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How to Become a Freelance Writer in 2021

So, you want to learn how to become a freelance writer.

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need me to give you the talk on what a rewarding experience freelance writing can be.

…or how it gives you the freedom to work from wherever you want when you want.

But it’s the truth.

Launching your freelance writing business is a great way to improve your writing, along with lots of other skills you never thought you’d pick up.

It’s also a way to make a great living while actually enjoying what you do for work.

Read that again:

Great living.

If you’ve heard that writers do what they do not because they get paid well, but because they love it, that’s only partially true.

It’s completely realistic to expect to love what you do and get paid well in this business.

Ready to get started and become a freelance writer? Here’s the breakdown:

Table Of Contents

If you really want to learn how to become a freelance writer (and you value your sanity), you’ve got to change the way you think about some things.

Here are a couple of common mindset problems writers encounter when they try to get into a freelance writing career.

1. Develop a “Growth” Mindset

James Clear has a great article on how your beliefs can sabotage your behavior (and by extension, your results).

In short, if you believe you’re not good at something, you tend to use that as an excuse to avoid it.

So many people who want to become a freelance writer never give themselves a chance to succeed. They stop before they ever even start.

While some of this can be attributed to outside influences, those are really just more excuses not to do something you think you can’t do. The only thing holding you back is what you believe you can do.

Creating vs. Competing

While a little competition is healthy, comparing yourself to your competition should never be your focus.

It has to be absolutely draining to spend so much time and effort researching your competition and looking for every little thing you can do to beat them. It’s an unhealthy way to approach writing (or anything, really).

It’s okay to do a little research on your competition. In fact, you should research competitors.

But rather than focusing so much on what you could do better than other freelance writers (or what they’re doing better than you), look at what they’re not doing. Or, draw inspiration from them.

Better yet, network with them. They’re probably curious about you, too.

The sooner you realize there are enough freelance writing opportunities to go around, the better. Create your own opportunities and focus on creating your best work rather than obsessively comparing yourself to other writers.

2. Change How You Think About “Failure”

Unless you start off your writing career with a long list of people you know for sure will want to buy your services…

As a freelance writer, you need to get used to hearing the word “no.”

Or crickets in your email inbox.

And that’s not always a failure on your part.

You can do extensive research on a client, think you know exactly what they need, and pour your heart and soul into the most amazing pitch…

Just to be turned down.

If you’ve done everything you can, don’t feel bad about it. It happens a lot.

Sometimes it’s because people don’t see the value in what you do—that’s their fault, not yours. You can give some people all the reason and evidence in the world and it just goes in one ear and out the other.

Not your problem! Move on.

If your goal is to get more writing clients, failing to get someone to buy isn’t a failure in the long-term.

Because if that person doesn’t buy, it leaves room for someone else.

Perhaps they’ll pass your information along to someone else. Maybe writing will come up in a conversation with one of their peers and they’ll think of you.

Or, it’s possible they’re just not ready and they’ll contact you months down the road after you’ve forgotten you wrote them in the first place!

Learn to change how you think about failure.

3. Know Your “Why”

As a writer, you’ll get a lot of questions about what you do, which is pretty shallow. It’s not a bad question, it’s just not one that people ask when they’re looking to buy.

It’s natural to tell people what you do, then maybe get into how you do it, but rarely do we ever breach the why of it. (A lot of freelance writers I’ve talked to didn’t really even consider why until several years into their writing career.)

Before we get into how to become a freelance writer, we need to touch on that one core idea:

Your “why.” That’s what sells.

Think about why you want to become a freelance writer, why you do what you do.

Simon Sinek has a presentation on The Golden Circle that describes the reason “why” is so important.

Once you figure this part out, write it down and put it somewhere you’ll see it daily. Not only will it make it easier to sell your services, but it also keeps you motivated when you’re going through a rough time.

Make sure to consider your personal reasons, too! Talking about how freelance writing is awesome because it gives you the freedom to work from anywhere and lets you help businesses all over the world can be a good way to appeal to clients.

Don’t forget, clients aren’t just buying your writing. They’re buying you—your personality, your style, your work ethic. Don’t overshare, but share a little about your personal goals and interests as well.

4. Take Note of Your Skills and Areas of Improvement

It’s a common misconception that people are just born with the natural talent needed to become a freelance writer.

If you read the article I linked to earlier about fixed mindset vs. growth mindset, you’ll start to understand why that’s not always true. Sure, people can have natural talent. But if you’re not good at writing (or don’t know how), it’s completely within your power to change that.

Yes, people that know absolutely nothing about writing can become freelance writers.

