Sipping margaritas on the beach, traveling the world, and working on your own time — I’m sure the work-from-anywhere freelance lifestyle is the stuff dreams are made of. Specifically, freelance writing is one of the easiest jobs for creatives to get started with. But what does the profession entail?
- How can you get started with freelance writing?
- What are the strategies to find freelance writing jobs?
- Which companies do you approach for getting paid to write?
Let’s start with answering the basic questions around the appealing career choice.
Table of Contents
The Definition Of Freelance Writing
When an organization hires a self-employed professional for specific writing projects — outside of their full-time company staff — it’s termed freelance writing. The kind of writing you do might include blog posts, marketing brochures, magazine articles, and the like.
How Does Freelance Writing Work?
Freelance writing doesn’t require you to work at your client’s office, or even regular office hours — you run your schedule — barring a few client calls (which are decided on mutual convenience).
When a company wants to minimize their costs or need temporary extra help on projects, they hire freelancers. The self-employed professionals, on the other hand, generally want to earn a decent side income and have flexible work schedules: so it’s a symbiotic relationship.
Freelance Writing Market Size
If you’re looking to get started as a freelance writer, then you’ll be happy to know there’s a huge opportunity in the gig economy. Freelance stats from an Upwork report show that 36% of the total US workforce have freelanced in the past year. And with hiring managers finding remote work easier as time goes, they are hiring more independent professionals.
What Is A Freelance Writer?
A freelance writer is an independent business owner who writes for money for various clients (which could be magazines, publications, businesses, and the like) at a time. As a creative professional, it’s a fulfilling endeavor to get a taste of writing copy for various audiences and produce different kinds of work — all from the comfort of your home in your pajamas.
Types Of Freelance Writing Jobs
Here are the kinds of freelance writing services you can offer to other businesses and make a nice income:
- Freelance content writing – Content marketing is the biggest market for writers right now. “Content” encompasses everything that could help the marketing department of an organization including blog posts, website copy, Ebooks, social media posts, and the like. No wonder, most writers today start as a freelance content writer.
- Freelance blogging – Specifically among different types of content, a blog tends to generate compounding returns, so businesses love blogging. And instead of hiring in-house talent for the same, generally the marketing manager at the company hires freelancers to write for it.
- SEO writing – This includes writing done for the purpose of driving traffic from search engines. It can include blog posts, landing pages, or any other page on a business site where you target a specific keyword.
Such writing calls for learning rubrics of on-page SEO: the aspects in your writing that help to establish the relevance of your writing for a specific search phrase.
- Copywriting – It’s any kind of writing for marketing and generating sales for a business. Traditionally it included direct copy in sales letters, marketing brochures, and collaterals. Now, copywriters craft landing page copy, website copy, AdWords copy, and even landing page copy.
- Ghostwriting – Any kind of writing for which you’re not credited as the author, and there’s a confidentiality clause between you and the client. Celebrities and executives have relied on professional ghostwriters to create their books and literary works for a while.
But with blogs becoming commonplace, even prolific bloggers and CEOs of small companies use ghostwriters. Experienced freelance writers who have a lot of work on their plate also subcontract newer writers to write the first draft for them without giving away their authorship credits.
- Editing – As the amount of content produced has increased by the day, there’s a dire need for improving the writing quality. Creative professionals who know their way around grammar and English language, have a keen eye for detail, and can mentor writers to polish their ideas through their editing skills are in demand.
- Social media content creation – Businesses also hire freelancers to write copy, do some basic design, schedule updates, and manage their social media presence for platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Many creative professionals start with such a social media gig, but I find it a time-consuming job.
- Content management – As the marketing team grows, formulating the content strategy, liaising with various writers and designers, and ensuring the content pipeline is filled could become a challenge.
A content manager coordinates with the editor and manages content across platforms — including blog, social media, and other brand touchpoints. Typically freelance writers get some experience and could move up the ladder to play such a role.
How Much Do Freelance Writers Make
Based on 353 salary profiles, PayScale puts the median hourly rate of freelance writers at $23.7. But Make A Living in its 2019 survey of over a thousand writers put the number at an even more mediocre $10 for the majority of writers.
