What is freelance writing? Your exclusive cheat sheet to all the top business secrets

by | Feb 19, 2022 | Featured post, Freelancing | 0 comments

photo of a woman holding a book and pen thinking

 

You’ve heard it on the radio, you’ve seen it on the TV show, but what is freelance writing?

The answer, my loves, is becoming a freelance writer is a portal to a new reality.

Seriously! This is a BS-free zone.

If your current life entails a soul-sucking job, working for someone else’s dream, you’ll want to hear this. You know that shitty feeling when your alarm goes off, and the initial, blissfully unaware moment gets rudely smashed into oblivion when you remember that it’s Monday, and all the joys of your workweek come into full, crushing focus?

Well, all that depressing stuff could be a thing of the past when you’re the boss of your own freelance writing business.

Sounds good, right?

But there are so many questions right!? How the hell do you get started in freelance writing, and how do you get paid as a freelance writer? And where are you supposed to find freelance writing clients? The list goes on.

I’ve been mentoring freshly minted freelance writers for a while now, and these are the questions that concern them the most.

But worry not my loves, I’ve been there myself, and I’m here to save you a shit ton of time and money by passing on all the magic and hundreds of tips I’ve learned along the way, so you too can become a successful freelance writer.

First things first, though, let’s answer your most pressing question — What is freelance writing?

What is freelance writing and what does a freelance writer do?

In essence, freelance writing is a term used for self-employed people who write content for someone else in exchange for payment.

And that’s it.

Freelance writer = business person.

Freelance writing is any writing assignment that you do for pay without being on staff. So you’re not an employee receiving company benefits like sick leave or vacation pay or 401(k) matching. And you don’t have to show up at a place of work.

Nope.

As a freelance writer you work in the location of your choosing, with your own tools, setting your own hours on a self-employed basis.

Bliss!

I must admit, I’ve never been in love with the term ‘freelancer’ or ‘freelance.’ Why? Because it contains the word free! And although it might not seem like a big deal, I prefer ‘independent contractor’ because yes, siree, I’m independent as hell and always work with a contract spelling out the terms of our agreement.💥

Haha! That’s what is means in my world, and I’m sticking with it.

Freelance writers usually have a bevy of clients and a paid per project, i.e., for each assignment or bundle of assignments, rather than monthly.

That said, you can also provide services on an hourly basis if that makes more sense (and money!).

Being a freelance writer means throwing off the chains of traditional work and the tedium of office hours and instead choosing your own work and negotiating your own rates.

Under the umbrella of freelance writer, you can specialize further, according to what you want to write. For example, you could become a:

  • Freelance blogger who specializes in offering blog posts
  • Freelance copywriter who understands how to use the persuasive power of words to market stuff
  • Freelance content writer, who provides a range of written material such as articles, white papers, or eBooks
  • SEO writer who knows exactly how to get on the right side of the search engines to help companies rank with content
  • Grant writer who researches, develops, and submits grant applications to secure funding for organisations

And there are others, but you get the idea.

But, freelance writing is so much more than just offering writing services.

It’s a way of living with freedom while building a high-income scale that can make an unbelievable amount of readies.

what is freelance writing

Types of freelance writing services

If you’re entirely new to freelance writing, I think it’s best to focus on one service and learn that skill thoroughly. The one I usually recommend to newbie freelance writers is blog writing.

When you’re exploring the question ‘What is freelance writing?’ blogs are a great way to learn the ropes, as you can often write exactly how you speak, without super in-depth research or technical specs.

Plus, blogs are usually short, at around 1000 words, which isn’t tooo overwhelming, provided you do your homework.

Usually though, people want more than one blog, meaning it’s recurring business for you.

You see, content is king, meaning that the more valuable content you have in your websites, the more Google likes you. Therefore, companies often publish several blogs monthly. Some even publish 10, 20, 30, or more.

Even though I’ve expanded my services into all types of freelance writing, a large proportion of my income still comes from the humble blog.

Don’t be fooled into thinking blog writing requires no skills, though.

