There are not enough freelance writers. Seriously. Whenever I come up with a freelance writing based topic, I mention that it’s extremely competitive. If there’s a writing gig on a freelance writing marketplace such as Upwork.com (formerly oDesk.com), Fiverr.com, or elsewhere then there will be a ton of applicants — even if it’s just a micro-project.
Today I have a perspective that contradicts the statement “freelance writing is extremely competitive”. Over the past many months I have successfully failed to hire an affordable writer for this very blog — no, It’s not that I am going to make my blog multi-authored — I just happen to want to write and publish blog posts in a consistent way.
You might already have noticed that neither do I write regularly nor do I focus on a single topic. I only write about things that I find interesting at that point of time. Therefore I don’t have any plans to hire an army of content writers to publish 100s of blog posts a month — like the Mashables and BuzzFeeds of the world are doing.
I was just looking for someone — preferably a contributor or an editor — who could help me finish a blog post much faster. Because now I take several days to finish an in-depth or lengthy blog post (like this one). So I thought I could outsource the “writing” process and focus only on research and editing by myself — to save a lot of my time and effort.
And you know what happened? It never worked — at least for me!
If you have been following my freelance topics then you probably know that I’m not a freelance writer myself — but I wish I were one. However, as you can see I can write for myself but definitely not the way someone wants me to. And yet, I got a ton of writing opportunities in the past — by way of guest blogging, SEO writing, web content, etc. and I was forced to deny all of it. :(
So what’s the point?
Simple! You don’t have to be a native English speaker or a best selling author to make money writing.
If you can write, then money can be made. Absolutely!
But no, that doesn’t really mean that you can become a six-figure writer in few months/years just because you know how to write few sentences. It doesn’t work that way at all!
The real questions are… Can you write quality content? Can you write content that meets the criteria or guidelines set by your client? Can you write error free (both grammatically and technically) content? If your answer is ‘Yes’ to all the above questions then you can become a successful freelance writer. Guaranteed!
How To Get Started As A Freelance Writer
Well, I guess there’s no definite answer to the question. Why? Because everyone starts in their own way. For instance, a good percentage of the successful freelance writers started it as a hobby or for an extra income. And when they realized its potential they quit their job and became full-time freelance writers/bloggers.
Then, there are others who stumbled upon freelance writing and hope to make money online from it. They start, stick with it, and then all of a sudden quit when they find a full-time job or when they think it’s not worth it.
I hate to say this. But if you’re not passionate about “writing” then you will almost definitely fail. Because you got to love what you do.
If you want to get started as a freelancer, the first thing to do is ask yourself why you want to start freelancing in the first place?
Is it a hobby? Is it for an extra income? Is it because you have extra free time? Is it because you want to make money as you don’t have a job? or Is it because you simply love to write? A lot can depend upon the reason why you want to start it.
For instance, if you can write really well and have a financial backup then you won’t probably start by accepting low paying writing jobs. You might want to start only when you get the right client. On the other hand, if you are freelancing to make quick money then most probably you will knock all doors and accept whatever writing project that you get.
All right. I would rephrase the whole idea as a random list of freelancing tips. I said ‘random’ because they’re not written in any particular order. And they may not be related either. I just wanted to come up with such a list as I’ve collected a ton of freelance writing resources in my Evernote. And it also reflects my failed hiring experience. ;)
25 Freelance Writing Tips That You Need To Know
It should take a lot of time (and effort as well) to go through each point as they’re also accompanied by an additional reference. So my advice would be, don’t try to finish it at one go. Just start slowly and try to figure out whether it’s for you or not.
I can’t say if this is your ultimate freelance writing guide or not, but I can affirmatively say one thing for sure. If you can’t spend time reading and learning then freelancing is definitely not for you. Again, sorry.