You might have to work harder to develop these skills than other people. But if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, it’s not unrealistic to expect to make freelance writing your full-time job.

So, if your writing is flat and boring, change it!

If you’re bad at marketing and selling yourself to people, just know that those are things you’re going to have to work on.

At the start, you’ll want to focus on what you’re already good at and go from there. If you find people coming to you for help with something, that’s probably a good place to start. Play to your strengths.

And while it’s better to focus on what you’re good at, don’t neglect areas of improvement. Acknowledge your weaknesses, determine if it’s worth your time to improve upon them, and work on developing those areas or finding a way to fill that gap.

5. Choose a Freelance Writing Niche

Now that we’ve got the tough stuff out of the way, on to how to become a freelance writer: writing!

Before you get started, you’ll want to choose a niche.

While you could write a bunch of different things, most companies are going to want someone who is knowledgeable about their industry. You’ll want to pick at least one thing to specialize in.

The ideal niche is something you love, know a lot about, and makes a lot of money. If you’re a coach, teacher, or already do something else you love to do, you’re a step ahead!

Personally, I love writing about tea. But it’s not very profitable on its own. The jobs I get are few and far between and they don’t usually pay as much as other niches. I balance it out by other things I enjoy (like food and wine) that aren’t quite as niche and pay a lot better.

You’ll also save a lot of time by writing about something you know and love. While you can write about things your less familiar with, you’ll spend hours on research trying to find what you need to write an article.

You can always learn new things to write about later. For now, go with your strengths.

Here are a few examples of more popular niches:

  • Health and fitness
  • Wellness/mental health
  • Self-Improvement
  • Food
  • Personal Finance
  • Careers
  • Product Reviews
  • Technology
  • Travel
  • Fashion

6. Build Your Online Presence with Writing Samples

The hardest part about getting started with freelance writing?

Getting started.

The general advice is that if you want to become a freelance writer, you need a website with lots of blog posts! However…

Maybe you just want to write for other people without the hassle of keeping up with a site.

While you’ll eventually want to create your own freelance writing website and start a blog, it’s not a must to get started. In fact, it could be just another reason to avoid going after what you really want.

Many aspiring spend a lot of time procrastinating by taking endless courses, doing nothing but writing, spending weeks on their websites, and pretty much everything but writing.

(Hi! That was me.)

If you want to get started now, get on Medium. It’s a great site with an active community that you can use to build a following. Eventually, you’ll want to get your own site, but for now, just get something published.

Having public samples anywhere is a great way to start building your online presence. Even if you don’t have a site set up, link back to your social media or somewhere else people can get in touch with you.

Here are some ideas:

Write About Products and Services You Use

Product reviews are a great way to drive traffic and show off your marketing skills (particularly if it’s a product you love).

Write a few posts that teach people how to one of your favorite tools or products. Show them how it can benefit them and solve a problem.

You could publish these on Medium, or find a publication to pitch that might want your product reviews. Many publications are more than willing to publish your work if it’s on par with their content and some will even pay you for it.

Write Some Opinion Pieces

Take a stance on recent events and write about it.

Opinion pieces tend to draw a lot of attention in general and it’s a good way to show you’re staying on top of things.

Write about industry events related to your niche. If you’re writing about tech, you might write about recent company mergers and why you think they’re a good (or bad) idea.

If you’re into marketing, write about some recent marketing trends that drive you insane, but work. Or, write a prediction about your favorite platform and where you think the company is headed. Articles that convey strong positive or negative emotion towards something get a lot more attention.

Even if it’s not strictly an opinion piece, adding your personal thoughts to an article can be a great way to connect with readers.

Write Stories

Stories are, by far, the best way to draw readers into your article.

People love conflict. They want to see how things end. Even if it’s not a great story, a semi-decent article can pique people’s interest. They also love inspiration.

Write about a challenging situation that changed your work life for the better (or for worse). Talk about how it helped you grow or what you learned from it.

Write Educational Content

One of the best ways to showcase your skills as a writer is to educate.

You show off your writing skills, your ability to communicate complex topics, and let your expertise on a topic shine.

While I do a lot of things like product reviews, recipes, and other things that kind of fall more on the “entertainment” side of things, almost everything I write for other sites ties in a tutorial of some sort.

Once you have some samples published, it’s time for the fun part—networking and promotion.

So, you want to know how to become a freelance writer. Freelance writing is rewarding work with the flexibility to work whenever and wherever. Get started now!

Network on Social Media

If you’re an introvert with me, your ideal “writer’s life” picture, probably doesn’t involve much networking!

But being on social media, especially LinkedIn, is an easy way to get started with freelance writing.

