How to Become a Freelance Writer: A Complete Guide

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Are you looking for the ultimate work-from-home job – a way to earn a living for yourself that has the potential to bring in six-figures and is location independent, meaning you can work from anywhere in the world? If so, freelance writing is something you should definitely consider.

In this guide, you can learn how to become a freelance writer so you can live life on your own terms and earn the money you deserve.

A Career That’s In-Demand

Businesses all across the country (and around the world) need excellent writers to write blog posts, website content, newsletters, case studies, white papers, technical manuals, and many other things. There is a very big demand for good writers who can communicate in a way that draws readers in and helps companies sell their products and services.

In a nutshell: Companies are always on the lookout for writers who can make them look good.

Why do businesses use freelancers? Don’t they have writers on staff to take care of their written content needs?

Some do. But there are many companies that don’t have enough work to keep a full-time staff writer busy. Additionally, by using freelancers, companies also save a lot of money by not having to pay benefits. As you can see, companies have a strong financial incentive to use freelancers.

One of the great things about being a freelance writer is that it’s something you can potentially earn a very good living with that doesn’t require a college degree. That’s right – when you pitch your writing services to potential clients, your formal education is irrelevant. There are many successful freelance writers who don’t have college degrees and others who have degrees in fields that are totally irrelevant to their writing careers.

How Much Can You Earn as a Freelance Writer?

How much money you can make as a freelance writer varies a lot. It depends on how good of a writer you are and the type of clients you work with. It’s kind of like asking, “how long is a piece of string?”

When you are first starting out, you probably won’t earn a lot. It does take some time to land a few clients who give you repeat business each month. And the longer you work as a freelance writer, the more money you can charge.

Still, it’s entirely possible to earn $30,000 – $40,000 in your first year. It depends on how much client prospecting you do and how determined you are to succeed. As you add more clients to your roster, you can expect to earn more money.

Most freelance writers charge by the project. It’s not unusual, for example, to earn anywhere from $200 – $400 for a 1,000-word blog post. Case studies are another popular project. The average fee for a case study is between $1,000 – $2,000 for a two-page document.

Not bad for one or two days worth of work!

To become a six-figure writer, you need the right mix of good clients who give you repeat business each month. This is something that comes after a few years of working as a freelance writer. You’ll need to learn how to attract the best clients while also learning how to fire clients who try to underpay you or don’t appreciate your work.

Holly Johnson’s Story

Holly Johnson’s life before becoming a freelance writer was pretty typical of most employees. Her day consisted of spending most of her waking hours at a job she wasn’t too thrilled about. And her evenings were spent cooking, cleaning, and doing other chores around the house before it was time to go to bed and get up again just to do the same thing all over again.

Holly was convinced there was a better way to make a living – and she found it.

What she discovered was a way to earn a great living for her family working from the comfort of her home. It was a highly flexible type of work that allowed her to be there for her two daughters and to take time off whenever she needed to.

What Holly discovered was freelance writing.

Like most new freelance writers, Holly started pitching her services to prospective clients. Her initial goal was to earn $3,000 a month. That was the amount she needed that would allow her to quit her job and work from home. Not only did she reach her goal, but she quickly surpassed it.

Holly became a six-figure writer within her first two years of freelancing.

To say that Holly’s life has radically changed since striking out on her own is an understatement. She now consistently earns over $200,000 a year from her freelance writing alone. Her husband, Greg, is also self-employed and works from home now, too.

Holly’s new career allows her incredible freedom to live life on her terms. Because she is no longer bound to a job, she and her family now travel several times a year. This is something that simply isn’t possible for most families.

Holly can also take time off whenever she wants so she can do things she needs to do, like going to a doctor’s appointment, running errands, and even taking an occasional day off just because she wants to. Try doing that with a regular job!

Holly Shares How She Did It

Holly’s success as a freelance writer didn’t go unnoticed. As word of her achievement spread, she started receiving requests for tips from other aspiring freelance writers on how they could achieve the same success.

So, Holly created a course on how to do it.

Holly’s course, Earn More Writing, takes you from the very beginning and walks you step-by-step from getting your first clients to earning a full-time living as a freelance writer. Nothing is left out. She reveals every strategy she used to get to where she is today.

