How to Start a Freelance Writing Business
Writing is one profession that is especially suited to people who want flexibility in where, how, and when they work to fit their lifestyle goals. That's because most types of writing today only require a computer, an Internet connection, and word processing software.
The Internet is a source of information and entertainment, and while much of that is offered visually, such as through video, the written word still the dominant method for delivering online content. As a result, there is a large demand for freelance writers.
Pros of Freelance Writing
- Work from home or anywhere you have an Internet connection and computer
- Flexible schedule
- A wide variety of types of writing are available, including articles, copywriting, and more
- A wide variety of subjects to cover, which means you can avoid getting bored
- Low overhead to get started. In fact, you can get started for free
Cons of Freelance Writing
- Takes time to find a steady stream of clients
- Some forms of writing don't pay very well
- Income can be inconsistent
- Competition is fierce, especially for high paying writing jobs
- It's solitary work
- It requires skills beyond writing to be successful, such as discipline and organization.
Types of Freelance Writers
There are plenty of types of writing that are in demand. You can focus on one type of writing, such as web content, or do several types. Further, you can specialize in a particular topic or industry, or be a generalist, covering many topics and industries. Here are just a few areas to consider:
- Article Writer (print): Print magazines, journals, and papers can be one of the more difficult types of writing to break into but often pays better than online counterparts. While some magazines hire writers, freelance writers pitch article ideas that a magazine either accepts or declines. You're paid when the magazine accepts (or prints) your article.
- Web Content Writer: All sites need good content for SEO, luring traffic, and providing helpful and entertaining information to readers. Because marketing is often a component of web content, you should have a basic knowledge of search engine optimization or be willing to learn. You may be able to command a higher rate writing keyword rich web content. Some writers are hired to provide regular content (i.e. 2 articles a week) while others work like magazines in that you have to query your idea.
- Medical writing: Pharmaceutical companies need technical writers who are very knowledgeable about medicine and about FDA requirements.
- Technical writing: If you like computers and software, if you have an engineering background, or even if you like to take things apart and put them back together again, this could be a great field for you.
- Marketing and Advertising Copywriter: Copywriting involves crafting sales letters, ads, product descriptions, and other promotional materials. Unlike other forms of writing, copywriting requires an understanding of what entices people to respond to promotional materials. If you understand the psychology of sales and can write persuasively, copywriting is one of the more lucrative forms of writing. There are some excellent books and courses on how to write copy.
- Blogging: Similar to content writers, blog writers create articles for bloggers based on the blog's topic. You can blog for yourself, but in this case, a freelance writer creates content for someone else's blog.
- Resume Writer: If you can craft a great resume, many job seekers need your services. Similar to copywriting, resume writing requires a special understanding of how to present a job seeker in a way that attracts an employer.
- Business Plan Writer: If you're business savvy and can write clearly, you can also offer your services writing business plans.
- Ghostwriter: A ghost writer writes articles, books or other materials for someone else who takes credit for the writing. Ghost writing can be difficult work to get because most people want to hire ghost writers that have a track record of success, as well as a knowledge of the publishing or media industry. While it can pay well, a ghost writer needs to feel comfortable that another person will be taking credit and the bulk of the income (if the book or article does well) from the content.
Skills and Experiences Required to be a Freelance Writer
Interestingly enough, you don't need a degree in journalism or English to be a successful freelance writer. You don't even necessarily have to have a lot of experience in writing. What you do need is the ability to write well. Other skills or experiences you should have include:
- Good grammar
- Ability to proofread and edit your work
- Research skills
- Knowledge of writing styles, such as the Chicago Manual of Style
- Ability to market yourself as a writer
For online writing work, you should:
- Understand search engine optimization
- Have experience networking and marketing using social media
- Understand the subtle difference between print and web writing
- Be comfortable using online publishing platforms, such as WordPress
Other skills that might be useful include:
- Experience in photography
- Knowledge of graphic design or desktop publishing programs
What Freelance Writers Get Paid
Because of the relative ease of entry, very low start-up costs, and a better than average opportunity to work from home, writing is a highly competitive business. Further, because the market is full, pay for many types of writing has dropped, especially for online writing.
