Are you ready to be a freelance writer so you can make money online?
As someone who’s living the freelance writing hustle full-time, I can say that it’s a pretty sweet gig. 🙂
But what does it take to be a successful freelance writer these days?
That’s what I’m breaking down for you today in this in-depth guide.
My Freelance Writing Story
When I first started freelancing, I didn’t have a clue.
I just knew two things: I was decent at writing and I wanted to make some extra money from home.
So I started writing for content mills. (Which, by the way, don’t do. Ever.)
I did the best work I could and tried to learn as much as possible about freelance writing. As I got more experienced, I eventually became an expert in my niche.
That helped me to get better-paying jobs. I hustled hard and set big goals for myself. That motivated me to work on landing better clients.
Needless to say, there was a steep learning curve. But I’ve since built my online business to six figures, all while being home with my kids every day. (Homeschoolers here!)
You could take the slow route as I did. But who’s got time for that?
I want you to hit the ground running with your freelance writing business.
So I created this ultimate guide to give you everything you need to be a freelance writer, even when you’re completely starting from scratch.
How to Be a Freelance Writer and Get Paid to Write Online
The best way to use this guide is to read it in order, checking off each step as you go. From start to finish, here’s what it covers:
- Deciding what type of writing services to offer
- Choosing your freelance niche
- Identifying your target client
- Putting together a portfolio
- Where to look for freelance writing gigs
- Cold pitching and why it matters
- The art of the follow-up
- Building your freelance network
Ready to do this?
Then let’s get started!
1. Decide What Kind of Writing Services to Offer
If you want to be a freelance writer, the first thing you have to figure out is what kind of writing you’re going to do.
For example, I mainly write reported articles and blog posts. But other freelance writers might write:
- Website copy
- White papers
- Grant proposals
- Product reviews
- Product descriptions
- Magazine/newspaper articles
- How-to guides
- List articles
- Ghostwritten content
- Blog posts
- Business plans
- Press releases
- Legal briefs
- Research papers
- Annual reports
- Technical reports or manuals
Whew, that’s a lot, right?
The great thing if you want to be a freelance writer is that you can tailor the kind of work you do to your skills. As you pick up new skills, you can move into other types of writing.
But what if you don’t know the difference between web copy and white papers, or how to format a blog post?
This is where you have to dig in and do your homework if you want to be a freelance writer and make money.
The upside is that there are a ton of websites out there that can teach you the ins and outs of freelance writing. Here are some of the sites I studied as I was learning how to be a freelance writer:
These sites can offer a solid introduction to the different types of freelance writing. (And of course, so can this one!)
Start with the kind of writing you’re already familiar with or that feels most comfortable.
It’s okay to go with what you know in the beginning. You can always branch out later as you learn what you like to write and what fits best with your writing style.
2. Choose a Freelance Writing Niche
Some freelance writers take the jack-of-all-trades route. They write about a little of everything, specializing in generalization.
That’s not my jam. I firmly believe that if you want to build a successful freelance writing business, you’ve got to have a niche.
A niche is a fancy way of saying your writing specialty.
My niche, for example, covers personal finance, investing and small business. It became my niche early on because money is a topic I’m interested in.
Personal finance is a popular niche but there are dozens of other niches you can focus on. The key is to choose one that’s got money-making potential.
Profitable Freelance Writing Niches
Some of the most popular (and profitable) freelance niches include:
- Digital marketing and social media
- Health & wellness
- Productivity and goal-setting
- Minimalism and intentional living
- Faith and spirituality
- Dating and relationships
- Interior design
- Green/sustainable living
- Cooking and recipes
- Fashion and beauty
- Arts and crafts/DIY
- Home improvement
- Entertainment and media
- Real estate
Here’s the TL;DR version of how to find your niche:
What you know about + What you’re interested in + What has profit potential
= Your freelance writing niche
Sounds simple enough, right?
But you might be wondering why you even need to bother with a niche in the beginning.
That’s a great question and the short answer is, niching down allows you to develop your skills in a specific area.
That’s important if you want to be an in-demand freelance writer.
If you write in a specific niche long enough, you eventually become an expert. And that’s part of the secret to making real money from freelance writing.
