Do you have a dream? Does it involve being the master/mistress of your own time, finances and destiny by learning how to become a freelance writer?
Great news, you’re definitely in the right place! There’s a huge demand for skilled freelance writers, and it’s not going anywhere any time soon. Think about it – pretty much every business needs written content, whether it’s website copy, email, social media posts, advertising copy… The list goes on and on!
With the right information, mindset and commitment to your dreams, making the decision to become a freelance writer is one that could change your life.
Ready to hear about how to make your dream a reality? Read on for ten simple steps that will help you get started today!
1. Commit to Becoming a Freelance Writer
We know, we know. You were hoping we’d gloss over the mindset details and get straight to the juicy part of the post – the part where you get to rake in the dough.
We could, but we’re firm believers in starting any project, be it a side-hustle, a new career, a debt-repayment journey, etc., with a good dose of mindset work.
Because we’ve seen talented freelance writers crash and burn, and most often it’s totally avoidable!
We’ve seen writers rise like a shooting star, only to fizzle out in a few months and give up writing altogether. But if you’re in this for the long run and you want to know the real deal about being a freelance writer, here are a few things to keep in mind:
You’ll feel fear… a lot
You’ll be afraid to pitch. You’ll be afraid to call yourself a writer. You’ll be afraid you’ll be judged. You’ll be afraid that your writing isn’t good enough. You’ll read a post ten times too many before you submit it to your editor.
See a theme here?
We’re here to tell you – that’s totally normal. It’s normal to feel afraid, as long as you don’t let that stop you from following your dreams and learning how to become a freelance writer.
That pit in your stomach? That will come and go throughout your writing career. It’s a sign that you’re doing something right – you’re taking action! You’re pushing yourself and getting yourself out there, and you will see the results.
You’ll get rejected… a lot.
In the beginning, you’ll likely get more rejection emails than “good news” emails. That’s normal, so learn to treat it as a game. Ask yourself – how many rejections can I collect this month? Can I get thirty rejections this week?
By reframing how you see rejections you’ll take away the power they have over your mindset. Rather than see them as a failure, if you view rejections as a metric of how much you’re putting yourself out there you’ll be motivated to keep up the great work.
And that will only help you in your new freelance writing career!
You won’t regret it… at all.
Even when you account for rejections, fear, and the balancing act of doing creative work on a deadline for a host of clients, you won’t regret making the choice to start writing for a living.
Becoming a freelance writer will offer you lifestyle flexibility that will let you prioritize the things that matter to you, whether that’s family time, traveling, relocating to a new city, paying off debt or whatever your unique motivator is.
Building a writing career is not for the faint of heart, but it is completely worth it in the long run.
Take ten minutes to finish this sentence:
“I want to become a freelance writer because ___ “
Your answer should be as specific as possible:
“I want to become a freelance writer because I want to spend more time with my toddler…”
Or, “I want to have the flexibility to travel without having to ask for days off from my 9-to-5 job…”
Or, “The extra income will help me pay off my student loans faster.”
Get the idea?
Whatever your reason is, keep it front and center as you make your way through this process.
2. Decide on Your Writing Niche
We’ll be honest with you – a lot of writers dread this step. Picking a niche for your business can be difficult (although it doesn’t have to be) and can leave you constantly wondering if you’ve made the right choice.
But choosing a niche, or “niching down,” is pretty commonplace advice for a reason…
Because it works!
If you have no idea what topics (or niches) to hone in on, it makes it more difficult to prospect for clients or even secure samples in the beginning. Having unlimited possibilities often leads to analysis paralysis, and that often results in not taking any action at all.
What’s the best way to pick a freelance writing niche?
In the beginning, the easiest (and fastest) way to narrow in on your niche(s) is to explore your previous career experience, hobbies and interests. For example, that’s why I chose personal finance as my primary niche – I had almost a decade of experience in the financial services industry and could claim “expert status” in the subject.
Maybe, prior to, or in conjunction with freelance writing you’re also passionate about digital marketing — another area of expertise that abounds with opportunity.
