A little over a year ago I was faced with the decision to find a traditional 9-5 job or lean into my side hustle and learn how to become a freelance writer full-time.
I was really, really tempted to look at 9-5 options because of the stability, but in the end, I wanted flexibility. That’s the big perk of working as a freelance writer – you can work when you want and where you want.
It’s also considerably easier to scale your own freelance writing business then work your way up to someone else’s ladder.
Now, do you need a degree to be a freelance writer? This might surprise you, but no… you don’t need a degree in English, creative writing, journalism, or any formal education. I do think that my English degree has certainly helped me personally, but it’s not necessary.
You can actually learn how to become a freelance writer with no experience. Yep, none.
How is that possible?
This might sound too simple, but some people are naturally good writers. It’s a skill that needs to be fostered and developed, but if it’s in you, it’s there. As far as tapping into that skill and monetizing it, that’s what this article can help you with.
And if you’re anything like me, learning how to become a freelance writer is less about learning how to write and more about learning how to freelance. You’re building and running a business. You need to learn where to start, how to scale your business, how to grow your skills, and more.
So, if you’ve ever asked yourself how do I start as a freelance writer, now’s the time to learn.
Let’s talk about starting a freelance writing career you’ll love, one that gives you the flexibility you’ve always wanted and the income you need to reach your financial goals.
Your 2020 Guide on How to Become a Freelance Writer
1. Find your niche
This is hard to nail down in the beginning, but it’s worth a little deep thought. The topics you’re interested in writing about are going to inform everything else you do as you learn how to become a freelance writer.
It’s best to start by thinking about your passions or interests and what you enjoy learning and reading about. You can choose from any number of niches, and there are lots out there.
You don’t want to niche down too much here or say that one topic is all you’re going to pursue. That can limit your options, so finding a broad topic or two is a safe bet when you’re starting out.
2. Learn as much as you can
Writing is one thing, but you’ll need to build your skill set and hone your craft to stand out. Here are a few things to research if you want to learn how to become a freelance writer:
- Copywriting- This is a specialized style of writing that’s great for email marketing and lead magnets. Even if you don’t write marketing content, learning copywriting skills can help you write compelling content for any niche.
- Proofreading- Not all writers have excellent grammar and punctuation skills, but these skills are essential when pitching clients. Caitlyn Pyle of Proofread Anywhere has a great course that teaches how to catch those errors.
- SEO- SEO stands for search engine optimization, and if you’re writing online, this skill is highly desired, if not a must. There are a lot of courses out there, and Money Lab’s SEO for Bloggers is one of the best comprehensive courses that even non-bloggers can learn a lot from.
You don’t need to learn all of these things before you start your career, but you should be thinking about them as you go.
Want to jumpstart your freelance writing career?
I want to tell you about three different courses that can help you get started:
30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success– Gina Horkey of the Horky Handbook teaches you how to build your skillset and business, pitch clients, learn the writing process, build a writer’s website, and more
Write Your Way to Your First $1K– This course from Profitable Creative has seven self-paced modules, video training on the best tools, a personalized pitch review, access to a private FB community, and more.
Freelance Writing Prep– This course is much shorter, but it’s meant to get your writer juices flowing and see if freelancing writing is for you.
3. Start building your portfolio
Most people who learn how to become freelance writers start small. They’re not getting regular writing gigs for big-name blogs or magazines, they’re starting with small one-off gigs. Content mills and online job platforms like Freelancer or Upwork are a good place to look for those jobs.
These jobs don’t pay as well (you might make between $0.01-$0.10 per word), but many writers build their income and portfolios this way.
And if building your portfolio is showing the kind of work you can do, one of the best ways to do this is to start a blog. Starting a blog can do a lot for your business, like:
- You can write things in your own unique voice. This lets potential clients get to know you and what you can offer their business.
- You’ll build your writing stamina. Working as a full-time freelance writer is a little like being in college. It’s research, writing, and churning out quality work on a deadline. Keeping up with your own blog will help you learn how to keep up with a full-time workload.
- Blogging can turn into a full-time business. If you decide to monetize your blog, this can be another income stream. Actually, many professional bloggers have had freelance writing careers.
At the very least, start a website. You can list your services, more about who you are, and it makes it easy for potential clients to contact you.
Starting a blog or website is an easy and low-cost business investment with Launch That Blog. (I know it says “blog,” but I used a service like this for my own WordPress website.)
Launch That Blog is free for anyone starting a WordPress site hosted by Bluehost, which costs only $2.95/month. LTB does all of the technical work for you so you can get back to what you do best – writing!
4. Make sure your business is in order
Learning how to become a freelance writer is about 85% writing and 15% business. The business end isn’t as fun for some, but having a good structure is what makes the job flexible.
Here are five things that will help you organize your freelance writing business:
- Keep track of your business finances. I use an Excel spreadsheet for my business, but you can use Google Sheets, Quicken, or even pen and paper. You’ll be able to see how much your business is growing and it’s necessary for the next thing on this list.
