Table of Contents
- What exactly is “freelance writing”?
- Content Writing vs. Copywriting: Which is right for you?
- 6 Steps to Start Your Freelance Writing Career
- How to Find Freelance Writing Gigs
- How much do freelance writers get paid?
- Want to be the best freelance writer around? Here’s how.
- It’s time to begin.
So, you have a passion for the pen — or these days, the keyboard. If you’re thinking of using your way with words to generate extra income or even to support you full-time, you’ll need a freelance writing guide to get started, understand what to charge, and score great opportunities.
Speaking as a long-time freelance writer, this path isn’t always straightforward. But if writing work ignites your passion, like it does mine, I’d love to help you find success.
Whether you’re hoping to create a career that compels you or wondering if you could ever work for yourself, I’ve got answers for you, potential freelancer.
By the end of this article, you will know:
- The different types of freelance writing
- How to get started
- The right places to look for jobs that pay
- How to decipher a fair pay rate for freelance work
- Easy ways to evaluate your own performance
From Shakespeare to Shel Silverstein, every writer has to begin somewhere. Let’s take the mystery out of starting, pay rates, and job hunting for freelance writers.
We may earn a small commission from purchases made via links on this page. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but it allows us to keep creating great content.
What exactly is “freelance writing”?
Freelance writing is writing for many projects and writing clients while remaining self-employed. These projects often pay well and contract you regularly, but the companies footing the bill don’t pay you as their employee. They are your client.
This type of writing offers flexibility and freedom to choose the content you create.
Some freelancers choose to specialize in a specific type of content, such as personal finance or functional medicine. Others create all sorts of different content depending on the client’s needs.
This content may be “ghostwritten” for someone else to publish under their name or contributed as a guest author to different blogs and websites. It all depends on what you, and your client, would prefer.
What are the requirements to be a freelance writer? Typical requirements for a freelance writer may include a writing portfolio, an excellent grasp of grammar, a Bachelor’s degree in English or a related field, and the ability to hit deadlines and communicate effectively. However, keep in mind that each project or client has different standards.
Freelance writers can choose how much work they’d like to take on. Some people choose to write as a part-time hustle, while others make it into a career. These versatile qualities are why freelance writing is so attractive to many people — it’s certainly never dull.
Content Writing vs. Copywriting: Which is right for you?
Freelancing can encompass a broad range of writing styles, but that spectrum can be summed up into two categories: content writing and copywriting.
While both of these avenues involve creating written work for a client, there are some clear distinctions between the two types of content marketing.
Content writing tends to be long-form, focusing on entertaining readers and/or providing educational value.
Think: Informative and/or shareable. Social media captions that explain complex topics, organic SEO content on a specific topic, and copy for premium, downloadable PDFs are all examples of content writing.
Some content writing may create sales, but that’s not the primary goal. There’s a clear sense of value and purpose behind the content, making it easy to read and a piece they may talk about over the dinner table or send in a text to a friend.
Everyday instances of content writing may look like:
- Article writing for printed publications
- Email newsletters
- Courses and tutorials
- White papers
- Web content
- Short stories
- Video scripts
In content writing, you may write as yourself to contribute to a site or publication. On the other hand, it’s common to ghostwrite, reflecting the style and views of someone else. A content writer should expect to write anywhere between 500-2,500 words for each piece they create for the web.
Copywriting is often shorter in length and designed to create sales and quantifiable results.
The end goal of copywriting is to market or advertise the product you represent. Text created for this purpose is called copy or sales copy, and its goal is to entice potential buyers.
Often, but not always, sales copy is shorter than other online content. With the exception of landing pages, advertising copy is frequently shorter than 500 words.
However, don’t assume that copywriting is the written equivalent of a used car salesman.
Common examples of copywriting include:
- Sales funnel copy
- Ads copy (for Google, social media, and more)
- Product pages
- PPC landing pages
- Sales emails (standalone or as part of a funnel)
- Scripts for video advertising
One other item to consider when choosing between the two is that copywriters are seldom credited in their work. You are representing a brand, not yourself, when you write sales copy.
