A lot of people dream about working for themselves and/or working from home, but only a fraction of the dreamers ever make this a reality. Freelancing seems like a great alternative to traditional employment, but it certainly isn’t for everyone. Freelance work requires self-motivation, hours of working smart and not necessarily hard, self-promotion and marketing skills, and obviously great writing and research skills, just to name a few. If you have a strong sense of sentence structure, voice, tone, spelling and grammar and would enjoy writing articles to persuade or educate readers, perhaps you have what it takes to become a freelance writer.
First and foremost: what is a freelance writer? Basically, it is someone – a writer, journalist, stay-at-home mom or professional – who writes content for websites or print publications on a short or long-term (but not permanent), contractual or project basis. Content can consist of informative articles, blog posts, press releases, landing pages, service or product reviews, eBooks, reports, advertisements, and more.
Freelance writer jobs encompass a variety of tasks in countless different subjects, sometimes called “niches”. For example, freelance writers can become experts on personal finance, self-improvement and self-help, insurance, SEO, entrepreneurship, health, education, career, relationship advice or any other field they have a passion to research and write about.
Due to the broad nature of professional writing, a common misconception exists that anyone can become a freelance writer. However, there are a few qualities that separate the subpar writers from those who can eventually make a decent living from freelancing.
What Makes a Freelancer Successful
A successful freelance writer is passionate about writing and the subject of their content, and has the self-motivation to consistently meet deadlines and continue onward, even when business is slow. Obviously, a freelance writer must have great spelling, grammar, and general writing skills. Many companies based in the United States and other English-speaking countries require that their writers speak English as a first language. If an online media outlet is only willing to pay $5 for an article, don’t bother applying since these types of jobs are usually geared for writers overseas with incredibly low costs of living.
Due to the nature of online content marketing, Google’s algorithm updates and print journalism, insightful and high quality writing is of the utmost importance. You will quickly learn that a combination of quality and quantity is essential to a thriving freelance business. Being a prolific writer who produces 1000 to 2000 words per day can ensure you maintain a balance.
Lastly, strong research skills and a thorough understanding of SEO are required of freelance writers online. With good research and creative thinking, successful freelance writers can put a unique spin on well-worn topics. There are thousands of blogs and resources on every given subject and you need to find a way to make your content and articles stand out. Otherwise, if your clients don’t get any traffic from the articles you write, you better believe you won’t have those clients much longer.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Becoming a freelance writer doesn’t happen overnight. You can post your “Open For Business” sign and wait around for customers, but true success in this business takes years of self-marketing, honing one’s craft, and building a solid reputation with clients you work with along the way. Before we delve into the details of how to become a freelance writer, understand that this is a highly competitive industry and it’s strongly recommended that you keep your day job until you’re making a reliable income from writing. To do this, you need to build up your credentials by writing dozens, if not hundreds, of articles on a given subject and acquire a few clients who’d vouch for your reputability as a writer.
The Writing Process
If you’ve made it this far and decided that this career is for you, the next phase of learning how to be a freelance writer is to demystify the writing process.
Yes, you want to be a freelance writer, but the process of writing is only a small percentage of the actual process of producing an article. One of the most important parts of freelance writing is doing your research. Whether it’s browsing credible sources to back up your claims, interviewing experts, or just getting some background information on your subject, research is absolutely crucial to writing a quality article. Google search the topic or keywords you are targeting and review the top 5 best articles written. I prefer to check out and reference lengthy, in-depth resources or how-to guides, especially from government agencies, think tanks, or research groups. If you find a specific sub-topic that wasn’t fully discussed, it could be the perfect idea for another article.
“Write What You Know”
This is a personal decision, but you’ll find that breaking into freelance writing is much easier when you find a niche or two and only write for those topics. When picking an industry to become an expert in, I always try to pick one that I am passionate about, gets hundreds of thousands of searches a month, is highly profitable, and fulfills a genuine need by people or businesses.
