The Definitive Step-by-Step Guide on How to Become a Freelance Writer
For many people, becoming a freelance writer is a dream come true.
It means getting out from under that oppressive boss, escaping the dreaded 9-to-5 schedule and avoiding that morning commute we all loathe.
In addition, there’s also a LOT of room for growth. While your office job may have come with a $40K salary, as a freelance writer, there’s no ceiling to what you can earn. In fact, you could pull in two, three or even four times that if you know what to do and stay motivated.
The sky is truly the limit!
But while many want to become writers, not everyone has the courage to do it, because I’ll be honest with you: It’s a little scary.
Leaving that cushy job with benefits, branching out on your own and blazing your own path can sound idyllic, but actually doing it? That takes a lot of guts, strength and, well, planning.
Fortunately, I’ve been there, and I know EXACTLY what it takes to become a freelance writing success.
Even if you have no writing experience whatsoever, a great freelancing career can easily be in your future. You just need the right strategy, a little guidance and some good old-fashioned hard work. That’s what I offer here in this guide.
Additional Guidance on How to Become a Freelance Writer
Before I start, I wanted to introduce you to five separate training products I created that will help you in your quest for freelance writing success:
1. The Ultimate Client-Getting Masterclass – This is an over-the-shoulder video where I show you exactly how I attract, find and contact clients on 4 of the top networks on the web right now.
2. 30 Days to $1K Action Plan – In this video, I take you through 30 days of actionable steps that include practical and also mindset exercises. By the end of 30 days, you could be earning $1K for your writing if you follow along and take action.
3. Maggie’s Writing Skillset Workshop – If you need some help honing your writing skills and you want to make sure you have the chops to succeed in this career, then this training is for you. You don’t need a college degree to become a successful freelance writer; you just need the necessary and important writing skills to make your work stand out above the rest.
4. Maggie’s Mind-Conditioning Workshop – If you ever deal with fear or lack of confidence like I did, then this training is for you. It includes all of my personal strategies for getting into the right mindset to allowing yourself to earn a substantial income as a freelance writer.
5. Freelance Profit Academy – This is my most popular product and the one that will help take you from point A to point B quickly. The Freelance Profit Academy is my exclusive membership site. It includes my 8-week training course for beginner to advanced writers. It takes you through a step-by-step blueprint to starting, building and maintaining a successful freelance writing career. It also includes my private writer’s community, a daily scam-free job board, and monthly video training. You can get a 7-day trial for only $1 if you want to try it out.
I also offer plenty of FREE reports that talk about everything from getting clients to overcoming fear. You can see these reports on this page.
If you want any more information about my training, come check us out on our Facebook community page and I would be glad to answer your questions.
Now, let’s get started!
Table of Contents
- 1. Before You Start
- 2. Getting Down to Business With How to Become A Freelance Writer
- 3. Making the Transition to Becoming a Freelance Writer
- 4. Get More Guidance on How to Become a Freelance Writer
The first step to becoming a freelance writer starts within.
You have to MENTALLY prepare yourself for the road ahead, because I’ll be honest with you: It’s definitely not the path of least resistance.
Freelance writing – especially in the beginning – can feel like an uphill battle.
You’re always working to build a better portfolio, snag better clients and command higher rates, and that requires effort and a lot of leg work.
If you’re not willing to put in the time, you may want to consider another career path, because this one requires some effort, particularly in the beginning.
Take some time to put yourself in the right mindset before launching your freelance writing efforts.
First, address any fears you may have about the transition.
Are you scared you won’t make enough money?
Have enough work?
Be good enough to get hired?
Turn those fears on their heads, and instead ask yourself, isn’t it scarier to think of a life wasted in a dead-end career?
A job that makes you miserable?
What about wasting your talents and passions?
Isn’t that more frightening than a little uncertainty?
You bet it is!
You can also use affirmations to get yourself in the right head space.