As you begin your journey as a new freelance writer, you may want to choose one of these two so that you can hone your writing skills toward a specific skill set.
6 Steps to Start Your Freelance Writing Career
The steps between having a passion for communicating and becoming a successful freelance writer can feel mysterious. That’s why we’ve broken it down into 6 smaller steps to take. Follow these instructions, and you’ll have exactly what you need to pitch yourself to potential clients.
How do I get into freelance writing? To get into your freelance writing career, you should:
- Pick a niche.
- Start writing, even just for yourself.
- Create an online portfolio or blog.
- Develop a strong personal brand.
- Draw on your existing network.
- Get great testimonials.
These 6 steps will build on each other to give you experience, a portfolio, and a host of potential referrals and references to establish you as a legitimate freelance writing business owner.
Whether you’re looking for a full-time job in writing or simply some cash on the side, this formula works to kickstart your business.
1. Pick A Niche
While you don’t have to pick an area of specialization within digital marketing, it can help establish you within the field and streamline your portfolio. Not only will it be good for your business, but it will make your work far more enjoyable to focus on something you love.
Think about past jobs or experiences: What are your areas of expertise?
Consider one of these popular niches:
- Health care and wellness
- Parenting and family relationships
- Beauty and fashion
- Finance and investing
- Travel recommendations
- Leadership and business
- Psychology and mindset
- Politics and current affairs
These are just a few of the areas that have a need for content. Remember, your passion and enthusiasm will translate to readers when you write about something that truly matters to you.
2. Start Writing
There’s no reason to wait for writing opportunities to come your way — get started now!
Perhaps you haven’t written much since school, or you consistently get writer’s block. Writing consistently and practicing being self-motivated will serve you well as a freelancer.
Try to write a few times a week, or every day if possible. Not only will you be building up a body of work and establishing good habits, but you may be surprised at how much fun you will have!
You’ll need content to nab great jobs, so don’t wait to get paid to get started.
Consider posting your work on Medium.com. It’s free to use and a great platform to start developing your portfolio. Speaking of which…
3. Create An Online Portfolio or Blog
Now that you’ve created a backlog of inspiring pieces, you can begin to host them online.
Some people choose an online portfolio that’s easy to share with potential clients. Others choose to host their own blog on a WordPress or Squarespace site to showcase their work.
These hosted examples of your work serve as writing samples that you can show to would-be clients. Be sure to post high-quality pieces as a blogger; avoid work that reads like a journal entry. It may be your own content, but you’re representing yourself to future clients.
If you do a good job optimizing your own site for search engines, this step alone can get you a bit of work.
I hire freelance writers for our agency on a regular basis. Here’s what I suggest you include with your portfolio for the best results:
- An email address you check frequently
- A list of the type of work you can create
- At least 3 strong examples of the work you’ve produced
- An indication as to whether or not an editor worked on the piece after you
- A range of what you typically charge and how you determine pricing (if you price on a per-project basis)
- References or reviews from former clients, if you have any
- Links to your social media profiles (if you are working on a personal brand as a writer)
4. Develop a Strong Personal Brand
As the Beastie Boys once said, make some noise. Many a successful freelancer will tell you that they get jobs from their Instagram and LinkedIn profiles.
Do you talk about your writing online or regularly upload posts or captions that display your dazzling talent? If not, start today.
Building a solid personal brand online takes time and forethought. You’ll want to start scheduling out your updates instead of waiting until the mood strikes. (Batching your content can be a game-changer for those of us who don’t want to live online).
Another way to build your brand is by guest posting for other blogs and magazines. If you enjoy certain sites, see if they take submissions! If you’re not having any luck, you can sweeten the deal by offering your post for free. It may get your foot in the door, and your rate can change later.
