How to Become a Freelance Writer: 6 Steps You Need to Take to Get Started
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The secret is out. Freelance writing has become one of the best ways to make money online, whether you’re looking for a little extra money or a new career. But getting started as a freelance writer is easier said than done. Thankfully, with the right skills and by following a few key steps, you can become a freelance writer.
The Benefits of Freelance Writing
Freelance writers experience many benefits from their work. Here are just a few perks you can expect when you make money writing:
- Work from anywhere. All you need is a laptop and an internet connection
- Be your own boss. Enjoy the flexibility that self-employment offers
- Work for clients across the globe. Your potential client base is unlimited
- Time flexibility. As a freelancer, you set your own schedule
- High earning potential. The more experience you get, the more you can charge
- Escape the daily commute. You’re no longer tethered to the office
How Much Do Freelance Writers Make?
There is no set amount of money that you earn as a freelancer. In my first month, I made less than $200. Last month, I made $4000, working 12 hours per week. It makes for a great side income in addition to my career.
Many full-time freelance writers make 6-figure incomes, but getting to that point takes time, not to mention a lot of hard work. How much you make depends on several factors; your experience level, the niche you are writing in, the types of clients you work for, how hard you hustle, etc.
Skills Required to Become a Successful Freelance Writer
In addition to the one obvious skill you need to become a successful freelance writer, I highly recommend that you spend time developing the following skill sets. It doesn’t mean that you need to be an expert at everything right away; in fact, quite the opposite is true. But the more knowledge you have in these areas, the more value you will add to a prospective client.
One sure-fire way to get repeat business as a freelancer is by delivering accurate work that doesn’t require a lot of editing. That’s why before any of my work gets submitted, I run it through an editing app called Grammarly. Grammarly does a lot more than correct punctuation or spelling; it improves my writing clarity and tone. A premium subscription is about $12/month, but it’s worth every penny as a professional writer.
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is the process of optimizing online content to get it onto the first page of the Google search engine when a person enters a specific keyword. As a freelance writer, if you can write articles that rank on Google, you will increase your value proposition to prospective clients. For this reason, it’s a good idea to spend some time learning the basics of SEO.
One of the best ways to develop your writing skills, and build a writing portfolio, is by starting a blog. You’ll learn a variety of crucial skills, including SEO, how to build an audience and captivate a reader, and how to format an article correctly. I think that every writer should have their own writing space online. Your blog can serve as a home base of sorts, where you promote your services as a freelance writer.
Even the most experienced freelance writers get rejected when they pitch new clients. That’s why, to become a successful freelancer, you need to be persistent and possess a thick skin. Don’t take rejection personally; it’s the nature of the business.
Image Editing Skills
Consider this, ‘other duties as assigned.’ As a freelance writer, you may be called upon to source or edit images to support an article. You could use a professional application like Photoshop, but I prefer to use free photo editing apps, like Canva and PicMonkey. If you aren’t familiar, I recommend signing up for one of the two (they’re both great!) and spend some time getting to know how to use it. I pay $12/month for Canva Pro for some added features, and because it gives you access to over 60 million stock photos.
Successful freelance writers do more than just write. Every week they spend time pitching new clients, keeping track of their projects, creating and sending invoices, networking, communicating with editors, and so on and so on. I rely on several tools to help me stay organized. I use this habit tracker to keep track of my projects and my monthly revenue. It’s so effective that I increased my income by over 600% in the first four months I used it!
Other tools I use to stay organized; Wave Accounting for client invoicing, Trello to manage my to-do list, and Google Calendar to keep on schedule.
How to Get Started as a Freelance Writer
Now that you’re familiar with the skills required for freelance writing, the following six steps will help you get started:
Step 1. Pick Your Niche
The most successful freelance writers are the ones who specialize in a particular niche. The narrower your area of focus, the easier it will be to find writing jobs. But how do you find your niche? Start by choosing a subject that interests you and where you have some expertise or experience.
