How To Become a Freelance Writer: Complete Step-by-Step Guide

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Tired of your daily slog? Is it the low pay you're trying to get away from, the commute, the routine that no longer challenges you?

Whatever it is, you want something more. And you’re not alone. Freelance writing is one of the best ways to escape your nine-to-five… if that’s what you want.

It’s also a great side hustle if you love your career but crave a challenge and a few extra dollars in your pockets (or a lot of extra dollars, which I'll talk more about below).

But how do you become a freelance writer?

Whether you’re chasing freedom, a stay-at-home parent, or even a retiree, the benefit of freelance writing is that it’s easy to start. You don’t need a degree or industry connections. And you don’t need a bank full of money either.

This guide to becoming a freelance writer is your roadmap to the life you’ve wanted. A life that’s not just a dream but within your grasp.

In addition to the following key takeaways, the topics I'll cover include are…

  • What is Freelance Writing, and What Do Freelance Writers Do?
  • What Do You Need to Become a Freelance Writer?
  • How To Become a Freelance Writer – Full Step-by-Step Guide
  • Is Freelance Writing Right for You? (The Pros and Cons)
  • How Much Do Freelance Writers Get Paid?
  • How Beginner Freelance Writers Get Hired Without Experience
  • Where Do You Go From Here?

Key Takeaways

  • Freelance writing offers the opportunity to craft words and ideas into engaging content for blogs and websites that put dollars in your bank account.
  • To become a successful freelance writer, it is important to be consistent and persistent, embrace diversity, and build credibility through experience, practice, and acquiring new skills.
  • Freelance writing involves more than just writing. It involves research, editing, proofreading, marketing skills to land jobs, the ability to meet deadlines, and a grab bag of other skills. For example, good (and great) freelance writers know how to accept criticism and effectively manage their time.
  • Building a strong portfolio and finding clients takes time, but it’s worth it. Who doesn't want to get paid to write?

What Is Freelance Writing

Freelance writing is what freelance writers do…obviously. And a freelance writer is a wordsmith for hire, a modern-day scribe who crafts content for various clients without being tied to a single employer.

Think of them as the nomads of the digital age, free to roam from project to project, choosing topics that ignite their passion or pay the bills (or both if they're lucky).

They write everything from blog posts and articles to whitepapers and ebooks while enjoying the freedom to set their own schedules, rates, and work environment. It's not just a job or side hustle. It's freelance work that provides a unique lifestyle. One that offers the ultimate blend of creative freedom and financial opportunity.

So, having said that, are you still interested in freelance writing? If so, keep reading…

What Do Freelance Writers Do?

Freelance writers produce content for a variety of clients. This can range from client blog posts, guest posts, and articles to ebooks and updates for social media. This career does not limit you to one kind of writing. Instead, it opens up a broad spectrum of freelance writing possibilities.

Different jobs require different writing abilities. For example, writing a blog post may need an engaging narrative style, while a white paper would require a more formal, information-dense style. Some writing requires an understanding of search engine optimization, while other projects have a content marketing focus.

The jobs you choose and the skills you develop over time shape your freelance writing career. Embracing diversity in your work is beneficial. It not only enhances your portfolio but also increases your marketability. Each job is an opportunity to learn something new or perfect a certain aspect of the craft.

What Do You Need to Become a Freelance Writer?

You might be curious about the requirements to become a freelance writer. Is a certificate necessary? Are there other qualifications that are essential?

Let’s talk about the potential requirements and qualifications that can boost your freelance writing career.

Do Freelance Writers Require Certificates?

Freelance writers don’t necessarily need specific certifications. However, having them can enhance your credibility in the field and lead to an increase in your freelance writing business.

By attracting more clients who highly appreciate expertise and quality, certifications become a sign of commitment to a career in freelance writing. It also shows that you have invested in improving your skills.

If you are thinking about becoming a full-time freelance writer, earning a certificate related to the type of writing you are interested in can be beneficial.