I work with top financial brands and finance websites, consistently earning $25,000+ every month because I’ve established myself as an expert in my niche.
Bonus Tip: Learn Your Main Niche’s Sub-Niches
Finance is what I write about but that covers a lot of different topics. Today, for example, I wrote one story about personal guarantees for business loans and another on family wealth planning.
Two totally different topics with two totally different audiences, under the same finance umbrella.
Picking a main niche, then breaking that down into smaller niches, is super helpful for a few reasons.
- It can open you up to working with a wide range of clients.
- You can develop a specialty area of focus.
- You’re less likely to get bored writing about the same topics over and over.
- It’s a way to hone your knowledge on topics you’re familiar with while learning about new ones.
Say your niche is parenting. That’s a huge niche, but you can focus on the sub-niches that appeal to you most, like gentle parenting or raising twins.
3. Identify Your Ideal Freelance Writing Client
Here’s a fact of life about being a freelance writer:
You’re going to have some clients you love…
…and some you hate.
But you can save yourself a lot of trouble by figuring out who your ideal client is early on.
What Is an Ideal Freelance Writing Client?
For me, an ideal client is one that:
- Gives me assignments that are both interesting and challenging.
- Sets reasonable deadlines.
- Is clear about what they want me to deliver.
- Offers constructive editorial feedback.
- Pays my asking rate (and pays on time).
Your definition might be different. For instance, your ideal client might be a specific brand or website.
Figuring out who your ideal client is can save you time and headaches as a freelancer. Knowing who you want to work with (or who you don’t) can help you filter out those gigs or opportunities that don’t align with your goals.
So How Do You Decide Who Your Ideal Client Is?
This is an important question. Think about:
- How you define your ideal client.
- The kinds of problems your ideal client might have.
- How you can help solve those problems.
- What kind of clients you most want to avoid.
Those things can help you figure out who your ideal client is so you can start seeking them out — and start attracting them to you.
There are two basic things you need to attract your ideal client:
- Your niche or specialty
- A writing portfolio
By now, you hopefully have a niche. Now you can move on to the next step: putting together your portfolio.
4. Build Your Freelance Writing Portfolio
Clients want to see proof of your writing chops. That’s what your portfolio is for.
It doesn’t have to be super fancy either. For example, here’s what my online portfolio looks like.
It’s got all the basics a freelance portfolio needs:
- My name.
- A blurb describing my background and niche.
- Clips of my published work.
- My email address so clients can contact me directly.
I created my portfolio for free through Contently but there are other platforms you can use. I break down some of the different options in this post on building a freelance portfolio as a new writer.
Technical aspects of setting up a portfolio aside, the real question is what to put in it.
Because how do you get writing samples unless you get hired to write something?
The good news is, you can create a portfolio of writing samples even if you’ve never done any freelance writing before.
Here are four ways I recommend doing it:
1. Start a blog
One of the best and easiest ways to create your portfolio is to start a blog and fill it up with some epic content.
Having a blog of your own is also a way to establish your freelance writing brand. Your brand, along with your awesome writing skills, is what’s going to help you find clients when you start looking for work.
(If you’re ready to start a blog but you’re clueless about how to do it, check out my in-depth post for total newbies on how to get your blog up and running.)
But what do you blog about?
You can blog about anything really but think about what’s going to grab a prospective client’s attention.
If you’re hoping to break into the parenting niche, for example, you might fill your blogs up with posts like 27 Ways to Keep Kids Busy During the Lazy Days of Summer or How to Stop Your Toddler’s Meltdown Before It Starts.
If you’re interested in writing for personal finance sites, you might write a list of 10 Tips to Travel the World When You’re Flat Broke or share your personal story about getting out debt.
The rules are, there are no rules except one: Make sure anything you publish on your blog is the absolute best content you can create.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to add a “Hire Me” page to your blog that spells out what kind of writing services you offer and how clients can get in touch with you.
2. Be a guest blogger
Guest blogging is another way to add to your portfolio.
This just means writing a post and publishing it on someone else’s blog.
(For example, here’s a guest post I wrote for Everyday She’s Sparkling on money management tips for female entrepreneurs.)
If you have a blog, you may be able to link back to it in your bio to start getting your name out there.
