I’m a huge fan of Gina Horkey’s website Horkey Handbook so when she announced the book release of Make money as a freelance writer, I was thrilled. She needed proofreaders to leave a review on Amazon before the launch date so I signed up. In only a few hours I had it finished!
Gina’s Make money as a freelance writer is a very good starting point when you want to become a freelance writer. She and her co-author Sally give you a step by step guide on how to start writing freelance. Especially the 5 first steps are valuable. And in between outlining the 7 steps, they give a tremendous amount of practical tips. And I can use these because I’ve made some big mistakes as a newbie freelance writer.
But time is money, and time is scarce. So to make it convenient for you, I will summarize the most important steps and tips from Make money as a freelance writer.
Step 1: Find your niche
Narrowing down your writing topics is the most famous advice experienced freelance writers give to newbies. Gina and Sally are not an exception. But how do your find your niche? For starters, pick a few subjects you’re comfortable writing about. You don’t have to stick with these. Just get some experience in these areas and remember you can always switch to other topics.
For brainstorming topics, think of the following:
- Your hobbies (past and present)
- Subjects of your interest
- Jobs you have had in the past
- Subjects you have studied beyond high school level
- Unique experiences
You can also specialize in different types of writing, such as web content and blogs, sales copy for websites, product descriptions, ebooks, technical manuals, white papers, case studies, annual reports, speeches and more.
Step 2: Gather samples
When you are a newbie freelance writer without much experience, the hardest part is getting your first client. Gina calls it a catch-22: you can’t get a writing job without having samples, but how can you get samples without experience? Gina offers 6 ways to built up your portfolio.
Search for existing writing example. Think outside the box, such as current or past volunteer work, high school or college papers or a personal blog. It doesn’t have to be paid or published work.
- Write your samples from scratch. Publishing them is not necessary. Just put them in pdf and send it to a potential client.
- Start your own blog and website. You can write about what you want, when you want. But if you want to use it to advertise your writing skills, be aware that it needs to be excellent.
- Guest post on someone else’s website. How? Tap into your network, turn to Google and track down leads through social media or online forums.
- Get started writing for free. This might give you the creeps, but it is a good way to build your portfolio. Once you’ve built up your client base, you can let the free jobs go.
- Make a paying gig your first sample. In theory, this is the perfect solution. It is very difficult, however.
Step 3: Create a portfolio
A portfolio is a place where you collect and present your samples. Gina advises to put it online. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a blog or website, although this is a possibility. You can also make your portfolio on:
- a one or two pager. This is basically a Google or Word doc that you can download as a PDF and which has its own unique URL.
- a hire me page. You can put this page on your own self-hosted website.
- Pinterest. You can make graphic or images (for example with Canva) and present your portfolio for free on Pinterest.
- Contently. It’s a free platform where you can easily update your portfolio. It has a professional look.
Step 4: Source jobs
Now you did all the preparation, it’s time for the real work. Don’t be insecure. You might feel like you aren’t ready, but Gina and Sally advise you to just give it a go. You can source for job by:
- networking. If you don’t have an existing network, you can build one. Get out there, online and in real life. And remember: people love to help, so don’t be afraid to ask around for a bit of help.
- job boards. ProBlogger, JournalismJobs, and Craigslist are free, Contena is paid. In the beginning of her freelance writing career, Gina found 90% of her writing gigs via job boards. It is also a great way to practice your pitching skills.
- cold pitching. Target companies without blogs, with inactive blogs and with thriving blogs. More about this in the next step.
- social media. Keep your eyes open for opportunities. Let people know you are a freelance writer and jump in when people comment on a project they are working on. You can join Facebook groups as well. You can also use Twitter and LinkedIn.
Step 5: Start pitching
This is the step I’m most reluctant to do. It feels like I’m selling myself and it makes me feel uncomfortable. But with Gina’s templates (see offers three in her book) I feel more secure about cold pitching. Gina also guarantees that your pitch will get stronger and become better over time. For writing the best pitch, see gives the following tips:
- Accurately portray your experience.
- Be somewhat personal.
- Personalize your pitch. This requires some research on the companies you pitch.
- Follow directions. If they ask for three samples, give them three samples.
More general tips about pitching:
- Pitching is a numbers game: the more you send out, the more likely you’ll be to land a client.
- Focus on building relationships before asking for work.
- Follow-up is key.
Step 6: Land your first client
You need to think about your rate. The more specialized your niche, the higher the pay. Gina concludes that a starting rate of $ 0.10 per word is respectable, but you probably begin with a rate of $ 0.04 or $ 0.05 per word. After getting more clients, you can raise your rate to $ 0.15 and $ 0.20 per word.
Although Gina gives a rate per word, she advises you to quote potential clients with a price per article. You can use the rate per word as a means to calculate your rate per article. Don’t quote a rate per hour. If you’re an efficient writer (and you will definitely become one when you get more experience), you cut yourself short.
The price you quote also depends on the difficulty of the gig. If it is easy to write, you can agree with a lower fee. If you need to do lots of research, quote more.
When you and your new client agree on the assignment, make it formal with a contract. Your email messages reflecting you and your client’s agreed upon term count as a contract too.
Step 7: Earn your first $ 1.000
This step is about writing great content efficiently. When you start on a new gig, make sure you know who the target reader is and what the objective of the article is. Start with making an outline, then sit down and write. Write without editing and leave a marker when you need to look something up afterward. After that, you can start editing. This is a timely process in which you complete research, check grammar and review your piece for readability.
Also very important is an impressive headline. Some tips:
- keep it short (8 words or less)
- include numbers when appropriate
- offer a benefit, answer or solution
- How to achieve [benefit] without [something tedious]
- 5 surprising reasons why [topic]
- Why [common belief] is not true
- 10 ways to do [something your audience care about]
Well, these are Gina’s 7 steps to make money as a freelance writer. Do you have experience with these or similar steps and tips? I would love to hear it!