Take Eric Rosenberg, for example. He’s a six-figure freelance writer who we’ve featured here at ZTF. Eric’s primary niche is finance, with some clients in the travel and technology space. As Eric explains, “I mostly write articles around credit cards, banking, investing, and managing your money.”
Know what Eric did before he was a personal finance writer? He worked as a bank manager and accounting professional. Oh, and he happens to be passionate about travel as well.
So, make a list of the things you enjoy doing, or where your experience lies. In all likelihood, these are the topics you should be writing on.
Step 2. Consider Taking an Online Course
You don’t need a degree to become a freelance writer. But you may benefit from taking an online course in freelance writing as you get started. Here’s the thing. Most online courses are created by people who have done what you’re trying to do. They’ve learned from their mistakes, and they’re able to teach you things they wish they had known when starting.
Another benefit of taking an online course is that it usually includes membership in an online community with the course creator and the other participants. It’s an excellent opportunity to build relationships with other like-minded people and learn from each other. You may even get some clients from it.
Not all online courses are worth the money, so make sure you do your research to determine if it’s the right fit. A couple that I recommend: Freelance Writing for Bloggers is perfect for beginners, especially bloggers who want to make money writing.
Earn More Writing is also highly rated. While I haven’t taken it myself, I know several writers who credit it with jumpstarting their freelance careers.
Step 3. Start a Blog
If you’re not yet writing regularly, it’s time to start. One of the best ways to do this is by creating a blog. In my mind, every writer should have a blog. Consider it your home base. It’s the place where you can practice your writing, showcase your work, learn how to build an audience, and improve your SEO skills.
It doesn’t cost a lot of money to start a blog. You’ll need a few bucks to buy a domain name. From there, you’ll have to choose a web host for your site. SiteGround manages most of my sites. You can get a WordPress blog started for as little as $6.99/month, and their customer service might be the best I’ve seen anywhere online.
Step 4. Start Pitching
If you want to make good money as a freelance writer, you need to pitch clients. There are two keys to good client pitching. First, you need to do it often. Successful freelance writers schedule time in their calendars every week to find new clients. If you don’t commit to this, you’ll find yourself with little to know work for extended periods.
The other key to pitching is knowing how to do it properly. Here at Zero to Freelance, I’m continuously pitched by freelance writers, and believe me, most of them are going about it the wrong way.
Melanie Lockert, a successful freelance writer who has appeared on Business Insider, VICE, and Allure, says the following about pitching: “I have found clients through Contently, Facebook groups, Twitter, friends of friends, my blog, and editors I’ve worked with. I recently have perfected the art of finding pitch requests on Twitter by using strategic hashtags. I’ve been able to secure some work that way. Also, word of mouth is a big one.”
Step 5. Build Your Writing Portfolio
You may be wondering why this step comes after ‘Start Pitching’. After all, don’t you need a portfolio of work before you can get paid to write? The truth is, most writers won’t, which is why starting a blog is so important (see Step 3). Some other ways to start building a portfolio; look for guest posting opportunities on other blogs/websites, or publish a few articles on Medium. You might consider taking unpaid work to build a portfolio, but not all freelancers agree that this is the best route. If you do decide to work for free, don’t do it for very long.
Step 6. Network with other Freelance Writers
You may view other freelance writers as competition, especially if you write in the same niche. But if that’s all you see, you’re missing the point. The fact is, networking with other freelancers is one of the best ways to find new clients. Busy writers often have to turn down work, and they usually won’t hesitate to refer clients to other writers they trust. Consider the following ways to network with freelance writers:
- Participate in an online course.
- Join a freelance writing Facebook Group.
- Attend conferences in the niche you want to write for.
- Start a mastermind group with other writers.
- Engage with other writers on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
Final Thoughts on Becoming a Freelance Writer
Freelance writing can be a lucrative career or side hustle that comes with many benefits. It lets you be your own boss; you can work from anywhere (providing you have a laptop and an internet connection); you avoid the daily commute and don’t have to deal with office politics, and you have the freedom to work when you want to.
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Becoming a freelance writer requires a lot of hard work and persistence. But if you’ve read this far and are still interested, perhaps it’s time to get started.
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