“It doesn’t matter if that person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer, or whatever; their writing skills will pay off. That’s because being a good writer is about more than writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate. Writing is making a comeback all over our society. Look at how much people e-mail and text-message now rather than talk on the phone. Look at how much communication happens via instant messaging and blogging. Writing is today’s currency for good ideas.” — Jason Fried
1. Showcase Yourself As An Expert
The ultimate goal of your freelance writing career should be to showcase yourself as an expert or at least to get a decent visibility online. You can either start a blog to show your expertise or there are over 51 publishing platforms where you can contribute content and showcase your awesomeness.
The idea is to focus on one platform where you want to contribute content consistently. It’s a great way to showcase your skills to your future clients. Yes, they will want to see your portfolio before even considering you. Your portfolio should give them a reason to hire you.
Remember, I’m talking about freelance writing in the long term. If you think short term — to make few extra bucks — check out my freelance writing gigs and you should be able to identify few websites where you can get few clients.
Otherwise, what you need is an online presence or a blog. Because any client who would want to hire you will check your style of writing to make sure that they are hiring the right person.
So, where do you start or what will you write? Well, it depends.
If you choose a publishing platform like Medium.com then you better publish few high quality articles that shows your word power.
If you create a blog (or a profile on any of those publishing platforms), make sure that you have a complete profile and a picture of yours (that makes you a real person). If your profile is attractive and unique then it can become your personal brand and lead generator.
If you have decided on blogging, then publish few articles about topics that you’re passionate about so that it will reflect your expertise and will ultimately act as your portfolio. And it’s a good idea to limit the number of topics. That is, write only about topics that you really passionate about.
Apart from that, you can also publish articles that shows your hobbies, interests and experience or you can write it together in an About page. Just a quick reminder: don’t try to be an “I can write any topic” kind of writer. Why? Because no one can really excel at everything.
As you probably know, freelance writing is not all about simple ezine articles. It can be web content (product description or technical content), SEO content (for an SEO agency or a blog), ebooks, copywriting, blog posts (for individuals or brands), articles (for magazines, newsletters, press releases, etc.), and much more.
If your primary interests are technology and gadgets then write about it. If your interests are travel, food, health, etc. then start a lifestyle blog. If you know a lot about a specific thing then start a niche blog and then create another profile on a relevant publishing platform to showcase your portfolio.
For example, if you are a health expert then you can start a fitness blog and also create a portfolio website at SnapPages.com. Why two platforms? Because your SnapPages will act as a hub that links to various works of yours and your blog will just act as a portfolio and a business (because it can make you money eventually as you go).
And don’t forget to take hints from other writers that you admire or in your niche. See how they have branded themselves and their portfolio and expertise to get an idea.
Most of the content creators available are those who don’t focus on a specific niche. They write on almost any topic. So if you’re confident that you can produce better quality content than your peers then blogging is the right way to acquire clients, showcase your expertise, and build credibility.
2. Be A Niche Writer
When you start freelance writing there’s every possibility that you will want to write about everything and anything. For instance, if your first bid is for a series of health topics then the next one could be for a technology post. You repeat it until you get your first project and it could be related to traveling.
Well, it’s not a bad idea to do it but the problem is… your content will always be mediocre. You will never be able to improve the quality of your writing because you don’t know where to focus. The result? Sooner or later you will start hating freelancing as you’re only getting micro-jobs that pays peanuts.
It’s something that you want to avoid, right? So, what’s the solution? Be a niche writer! In other words, focus on a particular industry or a series of topics where you want to specialize and can excel.
3. Say “No” When You Have To
When you become a niche writer you will have to say ‘no’ to writing projects in other niches. Why? It’s impossible to become an expert in all topics and your client must be well aware about it. So when they offer you a project they know that you don’t expect premium rates for your services.
And if they liked your content — though you are not an expert — then they will end up hiring you for more projects because someone is offering a blog post that’s worth $100 for just $15 (or even lower). The result? You will end up taking more such projects and never become an expert writer.
So, do not accept all kinds of projects. If it’s something that’s not interesting to you or you can’t write then let your client know about it — instead of delivering low quality content.