Just a few things she covers in the course include:

  • How to develop a writing specialty
  • How to identify clients to pitch your services to
  • How to build your portfolio
  • The exact emails Holly used to land clients
  • How to set your rates to earn what you’re worth
  • How to find and keep your dream clients
  • How to increase your earnings over time
  • Discover what editors really want so you become their favorite writer
  • How to improve your efficiency so you can take on more projects and earn more money
  • How to build your brand
  • How to take your income into the stratosphere

The great thing about Holly’s course is there’s something in it for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are just starting out as a freelance writer and you don’t have any clients or published writing samples or if you already have clients you write for on a regular basis. The strategies and tips she reveals can either help you get your freelance writing career started or you can use her strategies to take your career to the next level.

Getting Started as a Freelance Writer

While Holly’s course, Earn More Writing, goes in-depth about how to get your freelance writing career up and running, we can take a brief look at the step-by-step process here:

Step 1: Select a writing niche

Most freelance writers, when they are first getting started, tend to think it’s a great idea to be a generalist. The idea is they will write anything for any client at any time. After all, the more writing you do, the more money you make, right?

While being a generalist may seem like the best way to earn a lot of money as a writer, it can actually work against you. As a generalist, you could actually end up writing less than someone who specializes.

How can that be?

You have to think about it from the perspective of someone who hires freelance writers. Let’s say you are the marketing manager for a real estate company and you are looking for someone to update your company’s blog on a regular basis. Who would you rather hire, someone who is a generalist or someone who specializes in writing for the real estate market?

It’s not hard to figure that one out, is it?

Companies always prefer to hire writers they view as experts in their fields instead of generalists. They want writers who know the ins and outs of their industries and can write with authority.

But, what if you’re not an expert on any particular subject? How can you present yourself as an expert in a niche?

It doesn’t matter. Even if you’re not an expert in something, you can still select that niche if you have the ability to research something and then write an original piece as someone who is knowledgeable about the topic.

When selecting your niche, think about all of your hobbies, passions, past job experiences, and other things where you might have gained knowledge on a subject. Just a few popular niches include:

  • Health and Wellness
  • Medical
  • Financial
  • Real Estate
  • Legal
  • Construction
  • Digital Marketing

Another important thing about niche selection is you don’t have to settle on just one. It’s okay to choose multiple niches. That way, if the market for one of your niches experiences a downturn (like the housing market during the Great Recession), you have other niches to fall back on.

Step 2: Create a portfolio of writing samples

After you have selected one or more writing niches to specialize in, you will need to create a portfolio of published articles that you can show to prospective clients.

Marketing managers (the people you will be pitching your services to) always want to see samples of your work before hiring you. They want to see if your writing style matches their company voice and that you have the ability to communicate in a way that draws readers in. In short, they want to see if you are a good writer.

But what do you do if you don’t have any published articles?

There are a couple of things you can do. The first option is guest posting on blogs. The other option is to reach out to companies and non-profit organizations and offer to do some pro bono work for them in exchange for a byline (author credit).

Guest posting on blogs is actually a lot easier than you might think. It takes a lot of time to write blog posts, and many bloggers are eager to have someone step in and write some free content for them.

To find bloggers who are interested in receiving guest posts, just do a search on Facebook for guest posting groups. You can join several of these groups to increase your chances of finding a good blog to post your content on.

Another option for finding blogs to guest post on is to do an internet search for your niche plus “blogs that accept guest posts.” For example, if your niche is finance, your search query would be, “finance blogs that accept guest posts.”

The second option is to reach out to companies and non-profit organizations and offer to contribute to their blogs pro bono (for free) in exchange for a byline. Many companies pay a lot of money to have blog posts written for them and will welcome the opportunity to have someone write for free.

How many writing samples do you need?

Just a few. You don’t want to overwhelm prospective clients with too many samples. If you shoot for at least six published articles, you will be in good shape.

By the way, some people refer to writing samples as “clips.” If you ever hear a prospect say something about a “clip,” you’ll know that person is referring to a writing sample. Both terms refer to the same thing.

Step 3: Build a website

The next step in the process of establishing your freelance writing business is to build a website.

Why do you need a website?

You need a website to sell your services to prospective clients. You can think of it as an online business card. Your website will make the case as to why marketing managers should consider hiring you to do their writing (and pay you for it). The website you create should be very simple with only five pages including Home, Why Me?, Services, Samples, and Hire Me.

