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Monday, May 27, 2024

Follow this Step-by-Step Guide to become a Freelance Writer


So, you want to launch a business but you need a step-by-step guide to become a freelance writer? No problem! We’ve got it covered for you.

This ultimate guide to becoming a freelance writer will go in-depth to reveal exactly what you need to learn about how to get started.

Each chapter of this 7,000+ word guide covers an important topic for getting started plus an FAQ to answer the biggest questions on the subject.

You’ll learn the basics about starting your freelance career and get actionable advice and sound strategies that successful freelancers are using right now to succeed.

We’ll also cover how to evaluate your skills, how to price your work, how to land your first paying job, and more!

a graphic to illustrate a step-by-step guide to become a freelance writer

A Quick Word Before We Get into the Step-by-Step Guide to Become a Freelance Writer

Before we get started, it’s important to understand that everyone will have a slightly different path towards success in freelance writing.

Freelancing can be an incredibly rewarding and flexible career path, or even just a great side hustle. Unfortunately, getting started can feel intimidating.

Before you even learn how to become a freelance writer, you have to find your why. Why should you get into freelance writing? What’s the scenario that tends to lead to success?

Key factors:

  • You love writing with a passion
  • You are willing to write about topics that aren’t your personal favorites
  • You’re willing to aggressively market your services
  • You’re game to learn new writing tools, types, and skills to keep up with market needs
  • You are realistic about how much work it will take, how long it will take to launch this, and how tough the competition is

In our experience, these factors are the basis for building a successful freelance writing business. This isn’t a lark, or a fill-in project, or something you can do in 10 minutes a day.

It takes talent, dedication, and a commitment to seeing it through. If you’ve got that, you can build a freelance writing business that will give you the financial rewards you want, and the personal freedom we all seek.

The steps below are a basic guideline based on our own personal experiences, and the experiences of hundreds of writers in the Freelance Writer’s Den community. This guide is intended for beginners looking for the very first steps they should take.

For more experienced writers who already know how to be a freelance writer, feel free to explore the rest of this site, or check out the Den, for more advanced tactics.

Chapter 1: Evaluate Your Skills and Specialties

skills and specialties

Before looking for your first writing job, it’s wise to take an honest look at your own skills and relevant experiences. This will help you carve out a niche for yourself as a freelance writer.

Some questions to ask yourself might include:

  • Are you a good writer?
  • Do you have examples to prove it?
  • Do you need some training before confidently saying that you are a skilled writer?
  • Do you have any topics that you are a true expert in?
  • Do you have any topics that you are genuinely interested in writing about?
  • Do you know how to create original content?

Equally important is to consider what niche or type of writing you may be interested in. The best method to become a freelance writer may be somewhat different for writers looking to blog than it will be for those looking to become copywriters, as an example. It also may be slightly different for those looking to get into healthcare writing than finance writing.

FAQ

Q: Do I need to choose a niche for my business?

A: Only if you’d like to make this launch process quick and easy. It’s hard to market yourself as a freelance writer, because that’s so broad, and that’s a common mistake many make when learning how to start freelance writing. Clients aren’t searching for that—they’re searching for a freelance technology writer, or a Dallas healthcare writer, or something similar.

They want to know if you write their type of thing, so the broad approach often attracts zero clients. Being a generalist also makes it harder to build expertise and raise your rates.

Q: What is a niche?

A: Good question—what we mean is an industry, such as healthcare, software, finance, marina management, metal-smithing. Think of these as niche verticals.

You could also niche horizontally, meaning you specialize in one type of writing, like only case studies or blog posts. We don’t recommend going this route, as a newbie. It’s much harder to get enough clients when you limit yourself to a single type of writing, and easier when you’re a utility player with knowledge of a particular industry sector.

Once you’re established and are turning away offers, you can become someone who does only one type of writing if you so desire. Until then, focus on industries of interest and write whatever clients need—that’s the quickest way to become a freelance writer and get this going.

Q: How do I know what a good niche for me would be?