For many new freelance writers, connecting with people on LinkedIn can be a great way to get your foot in the door with companies and, more importantly, real people. You have a bit less chance of being filtered on LinkedIn, as people are more open to business-related interactions.

Now, I’m not saying you should pitch or ask for work on LinkedIn at the start—your first interaction with someone usually shouldn’t be to outright ask for work.

Rather, share things relevant to your industry and craft. Share your thoughts and opinions on things related to your niche.

Use hashtags to get your posts to the right people. Unlike a lot of other places, people on LinkedIn are looking to engage in healthy discussions and debates.

You’ll also want to use social media to connect with other freelance writers in your niche. Get to know them and focus on building long-term relationships. Some of my clients have come from referrals from a freelance writer who had way too much work on their plate.

Pitch Publications and Business

If you want to become a successful freelance writer and actually make money, you need to know how to write a pitch. (Okay, you don’t have to, but it’ll make your life a lot easier.)

Admittedly, pitching companies was a struggle for me until fairly recently. I relied on networking, referrals, and warm leads. These are great, but it’s hard to get those things when no one knows who you are.

Bamidele Onibalusi from Writers in Charge recently hosted a cold pitching challenge.

If I’m being honest, cold pitching scares the heck out of me.

I’ve heard a lot of the same advice over the years: “Just do it! The worst they can do is say no, right?”

Yeah, that really doesn’t make it easy to walk up to random strangers and say, “Hey! Buy my stuff!”

If you’ve ever watched any of Bob Proctor’s stuff, he talks a lot about “terror barriers.” You’re in familiar territory, surrounded by things you know, and you’re comfortable. Then you encounter something you’re so uncomfortable with and you just want to run the other way.

As ridiculous as it sounds, that was me, with cold pitching.

But after I wrote my first one and hit “send,” I just had this overwhelming sense of relief. So, then I sent another. And another. I wrote about 20 well-researched, carefully crafted cold pitches that day.

And you know what? The responses weren’t bad.

Over the next week, I got a lot of “we’re not looking for a writer right now” and “it’s not in our budget.” But, I also got copied on some emails that got forwarded to decision-makers in the company and even a couple that wanted to do some paid sample writing.

Not bad.
Want to learn how to write a killer cold pitch? Check this out.

7. Find Places to Get Freelance Writing Work

Finding your first freelance writing job can be a struggle, not because there are too many writers, but because a lot of businesses still don’t understand how much value a good writer can provide them.

In general, if you want to avoid people who don’t value your work, make sure to avoid content mills. You won’t make money here.

I pretty much only use them if I have articles that I’ve written for samples or have a pitch that fell through. You can use content mills to sell “leftover” work, but they shouldn’t be your primary source of income.

First, Put a Price on Your Work

The biggest piece of advice I can give here is to value your time. Especially if you’re going to start freelance writing while you still have a full-time job, you’ve got to put a good price on your time.

I started out charging $100 per article ($.10/word) and didn’t understand what a good starting rate that was.

I think the biggest difference between making a good starting rate and getting paid pennies is your willingness to compromise. (And at the time, I just didn’t want to deal with a compromise—they could take it or leave it.)

Of course, there are always exceptions. If it’s a company you really like or think you could benefit from working with, reassess how much value it might bring in the way of experience and training.

When I first started out, I was much more willing to budge on my rates if I was going to be working with an experienced editor who could teach me a thing or two.

Content mills and other “get experience” writing jobs pay you far less than that for a single article. (I’ve seen people charging $20 per article and, depending on where you live, that’s just not sustainable.)

So set your rates and try to stick to them as much as possible.

Ethical Digital

Here at Ethical Digital, we have a great platform that allows freelancers to network and create teams to work on client projects.

It takes some of the best elements from “traditional” marketing firms, like having a team to support you with resources and connections and allows writers to continue developing their personal brand, taking on whatever projects are a good fit.

Direct Response Jobs

Direct Response Jobs is a resource you already have access to if you have any sort of AWAI membership. While I haven’t gotten much work there, you do have a shot at clients who are much more willing to pay more.

Most writing sites and job boards have more opportunities, but writing jobs here tend to pay better.

FlexJobs

FlexJobs is a fantastic resource for freelancers in general, not just writers. While a lot of companies here offer jobs for full-time employees, there are plenty of part-time, contract and freelance opportunities.

And if you want to write but you’re struggling with the idea of freelance writing, you might even consider a full-time writing job with a firm or another company that lines up with your goals and values. And even temporary part-time jobs with great marketing firms can teach you a lot.

While there are some disadvantages to taking jobs with marketing firms (primarily not having your name on things), you can learn a lot and get some referrals and testimonials down the line if you wind up being a good fit.