Your home page is the first thing marketing managers will see. Although it may seem counterintuitive, you don’t want to include a lot of text here. You just want to have a picture of yourself and about 300-400 words of content introducing yourself and your services. That’s it.

The next page should be titled “Why Me?” This is where you will expand on why clients should hire you, why you will be the best writer for their needs, and it’s also a place where you can highlight your experience and qualifications.

Services will be the next page on your website. Again, you’ll want to keep it simple with a couple of short paragraphs followed by a bullet point list of projects you do. For example, your list might look like this:

  • White Papers
  • Case Studies
  • Press Releases
  • Brochures
  • Website Copy
  • Articles
  • Blog Posts
  • Newsletters
  • Company Profiles
  • Executive Profiles
  • Catalog Copy
  • Annual Reports
  • Automated Email Sequences
  • Event Materials
  • And More!

The next page is titled Samples. This is the page where you will link to the articles you published on various blogs. Remember, it’s important not to overwhelm your clients with too many samples. Six samples is a good amount to display.

Ideally, you’ll want to replace your initial samples with samples from paid clients as you acquire them. But for now, this is where you will place your starter samples.

The best way to display the links to your samples is to take screenshots of them and display the images with the blog title and a brief description. You can create links to both the title and the image itself.

Finally, the last page on your website is titled Hire Me. This is essentially a contact page. When people click on this page, it should take them to a form they can fill out to send you a message. Be sure to let people know that you will get back to them ASAP.

Step 4: Pitch your services

After you have some initial writing samples and you’ve built a website to help sell your services, it’s time to start pitching your freelance writing services to prospective clients. You’re ready for prime time!

How do you find the right people to contact?

You can find them on LinkedIn. This is the place where professionals hang out. And in most cases, you will be able to find the right contact person by doing a search for a company plus “marketing manager.”

Okay, now that you have the right person, how do you find out that person’s email address?

Simple, you just look it up on Hunter.

Hunter is an easy-to-use app that allows you to enter a company’s website, and it will then tell you the email convention the company uses. In most cases, it will not tell you a person’s specific email address. However, if you know the email convention the company uses, you have a good chance of figuring out a person’s email address.

An email convention looks something like this:

{f}{last}@ebay.com

This tells us eBay uses the initial of the first name plus the full last name.

Once you have a marketing manager’s name and email address, you will then want to send that person an email to introduce yourself and your services. You want your email title to be something short and to the point. A few examples include:

  • Writer for GoDaddy, Forbes, and Microsoft
  • I was referred to you by John Smith
  • Do you use freelance writers?

And for the body of your message, you want to keep it short. Marketing managers receive many emails, and they don’t have the time to read a long-winded message. Here is an example of a short message pitching your services:

Hi Stacy,

Does your company use freelance writers?

I am a freelance financial writer specializing in the stock market, options, and futures. Just a few of my previous clients have included Agora Financial, The Economist, and Investor’s Business Daily.

You can see what clients have said about me on my website (include link) as well as on my LinkedIn profile (include link). I have also included links to a few writing samples below.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you and possibly partnering with you on your writing needs.

Best,

Susan Smith.

See how easy that was? Short, simple, and to the point.

Step 5: Close the deal

Realistically, you probably aren’t going to land work just from sending out a bunch of email messages to marketing managers. Rather, the idea behind email prospecting is to get them on the phone.

When you get a prospect on the phone, you want to keep the conversation short and to the point (don’t forget that people are busy). You will then try to find out what their needs are and how you can help them with their marketing.

What if they ask what about rates?

If a client asks you what you charge, you can very easily put the ball back in their corner by telling that person you charge by the project and your rate depends on a variety of factors. Ask for some details on the project. It’s also good to ask if that person has a specific budget she’s working with.

After you have this information, tell the prospect that you will need a little bit of time to crunch the numbers and that you will get back shortly via email with a quote.

In some cases, you may run into a situation where a client says your quote is too high. If so, it’s important to keep in mind that if you lower your quote, that will be your rate with that client going forward. You have to be very careful with lowering your fees just to land work.