Nope. Writing a decent blog post that people want to read is an art form.🎨 

It’s up to you as a freelance writer if you focus on one service or expand to several areas. Here are some ideas for freelance writing services:

  • Blogs: Write regular, mouth-watering articles that companies publish on their website.
  • Magazine articles: Online magazines need digital journalists to create pieces. They may assign articles, or you pitch them ideas.
  • Social Media Management: Create catchy social media posts across various forums.
  • Ghostwriting: You write, and it’s published in someone else’s name.
  • Proofreading and editing: Get your grammar geek on and spot someone else’s mistakes.
  • Create online courses: Produce educational material for schools, companies, and individuals.
  • Copywriting: This is a vast area, including all kinds of marketing materials like emails, adverts, sales pages, press releases, website copy, and more. So, you may well specialize within copywriting and only offer, say, web copy.
  • eBooks: These babies can act as lead magnets to persuade readers to subscribe to newsletters.
  • White papers: These lengthy, detailed reports usually focus on a specific topic and are meant to educate the reader. Businesses often use them to provide in-depth info about their products or services or describe a proposal. They can also be used as marketing tools, allowing companies to highlight their expertise and position themselves as thought leaders in their field.

As you can see, there are loads of options but what you offer often comes down to personal choice and your experience.

Copywriting and white papers tend to require more know-how and expertise than the other formats.

That said, writing for magazines can also be in-depth, scientific, or technical, depending on what they publish. If that’s your jam, then fantastic!

But for most newbie writers, blogs are a great place to start.

Lady sat on pile of books in corner of room

Do you need a degree to be a freelance writer?

No, absolutely not! There’s no need to worry about a college or university education if you want to become a freelance writer.

Now I’m not saying it doesn’t help cos, after all, at uni, you need to do a shit ton of writing which is excellent practice. But, in my experience, having a “writer” kind of degree like English something or other doesn’t make or break your career as a freelance writer or hinder you when you’re looking for freelance writer jobs.

No matter your education, employment history, or lack of it, you can become a freelance writer.

Absolutely anyone can become a freelance writer providing they’re committed enough to learn the required skills and be committed to building a freelance writing business.

Because that’s what it is. A business. You’re not “just” a freelance writer. You’re an independent business owner—a solopreneur. A freelance writing business owner. So, you need to be persistent, motivated and have enough drive to succeed. Fuck the degree!

How to find clients as a freelance writer

After “what is freelance writing?” Everyone’s second question is, how the hell do you find clients as a freelance writer?

I mean, it must be impossible to know who needs your services! But you couldn’t be more wrong as every single business out the needs your freelance writing services.

From substantial international corporations down to tiny start-up companies, every business needs content, including hospitals, charities, schools, amusement parks…

You name it, they need content.

That’s yet another great aspect about being a freelance writer is that it’s completely and utterly impossible to run out of clients that want to pay you big money for your services.

It might not feel like that first when you’re struggling to gather clients, and it takes time to find your feet. And yes, you’ll need to kiss a lot of dodgy frogs before you find your Prince or Princess Charming of clients! But believe me, they’re out there. I guarantee you that.

A good place to start is with job boards that feature job listings. Try these:

These are solid places to find high-quality gigs with REAL clients waving their REAL cash at you. 💲💲💲

Sounds good, right?

Here are some other ways to find freelance writing clients as a newbie:

  • Agencies: Content agencies, creative agencies, digital marketing agencies, they may use different names, but they do the same kinda thing. They act as intermediaries between clients who need words and writers who sell them. Some pay well. Some don’t.
  • Freelance marketplaces: Now I’m sure you’ve heard of Fiverr and Upwork. But there’s a whole plethora of other marketplaces to choose from like Contra, Freelancer, People Per Hour, Truelancer, and others. It’s a piece of cake to join—fill out your profile, then look for the money, baby! Well, that’s the theory! Of course, there are pros and cons to these sites, as in it’s pretty easy to find clients, BUT the pay might be crap, and some of them take a fair percentage of what you earn. Like 20%!
  • Cold pitching: Say what? In other words, reaching out to businesses in your niche and offering your writing services.
  • Leverage LinkedIn: Make sure your profile’s as shiny as a bald dude’s head and lure clients into learning more about your wicked word skills.
  • Work some website magic: Yep, it might seem like a hassle at first, but having your own website helps you look profesh and legit. You’ll also gain experience with SEO, writing web copy, and of course, the all-important blogs.
woman sat crossed legged using laptop and winning

How much does a freelance writer get paid?

