How to Become a Freelance Writer: What 28 Experts Say!
If you want to become a freelance writer, it can liberating and scary all at the same time. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Thousands of people a day become freelancers, because they enjoy the freedom it affords them. Imagine, no more traffic, bosses, or stupid meetings that no one cares about.
Not to mention the annoying co-worker who always farts in the elevator.
Ya, I know it was you Dave!!!
It’s no wonder people are choosing this flexible work option. And one of the most popular of the freelance professions: writing!
Here at the Casual Capitalist we are dedicated to making you richer. So, we went out and asked 28 expert freelancers the following question:
What is your best tip on how to become a freelance writer?
And here’s what they had to say.
20. People Need To Be Able To Find You Online – Kenneth Burke – Text Request & KennethBurkeWriter.com
1. Don’t Be Afraid To Work For Free – Rick Lauber of RickLauber.com
“Beginner freelance writers shouldn’t be afraid to offer to write for free. While writing for free may sound ludicrous, this is an excellent way to explore new markets and collect writing samples. I began freelancing by working with a local newspaper editor who accepted a number of my submitted articles. With these published articles, I now had writing samples to share with other editors who were more willing to work with me on a paid basis.”
2. Understand What Client Wants – Elizabeth Gibson – Chief Content Officer, EZLandlordForms
“Don’t guess. In my eagerness to impress a new client, I tended to rush into an assignment only to find, halfway through, that I wasn’t completely sure I understood the assignment goal. I think I wanted to seem professional by jumping right on it. The lesson was this: Don’t be afraid to ask questions on an assignment. If you still aren’t sure, ask until you are.”
3. Join Groups And Network – Stephen Gibson – Founder of Vyteo
“My #1 tip for beginner freelance writers is to network. Attend meet up groups in person, join Facebook groups online – get connected to other freelancers and also those who may hire you.”
4. Write A Lot – Steve Replin – Lawyer at Replin Law Group
“I would tell my screenwriter clients to continue to write and write until they have a library of many screenplays. Writing a lot builds skill and persistence will always win out in the end.
5. Sign Contracts – Stephanie Caudle – Black Girl Group
“My number one tip is to ALWAYS read the full contract you sign with your client. I made a mistake once and signed an agreement with a client and was disappointed when I didn’t receive payment immediately after I invoiced them. I later found out that the contract specifically said that all freelancers would be paid at net 30 meaning we get paid in 30 days. So best advice I can give? Always read your contract.”
6. Think Like A Marketer – Holly Rodriguez – Richmond Free Press
“After 20 years as a writer, here is my one bit of advice: Think like a marketer. What is your brand, and what marketing material do you have to support the idea of that brand? Don’t be the “I’ll just write anything” writer. Of course, to eat and pay the bills, that may be what you have to do, but, in building up yourself as a brand (think Oprah, Inc., Martha Stewart Inc., Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates), you develop the capacity for people to “feel” something about you, rather than just see you as another name in the rolodex.”
7. Don’t Give Up – Curtis Bizelli – CurtBizelli.com
“I have been writing for over two decades and I’m only 32 years old. YES, I actually started submitting content to magazines at the age of 8. I’ve had over 200 poems published online, articles, etc. with the About.com New York Times co. and was previously a Yahoo Contributor. This may sound simple, but my #1 advice to beginning writers is: DON’T GIVE UP!!!”
8. Learn Marketing – Don Allison – Faded Banner Publications
“Want to make it as a freelancer? You need to know that, to be successful, you need to work your tail off in marketing your writing. You need to work as hard, probably harder, at marketing than the actual writing.”
9. Guest Post Like Crazy – Lauren Fonvielle – LaurenFonvielle.com
“Here is my #1 tip for beginner freelance writers: Pitch guest blog posts like crazy! Don’t be afraid of rejection. Do you research, create a list of websites/bloggers who have a following of people that would be interested in something you have to say. Contact the owner of those sites and pitch your ideas. Send an email explaining what you are thinking about writing, and why you think it’s a good fit. DON’T send an article you’ve already written. Instead, engage in conversation to better understand what they are looking for and tailor your article accordingly. The more guest posts you get, the more credible you become.”