Tell yourself “I am a talented writer who has what it takes to be successful.” Post it on your computer, write it on your mirror, and say it every morning until you start to believe it.
For more tips on getting in the right mindset, see my blog “How to Become a Successful Freelance Writer When You Don’t Believe in Yourself.”
As a freelance writer, you will be responsible for your own office needs and equipment. Fortunately, those needs are minimal.
Here is what you will need:
- A fast, quality laptop computer
- A good Wi-Fi connection
- A comfortable chair or desk to work at (although I sometimes work on my couch or my bed; don’t tell anyone!)
- Microsoft Office
- A PayPal account
- An email account
Those are the only “must-haves” really, but if you want to arm yourself with a few more tools, you can also download apps like Evernote or Todoist, which help manage your assignments, or invest in software like Dragon, which allows you to dictate copy to your computer without ever touching the keyboard.
The great thing about being a freelance writer is that you don’t need to necessarily have an “office.”
Instead, you can simply set up an area in your home where you can be comfortable, focused and productive. It can be a traditional desk setup, or if you’re like me, just a comfy corner of the couch.
This is me (my socks :)) working on this guide, lounging on the couch with my feet up…who wouldn’t want this life?
Make sure whichever area you choose to work, that it is primed for productivity.
It should give you easy access to any reference books you may need (style guides, dictionaries, etc.); there should be a place to put your coffee or water, pens, notebooks and calendars, and it should be well-lit and comfortable for long-term sitting.
The requirements are simple but important; they’ll help ensure you’re focused and on task when those deadlines hit.
Samples are a vital part of any successful freelance writing career. They’re the tools you’ll use to show off your skills, impress clients and land jobs, and they need to be a part of every pitch you send and every job you apply for.
Now, if you’re completely new to writing, you might feel worried…
What if you don’t have any samples?
Does that mean freelance writing is out of the picture for you?
Definitely not. There are plenty of ways to build up samples, and quickly, too.
The first is simple: Just dedicate some time to writing sample content.
Create a sample blog, a sample news piece and a sample white paper – whatever type of content you plan to offer to clients. You can also start a blog (which we’ll go into later), or you can take up guest blogging, which is essentially providing content for other, already established blogs on the web. All of these options can give you great samples to show off to your clients.
Once you have some samples ready, it’s time to put those to good use and create your very own writer’s website. This site should include your bio, a listing of your specialties and services, samples and a way to get in touch.
Now if you’re not much of a web designer, don’t worry (most of us word people aren’t!). Sites like WordPress make setting up a site pretty simple.
The great thing about WordPress is that it’s a full website – with navigation menus, graphics, buttons and more – and it can make you look ultra-professional. It does have a learning curve though, so if you are new to any type of website creation, you may want to look into simpler options.
If you don’t have the time for this type of site, or it’s just a little beyond your skillset, you can also opt for a simpler, portfolio-style sites using something like Clippings.me, Journo Portfolio or Contently. These are a little smaller in scope, but they still offer you a great way to show off your samples and what you offer
As a freelance writer, having a blog can help you three-fold:
- It can give you a way to SHOW OFF your writing talents and any specialized knowledge or expertise.
- It can help your website get FOUND by more clients. You see, a blog is a great SEO tool that can ensure your site ranks higher in Google and other search engines, giving it more visibility and more traffic.
- A BLOG is an easy way to build up samples. Write about your day, use it for short stories or fiction, or create posts about the niche you want to focus on with your future clients. Just post to it often and regularly, and you’ll reap the benefits in no time.
Below are some posts about blogging that will help you get started:
- 25 Blog Post Ideas for Your Freelance Writing Blog
- How Freelance Writers Can Benefit From Blogging
- How I Make Up To $180 Per Blog Post
LinkedIn is a GREAT tool that freelance writers can use to connect with potential clients and land jobs. I talked about the importance of LinkedIn in my previous blog post, “How to Become a Freelance Writer Online: Do You Have What it Takes?“.
