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?
While we’ll take a look at these in more detail, here are ten steps to getting started:
- Commit to becoming a freelance writer
- Decide on your writing niche
- Collect freelance writing samples
- Create your portfolio
- Market your writing services
- Source freelance writing work
- Start pitching for freelance writing gigs
- Land your first client
- Get paid to write
- Hone your craft daily
There’s a huge demand for skilled freelance writers, and it’s not going anywhere any time soon. Think about it – almost 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 goals, the decision to become a freelance writer is one that could change your life.
Here’s a deeper look at those ten simple steps to help you get started right away.
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 create income doing something you enjoy (and potentially even replace a full-time career).
We could, but we’re firm believers in starting any project, be it a side hustle, a new career, or any other life-changing journey, with a good dose of mindset work.
We’ve seen talented freelance writers miss the mark when it comes to their goals, and most often it’s completely avoidable.
If you’re in this for the long run, though, and you want to know the truth 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 your writing services. 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 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 also 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.
That mindset will serve 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 choosing to start writing for a living.
Becoming a freelance writer will offer you lifestyle flexibility that will allow you to 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.”
Whatever your reason is, keep it front and center as you make your way through this process.
2. Decide on Your Writing Niche
A lot of writers dread this step. Picking a niche for your writing 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.
Start a Freelance Writing Business in 30 Days or Less and get paid to write online
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.
If you’ve had a career in health and wellness, or personal finance, for example, those are great areas to focus on initially.
You’re not married to this niche, it’s just a place to start. Similar to choosing your initial services as a VA or freelancer, the goal is to get started. As you begin writing and working with clients, a more desirable niche may present itself (and often does).
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. Again, your niches won’t be set in stone, and you can always switch gears along the way towards something you find more enjoyable and lucrative.
And on that note – another very important reason for choosing a niche is that it enables you to command higher rates. A specialist gets paid more than a generalist, and who doesn’t want that?
It’s also much 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” 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, and education?
Give your answers some time and thought, 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.
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:
Find 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? You likely 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 and it gets you into the practice of writing content that others will be reading.
Pick a topic related to one of the niches you picked in Step Two (you didn’t skip that step, right?). Then write about it. The format isn’t crucial, however, it is beneficial to choose some kind of structure for it – like a blog post or email newsletter, for example.
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 this in the next step).
You can also post your samples to a personal website but this isn’t necessary 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 Fully Booked VA got its start. You can add existing samples when you build your site, and begin publishing new material on it 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 do exemplary work. If you’re going to use your posts to showcase your writing skills and prospect for work, they need to be excellent!
Not sure 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 getting started 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 happen, 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.” Simple, right?
This search should bring up several websites in your niche that have open submissions for contributions. Better yet – some of the opportunities might offer pay for your writing, 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 get to writing.
Remember, the most important (and sometimes most difficult) part is getting started. Just get into it – you can (and should) go back and edit with a fresh pair of eyes later.
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 – it’s entirely up to you.
Here are three that we recommend:
A One-Page Writer’s Resume
If you’re not ready to create 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, include your bio and 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 Work With Me Page on Your Website
If you’re ready to start a website, be sure to add a Work With Me page. Here’s an example of one.
In our course, 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success, we walk you through the basics of a good writer’s website, including an optimized Work With Me page.
Set up an online profile
We highly recommend setting up a portfolio on a platform like Contently (free) or Authory (paid). It’s easy to create an account and add links to your samples or upload PDFs.
For our purposes, we’ll speak to Contently in this post (although Authory is highly recommended!).
As a new freelance writer, you can set up your Contently portfolio, add your published work as you gain experience… And that’s about it. With consistency and quality work, Contently’s team has been known to reach out to writers months later with opportunities for paid projects. And, the projects you’ll find there typically pay very well.
Zina Kumok is an alum of 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success and a Contently success story. She landed two $1,000 writing projects the same way!