Finally, don’t forget to use hashtags that let the world know what you can do. Tags like #contentwriting #digitalmarketing, #contentwriter, and more can connect you to other freelancers and clients alike.
5. Draw On Your Existing Network
As you start your new venture, there are people in your corner cheering you on. (Hi, Mom!) Give them something to do with all that support — ask them to read your work, give you feedback, and bring your name up for potential jobs.
Beyond your close circle, pitch yourself wherever you see the opportunity. Here are some questions to think about:
- Do you come into contact with small businesses or startups that could use some help with their website copy? Take a moment to explain why they need your services and see what happens.
- Have you posted on your social media that you’re open for business? People you know may be interested in hiring a trusted writer for projects.
- Have you looked around the websites you spend time on to see if they accept submissions? You already understand their tone and what they publish.
- Do any of your friends have blogs or websites that you could contribute to? They might be willing to give you a shot!
6. Get Great Testimonials
When you say how great you are, it’s frowned upon at dinner parties. But when happy clients do it, it’s called a testimonial — and it boosts business.
Reach out to the people you’ve worked with and see if they’d be willing to write a statement about your writing genius.
While it can feel uncomfortable to solicit testimonials for your writing services, this is a crucial step. If you’d like, you can offer a testimonial or review of their services in return.
Often, a great testimonial can put a potential client at ease about hiring you. Put them on your website, tactfully highlight them in your social media posts, and send them to clients who are on the fence about hiring you. Use them often to instill confidence in your abilities.
How to Find Freelance Writing Gigs
To make money writing, you’ll need to put yourself out there and spend some time searching for new opportunities. As a freelance writer, it’s important to consistently apply for jobs, particularly when you’re starting out.
But wait! Before you start your job search, you’ll want to know what not to do.
Here are the cardinal rules for finding excellent freelance writing gigs:
- Avoid content mills. Content mills don’t pay fair rates and won’t help advance your career. If you find yourself getting paid pennies to write marketing materials or ghostwrite blog posts, there are better options for you. (I’m looking at you, most of the listings on Upwork and Fiverr.)
- Set reasonable pay standards. You don’t need to be so underpaid that the work isn’t worth the time, but you also shouldn’t expect to be paid the same as a writer who’s worked in the field for years. More on this below.
- Keep your chin up. You will be rejected from time to time. If I may insert a personal anecdote: I once had a week where every single pitch I sent was rejected. Yet, here I am, writing this article. Not every job is for you, and the quality of your work will improve as you go. Keep applying, learn from constructive criticism, and don’t quit at your first “no thanks.”
- Be consistent. Schedule in time every single week to pitch new clients, respond to ads, and maintain your glowing online brand. This administrative time is an investment into future jobs.
Stick to these tips to ensure your success in finding jobs you enjoy and keeping great relationships with clients.
The best ways to find freelance writing jobs are through:
- Your existing network. Previous employers and co-workers are often an excellent resource for connecting with companies looking for freelance writers. Whether you connect on LinkedIn or just send a few emails, your network is a great place to begin.
- Social media like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Building relationships with brands and potential employers online can set up your pitches and tip you off to job openings.
- Content agencies like Clara. Connecting with a content agency can provide a steady stream of legitimate work that pays.
- Job boards like Upwork, Fiverr, and even Craigslist. These require work to sort through but can be a source of one-off projects.
You may also want to search the web for local freelancing gigs. Especially for location-oriented writing, being a writer from New York, writing about New York, can be a tremendous advantage.
Your Existing Network
Did you go to college? Have you worked for a company before? Do you know anyone who works in the marketing industry?
Without getting spammy, spend a bit of time reaching out to your existing contacts to find out if there’s an opportunity waiting for you.
Often, friends, former students and professors, and even former co-workers will have no problem introducing you to someone they know may be looking for a freelance writer.
Just remember to accept a “no” when you get one.