A: Your easiest, best-earning niches generally lie where your experiences and interests intersect with a lucrative topic or industry.

Not sure whether your niche idea would work? Ask yourself, “Who would the big-money clients (or publications) be in this niche, that would pay great rates and have steady work?”

If that question is hard to answer, it’s probably not a great niche. If you’re unfamiliar with the writing marketplace, you’ll want to join a writer community where you can ask around and learn from working pros.

Q: Do I just choose one niche?

A: Actually, we advise choosing two or three. Staying a bit diverse will help keep your business thriving as the economy and individual industries wax and wane.

Q: Isn’t it bad to turn away clients who aren’t in my niche, when I’m just starting out?

A: Weirdly, it isn’t. Writing for everyone and anyone makes your career very scattered, and it’s hard to get any traction. Like they say, the riches are in the niches. Focusing your writing on a few topics will help you quickly gain expertise and impress clients.

Q: What if I super-hate the idea of choosing niches, and I want to stay a generalist?

A: Hey, it’s your business to run—we’re just trying to make this succeed quickly.

One other way to niche your business is by geography. For example, you can market yourself as a Dallas Freelance Writer. If you’re in a mid to larger-sized city this can also work, if you like working with local clients.

Chapter 2: Understand the Basics

Understand the Basics

If you are new to freelance writing, you’ll want to learn the basics of how to be a freelance writer before going after a paid job.

The Freelance Writer’s Den is a membership community that helps freelance writers find better-paying jobs, hone their writing skills, and level up their freelance careers. There are 300+ hours of video and audio trainings, tons of forum resources, excellent networking opportunities, quarterly bootcamps, and so much more. For newcomers and experts alike, the service is well worth the cost of admission.

For absolute beginners, understanding the essential elements of freelancing is vital. The tips below provide a crash-course.

Pricing FAQs

Q: How do I know what to charge my first clients?

A: There are a few ways to figure this out. First off, if you’re writing for a publication, they may have set rates and tell you what they are.

If not, you can ask clients what their budget is—and sometimes, they’ll tell you.

If their lips are zipped on that, you can ask around that network you’re building, to learn about typical rates. You can also calculate your daily rate, and simply charge what you need to, to pay your bills and maintain the lifestyle you want.

Tip: Don’t worry a lot about pay rates in your early days. It’s more important that you get to work for good clients in your niches, and build your portfolio. You can just keep raising your rates as you go, until they’re where they need to be.

Q: Should I charge by the word, hour, page, or project?

A: Ideally, you want to charge by the project. Project rates are especially great for newbies, because then your client won’t be penalized if it takes you longer to write than a more experienced writer. They’re what pros do—we’re not hourly clerks, as writers.

When you work on project rates, you will automatically increase your hourly rate over time, as you become more efficient and take less time to write. And your client will never be the wiser. So yeah. Project rates all the way.

Q: What’s a good average hourly rate my freelance writing should work out to?

A: If you’re in the West, try to aim for at least $25 to $35 USD per hour with first clients as a newbie. Less will mean you’ll never earn enough to stay afloat. Aim to rapidly raise that into the $50 to $75 USD an hour range, and keep moving up from there. Experienced freelance writers earn $75 to $100 USD an hour and more.

Q: How do I know how long it will take me to do projects?

A: By tracking your time, there is lots of free software out there for that. Figure out how long it takes you, and then challenge yourself to get it done faster on the next project. Keep improving!

