When many people think about writers, they envision someone sitting at a computer and toiling away to craft the next great American novel. But the truth is, you don’t need to be the next Hemingway to call yourself a writer.
In the gig economy, many people have turned to freelance writing as a side hustle or career. Freelance writers typically work for a wide range of clients to write different content pieces, like e-books or blog posts on behalf of a company, articles for a newspaper or website, or new copy for a corporate website. Unlike many other career paths, freelance writers do not require any special training or educational credentials; research skills, top-notch writing, and an Internet connection are enough to get started.
Table of Contents
- Ready to use your wordsmithing skills to make some extra dough?
- Read on for some tips for how to increase your chances of making money as a freelance writer.
- Find your niche
- Build a website to advertise your writing business
- Network and build relationships
- List your services on freelance marketplaces
- Know what to charge
- Always have a contract in place
Ready to use your wordsmithing skills to make some extra dough?
Read on for some tips for how to increase your chances of making money as a freelance writer.
Find your niche
Freelance writers fall broadly into two different categories: generalists and specialists. A generalist will write about anything and everything, from skincare routines to web design tips. A specialist chooses an area of expertise, or a few which may be related (like real estate and investments) or not (like personal finance and marketing). It’s generally a good idea to have at least one focus so you have a more established target market for your clients, but there are also benefits to choosing a few related fields so you can diversify your writing portfolio a little bit.
You may wish to experiment with several different kinds of writing before figuring out your sweet spot. Some niches are likely to pay more than others (for example, specialized topics in finance and insurance will be more lucrative than gardening). When thinking about your freelance writing niche, take into consideration your life experiences and what makes you an “expert” in a topic. If you’ve raised three children, parenting could be a good option for you. If you’ve worked for a bank, finance might be a better fit. Traveled to 30 different countries? There are plenty of travel writing opportunities, too. Start by making a list of possible niches and narrow down based on market need and potential clients you could pitch.
Build a website to advertise your writing business
If you want to be a freelance writer, your writing isn’t just a hobby anymore. It’s also a business. That means having an active online presence is key for your marketing and personal branding. Ideally, freelancers should have their own website with a portfolio, testimonials, and areas of expertise. If you don’t want to hire a developer, you could create a site on your own through WordPress, Squarespace, or Wix. You could also host your portfolio on a site like Contently. At the very least, keep a running list of links for your published clips so you can use them to show new prospective clients and obtain more work.
Network and build relationships
While your ultimate goal is to make money, it’s far easier to do so from long-term client relationships than from one-off projects. In marketing and sales, it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. Freelance writers often spend a lot of time prospecting and pitching, which translates to less time spent writing and earning money. When looking for new clients, you might consider:
- Reaching out to your existing network, especially your former employers, your friends, and your family members
- Asking local businesses you frequent if they would be interested in hiring you as a writer
- Going to networking events in your town, in your industry, or in any organizations you belong to (like an alumni network)
Not everyone will say yes, and that’s okay! The more practice you get with networking, the more success you are likely to have down the road.
List your services on freelance marketplaces
On top of your own marketing efforts, consider creating profiles on freelance marketplaces and bidding sites. I don’t recommend relying on these sites for the bulk of your freelance prospecting since there is a lot of competition, but maintaining a presence and occasionally checking the boards can yield some good leads. Here are a few of the main players in the space:
- Upwork – Upwork is one of the main destinations for freelancers and gig workers. Upwork encompasses a variety of jobs, ranging from writing and proofreading to graphic design and web development. If you choose to bid on a project, you will be charged a small fee depending on the job’s budget. In addition, employers can browse freelancer profiles and invite someone to apply for the job; proposal responses to these invitations do not cost anything. Upwork takes a percentage of the earnings from each completed project, but also hosts all the contracts and invoicing so you have a better chance of getting paid than by doing everything on your own.
- Freelancer.com – Freelancer.com has a similar model to Upwork. Freelancers can bid on different projects on the job board. Unlike Upwork, Freelancer.com lets freelancers get a better idea of the competition for a job, such as the average bid and how many bidders there are. Freelancer.com also hosts the contract, handles invoicing, and takes a cut of the project earnings.
The challenge to avoid with any of these bidding sites is the “race to the bottom” effect. Someone will always be there to undercut the price. But you don’t want clients who don’t value your services anyway. It’s important to know your worth and work with clients who will pay you a fair price. Remember that it’s always okay to say no to rates that are below your target.
Know what to charge
Ay, there’s the rub! How do you determine your rates as a freelance writer? First, decide if you want to charge an hourly rate, a project rate, a per-word rate, or a monthly retainer rate. There are pros and cons for each of these options. Here’s a quick overview of how to calculate each one:
- Hourly: Determine how much income you need to make per week (including salary, taxes, business expenses, and benefits like health insurance if applicable) and divide by the number of billable hours in a week (hours worked, subtracting nonpaid labor like invoicing, pitching clients, and marketing your freelance business).
- Project rate: Estimate how many hours are required for an individual project and multiply this number by your hourly rate (see above for calculation).
- Per-word rate: Estimate the project rate (see above for calculation), and then divide by the number of words in the project.
- Monthly retainer: Estimate the project rate for all work completed within a month. You may also offer clients special discounts for this option to maintain a long-term client relationship.
You might alter how much you charge clients for a project based on a few factors such as these:
- How many words will the project be?
- How much research will a project take you?
- Do you need to incorporate SEO strategies or source images?
- How specialized (and in-demand) is the topic?
If you are just starting out and don’t have a portfolio yet, you may have to accept lower rates at first until you have a few clips that you can leverage to get higher-paid work.
Always have a contract in place
A freelance writer’s worst nightmare is not getting paid for the work that’s completed. That’s why you should always have a contract in place before starting any work to make sure that all parties are on the same page (and to reduce the chance of the client refusing to pay). Your contract should outline a few things:
- The deliverable (such as a 1,000-word article with three linked outside sources)
- The price (such as $200 for the article)
- The deadline (such as seven business days after the signage of the contract)
- Terms and conditions (including cancellations, ownership of the work, and establishment of a contractor relationship rather than an employer-employee one)
A contract is also the best way to avoid “scope creep,” which happens when a client asks for work that goes beyond what was originally outlined. For example, a 1,000-word article shouldn’t become a 2,000-word article and an infographic without a corresponding increase in the fee.
Already have a client relationship or a lead who is interested in working with you? You can offer add-on services or packages to sweeten the deal (and increase your bottom line). If most of your writing comes from blog posts, offer social media management services. If clients also do a lot of in-house writing work, offer editing and proofreading for an additional charge. You could also package services together, just as four blog posts a month, eight social media posts, and one hour of proofreading for a monthly retainer fee.
While some people jump right into their freelance writing careers full-time, I recommend testing the waters first as a side hustle while still working a regular 9-to-5. This gives you the opportunity to explore different writing areas, acquire clips, gain experience, and navigate the complexity of determining your fees. Ultimately, freelance writing can be a lot of fun and an excellent way to supplement (or replace) your full-time income.