10. Become The Expert – Richard Heby – LiquidSpace
Note: I’m going to break Richard’s response down here for you, because he has some amazing insight on how to become a freelance writer.
Take it away Richard…
When I first started out as a freelancer I was under the impression that I’d be able to secure any and all writing jobs, in every industry.
But after about a year I realized that my workflow was inconsistent. I wasn’t getting as many projects as I wanted, so I decided to devote myself to certain industries – to narrow my prospective clients but broaden my opportunities.
I no longer became a general freelance writer, writing whatever whenever, but instead I focused on technology and business writing.
Before, I’d done everything from children’s books to crowdfunding. Once I decided to focus, I started securing more and more jobs, building up my relevant experience, not just my general experience.
Relevant is the keyword here. I’d recommend that freelance writers choose an industry (or related industries) and write, edit, publish primarily in those industries.
Become an expert in a field that interests you and you can learn some skills that’ll help you outside the freelance writing world.
The experience I gained writing freelance in tech and business allowed me to pivot into a full time writing role for tech startups, and later pivot again to write about commercial real estate tech (where business and tech converge).
11. Don’t Sell Yourself Short – McKinzie Brocail – Medology.com and McKinzieWrites.com
“I wish someone had told me when I first started freelancing not to sell myself short in regards to setting my pay schedule. My mindset then was ‘some money is better than no money’, but I ended up spending far more time than was worth it on some projects, and feeling silently cheated afterwards. So be fair to yourself, your time and talent is worth it!”
12. Read Your Niche – Donna Kaz – DonnaKaz.com
“Read the publications you wish to see your byline in. Then start at the top (largest readership) and work your way down as you pitch your story idea to those publications. Make sure you are submitting your best work – aim high to land your first assignment.”
13. Freelancing Is A Business – Dr. Helen Okoye – Drokoye.com
“Treat freelancing like a business, do not be afraid to turn down work where there is no clear vision, as you may end up doing more work than you are compensated for. Build a team of writers under you, and spend more time overseeing the work.”
I want to take a quick break here to highlight something Helen said here. And this was the biggest game-changer in my freelancing career.
When you have some funds coming in you may want to consider hiring a writing assistant.
Think about it this way: What brings in the most money for you? Writing, or finding good clients?
Seriously…what do you think? Yes, writing is your bread and butter, but if you have no clients, then there’s nothing to write!
Thinking strategically about your business, your clients, and then planning and executing outreach to better paying clients is the #1 thing you should always be considering.
In order to do this, you need to outsource some of the writing. Not all of the writing, just some. And you still edit for tone, voice, and content; but you’re not the only getting the ball rolling.
Think about it this way. If you charge $50 an article, then find someone you can pay $20 an article. Or, if you charge $200 per article, find someone you can pay $50 an article. And so on.
This will help free up your time to find the right clients and think more strategically about your freelance writing business.
Alright, back to the amazing tips on how to become a freelance writer.
14. Freelance Writing Is A Numbers Game – Natalie Hornyak – Garfield Group Branding
“Effective copywriting for any client means you have to write in numbers more than words. You should always start out with your goal, which you determine in collaboration with your client. The numbers your client will see in their analytics dashboard should always be in the front of your mind as you write. They impact how you craft your call to action, how you promote your content — and if you’re smart, you’ll be helping to promote that content that you write.”
“And numbers should often find their way into your copy itself. Lists are popular on the Internet for a reason: they’re easy to read, highly scannable, and often very impactful. Statistics also ground your copy in reality — if your client’s product is amazing, it’s one thing to say, “Widget Co. makes life-changing widgets,” and another thing to say, “Widget Co.’s widgets will shave 8 hours from your process.” Then, as a freelancer, you can even write numbers into your resume. “Improved organic traffic to the blog 600% month over month” will make a big impression on future clients!”
