When I scroll through Facebook and Instagram, I often see ads from people who are freelance writers, promoting the “working from anywhere” lifestyle.
The ad copy typically goes something like this — “Would you like to be able to work on your own schedule, from anywhere in the world? That’s what I did.”
Like anyone, I always think, “Well, duh!”
And I’m not alone. According to Upwork’s 2018 Freelancing in America report, the number of American freelancers has increased by 3.7 million since 2014.
In fact, 59% of U.S. companies now use a flexible workforce to some degree, whether that’s freelancers or remote workers.
These stats bode well for writers who are interested in starting remote or freelance work. So, as freelance work becomes increasingly popular, you might be wondering how to become a successful freelance writer.
Below, we’ll review freelance writing tips and how to get started as a beginner.
1. Choose a niche.
As a freelance writer, you can choose the topics you write about. However, instead of casting your net wide and writing about anything that comes across your desk, consider diving deeper into a certain subject.
Allie Decker, a writer on HubSpot’s pillar team and a successful freelance writer, says, “You can’t be an expert on everything — surely you’ve heard the term ‘Master of None.’ Writing within a niche will also make writing projects easier over time as you build your expertise.”
For example, if you’re interested in writing for marketing companies, you can specialize in writing for small businesses. This will give you an advantage when you pitch small businesses and make it easier to write content as you repeatedly write for a similar audience.
Overall, choosing a niche will help you decide who you send pitches to, what projects you take on, and which topics you’ll want to study and research extensively.
2. Communicate with your clients.
Once you’ve secured a job, it’s time to get to work. However, don’t just put your head down and forget about the client.
Aja Frost, an SEO strategist at HubSpot and a successful freelance writer, says, “Communicate early and often with your clients. If you get sick or overwhelmed and know there’s a good chance you’ll miss a deadline, don’t go radio silent — tell the client what’s going on. If you’re going out of town and won’t be working for a few weeks, don’t tell them the day before — let them know a few months ahead and offer to send them some articles in advance.”
Additionally, Frost notes, “If you’re going to finish early (and send them the invoice early) — give them a heads up ASAP so they can work out any potential billing invoices. Your proactiveness and transparency will be incredibly appreciated and will put you ahead of many freelancers.”
This type of communication makes your job easier and can help you form a connection with your clients so they’ll book jobs with you in the future. Additionally, clear communication is the best thing you can do for your reputation and brand.
3. Network with other writers.
Although it might seem counterintuitive to network with the competition so-to-speak, doing so is an excellent way to gain success in freelance writing.
Decker says, “It’s healthy for your professional and personal development. I’ve learned the most about freelancing from a few who are already doing it, and I’ve built enough rapport to be passed along projects that they don’t have the bandwidth for. It’s also nice to have a semblance of ‘coworkers’ when you’re working alone, day in and day out.”
By networking with other writers, you can stay up-to-date on the latest news and trends in your niche. Plus, you can share and learn information on how to be successful as a freelance writer. The best person to ask for advice is someone who has walked the road you want to walk.
Additionally, once you do make connections, it’ll help your brand reputation and give you name recognition most freelance writers don’t have.
4. Be active online.
Not to reiterate, but having name recognition and being known in your industry is one of the top ways to book jobs as a freelance writer.
To achieve this, you need to be active online. For example, you should have a portfolio website with testimonials, write a blog on your site, guest post on other publications, and remain active and engaged on social media.
Once you choose a niche and start posting online, people will begin to recognize your name. Additionally, these things can also improve your SEO and give you more credibility, so your name shows up when companies search “small business freelance writers.”;
5. Write well-crafted pitches.
While, ideally, the tips above can help you receive jobs through networking and online searches, it’s equally important to note that you’ll need to write pitches almost every day and reach out to companies that would be a good fit.
Once you’ve found a company to pitch, you need to write a well-crafted proposal that sells you and makes sense to the publication. This isn’t an easy task, so to become a successful freelance writer, you need to learn what makes a good proposal.
6. Study negotiation and acquire a contract for every job.
The top mistakes almost every freelance writer makes at the beginning of their career is that they don’t set up a contract and don’t know their worth, so they work for less than they should.
Take the advice now and make sure you research how to negotiate freelance wages. Look up the average hourly rate, rate per word, or rate per project. List out the pros and cons of the pricing structure and decide what you want to charge.
Once you know what you want to charge, you can go into a negotiation with the upper hand. When you close the deal, it’s time to draw up a contract.
In fact, you don’t ever want to work on a project without a contract. A contract gives you an opportunity to understand the scope of the project and lay out your boundaries for the client.
7. Learn how to edit.
As a freelance writer, you don’t have an editor looking over every piece you turn in. This means you need to learn the art of the self-edit.
For example, here’s my writing and editing process:
- Write without judgment: When you’re writing your pieces, take off the editor’s hat and just write.
- Edit for spelling, grammar, and sentence structure: After you finish the piece, set it aside for a few hours or a day or so if you can. Then, on your first edit, just look for spelling and grammar errors. Additionally, ensure the sentences are structured correctly.
- Edit for style: Your client might adhere to a certain style guide. If they do, you’ll want to ensure the piece is written in the right style. Are the names, titles, times, quotes, and image sources done correctly? Go through and double check.
- Edit for formatting: Lastly, go through and make sure the piece is perfectly formatted.
