Do Freelance Writers Need a Degree?

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If you are thinking about striking out on your own and offering your services as a freelance writer, you may be wondering if you have the right credentials to attract and land clients. Do freelance writers need a degree? Or do they need some other credentials to land clients and build a thriving freelancing business?

Freelance writers do not need a degree to be successful, nor is there any formal requirement that they have one. Clients usually hire freelance writers based on the quality of their writing portfolios instead of their formal educations and other credentials.

Many people who have never finished college have built thriving freelance writing businesses. They didn’t let the lack of a formal education hold them back from achieving success. Instead, they concentrated on improving their writing and working hard to market their services.

Check out what freelance writer Laura Pennington has to say about college degrees and making a living as a freelance writer:

Do You Need a Bachelor's Degree to Work as a Freelance Writer?

If a college degree isn’t necessary to be a successful freelance writer, then what does it take? How does one attract and land quality clients that give you repeat business every month?

What You Need Instead of a Degree

Instead of worrying about your formal education, what you really need is a road map to show you the steps you need to take to get started as a freelance writer and to grow it into a business you can be proud of. What you need is a mentor to show you the ropes.

While it’s technically possible to figure out how to get started as a freelance writer on your own, it will probably take you longer to land clients this way than if you could follow the success of someone who has been there and done that.

Holly Johnson is a successful freelance writer who now earns well over the six-figure mark working from the comfort of her home and other places. An avid traveler, Holly’s freelance writing career gives her incredible freedom to travel the world with her family and to do other things that most people who work traditional jobs could only dream of.

In addition to being a successful freelance writer, Holly also helps others launch their own freelance writing careers. Her online course, Earn More Writing, is a road map aspiring writers can use to avoid common mistakes to land paying clients sooner rather than later.

Check out Earn More Writing to see why this course has launched many freelance writing careers.

Does a Degree Help?

While you don’t need a degree to be successful as a freelance writer, there are some situations where it may help. Having a degree listed on your LinkedIn page that is in the same field you specialize in, for example, can make you look like more of a subject authority to potential clients.

For example, if you specialize in writing for financial companies, a degree in accounting or finance would make you look more knowledgeable in the subject. If you specialize in writing for technology companies, a degree in math, engineering, or computer science would be beneficial. And if you specialize in writing in the medical field, having a medical degree of some kind (e.g., nursing, respiratory therapy, x-ray technology, laboratory science, etc.) would help you to stand out as someone knowledgeable in the field.

It’s also very common for many freelance writers to have degrees in either English, journalism, or communications. Many people who have degrees in these fields often work for companies for a while before striking out on their own as freelance writers. They may work as staff writers or something else for a while before deciding they’ve had enough of the corporate world.

Does a Degree Hurt?

Although it may be hard to believe, there are some ways that having a degree can hurt someone’s freelance writing career. In some cases, it may actually be necessary to unlearn many of the things taught in formal degree programs and learn the type of writing skills that clients are looking for.

One way that having a degree may hurt is if you were an English major in school. English, as it is taught in colleges and universities, is usually very formal. Schools also make a big deal out of using either APA or MLA formatting.

Writing for clients requires a very different set of writing skills than what is usually taught in school. Instead of using a formal style, many clients prefer blog posts, articles, and other marketing materials to be written in a casual tone, as if the writer and the reader were having a conversation with each other.

APA and MLA formatting are also irrelevant for freelance business writers. These formats are rarely used outside of academia. If you submit a blog post to a client that is formatted in either APA or MLA, your client may wonder how much experience you really have.

Another thing that clients look for in a good writer is the ability to connect with readers in a way that really draws them in. They want writers who know how to use the psychology of persuasion to convert readers into buyers. This isn’t a skill that is taught in most English classes.

Getting Started as a Freelance Writer

If a college degree isn’t necessary to succeed as a freelance writer, then what is? What skills do you need to attract and land clients and earn a full-time living as a writer?

There are some skills that you definitely do need to succeed in this business. Let’s go over the things you’ll need to impress clients and generate repeat business.

Writing Ability

First, you do need to be a good writer. Now, I’m not suggesting you need to be the next Ernest Hemingway, but you do need to write in a way that is clear, concise, and persuasive.

If you are thinking about becoming a freelance writer but you aren’t sure if your writing skills are up to par, you might want to take some time to practice writing. You could, for example, start a blog or post articles to Medium.

No one is born a good writer. Just as it takes time to master a musical instrument, it also takes time to develop your writing skills. Your writing abilities will continue to improve even after you start landing clients. The more you write and study other people’s writing, the better you will get.

