Getting Started as a Freelance Writer


Oct 09

Print is dying, novels don’t sell, and unless you’re Aaron Sorkin, screenwriting is out of the question. With a collapsing creative economy and increasing competition, it may seem like a career as a freelance writer will lead to nothing but disappointment. However, with the industry in a state of chaos, the very thing that’s putting it out of business is also providing a whole host of new opportunities: the Internet.

Like any other art form, writing for the web is challenging. If you lack self-motivation or think you’re in for an easy ride, best look elsewhere. Honing your craft and building clients takes time, but with organization, drive, and a good command of the English language, you can build a viable business that will provide freedom and an outlet for creativity.


Establish your Goals

Before you start, set your goals. Don’t be over-optimistic, but don’t sell yourself short; be realistic and honest. While an online freelancer probably won’t earn as much (per word) as a print journalist, you should never settle for pittance. Charge what you believe you’re worth and don’t let others dictate your value. When you have a price in mind, stick to it!

If creative writing is your end goal, you have a long road ahead of you. Publishers and literary agents rarely take on new writers, and when they do, they’ll expect them to have a hefty list of credits to their name. Online copywriting and blogging may be a world away from novel writing, but it will help you get through the door and build a loyal following of readers. In addition, if you’re able to put “freelance writer” on your resume when you start sending off your manuscript, you’ll be taken a lot more seriously.


Consider Specializing

Are you a fitness guru, eager to share your knowledge with the world? Do you have a passion for video games and want to review the latest independent releases? Although you can make it as a generalist, if you really want to establish yourself as an authority, consider specializing. While it’s harder to bag clients when you have a focused path, you’ll be in a position to command a higher rate of pay. Just remember, when you specialize you can always explore options around your niche as well. For example, if you’re a yoga authority, you could expand outwards by writing about holistic health and nutrition.


Write Some Samples

Writing samples are your calling card; without them you won’t make a penny. Before you write a resume, build a website or even sign up to social networks, get some samples together. Make sure they demonstrate your voice, contain well-crafted titles and subheadings, and have flawless grammar and punctuation. Your writing samples will be a constant work-in-progress for the rest of your career. As you hone your craft, rework them to reflect your new-found skills. Write three absolutely amazing writing samples before you move on and start marketing yourself. If you start applying for jobs before you can prove your worth, you’ll only harm your reputation.


Build an Online Presence

You can survive the digital domain without a blog, but keeping one could lead to a viable source of revenue in the future. When you specialize in a particular niche, related businesses may want to market to your followers and acquire link juice from your site. But… take pride in your blog. Commercial gain is an added bonus. Remember that your primary goal is to establish yourself as an authority, not plague your followers with ads.

Social networks come hand-in-hand with your website. Sign up to the big three: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Use Facebook for blog updates; Twitter to showcase your personality; and LinkedIn to host your resume and connect with potential leads. Each social network has its own unique “type” of user. While there are others out there, these three will cover the widest spectrum of personalities.


Apply for Writing Jobs

At any given time there are always hundreds – possibly thousands – of writing jobs available online. Freelancing websites such as Elance and PeoplePerHour, will have plenty of opportunities; however, competition is fierce and they use a bidding platform where, unfortunately, the cheapest applicant is often the most successful. Apply for jobs, but don’t feel pressured into lowering your price just because you’re “expensive” in comparison to the other applicants. There are still plenty of people out there who realize good writing comes at a price.

ProBlogger tends to have higher paying assignments; however, they command a higher caliber of writer. While freelancing websites are often riddled with non-natives with little professional experience – which gives you a clear advantage if English is your first language – ProBlogger is a hub for industry veterans. In addition, scour the more conventional job listing websites. Traditional avenues are often overlooked by freelancers. Indeed and Simply Hired mainly advertise in-house writing positions, but it’s not uncommon for remote jobs to crop up every once in awhile.

When you’re starting out you’ll probably spend more time applying for jobs than writing – this is perfectly normal. Don’t get discouraged. To make it in this game you need to develop a thick skin and learn to accept rejection. Everybody has different tastes; therefore, a rejection isn’t always a reflection on your ability. Keep in mind that when you apply for a traditional job listing you’ll mainly be competing with people in your local vicinity; but when you apply for a job online, you’ll be competing with freelancers throughout the entire country!


Write for SEO Companies

High quality SEO companies often have a pool of freelance writers at their beck and call, ready to take on general writing assignments in a variety of fields. Fortunately, search engine optimization is an expanding industry that’s gaining more and more traction. With Google’s recent algorithm updates, SEO companies are beginning to understand that utilizing ethical SEO practices is the only way to survive the digital domain. Content writing is a huge part of the business, so if you can get on board with a couple of decent SEO companies, you could find a very steady source of income.


Stay Away from Content Farms!

A writer working for a content farm (also known as a content mill) is like a trained chef working for a fast-food chain. Most content farms will pay their writers less than $1 per 100 words and have very stringent guidelines. The prospect of picking and choosing your hours and selecting topics from a pool of assignments may sound appealing, but to make anything close to a full time income, you’ll have to work all day, every day. If you work for a content farm your enthusiasm will wean, your creativity will suffer, and you’ll start to question your abilities. The best way to stay out off the mills is to avoid them in the first place.

Working for yourself is incredibly satisfying. Choosing your own hours, workload and even rate of pay makes freelance writing an attractive profession. Gaining enough traction to sustain a steady wage can be tricky at the beginning, but for all those long nights cold emailing and filling out job applications, it will eventually fall into place. The key is to remain consistent with your writing, pitching and, most importantly, your motivation.


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