If you’re not ready to start a blog just yet, you can always link guests posts to your Twitter account or your LinkedIn profile instead.
Now, how do you find sites to guest post on?
An easy way is to go to Google and type in a keyword that describes your niche + ‘write for us’.
So, if I were looking for sites that accepted guest posts about how to work from home, I might type in “how to work from home write for us”.
Facebook groups for bloggers and freelancers are another way to find guest post opportunities.
A lot of the groups I belong to run collaboration threads once a week. You can comment on the threat offering your services as a guest poster, or scout out guest post requests from other bloggers.
Some of my favorite groups for collabs include:
- Becoming a Blogger (from Cate of Sweet and Simple Life)
- Blogging Newbs (from McKinzie of Moms Make Cents)
- Blogging Babes Collective (from Sasha of Everyday She’s Sparkling)
- Bloggers Camp (from Arfa of She Means Blogging)
Just make sure you read the rules so you know what you can post and when so you’re not stepping on the group owner’s toes.
3. Publish on Medium
A third way to build a portfolio if you want to be a freelance writer is publishing on Medium.
This is a free site that anyone can sign up for and create content on. They also have a partner program that can help you earn a little money off what you post if it gets good traffic and shares.
The benefit of using Medium to create samples for your portfolio is that it’s already got a huge audience built-in. You can publish alongside big-name influencers who are already using the platform.
Medium covers a broad range of topics, including entrepreneurship, design, science and politics so there’s a lot you can write about here.
Neil Patel (who’s a serious guru in the online marketing space) has a great post on how to leverage the power of Medium and grow your blog.
4. Publish on LinkedIn
LinkedIn is great for freelancers for a couple of reasons.
For one thing, it’s an excellent place to find prospective clients (or have them find you.)
Connecting with editors, digital marketers and content managers is step one. Creating a killer profile that’s SEO-optimized to attract your ideal clients is step two.
If you don’t have a lot of work samples under your belt yet, you can also publish blog posts on LinkedIn.
It’s a simple way to establish yourself as an expert in your niche. If you’re not sure how to get started, LinkedIn has a detailed guide on how to publish on the site.
5. Set Your Freelance Writing Rates
Okay, so you want to be a freelance writer so you can get paid, right?
But you don’t’ want to just accept anything just to get a paycheck. Even if you’re brand-new to freelancing, you still need to have some guidelines for what you want to earn.
There are a few different ways you can set your rates as a new freelancer. For example, you could charge:
- Per project.
- A set rate per word.
- By the hour.
For the most part, I charge a flat rate per project, although I do have some clients I charge by the word.
Figure Out Your Target Rate
A good way to set your rates is to figure out what you want to make hourly. This hourly rate should reflect what you pocket after taking out taxes (cause you have to pay those as a freelancer) and any business expenses you have.
So, say you want to net $35 an hour. Assuming you hold back 30% of what you earn for taxes and 10% for business expenses, you’d need to charge around $60 an hour to hit your $35/hour target.
Now, how do you translate that rate to what you’ll charge for a project?
It’s simple. You multiply that number by the number of hours you expect it would take you to complete it.
So, if someone’s asking you to write a 3,000 word, in-depth guide on a topic that takes you 10 hours to research, plus another three hours to write, your rate would be $780 (13 x $60).
Now, that’s just a starting figure.
You might be able to command a much higher rate even as a new freelancer if you’ve got some kickass research and writing skills.
Here’s what I don’t want you to do, though: don’t sell yourself short.
Just because you’re new doesn’t mean you should work for peanuts. And believe me, there are plenty of people out there who are only too happy to pay you peanuts when you’re new.
So, think hard about what you’re worth as a writer when setting rates. And when it’s time to talk money with a client, be confident that you deserve every penny of what you’re asking.
6. Start Your Search for Freelance Writing Jobs
You’ve started your blog and narrowed down your niche. Now all you need to be a freelance writer for reals is a paid writing gig.
This is where a lot of people bail out on trying to be a freelance writer because getting that first job isn’t always easy.
It’s a process and it starts with knowing where to even look for work.
Before I dive into that, let me tell you where you DO NOT want to look for work as a beginning freelance writer.
There are a handful of websites out there that offer writing gigs to virtually anyone. They’re called content mills and they’re about the worst place you can start out to be a freelance writer. (At least I think so.)