Process

  • Writers can find work by applying for jobs/projects, or by pitching publications
  • Pitching a specific project or article idea gets a way better response than “Hi, do you need a writer for anything?”
  • The most common types of work available are blog posts, how-to guides, product reviews, and buying guides
  • Other great ideas for beginner jobs include rewriting local small business websites, contributing community newspapers and magazines, writing for local marketing and ad agencies (have them outsource their client work to you!), and more. Check out our full guide to entry-level writing jobs for more ideas
  • Clients will typically supply topics, and often keywords that should be used
  • Clients will generally have an expectation for article length (in number of words)
  • It is up to the writer to research the topic and cover it appropriately
  • Depending on the client, drafts may be delivered via Word documents, Google Docs, or uploaded directly to a website via WordPress or another website backend
  • Revisions (edits) will often be necessary, particularly when starting out. You likely won’t be paid for revisions, as the rate is calculated based on the final word count

Chapter 3: Collect (or Create) Writing Samples

Collect Writing Samples

To land a project, you will almost always need to show examples of your writing. At first, you can get away with simply sending samples to positions you are applying for—but eventually, you will want to have a website to display your work (see step 5 for details).

You will want to choose samples that show off your skills as a writer. Ideally, they should be relevant to the actual topics you want to be paid to write about, although this is not always possible.

There are different “tiers” of writing samples that you can use. Here are some examples:

  • Ideal: A published article or blog post on an authoritative website, on a topic relating to the project you are applying for
  • Good: A published article or blog post on an authoritative website
  • Decent: A published article on a random website, a college paper, a detailed Amazon product review
  • Avoid: Personal essays, high school papers, etc.

Once you have your samples, it’s time to move on to finding an actual paid writing job!

Samples FAQ

Q: How can I get clients when I don’t have any samples yet?

A: The easiest way is to go out and get some samples. This is also known as working pro bono. You’ll want to choose publications or companies to work with that will give you great samples in your chosen niches.

Define a limited project, and get a testimonial to go with your sample. Boom! Once you have four to six, you’re ready to impress paying customers.

Q: Is guest posting a good way to get samples?

A: It can be, especially if it’s on a popular site. If you’re posting free for exposure, be sure to choose your sites carefully, and appear where your clients might see your byline.

Q: What about writing for content mills, as a way to get first clips?
A: We don’t recommend it, even for those struggling to land their first writing jobs. The requirements of mill work are very different from what you’ll be asked to do in well-paid client work, so it doesn’t serve as a very effective training ground. Often, you don’t end up with clips you can use—they’re ghostwritten for an end client who isn’t identified. Also, mills can be capricious about who they ban or give crummy ratings to. You’re basically not in control of your career.

Meanwhile, the tiny pay makes you wonder if you could actually make money writing very fast on there…and the answer is no, you usually can’t. But writers get stuck writing for tiny pay in mills, for years on end. Mill work is also fading away, as there’s less call for short, dashed-off, SEO-keyword-stuffed content, because Google doesn’t like that anymore. So it’s increasingly a dead-end street.

By contrast, doing pro bono work for small publications or small businesses for your first samples gives you clips that impress, and keeps clarity that you can’t earn this way and will need to move up. It also gives you real-world experience writing for the exact types of clients you want.

Q: What about using posts from my own blog as samples?

A: It’s better than nothing, but not ideal. Clients know you didn’t have to please an editor or marketing manager and could publish whatever you wanted, so it doesn’t exactly impress. But if you write kick-ass headlines and get a lot of comments and shares on your blog posts, it could help you lure those first clients.

Q: Does it matter if the sample I do is for a relative or friend?

A: Not really. If they’ve got a small business, an e-commerce site, or edit the hometown paper, go for it!

Chapter 4: Find Your First Gig

Find Your First Gig

It’s almost time to start writing!

Now, you just have to find your first paid writing job.

When you’re just starting out, try to keep your expectations in check. Are you going to land your dream client right off the bat? Almost certainly not. However, any project will give you valuable experience that you can use to build towards securing the type of work that you truly want.

How do you find freelance gigs? Make a Living Writing maintains a huge database of paying markets for writers. Here you can find websites that pay writers to submit articles and blog posts. Each website will have different requirements and pay rates. Some are beginner-friendly, while others require a solid portfolio.

Our own lists of paying markets are a great place to start when learning how to be a freelance writer. We highly recommend checking out those markets (find one that fits your desired niche) and start pitching!

