How to become a freelance writer

When I decided to give my freelance writing career a real chance, I started reading tons of articles about it. I wanted to be as informed as possible. Of course, you can never read everything and there were a lot of articles I could have skipped. But this is the way I like to prepare myself: read anything about a topic, filter the most valuable tips and then go for it. As a newbie freelance writer, it can be overwhelming. Where to begin?! I’ve been there! So to help you to make a well-informed start, I’ll give you a step by step guide on how to become a freelance writer with the most valuable advice I’ve encountered during my reading spur.

1. Set a goal

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How much money do you want to make in a year, in two years, in three years?
  2. What are you’re willing to do to make it a success?

Answer honestly and be realistic. Working 10 hours a week and expecting to earn $$$ in the first month is not realistic. Especially the first months will require hard work. If you’re into this full-time, expect to make at least 60 hours a week while earning only a few hundred in the first few months. But after that, if you do it correctly, this investment will be worth it!

How to become a freelance writer

My husband works from home with our baby taking notes

2. Choose a profitable niche

Many successful freelance writers mention the importance of choosing a profitable niche. As Jorden from Writing Revolt explains it: ‘High-paying potential clients don’t want a generalist who might be able to give them what they want. They want an expert who can use words to help them get traffic, new leads, or whatever other results they’re looking for.’

Don’t be afraid that you select a too narrow niche. Narrow is good! As Jennifer from All Indie Writers explains: ‘niches should neither be so broad that you can’t compete or so narrow that there’s no audience’.

How to choose a freelance writing niche?

It may seem like a challenge to find a profitable writing niche, but there are lots of tips out there.

Jorden from Writing Revolt has the following advice:

  • Choose something that you’re knowledgeable about or are willing to learn a lot about.
  • Investigate if clients are willing to pay for content.
  • If you have a list of several possible niches, choose the most profitable one. Focus your marketing strategy on this niche and use the other ones as secondary niches.

Carol agrees with having multiple niches. She writes on her blog: ‘You do not need or even want to specialize in one, single niche. If your one industry goes in the tank, then you’ve got nothing. It’s better to carve out several different specialized writing niches where you can claim expertise.

Carol from Make a Living Writing sums up how she successfully found a profitable niche:

  1. I wrote a lot on many different topics, which helped me improve my writing.
  2. As I wrote, I learned which topics I liked.
  3. Of the topics I liked, I observed which niches paid well, and wrote more on those.
  4. I kept developing more sophisticated expertise in my chosen fields.
  5. Good-paying clients became fairly easy to land.

Still no idea about which niche suits you? Jennifer of All Indie Writers wrote a list of 101 niches to write about. It gave me some good inspiration!

3. Create a freelance writer website

A successful freelance writer I follow is Gina Horkey. On her website HorkeyHandbook, she offers paid courses for starting your freelance writing career. However, her blog is free and you can find tons of useful info there as well! She has also written a small guide to set up your freelance writer website. She advises:

  • Put your niche in the website headline. You need to market yourself as a niche writer on your website.
  • When you pick a niche, you also pick a target audience. You should always look at your website from the perspective of a client and think about whether or not the copy there would make them want to hire you.
  • Invest in yourself and build a website that converts visitors to clients. Include your best client testimonials on your home page

Jorden from Writing Revolt also has a pdf about how to create a freelance writer website. She has some similar advice, but adds:

  • Keep your navigation bar simple
  • Use only 3 fields (name, email address, and message) for your contact form and don’t use ‘submit’ for your button. Use something like ‘Send email’.

4. Pimp your LinkedIn profile

Using LinkedIn (or social media in general) for kick starting your freelance writing career might not be obvious, but Jorden from Writing Revolt wrote a piece about her successful LinkedIn-strategy.

  • Pimp your profile:
    • Don’t use words like motivated and skilled
    • State your niche and field of expertise in your headline
    • Think about what you can offer your clients and mention this in your headline and summary (e.g. more traffic, increase revenue)
    • Write your summary as an expert business owner, so clients will treat you like one.
  • Connect with potential clients, but only with real potential clients. Research companies in your niche and find the people in charge of content marketing, like Marketing managers, Content marketing managers, and Head copywriters.
  • Start adding articles on LinkedIn Publisher to show your expertise and authority in your niche. Jorden has a great extra tip: ‘Publish the original post to your blog on your freelance writer website first. Then, repost it using LinkedIn publisher and include a link to your site at the top. That way, you can drive traffic back to your site and keep your blog updated with fresh content for your target clients.’ See also the next step about writing samples.
  • Reach out to your ideal client.
  • Become active in relevant LinkedIn Groups.
How to become a freelance writer

Our temporary office on a campsite in the north of Spain

5. Write samples that will impress your ideal clients

If you already have had some writing jobs, you can use these as a sample. If not, or if it doesn’t give a good overview of your portfolio, you need to write samples that show off your expertise in your niche. As Annie writes on The Write Life: ‘Don’t have the experience yet? Think about taking on a few volunteer or lower-paying jobs to bulk up your portfolio and boost your network.’

Annie has some more good advice: ‘Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings and only pick your strongest pieces to use in your portfolio.’