I should know because that’s exactly where I got my start, writing 700-word stories about solar panels and golf for $15 a pop.
That’s a long way from where I am now. I learned from that experience but if I definitely wouldn’t go that route again.
1. Freelance writing job boards
Here’s what I would do instead. First, I’d head straight for high-quality job boards where companies and individuals post freelance writing gigs. Some of the boards I recommend for newbies are:
- ProBlogger Jobs
- Freelance Writing Jobs
I’ve used all of these boards at one time or another to find freelance writing gigs.
The great thing about job boards is that there’s always a steady flow of new gigs being added.
The challenge is sorting through them to find ones that fit your skills, expertise and desired pay range.
2. Regular Job Boards
You can also find freelance writing gigs listed on bigger job boards.
It helps to be specific in your search. Include the words “freelance” or “remote” in your search to weed out on-site jobs if that’s not how you want to work.
And steer clear of any gigs that seem too good to be true. They probably are.
3. Freelance platforms
So where else can you find freelance writing work?
I used both early on and I still work with one client that I met on Upwork three and a half years ago.
The pros of these sites are that work is pretty much readily available all the time and you can find some clients that pay freelance writers well.
The con is that there are just as many clients who want to pay you peanuts to create their content.
And both Upwork and Guru take a cut of everything you earn.
Bottom line, it’s okay to give Upwork or Guru a try, in the beginning, to build up your clips and reputation but I wouldn’t bank on it for the long term.
4. Social media
Social media is also great for finding freelance writing jobs if you know where to look. I suggest starting with Twitter.
I’ll admit, I don’t spend as much time promoting my freelance writing or blogging efforts on Twitter as I should. But I do know that you can land gigs on Twitter since I’ve done it a time or two myself. As far as how to do it, here are my best tips:
- Update your profile to include keywords like “freelance writer” or “freelance blogger”
- Use keywords that are specific to your writing niche
- Follow editors, brands and influencers in your niche
- Search hashtags to find conversations from users who are looking for writers (some that work: #hireawriter, #freelancewriter, #copywriter)
- Tweet to editors and brands directly to ask if they need freelance writing help
What about Facebook?
I love Facebook for connecting with other freelance writers and mom bloggers.
I tend to lurk in groups most of the time but I have used them to find writing gigs. I found one of my current clients in the Freelancing Females group. If you’re looking for some groups to join, either for networking, to find freelance writing jobs or a little of both, here are a few I recommend:
- Creative Freelancers Unite
- Female Freelance Writers
- No-Fluff Freelance Writing Group
- Successful Freelance Writing Moms
- Freelance Content Writing Jobs
Pro tip: READ THE RULES!!!! Facebook groups can be a great way to find writing gigs but make sure you understand the rules so you don’t run the risk of a moderator or admin booting you out.
Can’t I just ask websites if they want to hire me?
When you reach out to a site to see if they’re interested in using your services or you share an idea for a story you’d like to write for them, that’s called cold pitching. And it’s a fantastic way to find freelance writing gigs.
Like anything else though, cold pitching takes some skill. You have to know:
- Which companies, websites or brands to target
- Exactly how you can deliver what it is they need/want
- What to charge
- How to craft a pitch that sells them on your services
Finding companies to pitch
Google can be your best friend when you’re trying to be a freelance writing cold-pitching machine. It’s how you find companies in your niche to pitch.
There are a couple of different approaches you can try, starting with Googling startups in your niche. Why startups?
Startups are new companies with new websites and those websites may need content.
Or, a startup may be trying to establish itself as an influencer and one of the ways they do that is by having a freelance writer (like you) ghostwrite thought leadership pieces for their CEO. (I’ve had several gigs like this.)
Another approach is to simply spend some time stalking the companies you want to write for online.
Go to their websites, check out their social media accounts, read their blogs. Look for an area that’s lacking that you can help with.
The key is to hone in on where you can add value.
If you can point out a problem or an opportunity that the company has overlooked and offer a specific solution, you can grab their attention in a big way.
7. Perfect Your Freelance Pitch
Okay, so you’re ready to pitch your first potential freelance writing client. But what do you say?
