If you’re new to freelance writing or planning on getting started as a freelance writer, follow this guide and you’ll be able to avoid many of the mistakes I made over the years.
It took me 7 years of mistakes, failures, and lot of depressing moments to go from making $0 to $5,000 a month as a freelance writer. And I know there are still plenty of writers out there struggling to make a few bucks working online.
This article is dedicated to you. My NO BS guide to what I believe is the best approach to getting started as a freelance writer, the right way.
Here’s what I’ll be covering in the article.
- Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Writer?
- Different Types Of Writing.
- Find Your Niche.
- Learn To Write Like A Pro.
- Start Building Your Reputation.
- Hourly Or Fixed Pricing?
- Choose A Platform To Offer Your Services.
- Best Places To Find Freelance Writing Jobs.
- How To Write Killer Proposals
- Advice From A Freelance Writer.
This guide is a bit long. If you’re in a rush, feel free to click on a link above and jump to a section in the article. Or keep on reading and start taking notes.
Step 1: Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Freelance Writer?
Most so-called “experts” and “gurus” make freelancing sound like a walk in the park and misleads people into believing freelancing as a quick fix for your financial problems. A way for you to make some quick cash to pay off your bills or make some extra money during your vacations.
Well, I hate to tell you that you are not going to make it as a freelance writer if you’re only looking for a quick fix. Don’t start freelancing for the wrong reasons because you will have to work hard to start making money as a freelancer.
And be prepared to do a few weeks of hard work without making any income. Because it won’t come easy.
You’ll also need to be passionate about writing to be a successful freelance writer. It’s not something you’re born with it, but something you develop over time.
For example, if you easily get bored reading books and long articles, writing may not be the right path for you.
So, take a moment to think things through before getting started and ask yourself: Do I want to be a freelance writer or am I just looking for a quick fix for my financial problems?
Step 2: Different Types Of Writing Gigs You Should Know About
Freelance writing is a broad industry with lots of categories. Before getting started, you should be aware of the different types of freelance writing and choose one that you’re most comfortable with.
Here are just a few of the forms of freelance writing:
- Copywriting: Copywriting work mostly involves everything from writing promotional content for brands, writing product descriptions, writing articles for blogs and magazines, and everything in between.
- Article Writing: Writing articles for online publications and blogs is different from writing essays for college.
- Blog Writing: Writing for blogs means that you will have to learn a little bit about blogging as well. This includes learning to work with WordPress, SEO, and more.
- eBook Writing: Writing eBooks differs from one industry to another. You’ll need to study up on different types of eBooks to be a successful eBook writer.
- Website Content Writing: This mostly involves writing content for website pages, such as home pages, product pages, about pages, etc.
- Ghostwriting: Writing content for people to publish under their own name. You won’t get credit for this type of work. But, you can increase your price for this type of jobs.
- Fiction Writing: If you have an imaginative mind, this could be the right path for you. But, it’s not easy to find fiction writing freelance jobs.
- Resume and Cover Letter Writing: Another type of writing with low demand.
Further Reading: The Ultimate List Of 101 Job Ideas For Wannabe Freelancers
Step 3: Find Your Niche, But Keep Your Options Open
You can’t call yourself a freelance writer, unless you can work with all forms of (or at least most of) the categories above. So, don’t try to be a jack of all trades. Instead, be specific about your skills. Narrow it down to a niche.
For example, if you’re good at writing eBooks, then call yourself a freelance eBook writer. If you’re good at writing essays, call yourself a freelance essay writer.
Narrowing your skills to a niche will help you develop experience in a specific area and land jobs more easily. But, don’t limit yourself to a niche. Keep your options open.
For example, most of my work involves working with business blogs and writing blog articles to help develop different types of blogs. But, I also write eBooks, newsletters, and do copywriting work whenever I can or when I feel like I need a change of pace.
Because there will be times when you need the money so badly. You should be prepared to do any type of writing work during those times.
