Becoming a freelancer can be rewarding. You’re able to create your own schedule and have the freedom and autonomy you can only get from self-reliance. But how do you start your freelance writing?
It can be hard to get the ball rolling in the beginning, but by using these tips and with a little time, you could launch a career as a freelance writer. But before we get started what exactly does a freelance writer do?
What Is A Freelance Writer?
A freelance writer is someone who writes blog posts, non-fiction articles, and web copy for magazines, publications, companies, and other organizations.
You could be asked to write blog posts, whole eBooks (under the condition that someone else's name appears on the front), product descriptions for online stores, or even Facebook posts and tweets. You could even try your hand at freelance journalism, writing pitches to magazines, newspapers, and other publications.
Freelancers are self-employed and they typically write for a number of different clients or publications at one time. Some work on a contract basis with several different clients, while others operate on a recurring commission basis.
How to get started
Once you know more about the skill of freelancing you need to figure out exactly what you’re excited about writing.
1. Pick A Niche
It can be tempting to try out several different niches when you first get started out. And that’s ok. When you first begin it’s ok to explore several different topics, but as you acquire more knowledge and skills, focus on one or two niches and then focus your efforts on that. After honing in on a niche, you can spend more time cultivating contacts, develop in-depth knowledge, and build a name for yourself with contacts and within that space.
2. Get Organized
With freelance writing, you're often juggling several different articles, blog posts, and other content you're writing dispersed among many different clients. In order to hit your deadlines and make sure nothing slips through the cracks, you're going to want to get organized.
Here are five things you need to track:
- time spent on an article
- income and expenses
- commitments or To-Dos
- the status of each of your project
You'll need a system to manage these.
Use a timer like RescueTime on your computer or phone to track your hours and a spreadsheet to record your income and expenses.
Use Google Calendar to manage deadlines and an app like Asana or ToDoist to manage commitments. It’s also a good idea to create invoices as soon as you complete a project. Even if you don't send them immediately, you won't have to think about what you did at the end of the month.
Time is your most valuable asset as a full-time freelancer. Most clients pay by the article or word. So if you spend five hours working on a 1,000-word article or one hour, you'll still get paid the same amount. Successful freelancers eliminate distractions and this app could help.
If you want to record how long you're spending on particular commissions so you can determine what work to accept more or less off, Harvest is a good choice. It supports invoicing clients too.
3. Set Up A Business Website
It's all but impossible for clients to find you if you're lacking an online presence. If you don't have a website yet, consider using a platform like Medium. You can potentially earn money from your articles, and it will increase your visibility.
Many clients will want to see a writing sample before sending over a commission. Buy a website domain name, ideally a .com. One in your own name is ideal, but if this isn't available find a variation describing your services or skills. Next, buy a premium WordPress theme and build out a professional website. On your website, link to samples of your work for other clients, a guest post you wrote, ebooks, and so on. Include a link to your website on your social profiles and emails.
Learning the skills and organizing your strategy is only the first step to becoming a freelancer. Next you have to learn how to get your foot in the door. There are quite a few well-known websites for getting started in the freelance world. Weigh the options and choose the platform that fits best. You might even try a mixture of options and then figure out which 1 or 2 that work for you. Here are a few to try out.
Upwork is a large, freewheeling online marketplace. After setting up a profile, you are free to submit bids on jobs posted on the platform. If a client likes your bid, they’ll usually reach out to request a phone or video interview. If you get hired by a client, Upwork’s fee is generally 10% of your earnings, but it ranges from 5% to 20%.
Upwork has a lot of upside if you stick it out. Upwork has over 12 million registered freelancers and five million clients, making them one of the biggest services of their kind. They host everything from hourly-paid gigs with start-ups, to larger projects with some seriously high-profile clients, too. The website is really clear and easy to navigate.
Plus, you get plenty of info about what clients are looking for in postings which makes it much easier to write your application.
It's easy to sign up and you can list up to 20 of your skills once registered. Then, it looks for jobs that match your talents.
You can see exactly how much people are bidding to work on a project – a feature that isn't usually seen on other sites. It allows you to be competitive and see what experienced rivals typically charge. Freelancer does take 10% of your hourly and fixed-price project in fees.
Fiverr started out as a marketplace, where people around the world could offer their services for $5. Examples include:
- "I will create a cinematic movie trailer for $5"
- "I will write a message underwater for $5"
- "I will do a voiceover of 100 words as an Australian man or woman for $5".
As you can see, some of the tasks are quite surprising, but this is great because it lets you get creative.
Since the site was first set up, a lot of people have started charging more than $5 for their services. As a Fiverr seller, you can offer Basic, Standard, and Premium packages with varying levels of service or speed. The site does take 20% of your income in fees. Fiverr lets you do freelance gigs in pretty much any field, doing just about anything imaginable.
Toptal only allows experienced professionals to join and there is an extensive screening process. Once in, Toptal does well at making you feel like part of a team. For example, there are opportunities for personal development. In certain high-demand fields, Toptal offers sign-on bonuses to new recruits and even pays commissions to team members for recruiting.
At Toptal, freelancers set their own hourly rate and get paid that rate by Toptal. You have to be sensitive to the market when choosing a rate, but rates do tend to be on the upper end. Toptal recruiters match clients with freelancers and handle all fee discussions and invoicing.
