How to Become a Successful Freelance Writer

As writers, many of us dream of writing whilst sitting with our laptops in a cafe in France or an exotic beach, enjoying life as a successful freelance writer. After all, it seems like the only prerequisite is the ability to write in your native language, have a laptop, and a good WIFI connection.

Sadly, as I can attest, it‘s not quite that simple. If you’re considering life as a freelance writer or wondering how to get remote writing jobs, here’s everything you need to know to begin. 

Why Consider Freelance Writing?

Freelance writing can be a great career choice and is appealing to a wide range of people. Some of the most popular reasons to become a freelance writer include:

  1. Freelance writers work remotely. Freelance writers can work from home (even before this became the norm for many), from a coffee shop, from a cabin in the woods… it’s a great job for people who can’t or don’t want to commute to an office, or for people who want the freedom to travel while earning money.
  1. Freelance writing can be done on any schedule. If you prefer to work in the middle of the night, work around school hours, part-time, or travel through different time zones, freelance writing can offer a great level of flexibility. You still need to meet your deadlines, and it’s critical to deliver the work on time, but you can manage your schedule any way you prefer.
  1. There are thousands of paid writing opportunities every day. In today’s internet-driven world, virtually every form of business requires the work of a professional writer.

    Websites, blog posts, social media feeds, news and current events and entertainment, even scripts for television and online video… companies need to deliver a constant stream of content, especially to the internet, and they use writers to do it. 
  1. Freelance writing offers endless learning opportunities. Depending on what kinds of freelance writing work you want to do, it’s a great job for people who love to learn. You may be writing a motorcycle manual one day, the benefits of learning Mandarin another day, and then explaining mRNA vaccines the next.

    If you are good at researching, learning, and explaining information, you can enjoy working as a freelance writer.

Is Freelance Writing Right for You?

Freelance writing isn’t for everyone and I encountered many challenges when I first started. Despite all the benefits and opportunities, here are some cautionary factors to keep in mind:

  1. Freelancing is insecure and unstable. Especially in the beginning, it can be difficult to find good projects and earn enough money to live on.

    Even established, successful freelance writers struggle with the challenges that all freelancers face: clients that don’t pay on time, financial risks if you get sick and can’t work, the occasional crisis if your internet or technology isn’t working properly, jobs that fall through at the last minute, difficult client relationships…the list goes on.

    I found having a financial buffer a great comfort in the early days, but this is not always easy to achieve. The more practical alternative is to try and secure a couple of jobs/clients before you make the leap to freelance, especially if you need to make a predictable amount of money every month to support yourself and your family.
  1. Freelance writing pay can be low. Many successful freelance writers strive to establish themselves in a high-paying niche with a stable client base, but this still comes with an element of uncertainty, as budgets can be cut and as a freelancer, you are likely to be the first casualty when jobs are at risk.

    Naturally, freelancers in any field are free to set their rates and charge what they choose, but the reality is that we compete in a global marketplace and are often competing against each other for the same jobs.

    There is always someone who will do the work for a lower rate, and this competition drives down pay for everyone. The key to success here is to demonstrate how you add value and ensure your knowledge and writing is on point. Find and demonstrate your USP (Unique Selling Point) to set yourself apart from the competition.
  1. Freelance writing is a business. Writers are often drawn to freelancing because they want to make money doing what they love, but this idealistic approach can end in disappointment if you don’t treat it as a business from the start.

    Loving your work is great and we all strive to achieve it, but freelance writing is a business and needs to be treated as such if you are to succeed. It’s not just about writing. You need to engage in marketing and promotion, accounting and bookkeeping, managing clients, constantly seeking new clients and projects, and so on.

    Securing freelance writing projects can be time-consuming, and it can take hours to put together a pitch for a job you may not get. Staying on top of all these different demands requires a broad range of skills and excellent organization, and you may not spend as much time writing as you expect.

Freelance writing is challenging, and starting any new business comes with risks. Along with the opportunities, there are several pitfalls. Take the time to evaluate your needs and abilities to determine if freelance writing is the right choice for you.

How to Start Your Freelance Writing Business

If you’ve decided to take the plunge and pursue a freelance writing career, here are my top tips to get you started:

Study the market carefully

There are many different ways you can make money as a freelance writer, and each requires careful research and examination. Consider what type of writing you want to do, and then find out how to work in that area.