Alternatively, there are a variety of job boards and forums made specifically for freelance writers and bloggers. On these boards, clients post online writing jobs and projects that writers can apply for. Some examples include:

The downside of job boards is that they can be competitive, with potentially hundreds of applications for a single position. That’s why we recommend pitching those publications in our market lists. Having said that, many projects are quick to apply for, so it’s still worthwhile to send out applications for roles you are interested in.

Lastly, you have sites like Upwork, Fiverr, and others which are basically platforms to connect freelancers and clients. In general, we recommend avoiding these platforms. They are extremely competitive, and often pay poorly. We also recommend avoiding “content mills”, which are businesses that sell content to clients, and pay writers a small fraction of the revenue to actually write the content.

Client FAQs

Q: How do I find my first clients?

A: There are two basic approaches—you can look in your town for clients in your niche, or you can look online. Look at the online presence of businesses you like, go talk to owners, and propose a project to help get them more clients.

If you’re in a small town or not in the same country as your prospective clients, you’ll be looking online. There are plenty of blogs that offer unpaid guest posts, and many that pay for guest posts.

You can also target small business websites in your niches—most business owners are overwhelmed, not good writers, and will really appreciate the help.

Q: What is the one best, free, fastest way to market my services?

A: There isn’t a single answer to that question, because it depends a lot on you. (We warned you up top some answers would be it depends!) There are many free and low-cost ways to market your writing.

We’re marketing-method agnostic—meaning we don’t care how you do it, as long as you do lots of it. Think in terms of 100 pieces of freelance marketing per month, to get launched.

You could send customized marketing emails, do in-person networking events, pick up the phone and cold call, work your LinkedIn network, send direct-mail packages out. It’s all good, and more. We’ve actually taught 40 Ways to Market Your Writing. Lots of ways to skin the freelance marketing cat.

Think about your personality and the types of clients you want and how they do marketing—you may want to use a similar mode to how they reach out to clients. Then, study the best practices in that form of marketing and feedback from your writer network, so you know how to crush it.

Q: Who do I pitch at businesses?

A: In a small company, it may be the CEO. Beyond there, look for a marketing manager. The guy whose name is on the press release is often a good pick.

Q: Which editor should I try at a magazine?

A:  Managing editor is my default, if there isn’t an articles, features, or editor in my specific topic, i.e. “health editor.” Above the managing editor, those editors aren’t really editing the paper.

Q: What if I don’t have enough article ideas to get assignments regularly?

A: Then don’t write articles. There’s a ton of paid writing for businesses, where they will dictate the topics. Alternatively, learn about how to be a story idea machine.

Q: What about responding to online job ads?

A: Most mass online job boards such as Craigslist are a waste of your time. All those postings will get hundreds of responses, so your statistical odds of getting hired through them are tiny. Look for niche boards that aren’t as widely circulated, or boards where either job-seekers or employers have to pay to participate, such as FlexJobs or LinkedIn Jobs.

Q: How do I know if an online offer of writing work is a scam?

A: Try Googling: “Is <site name> a scam?” and see what comes up. That’ll usually help. For instance, there’s this classic scam. You can also use the “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” test.

Q: I found this site, Master Writing Jobs—do you think I should sign up?

A: Actually, the consensus is that Master Writing Jobs is a scam. To build a thriving freelance business, you’re going to need to develop a good nose for what’s a legit offer. Any site that makes you join and pay a fee before you can see any testimonials or info about what the platform offers, you wanna run.

One of the biggest ways new freelance writers waste time is signing up on various platforms that promise to give them loads of great-paying writing jobs. Know that There. Is. No. Such. Platform. Finding your own clients is what’s for dinner, if you want to pay your bills with freelance writing.

Q: Do I need a contract?

A: Only if you want to get paid to write. There are plenty of examples online. Your freelance contract doesn’t have to be long or complicated—a brief email your client responds to with ‘I agree’ that outlines the deadline/wordcount/pay terms will work. You can also use online-signature solutions for a full-blown contract, such as DocuSign, or attach a Word Doc. Having a good contract in place will go a long way to making your invoicing process smoother.