More Freelance Sites
Creating Your Profile
To get work, you'll need to make a stand-out profile and proposals for the opportunities you find on freelancing sites.
For the application, there will be several sections for you to fill in. Getting this right is crucial. These techniques can help you build the best freelance profile:
1. Highlight your strengths to potential clients
You should be highlighting all of your strengths and any projects or clients you’ve previously worked with. If you have any testimonials you should include them in the first paragraph. Showing evidence of your extensive experience will encourage clients to take you seriously. Once an assignment is complete ask your client for a testimonial. If you're able to get lots of five-star reviews, work will come to you. The first few weeks of your freelance writing business will always be the hardest.
2. Show your personality in freelance proposals
Just because you're working remotely, it's still really important to be personable.
Share info about your extracurricular interests as well as your work skills – if you're great at playing the bassoon or you're a gold medallist archer, don't be afraid to say so and show your fun side. Clients love a good personality.
3. Get verified on freelance sites
It's highly unlikely that you'll meet most of your clients, making it difficult for them to verify your credentials. If the freelance sites you are on have a verification quiz or aptitude test in your area of freelancing, take the time to take those quizzes. You’ll get a nice checkmark by your name. The results then appear on your profile, and if you're lucky, you could be in the top 1% of freelancers.
4. Keep your freelance profile brief
Bearing all of the above points in mind, make a concerted effort to keep your profile concise and to the point. If a client has shortlisted 10 possible providers, they don't want to read a 2,000-word profile every time. Boil your profile down to just the most important points, and pick the samples that are most important to include in your portfolio.
How much money can you make as a freelancer?
Unfortunately, when you’re working as a remote freelancer you're competing with everyone from around the world. Pay can also depend on a variety of factors including project, subject matter, client, and level of experience.
So you need to calculate your ideal rate that will help you to stand out from the crowd and earn the rate you deserve.
Payscale reports a pay range of $10.31 to $53.79 per hour for freelance writers. ZipRecruiter has an even broader range: $5.29 to $193.03 per hour.
On PayScale.com, a part-time freelance writer's salary is put somewhere in the range of $24,000 – $115,000. As you can see, the numbers range quite a bit. But that’s to be expected as being a freelancer means you can dictate your own workload and hours. In order to calculate how much you should charge first decide how much you need to make in a year.
While you may end up billing by project, it doesn't hurt to figure out what you want to earn and how much you want to work to calculate a per-hour rate. If you want to work 20 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, and earn $30,000, you need to take work that pays you $30 per hour ($30,000 ÷ 50 weeks = $600 per week. $600 ÷ 20 hours = $30 per hour). If you find a job that pays you $50 per article, and you can write that article in less than 2 hours, that would meet your goal of an average of $30 per hour.
Don't forget to include the time and expense to manage your freelance writing business, such as marketing and invoicing. Self-employment tax and health care are two other items to remember you need to pay for.
How to stand out as a freelancer
Now – you've got the profile, an idea of what field you want to freelance in, and an expectation of how much money you want to earn. But how do you secure the job offers?
These are the four best ways to winning writing work as an online freelance writer:
1. Learn how to introduce yourself
Do not waste time explaining all the great things you can do. Take interest in the client. Offer a suggestion, based on your experience, that works well for what they’re trying to do.
Also, try to mirror the client’s job posting. If the client’s posting has only two lines, they probably aren’t looking for a 2-page introductory proposal. However, when you see a highly detailed job posting, respond with a more detailed proposal. Look for specific words or facts in the client’s job posting and use those words in your proposal as much as possible.
Writing introductory proposals takes time to master. You need to find your “voice” and that may not happen in your first 10 tries.
2. Personalize every application
The one thing you should never, ever do when you're applying for freelance writing gigs is using the same, generic overview of yourself for every role.
Clients can spot copy-and-paste jobs a mile off, and they often use little tests (like asking freelancers to use a secret word in their application) to make sure applicants pay attention. If you have an individualistic approach, it proves you care and improves your chances.
3. Prepare For Interviews In Advance
When a potential client finally responds to an introductory proposal, remember this: you aren’t trying to sell a project…you’re trying to get in the door. You simply want to be invited into their virtual living room.
Write down several questions for interviewees before you meet, but don't be afraid to go off-script. The client doesn’t know you or trust you yet. You both need a way to get acquainted so you can decide if you want to work together on the big project.
4. Get That First Interview
Offer several suggested times and dates for an interview. Also, convert the times to the client’s time zone. You need to give the potential client an “easy button”. Tell them to suggest a time that works if none of your suggestions suit. Build confidence by asking questions and giving honest answers. This point is particularly important when you get to the phone interview stage. Ask a lot of questions. Focus on what you’re good at, but don’t be afraid to admit there are areas of the project you need to think about a little.
- The money guide ebook for freelancers
- Use photos from Unsplash or Shutterstock to accompany your writing
- Earn more Writing School
- Payscale: Find your market value
- Here's an extremely thorough SEO guide and resource list
Hopefully, all of this has prepared you for your career in freelance writing! Getting started and putting in the hard work is going to set you up for success. If you’re looking for more remote work advice check out this blog post.