Some of the factors to research include:

  1. What are the types of freelance writing? You can write for magazine articles, company blogs, press releases, white papers, guides and manuals, scripts, websites, advertisements, and more. Each type of writing tends to have an associated general style and format. Determine the types of writing that suit you best, research that style and format and look at where the opportunities lie.
  2. How do you find freelance writing roles? There are dozens of online writing marketplaces and communities. Research the marketplaces that feature the type of writing you want to do and understand what types of clients use those marketplaces.

    Many types of writing aren’t done through marketplaces at all; magazines and periodicals, as well as many popular blogs and content sites, expect freelance writers to pitch content directly to them or via an agency. 

    Research rates and ratings. Whatever platform(s) you research, identify the typical jobs and rates on the platform, as well as how successful writers use that site and engage in the platform.

    Networking is always a great way to retain and make new contacts and put yourself out there. I’ve found LinkedIn to be a great tool for keeping in contact with existing connections, especially as everyone moves around over the years.

    I have also found it to be a useful tool for researching and making new connections, reaching out to people in a specific trade or company, and it enables potential employers to look you up and contact you directly with job offers.
  3. How do I learn the skills and tools I need to be a freelance writer? There are a variety of free and paid sites online where you can learn specialized skills to boost a freelance writing career.

    For example, you may want to take a journalism or creative writing course, brush up on AP style, or learn the principles of content marketing. Familiarizing yourself with the more common marketing terms such as “CTA” and “byline” among others will also be of use.

    Try out some of the common tools of the trade, like Grammarly or LanguageTool. CopyScape and Frase are also worth taking a look at. If you are looking to write for the web, then it pays to gain at least a basic understanding of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), keyword research, basic HTML and WordPress. This will open doors for you by adding useful strings to your bow.

    At ProCopyTips, we have many articles on our blog designed to offer tips and signpost key services. Here is a good article to get you started Top 10 Copywriting Skills You Need to be Successful.
  4. How do I find my copywriting niche? Because freelance writing is so competitive, successful writers often establish a niche and tailor their services accordingly.

    Your ideal niche should be based on your specialized skills, favored style of writing and experience. Some ways to develop your niche might be:
    • Use your experience or expertise. If you have a degree in computer science, you might be a great technical writer. If you’re widely travelled, you may want to be a travel writer.
    • Leverage your skills. Perhaps you’re great at writing funny video scripts, or Top 10 lists, or personal essays, or luxury product descriptions. Use your natural abilities to develop your niche.
    • Exploit a market opportunity. Identify a key area where there is lots of opportunities and unmet demand. For example, a huge number of businesses are practicing inbound marketing, which requires large volumes of content that is consistent with those principles.
  5. Build a portfolio. You will struggle to secure freelance writing jobs without producing work samples. Clients want to see that you have a history of successfully creating the type of content they are looking for.

    The best work samples are larger paid projects, published online or in print. Use an example that shows your range and/or expertise in a field relevant to the client. Include recommendations and testimonials from previous clients.

    If you don’t have a history of paid writing projects, you can create new copy. When I’ve pitched for work in a new arena, I’ve offered sample copy relating directly to their business, pointing out where I can add value, such as research, idea generation or SEO.
  6. Increase your online visibility. This is key to any successful freelance endeavor. Start a website or a blog and create a professional online presence. Create or update your LinkedIn profile and ask satisfied clients to give you testimonials. Be mindful that many clients will search your name before hiring you, so maintain your professionalism on ALL public social media channels.

Tips for Success as a Freelance Writer

To build a freelance career, my advice would be to treat it as a business from the start. Although we love the freedom and flexibility, we also need to approach it as you would any business start-up:

  • Establish a routine. Set yourself goals each day and create a professional, sustainable routine that allows you time to complete, edit, and review your work before delivering it, and manage your schedule and competing deadlines. Also, build in time to look for new business and complete any admin requirements.
  • Look after your wellbeing. You are now your HR department. Make sure you have a good writing environment. That means a good sitting position to write (not hunched over), book regular eye tests, and take regular breaks and exercise so you aren’t sitting down all day. This will not only help your physical health but boost your creativity and mental wellbeing.
  • Build great client relationships. No small business can grow without repeat business and referrals, and the way to get them is by building great relationships with your clients. Understand their needs and goals, deliver great work on time, and keep in touch.