A lot of aspiring freelance writers are tempted to skip this step because they’re afraid they might pick the wrong niche.
But guess what?
There are no wrong answers. Nope, not a single one. Your niches won’t be set in stone, and you can always switch gears along the way towards something you find more enjoyable and or more lucrative.
And on that note – another VERY important reason for choosing a niche is that it enables you to command higher rates. A specialist pretty much always gets paid more than a generalist, and who doesn’t want to get paid more?
It’s also way easier to market yourself as a “[Fill in the Niche] writer” than just a “freelance writer.” Contrary to popular belief, being able to “write about anything” just isn’t that appealing to potential clients.
It may be true that you can write about almost anything (and it is to your advantage to be flexible), but business owners are looking for writers who understand and can speak to their industry.
Start by answering these questions…
- What do you want to write about?
- What do you like to write about?
- What’s natural/familiar for you based on your background, experience or education?
Let the answers brew a bit, and write down a list of up to five niches and sub-niches. Prioritize them based on what you feel you would enjoy writing about the most. Keep these in mind as you start pitching for paid work, and when you start a blog/website.
3. Get Freelance Writing Samples
When you’re just starting out as a freelance writer, before you pitch for paid work it’s important to secure a few quality writing samples.
Here’s the thing, though – if you’re a brand new freelance writer, you probably don’t have any samples. Kind of a catch-22, right? Not necessarily.
So how do you get samples?
There are a few ways to go about it. Here are four that you can get started with today:
Dig up some writing samples that you already have on hand.
Odds are that if you enjoy writing, you most likely already have some writing samples to get started with. Maybe you’ve written fiction in the past (published or not), you’ve won a writing contest or two, or maybe you’re the go-to writer in your workplace.
And how about college papers, local newsletters or your kids’ fundraising campaigns? I bet you have something sitting around that you could repurpose into one of your first writing samples!
Create your writing samples from scratch
If you weren’t able to find any (or any relevant) writing samples already on hand, creating some from scratch should be your next step. It’s the easiest and quickest way to secure your first few samples!
Pick a topic related to one of the niches you picked in Step Two (you didn’t skip that step, right?). Then write a blog post about it… Or a news release… Or a sales page!
Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should reflect your best effort.
You can draft the sample in a Google Doc, then save it as a PDF (under File > Download as > PDF document) and upload it to your portfolio (more about that in the next step).
You can also post your samples to a personal website, but definitely don’t sweat it if you don’t have one yet.
Remember – the goal here is to showcase your writing skills and provide a potential client with proof that you can write, and write well.
That’s it. No need to over-complicate things!
Start your own blog or website.
Starting your own freelance writing website is a great step when you’re ready – you can write about what you want, when you want and begin to brand your freelance writing business.
Starting your own blog and website is also a great way to display your writing samples. That’s exactly how Horkey HandBook got its start! You can add existing samples when you build your site, and begin posting new material as blog posts.
Keep in mind that even though you’re not getting paid to write yet when you’re creating samples, including writing for your own blog, you still want to bring your A-game. If you’re going to use your posts to showcase your writing skills and prospect for work, they need to be excellent!
Don’t know what to blog about? How about one of the niches you’ve selected in Step Two?
Guest post on someone else’s site.
Guest posting on someone else’s website can look a bit more impressive to a potential client. Someone else gave you a vote of confidence and put your content on their site, and that can go a long way when you’re starting off as a freelance writer.
How does one go about finding guest posting opportunities?
Do you know anyone with a blog who’d love some new content? How about asking on Facebook if any of your friends need something written?
And what about blogs and websites you follow? You’re already familiar with their style, content and subject matter, and that makes it easier to match their writing voice.
Reach out and ask – you never know what could shake loose, and if you don’t ask the answer’s always no!
You can also turn to Google. It’s as simple as opening a new browser and typing in “[Your Niche] + Write for Us.” Piece ‘a cake!
This search should bring up several websites in your niche that have open submissions for contributions. Better yet – some of the opportunities might be paying gigs too!
Write 2-3 samples in Google Docs (or your preferred format). Avoid getting stuck on this step – set a timer for 30 minutes and start researching the topic of your sample. Stop the research after 30 minutes and see how fast you can crank out your first draft!