As much as you want!

Yep. I said what I said. It’s no secret.

With freelancing you get out what you put in, and you can pretty much choose what you earn.

All right, not at first maybe. Because in the beginning, you should value experience that builds your portfolio first and foremost.

But once you’ve got some good writing samples, or clips as we call them, under your belt and some clients that are willing to tell the world how awesome you are, your earnings are unlimited, unlike in a shitty full-time job where your boss decides what you earn.

It’s all down to you.

The more clients you have, the more money you’ll make. And the more experience you gain, the more you can charge for your premium services.

Of course, it also depends on your niche, as in tech and science writing usually pays more than, say, the cookery or pet niche.

So, what does that actually mean? What can I really make freelance writing? And most importantly, can I make a living freelance writing?

Absofuckinglutely my friend!

Let’s take a trip down memory lane back to when I started freelance writing with a desperate passion that only the truly broke have ever known.

I dutifully completed my profile on UpWork and began checking out the gig advertisements. My very first piece of writing as a newly minted freelancer was writing a bio for someone who worked in robotics.

Yeah, totally random as I’m a health writer, but I was so grateful for the opportunity and for the incredible $15 it earned me. Mind you, once UpWork had taken their 20%, I was left with very little to show for my efforts.

But it was major.

It was epic…Because it was working!

I WAS BEING A WRITER! ✍

A bona fide freelance writer.

Fuck yeah!

Even if the average freelance writer rates on there sucked, it was something.

And that’s how it goes. You may well have a few gigs that pay crumbs at first, content mills I’m talking about you! But they do wonders for your confidence, and you can start building your portfolio. Then it snowballs, providing you keep going and are consistent in your efforts.

Once you hone your craft, you can then expand into areas that typically attract a higher price.

Just think, the average freelance writer rates for thought leadership pieces are $1 to $1.50 per word.

Yep, you heard right.

Every single word you create out of your beautiful brain can earn you a dollar or more each. In fact, some writers I know charge around $3 per word for some highbrow stuff.

The reality is your earnings can vary drastically.

When you start, you may be earning peanuts as I did.

But after a short period, you can reasonably expect to be earning a few hundred dollars per thousand-word blog post.

Plus, you can upsell.

I always suggest keyword research and content marketing strategy on top of my blog packages. Yes, packages as I tend not to provide blogs by themselves and instead offer bundled deals that work out slightly cheaper.

And for me, it means more cash upfront. Always good.

Sounds epic! But how do I get paid?

Sadly, the world is full of arseholes, so you always need to make sure your back’s covered when it comes to getting paid for freelance gigs.

One bonus of working with freelancing marketplaces like Fiverr is that the client has to pay the platform before you do the work, so you know the money is safe. This is one reason why many freelance writers opt to use them.

If you’re working freestyle, you’ll need to take a leaf out of experienced writers’ books and get the client to sign an agreement and pay 50% upfront. All this before you begin work and write articles or web pages or what-no.

You’re probably thinking, “Who the hell wants to pay in advance for services like that?” But it’s standard practice with freelance work. Any businessperson worth working with will understand completely when you request a down payment, and it’s no big deal.

Send along your PayPal, Stripe, or bank deets, and tell them you will be in touch once you have the deposit to discuss the project schedule.

Easy. I promise!

Although a contract and deposit don’t protect you from all possible fuck-ups, they certainly help.

The added bonus is that it makes you look professional and like you know what you’re doing. And that’s always good.

The 5 steps to becoming a freelance writer

Becoming a freelance writer isn’t hard, and it doesn’t require loads of outlay.

The answer to everyone’s fave question “What is freelance writing?” is that in short, there are 5 steps: Working out your niche, creating some clips, establishing a web presence, pitching, marketing yourself.

And that’s it. It’s all about taking action!

1. Decide on your writing niche

Your niche is your area of specialization. And although it’s an important step, don’t stress out so much that everything else gets shoved to the side and forgotten about.

I’ve seen beginner writers tie themselves in knots because they can’t decide on a niche. Don’t do it! You need to get moving forwards once you’ve made the decision, and don’t let niche hold you back.

Yes, I’m a believer in niching down, but there are plenty of successful writers out there that have no niche or who write in several.