Further Reading: How To Beat Veteran Freelancers And Win New Clients
Step 4: Learn To Write Like A Pro (Even When You Don’t Feel Like One)
When I was developing my first blog, freshinfos.com (no longer active), I wrote 15 to 20 articles per day for the first 3 months working almost 20 hours per day. I really pushed to the limit. Then I slowed down to writing around 6 to 10 articles per day. This continued for over 4 years.
These were small articles of around 300 to 500 words most of the time. But, it was tough for me at first. English is my second language. I wasn’t very good at it. And, I had to learn from scratch to be able to write for online audiences.
My writing was terrible for the first few months. Received a lot of harsh comments and bullying from the readers. Pointing out my grammatical mistakes and making jokes.
But, I kept pushing forward and I kept writing more and more articles. And that’s the main reason I made it to where I am today.
My blog helped me practice the art of writing for online audiences, even without realizing it. While I still have to learn a lot about writing, my skills have improved drastically to a point where I’m able to write as good as native English speakers.
What I’m trying to say is, you need to practice. No matter what you believe about your abilities or what others say about your work, keep practicing. You may be making mistakes, but keep writing. You’ll learn along the way.
In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says that you need to practice your skills for 10,000 hours to master it. He points out that some of the most iconic artists and inventors, like Bill Gates and Mozart, had done the same amount of practice to master their skills.
It’s not too late for you to start practicing.
Further Reading: 15 Tools I Use To Supercharge My Freelance Work
Step 5: Start Building Your Reputation And Experience
Another benefit of developing my blog was that it also acted as my portfolio. Whenever a client asked me to show examples of my work, I would simply send them a link to my blog. It truly helps boost my success rate.
Now, you don’t need to have your own self-hosted blog to start working as a freelance writer. There are other ways to go around to building your reputation.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King
The first and the most effective method is to get published on other established blogs. There are hundreds of great blogs out there that accept guest posts from people outside their writing staff, like LifeHack, ProBlogger, and Mashable.
Getting a couple of your articles published on these blogs will help you to convince your clients that you’re a skilled writer, not just claiming to be one.
However, you have to be really good at writing to get an article published on another blog. They only accept the best stuff.
So, if you’re completely new, you should ease into it by starting a personal blog on a free platform. Medium is my favorite platform for writing. It’s free and gives more exposure for your articles.
Start a personal blog on Medium and write about topics related to your niche industry. As long as your writing is good, you can even use your Medium blog as your portfolio.
In addition, familiarize yourself with the WordPress platform and learn how to use it. Learn about Search Engine Optimization. Learn to format eBooks.
These skills will give you bonus points when sending proposals to new clients.
Step 6: Hourly Or Fixed Pricing?
The question of whether you should charge hourly or per project is a question that freelancers have been arguing about for a long time.
It actually depends on the type of work you do. For example, charging an hourly rate is more suitable for a copywriter who mostly works on web page copy. And a fixed rate is suitable for a blogger who writes articles based on word count.
On the other hand, the pricing also depends on how fast and skilled you are. For example, I can write a 1,000 words article on certain topics in about 30 minutes. If I were to charge an hourly rate, I would be underpricing my work.
Which is why I always stick to fixed prices. It’s fair for both the freelancer and the client and I also don’t have to worry about tracking my work hours. One less thing to worry about.
Step 7: Choose A Platform To Offer Your Services
I know there are experts who will advise you not to use freelancing platforms to offer your services. But, I encourage you to use a platform or a job board to find work, at least for the first few months.
We all have to start someplace, right? And what better way to learn about different types of freelance jobs and find out what other freelancers are doing than on a freelancing platform.
However, you also need to be careful when choosing a platform to offer your services. Most beginners go for the most obvious choice and register with the most popular freelancing site, like UpWork or Freelancer.com.
