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freelance writer how-to guide

Our Ultimate Guide for the Brand New Freelance Writer

Eddie CarrilloEddie Carrillo
Eddie Carrillo
Eddie Carrillo

Are you thinking about becoming a freelance writer? You’re not alone. A recent Upwork study finds that 36% of the U.S. workforce freelances full-time—even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This work output contributes a staggering $1.2 trillion to the economy.

The extra cool part here is that these numbers are continuing to grow. It’s an exciting time to become a freelance writer. But the idea of working freelance always seems to be shrouded in mystery, so before I dive into the guide, I’ll lay out some insights that I would have liked to have known prior to beginning my own freelance writing business:

  • Freelance writing is a practical and worthwhile career. And it can be lucrative.
  • Tips and tricks from experts are helpful, but there is no one-size-fits-all rulebook. What works for you might not work for me, and vice versa. Experimentation is a large part of the gig—especially in your first year.
  • You do not need a degree in literature, English, journalism, or anything writing-related. What clients care about are your writing skills.
  • Fiction, poetry, and personal essays are typically not what will pay the bills. Earning money in a writing career generally comes from articles, blog posts, and other content you write for businesses.
  • Creating your own blog isn’t necessary, but if you don’t have any published work, a few blog posts can be used as writing samples to prove that you can write.
  • There are no “going rates”. Pay can fluctuate between different clients and different types of projects.

Before You Start

The search for freelance writing jobs isn’t always fun (perhaps this should have also been a bullet). You might reach out to quite a few prospective clients before actually landing a job—or even a response. But it’s important to know that while any and all types of writing sound like gold, I recommend choosing a niche in freelance writing to begin positioning yourself as an expert within that niche. Some freelance writing jobs include:

  • Blogs
  • Articles
  • Webpage Content
  • Social Media Copy
  • Ghostwriting
  • Technical Writing
  • Resumes
  • Advertising Copy

The list goes on. Think of a couple you can see yourself specializing in. Then cement these one or two areas as your long-term focus.

Building Your Writing Portfolio

A successful freelance career is built out of a rock-solid portfolio. However, most new freelancers don’t have that portfolio yet. But don’t worry—it’s a step-by-step process.

I got my start writing for my university’s magazine. I did the work for free, but I used those published pieces as content for my portfolio. That content got me writing gigs with the clients I currently work for.

If you’re still in school, see if you can find similar opportunities. If not, any of the following avenues can help you put together the first pieces of your portfolio:

  • Your own blog. Write at least three pieces of content in the topics that interest you.
  • Guest posting. Some websites give writers the opportunity to guest blog or guest post. This is a good way to build authority on a topic or gain exposure.
  • Articles on LinkedIn or Medium. Both of these platforms allow you to write articles. They’re also good ways for gaining visibility if you share the final piece on social media.

Pro Tip: Just like with the written format you choose, consider specializing in one specific topic (sports, fashion, finance, etc.). Positioning yourself as an expert in an area is a smart way to increase visibility in the sector and gain better, higher-paying clients.

Prepare Your Pricing in Advance

 

Before you hop on the job boards and freelance websites, make sure you understand how much money you need to earn to ensure that freelancing is a sustainable career. Many writers make the mistake of working for very little when they start because they don’t know any better. It’s additionally important to know that there are many different formats for getting paid:

  • By project
  • By hour
  • By word (i.e. 10 cents per word)
  • By page

After putting together the monthly wage you need, research how you can position your writing services with different clients to make that goal come to fruition. Here is a comprehensive guide for figuring out your pricing.

Finding the Work

The important part: How do you actually find freelancing writing gigs? If you’ve committed to the idea of writing, identified the niche you want to work in, and prepared your portfolio and pricing, you’re ready to find work. There are a variety of platforms and avenues for you to get your first (or next) client. Here are the ones I use:

  • LinkedIn. Aside from the regular job postings, you can now also make your LinkedIn profile include a “providing services” feature. This will make you searchable for potential clients looking for writers with your expertise. (Note: If you don’t see this feature available you can request it here.)
  • Freelance Writing Websites. You’re likely familiar with websites like Upwork and Fiverr. While many of the gigs on these platforms don’t pay spectacularly, they are both legitimate websites for obtaining work. Check out this list of more freelance websites that we like.
  • Word of Mouth. Make sure your network (colleagues, friends, family, etc.) know that you’re a freelance writer. They’ll think of you first if they ever stumble upon someone looking for writing services.
  • Referrals. Some of the best clients I’ve gotten have come from… other clients. Once people are happy with the work you do for them, they’ll be your best advocates.

Final Thoughts

Freelance writing can be an extraordinarily rewarding career. You get paid to do what you love, and you have no boss to listen to, office to go to, or schedule to oblige to.

However, just like with starting anything new, it can be intimidating. You’re a writer, but you’re also a business owner and project manager. There’s ambiguity. And navigating these things is a learning process. But that’s what this comprehensive guide is for. Following these tips and tricks is a surefire way to set off on the pathway to success.


by
Eddie Carrillo
Eddie began freelancing part-time in August 2020. He got a bachelor's degree in Economics, but working as a consultant taught him that his passion was not in finance, but in writing. Getting started with freelancing can come with a lot of question marks, so he loves writing for other freelancers to help them get their feet in the door and build their businesses. Eddie grew up near San Diego, California, but recently spent a couple years in Madrid, Spain. He's now headed to San Francisco, where he works for Strava as a copywriter.

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