- Pay your taxes. Whether your freelance writing work is a side hustle or full-time job, you’ve got to pay taxes. Here’s a great article on how to handle taxes for your side hustle.
- Create a schedule. Setting hours for yourself is extremely helpful for self-employed people. If you don’t set a schedule, you’ll find yourself working all hours of the day.
- Stay organized. One of my favorite business tools is called Asana. It’s a work-flow management tool that lets me create a calendar, list tasks for each client, make detailed notes for each job, etc. It’s free to use for small business owners like you and I. M$M uses Asana and so do lots of big companies, like Google, Airbnb, and even Nasa.
- Start an email list. People write entire articles on the merits of starting a list from the beginning, and it’s actually really easy to do. You can read more about how to build one from scratch in this article from Laptop Empires.
As your business grows, having these things in place will become even more important. If you start early on, you’ll reduce the stress of figuring it out when you’re overbooked with clients. And trust me, that’s when you’ll really wish you did these things.
Guest posting is something that a lot of bloggers do to grow their audience, but it’s a good way for freelance writers to build their portfolio and network. Guest posting is how I started writing for bloggers, and it allowed me to skip the content mills and one-off gigs.
I reached out to one of my editing clients and pitched her an article idea. She said it would be a great fit, and I landed my first real writing gig.
If you do work for clients, what I did is one option, but you can also pitch ideas to websites and blogs you read often. You’ll know the type of content they publish, their style, and what their readers want.
The downside is that you probably won’t be paid to guest post. What you do gain in exposure and skills is worth the time investment when you’re starting out.
6. Apply for higher-paying positions
You know how most jobs ask for some level of experience, like years on the job or a list of clients. That’s sometimes the case when you’re learning how to become a freelance writer. So, everything you’ve done up until this point is leading to the big, high-paying jobs.
Now you can start pitching your ideas to even bigger websites and clients. Pro-Blogger and Freelance Writing Jobs are also great places to look for openings. You can find one-time gigs, part-time jobs, and even full-time positions.
For more profitable side hustles, check out 13 Legit Side Hustles That Are Actually Worth Your Time.
Tips for freelance writing success
Now that you know the steps it takes to learn how to become a freelance writer, here are some tips that will help you grow your business.
Know when to invest in your business
Beyond researching things online, one of the best things you can do for your business is to invest some cash from time to time. Here are a few investments you might want to make:
- A wireless router that will let you work while you’re on vacation or traveling.
- An editor to go over your work.
- A virtual assistant to help you with billing and managing your schedule.
If you’re struggling with making an investment, think about the ROI (return on investment). I look for things that increase my income, help me work while I travel with my family, and become more efficient.
Read and write as much as you can
Even though writing is your work, finding a regular creative writing practice is incredibly beneficial. It’s a way to play with your style and tone, test new things out, and more.
Reading is also a valuable practice as a freelance writer. It’s a good outlet for any profession as it reduces your stress, but as a writer, it can also build your vocabulary.
Don’t be afraid to hear “no”
As you learn how to become a freelance writer, there are going to be jobs you don’t get. Clients are going to turn down your rate increases. And some clients aren’t going to like your ideas.
This is all part of the job. It stings a little, but a “no” teaches you something. It might be that you have a bad client (they do exist), that your ideas aren’t on target, and more. Know this going in and you’ll be prepared when you eventually hear “no.”
Set goals for yourself
As your business grows, it’s easy to stagnate in your career. Things are good, so why push for more? Your goals don’t need to be huge, but setting goals keeps you moving towards better jobs.
You can set income goals, goals for going full-time, or personal ones like landing a gig with one of your favorite blogs.
Remember, it’s going to be hard at times
Learning how to become a freelance writer is like learning any new skill. There are times when the struggle is real, and every freelance writer is going to face their own issues.
You might deal with a client firing you. You might work late hours to keep up with the rest of your life. You might see a month or two without much work. You might struggle to keep up with the growth of your business.
Every business owner faces these challenges, but the good ones don’t quit when it gets hard. They take those moments and use them to grow. Problem-solving is part of the game. So when you’re faced with a challenge, look at it as a problem you can solve, not a roadblock that prevents you from doing what you love.
Find a community
Speaking of problem-solving, finding a community of writers or other like-minded professionals is one of the best things to help you with challenges. You can crowdsource for ideas on marketing your business, when to raise your fees, and look to your peers for general commiseration.
Facebook is a great place for writer communities, but reach out to others you know that are doing the same. Even if they aren’t writers, just finding other freelancers is a great way to find support and advice.
The final word on learning how to become a freelance writer
In the beginning of this article, I mentioned that I thought briefly about getting a more traditional 9-5 job. After more than a full year of working as a full-time freelance writer, I’m so happy I choose this route.
I’ve traveled more this year than ever before. I’m available for my kids when they need me. I’m earning a living wage for the work I do. And, I’ve met a lot of amazing people along the way.
It’s not all rainbows and sunshine 24/7, but seeing my success and that of others drives me to push forward.
If you have any other questions about learning how to become a freelance writer, drop me a line in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer your questions.