Remember it’s a small world and if a client values your work, they will not only put more work your way but will recommend you to others. To find out more about “how to dazzle your clients” check out our blog link.

Summary

Freelance writing can be an incredibly fun and rewarding career and allows writers to work with a lot of freedom, creativity, and independence. It’s not always an easy choice, but for those who are committed to success, it can be a great choice.

FAQs

How to get started as a freelance writer?

There are lots of different ways to get started as a freelance writer. One easy way is to join an online “content mill” platform. These kinds of websites allow you to get some experience and build a library of samples while avoiding hazards like non-paying clients.

Most freelance writers will quickly want to move away from content mills (due to low pay) and graduate to more independence and higher rates by building their own client base.

How to get paid as a freelance writer?

If you are writing for an online freelance marketplace platform, the platform typically has a built-in payment system, often with integrated client management and dispute resolution tools.

If you are an independent freelance writer, you typically agree on a rate and time frame ahead of time and send an invoice to the client after the work is complete.

For large projects or new clients, you may want to invoice for 25-50% of the project rate upfront, to make sure that you don’t invest a lot of time on a project only to have the client back out of the agreement or fail to pay you for the work.

What does a successful freelance writer do?

In short – a successful freelance writer gets paid to write. Other aspects of the role include:

– Marketing and visibility. A freelance writer might keep a blog or newsletter, have a professional social media presence, maintain or improve their website, and engage in other marketing activities.

– Project pitches and proposals. A good freelance writer is always keeping an eye out for new opportunities, so they are engaging in pitches and proposals all the time. A steady flow of outgoing pitches ensures a steady stream of incoming work.

– Client and project management. Freelance writing means regularly checking in with clients, keeping them updated on how the work is progressing. You might send weekly status reports, remind them that you are still waiting for their feedback or comments, ask them about the status of upcoming initiatives, or even just say hello sometimes.

– Taking care of business. As a business owner, freelance writers need to manage their own business, not just complete client projects. That can mean general admin and invoice, long-term planning and goal setting, investing in necessary software or equipment, or even expanding and hiring writers, assistants, or consultants to grow the business.

Is freelance writing a good career?

Freelance writing can be an excellent career for people who value their independence and enjoy writing. To turn freelance writing into a good career usually means planning for the growth of your business over time. What do you want to be doing in 20 years? What does “success” look like for you? Is there a market opportunity that matches your ambitions?

How much should I charge for an article?

Setting your rates can be one of the most difficult parts of being a freelance writer. Some projects will pay a flat rate for the completed work, others pay by the word or by the page, and some even pay by the hour. Determining your rates is a measured balance between:

Your actual time. Track your time. How long does it take you to write 500 words? 1500? 5000? What do you want to earn per hour? Factor your actual time into your rates.

The market rate. Research what other writers are charging for their services. Research what different platforms and content mills charge for their services. Look for writers with your experience level, in your niche, and find out what their rates are.

The client’s expectations. Some clients will start by offering $50 or $500. That isn’t always a fair rate for your time, or consistent with the market, but it lets you know what their expectations and budget may be.

Review industry recommendations. The annual Writer’s Market, and many other websites and platforms, will make recommendations for how much writers should charge for content. There are many compelling reasons for writers to raise their rates and charge by an industry-standard, to counterbalance the competition that lowers rates.

The truth is, your rates will start out being some kind of compromise between what you want to earn, and what the client is prepared to pay. If you know what the recommended rates are, and what the marketplace is charging, you can adjust accordingly and negotiate with clients. Over time, you can increase your rates as you develop experience and expertise and prove your value. 

How much does a freelance writer earn?

The answer to that question depends on who you ask. Glassdoor says that the average salary for a freelance writer is $42K/year. PayScale says the national average is $23.67/hour.

According to a 2019 survey, over a third of freelance writers make less than $10/hour during their first year. The truth is because writing projects can pay by the word, by the project, by the page, or by the hour, and because freelance writers can earn anywhere from $0.01 – $1.00 per word, it’s virtually impossible to give an accurate average.

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About Rebekah Villon

Rebekah Villon is a professional writer and marketing consultant who specialises in strategic content for B2B communications. In her personal life, she enjoys the freedom of remote digital work while travelling, pursuing hobbies, and continuous learning.

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