Whether it’s creative writing, technical writing, or copywriting, entering the freelance writing industry with a wealth of knowledge can make a big difference. It can be the difference between just getting by and genuinely thriving as a freelancer.

Other Freelance Writer Qualifications?

Aside from certifications, other qualifications can enhance your profile as an independent writer. You are more than a freelance content writer. You are a brand, and each skill you have increases your brand’s value.

If you aspire to be a successful freelance writer, become deeply involved in the industry. Stay updated with the latest trends and participate in online writing communities.

Broaden your skill set. Carving out a unique niche in freelance writing can set you apart from the competition. The importance of networking should not be overlooked. Go to events where you might meet potential clients or find freelance writing opportunities.

How to Become a Freelance Writer: Step-by-Step Guide

Embark on the journey to become a freelance writer. Begin by refining your writing skills and developing compelling content for the web.

Get to know the essential writing tools. Embrace education or training that is specifically designed for freelance writers.

Above all, perfect your editing skills. A good writer is often a great rewriter.

1. Start Writing and Developing Your Skills

To hone your skills as a freelance writer, you need to write consistently. It sounds obvious, but writing is what gives you writing experience. Picture yourself creating vibrant blog posts, compelling articles, or insightful guides. These will captivate readers and impress clients. This is not just about improvement. It is about mastering your craft.

Take every chance to create strong writing samples that display your unique style. Each piece is a testament to your talent. They enhance your portfolio and push you further into your freelance career.

Think about the writing niche you want to specialize in, but don’t settle on anything. There will be plenty of time for that later. If you’re new to writing, this is the stage to explore.

You can try travel blogging, writing about technology, or trend-setting fashion. Your chosen niche should ignite your passion and be evident in every word you write.

So, if you already have a niche you want to specialize in, great. But it’s not necessary at this stage.

As in writing, as in life, consistency leads to mastery. Or at least it leads to improvement. So keep writing.

2. Learn to Write for the Web

Mastering the art of writing for the web might be something you’re unfamiliar with. This style of writing varies greatly from traditional forms. It is not just about putting words together. It is about creating an engaging experience for your readers.

Writing for the web involves relevance and search engine optimization (SEO), which I’ll touch on more in a moment. It’s a blend of creativity and technicality that can help your personal blog or the projects of your freelance clients reach a wider audience online.

And it is conversational. A lot of what you learned about writing in school can stay in school. Most web writing is not that. You’re hear to engage readers and entertain, not put them to sleep.

So, plunge yourself into content writing. Craft sentences that share stories. Integrate keywords in a way that feels natural, as if you’re talking to a friend. Keep your readers interested until the very end.

Strive for brevity, but be humble. Maintain a conversational tone but remain respectful. And try to keep a consistent voice throughout your work (although different types of content will often demand a different style of writing).

Bear in mind that every click counts in the digital world. That’s what your client is after. That’s what everyone online is after. Attention and eyeballs. Your words are like fishing lines cast out into the sea. Make sure they are strong enough to bring in success.

3. Become Familiar with the Writing Tools

Your next step to up your web content creation game is to become familiar with various writing tools. These programs are designed to streamline and enhance your writing process.

You may be purist, but writing content for the web at times feels like a competitive sport. And productivity tools are like steroids. Once one person uses them, everyone else must follow or get left behind.

I’m not saying you absolutely need them, but they are valuable tools if you learn them. As an aspiring content creator, you will find these digital allies to be your friends.

Get comfortable with the basics like Google Docs or MS Word.

Explore the elements of writing, such as grammar, punctuation, style, and tone, with tools like Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid. These are your foundational blocks, the basics that will distinguish you from beginners. And these programs can assist you in honing these skills.

And then, we have AI tools that improve your grammar and help you write entire sentences, paragraphs, etc. These are especially handy if you’re writing in a language that’s not your first.

The effectiveness of every tool is dependent on its user. Practice with them until they become extensions of your thoughts and ideas. As you become more comfortable with these tools, your words will gain strength and fluidity on the screen.