ProBlogger

ProBlogger has lots of good jobs for freelance writers, both new and experienced.

I do have a bit of a problem with responses from companies here—a lot of them don’t respond or just forgot to take jobs down. But it’s much more maintained than a lot of other similar job boards.

ClearVoice

ClearVoice is another site where, while jobs don’t come up as often, they’re a lot better paying than job boards. And aside from a few technical issues with scraping articles, I love their platform.

You can submit links to your existing articles and it’ll scrape them and display them on your portfolio page. It (should) also pull from that feed in the future. I haven’t quite had a chance to test that part out yet, as most of my samples are gated content, one-offs, or landing pages.

If I could only pick one business like this to work with, it would be ClearVoice. Unlike more general freelance sites, they offer lots of great tools and resources to help you on your way to becoming a freelance writer.

Upwork

Upwork is a great place with a wide variety of writing jobs. But I have a lot of mixed feelings about it.

They make it difficult to break away. I understand why they do it, but it’s expensive if you want to take your contract away from Upwork. (And in general, it’s really not worth it.)

More recently, they’ve added the ability to bring in outside clients to Upwork and skip the bigger fees. I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet, but it seems convenient for writers who don’t have someone to write contracts for them. (It also offers more protection than trying to work out a contract on your own.)

I’m really not thrilled with the new monthly model. It’s already a bit expensive for me to work on due to the fees, but they’ve changed to billing you monthly for credits rather than offering a few free credits every month.

So that translates to having to pay the monthly sub if I see one job I want, on top of the contract fees. For people who apply to lots of different listings, it’s fine. The only reason I haven’t abandoned it all together is that you can just cancel the “premium” plan and retain credits.

I don’t necessarily agree with the way they do a lot of things, but it’s still a somewhat decent platform, especially for new writers. It’s also hard to hate it since I’ve met a few of my favourite clients on Upwork.

It’s also hard to ignore just because of how big it’s gotten over the years. I had a pretty successful freelance writer recommend it to me recently, asking if I’d tried out some of their new features. (She was the last person I expected to promote a site like this.)

So it has made a lot of recent improvements—if you tried it in the past and couldn’t get into it, you might give it another go.

Constant Content

If you’re looking for consistent work and a wide variety of writing jobs, I don’t recommend Constant Content. You set your own rates, but in general, the rates clients want are pretty low.

You also have to “pitch” your article to the client, meaning it’s not guaranteed pay. ClearVoice is a much better platform if you want to make sure you receive payment for your work. My response rate here was also significantly lower than on other sites.

This is one of the places I was talking about earlier. You can sell pre-written articles here, so if you have a pitch that didn’t go over, you can clean up your article a bit to make it appeal to a more general audience and sell it here.

So, you want to know how to become a freelance writer. Freelance writing is rewarding work with the flexibility to work whenever and wherever. Get started now!

8. Market Yourself as a Freelance Writer

“Networking? Pitching? Marketing? I didn’t sign up for this!”

No, but those things are all a big part of becoming a successful freelance writer and drawing the attention of your potential clients.

The good news?

You won’t always have to do these things.

A successful freelance writer often ends up hiring people to help them out with their work. They outsource things like SEO, marketing, research, and yes, even writing. There will eventually be times when you’ll get more writing work than you can take.

In the meantime, unless you have extra money to spend, you’ll need to do a lot of this on your own.

I used to hate the idea of marketing myself as a freelance writer. It was boring, a little scary, and I didn’t know anything about it.

Now, it’s one of my favorite things to talk about.

Marketing includes some of the things we’ve already talked about—publishing your work on other sites, starting a blog, networking on social media, are all smaller things you can do to market yourself.

Most blogging or writing courses teach you nothing about marketing, even though it’s a key piece to becoming a successful freelance writer. There are some really good ones out there, but they’re few and far between.

I took this particular course years ago and it’s what really got me interested not just in making writing a full-time thing, but also in marketing.

So, if marketing is your weak point, don’t go looking for another writing course. Sites like Wealthy Web Writer have lots of resources on marketing yourself and becoming a freelance writer—start networking and developing your marketing skills.

One of the Best Ways to Market Yourself: Educational Content

As I learned when I was working at a computer repair business, one of the best ways to market yourself is to teach your clients how to do what you do.

I know, it sounds a little counter-intuitive. Why would they hire you if they could just read an article and do it themselves?

That’s just the thing.

Often enough, they can’t do it or they can’t be bothered to do it.

When I was working computer repair, I would frequently write articles on how to do virus scans, clean up your hard drive, and I’d even do some videos on things like how to replace the “easier-to-get-to” parts of computers (like replacing your hard drive or memory.