Q: Should I get an up-front deposit to start working?

A: With business clients, absolutely yes. Fifty percent up-front deposit to begin work is typical. Publications don’t work that way, they will pay on acceptance or publication. Strive for the former.

Q: What if clients want me to be available on nights or weekends, when I want time off?

A: It’s your business to run. You set the parameters of when you’ll be available. Usually, it’ll work out fine, but you may occasionally turn down a client who wants you available 24/7.

Q: What if I’m in a different time zone than my clients, will that be a problem?

A: Mostly no. Beyond a first (virtual) meeting, most clients don’t need a lot of real-time contact.

Q: What if I invoice my client but they’re not paying me?

A: You have a range of options to get flaky freelance clients to pay up. If it happens a lot, realize that you need to change where and how you prospect for clients. Check out our full freelancer invoicing guide for more useful tips.

Q: What if I want to ask for a raise?

A: Like all businesses, you should be looking to raise your rates steadily as you go. Here’s a post on how to raise rates with existing clients.

Chapter 5: Create a Portfolio Website and Online Presence

create a website

To come across as more professional, and to land higher-tier clients, you will want to create a writing portfolio website. Not only does this lend you credibility, it can also help clients find you, rather than the other way around.

Most writers will be best served by creating a relatively simple portfolio website. This can feel intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be!

For beginners, the easiest way to set up a portfolio site is with Squarespace.

You don’t have to be tech savvy or a designer to create a beautiful portfolio website for your freelancing business. Squarespace makes it really easy to create a site with tons of beautiful templates to choose from.

Click here to learn more about Squarespace and begin building your portfolio today!

You’ll also want to expand your online presence by being active on social media. LinkedIn is a particularly great online neighborhood for writers to hang out in.

Portfolio FAQ

Q: I know I need somewhere online people can find me—but as a broke newbie, what can I do?

A: Once you get rolling, a writer website will is very important to have. In addition, you can also use your LinkedIn profile (here’s my tip-sheet on how to optimize your profile). You can go a long way putting your portfolio on LinkedIn. You can add clips to Experience entries, and also in your Summary.

Q: Why not just put clips on Contently or an Upwork profile, or somewhere like that?

A: Mass writer sites have a reputation for low rates—and their platform makes it easier to browse through others’ portfolios than to find your contact info. By contrast, LinkedIn is a huge platform where great companies are searching for freelancers, every day. We think it’s a better place to look pro.

Q: What if I don’t have a byline on my clips, like with copywriting work?

A: You can still use your clips in your portfolio, as long as you didn’t sign a nondisclosure agreement that swore you to secrecy that you authored the work.

Q: What if my clips are too old?

A: There’s actually no such thing. You’ll be surprised how seldom prospects care about the age of your clips—they just want to read your work. If you have old print clips that aren’t online, see if a good print shop can create a PDF for you, where the article is readable.

Q: What if I want to do a writer website now, as a newbie?

A: Great idea! Makes you look more professional. And the secret is, the copy you write on your writer website is a writing sample. It can be your first clip. You can get good web-copy jobs from writing your own terrific site copy!

Q: What if I have a blog—can I use that as my writer website?

A: It’s not ideal, unless your blog is very successful and popular. Then, you can put a hire me tab up and solicit writing jobs there. A writer website is a stronger way to present yourself, where the home page is all about your client and the services you offer, rather than an ever-changing set of blog post headlines.

Q: I’m not very technical. How can I get up a good writer website?

A: Squarespace offers the easiest way to create a portfolio site for your writing business. You don’t really need any special knowledge or tech skills to get a website that looks professional and stylish. Squarespace has a ton of great templates to choose from, and makes it easy to just plug in your content and publish your own website.

Chapter 6: Improve Your Skills

Improve Your Skills

Your first few months as a freelance writer will likely feature a steep learning curve. Once you get familiar with the basics, you should continue to improve your skills in order to further your career and increase your earning potential.