First, let’s cover how NOT to pitch.
These are some of the most common mistakes that can blow your pitch and get your email sent straight to the Trash folder:
- Including spelling & grammar errors
- Rambling and taking forever to get to the point of your email
- Talking only about yourself
- Writing out one long paragraph of text
- Using jargon or stiff language
- Not personalizing your message
- Bringing zero personality to your email
- Acting desperate
- Using a crappy subject line
- Lacking confidence
I mean think about it, if someone sent you an email like that would you want to read it? Nope.
What a Bad Freelance Pitch Looks Like
Here’s how I wrote pitches when I was first learning to be a freelance writer.
Dear Hiring Manager,
I am writing to express interest in becoming a contributing writer for XYZ, Inc. I have experience as a freelance writer and over 15 years of total writing experience. My experience as both an undergraduate and graduate student have enabled me to hone my research and writing skills and produce quality essays and academic papers. I have attached my resume and a short sample essay to demonstrate my writing skill and style. I would be interested in discussing current freelance writing, editing or proofreading opportunities with XYZ, Inc. if merited. Thank you for taking the time to consider my application.
Rebecca L. Lake
Oh. My. God.
Reading that kinda makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little. This kind of pitch screams I’m a total newbie and I don’t know what I’m doing but please, please give me a job!
Not surprisingly, I never heard back from that company and if I was the guy I sent that email to I would have hit delete faster than a Cyberman. (And if you don’t know what a Cyberman is go look that up right.now.)
The Perfect Cold Pitch Recipe
Now, what does it take to write a killer pitch that not only gets you noticed but gets you the job? The perfect pitch:
- Starts with an epic subject line.
- Is short, simple and straight to the point.
- Quickly sums up who you are and what you do.
- Mentions a mutual connection you share (if there is one).
- Has a friendly tone.
- Offers a specific solution.
- Is personalized.
How to Cold Pitch Freelance Writing Clients: Sample Pitch #1
These days, I don’t do as much cold pitching because clients usually come looking for me but if I was going to send a pitch, here’s what I’d say:
My name’s Rebecca and I’m a freelancer specializing in personal finance. Bob Smith at ABC Co. mentioned that you might be looking to add a writer to your team so I wanted to put myself on your radar.
About me: I’ve been freelancing for four years and I’ve been published online at sites like U.S. News & World Report, CreditCards.com and Credit Sesame. I’ve also worked with major banking brands, like Citibank and Discover.
I’d love to chat with you about what your content goals are and what I can do to help you achieve them. I’ve included a few links to my work below to give you a better idea of what I’ve done for other clients.
Do you have time for a quick call this week? If so, let me know when we can set up a time to chat!
How to Cold Pitch Freelance Writing Clients: Sample Pitch #2
Now, if I was pitching a story idea this would look a little different. I’d cut out that middle paragraph and plug in some short, sweet and specific story ideas that I think would appeal to the website’s audience.
Here’s a simple cold pitch template:
My name’s Rebecca and I’m an established freelance writer and brand-new blogger. I wanted to share a few guest post ideas for XYZ blog/website with you that I think would be perfect for your audience!
Killer post idea #1
Brief paragraph outlining the post.
Killer post idea #2
Brief paragraph outlining the post.
Killer post idea #3
Brief paragraph outlining the post.
Hope to hear from you, and thanks for taking a look at my pitches!
And guess what? The day after I sent this, I got a response from the fabulous Elna Cain saying she loved my pitches and I was approved to guest post.
Bottom line? Cold-pitching does work.
If you want to be a freelance writer who’s landing jobs left and right, it’s something you need to start doing right from the jump.
8. Commit to Following Up
Your freelance cold pitches are like your babies.
Once you send them out into the world, you can’t just forget about them. You have to follow up.
Following up is your chance to remind a potential client that you’re still ready and waiting to jump in and help them.
It also shows that you’re serious and if done correctly, it can turn into a gig.
How following up landed a freelance writing gig
In the summer of 2015, I applied for a job with a financial publication that was on my dream list.
I interviewed with the editor who later emailed me to let me know that he wanted to add me to the team. It would be a few weeks before I could start onboarding.
A month went by and nothing. I emailed again and he said it would be a few weeks because they were changing up some things with their content strategy.