Businesses don’t get a lot of value from writing alone, especially as a beginner delivering as per expectations of a company is challenging. So typically to get paid more, you’ve to write more.
To save some grace, freelance writing is pursued “part-time” by the majority of professionals. It could mean that most folks are probably merely experimenting with the profession, or have another income source.
Also, since freelance writers are not paid a salary, they are paid only when they invoice their clients. Typically the transaction mediums are Paypal, Stripe, or a Bank Wire Transfer.
What Skills Do You Need To Be A Freelance Writer?
Here are the essential skills you need to become a successful freelance writer:
1. Writing Proficiency – You should be able to articulate your ideas into words on paper (or a word document) quickly. Here’s why and where a freelance writer has to create a lot of creative work:
- Beginners need to write a lot to polish their writing skills — quantity begets quality when you’re starting out,
- The number one way to attract clients is by building a high-quality portfolio for which you need to write for high-quality publications,
- You could be working with numerous clients simultaneously on tight deadlines — because you’re offered a low-pay. So writing MORE becomes important.
Can you write 500 words in an hour without compromising a lot on quality? If not, you need to build that writing muscle.
2. Relationship building – The number one reason most writers fail isn’t their core writing skills — it’s their unwillingness to “sell” them. You don’t need to be the best salesperson in your niche to get clients, but figure out a way to drive leads for your writing business regularly. Typically here are the marketing channels that work for freelancers:
- Referrals are the number one way any service-based business grows. Why? Well, there’s an inherent trust when your name is recommended for a project by somebody you’ve worked with. The way to get them from clients is by providing superb quality of work. Don’t forget to keep in touch with fellow freelance writer friends as well.
- Cold pitching is how most newbie writers build the foundation of their businesses and get their names out there. It involves finding prospective clients who might be interested in hiring your services, writing personalized emails, sending and following up on them. Many freelance writers use cold pitching to build relationships as well.
- Guest posting on authoritative publications is how most writers continue growing their portfolio and building social proof. If you manage to get an article published on a website where business owners from your target audience hang out, then they might end up getting in touch with you — especially if they like your article.
3. Time management and organizational skills – Managing time across writing, building your reputation, communicating with multiple clients, taking care of your business accounting, filing taxes, and a bunch of other administrative tasks — that’s the life of a normal freelance writer.
So managing your time efficiently to meet client deadlines and ensuring you deliver writing as per the briefs of various projects is key.
4. Content management related technical skills – Many writers have a hard time finding their way around technology. But given that content is taking a multimedia shape, the ability to learn new software quickly — creating screenshots, quick videos, graphics, and possibly even interactive experiences such as quizzes — is quite handy.
And hey, knowing your way around a content management system such as WordPress or HubSpot, uploading articles, and using plugins is rather essential.
I would also call SEO a hard skill, and it’s become a rather essential one to learn now — because most businesses value sustainable traffic from search engines. Starting with learning how to find and weave keywords into your article that are valuable for a business makes sense.
5. Branding and positioning – While it doesn’t get mentioned as often, all the highest-paid writers I know have been able to do so because they paid attention to their websites, design, value proposition, and the overall brand of their writing business.
They don’t just tag themselves as a “freelance writer”, but use a label demonstrating specialization in a specific niche writing a specific kind of content. For example: B2B SaaS long-form writer.
To get paid a premium price for your writing services, you need to look beyond that free “yourname.wordpress.com” website, and create an overall professional brand image.
You don’t need all of these skills to get started with freelance writing. But striving to get better at these and develop them on your writing journey is key to growing your business.
Do You Need An English Major To Become A Freelance Writer?
Nope, you don’t.
Forget an English major, you typically don’t need any formal qualification to get started. I personally know freelance writers making a six-figure income while they didn’t pursue college at all.
In my freelance writing journey of over five years, I’ve never once been asked about the education I pursued. You simply need to build a writing portfolio that demonstrates your writing experience in a niche and market your services to the right kind of businesses to score freelance writing jobs.
The writing skills I shared above would be handy to work on, so get started with that — whether you currently have a professional degree or not.
What Does A Freelance Writer Do?
A freelance writer works as a self-employed professional working with multiple businesses at a time on various projects. Here are the kinds of content they might create:
- Blog posts – Currently this would probably be the number one job most writers begin their freelancing journey with as blogging is fairly common. Pay starts at rock bottom, but rates for specialized blog posts in complex industries could go upwards of $1k per piece.