4. Niche Writers Enjoy Premium
The primary reason why you don’t earn more than $5-$25 per article is that you don’t have any specialization. If you’re specialized in few topics and is an expert in it then your clients will be happy to pay you a premium. One thing that’s common among all professional freelance writers is niche expertise. None of them are “I will write any topic” kind of writers.
Niche writers write about topics that they’re passionate about. So, they can write a blog post in a way that other writers might not be able to. Again, it gains them better credibility as well because they have in-depth knowledge about their niche and is considered as an expert.
5. How Much Should You Charge
So how much should you charge — or rather how much can you make as a freelance writer — for your content as a beginner, average writer or an expert? Well, it really depends upon the kind of value that you’re providing to your client — and also the effort and time that you are taking.
Unless and until you’ve proved your writing skills there’s every chance that you will be underpaid for your all your writings. It happens because when you get started you don’t know what you are doing, and your client don’t have a clue about the true worth of your content.
Moreover you can’t even say if your content is better than other writers or not as you don’t know. But you will figure it out eventually and then you will know whether you’re a good writer or not.
Also, it’s no secret that when it comes to freelance writing, sometimes mediocre writers makes a lot more income than the so called experts (those who have excellent English and writing skills). You know why? They know what they are doing. They know how to do it. They know what value they’re offering to the client.
For example, if I’m to start freelance writing then I can start with say $25 per 500 words. And start over-delivering. So the clients will probably come back and give me more projects. Eventually it will keep me busy and I can raise my rates to $50 (or more) per 500 words. Thereby making sure that only real clients stay with me and eventually I get what I think my blog posts are worth.
6. You Don’t Have To Know Everything About Your Niche
“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne
Okay, let’s make it simple. You do not have to be a health expert to start a fitness blog or to become a fitness writer. Do you know when does a person start a niche blog? It’s when he/she is passionate about that topic. Actually, it’s kind of boring to write about topics that we know almost everything about — especially when it’s something that’s readily available elsewhere on the web.
It’s a lot more exciting to write about topics that we just learned or when we want to share our perspective of something.
When a person is passionate about a topic he/she will be curious about it and will see themselves reading, sharing, curating, all things related to it. Only then they’ll will be able to write expert topics or otherwise known as useful content. And it can be about things that you’ve well researched, or something that you learned, or something that you want to share, or anything like that.
If I’m excited or curious about something then I can easily come up with a dozen of topics revolving around that. The key is… Don’t stop reading. Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop sharing. It’s your enthusiasm that counts.
7. Freelance Marketplaces Aren’t That Lame
If you have already kick-started freelance writing then you might have come across different freelance marketplaces like Upwork, Freelancer.com, Guru.com, etc. The problem is… it’s all crowded with a ton of other writers. Well, I guess that’s the reason why other successful freelance writers do not recommend it. The reality is that there is a very high probability that most writers would have tried their luck on those freelance or similar sites at least once.
Again, another problem is… job posts on such websites can’t be classified as premium. That is, they are not going to pay you $500 for a blog post — unless you’re super-lucky. Now the good thing about such marketplaces is that… if you can deliver high quality content that meets your client’s expectations then it will be a great start. If no one is hiring you then it obviously means that you’re doing something wrong or you don’t meet your client expectations. Sorry.
Also, most of the content creators (especially beginners) on such freelance marketplaces are the ones who are willing to write virtually on any topics. They are not niche/expert writers and that’s your opportunity. For instance, if you’ve got great writing and communication skills with a relevant portfolio to show off then you will definitely get noticed when you apply for a writing project.
You should get few projects like that and can continue it until you realize your own worth. That’s how successful writers get started on freelance marketplaces and then they move on.
8. Be Active On Social Media
Social media marketing is now part of almost any marketing campaigns and it’s not limited to things “online”. Thanks to the growth of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, etc. which are still exploding like never before. And it means, if you’re not on social media then you’re missing something.