To use LinkedIn to boost your career, you will need a solid profile on the site. That means it needs a professional-looking picture, a descriptive headline (something like “Freelance writer for hire” or “Freelance writer and content strategist”) and any relevant experience.
If you don’t have any relevant experience to add, don’t fret. You can still use LinkedIn to your advantage.
Create an engaging, interesting summary, add in details of your education or a link to your blog, and create samples to upload to your page.
If you really want to up the ante, have a graphic designer make those samples shine, so they draw even more attention from potential clients!
As you gain experience in your career, go back to your LinkedIn page and make updates. Add names of clients (with their permission), upload samples and get recommendations from people you’ve worked with. Be sure to post updates to your page occasionally and let people know what you’re up to. You never know when someone out there is in need of a freelance writer!
Let me preface this section by saying: Content mills and bidding sites aren’t a necessity for a freelance writer.
Content mills are brokers who act as intermediaries between the writer and the clients who are looking for content. These sites take most of the money from the client directly and hire you to write for them for a fraction of that amount.
They’re simply a way to gain some experience, make a little quick cash and start building up your portfolio. If you want to work directly with clients and take advantage of being paid the full amount you deserve for your writing and skip these lower-paying options altogether, feel free. Just skip this section and move right along!
If you do think a little more experience or some additional samples could help (or if you’re in need of a fast infusion of money), then content mills or bidding sites may be your answer.
Most of these sites are not that difficult to get into, and they’re very EASY to get clients and jobs on.
Don’t expect the big bucks, though! These sites typically pay pennies per word, which doesn’t amount to much when writing a 500-word article. Consider these sites a temporary fix – something to help you transition from point A (beginning freelance writer) to point B (earning freelance writer) a little more easily.
For more insight on getting started, I recommend you watch the video I created, “How to Start a Successful Freelance Writing Career When You Have NO Experience.”
If you’re interested in working with clients directly, then it’s time to move away from the content mills and bidding sites, and head to more legit places, like a freelance writing job board.
If you want access to top jobs posted daily – without jumping from site to site – be sure to sign up for FreelanceWriting.com’s Morning Coffee Newsletter, which sends you a daily digest of some of the top freelance writing jobs on the web. You can also find potential writing jobs on sites like Journalism Jobs, Media Bistro and even Craigslist. Just be sure to vet Craigslist clients carefully. You don’t want to end up stiffed on payment!
I talk about how to find scam-free jobs on Craigslist in my free report, “The Ultimate Craigslist Client-Getting Swipe File.” Download it now right here.
Getting a direct client can happen one of three ways:
- The client comes to you through your website, email, LinkedIn page, Twitter, Facebook or via a referral
- You apply to a job posting on a board or job site
- You reach out to publications and websites, inquiring about potential writing opportunities.
While the first will only happen with time (and lots of great work and satisfied customers) the other two are within your control right now.
Use job boards to hone in on potential projects and opportunities that could work with your skillset and desired financial goals.
Once you find one that’s a good fit, reach out directly – either via email or through the job posting – and get in touch.
First, introduce yourself, give a brief synopsis of your background and skills, and outline how you could help meet the client’s needs and goals. Be sure to include specific information from the job post so they know that not only did you read it, but that you also took the time to customize your reply exactly for them, too. Canned responses will get thrown out right away!
Here’s an example of how you could apply for a job ad:
Subject line: I’m your legal writer!
I saw on Craigslist that your firm is currently seeking an experienced legal writer. I’d love to be considered for the position.
A little about me: My name is Maggie, I’m a full-time freelance writer, and I have more than a decade of experience in legal content production. Past clients have included XYZ Law Firm, ABC Attorneys at Law and LMNOP & Associates. John Doe, lead attorney at LMNOP once said of my services, “Maggie’s writing has made an immense impact on our bottom line, drawing in not only more leads, but more customers as well.”