15. Freelancing As A Professional Practice – Joanne Cleaver – jycleaver.com
“In terms of developing a freelancing practice, the biggest mistake is thinking that you’re running a small business. You’re not. You are developing a professional practice. The freelance business model is similar to accountants and lawyers — not like a dry cleaner or shop. You cannot cut prices and ‘make it up on volume.’ Quite the opposite: As your experience, reputation and expertise grow, you should be charging more and earning more.”
“You should be investing in your skills and networks with both other professional writers (going to ASJA conferences, like our Nov. 17 workshop on ghostwriting an dour Nov. 18 conference on content marketing) and within your categories of expertise. Invest in your ongoing skills and professional development and you will achieve cruising altitude for a lifelong freelance career.”
16. Write What Sells – Alina Adams – AlinaAdams.com
“Write what sells, what people are willing to buy. Develop your craft, then move on to harder to pitch projects.”
17. Don’t Be Lazy – Ellie Shoja – Embold Media
Ellie had some great tips on how to become a freelance writer, so I’ve included her 5 things to consider when freelancing.
My best advice for someone trying to break into a writing career is this: don’t be lazy. Another way of saying it is this: do the most work possible, not the least work possible. For those still wondering what I mean, here are five simple things every novice writer can do to immediately stand out as more professional than his or her completion:
1) Proof read everything. Whether it’s a text, an email, a work sample, or copy you’ve generated specifically for a client, read it at least twice to make sure there are no mistakes or typos.
2) Be responsive. Respond to texts, phone calls, and emails as quickly as you can, with as much information as possible.
3) Be polite. Writing in full sentences and being respectful go a long way in building rapport.
4) Deliver your best writing. Regardless of what you’re getting paid or what your personal feelings are about your client, the subject matter, or the job, once you’ve accepted an assignment, make sure you deliver work that you’re proud of.
5) Be on time. Give a realistic time frame for the project at hand, and make sure to deliver on or before the agreed-upon deadline.
18. Don’t Accept Every Offer – Steve Hatmaker, Jr – Ridgefield Media
“You do not have to accept every offer that comes your way. There is a grey area from when you are a newbie and when you gain real experience. But after your first few writing gigs and you build a small portfolio, you can start only accepting offers that really apply to you and what you want to write about. Don’t be afraid to say no if it doesn’t help you build your brand as a writer.”
19. Answer Clients Quickly – Piotr Kulczycki – Photler
“React as quickly as possible. If you want people to become your clients, answer their messages as quickly as possible. My time limit was (and still is) an hour. Freelance means independence. But this also means you need to do your best to stand out. And as most of the clients are in a big hurry, gaining and losing clients is a matter of hours or even minutes.”
I can’t agree with Piotr enough here, as responsiveness is hugely important for well-paying clients. Piotr continues…
“Unfortunately, I had a bad experience here. A couple of years ago, just when I started with my independent career, I missed an email from a small hotel which was interested in my essay from the city they are located in. Answering a day later was too late as they had already found another writer. Lucky me, the next time I answered quickly enough and sold my piece of text to a big travel website. That was a hard lesson, but necessary for me to understand the freelance market and its rules. Being a freelancer you work all the time, 24/7. And all this time you have to be accessible for your potential clients, or you’ll lose them.”
20. People Need To Be Able To Find You Online – Kenneth Burke – Text Request & KennethBurkeWriter.com
“I’m not exaggerating when I say every freelance writing job I’ve gotten has come from someone seeing something else I’d written. I haven’t had to go out and pitch my work to potential employers, and it’s because I’ve written a handful of articles for online publishers. To get work, people need to be able to find you, and they need to trust you. Writing for any online publisher or blog with significant traffic accomplishes both. A large viewership makes it easy to find you, and publishing under a banner bigger than just your name brings credibility.