4. Embrace Freelance Writer Education and Training

You shouldn’t underestimate the significance of ongoing education or training in refining your abilities as a content creator. Of course, most of us like to do it on our own, but there’s a world of education and training for writers out there.

And, not only can it give a jolt to freelance writing revenue, but improving your writing skills will make you stand out among writers with lesser skills. And this is a competitive game we’re playing here. So every advantage you can find is worth taking.

Free resources are all over the web, including blogs and YouTube videos. You can also find inexpensive freelance writing courses, intensive programs with coaches, and local writing workshops and classes.

Education provides you with the resources to weave engaging stories, convincing arguments, and fascinating content. The return on investment is definitely worth it.

6. Become a Good Editor

Writing is only half the story. In fact, many successful authors claim to be not good writers but rather great rewriters, as I mentioned eariler.

So, improving your editing skills may be your secret weapon. And not only that, a high-quality editor is a valuable asset in the field of freelance writing. You may have good clients who hire you to clean up existing content, which, for some, is their primary job.

Editing involves more than just correcting grammar or spelling errors. It requires the skill to communicate the intended message with clarity and precision. A few years ago, I took a course to level up my writing skills and worked with professional editors who often pointed out that entire sections of my article (that I thought were my best writing) were in fact, unnecessary.

So don’t underestimate the importance of good editing. Your clients will recognize and appreciate that you refine your work to perfection. Your extra effort will boost your reputation in the industry.

7. Write and Publish on Medium

You can certainly jump on some job boards and apply for writing gigs right away. But if you’ve never published anything, it’s a strange feeling when it happens for the first time.

Writing and publishing on Medium can be a non-intimidating place to start.

I remember finishing my first-ever article back in 2015, and I hovered over that publish button for a good minute. And then, instead of clicking, I backed away and rewrote the article again. And again.

Some people can jump in with both feet. Others, like myself, take some coaxing.

And even now, many years later, I struggle with this. I’m struggling with it right now as I review my first draft of this article. I should just do a quick read through, fix a few errors, and click the publish button (which you can do when it’s your website, or blog on Medium).

These are dynamic documents, and you can improve, fix, and update them later.

However, that's not necessarily true for freelance projects. You’re aiming for something more refined and final when submitting work to clients.

Medium is a great way to shake off those first-time jitters. It is an excellent platform to showcase your writing and editing skills. You can share every article idea you have been working on.

Medium is not only for blogs or random thoughts. It is also about creating content that resonates with a broad audience. It’s a stepping stone. A starting point for your freelance writing career.

8. Start a Blog

So you’re building your confidence here. You’ve published some articles on Medium. Now you can start your own blog.

A blog is a fantastic way to demonstrate your writing skills and connect with an audience about topics you love. And you can also make money with your own blog.

Online Writing's charm lies in your ability to apply self-expression to well-defined topics your client provides or your audience wants to read.

But clients, particularly, can be very specific about what they want, and your blog is the perfect platform to practice writing that is not robotic.

And both your blog and your Medium articles will become your staging area for your portfolio. You’ll be able to show clients you’re not just another first-time freelance writer looking for work. You’re a seasoned content creator.

9. Learn to Accept Criticism

Learning how to accept criticism is essential as it will greatly enhance your writing skills. It’s not easy, I know.

Criticism holds even more weight for technical writers. Every critique is an opportunity for improvement. Harsh feedback should not discourage you. Instead, use it to strengthen your skills in technical writing.

When a client or potential client highlights areas that need improvement, accept them with a positive attitude and determination. Adapting your work based on feedback demonstrates your flexibility and dedication to producing quality work. These are traits that clients highly appreciate.

Being proficient in accepting and working with criticism not only uplifts your reputation but it also boosts your chances of earning more in freelance writing. It’s only a negative if you take it that way.