Most clients appreciated that we tried to show them how to do it, but didn’t feel comfortable doing it themselves. They hired us to do it for them.

This does a few things:

It builds trust with your audience. You’re being transparent and they know what you’re doing.

It educates them. Now they can do some of the simpler tasks so you can help them with things they actually need help with.

It keeps them from wanting to hover over your shoulder to see what you’re doing all the time. They already know what you’re doing!

You’re saving them time, you’re saving yourself time, and if you have a sales team, you’re saving them time by having all these readily available resources.

Now, I’m not saying give away all your best-kept secrets on the front page of your site. You still want to keep some tricks in your back pocket.

On top of that, sharing too much information can be a bad thing. When I was working in computer repair, I knew my target audience. I also knew that if they attempted some of the things that we did for them, it could spell disaster.

So, share what you do with your potential clients, but only just enough. There is so such thing as too much transparency.

9. Get Paid as a Freelance Writer

Now for the exciting part about freelance writing—getting paid!

Freelance writing is risky in that, if you’re working on your own, there’s no guarantee you’ll get paid.

The last thing you want to do is deliver something you spent days on, only to not get paid.

In general, you won’t come across people who willfully cheat you out of money. But I don’t want to say you’ll never come across that.

I haven’t ever had an incredibly bad situation where I didn’t get paid for a lot of work. My worst situation was I agreed to write a series of articles for someone, they ghosted me, and I wound up pitching that series to a bunch of different publications.

Luckily, sites like Upwork give you a way to work with clients that protects you from stuff like that. They recently released an option to bring your external clients to the platform and work with them there for a very small fee.

And trust me, that fee is well worth the peace of mind it brings you. I’ve heard too many stories about writers getting screwed over on major projects that involved weeks of work.

If you’re working with someone you trust, you can easily use platforms like PayPal, Quickbooks, Transferwise, and other similar services to get paid.

Transferwise and PayPal are huge when you’re working with international clients since both make it easy to convert foreign currency. (Most of my clients don’t pay in USD. Don’t be “that one writer” clients can’t comfortably pay in their own currency.)

10. Write Every Day

I know it sounds like a lot, but it’s really not difficult to write on a daily basis.

If you’re serious about getting better, you need to write consistently.

Now, that doesn’t mean you write once a day when you first start. Writing every day might be something you have to work up to.

You don’t want to burn out before you have a chance to get started! Pace yourself and just do what you can do. Something is better than nothing at all.

Make Writing a Habit

If you want to become a freelance writer, habitual writing is one of the most important skills you can develop.

The more you write, the faster and easier it gets. You’ll find that as you write more, you’ll spend less time struggling for ideas and more time actually writing.

I wrote and edited this post over the course of 2 days, on top of all my other writing assignments.

It’s roughly 5,000 words, so close to 2,500 words a day—just on this one blog. Previously, this would have probably taken me a week of procrastinating, writing, and editing to get through.

It doesn’t matter what you write. It doesn’t have to be an entire article.

Even if it’s just making observations, writing about something you learned that day or jotting down a list of ideas or outlines for upcoming articles, it really helps.

On top of that, writing on your own time (not for clients) is a great way to process your thoughts, reduce stress, and increase the flow of ideas. Finding the right writing exercises can work wonders.

So, in short:

Habitual writing can lead to easier work, reduced stress, increased productivity, and faster progress towards becoming a successful freelance writer.

11. Be Curious and Keep Learning

A curious writer will often go on to become a successful freelance writer.

Part of writing is consuming “good” content and drawing inspiration from what you learn. It’s also important to recognize what content falls flat and make sure you don’t make those same mistakes.

There are tons of free resources to help you get started. And if I’m being honest, few paid ones are actually worth the money.

But one word of advice:

Focus.

Taking online courses is a very slippery slope to never getting started with writing. Many are purely informational and aren’t designed to help you take action.

So you finish the course…

Maybe read some more blog posts…

Then, you’re left wondering what to do with all this information.

The information is there, but you have to either A) rely on yourself and make a plan to take action or B) find a course that walks you through everything and makes you put in the work and get started.

Pick a course, stick with it, and most importantly, start writing. It’s the only way to become a freelance writer, yet so many aspiring writers spend so much time avoiding it.

Once you learn the necessary skills to become a freelance writer, don’t just sit back and read about how others do it. Get going and start your freelance writing career today.

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By Lauren Connally

Lauren is a copywriter, blogger, and social media manager based in the Texas Hill Country. She works with bloggers and small businesses to help build their online presence.

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