Published Writing Samples

Another thing you will need when you start freelance writing for clients is writing samples. In other words, you need a few published pieces that you have written to show prospective clients that you are a good writer. You don’t need too many writing samples to get started, 4-6 in your niche is usually enough.

How do you get published writing samples though if you don’t have any clients?

While it may sound like a classic chicken and egg situation, it’s easier to get published writing samples than you may think. One way you can get published online is to guest post on people’s blogs. Many blogs accept guest posts, and you can easily find them by doing a search for “your niche + guest posts.” For example, if you specialize in personal finance, then you would search for “personal finance guest posts.”

Another strategy for obtaining writing samples is to contact companies and non-profit organizations and offer to do a few free pieces for them. These don’t have to be large companies. Small companies in your community will work just fine.

The idea with these starter samples is to use them to land your first clients. You can then use the pieces you write for clients as new writing samples. The idea is to keep trading up until you have some writing samples that really “wow” potential clients.

Client Testimonials

You will also need a few client testimonials when starting your freelance writing business. You may think this is another chicken and egg situation, but there is a simple way you can land some client testimonials you can use to further your freelance writing career.

LinkedIn is a great place to get client testimonials. If you do a few free pieces for businesses or non-profit organizations in your community, find the LinkedIn profiles of the people you worked with and ask them if they wouldn’t mind leaving a brief testimonial on your LinkedIn page.

LinkedIn makes this very easy to do. You can send a testimonial request through LinkedIn, and after it is completed, it immediately shows up on your profile.

And that leads us to…

A LinkedIn Profile

There was a time when the best way to land clients was to send letters of introduction to prospective clients by email. These letters introduced people to your services and, hopefully if you sent enough of them, would result in some people hiring you.

Another strategy that some have used to land clients is cold calling. That’s when you call prospective clients on the phone and sell them on your services. Cold calling isn’t as effective as it once was, especially since you have to go through a front-desk receptionist and have your call transferred – and many receptionists are trained not to let sales calls go through.

Thankfully, there’s now a much better way to land clients. It’s a simple method that involves optimizing your LinkedIn profile and making connections with people in your industry.

LinkedIn is all about business – that’s what it’s for. And people on the platform expect to receive pitches. With LinkedIn, you can easily search for marketing managers, connect with them, and then pitch your services to them.

LinkedIn is also great for landing inbound clients – clients you didn’t directly pitch.

How is that possible?

By optimizing your profile with keywords that people are searching for. For example, if you are a medical device writer, you definitely want to add “medical device writer” to the tagline on your LinkedIn profile. This is how you get found when people search for medical device writers on LinkedIn when they need one.

A Website

The last thing you’ll need is a website that you can show prospective clients.

You can think of your website as a digital business card. It’s a place online where people can go to learn more about you, your services, check out some of your writing samples, and read some testimonials.

Your writer website doesn’t have to be anything fancy – a simple site will do the job just fine. Some people prefer to build their own websites, but if you don’t have website-building experience, it’s also possible to hire someone to do the job for you. Websites can be built using the popular WordPress framework, but website builders like Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, and others can also be used.

Your website should contain five pages including a home page, why me, services, samples, and a hire me page.

Your home page should have a picture of you with no more than 300 words of content that briefly explains what you do. At the top of this page, your writing niche should be displayed so there is no confusion on the types of clients you serve. You can also include a few testimonials.

Your “Why Me?” page is where you will go into more detail on why clients should hire you. You can include information about your background, experience, and other things.

Your “Services” page is where you will briefly outline the services you provide. This can be done in bullet point format.

Your “Samples” page is where you will include links to live articles you have written on other websites. People can click on those links to read the articles and see if they like your writing style.

Finally, your “Hire Me” page should contain a simple contact form where people can contact you about your writing services and ask questions.

Do Freelance Writers Need a Degree? — Final Thoughts

So, to answer the original question, a degree is not required to achieve success as a freelance writer. It may help in some cases, like when you specialize in certain writing niches, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.

Instead of worrying about degrees if you are interested in hanging your shingle as a freelance writer, your time might be better spent following the path of someone who is already successful in the field. In Holly Johnson’s course, Earn More Writing, she covers everything she did to attract and land quality clients that give her repeat business month after month.

Check out Earn More Writing to see how freelance writing changed Holly’s life.

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Cyrus Vanover

Cyrus Vanover, MBA, is a financial copywriter who has written for companies of all sizes. He is also the author of the personal finance book, "Earn A Debt-Free College Degree." His goal is to help families save money, make more money, and achieve financial independence. Based in the mountains of Virginia, he enjoys hiking the local trails, listening to 80s music, and reading books on military history in his spare time. Read more.

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