Have you thought about becoming a freelance writer but had a hard time figuring out where to start? I can relate. There is so much information out there that when I got started I found it hard to stop reading and start writing. Following are steps that will launch you into a new career path and help you start making some money with your writing.
Get some writing samples or clips
If you don’t already have some published work, it’s time to start writing, even if it’s unpaid guest posts to start with. Pen and Parent takes guest posts on a limited basis.
You might also browse our site and join our email list to get a list publications that pay. Most recently, Amber posted about #Metoo publications that pay.
Decide on a niche or niches
First off, think about what you want to write the most. Is it blog posts and web copy, ebooks or white papers? Next, mull over the industries you already know about or want to learn about. One caveat, you may know about parenting topics but that is a crowded niche that doesn’t always pay as well as niches like technology.
Think back to jobs you’ve had and what you already know about. Make a list or mind map and think about what you can write about without doing huge amounts of research. That is a good place to start. You can branch out from there.
I wrote more in-depth about niches that pay here.
Create a simple website
If you don’t have a website there are a lot of easy choices like Squarespace, Weebly or Wix. For good SEO, WordPress is a popular choice. If WordPress seems too daunting to figure out, check out Amber’s article about how to create a Writer Website.
You may want to include some project pricing packages on your site as well as clips and testimonials.
If you want to get an idea of what Amber and I have put together for our freelance writing services, check out our writing portfolio page on Pen and Parent. We also have separate sites for our writing. Here is my freelance writing services page. Amber also has her own site that you can check out here.
Write a Pitch Letter
You can pitch directly to publications or companies you would like to write for. Make sure to personalize your letters. Also, know that it takes a leap of courage to send these out pitches as well as some tolerance for rejection. Keep going! If you send out ten freelance writing pitch letters and get one response that’s a positive result.
For samples of pitch letters, check out our ebook How to Make a Living as a Writer. It’s packed with lots of good information about how to get started making money with your writing. It also has a list of over 200 publications that pay for posts. And it’s only $2.99, cheaper than a latte!
Use Your Network
To begin with, try reaching out to everyone you know via email. You can also post about your services on Facebook and Linkedin.
Connect with other writers and learn about writing opportunities via Facebook groups. There are lots of them if you type in freelance writer, content writing, B2B or whatever your specialty is.
Try Upwork, Fivver or Craigslist to get started
These sites (sometimes called content mills) can be a race to the bottom for rates. That said, if you are starting from scratch and like the idea of a company taking care of payments and issues with clients you could try setting up an account with these sites. I would recommend setting a six-month time limit and then move on to pitching potentially higher paying clients once you’ve got some clips and testimonials.
Work with an agency
There are agencies that connect with businesses that need blogs, website content, landing pages and other marketing materials. They hire writers to do the work and take a cut for the administration and editing they do. If this is something you are interested in, a basic knowledge of SEO or search engine optimization is helpful.
Sometimes content marketing agencies advertise on job boards. If that doesn’t yield results, research them online by searching for terms like “content marketing”. Once you find a few agencies, get in touch directly with your pitch letter.
Apply to writing job boards
Problogger has a well-known job board but there is competition and not all of the posts pay well. It’s still worth looking through in my opinion. If you see something great, apply as soon as possible to beat out the competition.
There are other freelance writing job boards out there and some Facebook groups exist that just post writing jobs for freelancers.
Communicate with your first client
Woohoo. It’s finally happened, you landed your first client! Take a beat to celebrate.
Before moving forward, think about your procedures and rates. Will you charge hourly, per word or by the project? Personally this has become something I address on a case by case basis.
Don’t forget that forty percent of your gross income may need to go toward taxes and business expenses. That is something to remember when setting your rates.
I have a form on my website that asks a client questions so I can get an idea of their project before committing to it.
You might want to consider doing something like this because there is nothing worse than agreeing to a low rate or a project you are not suited for because you email or get on the phone before knowing the basics of what the client is looking for.
Here’s my pro tip: I try to steer clients toward email communication so that everything is in writing. If they need regular calls, I bill at my hourly rate.
Once you are hired, send a contract for the project with the deadline and rate and make sure they sign off on it before you get started.
I like to start with something small like one blog post to make sure the client pays on time.
Keep your day job
If you already work, it’s a great idea to start freelance writing in your free time and think of it as a side hustle. If you stay home with kiddos, nap time is a fine time to make your freelance writer dream come true.
Any freelance career can be feast or famine, so it’s important to proceed with caution. You also may find that the constant hustle and working alone is not your jam. There is nothing wrong with that. There are also full-time jobs in companies that want an in-office content writer for their company.
Whatever direction you ultimately decide to go in, not having the pressure of needing to pay your bills as a freelance writer right off the bat is ideal.
Good luck on your path to a career as a freelance writer. I’m sending good thoughts your way.
Melissa is a freelance writer and the author of three novels , a children's picture book and co-author of How to Make a Living as a Writer. She’s co-founder and writer for Pen & Parent. In addition, she’s been published online at The Pennyhoarder, Today Parenting Community, Rage Against the Minivan, Momastery, Yahoo Voices, and Red Tricycle.