Freelance writing can provide one of the most fulfilling, meaningful, and yes, even lucrative careers that a person who loves words can pursue.
The average freelance content writer's salary stands at $66,991 per year, according to Payscale. Pair that income with a flexible schedule, no boss, and a location-independent lifestyle, and you've got all the ingredients for a great life.
In today's knowledge economy, becoming a freelance writer is a much more achievable ambition than it was even a decade ago. Corporations, nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and public agencies all need writers, and many prefer to work with qualified freelancers. A study by the Freelancers Union and Upwork predicted that 53% of the U.S. economy will consist of freelance workers by 2027, and already, more than 53 million people freelance.
Of course, there's a lot of space to cover between deciding to be a writer and actually supporting yourself through your craft. How do you get started freelance writing? Where do you find clients? What should you charge?
Here are our top freelance writing tips for beginners to learn how to kick off a career that lets you work how and where you like, whether that’s at home or on the other side of the world.
<div class="tip">Looking instead to hire a freelance writer? Here's how to filter the good from the bad, and hire a great writer.</div>
1. Interview Professional Freelance Writers
Online articles (like this one) can impart basic information, but nothing compares to the benefit of a face-to-face conversation with a successful freelance writer. If you know someone in the field, invite them to lunch. If not, reach out to one of the people Haris Halkic has interviewed on his site, The Greatest Freelance Writers.
Most writers are excited to share their industry experience with you, so don't be afraid to hit them with questions. Consider carefully what your interviewee shares with you about the benefits, challenges, and opportunities in this field. Then take the plunge!
2. Set Up and Maintain Your Online Presence
If you aren't easy to find on the internet, you won't get hired. Start getting found with a basic website and a social media presence.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a web designer to get a nice site. Easy-to-use platforms such as Wix and Wordpress let anyone set up and manage a professional website, for free or for a reasonable price. As a freelance writer, your site should include:
- a brief professional bio
- your blog
- links to your social media profiles
Speaking of social media, you need to be active on at least two platforms, probably LinkedIn and Facebook. You may also find value in Twitter, Instagram, or another social media outlet. These sites help you reach clients and bestow professional credibility.
3. Build Your Portfolio
Most prospective clients will want to see work you've already done for others before they hire you. Compile some sample pieces and put them on a site like Journo Portfolio that lets you keep everything in one place. That way, you can send a single, handy link to your prospect. If your potential client wants to see pieces in a specific industry, you can email links of tailored samples to them directly as well.
But how do you build a portfolio if you have never written a piece for a client before? There are two main options.
First, you can volunteer to write articles for a local nonprofit or small business for free and use those to pitch for paid work. Second, you can write sample pieces for brands you know, as long as you state honestly that the piece is purely a sample and that the brand did not hire you to create it.
4. Pitch New Clients Regularly
Snagging your first client is tough. Unless you have a connection with someone looking to hire a writer like you, it may take 100 or so cold pitches to get that initial client.
Don't get discouraged while you're pitching, though. Everyone else who made it in this business had to do the tough stuff, too. The good news is that getting your second client will prove a little easier. Pretty soon, you could have a tidy little collection of clients and a refreshing income stream.
But be careful not to be lulled into complacency by your early successes. The business of being a freelance writer is just as much about drumming up clients as it is about writing.
During the course of your career, you’ll lose clients through normal attrition, and even the best clients will take breaks from publishing. When you lose a client for a few weeks or for good, you need to have a pipeline of fresh work to replace your losses.
5. Charge What You're Worth
Win your clients on the stellar quality of your work, not the tiny size of your invoice.
Beginning writers often fall prey to the temptation to charge low fees, but nothing will kill your business faster. Second-language freelance writers in India and the Philippines can underbid you no matter how low you go, and high-quality clients will wonder why you are so cheap. Do yourself a favor and charge a fee that's fair for your experience level and knowledge of the client’s niche.
6. Invest in Your Professional Development
It's important to stay up to date on what's happening in the industry, sharpen your skills, and network with other writers. You can do that by attending a conference such as The Freelance Conference or taking a course like Donald Miller's StoryBrand.
You can also read articles online and listen to podcasts such as The No Pants Show. Remember, though, that taking a class on writing is not the same thing as actually putting your butt in a chair and your fingers on a keyboard. That's how you make the magic—and the money—happen.
Earning a full-time living as a freelance writer can be difficult, but it’s possible if you put your mind to it. You can start heading in the right direction by following the freelance writing tips above. Before you know it, you’ll have a queue of clients eager for the chance to pay you for your skills.
This article was written by Compose.ly writer Holland Webb.