What you get paid for freelance writing will depend on several factors including:
- Type of writing you do
- Length and amount of work that goes into the writing
- Knowledge level required by to do the writing
- Who you write for
Payscale reports that the average writer gets paid anywhere from $10.67 to $51.77 per hour with a median income of $36,781 per year. If you go through general freelance websites, you'll likely find lower paying writing jobs. Many bloggers offer low pay as well. In fact, some writing work pay is so low, it's not worth your time (i.e. $5 or $10 per article).
Copywriting is usually the most lucrative paying work, and sometimes even pays royalties based on how well your marketing does.
If you have a special knowledge or skill set, you may be able to earn more. For example, many health and wellness resources want nutritionists or other certified professionals to write for them. Because the certification is a requirement for the work, the job often pays more.
It helps to know how much you need to make and determine your per hour rate before agreeing to take on writing work. For example, if it takes you one hour to write a 600-word article for $50 but two hours to write a 1500 word article for $75, the shorter $50 option is better ($50 per hour versus $37.50 per hour for the longer article).
If you're just starting out, you may need to settle for lower pay in the beginning, but once you have experience and referrals, you can increase your rates or seek higher paying writing work.
Finding Writing Work/Clients
There are a number of ways to find clients as a freelance writer. Unfortunately, it can be a challenge to get those first few assignments when you're starting out. Before you start seeking work, there are a few freelance writing tasks you should do first:
- Define the type of writer you're going to be. Will you write articles online or create marketing materials? Will you specialize in a topic (i.e. technology) or industry (i.e. real estate).
- Make a list of topics you're knowledgeable about. It will be easier to break in as a writer if you start with topics you're familiar with. Further, make a list of your credentials which can often lead to higher pay. For example, if you have a masters degree or are certified as a specialist.
- Determine your pricing for writing work. While some jobs will have a set fee, in some cases you'll be able to negotiate your pay.
- Draft a few sample pieces related to the type of writing and topic you want to do. Or if you have already been paid to write, gather these clips together so you can submit them as a sample of your writing skill.
- Consider setting up a LinkedIn profile or a website to send potential clients to so they can learn more about you. Having an online resume and profile will be crucial to getting hired.
- Learn how to write Request for Proposals (RFP) to your potential clients.
Once you're ready to market yourself as a writer, your next step is to find work. Here are a few ideas:
- Freelance writing job sites: There are a host of great resources for freelance writing gigs, such as MediaBistro.com, WritersWeekly.com, and JournalismJobs.com. LinkedIn is a great place to network for jobs, but also, has freelance writing job listings.
- Writer market resources: If you're looking to pitch articles to print or online magazines, writer's market resources provide submission guidelines for thousands of markets. The Writers Market by Writers Digest is the most well-known source, but there are other resources you can check as well. You can check out writer's market books at your library if you want to save the money instead of buying one. WritersWeekly.com and AllFreelanceWriting.com have a large database of the market.
- Network: Many freelancers find work through Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networking.
- General freelance websites: Many of the freelance websites, such as Upwork and Freelancer.com, have listings of writing jobs.
- Referral: Don't forget to ask your current clients for referrals. Most successful freelancers build most of their business through referrals.
Being Successful as a Freelance Writer
Because you'll need to be marketing and juggling multiple clients at one time, organization and workflow systems will be helpful to insure you have steady work that gets done on time. Here are a few ideas to help you build a successful freelance writing career:
- Have a portfolio. While LinkedIn is a great resource to store your writing resume and accolades, having your own blog or website will establish you as a professional, and be a great place to organize your writing portfolio.
- Develop a system for asking for referrals. Some of the most successful freelancers get the majority of their work through referrals.
- Set up your invoicing and accounts receivable system right away. It's easy to get bogged down in the writing, and forget to send an invoice or follow up on someone who hasn't paid.
- Deliver your best work by the deadline. If something comes up that will impact the work, always communicate with your client, and work to find a solution (i.e. outsource to someone else) that will have the least amount of impact on the client.