What you choose to write about can affect your chances of success and how easy it is for you to find work. If your choice is really obscure or doesn’t pay well, then you’re fighting an uphill battle.

So how do you decide what your niche is?

Well, firstly, you need to understand that niche can mean the subject to write on, e.g., women’s health, nutrition, food and drink, travel, you get the idea. But it can also mean a vertical like white papers, blogs, or lead magnets. So you could choose to write eBooks about a plethora of subjects and become the go-to expert for this type of publication.

Think about what you enjoy or have experience in and leverage the hell out of ’em. I’m a health copywriter because of my previous work experience and qualifications.🩺

So it was a decision that was made for me, especially seeing as health is a profitable niche.

Profitability is the other critical factor to consider. You’re in this game to make money, so you need to work out if what you fancy writing about is gonna make you cold hard cash.

How?

There’s no singular method.

But, you’ll need to do your research.

Let’s say you LOVE animals.🐶🐱🐷🐴 Which is fab as I never trust anyone that doesn’t. Unless you had a horrendous zoo-based incident when you were small, I really can’t understand and vibe with folks who don’t love the universe’s greatest creations.

Anyhoo. I digress!

Here you are, loving animals. You wanna write about them, but that’s a massive niche. So what I’d do is have a big ole’ brainstorming / mind showering sesh.

Grab a pen and paper and write down every possible kind of business that publishes any copy whatsoever about animals. Off the top of my head:

  • Zoos
  • Dog training
  • Horse training
  • Wildlife parks
  • Breeders
  • Pony parties
  • Pet stores
  • Animal education like colleges that provide courses
  • Feed manufacturers
  • Animal pharmaceuticals
  • Grooming parlours

There’s oodles more, but that’s a start.

Keep thinking about it. Go away, have snacks. Come back.

Ask your mates, mum, neighbours, old teachers, local characters.

Go to the pet store and check out all the products. What brands do you see everywhere? Ask the internoodle about them. Get cherself a mega-list to work from and see what appeals.

Don’t like horses? Cross it off? 🐎

Hate hamsters? Gone. 🐹

Again, don’t stress too much. You’re trying to see if anything sparks your interest. Maybe something you’ve not heard of before.

Next, I’d research other freelance writers in the niche and see what they’re writing about and what goodies they have in their portfolios. Use terms like:

  • “freelance pet writer”
  • “freelance equestrian writer” (fancy name for horsey person)
  • “dog writer”

Got it? You can see what’s hot and what’s not and gather more info.

I’d narrow it down if you can and make a top-picks sub-list. BTW, I LOVE lists, in case you haven’t guessed.

Then it’s a matter of yet more research. Find some websites in those niches. What are they publishing? Do they blog? What tickles your fancy the most? What can you imagine writing about for hours each day?

And remember niching is good, but you don’t wanna go too far.

Freelance writing for exotic pet shops = Good

Freelance writing for manufacturers of organic food for Sphynx cats = Optimistic at best.

woman relaxed at desk enjoying a glass of liquor

2. Showcase your genius

In other words, create some writing samples.

So now you know your niche, or at least have a good idea of a couple you’d like to try, you need clips. No one’s going to hire you without them, so you’re going to need to buckle down and build your portfolio before you do anything else.

But hang on a hot minute. How the hell do you get writing samples with zero experience?

It’s easier than you think, but it might feel like an enormous hurdle, but I promise you it isn’t.

If you’re already a talented writer, this shouldn’t be too much of a headache.

But if you’re entirely new to writing, or you’re worried that your writing sucks, you may need to work on them before they are good enough to add to your portfolio. But that’s okay. It just involves a little elbow grease.

There are a couple of ways to get writing samples.

The absolute easiest is to self-publish them on channels like LinkedIn and Medium. These work best if you’re planning to focus on blogs and articles. If your master plan involves web copy and you need samples, there are other tricks of the trade, like creating a website or mock-ups.

That said, even if you plan on writing stuff like press releases, white papers, or e-books, having a solid history of self-published articles gives peeps a fair old idea of your writing prowess.

And as I said earlier, blogs are a great place to start and whet your whistle.

Get your thinking cap on and look at some of the top-performing blogs in your niche.