Your clients can be anywhere. They may be already on your Facebook friends list, or your Twitter followers, or was one of your recent LinkedIn profile visitors. So how do you take advantage of that? Simple. Just be social and network with others — help others, get help.
People HATE being marketed to. But they LOVE being helped.
It’s worth to mention that you do not need a presence on each and every social network out there. Think about the networks that makes more sense to you and be there only. For instance, if you’re a health expert then you should create a profile on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, and Instagram and share your latest blog posts or health content to keep it active and engaging.
9. Network Before You Need To
“Freelancers: Network BEFORE you need to. The reason so many of you are disenchanted is you try to apply a “fast food” model to relationships.” — Joel Klettke
The title says everything, right? Well, I only have one thing to say… when you sense an opportunity somewhere… Network! You can build a relationship by sending a simple email or a tweet. As long as you’re not trying to sell something in it it’s going to become a genuine connection.
For instance, you can create a list of businesses or websites or clients that may need your service and initiate a contact with them.
Let’s say you’re a copywriter and you noticed a lot of errors on a small business website. What can you do? Just shoot an email and highlight all the errors. They may end up hiring you when they notice that you’re a copywriter or you can make an offer eventually after exchanging few emails.
Or, if their blog is inactive (or if they don’t have a blog) then you can send your pitch as a freelance blogger — keep your relevant work portfolio ready in advance. You got nothing to lose!
10. Join Groups & Forums
It’s a good idea to join few Facebook Groups or LinkedIn Groups or Quora or niche Internet forums where you can participate in various discussions related to your industry. I was hyperactive on Digital Point (a webmaster forum) until 2008 and then focused on Twitter and other social networks.
You can join these networks to enhance your knowledge, to help, and to get help. Once again, don’t try to market your services on these platforms directly. Instead, help others and be part of discussions. You never know where it’s going to take you or what it’s going to bring you.
11. You Don’t Need An English Degree
“Stay hungry, stay foolish.” — Steve Jobs
You don’t need a degree in English to start a freelancing career but you must be a good writer (or have to become a good writer). So how do you become a good writer? Practice. Practice makes one perfect. According to an award-winning writer — who’s actually a college dropout — the three credentials in a freelance writer are: curiosity, courage, and hunger.
12. Good Writers & Bad Writers
The difference between good writers and bad writers has little to do with skill. It has to do with perseverance. Bad writers quit. Good writers keep going. That’s all there is to it.
No, no, no. Those are not my words. It’s by Jeff Goins who highlights the difference between good writers and bad writers in a fantastic short writeup. He goes on by saying that good writers practice a lot and spend a lot of time reading, writing, editing, revising until it’s perfect.
And they welcome criticism and use it to improve their work. Meanwhile, bad writers are lazy and they refuse to practice and improve their writing and that makes them bad writers.
13. Meet Your Client’s Expectations
Let me repeat. Meet your client’s expectations, for sure. The problem with most freelance writers (beginners and average writers) is that they fail to understand their client’s requirements. And yet, they believe so blindly that they’ve delivered the best content.
If you didn’t pay close attention to your client’s requirements then they will be disappointed and you will end up editing a lot (or even rewriting the whole content).
So, when you apply for a writing project you should know what your client is looking for and they must get a sense that you know what you’re doing. How? Just read the editorial guidelines or pay close attention to their requirements.
If you didn’t understand their requirements then ask the right questions to make sure that you got what’s exactly in their mind. It not only gets you more money but it also makes the whole writing process more streamlined.
And remember, when your content doesn’t meet the expectation of your clients it can’t be called “Quality”. That said, you don’t have to deliver perfect blog posts that shows your best work but you got to meet your client’s expectation.
14. Different Clients. Different Needs.
Your clients are all different. For instance, if it’s a not-so credible agency then they won’t look for perfect writers. All they care about is pricing and most probably they will hire the best among all affordable writers.
The good thing about such agencies is that if your work is good enough then they will probably hire you for more projects and it means you get a steady set of assignments every day, week, or month.