4. Create Your Portfolio
So far we’ve covered mindset, selecting your niche(s) and gathering writing samples. This next step is all about creating your online portfolio. And just like sourcing samples, there’s more than one way to go about it! In fact, there are several.
Consequently, you have a lot of flexibility when it comes to displaying your portfolio. You can use as much or as little creativity as you’d like to help yourself stand out from the pack, or maybe you’ll try more than one method – do you!
Here are three that we recommend:
A One-Page Writers Resume
If you’re not ready to start a website, you can go with a one (or two) page resume. What is that you ask?
Create a portfolio using a Google Doc and download it as a PDF. You can add links to your samples, your bio, your headshot and any other relevant experience pertaining to your niche. Get creative and have some fun with it!
This might not be an ideal long-term solution. But in the interest of getting started as quickly as possible, with a resume in hand, you can begin pitching and work on your website at the same time.
Create a Hire Me Page on Your Website
If you’re ready to start a website, be sure to add a Hire Me page. If you want to see an example, feel free to check out mine.
In our course, Freelance Writing for Virtual Assistants, included in The #FullyBookedVA System, we walk you through the basics of a good writer’s website, including a Hire Me page.
Set up a Contently profile
I highly recommend setting up a portfolio on Contently. It’s super easy to create an account and add links to your samples or upload PDFs.
When I was starting off with Contently I set up my profile, added my published work and kind of forgot about it, to be honest. One day, out of the blue, I got an email from the Contently team asking if I was interested in working for one of their clients.
It was a great opportunity and it paid extremely well!
Zina Kumok is another Contently success story. In fact, she landed two $1,000 gigs the same way!
This platform is definitely worth the little bit of effort when it comes to landing well-paying writing assignments!
Pick one of the three methods above and create a portfolio for potential clients. And please – don’t think you have to wait until you have a super robust portfolio before you put it out there! Three samples will do to get started with, and you can always add more later.
5. Market Your Writing Services on Social Media
An important part of the process of becoming a successful freelance writer is making sure that potential clients can find you.
Isn’t that what the portfolio is for?
Yes – that’s one piece of the puzzle. But relying on a portfolio alone (or even a website) is like building a house in the middle of nowhere and expecting your guests to find you!
Your website may be very pretty and offer all sorts of information about your services, but people need a “map” to find it. They need breadcrumbs to lead them back to your business.
Enter… Social media!
Before you create a social media profile to promote your freelance writing business, ask yourself this – where is my ideal client hanging out?
If, for example, your niche is health and fitness, hanging out on Instagram may be time better spent than creating a Twitter profile. On the other hand, if you’re looking to specialize in writing white papers for tech startups, you’re more likely to find good leads on Twitter or LinkedIn. Make sense?
No matter what platform you use, make sure that your profile conveys this crucial piece of information – you are a professional writer for hire specializing in [insert your niche here].
Sure, you may also be a vanilla ice cream lover and a panda breeder and a few other things that make you a well-rounded individual. But, unless it has a direct bearing on your writing portfolio, err on the side of professionalism when it comes to creating a social media profile for your business.
Feeling overwhelmed by social media is pretty common in today’s digital society. And keeping up to date with the latest algorithm changes can easily turn into a full-time job!
That’s why we recommend picking one or two social media platforms when you’re first starting out. Experiment with what kind of posts resonate with your audience and how you can start conversations (aka engagement). Keep up with the latest trends and news relevant to your niche, and jump in on any conversation where you can position yourself as an expert.
Choose one social media platform and create a professional page for your freelance writing business. Then create and schedule ten posts that your ideal client would be interested in.
Bonus – Also create a spreadsheet with links and other post ideas that you can use as you build your presence on your platform of choice.
6. Source Freelance Writing Jobs You Can Apply For
Now that you’ve decided on your niche, gathered a few writing samples and established an online presence, it’s time to put your research skills to work and source potential writing jobs to pitch.