Let’s say you’ve chosen cryptocurrency. You can Google stuff like “FAQs about crypto,” “crypto news,” “crypto blogs” etc., and get some inspiration. Choose something on page 1 that’s popular and look at the subheadings. Make a list, yet another, of the kind of deets people are including and use them as an outline for your article.

Then find yourself a quiet corner and get to business, freelance writing business. I’d write around 1000 words that demonstrate you know how to format an article and is long enough to grab attention without boring the pants off everyone.

Don’t forget that you don’t have to publish the first article you write. You can practice as much as you like until you feel it’s up to scratch.

Then, ask your mates and family if it reads well.

And for the sake of all that’s good, pretty please run your assignment through a spellchecker like Grammarly.

I also go the extra mile and pop it through Hemmingway Editor to make sure it sparkles.spark

You can then add images and whatnot to make it visually appealing and easier to scan. All this stuff makes you look more professional and like you know the freelance writing business inside out.

3. Get yourself online

It’s about now where things seem to be getting real because you’re going public with your new venture.

An online presence of some type is essential to your success. Now, you may be panicking that you don’t have the cash to set up a freelance writing website but worry not. You’ve got options.

Although a slick writer’s website should be your ultimate profesh goal, to start with, you can use other platforms to market yourself.

For example, LinkedIn is where I suggest you call home for starters, as it’s where I get 90% of my clients.

It’s fab because you can connect with valuable people in your niche and become active in groups. Groups allow you to interact with people who may be interested in your services, answer any queries they have, spread the word about what you do, and more importantly, let everyone know how fucking awesome it would be to have you on board.

Can you save them time? Can you make them cold, hard cash? Of course, you can, so let them know.

Just make sure that your LinkedIn profile looks professional, has a decent profile pic, and you’ve completed all the sections. Then, in your bio, explain the value you bring to the client and how you can take work off their desk.

Then, post a few times a week, and consider doing lives if you’re feeling brave. That said, I never do lives, and it hasn’t harmed my success.

There are a few other cost-free options where you can showcase your portfolio and get the moolah rolling in, including:

  • Clear Voice
  • nDash
  • Contently
  • Skyword

You can find more on the freelance writer’s resources page.

These sites are a double whammy as not only can you display your wares, but they’re places to find work. They’re pretty easy to navigate and allow you to publish links to samples and create a sexy writer’s bio that shows off your excellent writing skills.

Some platforms also allow peeps to message you about assignments they have. The pay on these platforms is variable, and some are pretty decent while others are downright embarrassing.

4. Get your pitch on

Everything’s in position – niche, samples, and online presence. So the next step is to begin the pitch fest.

The first thing to know about pitching is that you do far more of it at the beginning of your career. So don’t panic!

As you become more experienced and have a broader client base, more of your work will come from referrals, or if you’re like me, clients will approach you on LinkedIn or through email.

So WTF is pitching?

Essentially, it means you contact a business, tell them how you could solve a problem they’re having, and offer your services.

And that’s it. There’s no great mystery.

Oh and include a couple of relevant samples.

Remember the word relevant when you think of who you’re reaching out to. If they’re looking for a white paper on organic baby food, sending a blog post on motorbike parts probably won’t resonate with them.

Yes, that might seem pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised!

A good place to start is with the job boards cos you can search within your niche for jobs. When you find one you like, research the company, and read some of their stuff before applying.

Try to mimic their brand voice, meaning if it’s young and casual, a stuffy, dull as fuck cover letter probably won’t jive.

Create your pitch and send it off.

Rinse and repeat.

And don’t lose faith. You may have to send a fair few pitches before you get anywhere.

photo of blank sheets of paper on a desk and a ladies hands poised to write

5. Marketing

The most challenging part for me at the start was the continual hustling you need to land decent clients and assignments. But as I said, it gets easier. So yes, you’ll have to hustle hard at first, but it won’t be for long as you develop a healthy client base.

Be active in the LinkedIn and Facebook groups where your potential clients might be lurking, post regularly on social media sharing your work and any results you had for clients, and create a pitching system.

If you send off pitches and then forget about them, you’re leaving money on the table. You should follow pitches regularly as people usually need to hear from you several times before they’ll consider taking the plunge.

Remember, the sales process is exactly that. It a journey not a destination. So, keep at it!