And then there are reputed agencies who do know the importance of quality content. So they will look for credible writers only who are professionals with an excellent track-record and someone who can deliver quality content on time.
One quick way to identify quality website is by checking their web design and content — see how perfect it is. If you can notice copywriting errors and poor quality images then it’s just a mediocre agency that may not pay much.
If you’re hired by someone who know the value of your content then they will most probably come back to you. If your client is not convinced then you send the pitch by saying how you can add value to their business. If your client is not convinced by your pitch then it only means that they don’t believe in you.
It can’t be because they do not have a budget — even if they told you something like that. Most clients have enough budget for design and content — as they are one time costs. It’s just that they are not willing to pay your asking price as they don’t know your worth or don’t understand how you can help them.
15. Deliver On Time
If there’s one thing that makes a writer a bad writer is when they don’t deliver on time. If you want ten days to complete a project then let your client know. Don’t make your client to wait indefinitely after the projected date. It’s a bad sign.
Moreover, when you deliver projects on time it basically means that your pay per hour is healthy. For instance, if you complete a $500 project in five hours then it means your pay per hour is $100. Now if you delayed it and spent ten hours on it then your pay per hour is halved to $50 per hour.
16. Always Follow Up
When a client emails you, try to respond in less than 24 hours. It tells your client that you’re reliable and dedicated. It’s something that not many freelance writers practice. A timely reply is always appreciated and expected. Not just by your clients, but by everyone. ;)
17. Embrace Rejection
“Thank you for your application. After reviewing your work and experience, we’ve decided to not move forward at this time. We appreciate your interest in us and wish you success in your job search.”
Got rejected? Good. Embrace it!
- It teaches you how to stop being rejected.
- It allows you into an exclusive, world class club.
- It demolishes your competition.
- It helps you cut through the crap.
- It brings you better clients.
For example, you pitched a client and got rejected immediately. Don’t stop. You can always revert and know what exactly were they looking for and can reconnect when you’re ready or at least can avoid the mistake next time.
18. Getting The First Client
Getting the first client is perhaps the biggest challenge of any freelance writer. Because you’re new to this business (yes, freelancing is a business) and you don’t have a clue about how things work. Now the problem or the good thing is… there is no definite way to find your first client.
The strategy used by the freelancer “A” may not work for freelancer “B” (even if he did it exactly like the freelancer “A”).
Start small but steady.
What you need is experience as you want to know more about the market, different types of clients, and what they’re looking for.
Your first client can be that friend on one of your social networks, or from a freelance marketplace, or from a job board, or someone who hired you when you pitched them the right way. For instance, check out this blog post by Tom Ewer about how he found his first (real) client.
19. Always Start Small? Maybe Not!
“If you can’t make it good, at least make it look good.” — Bill Gates
It really matters. If you’re not new to the industry and believe that your writing is above average then you shouldn’t start small (assuming that you do not expect any income from freelancing). Otherwise, it’s not a bad idea to start small — as you need a track record.
20. Getting More Quality Clients
There are a lot of websites on the web to find freelance writing gigs. It includes premium portals, content agencies, content mills, content marketplaces, and of course freelance marketplaces and job boards. The problem is… you will eventually feel that it’s not enough or worth it, and you will want to create your own ‘system’ to get more leads.
Every freelance writer has his/her own set of rules that they follow closely. They try different things and see what’s working and what’s not. That exactly is the reason why different freelance writers advocate different strategies.
If I say I’m getting a lot of freelance writing gigs this way then it may not work at all for you. For example, see how a writer got over 500 leads by creating her own system. And I would also recommend this post which is basically a freelancer’s guide to grow his business — it’s not about a ‘system’ but a list of marketing ideas.
21. Stop Marketing, Start Helping!
Let’s say you’re a great writer and you know how to send that perfect pitch. But there’s a very good chance that you will be rejected. Even if you show your portfolio or great content published elsewhere on the web they will gently deny you by saying that they’re not interested or they have their own writers or they don’t have a budget.