10. Start Your Journey into SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

So, you’ve written your first articles, started a blog, and learned to embrace criticism. Those are significant steps in your journey as a freelance writer. Now, we need to explore the core of online writing… Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

As a business owner who wants to master digital content, understanding SEO is a requirement. No one wants there content to collect dust on the Google graveyard known as page two, or higher.

A focus is on strategic writing gets the attention of search engines. And many clients will require it.

SEO writers who know how to create engaging stories while meeting the technical requirements of the current digital landscape. You are no longer just a freelance writer. You are becoming a specialist in combining creativity with technology for optimized results.

Of course, this is a subject beyond the scope of this article, but make note of it because there’s a good chance some clients will require it.

11. Become a Good Researcher

Mastering content and specialties like SEO are still only part of your journey. You’re on the right path, but good online research skills are essential.

These skills are just as important part as any other. Some clients and some articles will require you to go further than the competition to provide content that’s not already out there. Good research brings a level of depth that stands out. You’re not just repeating what hundreds of others have already said.

Certainly, some articles will be repetitive. Broad topics that introduce an idea or subject, for example. But others will require you to drill down and find those nuggets of information to create something extraordinary.

Spending a lot of time researching a topic might seem overwhelming, but it is a crucial factor for success.

Time management is also closely tied to research. Maintaining a balance between researching various topics and actually writing about them can be a tricky balancing act.

12. Discover Your Niche

I touched on finding your niche earlier and recommended against it. While many recommend finding your niche earlier in the process, in my experience, you discover your niche over time.

The more you write, the more you discover what you enjoy writing about. Conversely, many would-be freelance writers get so hung up on trying to find a niche that they never start writing at all.

It’s better to just start writing, gain confidence, hone your craft, and let your niche come to you organically.

That’s why I say, “discover” your niche rather than find it.

Having said that, while the pay can be significantly higher for those who specialize in specific niches, you should also be versatile enough to pick up work outside of your comfort zone.

13. Build Your Writing Portfolio

This process has already started back when you published your first articles on Medium and your blog. But now, you may want to approach it with more strategic intent.

After discovering your niche, you may want to double down on niche-specific content to start building a strong writing portfolio that displays your skills and expertise in that area.

If you have expertise in multiple areas, you can also build multiple portfolios tailored to different clients and industries. You’re not just a writer. You’re an artist who crafts compelling narratives around the subjects you know best.

Building a portfolio is not a task that can be completed overnight. However, with passion and persistence, you will create one that attracts attention and secures contracts.

14. Join Freelance Platforms and Job Boards

You certainly don’t have to wait until this point to join job boards and freelance marketplaces. But if you haven’t already, now is the time to get your first client.

After building a solid portfolio, you’re ready to find those freelance writing jobs.

These platforms serve as your stage and your window into the world of freelance writing. They are the best way to find freelance writing jobs as a beginner.

As you gain experience and build a roster of clients, you’ll likely move on from these marketplaces to greener pastures. But you must start somewhere.

Having said that, freelance platforms cater to writers at all levels, from beginners to seasoned professionals. They are the springboards that turn dreams into tangible income.

Job boards are treasure troves filled with opportunities waiting to be uncovered. Explore each opportunity passionately and with enthusiasm. Every application sent out is a step towards becoming a successful freelance writer. The journey may be tough, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

15. Get Your First Paying Client

So here we are on the eve of getting your first paying client. Or at least that’s the plan.

It may be quick or maybe not, but the journey starts with cold pitches. This is the strategic approach of selling your skills to prospective clients. You need to devise an elevator pitch that’s engaging, concise and clearly outlines what you bring to the table.

Your clients will often ask you to write a sample article, and this is a great opportunity to establish a client relationship. Not always, but in some cases, this will give you a chance to communicate back and forth with your potential client through email, Zoom calls, etc.

Present yourself as a polite professional who is excited about new projects.

Having hired many freelance writers, I can tell many drop the ball at this stage. Their emails are written poorly, they express zero interest in the job, and it often seems like they’re just trying to tell their spouse or parents that they at least “applied for a job”.