- Ebooks – The number one way business owners deepen their relationships with first-time visitors to their website is by offering free education packaged into Ebooks. Typically, writers and designers work on such resources together.
- Newsletters – Email remains an intimate medium of communication. In the B2B industry, it’s even more effective to onboard and engage with customers. Writers who can write in an engaging and conversational tone of voice typically tend to write email sequences.
- Whitepapers – These are succinct reports proposing a solution to a complex industry problem, and promotes a company’s products or offerings. Writers get paid top dollar for writing these lead generation tools because it involves intense research and writing in a simple language on an intricate subject matter.
- Case studies – Another content format businesses use to persuade prospective customers to buy. Typically it requires you to craft a story around how a company’s product helped a customer overcome a problem and improved their life — and it’s based on an interview.
- Website and landing page copy – Words on the about page, homepage, product page, and other pages of a business website can make or break a brand’s impression. That’s why companies hire website copywriting experts.
The same goes for landing page writers who typically specialize in writing copy for the product sales pages in a specific niche.
Besides writing content about 70% to 80% of the time for their clients, their own site, guest posts, and the like, freelance writers also need to perform other tasks. It can include things like:
- Accounting – Sending invoices, following up on payments with clients, filing taxes, and other account tasks are generally performed by writers themselves. You can hire a professional accountant for help and use a software like FreshBooks for organizing your efforts.
- Email and other communication – Collaborating with clients typically stays in the inbox. It’s where you get in touch with new leads, keep up with the developments in the current project, and the like. For some projects, you might also use a Slack channel for real-time communication on the top of email.
- Project management – In the client’s project workflow, there could be another management software such as Trello or Asana for managing the content calendar.
- Miscellaneous administrative tasks – Uploading articles on the content management system (CMS), taking care of on page SEO through a WordPress plugin like Yoast, compressing images, and other tedious tasks are often also a part of many projects you work on.
Also, you need to manage your freelance writer’s website and ensure it’s in decent shape.
How To Begin Freelance Writing: Three Essential Steps
To get started with freelance writing, here are the steps you need to take.
1. Settle On Your Value Proposition And Start Building Your Brand
The first step to starting your freelance writing business is to figure the unique value you’re going to offer clients. Are you going to write long-form content for fintech startups? Or are you going to offer a website copywriting service to SaaS companies?
It’s related to finding the niche and type of freelance writing job you want to specialize in. Don’t overthink this step because you can always expand, or pivot the industry you decide to write in. Try to find an area that interests you to write about and seems to be financially lucrative.
You should also start working on your writing website and social media presence so that you come across a professional. Write your site copy and updates such that it’s helpful and appealing to your prospective clients.
2. Work On Your Writing Samples
Once you decide the industry you want to work in, it’s time to build a body of work that reflects the writing quality you can provide to clients. Most creative professionals directly think of breaking into the big publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Business Insider.
But a couple of reputable websites and blogs in your niche most likely work well to let businesses in your industry trust hiring your services — at least once.
3. Pitch Businesses
Whether it’s freelance writing job boards, or cold pitching — whichever method you choose, write a compelling and succinct pitch. Make replying to your email easy by avoiding phrases such as “let me know.”
Instead do research on their business and audience, and close them with a specific ask and an irresistible offer for the recipients such as — “here are some subjects that would interest your readers.”
You could also consider adding value to the businesses you plan to first — such as by mentioning them in your articles. It will get them more receptive to reading your mail discussing your services.
From there, it’s about rinsing and repeating these simple steps. Keep building relationships and networking with businesses as well as fellow freelancers along the way — it will make your freelance writing journey more fun.
Freelance writing is one of the most rewarding pursuits for most professionals I’ve known. It offers flexibility and freedom to pursue the kind of lifestyle you want. The best part is there’s no income ceiling — starting from a modest $50 per post you could cross six figures in yearly revenue as you gain experience and build your expertise.
I’ve been a freelance writer for over six years now, and barring some hiccups have thoroughly enjoyed the journey. So start your journey today, and take advantage of your creative skillset. You never know what freelance writing would mean for you!