How to Become a Freelance Writer: Tips to Get Started

Freelance writing is one of my favorite ways to make money. I really do love writing. I know I’m a creative person and can do well with crafting words. Maybe you’re the same, but you never thought about making money from freelance writing. Today’s the day you give it some serious thought!

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What is freelance writing?

Freelance writing is a business where you, the writer, hire out your services to other businesses and organizations. You might write blog posts, articles, case studies, sales pages, product descriptions, and more. You could even write scripts for podcasts and YouTube videos. There are so many possibilities for writing assignments that I wouldn’t be able to cover them all here.

Who hires freelance writers?

Freelance writers are hired by bloggers, companies, content creators, non-profit organizations, civic organizations, government agencies, and more. I can’t think of anyone or any business that couldn’t use the services of a freelance writer. 

You might be hired on a contract basis, or you might be hired for a one-off project. Either way, everyone needs a writer – even other writers!

What do you need to get started as a freelance writer?

Honestly, you can get started as a freelance writer with just your smartphone if you had to. As long as you have the ability to use apps like Google Docs or Word, you can create the articles and blog posts you need to send off to editors and clients.

Preferably you would have at least a laptop computer, but even a tablet could work if you’re just getting started and that’s all you have. As I said, as long as you have the ability to produce the work, you’ll be fine. Even if that means using the computers for free at a library or work center. Get creative if you don’t have a computer of your own! 

I also recommend that you at least have a professional email account tied to your custom domain. That could mean buying the domain name from a place like Namecheap for less than $10 and then connecting their email service to your domain. So you would have email coming from your name dot com rather than free Gmail or Yahoo. The reason I tell you this is that it’s tempting to start with something free like that to reduce costs, but I’m hoping you have $10 to spend on at least the domain name and email. Also, if you don’t take the time to present yourself as a professional and a business owner, you’re less likely to be taken seriously. After all, how would you react if someone claimed to offer professional services to you but had a free email? Do yourself a favor and spend the money on the domain and email.

Do you need a website right now?

No. You don’t. Eventually, you should get a website, but that’s just not required in the beginning. I build all of my sites on WordPress, and I know it can have a bit of a learning curve. So don’t worry about that in the beginning. Instead, use websites provided by places to house your portfolios, like Contently or Medium. I’ll link to those in the show notes so you can see what I’m talking about.

Do you need a niche?

A niche or target audience is the specific group of people you want to work with or specialize in helping. In the beginning, you may not know who that is, so don’t feel like you need to figure that out right away. It’s more important that you get clients and make money. You’ll figure out the niche later if you even decide to have a niche.

Some possible niches are health and wellness, nutrition, medical, science, exercise and fitness, spiritual, Christian, blog posts, case studies, long-form posts, social media posts, Instagram posts for boutique exercise clubs, and more! The sky is the limit here. I recommend picking something you think would be interesting, like blog posts, and starting there.

How do I build a portfolio?

A portfolio is simply a collection of your work. They can be samples or actual published work. In the beginning, when you don’t have clients, you can simply create your own portfolio based on real or imaginary clients. What do I mean by that?

Let’s say you’re going to produce three blog posts in the personal finance niche. You can simply decide what you’re going to write about and create the blog posts. Post them on Medium and LinkedIn and put those links in your portfolio on Contently. I did that before I pitched a publication and created three articles I thought would fit their publication. I published one on my blog, one on Medium, and the other on LinkedIn. It’s that simple.

How do I find clients?

That’s the million-dollar question! Potential clients are truly everywhere. But the easiest way to start is by telling people what you do. Let people know you’re a freelance writer for hire. If you can change your LinkedIn profile to say that as well, that would be great. Update your social media to reflect that you are now in business as a writer and looking for clients. Sometimes, just doing that can get you your first clients.

Another thing you can do is volunteer. If you want more experience in your portfolio, volunteer at your church or a non-profit to do some writing for them. If you do this, make it clear that you are only volunteering for the short term because you don’t want to do free work forever. You can also heavily discount your services in exchange for testimonials. I’m not a fan of discounts, but it’s your business, so run it as you see fit.

