How to Become a Freelance Writer

I knew something needed to change when managing panic attacks about work became routine. I loved teaching high school English, but I desperately wanted more time with my one-year-old son and husband. 

I started researching ways to work from home and kept running into articles about freelance writing. 

“Pff. I’d never do that,” I thought. 

Except I loved writing. When I got pregnant for the second time, I decided to dip my toe in the water. At the end of that school year, I resigned. I’ve been exclusively freelance writing ever since. 

If you want to work from home as a freelance writer but don’t know where to begin, this is for you. Here are three steps to get started. 

Step 1: Make Sure You’ve Got the Stuff 

You don’t need a writing or marketing degree to be a great freelance writer. That background is helpful, but clients are usually more interested in what you can do than what you’ve studied. If you’re a self-motivated, professional, quality writer, you’ll find work. 

Successful freelance writers demonstrate these qualities:

Writing competence. This may seem obvious, but you’ve got to enjoy and be good at writing to thrive as a freelance writer. If you can put complex thoughts into readable, engaging words, you’ll find clients. But being able to do that consistently will involve writing hundreds of thousands of words, deleting most of them, editing the survivors, and learning how to become more efficient as you go. 

A growth mindset. Clients will usually ask you to make some corrections when you submit your work. If you’re going to succeed as a freelance writer, you can’t take corrective feedback personally. Your job is to satisfy your client, not your ego. Keeping that at the forefront of your mind will help you adjust your expectations during the editing process. 

Self-discipline. When you work for an agency, you’ve signed a long-term contract. You know when and how much you’re going to get paid. You have a boss. You’re given some guidance on how to do your job. When you freelance, most of those variables are up to you. You won’t get far as a freelance writer if you aren’t motivated to find work, grow your skillset, and keep your commitments to clients and yourself. 

Professionalism. Working from home means I regularly conduct my business in pajamas and/or draped in a fuzzy blanket. But you better believe I work hard to engage with my clients respectfully, meet deadlines, communicate when I need an extension or assistance, and deliver an excellent product every time. Being your own boss comes with lots of perks but being unprofessional isn’t one of them.

Step 2: Decide How Much to Charge 

When I first jumped into freelance writing, I had no idea what to ask people to pay me. But I knew it would be helpful to have an idea of how and what I wanted to charge before I started looking for work. 

I like to compare my rates with writers who have a similar level of experience as me to make sure that my pricing is competitive. You can find freelancers to compare yourself to on platforms like Upwork and Freelancer.  

I was a teacher when I started freelance writing. I figured out what my hourly rate was as a teacher by dividing my paycheck by the hours I worked that pay period. I used that number to guide my freelance rate. I knew I wanted to be able to live off of freelance writing, so it made sense to make my writing wage comparable to the one I’d be replacing. 

In the beginning, I just took what I could get. The first few writing contracts I signed paid very little, but they helped me realize that I wanted to become skilled and experienced enough at freelance writing to have more lucrative options. Spending three hours writing an article and getting paid $20 for it is exceptionally motivating to do what it takes to attract the right clients.  

Step 3: Build Your Portfolio 

A writer’s portfolio is where you showcase your best work. High-paying clients tend to go with freelance writers who have some experience and a portfolio to prove it. There are two things you need to build a portfolio: writing samples and a digital space to show them.  

In the beginning, getting work experience will probably cost you more than you make. There are tons of opportunities on Upwork and Freelancer, though many of them are low-paying. You can also promote yourself on social media. LinkedIn is built for professional connections, so it’s a productive platform to market your services. 

Even if no one has hired you yet, you can still build a portfolio. A blog is a great way to write content you can refer prospective clients to. You can also create spec ads, or unpublished advertisements. Make sure you label them as spec so that you don’t deceive clients into thinking they’ve been published. 

Finally, choose a digital platform where you can showcase your work. The best way to do this is to build a website. A writer’s website makes it possible for you to showcase your copywriting skills, blog posts, services, and any other information you want potential clients to know about.

You Can Do This!

If you think you’ve got what it takes to be a freelance writer, go for it. The flexibility of the job allows you to control your workflow. You can work from home, your favorite café, the library, or anywhere you can catch internet connection. 

It’s been a challenging and intimidating journey for me. I’ve got three kids under five years old. I get flashes of writer’s block so strong at times, I wonder if I’ll ever write again. But then I do. And I walk away from my projects proud that I was able to create them. And I did it according to a schedule that allows me to spend lots of quality time with my family and meet deadlines for clients. 

I’m not the greatest writer, the most hardworking entrepreneur, or the smartest person in the world. I mean, I’m alright. But that’s about as much credit as I can really give myself. The point: if I can do it, so can you. And now you know a few ways to get started. 

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