As your position requires, I have extensive experience writing both legal blogs and client-facing legal briefs. In fact, I’ve attached a past example of each to this email. Additionally, I have also attached a copy of my resume, and more samples of my work can be found at my website, www.LindersContent.com
Please let me know if you have any questions or require any more information from me. I look forward to hearing from you!
An alternative to applying for job posts is to simply “prospect” with publications, websites and blogs.
This simply means you get in contact with the blog owner, the managing editor or someone else at the top of the food chain of whichever publication you’re looking to write for.
Then, you inquire about potential opportunities for writing – whether they be assigned topics or something more open-ended (meaning you would pitch the topic.)
Here’s an example of a prospecting email you could send to a magazine:
Subject: Duck Hunting Magazine Writing Opportunities
I’m reaching out to see if Duck Hunting Magazine is in need of any additional content for its upcoming summer issue. As both a freelance writer and an avid duck hunter for many years, I think I could bring a powerful perspective that Duck Hunting readers would enjoy.
I would be willing to work on any topics you have in mind, though I do have some ideas for content I think your readers would find interesting. Some of these include:
- Mastering the Duck Call
- A Beginner’s Guide to Building Duck Blinds
- The Ultimate List of Summer Duck Hunting Gear
I have attached a few samples of recent duck hunting content I have produced, including the article “A Life of Duck Hunting – How Childhood Duck Hunting Shaped Me,” recently published in the 2016 Duck Hunter’s Field Guide.
Please let me know your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you!
IMPORTANT: If you do not have any samples just yet, no worries! If you really want a gig, write a related sample and post it to your website. Send clients to your sample. They will never know it wasn’t for a real client.
And outline any related experience you have even if it is not in writing. For example, if you are a parent and you have no experience writing for parenting clients but you are a parent, highlight your experience as a parent. Don’t tell them that you have no experience as a writer; you never want to do this. Just highlight the experience you DO have, regardless of what it is.
It’s okay if you do not have any online clips as long as you sound confident and assured that you can help them with their content needs and you have a sample you can send them.
If you don’t feel confident enough, that’s okay too. You DON’T need confidence to write that email and pull the trigger. You just need a little bit of courage. The confidence will come over time as you see what you are capable of. But, you have to take that first step.
Do you know how many times I was shaking and fearful before sending these emails?
A lot! I even shared some of the things I learned personally through trial and error in my video, “The Top Mistakes New Freelance Writers Make that are Easy to Avoid”
But, trust me, it gets easier. Just make sure to never say anything in your messaging that would make the client doubt your services. Never let em’ see you sweat!
Freelance writers should consider specializing in a niche – even if you are a beginner.
Being a niche writer not only makes your services more in-demand, but it also allows you to command a higher rate. After all, there are millions of freelance writers out there, but freelance writers who specialize in healthcare? Now those are few and far between.
Take some time to consider what your niche could be…
Do you have a background in marketing? Then use that to your advantage, and focus on writing for marketing firms or producing marketing content for start-ups and small businesses.
Did you take art history in school and have some experience/passion for this discipline? Reach out to museums, universities and even local artists and see how you can be of service.
If you’re not sure about what niche to pursue, don’t let it get you down. My niche didn’t reveal itself until I got well into my career – and that’s OK!
Just pay attention to what content comes easiest to you, what you feel most comfortable writing and what you naturally gravitate toward. Once that reveals itself, you can start marketing yourself as a specialized writer, and you can raise your rates as a result.
Want to make six figures as a freelance writer? Then you can’t accept bargain-basement rates.
Once you gain a little experience, start upping what you charge clients, whether that’s per-word, per-project or per-hour. Always look for opportunities to increase your income, and never put in more effort than the income is worth.
Every few months, step back and evaluate your skills and talents.
How much have you grown?
How much content have you produced?
What have you learned?
If your newly gained experience has made you a better writer for your clients, then it’s time to “up” your rates.
Your rates should always reflect the current level of talent and expertise you’re offering – not what you offered months or years before.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of how to become a freelance writer, let’s delve into what becoming a freelance writer is actually like – the differences you’ll experience, the adjustments you’ll need to make and all those nitty-gritty details only a seasoned freelance writer like me can share.