One of the best ways to level up your skills as a freelance writer is to sign up for the Freelance Writer’s Den. This subscription will get you access to over 300 hours of exclusive boot camps and classes, eBooks and other learning materials. Plus, you will enjoy ongoing access to a friendly community of 500+ freelance writers!

The Freelance Writer’s Den covers all the bases. It can help make you a better writer, but it will also teach you practical skills such as how to price your work, how to pitch clients, and how to remain productive while working from home.

Click here to learn more about the Freelance Writer’s Den!

Skills FAQ

Q: What’s the best way to make sure I do a great job on my assignment?

A: Study the publication, the blog, or the company materials you are writing for. Really take it apart. How do they start their articles, quote their sources, how long are paragraphs, what sort of experts do they use? How do they conclude? Then, you do that.

Q: I’m scared to turn in my writing to my client. What should I do?

A: Have a writer-friend give it a read and make suggestions. Or consider trading services with an editor for a while, while you build confidence.

Q: What if my article gets killed?

A: Like the old song says: Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again. Can’t let any little setbacks get in the way of your freelance dreams!

Q: My client hated my first draft, and I’m devastated. How can I prevent this problem?

A: Ask more questions up-front. Learn about the tone, style, and content the client needs. Pros ask a lot of questions. Here are some key questions to ask copywriting clients.

Chapter 7: Handle Your Housekeeping

Get Organized

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new side hustle or career path, and lose sight of the basic tasks you need to do to run your business. As a freelancer, here are just a few of the “housekeeping” items that you’ll want to keep in mind:

  • Keeping accurate records of income and expenses
  • Invoicing clients
  • Setting aside money to pay for taxes (as a freelancer, taxes are not withheld from your payments, so you must set aside money yourself)
  • Seeking out new projects (even if you have work right now)
  • Following up with old clients to gauge their interest in working together again
  • Learning and improving your skills
  • Pitching your dream clients
  • Adding new samples to your portfolio website
  • Networking with other writers, business owners, and marketing professionals

Remember that as a freelancer, you are really a business. This means you need to take routine tasks like bookkeeping seriously, and continue seeking out new clients in order to keep your schedule full.

So there you have it: Our step-by-step How to become a freelance writer in just seven steps. This guide will help you get off on the right foot on your new journey into a successful freelance business. As you hone your skills and gain confidence, you will be able to improve your earning potential, land better clients, and enjoy your work more.

Business FAQs

Q: Do I need to register my business?

A: No one can make you, but it’s a good idea. In the United States, if you want to write off your business expenses, being registered with state and city tax authorities helps convince the IRS (or your national tax body) you’re a real business.

Q: What should I name my business?

A: Just starting out, your own name is fine. You can always choose another name later, or “do business as” (DBA) another name.

If you want to be fancy and have serious branding for your freelance writing biz, we recommend choosing a name with keywords that would help clients find you, like: “Healthcare Writer Dana.” Avoid meaningless words and phrases such as “communications” or “solutions,” that don’t really say what you do.

Q: Can I use a fake name in freelance writing?

A: Not usually, no. Noms de plume are for fiction authors. You’ll need to reveal your real name when you get paid to write, anyway—and having a fake identity will make editors wonder what you’re hiding. There’s a legit exception to this if you’re a woman with a stalker…we’ve known people in that sitch, and editors do understand. But otherwise, not ideally.

Q: Do I need a separate checking account for my business?

A: Yes. Just get one. You can thank me later for sparing you endless hours trying to keep your business and personal expenses/income separate.

Q: Do I need to become an LLC or corporation to be a freelance writer?

A: No, it’s not 100% necessary. An LLC does provide a layer of liability protection between your personal assets such as a home or car, and your business. But if you don’t lie or make stuff up, you’ll likely never be sued, so it’s not a big concern, especially just starting out.

Q: What tools do I need for running my business?