And, like the previous steps, there are several ways to go about this! Here are two of my favorites:
If you’re afraid to put yourself out there, job boards might be your thing (you’re simply answering an ad for someone who’s looking for a writer).
There are two types of job boards – free and paid.
There’s nothing wrong with starting out with the free options, and two of the most popular are ProBlogger and Journalism Jobs.
Do be aware that the leads you’ll find on free boards will often require you to do some extra research. Do your homework (research) and make sure that the writing job and prospect you’re pursuing are legitimate.
Paid job boards require a monthly fee. If you can afford it, definitely consider choosing reputable paid job boards over free ones. Most often, the leads on these have been vetted and are of a generally higher quality.
Bonus: Check out our list of 14 Websites that Pay Writers to get started!
I’m not gonna lie, there are many freelance writing experts who think job boards are not the best use of time for someone who wants to learn how to become a freelance writer. And for good reason – boards don’t always offer the best rates, there are often hundreds of other freelancers submitting pitches and once in a while you might even encounter a scam.
If you’re comfortable with putting yourself out there and want to limit your competition, cold pitching is your best bet!
Cold pitching is basically reaching out to companies directly, finding out if they have any current (or future) writing needs and pitching yourself as the go-to writer when the opportunity arises.
Some may think it’s a bit daring, but I prefer to think of it as smart.
In fact, I wrote an entire post about how I would find clients to pitch if I had to do it all over again.
Remember those reservations other freelance writing experts had about job boards? Cold pitching alleviates all of them.
Since there is no job listing online, odds are that you’re one of the only (if not the only) person approaching a company pitching for freelance writing work.
You do run the risk that they’re not in need of a writer, but by starting the conversation and building a relationship you’re increasing your odds of being remembered when and if they do have a need in the future!
Start perusing job boards for writing gigs in the niches you defined in Step Two. See something you’re a perfect fit for? Stop, drop and send them a pitch!
7. If You Want to Become a Freelance Writer, You Have to Start Pitching
Now that you know where to look for work, it’s time to construct and send your first pitch! You absolutely cannot skip this step – it’s one of the most, if not THE most important step to becoming a freelance writer.
Having a great pitch is what will separate you from the crowd. And don’t worry – it’ll get better with time (and experience)!
My pitch came a loooong way since I began sending it out in May, 2014, and it went through literally dozens of revisions.
Why? Because as I learned what was working (and what wasn’t), I modified my pitch accordingly. I kept track of my “batting average” and wanted to get it as close to 1,000 as possible!
Side note: A pitch looks different depending on who you’re pitching, so make sure to modify your template based on the intended audience.
I’ve talked a lot about pitching here on the Horkey HandBook blog (it’s kinda my favorite topic when it comes to freelancing), including:
- How to Cold Pitch Like a Pro Q&A
- How to Pitch Without the Right Samples
- How to Use LinkedIn to Find Prospects to Pitch
- What I Learned Reviewing 212 Freelance Writing Pitches
- Pitching for Freelance Clients: Let’s Talk Email Etiquette
One of my favorite cold pitching strategies is what I refer to as 10-by-10.
Okay – I can’t exactly take credit for this one because I didn’t make it up, but I love the strategy!
The basic premise is that you send out 10 pitches by 10 o’clock in the morning. Feel free to modify it to meet your unique needs!
Set a goal for your first month – how many pitches will you send daily? Then start out each workday by pitching to meet your commitment.
8. Land Your First Client
So now that we’ve covered what niche(s) you’re planning on writing for, how to gather samples, where to display them, where to look for clients and how to craft your pitch, it’s time to talk about what happens once you have a prospect interested in hiring you.
One of the first things a prospect is likely to ask you is, “What do you charge?” and you need to be able to confidently talk about your prices.
What do you say?
You don’t want to bid too high for fear you might scare them off. And you don’t want to bid too low and resent the work if it doesn’t pay well.
So, how do you know what to charge? There are a few ways to go about it:
- Aim to replace your current income.
- Set your rates based on your writing efficiency.
- Do some research based on your niche.
When I first started freelance writing I initially set my rates based on what I was offered (my first few clients knew what they could/wanted to pay). Later I switched gears and focused on replacing my salary.
