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Here’s How to Get Started as a Freelance Writer

Updated on October 15, 2020Writing Tips

Sick of the 9-to-5 life? Yearning for work that’s creatively fulfilling? If you’re someone who loves to write, the idea of becoming a freelance writer has probably crossed your mind.

And if you’ve ever wondered how to turn that fantasy into a reality, this post is for you.

I’ve been a freelance writer since 2013, and over the years I’ve fielded many questions from folks interested in freelancing. This is a truly mammoth topic, so what I’m sharing today is simply a brief overview of how you can get started as a freelance writer.

By the end of this article you’ll have a better understanding of the process, and hopefully a better idea of whether or not it’s for you.

1 Consider: why freelance writing?

Knowing your goals for freelancing will influence how you approach it.

  • Are you looking for a creative outlet or a chance to share your ideas? Consider writing posts for your favorite websites that accept submissions (e.g., Huffington Post, MindBodyGreen, Bustle, The Penny Hoarder). Some sites pay, many do not.
  • Are you looking for a side hustle to generate some cash? Consider pursuing small or one-off projects (e.g., writing a business’s monthly newsletter or doing Facebook ads for an online program launch).
  • Are you looking to fully replace your day job with freelancing as your primary source of income? Prioritize big projects and opportunities for repeat work (e.g., full website copy revamp, e-books, book ghostwriting, weekly blog posts, weekly scripts for YouTube channel).

2 Find Your Niche

What are your interests, background, education, expertise? What do you like to write? Who do you want to work with? There are many types of writing and types of clients for you to pursue.

You may not truly find your niche until you stumble onto it in the wild, but in the meantime here are some ideas to get your wheels turning.

  • Are you an engineer or tech geek? Technical manuals could be right up your alley.
  • Passionate about travel? Write blog posts or web copy for travel sites.
  • Love writing short stories? Use your storytelling chops to write case studies (customer success stories) for businesses.
  • Ever written a book? The market for book ghostwriting is hot and lucrative.
  • Already doing marketing at your 9-to-5? Write sales pages and create social media campaigns for entrepreneurs.
  • Maybe you enjoyed writing essays in college, processing complex information and synthesizing an argument. Writing white papers could be your niche.

3 Build Your Portfolio

Stressing because you don’t have a degree in writing? Not a problem! My clients never ask about my education (BA in Economics and Anthropology), they ask about my experience working on other projects.

Bottom line: Clients don’t care if you have a degree, they only care if you can do the work.

This is where your portfolio comes in. Your portfolio is your proof that you can do the work you say you can do. Here’s how to get started.

  • Gather whatever pieces you already have that pertain to your desired niche (e.g., personal blog posts, articles you wrote for your current company, the brochure you created for the nonprofit you volunteer with).
  • Network with family, friends, and community to get a few more projects under your belt (e.g., a social media campaign for your cousin’s ice cream shop, an e-book for your friend’s health coaching practice, a newsletter for your faith community’s food pantry).
  • You can work for free (family only) or at a reduced rate (everyone else) since they are taking a chance on you (remember, you don’t have a portfolio yet).
  • Starting small (five to ten projects) is fine. What’s important is quality and that you’re showcasing experience in the niche you’re interested in.
  • Put your work on a website you can share with potential clients. There’s Journoportfolio (which I use) and (both are free for up to ten articles), or find a Squarespace or WordPress theme that’s designed to be a portfolio.

4 Find Clients

Now that you have an idea of the type of writing projects you’d like to do, and a portfolio showing your ability to do that work, it’s time to find clients. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Contract with your current company. You already have a relationship with the company and understand its mission and voice. (This is how I got into freelancing.)
  • Email the contacts within your business network. Let them know what type of projects you’re doing and invite them to pass your info on to others who would want to work with you too.
  • Email your friends and family about what you’re doing. Promote your new business on your social media channels.
  • Cold email companies that you’d like to work with. Identify a need they have (e.g., regular blog posts or newsletters) and show how you can help them.
  • Pitch your article ideas to your favorite websites that accept submissions. Some sites pay for posts, many do not (worst case, you have a prestigious portfolio piece).
  • Pitch for projects on a job board (ProBlogger, BloggingPro, All Freelance Writing) or content mill (Upwork, Scripted, Contently). But be warned, these opportunities tend to involve high effort and low pay. I’ve never used these sites, but I know many writers have gotten into the biz this way.
  • Build relationships with creatives who provide complementary services, such as web and graphic designers. They have clients who need copywriting.
  • Network with other fabulous freelance writers. They’ll pass on referrals when they can’t take a job, or when a company they’re writing for is looking for more contractors. (This is how I got connected to Grammarly : ) ).

Let us know in the comments which freelancing topics you’d like to hear more about in future posts. And if you’re already a freelancer, share one piece of advice that helped you get started!

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