Carol from Make a Living Writing wrote a guest post on Renegade Writers where she advocates that you should not make ‘fake’ samples. She explains that writing your own samples without having some feedback from an editor, doesn’t prove your a capable freelance writer. In her opinion, there are two ways to get legit samples:

  • mine your past; use samples from your staff-writer days for example.
  • do a pro bono project; Linda explains: ‘Tell them you’re looking to add a few clips to your portfolio in a particular topic. You don’t have to tell them you don’t have any samples yet.’

6. Take yourself and your business serious

It is important to remember that you don’t have to be an expert yet on a certain topic. Jorden writes about this: ‘Stop holding yourself back because you think you aren’t good enough. You don’t need a Master’s degree in finance to write about finance. And you don’t need a marketing degree to write about marketing.’

Gina dedicates a complete blog post on this subject. She writes: ‘if you don’t take yourself seriously as a freelancer, no one else will!’. Gina also gives advice about how to take yourself and your business serious:

  • Treat yourself like a client
  • Pitch like a boss (see the next step)
  • Set goals (but you’ve already done that right?)
  • Put yourself out there
  • Invest in yourself

7. Pitch jobs

I would like to be honest with you: I hate cold pitching. Therefore, I rarely do it but Jorden from Writing Revolt and Gina from HorkeyHandbook are huge fans. As I am not a successful freelance writer (yet) I must admit that these women have a better case… So pitch as crazy if you want to become a successful freelance writer! Jorden warns, though: ‘It was hard work. I sent hundreds of emails to companies who didn’t respond at all.’ But still, cold emailing is the best way to get started, to get new clients and to build or improve your portfolio.

I will summarize some of their most important tips for you:

  • Jorden used TimeLeads for generating leads. In her blog about cold emailing, she explains in detail how she used this website.
  • Use Twitter to interact with the person you’re emailing, Jorden advises. ‘This is a great way to get on their radar before you ever even send your pitch.’
  • Also: Position yourself as a helpful expert — not as a desperate job-seeker.
  • And: Include a strong call to action. ‘I ended my cold emails by asking when would be a good time to talk about the company’s content marketing. Then, I’d get a few responses and start scheduling phone calls so I could explain my services and talk about how I could help their business.’
  • Gina advises searching for startups in your niche through Google. Startups need to get their name out there, they most often have a marketing budget and they know the value of content marketing.
  • Most of your cold emails will go unanswered. Gina uses a tool to track who opens her pitch emails. She explains all about it on her blog.

Cold pitching template

Gina gives away her ultimate cold pitching template with a few examples . You should definitely take a look!

8. Get active on writing job markets

I got this extensive list from The Write Life:

1. Craigslist (Avoid those who ask you to write pieces on a topic as part of the application. They are just gathering free material. Avoid those without real-people connections.)

2. Writers Market

3. The Best of the Magazine Markets for Writers

4. Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers

5. Blogging Pro

6. Pro Blogger

7. Worldwide Freelance

8. Simply Hired

9. Morning Coffee Newsletter

10. Freelance Writing Gigs

11. LinkedIn (Paid upgrade has many more opportunities.)

12. Free Trade Magazines (Free subscriptions to magazines you won’t find at the newsstand.)

13. Free Trade Publications (Ditto number 11.)

14. Free Trade Magazine Source (Ditto number 11 and 12.)

15. Magatopia (Ditto 11, 12, 13.)

How about Upwork?

Good question! Many freelancers are a huge fan of Upwork. I am not yet convinced. It is difficult to compete with low rate freelancers from Asian countries. My niche is very small since I’m a Dutch freelance writer. Therefore, I have fewer competitors and I’m giving it a serious chance. You can give it a shot too, but take a look at the number of competitors first.

9. Become a fast writer

Becoming a fast writer can double you earning. When it takes four hours to finish a blog post for which you receive $ 100, you earn $ 25 per hour. If you speed up your writing skills and finish the job in two hours, you earn $ 50 per hour. Sounds great right?

Related to this is the importance of ditching an hourly rate. Your client is only interested in a high-quality end result and doesn’t care how much work you’ve put in. Jorden from Writing Revolt wrote a guest post on Gina’s website Horkey Handbook explains: ‘It’s time to stop scaring off potential freelance blogging clients and start charging a flat rate per blog post!’

Jorden also explains how to become a fast writer:

  1. Outline the blog post. Type all of the headers and then start thinking about what you want to include in each section.
  2. Bang out a rough first draft. It should be truly rough. Don’t hold back or stop to edit your work. Just focus on writing freely and getting as much on the page as possible.
  3. Edit the next day. Come back to it later with a fresh mind.

Re-use your finest ideas

The more you write about a certain topic, the easier the words will flow. You will become a faster writer without even noticing it! Also, if you have a couple of fine topics, re-use them. Make sure your pieces are different, of course, but re-using the same topic is an efficient way of earning money.

10. Don’t give up!

The first months of your (full-time) freelance writing career are hard work. You will send hundreds of cold emails, get almost no respond and the clients you do land won’t pay enough for you to pay your bills. It’s frustrating! I know! But please don’t give up. In a year, you will look back on your early days and smile because of how you’ve come!

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