Another month goes by and I email him again, with the same result. At this point, I assume that he’s not interested and I forget all about it.
Fast forward to July 2016. I decide I’m going to reach out one last time, so I send the editor this message:
I hope you’re doing well. I’m not sure if you’ll remember or not but I spoke with you last fall about possibly contributing some articles to the Investing section. I didn’t hear anything for a while and got busy with other projects but I just wanted to check back and see if you still needed a writer. I’ve included a few links below so you can see the kinds of stories I’ve been working on lately. Thanks for your time and I hope to hear from you soon!
Less than 10 minutes later, I had a message from him and a contract to write one story a week. All because I followed up.
I still follow up religiously and guess what? It’s still helping me lock down clients and grow my business. And it can do the same for you if you want to be a freelance writer.
9. Network, Network, Network
To be a freelance writer means spending a lot of time at home, not talking to anybody besides your spouse or your kids or your pets.
Sure, you might have to jump on a call to interview a source or set up a Zoom chat with your editor every so often.
But that’s usually not what your daily schedule is like. (At least not for me.)
The problem is that if you’re not talking to anybody other than the people you live with regularly, you’re not building relationships with other writers and editors.
And you’re not making professional contacts that could introduce you to your next client.
So, basically, you’re missing out on opportunities.
And that’s something you don’t want to do if you want to be a freelance writer who stays fully booked.
How to be a freelance writer with a solid network
Social media is probably the easiest way to connect with fellow freelancers and editors. There are a ton of freelancers on Twitter who are worth a follow. (And you can follow me at @SeeMomWrite or @WriteSixFigures!)
You can also get to know people by:
- Commenting on freelance writing blogs
- Hanging out on Reddit
- Joining Facebook groups for freelancers and bloggers
- Sending invites on LinkedIn
- Spending time in freelance writing forums
- Checking out local freelancer meetups
As a freelance writer, you need a tribe, even if you’re super-introverted like me.
Making those first few connections can be a little intimidating for sure.
But once you get over the hump, you might be surprised at how quickly your network grows.
6 Must-Have Tools to Be a Freelance Writer
To wrap things up, I wanted to offer you a few recommendations for the tools and resources you can use to grow your freelance writing career. You might try one or all of them but I guarantee that they’re all super useful!
Grammarly is a proofreading tool you can use to check your writing online. There are two versions of Grammarly; one’s free and the other is paid.
The free version works fine if you’re a new freelancer and you can always upgrade to Premium later. To learn more about Grammarly, check out this in-depth review.
If you’re planning to start a blog to showcase your writing, then you’ll need a blog host. Your host is the company that keeps your site up and running.
For that, I can’t say enough good things about Siteground. There are other hosts out there you can try but Siteground can’t be beat for price, service and function.
3. Hemingway Editor
Hemingway Editor is a free tool for writers that can help you check how readable your work is. You just copy and paste your text or type it write into Hemingway App to get a readability score, along with suggestions for improving your writing.
Trello is another must-have free tool for freelance writers. You can use Trello to keep track of all your writing assignments in one place.
As a freelance writer, managing invoices is something you need to stay on top of. FreshBooks is an invoicing tool you can use to invoice clients, manage payments and track your expenses.
It’s an awesome tool for saving time with invoicing and keeping the money rolling in your business!
One other thing to know if you want to be a freelance writer: it’s up to you to make sure your taxes get done properly. That means filing quarterly estimated taxes four times a year and filing income tax once a year.
QuickBooks is the tax prep software I use to do my taxes and never once has it steered me wrong. I’ve been using it to do my taxes since I turned my freelancing side hustle into a business back in 2014 and I love it.
Are You Ready to Be a Freelance Writer?
Whew, this post got long!
But I hope you stuck with me to the end because if you seriously want to be a freelance writer, I know these tips can help you get there.
So, tell me what steps you’re taking to be a freelance writer right now.
Drop me a comment or email me at Rebecca@WritetoSixFigures and let me know what your biggest struggles and successes are.
Don’t forget to pass this post on to someone who’s ready to be a freelance writer and step up their online money-making game!
And if you haven’t already yet, sign up for my FREE, 6-day email course to learn how to be a paid freelance writer!