But the takeaway is that they didn’t really want it.

So, make them (your potential clients) understand that you are not just another writer looking for work but an invaluable resource who can bring unique viewpoints and style to their projects.

The goal is not just about reaching a minimum income but also about proving real value.

Also, persistence is crucial here. In part, this is a sales gig, and you must run the numbers. Those who succeed endure rejection. I’m sure, in rare instances, some writers get work right away. But that’s not the norm.

So keep reaching out until you hear a “yes”. Every rejection is just setting the stage for an imminent win. Your breakthrough moment is around the corner.

16. Use Your Experience to Negotiate Rates

You now possess the experience, so there’s no need to hesitate while negotiating your rates. I mean, you don’t want to get too overconfident, but you’re no longer a beginner either.

As a freelance writer, understanding your worth is crucial in securing a fair deal. Your typical rate should not only account for your time but also compensate for the depth of expertise you offer and your time researching a topic.

For example, let’s look at it from a business point of view. You’re not simply selling words on a page. You’re selling results that come from months (and even years) of perfecting your craft.

So, while negotiating rates, you should consider more than the hours spent typing. You should think about the value and experience you bring. Believe me, again… as someone who has hired many freelance writers, the time saved by hiring one with experience and expertise is worth far more than the money you save on a writer without either.

So don’t shortchange yourself. Use experience as a bargaining tool. This negotiation process is key to succeeding as a freelance writer.

17. Ask Your Clients for Referrals

In many cases, referrals are hard to get. Not because your client doesn’t like your work but because they don’t want to lose you to someone else willing to pay more.

But that shouldn’t stop you from asking.

This is an important step to broaden your network and secure more work. As a freelance writer, this straightforward tactic can significantly increase your number of clients. But it’s not foolproof. Again, for many clients, you may be their secret weapon.

That said, you’ll have many clients who go through times when they don’t need as much content. If you’ve built a good relationship with them, they’ll go out of their way to recommend you.

And start a process of sending follow-up emails requesting referrals after delivering outstanding work. Make it simple for them. You could draft a brief message that they can forward or perhaps propose incentives such as discounts on future work. You might find this strategy to be effective with many clients.

18. Scale Your Freelance Writing Career (If You Want To)

You’re now on your way, gaining momentum and filling your days with the clickety-clack of your fingers pounding the keyboard.

The next step in your journey as a freelance writer might involve scaling your career.

Along the way, you would have built a solid side income, and that may be enough. Full-time writing is not for everyone. I love writing, and it should be my dream job. But even I burn out from time to time.

Still, scaling your freelance writing career to full-time may be what you’ve always dreamed of. Strategic thinking and careful planning are necessary for scaling. When done correctly, it can offer big rewards.

You’ll need to make the most of your spare time and think like a business owner, not just as a freelance writer.

This could mean investing in new skills or branching out into new niches. Hiring an assistant to manage administrative tasks could also be a good idea. This would free up more time for you to engage in high-value work.

Every decision you make should be focused on increasing income and managing expenses effectively. Following these steps can lead to the successful and sustainable scaling of your freelance writing career.

Is Freelance Writing Right for You? (The Pros and Cons)

We’ve covered the steps to become a freelance writer, but is it the right path for you? Let’s look at some pros and cons.

Freelance Writing Pros

  • Work from a home office, the beach, a coffee shop, or wherever. And if you have your research with you, you don’t even need an internet connection.
  • Similar to the previous pro, you can say goodbye to rush-hour traffic and hello to a two-second commute to your desk.
  • Get paid to do what you love. How many people can say that?
  • The independence and freedom to pick your projects, your clients, and your working hours.
  • Freelancers have tax benefits. You can write off business expenses like your laptop, software, internet fees, and even a part of your rent.
  • You’re developing and practicing a skill that will serve you in just about any profession your future holds.
  • It’s easy to get started. It doesn’t require a big financial investment, a complex business plan, or the stars to align perfectly.
    With all of that said, freelance writing is no utopia. I can tell you this from experience.