I then moved to setting my rates based on how long I projected it would take me to complete the work. And, I also took into consideration what made it worth my time.
Another way you can go about setting your rates is to research what clients are generally paying in your niche.
The idea is that the more specialized your niche, the higher rates you can command, right? Writing for the pediatric healthcare industry likely pays much more than general lifestyle topics, for example.
It may take a bit of trial and error, but over time you’ll be able to determine your rates based on your needs and wants for your business and lifestyle.
Do some research on writing rates in your niche. Glassdoor or the job boards mentioned in Step Six are a great place to start!
9. Get Paid!
If you’re wondering how freelance writers get paid, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most common questions I get asked.
Good news – invoicing a client isn’t complicated at all.
The most important part is making it as easy as possible for your client to pay you. The easier you make it for them, the faster you’re going to get paid!
My favorite two methods for invoicing when you’re just starting off are PayPal and FreshBooks.
PayPal is known worldwide and it’s an easy way to start invoicing and collecting payments in the beginning. Clients trust it, they can pay using various methods and you can create customized invoices with your photo and logo if that’s your thing.
When you’re ready, you may want to move to a more robust accounting tool like FreshBooks (referral link). I used it in the beginning of my freelance writing business and recommend it as a simple solution for beginners. It’s user-friendly for clients and has some other cool features like time tracking and basic bookkeeping.
Decide which one of the two options we just discussed works best for you. Create an account and set up a mock invoice. You can always tweak it later!
10. Work on Your Craft Every Day
I can’t emphasize this enough – if you want to become a freelance writer, you have to write every day.
Don’t just write when you have an assignment or an idea, or only when you feel like it. If you want to find success in the world of freelance writing, you have to hone your craft and become a prolific writer. And for that, you must write… even when you don’t feel like it.
Write every day, no matter what! You’ll get better and you’ll also become faster at putting your ideas into words.
By writing regularly, you’ll also come up with your own writing process and learn how to stretch yourself creatively. These skills will come in handy when you’re handling creative briefs from clients, especially if they’re in varying industries.
If you write every day, you’ll learn that writer’s block is a bad habit that you can overcome with practice. You won’t be paralyzed by it on the eve of an important deadline because you’ll have already trained yourself to push yourself past your writer’s block and turn in high-quality work.
Here’s a way you could structure your writing time, for example:
Pick a week, go for volume – write as much as you can. This will help you get used to the fast-paced rhythm of online work and will streamline your writing process.
The following week, go for range. If you usually write blog posts, for example, try your hand at product descriptions, newsletters or sales pages. If you usually write opinion pieces, try writing from the point of view of a business, and vice versa. Make sense?
Write flattering reviews for small businesses you like. Learn how to create sales copy that doesn’t sound salesy… stretch yourself!
Like the other steps on this list, honing your craft by writing every day may seem hard to do at first. As long as you keep practicing, though, you’ll get better and better at it.
Take a look at your calendar. Can you find a 30-minute block to write every day? It doesn’t have to be at the same time every day, and it doesn’t even have to be 30 minutes, but do find some time and set it aside to write.
As you figure out how to turn writing into a habit (rather than a special occasion), you’ll produce high-quality samples and eventually client work that will take you from amateur status to professional writer in no time.
You just learned the ten essential steps to starting a freelance writing business from scratch.
You could totally get started with these – and I encourage you to!
We cover a lot of topics around freelance writing here on Horkey HandBook (we also just scratched the surface with the steps in this post). For those of you who want to jump in and take things to the next level right away with a successful freelance writing biz, I’ve also got just the thing for you.
This course includes everything you need to get a new freelance writing business off the ground so you can start getting paid right away!
Freelance Writing for Virtual Assistants is one of the courses included in The #FullyBookedVA System.
It’s packed with a ton of resources, 14 printables including workbooks and templates, action steps, videos and more. We deep-dive into the steps we just covered as well as into some specific skills for online writing and specialties like B2B writing, SEO and copywriting.
Ready to make your freelance writing dream a reality? Get started here!