How to get started in freelance writing

Now you know what you need to do to get the clients coming in hot, how do you actually get started?

Yep, the hardest part of freelance writing is getting started. You can waste a lot of time trying to decide on a niche, perfect your pitch, or polishing up your portfolio.

But you don’t have to be perfect, you just need to start, and then you can improve and perfect as you go along. Yes, it can feel like you’re wading into shark-infested waters when you don’t have any fancy published samples. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There’s such as thing as analysis paralysis. It’s when you spend so much time trying to figure everything out that you never actually do anything. So how can you avoid the overwhelm and get started in freelance writing?

Here are a few tips:

1) Don’t try to do it all alone – find a community or group of writers who can help you as you start out on the winding road to a six-figure freelance writing career.

2) Don’t be afraid to ask for help – whether it’s how to find a freelance writing job or advice with your pitch, reach out and use your big ole’ outside voice! Help is at hand!

3) Start small – don’t aim to write a 5000-word article your first time out. Try something shorter and easier to manage. A perfectly formed 500-word piece is better than a rambling, poorly constructed 3000-word essay.

4) Set deadlines for yourself – give yourself a week to write a piece, or a day to pitch to a certain publication. It’ll help you to focus and not get bogged down in the planning stages.

5) Take risks – you won’t get anywhere if you don’t step out of your comfort zone. Yes, it can be scary, but it’s also exhilarating!

6) Invest in yourself – take courses, attend workshops, read books on freelance writing – whatever it takes to help you hone your skills and get ahead in this increasingly competitive industry.

So there you go – those are six of my fave tips to help you take the first step in freelance writing. None of them are earth-shatteringly tricky, so get stuck in! But before you do, there’s something critical you need consider. And that’s your mindset.

chalkboard with the words your mindset matters

Why mindset matters to freelance writers

Yes, you need a plethora of freelance writing skills to be successful. And as a new freelance writer, there’s a ton to learn, like where to find the best freelance writing gigs, and how do you deal with multiple clients, but in my humble opinion, the numero uno skill that most freelance writers need to develop is an entrepreneurial mindset.

What’s that, you ask? An entrepreneurial mindset is having the drive, initiative, and ambition to start your own freelance writing business.

The right mindset means:

  • Wanting to be your own boss, and taking control of your destiny
  • Being creative and innovative, and always looking for new opportunities
  • Taking risks and chances to achieve your goals
  • Learning continuously and improving your skills and knowledge

Believe me when I say that this skill set’s essential, especially when it seems like every other writer out there is vying for the same gigs as you are.

So how do you go about developing an entrepreneurial mindset?

Well, for starters, you have to believe in yourself and your abilities as you embark on your freelance writing career. You have to act like a boss, not an employee. Remember that you’re in charge of what you produce, when it’s delivered, and how you interact with your clients.

You need to:

  • Believe in yourself and your ability to succeed as a freelance writer
  • Be confident in the value you provide your clients, whether it’s through quality writing or by offering unique insights and perspectives
  • Be proactive and take the initiative to find new biz opportunities don’t wait for clients to come to you!
  • Be willing to put yourself out there and reach out to potential clients, whether it’s through social media, networking events, or good ole’ cold pitches
  • Think outside the box and try new things after all, that’s how successful businesses are born

And most importantly, you need to have the drive and ambition to start your own freelance writing business, and carry on even when things get tough and the shit hits the fan!

Most importantly, never give up on your dreams and always keep pushing forward.

I know that might all seem a tad overwhelming when you start freelance writing and you’re trying to balance learning everything with finding freelance clients, but mindset is key.

With a positive, winning mindset, you’ll be well on your way to a successful freelance writing career. Boom!

What is freelance writing? It’s life changing!

You should have a fair overview now of freelance writing, the required skills, and an overview of the steps to take.

Now, it’s down to you to take action.

I can’t tell you how much fun it is being a writer, your own boss, and well off! It’s a life changing career.

Yes, it’s hard work, but you’re not alone. You can find support in the Facebook group, and I drop in all the time for hand holding and cheerleading 😊. If you need super-duper help, I’m also available for freelance writing coaching. Yep, 1 on 1 time with me!

Are you ready? Any questions? Drop me a line in the comments!

Author:

Zia Sherrell

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