There are a lot of adjustments to make when transitioning from 9-to-5 to freelance. The biggest being you’re now your OWN boss.
You no longer have someone telling you what to do and when to do it, and while that’s certainly a good thing, it can also be hard to adjust.
What hours and for how long should you work?
How much time should you devote to blogging and maintaining your social media?
What about to applying for jobs and networking with potential clients?
The truth is there is no hard and fast answer.
It’s something you have to feel out. It takes trial and error to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t, so don’t be afraid to try something, make changes, and try again until you find a system that’s right.
Another big adjustment is that you no longer have a set time and place to be at work.
While this can be freeing, it can also be a recipe for disaster.
Many beginning freelance writers are tempted to sleep in, work “when the mood strikes” and procrastinate on projects until the last minute. Throw in the constant distractions of working from home (pets, daytime TV and happy hours with friends), and it can be a pretty unproductive career if you’re not careful.
It might not sound fun, but freelance writing requires a LOT of discipline.
Yes, you can work weird hours and from the comfort of your own home, but you have to be diligent about getting that work done efficiently, and you can’t miss a single deadline.
Your reputation is built on your ability to meet client needs, and if you can’t do that, you may as well head back to the office!
Arm yourself with the tools you need to stay on track. Use calendars and apps to stay on deadline, keep in touch with clients regularly, and plan ahead for time off for vacations, so nothing falls by the wayside.
It will require some work, but the result is a successful, freeing career dictated only by YOU. And that is WORTH the effort.
Below are some posts about time management that you may find helpful:
- Time Management for Writers: The Top 15 Time-Management Tools for Busy Freelance Writers
- 8 Tips for Managing the Freelance Writer’s Never-ending To-do List
- The Ultimate Resource to the Best Freelance Writing Time-Management Hacks
Now I don’t want to scare you, but financially, for those first few months you may not be rolling in the money.
In fact, you may struggle a little bit. Going from a solid, bi-weekly paycheck to sporadic small checks and PayPal payments can be pretty hard to cope with, especially when you have bills to pay or a family to care for.
To prevent this from being an issue, make sure to have about 3 to 6 months of savings in the bank just in case. You want enough to cover your bills and household needs in the event snagging those clients is a little more difficult than you bargained for.
Or, do some freelance writing on the sire before you quit your day job. This way, you can build up your reputation enough so that you are more than ready when it comes time to transition out of your regular job.
It can be scary to think of potential financial problems, but I assure you, it happens to the best of us.
Even an experienced writer like myself sometimes has droughts, and having savings on your side is simply a way to safeguard your family and your well-being. Just be sure to keep your head up, continue moving forward, and that rut will be over in no time.
If you’re really fearful of jumping in headfirst into freelance writing, I have a secret to tell you: You don’t have to. In fact, you can do what I did and sort of ease yourself into it.
Freelance writing doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing career.
In fact, as I stated before, you can easily launch your writing career while still working your 9-to-5.
That’s what I did! You simply find a few clients (or sign up for a content mill or bidding site), and handle the work at nights and on the weekends. This can give you a little extra income (which you can put away for when you freelance full-time) and it can give you a chance to get your feet wet and feel out the job a little more.
Then, once you start to get the hang of freelancing – or your freelance clients start to naturally lead to other ones – then you may feel a little more comfortable making the jump to full-time.
Do what feels best for yourself and your family, and feel free to take your time. There’s no rush and no competition.
This career can be hard, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. You get to be the master of your own destiny – choose who you work with, when you work, and where you work from. That’s something just about anyone would be jealous of!
Want to learn more about how to become a freelance writer? Have specific questions about freelance writing?
Check out the free content on my blog or find out more information about my products I listed at the beginning of this guide. Here are quick links to them:
I WANT you to succeed.
I KNOW you can succeed
I’m here to help!