Freelance Writing Cons

  • Let’s start with income Instability. Some months, you’re rolling in dough, and others, you’re scraping by. So, you should plan ahead and keep money in the bank for those dry months.
  • Freelancers do not get employment benefits. No health insurance, retirement plans, and certainly no paid leave. If you’re fortunate to have a spouse with benefits, as I do, it’s a lot easier. But those benefits don’t help with retirement or paid leave.
  • You don’t have a boss, but you do have clients. Lose a big client, and your financial situation could become precarious.
  • A con I wasn’t expecting but seems to be affecting me more each year… is isolation. It can get lonely when your coworkers are a keyboard and a cup of coffee (although I love both too). At times I have a habit of putting YouTube videos on in the background just to hear voices, but that’s also a distraction that kills productivity.
  • Whether you’re doing freelance writing or creating content for your own blog or niche website, the competition is tough. You’re up against a sea of writers.
  • Practicing Self-Discipline. It’s all you. No boss is looking over your shoulder, which makes you the taskmaster. You can do a dozen other things around the house, from watching TV to cleaning the garage and everything in between.

What Do Freelance Writers Get Paid?

The pay of freelance writers can vary greatly, depending on their experience and the type of writing they do. Generalists get paid relatively low rates, in the ballpark of $0.04 to $0.08 per word, give or take. Of course, there are always exceptions.

On the other hand, technical writers can earn as much as $1.00 per word if they have specialized knowledge that their client needs. In some cases, technical writers are highly credentialed, and just having their name on the article adds clout and additional trust.

How much does that actually add up to?

According to Zip Recruiter, the average salary for a freelance writer is $5,082/month (shown below).

Screenshot of a freelance writer salary chart. A bar graph shows varying monthly salaries with the national average highlighted – $5,082 per month or $29 per hour. Below, there's a 'Freelance Writer Salary Comparison by Location' section.
Source: Zip Recruiter

Experienced SEO writers can also bring in more money because they know how to write to both a human reader and a search engine algorithm. And this is a skill anyone can learn.

In all cases, most freelance writers start at the lower end of the price range and work their up over time.while technical writing But don’t let this discourage you if you are passionate about becoming a freelance writer. This journey can be yours.

The pay of freelance writers is as diverse as the writers themselves. Some days, it might not seem like much. But trust me, the freedom and fulfillment are worth it, in my opinion… despite the cons I mentioned earlier.

How Do Beginner Freelance Writers Get Hired Without Experience?

So you're wondering how to land your first client as a freelance writer with no experience. Don’t worry. You have more resources available than you might think and many ways to get clients. The key is to market yourself intelligently and leverage the digital world we live in.

Plan your path using the steps outlined earlier.

Then, set up professional social media accounts if you don’t have them yet. These platforms are more than just outlets for sharing adorable cat videos. They are influential spaces to exhibit your writing skills and network with potential clients.

Make it a routine to post appealing content that demonstrates your individual voice and style.

And practice, practice, practice. Every skill requires repetition.

Brand yourself as a clever content creator by publishing marketable content on various platforms. Have fun with it. The purpose here is so that when you reach out to clients (or potential clients find you on job boards and freelance platforms) and they do some initial research on you… they find an active writer who loves creating content.

Don’t hesitate to send out cold emails as well. Find businesses or individuals who may need a skillful writer like yourself. Compose a compelling email emphasizing your skills and enthusiasm rather than lack of experience. We all start somewhere.

Where Do You Go From Here?

Becoming a successful freelance writer won’t fall into your lap. But if you’ve read this far, it’s clear that it’s the life you want. And your desire is the key to your success. It requires passion, commitment, and some bravery to plunge into the deep end.

So, that unending itch to live the life you want is exactly what you need to get it.

And as I said earlier, freelance writing doesn’t require a big financial investment, a complex business plan, or for the stars to align perfectly. You can start right now, today.

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