Both of these platforms are worth the small amount 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. Don’t think you have to wait until you have a robust portfolio before you put it out there! Three samples are plenty 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 attractive 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 one of our current culture’s primary roadmaps… 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.
No matter what platform you use, be sure that your profile conveys this crucial piece of information – you are a professional writer for hire specializing in [insert your niche here].
Of course, 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 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 create 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.
Lastly, don’t “show up” on social media on the hunt for clients and work. Be present with an attitude of authenticity and service – it goes a long way and people take notice.
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 – 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.
Like the previous steps, there are several ways to go about this. Here are two options for getting started:
If you’re afraid to put yourself out there, job boards might be a good place to start (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.
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 ensure that the writing job and prospect you’re pursuing are legitimate.
Paid job boards require a monthly fee. If you can afford it, 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.
In all honesty, many freelance writing experts 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 you might even encounter scams, unfortunately.
If you’re comfortable with putting yourself out there and want to limit your competition, cold pitching is a better option.
Cold pitching is essentially 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 we prefer to think of it as smart.
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 jobs in the niches you defined in Step Two. See something you’re a perfect fit for? Don’t wait – 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 cannot skip this step – it’s one of the most, if not the most important step to becoming a freelance writer.
Start a Freelance Writing Business in 30 Days or Less and get paid to write online
Having a great pitch is what will separate you from the crowd. And don’t worry – it will get better and easier with experience.
Over time, you’ll learn what works with your freelance writing pitches – and what doesn’t. For this reason, it’s important to keep track of your pitches and their responses so you can adjust accordingly.
Side note: A pitch looks different depending on who you’re pitching, so be sure to modify your template based on the intended audience.
When it comes to pitching your writing services, it’s also important to remember that it’s a numbers game. The more you do it, the more you’ll learn and gain confidence, and most importantly – the higher your odds of finding quality writing clients.
Set a goal for your first month – how many pitches will you send daily? Then start 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?” It’s important to be able to confidently talk about your rates.
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 (or communicate that your work isn’t that valuable – because it is).
So, how do you know what to charge as a freelancer or VA offering writing services? 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
- Some combination of these
It’s common for freelance writers to initially set their rates based on what they’re offered (clients sometimes know what they can/want to pay). While it’s not a bad way to start and gain experience, you can quickly shift to setting your rates according to your financial goals and needs.
This could include taking into consideration things like how long it will take you to complete the work you’re offered and what would ultimately make the project worth your 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. 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 good place to start.
9. Get Paid to Write
If you’re wondering how freelance writers get paid, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most common questions we get asked.
The great news is that 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.
Our favorite two methods for invoicing when you’re getting started 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 for branding purposes.
When you’re ready, you may want to move to a more robust accounting tool like FreshBooks. It’s simple to use, user-friendly for clients and has some other nice features like time tracking and basic bookkeeping.
Decide which one of the two options just discussed sounds optimal for you. Create an account and set up a mock invoice. You can always adjust it later.
10. Develop Your Craft Every Day
We 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. To that end, you must write… even when you don’t feel like it.
Even if it’s journaling, make daily writing a consistent practice. You’ll get better and you’ll also become more efficient 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 serve you later 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 something 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 and 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.
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 continue to improve.
Take a look at your calendar. Can you find a 20 to 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 elevate you from amateur status to professional writer in no time.
You just learned the ten essential steps to starting a freelance writing business. While this is a “10,000-foot view,” you can absolutely get started with what you’ve learned here today.
We cover a lot of topics around freelance writing here at Fully Booked VA as we’re big believers in what an in-demand, lucrative service this can be for freelancers. If you’re ready to get started with a career that can take you in a multitude of exciting directions, our last piece of advice would be to further educate yourself on the process of starting, building, and scaling a long-term, consistent freelance writing business.
30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success covers everything you need to start a new freelance writing business – with no prior experience – so you can begin working with clients and earning income quickly.
It includes extensive resources, 15 printable downloads including workbooks and templates, action steps, videos, and more. This course takes an extensive look 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 start your freelance writing career? Get started here!