Overall, you’ll want to switch from “writing mode” to “editing mode.” When you’re editing, you’re looking for overall accuracy, clarity, and formatting.
8. Master time management and organization skills.
In order to be a successful freelance writer, you’ll have to excel at time management and organization skills. As a freelancer, you don’t have a boss or manager telling you when to turn in your drafts or giving you boxes to check off throughout the writing process.
While independence is one of the perks of freelance writing, it also means you need to overcompensate for time management.;
Write out your to-do lists, keep track of your deadlines, stay organized, and always try to be working ahead so you can take advantage of the freelance lifestyle (like those glorious travel days).
9. Gather testimonials.
After you’ve done a few assignments and have worked with enough people who have given you positive feedback, ask for testimonials.
You can put testimonials on your site or have people recommend you on LinkedIn. Recommendations will give you credibility and help potential clients understand why they should want to work with you.
In order to gather testimonials, do some research on the letter/email to send to current or previous clients when you’re asking for feedback. The language you use here is important and should be tailored and personalized to the client to whom you’re reaching out.
10. Enhance your complementary skills.
As a freelance writer, you can’t just be a good writer. You should also have complementary skills like SEO, analytics, marketing, or advertising.
An excellent way to stay on the top of your game is to take courses and read articles related to these skillsets. These skills will set you apart from other freelance writers who only know how to write and can’t optimize articles for results.
Additionally, you should also take advice from clients if they offer tips to improve your writing. This advice could help boost your skills and make you a more marketable freelancer.
11. Collect results.
The best way to sell yourself is with data. Once you’ve written a piece and have formed a good connection with the client, ask them to share the results of your work.
Did the company get more email sign-ups? How was the conversion rate on your posts? The click-through-rate? The bounce rate? The time on page?
If you’re armed with numeric results for your work, clients will jump at the chance to book you. Plus, the more successful your posts are, the more money you can charge. Think of it like this: if you earn a company $3,000 in revenue, they should probably pay you more than $150 per blog post.
12. Consider your workspace.
Working from anywhere sounds like a nice concept. However, as a remote employee, I can tell you that your workspace is a crucial component to your productivity.
To be a successful freelancer, you need to learn what type of environment works for you. Do you need natural light to be productive? How about light noise? Or no noise at all? Everyone is different and at most jobs you don’t get a say in your environment.
Luckily, for freelancers, you can take time and figure out where you’ll be most productive. Keep in mind that it could change daily. Some days I’m most productive at my kitchen table. Other days, it’s best if I’m at a library or coffee shop.;
Ultimately, it’s critical you learn about yourself and consider your workspace if you want to be a successful freelancer.
13. Create a brand.
As mentioned above, name recognition and creating a brand will help you book jobs and get your name out there.
Creating a brand is an excellent way to network with other writers and get the jobs you want.
To create a brand, make sure you choose a niche, pick a social media persona, and have a unique writing style that sets you apart from other freelance writers. Additionally, it’s critical you remain consistent with both voice and design across your website and social media platforms to create a memorable brand.;
Once you’ve created a brand for yourself, you’ll begin to see some jobs come to you instead of having to pitch every day.
14. Generate ideas.
Even if you don’t have a current job or assignment, stay relevant in your niche. Think of topics and ideas you want to write about and work on them. It’s always a good idea to have some articles “saved” in a backlog for future pitches or guest posts.
If you’re continuously writing and coming up with ideas, you’ll have more to say when you pitch companies.
These articles can help you stay ahead of the curve and plan for income in the future.
15. Ask questions.
When you begin working with a client, once you have a topic, you might think you can just go ahead and start writing. However, that wouldn’t be a good idea, because you need to have more information and clearly communicate with the client about their expectations.
For instance, you might ask them about word count, SEO, topics and subtopics, deadline, and whether or not they’d like you to conduct interviews. This information will help you begin outlining your article and make it easier to write. Additionally, when you ask the right questions, you’re more likely to turn in great work that’ll help you get hired again.
Freelance Writing for Beginners
As a beginner, it can be hard to know where to get started in the freelance writing world. You know that you’ll write for a number of clients and publications, but you aren’t sure how to start that process.
Here’s a simplified run-down of how to get started:
Step 1: Build your brand: Create your website, write your own blog posts, guest post for other publications, and get active online. This will help you build authority in your niche.
Step 2: Choose your pay structure: Understand that each job might be different. However, you need to decide which pay structure works for you: commission, per project, per word, or hourly.
Step 3: Register your business: You can either register your business as an LLC and open a business bank account to protect your assets, or you can opt to receive 1099s from companies and work from your personal bank account.
Step 4: Setting up your workspace: Again, this is an important consideration. Once you’ve decided to jump into freelancing, set up your workspace.
Step 5: Pitch potential clients: Now it’s time to get to the grind. Look at job boards or contact the companies directly. Either way, you should send several pitches a day to get started.
Step 6: Market yourself: Always promote your content to establish credibility in your industry.
Step 7: Stay organized: Organization is the name of the game when you’re writing for several publications. Keep track of deadlines and always work ahead if you can.
Freelance writing isn’t always an easy and glamorous job like the Facebook ads make it seem. It requires a lot of hard work, organization, and persistence. However, if you stay on the grind, and work with the end game in mind — like those long walks on the Saint Tropez beaches — you can eventually build a brand where companies are coming directly to you and willing to pay you what you’re worth.