21. Build Your Portfolio By Taking Lower Paying Freelance Writing Jobs – Samantha Cortez – DrFelix
“Take jobs at lower rates. This is especially important when building your profile on freelance sites like Upwork, Freelancer, or Fiverr. Many writers won’t do this because they consider it selling themselves short, but this is a great way to build your resume, get positive feedback, receive repeat work, and better position yourself to ask for higher payments. I made the huge mistake of charging top-dollar when I left the office world for the freelance life. I learned that clients cared more about clips and samples than my resume.”
“Also, pitch your work to previous clients and new businesses. Being a freelance writer means you’re constantly having to sell yourself. Roughly 80% of the time I reached out to previous clients to let them know I had open availability, they had writing work available for me. In many cases they weren’t even aware that they needed a writer until I’d sparked their interest. Furthermore, I kept an eye out for local businesses and often reached out to let them know the value I could provide through content.”
22. Consider Working For Free – Amy Kilvington – Naturally Content
“There’s nothing wrong with working for free as long as you know your worth. When you’re just starting out and want to build up a client base, offer your services on a pro bono basis to a select few. Once you’ve done a great job and they realise your value, they’ll be more likely to become a returning customer – and then you can start charging the rates that you deserve!”
23. Be Easy To Work With – Sally Kane – PaperStreet
“One thing many freelance writers don’t realize when they start their careers is that landing the best gigs is not just about the quality of your work, it’s also about how easy you are to work with. In my 12 years as a writer and editor, I have learned that hiring writers who follow directions, meet deadlines and are pleasant to interact with is just as important as the work product itself.”
24. Always Pitch – Kristi Porter – Signify
“My number one tip for beginner freelance writers is to make sure pitching is a regular part of your week, unless you have large, ongoing assignments. It’s easy to get caught up in client work or working on your own business and disregard pitching, but most assignments end fairly quickly, and then you’ll be on the hunt for the next one. Regular pitching is a way shorten, or remove, the gaps between work. Pitching can include guest posts, new client work, additional assignments from current client, or even emails to personal connections who may have work, or know someone who does. The right networking opportunities might also be considered pitching.”
A quick note here. Ongoing efforts to collect contact information and do outreach is extremely important when becoming a freelance writer.
Think of it as investing in your business. Yes, you may not get immediate results, you may get rejected, but it helps you tailor your outreach message over and over until it works.
At the very least, create a note or file where you collect websites and emails as you stumble across them so you can use them later.
And, if you spend a few days sending out 100 outreach emails, but get 1 amazing client who stays with you forever…how’s that for return on investment?
OK, moving on.
25. Perfect Your Pitch – Travis Vengroff – John Dossinger Publishing
Perfect and practice your elevator pitch. If you want to gain readers you’ll need to really be able to turn their heads in two sentences or less.”
26. Go The Extra Mile – Hope Alcocer – HA Media
“Too many people half ass everything. Life, work, relationships, projects. Go the extra mile with your client or assignment from the very start. Spend more time on the business proposal, turn it in 8 hours ahead of schedule, offer unlimited revisions.”
27. Sort Out Your Finances First – Jennifer Bright Reich – Mommy MD Guides
“When I left a staff job to freelance, I opened two new bank accounts. I deposited 75% of every cent I made freelancing in one and 25% in the other. From the first, I paid myself a regular biweekly salary—to even out the bumps in the financial road of freelancing. The other I saved and used to pay my estimated taxes.”
28. You Don’t Have To Be An Expert – Crystal Kline – Crystal Kline Consulting
“You don’t have to be an expert in the topic about which you are writing. I’ve written about everything from music to sports to politics to digital transformation in the oil and gas industry. Each topic I’ve written about has been an opportunity for me to learn something I didn’t know. The less you know about the topic of your assignment, the more exciting the challenge. And the more rewarding.”
…How do you feel? That was a lot of information to take in!
When considering how to become a freelance writer, all of these tips will help you stand out from the crowd and be the best freelancer you can be.
Good luck, and happy freelancing!