While this isn’t the first place potential writers think to look, there are some significant benefits to networking online, combing through hashtags, and following agencies and employers you respect. Take, this tweet from our CEO, Rebekah.
From this tweet, we met 2 of our top-performing writers who create 3-4 pieces of content a week for Clara! Don’t underestimate the power of your extended online network.
If you’re wondering where to search for jobs in the wide world of social media, our favorite starting points include:
- LinkedIn. Yes, you can view job postings, but LinkedIn offers the potential to create relationships with potential clients you can warm pitch later. In general, LinkedIn can be a great place to build a personal brand by posting valuable content.
- Twitter. Following agencies and employers you respect can give you a head start on some jobs. There’s also a strong community of writers and SEOs on Twitter to learn from.
- Facebook groups for writers. Many people will post leads, tips, and people who are hiring in community groups on Facebook. Plus, you can glean from experienced writers’ wisdom.
- Slack communities. I think of these as the “updated” version of Facebook groups. Slack communities (like my personal favorite, Superpath) can be excellent ways to connect with both clients and other freelancers.
While it can feel a bit intimidating to promote yourself online, remember that in the freelance writing business, your skills are the product for sale.
Working with a content agency can save you a headache. That’s why we exist at Clara — to connect exceptional writers with innovative clients. Working with a content agency can save you time and energy from searching for legitimate jobs.
If you can do great work for a content agency, they’ll keep you in mind for future jobs or even contract you to write for the same client over and over. Agencies also provide support and feedback on your writing and pay at a better rate than job board postings.
Sifting through a writing job board is often the first instinct for beginning freelance writers. While this is a quick way to find work, you’ll need to carefully examine each job ad and potential employer.
There are different calibers of work that you’ll be able to get when job-hunting, and many of these postings are for very low-paying work.
Don’t settle for something that isn’t worth your time, and look out for yourself — never give away personal information or offer to work for free on one of these boards.
Here are some of the most popular job boards for freelance writers:
- Upwork. This site brands itself as a “talent marketplace” that connects writers to potential jobs. You’ll need to create a profile and pitch to any postings that interest you.
- Fiverr. Fiverr connects potential employers to freelancers in over 300 categories, including content writing and copywriting. Like Upwork, you’ll need to create a profile.
- Problogger. Problogger offers tips and tricks to freelance writers and a job board as well. There’s a wide variety of opportunities.
- Craigslist. Yes, Craigslist can sometimes have worthwhile jobs, according to many professional freelancers. Just keep a watchful eye for anything that seems like a scam — Craigslist can be known for them.
There are also many different sites with pages of job listings for freelancers, though you’ll have to sort through some unrelated listings.
Here are the top freelance-oriented websites with job boards:
- The Write Life
- Writers Work
- Constant Content
Yes, some great clients can hire writers from these sites, but some content mills will be posting job listings as well. When possible, we recommend creating direct relationships with brands instead of using these avenues.
How much do freelance writers get paid?
No matter how much you love writing, you’ll still want to be fairly compensated for your work. That rate can be tricky to determine.
How much do freelance writers get paid? Freelance writers are paid differently, depending on factors such as:
- Their experience level
- Their understanding of SEO
- Length of the article
- How technical the subject matter is
- Whether or not editing and proofreading is expected (I love using Grammarly for double-checking my own work)
That said, the average freelance writer in the U.S. makes anywhere from $20–$125 an hour. However, many writers choose to charge by word instead.
Between $0.10–$0.15 a word is a fair starting rate for most SEO writers. As time goes on, you could increase your rates to $0.15–$0.20 per word as your portfolio grows.
High-level writers for clients like Forbes, Vanity Fair, or other established publications can garner up to $1 per word, but this is the upper echelon of pay.
You may also expect pay rates like these for pieces that require significant research and legwork, such as many hours of customer interviews, or content that will be behind a paywall.