You need to avoid these platforms. There is too much competition on these sites and it will demean your skills and force you to sink to the level of cheap freelancers who get into bidding wars to win jobs.
Instead, focus on new and smaller freelancing sites and job boards. And I know what you’re thinking: New and smaller websites don’t get as many clients as big sites, so how does it help you win more work, right?
Well, this is similar to finding your niche. Smaller websites have fewer freelancers competing for jobs. And, if you know how to write killer proposals and already have a great reputation, you will be able to land more work even when there are only a few jobs available on that platform.
Step 8: Best Places To Find Freelance Writing Jobs
So, I advised you to avoid popular freelancing platforms like UpWork and Freelancer.com. And especially stay clear of Fiverr as well.
But, what other places are there for finding work?
Actually, there are plenty of great websites, platforms, and job boards you can use to offer your services and find freelance writing gigs. These are my top picks.
- ProBlogger Job Board: A regularly updated job board with high-paying freelance writing gigs. Best for professional writers.
- AngelList: Remote job vacancies posted by startups. High paying but more complex work.
- goLance: A fairly new freelancing site with low platform fees.
- RemoteOK: A mix of content and digital marketing jobs. Best for content marketers.
- Inbound Jobs: Complex marketing and content writing jobs. Best for advanced writers and content marketers.
Stick to one job board or a platform. Try not to copy-paste your proposals and apply to jobs in bulk. It’ll be just a waste of time.
Further Reading: 21 New Low Competition Freelancing Sites You Should Join
Step 9: How To Write A Killer Proposal To Clients
A few months back, I did a small case study by posting a fake job on UpWork and Freelancer (find the link to the full case study below). Many freelancers applied for it and I managed to learn a lot from their mistakes.
One of the most common mistakes they made is coming on strong early in their proposals. That makes them sound desperate. Most of the time they offered really cheap prices for getting the job done.
Professional freelancers never write proposals like that. Here’s an example email template that’ll give you an idea about how it’s done:
Hi [Client’s name],
My name is [your name] and I’m a freelance copywriter.
I just saw your job posting on [name of the website] and noticed that there’s an opening for a blog article writer in your business blog.
I’ve been working online as a freelance writer for [number of years] years and I managed to help develop several great and successful blogs for my clients. Including [name of few of the clients you’ve worked with].
I also have multiple articles published on popular authoritative websites such as [mention and link to the websites]. Have a look and see if my writing style fits your blog’s strategy.
I understand that getting a lot of shares on social media is just as important as optimizing articles for search engines. And I use a handful of tools to make sure to target both those areas.
If you like, I can come up with some topics and ideas for great articles for your blog.
Let me know if you’re interested.
[Your email signature]
Step 10: Advice From One Freelance Writer To Another
Even though this strategy worked out for me, there’s no way I can guarantee that it can work for you. But, if I could do it, so could you!
Going forward, keep a few things in mind. If you really want to succeed and be an exceptional writer, don’t be too greedy. Don’t charge extra for every tiny additional work you do for your clients.
Be willing to go the extra mile. Whether it’s writing an additional 100 words or preparing the images for the articles, it will help your stand out in a crowd of freelance writers.
Focus on delivering the highest quality work, each and every time. Treat every job you get as your first. Look for ways to please your clients.
And finally, don’t be a jerk. Always be nice to your clients and watch your temper. No matter if they’re criticizing your work or requesting more revisions, learn to keep your cool.
Further Reading: 5 Effective Psychological Tricks To Attract More Freelance Clients
As you can see, it will take a while before you can complete all these steps and start making some real money. But, all that effort will definitely be worth it.
One more thing, while you work from freelance websites and job boards, create a personal portfolio website for yourself. This website will help you to slowly switch away from depending on job boards and to get offers from clients directly via email.
I send a link to my personal website whenever a client asks about what kind of work I do and when they want to see examples of my work.
Keep improving yourself and don’t stop learning. Your success will depend on it!
Images via Freepik.com