Well, the reality is that… they are not convinced about the kind of value that you can add to their business. When you initiate a contact to help someone don’t expect anything in return. If they end up hiring you then consider it as a bonus of your good deed.
22. Your Hire Me Page = Everything
If you are a freelancer who chose to start a blog (or maybe a portfolio website) then you should have a “Hire Me” page. If your reader is your potential client then he/she will definitely check your Hire Me page to see what services you’re offering and to know more about your expertise.
So you can sell yourself by highlighting the services that you’re providing and the kind of benefits that your clients will enjoy. And don’t forget to showcase some real testimonials as well — when you get it.
However, don’t forget the fact that clients pay for your results, not your résumé.
For instance, if your work was featured on some top magazine or blog then you can showcase it by linking to it and can link to some of the best articles that you’ve written on your own blog (or elsewhere) so that they can quickly go through it and know whether you are the right person or not.
Finally, don’t forget to promote your Hire Me page. It must be visible from all the pages of your blog and additionally you can promote it via social media. Just link to it when you can.
For example, most social media websites let you add links within your bio so you can add links to both your blog or portfolio website and a hire me page when you think it’s relevant. You can go here to see the Hire Me page of a full-time freelance blogger who specializes in WordPress topics.
23. Start Guest Blogging
If you’ve joined one of the blogging platforms and own a content rich website then it’s a good idea to increase the visibility of your personal brand by guest blogging on few websites. It’s not as easy as it sounds because if you are totally new to freelancing and do not have a credible website/profile then you will almost definitely be rejected.
You just have to make sure that you chose the right blog and you’re doing it for visibility and not for SEO. For instance, if your favorite blog is accepting and publishing guest posts then you can contact its editor for guidelines and pitch a topic.
Or, if your friend owns a blog then ask him/her whether you could contribute an article on that blog. If your content matches their criteria then they will surely publish it.
Just do your homework before pitching. That is, see the kind of topics that they are publishing, see if they have already covered the topic that you’re planning to write, see how often they publish guest posts, see how popular their blog posts are, etc.
P. S. Guest blogging is not dead and it won’t die. Just one thing — it should make sense when you do it.
24. Learn Content Marketing
Content Marketing means creating and sharing valuable free content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers. The type of content you share is closely related to what you sell; in other words, you’re educating people so that they know, like, and trust you enough to do business with you. — Copyblogger
Content marketing is the new SEO. You can see that businesses are generating a lot of content to attract targeted traffic. You know why? It’s one of the most cost effective way to attract customers. So you got to learn content marketing if you want to expand your portfolio of services and its quality.
25. Be Honest
After you spent a couple of days pitching for writing gigs, at least, you will be lucky to get one or two clients that could be interested in your work. At this point, you should be very careful because the client would want to test your writing skills.
You’ll be requested to identify your area of specialty or the topics that you can comfortably cover, also the client might want to know your turnaround for every project you work on it. Here, you will have to be sincere to yourself, and to the client.
Never should you lie on your deliverables if you want to establish a long-term relationship with a particular client. So, to be on the safer side, be sincere and open about your skills and abilities.
You know what you’re supposed to do now, right? Now, just get started and don’t stop until you get noticed. Ignore the fact that there are a ton of other freelance writers out there. The good thing is… not all of them are experts.
Now I have a quick reminder for you. Don’t quit your full-time job for whatever sake, yet. Why am I saying that now? Well, most of the full-time freelancers will have a blog post on their website about “How I’m Making Six-Figure As A Freelance Writer” or “How to Quit Your Job And Become A Six-Figure Blogger”, etc. The reality? It’s not as simple or easy as it sounds.
What you need to remember is:
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Period.
There’s every possibility that I might have missed a lot of things here. So if you’re a freelance writer (or a wanna-be writer) then feel free to post your questions as a comment below and I’ll be happy to help you — the best way I can.
Happy Freelancing! :)
First Published: September 4, 2015; Last Updated: Monday, August 27, 2018.