Here are some other FAQs about payment and freelancing:
- How do I get paid as a freelance writer? You get paid as a freelance writer through a secure online method once you finish the assignment. Freelance writing payment varies by the job, but many freelancers choose to use a secure payment method such as CashApp, Venmo, or PayPal — though these can have the downside of high fees.
- How much should you charge for a 500-word article? For a 500 word article, the industry standard is to charge $50, or $0.10 a word, for a brand new writer. This number should increase as you gain skill and experience.
- What is the best way to find freelance writing jobs? The best way to find freelance writing jobs is through social media like LinkedIn and Twitter, connecting with a content agency, or going through job ads on sites like Upwork, Craigslist, and Fiverr.
- What are the disadvantages of freelance writing? The main disadvantage of freelance writing is a lack of fixed income. Your jobs, pay, and schedule can fluctuate every month based on the work you’ve secured for that week or month.
It’s essential to establish a clear pay rate and time frame upfront for new projects. You’ll want to advocate for yourself and charge what you’re worth.
Ultimately, as your own employer, it’s up to you to calculate your preferred pay rates and how much work you can do.
Want to be the best freelance writer around? Here’s how.
In a sea of hopeful voices, you want yours to stand out. Once you’ve gotten started, there’s more to do to become a writer clients love to work with, getting hired over and over again. If you’re wondering how to know if you’re doing a good job, here are a few items for your checklist.
Communicate With Clients
When you’re freelancing, you aren’t coming into an office every day or working set hours. While this can be a luxury of the job, it can also leave room for error. Ask great questions before your assignment, and during if necessary.
You should know what style guide they’re using, the tone they want (particularly if ghostwriting), when they need a piece by, word count, and more. If you run into any problems or need to understand their stance on an issue, don’t hesitate to ask.
This also goes for moving deadlines — a freelance writing business won’t last long if you can’t turn your work in on time. But communicating before work is late can go a long way towards maintaining a good relationship with your clients.
Many freelance writers are afraid this habit will make them seem unprofessional, but in moderation, asking questions can actually bolster a client’s confidence in your work ethic.
Stay Current With SEO Best Practices
Most freelance writing jobs are for web content. This is a completely different style of craftsmanship than what’s needed for a college paper. You’ll want to understand what lands a piece at the top of the SERP and how to customize your work accordingly.
The factors in Google’s ranking algorithms are constantly changing, and there’s no one ongoing template for what works.
Do you understand what a featured snippet is, how to write in NLP, what secondary keywords to include, and how to draft a fantastic meta description? If not, start researching.
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Even if these are in your wheelhouse, you should spend ongoing time understanding the latest updates to Google. The better you are at optimizing for SEO, the more you can charge and the better your work will be.
Study Your Niche
The first step to getting started is determining your niche within the freelance writing world. The ongoing step that follows is continuing to learn. Professionals from doctors to hairstylists are encouraged to continue in lifelong learning.
As writers who entertain, inform, and persuade, we are no different. Attend conferences, listen to podcasts, make friends with other experts, and read books. Investing regular time into learning your niche will keep you at the forefront of your field.
Master Time Management
As the old saying goes, time is money. It can also be a pitfall for a freelancer. The fastest way to ensure you won’t be rehired by a client is to miss a deadline, and it’s also possible to overcommit yourself to projects by underestimating how much time they’ll take.
You’ll need to know yourself, your pace, and your schedule of projects. Get a Google calendar set up, a time tracking app to keep you on track, and a Chrome extension that blocks distractions (if needed). You’ll need to come up with a workflow to maximize your time and keep you focused.
It’s time to begin.
Starting out at something new is intimidating — there’s no way around it. Thankfully, you can master the art of finding jobs and upskilling your work by following these simple ideas. Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard; in time, your passion for writing could become a job you love.
Begin today and remember that it’s ok to start small. As the world of online content grows, there’s no better time to start freelance writing than now. Build your portfolio and presence, be proactive in searching for clients, focus on your niche, and keep growing.