A: Beyond a computer and the Internet, the rest is optional. If you want to be more pro, choose a solution such as Freshbooks (free 30-day trial) for tracking your income and expenses. Most would-be freelance writers spend way too much time wondering if they need a grammar app, and not enough time trying to find clients.

Q: What do I need to know about taxes?

A: Not much, the first year. You’ll just pay what you owe, end of the year. Set aside a portion of your freelance income for taxes that’s similar to the tax bracket you had last year, as a guesstimate. In the U.S., once you hit the level of owing $1,000 or more in annual tax as a self-employed person, you’ll make estimated quarterly tax payments, based on the previous year’s income.

Q: What about health insurance?

A: If you’re leaving a job and taking the plunge into freelancing, you’ll want to make sure you have health insurance. The good news is there are numerous viable self-employed health insurance plans available for freelancers.

5 Major Lessons Learned Over Many Years of Freelancing

5 Lessons

We’ve learned a LOT over the years. Reflecting on my experiences, these are the key lessons that we wish we’d known when starting out:

  1. Charge more when you are qualified. Once you reach a certain level of skill and experience, your time is simply worth more. It may seem absurd that someone would pay you $50, $75, $100 or more per hour just to write articles, but the reality is that quality content is in very high demand. Know your worth, and don’t be afraid to ask for more money—even from existing clients. On the flip side, recognize that as a beginner, you may not be paid much, and that’s okay when first starting out.
  2. Create value. The best way to charge more for your work is to truly create value for your clients. Ultimately, a project that you charge $1,000 for should create more than $1,000 in value for the client. In many cases, this requires understanding your client’s business, making suggestions, and going out of your way to deliver excellent content.
  3. Cultivate specialties. Landing high-tier projects often requires samples that are directly related to the topic. Because of this, one of the most impactful things you can do for your career as a freelancer is to find and cultivate topic specialties. Selecting two to three topics will usually be the best strategy. You may have to start out with lower-paying jobs just to establish yourself in an industry, but ultimately this will be worth the time investment.
  4. Learn the industry. Understanding the business models of your clients is incredibly helpful. For many writers, this means learning about affiliate marketing. By truly understanding the why behind your work, you can offer substantially more value to your clients—and to your readers.
  5. Be a business. For sustainable success as a freelancer, you need to think of yourself as a business. Ditch the working habits and expectations of a traditional employee, and start thinking about yourself as an entrepreneur. Practically speaking, this means figuring out an efficient and cost-effective invoicing and payment system, drafting basic contracts to protect yourself from scams, and marketing your services appropriately. This is not a switch that you can make overnight, but in my opinion, it’s important to work on for your long-term success.

7 Terrible Reasons to Become a Freelance Writer

Terrible Reasons

Here’s a question for you: Why do you want to become a freelance writer?

It’s worth taking a minute to ponder that. Because pursuing freelance writing for the wrong reasons can spell big problems.

Here are the seven most common reasons we hear from people for why they want to become a freelance writer—and why these wrongheaded motivations often doom those freelance-writing dreams. The items in quotes are all compiled directly from our email inbox:

1. Temporary panic. “I was laid off recently and haven’t been able to find another job, so I thought I’d try this while I keep looking.”

No one wants to hire a writer who is just on a temporary visa to the land of freelance writing.  Who’s sticking one toe in the freelance waters.

Editors and business owners want to hire stable freelancers who are dedicated to working in this mode. Also, dividing your energy between trying to land the next day job and freelancing doesn’t often bring a good outcome for either pursuit.

As Yoda said, there is no “try” in freelance writing. That implies half an effort—and that’s not going to make it happen. There is only making a wholehearted commitment to it, and doing it.

2. You think you’ve got no other options. “I have a disability/must stay home to care for my disabled child/spouse/parent, so I can’t do anything else.”

There are many work-from-home jobs that are easier to ramp up and do than freelance writing. Be a virtual assistant, for instance. Be a remote-based employee for a company—call centers hire lots of personnel that way now. Freelance writing is not your only option, and if you’re choosing it simply because it’s the only idea you’ve got, keep exploring.