There are many advantages to narrowing your focus: you won’t be spreading yourself too thin, there will be less research involved the more you build your knowledge base, and there will be less of a chance for factual errors. To boost your credibility as a freelance writer, you want to be significantly more knowledgeable than your average reader. Do this by reading everything and anything about your subject. Subscribe to authoritative blogs, magazines, newspapers, and be up-to-date on new technology, developments, and trends in your niche.
For example, Gajizmo.com is essentially a money site – our goal is to help you manage your personal finances and investments, make money and grow your income, and offer the best career and education advice. Fortunately, my degree is in financial analysis/valuation and I worked in the finance industry at investment banking and private equity firms. Nevertheless, I still regularly read Bloomberg, Barron’s, Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance, and review over 100 blogs on a regular basis. Additionally, because I am in the online media publishing space now, I read dozens of SEO and entrepreneurship websites, mainly because they remind me of the simple strategies I sometimes overlook or forget when I’m busy and have a thousand things on my mind. Bottom line, if you want to be known as an expert in your field, work hard to be the best.
Quality Over Quantity
Unless you only aspire to be a cheap freelance writer who makes $5-10 per article, do not rush your assignments! The old adage of “quality over quantity” especially applies to freelance writing. After all, the internet is open to everybody and the articles you write are a reflection of your intelligence, personal views, and writing ability. A focus on quality will allow you to build a reader-base and possibly garner you attention from other websites and publications. This attention could lead to other job opportunities down the road. Consider it a form of free marketing.
How To Become A Freelance Writer
There are many ways to find freelance writing jobs online, but the main three are job postings, social media outreach, and through your own personal blog.
Online job postings for writers are plentiful, but there are generally dozens of applicants for these positions. FreelanceWritingGigs.com is a great place for beginner freelance writers to start out. It’s a compilation of writing jobs from postings around the country, usually from websites like Craigslist. Before submitting your application with the rest of the pack of freelance-hopefuls, be sure to have a polished resume and high quality sample articles, preferably relevant to the position you’re applying for. It also helps to have a LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter account to show that you’re social media savvy.
Social Media and Networking
Speaking of social media, another avenue for marketing your freelance writing services is through outlets such as Twitter, Facebook (your professional fan page, not personal page), and G+. Follow media companies and websites you’d like to write for and, when appropriate, reach out to them to inquire about open positions or their need for new freelance writers.
Even networking and building relationships with other freelance writers, editors, video producers, and online marketers in the business will help you. The best time to do this is when you just want to be friendly and introduce yourself, instead of when you need a job or favor. Everyone hates it when you email them for the first time already asking for something.
Your Personal Blog
A less-common way to find freelance writing jobs is by starting a personal blog (you can find a complete guide at StartABlog123.com). Many writers use this as a platform to showcase their sample articles, offer testimonials, and detail their services. Sample articles or links to your existing work already published online will demonstrate your writing style and expertise. Don’t use this as your sole source of self-promotion, however, because it requires webmasters and content managers to contact you. That only happens when you have a valuable brand, name recognition, or another writer/editor has referred you.
Guest Posting or Blogging
Finally, rounding up clients is an ongoing process that requires you to be proactive and seek out opportunities instead of waiting for them to find you. Pitch your services multiple times a week. The way I would start my outreach campaign is:
- Google search your topic and open the top 100 unique sites in your niche.
- Bookmark each unique domain.
- Then read an article or two from the website so you have an idea about how you would relate and fit with the blogger.
- Check out the “Contact Us” or “About Me” page to gather contact information.
- Start an Excel spreadsheet and document the URL, name of the blogger, and their email address.
- Write the blogger a unique and personalized email inquiring about their freelance writing needs. Reference your past work and ask them for a guest post as an audition piece.
A free guest post will give you the chance to show off your work, interact with the blog’s readers, and finally, get a link back to your personal blog marketing your freelance business.