Step 6: Ask for periodic raises

One great thing about being a freelance writer is the fee you initially earn with a client doesn’t have to be the one you’re stuck with forever. It’s definitely possible to increase your fees. And, in fact, you should be doing this periodically with all of your existing clients.

When should you ask for a raise?

After you have been working with a client for at least a year, you can then send your client an email stating that you’ve been with them for a while now and have always submitted assignments on time. Then politely ask if they have any room in their budget for an increase in what they are paying you.

You might be surprised by the response you get.

Marketing managers are human beings, and if you have been doing a great job of submitting well-written content and you are meeting your deadlines, they will often work with you when you ask for an increase.

Marketing managers know that finding a good writer isn’t always easy. And when they find one they can rely on, they try to hang on to that person for as long as possible.

How often should you ask for an increase in pay?

There is no set rule for this. You could ask clients for an increase once every couple of years, for example. It depends a lot on the relationship you develop with a client and how comfortable you are with approaching that person for higher fees.

Step 7: Improve your writing skills

After you’ve landed a few clients who give you repeat business each month, this doesn’t mean you can sit back and take it easy. You never want to become complacent in this business. It’s vitally important that you continue pitching your services to prospective clients (unless you are already too busy – which is a good problem to have).

You also want to be continually improving your writing skills. In Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, he says the way to improve as a writer is to read a lot and write a lot. That’s the essential prescription for success as a writer.

Reading books allows you to learn from other people’s writing styles. And if you write a lot, you will naturally get good at it. Writing is a lot like learning to play a musical instrument. The more you do it, the better you get at it.

You can also learn a lot by paying close attention to the feedback you get from clients. This will enable you to “fine tune” your writing style to closely match what a client is looking for.

Yet another way you can improve your writing is to study the subject of business writing. Books are available on the subject, and you can easily find them online.

Step 8: Expand your network

Having a solid network of clients is absolutely vital to your success as a freelance writer. But you also want to network with other freelance writers.

While freelance writers may be your competition, they can also be a source of work. Occasionally, a writer may end up in a situation where he has more work than he can handle. When this happens, writers sometimes reach out to their network and find other writers who are currently available. It happens more often than you may think.

You also want to connect with other writers for the purpose of staying current on industry trends. Also, sometimes a writer who has worked with a difficult client will give others a heads-up to stay away from that person.

Step 9: Establish goals

One of the most important things you can do to grow your business is to establish new goals each year. You could do this a number of ways. You could, for instance, set a goal to send out a certain number of email prospecting messages. You could also set a specific dollar amount you would like to earn for the year – or you could do both.

For example, at the beginning of a new year, you could set a goal to contact 500 new prospects by email and earn $60,000.

Establishing goals can help push you to reach new heights in your business. It can also keep you from falling into a rut. As each year passes and you become more confident in your abilities, you can set higher goals than in years past.

Step 10: Believe in yourself

Finally, the last (and arguably one of the most important) step in becoming a freelance writer is to believe in yourself and to never give up. Let’s face it, in any business you’re going to have some days where you question things.

Maybe you just dealt with a difficult client who insulted something you wrote. Or perhaps you didn’t meet your financial goal for the month and you are tempted to throw in the towel and go back to working a regular job.

When you have bad days, it’s important to keep things in perspective. It’s important to think about the things that are going well. Look on the bright side – you no longer have a boss telling you what to do all day long. You no longer have to deal with office politics. You no longer have to commute to and from an office.

You are your own boss.

When you do have a bad day in this business, it’s like having a bad day at the beach. Hey, it may be overcast and the water may be a little cool, but you’re still at the beach. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Bad days come and go. And when you are first getting started in this business, many prospects are going to reject your offer to write for them. If someone tells you “no,” you have to keep going. You have to keep moving forward. Eventually, you’ll have enough people telling you “yes” to earn a full-time living.

You’ve Got This!

If you are someone who enjoys writing, being a full-time freelance writer is something you can definitely do. It’s a career that’s ideal for many. And not only does it give you incredible freedom in your schedule and where you work, it can also be very lucrative.

If you want to learn more about getting started and establishing your freelance writing business, Holly Johnson’s course, Earn More Writing, takes you every step of the way from getting started to taking your earnings into the stratosphere.

Do you want to keep working a soulless job forever, or would you like to finally break free and be your own boss and earn the money you deserve?

It’s your call.

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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