick yourself back up.
Every rejection is a learning experience that you can use to improve your pitch, research, and writing strategies. The savvier you are, the more successful you’ll become. And those high points - the cool new projects, the ability to make a living as a professional writer, and the self-sufficiency and independence that come with it - are absolutely exhilarating.
By following this guide, one step at a time, you’ll be able to develop your freelance writing career and obtain clients with persistence and hard work. Just remember - never, ever give up. Your freedom and independence are just around the corner.
Rebecca Strehlow, Wix Blog Writer
A writer at heart, I love beautiful words, fragrant spices, and rugged landscapes. You can find me hiking in the mountains or reading at my favorite cafe.