One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “Do you know someone who…?” Use this question as you tell others about what you do. You could say or write in a message or email:

 “Hi ___! I recently started my freelance writing business offering blog posts to local businesses here in the Jacksonville area. Do you know of anyone who could use my services? If you think of anyone, I would love it if you passed along my contact information so I can help them get their business found online. Thanks, Wendy.”

It’s that simple. 

You can also create a list of prospective clients by doing a Google search or looking on LinkedIn and cold pitching them (meaning you don’t have an existing relationship with the business or the business owner). That works as well, but I want you to exhaust your warm leads first before you start cold pitching.

The thing is, you have to overcome and push past the fear or rejection in order to get clients. You’re going to be afraid. You’re going to doubt yourself, your price, and your ability to provide good service. That’s completely natural. But you have to push through that fear and the no’s in order to get to ‘yes.’

Does it sound like a numbers game? Yes. In a manner of speaking, it is. But the odds are in your favor. All you have to do is tell people what you do.

How much should you charge for freelance writing?

Well, that depends. I know it’s not the answer you want to hear, but it’s the truth. What you charge depends on how much money you need to make, your expertise in that niche or with that target audience, the complexity of the job, any research you need to do to complete the job, the time invested, the cost of materials, etc. While you might charge $200 for a blog post, a case study could cost more than that. If you specialize in writing sales pages, it’s not uncommon to charge $1000 or more, depending on the length of the copy.

White papers, advertorials, and annual reports could make you more money than a blog post. Long-form posts of 1500 words or more are typically worth more than a 500-word blog post. Again, what you charge depends on many factors. 

To figure out a good place to start, figure out how much you need to make per hour in order to cover your expenses and make a profit. Yes, you want to make a profit. Then determine how many hours it would take to complete the project. You aren’t going to charge by the hour but by the project. And the faster you can get a project done, the more money you should charge.

So now you’ve got your base hourly rate. Take that and multiply it by the number of hours you expect the project to take. Then add 20%. Remember, you’re going to have to pay taxes and account for other business expenses, so a good rule of thumb is to count on only paying yourself half of what you charged.

Do you see why a $50 blog post isn’t really sustainable pricing? You would make more money making $15/hour working at Target. If you’re not going to charge sustainable prices, then you might as well get a part-time job. For more on pricing, queue up episode 3, “The Truth About Low-Paying Gigs.”

How to bill your clients and get paid

You should not be taking payments through Venmo or CashApp. Be sure you have set up a business banking account in your business name and have it connected to a payment processor like Stripe. You can also enable payments via PayPal, but a payment processor is better.

You’ll also want a way to invoice the client. I prefer FreshBooks for this. It’s an all-in-one software where I can do accounting, bookkeeping, and send invoices for payment. This also makes you look more professional. Do yourself a favor and set these things up before you get your first client so you aren’t struggling on the backend to make all of the pieces work. Services like Stripe are also good because you can have the funds directly deposited into your business bank account on a regular basis. You can also send invoice reminders if they haven’t paid and charge late fees.

Do you need a contract to be a freelance writer?

Technically, you don’t have to have a contract, but I’m also not a lawyer and can’t give you legal advice. My suggestion, as another business owner, is to have a contract for all of your work. Whether you supply the contract or the client does, it behooves you to have a contract for your work. My favorite place to get contracts and other legal documents is Entrepreneur Legal Corner. I recommend the Freelancer Contracts Bundle for $257 at the time of this writing. The bundle includes a freelancer legal agreement template, a letter of agreement for freelancers, an independent contractor agreement template, and a collaboration agreement template. All of these templates are customizable and have been written by a lawyer, so you only need to buy them once, and you can trust them. These will save you time, money, and headaches in the long run, so don’t skimp on this.

How much money do I need to start my freelance writing business?

When you look at the equipment you already have and the need to acquire a domain, accounting software, and legal documents, you’re looking at start-up costs of about $300. That’s pretty good, considering you can make that back in a few blog posts.

For more free content on how to become a freelance writer, check out the blog and YouTube channel of my friend, Elna Cain. I’ll link to her content in the show notes as well.

I hope I’ve covered the basics for you on how to get started as a freelance writer.

Let me know: are you going to start a freelance writing business? Tag me on IG @ mrswendycoop or leave a comment below.

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