Freelance writing is difficult to earn well at if you can never leave the house or take a phone call. Yes, you can build some business online, but eventually, good clients want to take meetings or hop on Zoom. This may not be compatible with your situation.

3. You don’t like writing. “Writing isn’t something I’m that enthusiastic about, but I’ve researched the options and this seems like the only thing with the flexibility I need.”

You may laugh, but you’d be surprised how many people seem to choose freelance writing by throwing a dart at a board. It’s not a passion, they haven’t been writing compulsively all their lives. But they have weighed the freelance options and selected writing from a list of possibilities.

Unfortunately, we’ve never met a thriving freelance writer who dislikes writing. That’s because freelance writing isn’t like writing a novel or your journal. It involves working hard on writing craft, marketing, and pleasing clients.

If you don’t start with love of the core task you’ll be doing all day, you’re not going to stick with this. It’ll be agony.

4. You’re unrealistic. “I have five free hours a week and desperately need to quit my job, so I’m planning to quickly launch a freelance writing business in my free time.”

This is a fantasy. Launching a freelance writing business that will pay all your bills will take quite a while to ramp if you only have a few hours a week.

What will likely happen instead is you will hop on content mills and earn a few pennies, because you have no marketing time. You will be very overworked between your day job and this, but it will never add up to a situation where you’ll feel confident quitting your job.

5. You don’t understand the marketplace. “I’m hoping I can earn a living as a freelance writer by getting paid to write poetry/short stories/opinions/essays/book reviews.”

It’s sad to say, but there is little reliable, well-paid writing in these areas. The bulk of paid freelance writing work is nonfiction, reported articles for magazines, and writing for businesses.

If you could pay the mortgage with poems, you wouldn’t find poets serving as many publication editors to pay the bills. You’ll need to broaden your horizons and learn new writing forms if you want to make a steady living from writing.

6. You’re allergic to business. “I really hate everything to do with business, but I’m planning to suck it up and find some clients.”

OK, this one is a big, big problem. Business-haters need to understand that 1) you are going into business yourself here, so that makes you a self-hater and 2) businesses are a big source of great pay in freelance writing.

If you’re coming into it holding your nose, it’s doubtful you’re going to be able to do the marketing necessary or tolerate working for the clients who pay the big bucks.

7. You’re a full-time mom. “I want to be a freelance writer so that I can homeschool/unschool/stay home full time with my baby/preschooler(s).”

This one is the biggest myth in freelancing, that you will somehow magically find great clients and meet their deadlines while the howling baby who also kept you up all night sits on your hip. Or while you create from scratch and teach Liam with your custom-crafted, multi-sensory homeschool curriculum. Not. Going. To. Happen.

They say being a mom is a full-time job because…it’s a full-time job. And so is freelance writing.

Our Freelance Writers Den forums are full of posts from new moms who are having nervous breakdowns because they’re slowly going broke and can’t get any freelance traction and can’t figure out why. The answer is: You need childcare, hon.

Grandmas or babysitting swaps with other work-at-home moms can be a great solution for a while, but sooner or later, kids need to go to preschool or a nanny comes or there’s a child care center that becomes your friend. For at least a few reliable, half-day blocks of time.

Yes, you can write while they nap (for a couple years) and late at night/early in the morning (if you’re not too tired), and maybe cobble together a small income. But if you’re quitting your corporate job in hopes of replacing a $50,000 income with an occasional spot of writing work you dash off at naptime, that is a pipe dream.

Ready to Become a Freelance Writer?

Now that you know how to become a freelance writer, the only thing to do is get started! Start pitching prospective clients, applying to jobs on quality job boards, and doing everything else you can to get the ball rolling on your career.

Need more help along the way?

While you wait for the Freelance Writers Den to accept more members, we highly recommend checking out the Den 2X Income Accelerator now to get an affordable, self-study version of coach Carol Tice’s proven program for doubling your income (or more)! You’ll learn exactly how to take your career from zero to six figures with a proven blueprint.

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