Some beginning freelance writers opt to go another route: bidding sites. One example of this is Elance.com, where employers, publishers and SEO companies go to find freelance writers for various projects they have. While bidding sites can help you build up a portfolio and reputation, the problem with these sites is that they have a “race to the bottom” nature. Because freelancers bid on projects, chances are high that someone will beat your price and get the job. This mentality encourages freelance writers to charge bare bones prices in order to get some work. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether bidding sites are worth your time.
Rates and Salaries
Once you have a solid foundation in writing and marketing, you’re probably wondering how much freelance writers make. The answer depends on your brand, reputation, expertise, and how much time and effort you’re willing to put in building your network and relationships.
Set A Target Income
One important piece of advice for freelance writers who are just starting out: pursue job postings based on how much you want to be paid. Now, this isn’t to say you should immediately charge $100 per article because even experienced freelancers may not be making that much (though that depends on the publisher and the length of the article), but the point is not to work for pennies just to “gain experience.” Despite the competitive aspect of freelancing, there is a strong demand for content development and writing jobs, and you shouldn’t have to churn out dozens of subpar articles to gain access to the fair-paying jobs.
On the other hand, if you have people seeking out your services, then charge what you think you’re worth. Many freelancers tend to overcharge, seeing how much effort is involved beyond the writing process itself, but take the time to really assess your experience level, writing ability, subject matter expertise, and other factors that come into play when working as a writer. Be reasonable, but don’t fall prey to charging less in order to rack up more clients. Generally, ask for the rate you want and negotiate from there.
How To Charge
Freelance writer rates can be determined a few different ways- per word, per hour, or per post. $0.02 to $0.05 per word is a decent entry-level rate, but you can charge more as you gain more experience. If you are journalistically-trained or attended a prestigious university with a well-known communications school, try to charge accordingly and test the market.
Some freelance writing rates are charged by the hour, but this becomes tricky as it requires a higher degree of trust in the client-writer relationship and has a higher likelihood of being abused. If the job is an in-office position, this can work; otherwise, charging by the hour is not recommended for telecommuting, contract, or work-from-home positions.
And lastly, some freelance writers charge by the post or project, such as a batch of five short articles at $20 each. The most popular way freelance writers like to get paid is through PayPal. Frequency can be discussed and negotiated, but weekly or bi-weekly is probably best for all parties.
Self-employment doesn’t mean you’re completely free. A client is your new “boss” and your responsibilities as a freelance writer could be greater than a 9 to 5 career. The most important way to keep your metaphorical doors open in the freelancing business – careful client management.
Meet Deadlines and Exceed Expectations
Make it your goal to meet or even beat every deadline presented to you. This doesn’t mean rush, per se, but effective time management is essential for anyone wanting to succeed in any venture. By meeting deadlines, you’ll maintain good relationships and perhaps even get referrals or strong testimonials.
Furthermore, you should always work hard to exceed expectations. By always demonstrating integrity, dedication to high quality work, good customer service, and a willingness to genuinely help publishers and bloggers, freelancers will quickly earn and build a solid reputation and brand, not to mention a lifelong client. Just remember that it is always easier to grow your business by maintaining your existing customers and adding new ones slowly, than to burn through your existing relationships and constantly be forced to look for new work.
Communication Is Key
If you don’t like checking or responding to emails regularly, then either change your mind about getting started in freelance writing or change your habits. Client preferences vary. Some are very hands-off while others have specific guidelines and appreciate consistent updates. However, one thing remains the same: they expect you to communicate with them. Whether it’s a question you have regarding the direction of your content, updates on revisions or additional services, you must place the utmost priority on communicating with those who have hired you to write for them. Doing things when you “feel like it” doesn’t cut it in freelance world, and setting a standard of quality writing and communication from the beginning will put you ahead of your competitors.
If you want to become a freelance writer, it’s important to know what implications are involved prior to jumping on-board the freelancing bandwagon. It’s a competitive market, but with some skillful self-promotion, a continuous drive to perfect your craft, and in-depth knowledge of your subject and the purpose of your articles, you can make it as a freelance writer.