Freelance writing is a career with many benefits: flexible hours, the ability to work from anywhere with an internet connection, the ability to choose who you work with, and more. In this guide on how to become a freelance writer, I’ll show you everything you need to launch a successful freelance writing business.
To accomplish this, I’ve broken the process of getting started as a freelance writer down into its most basic steps:
I’ve done my best to provide simple, actionable advice, but the truth is that building a freelance writing business is a complicated and sometimes lengthy process. To make the most of this guide, I recommend bookmarking this page and returning to it when you reach a consecutive part of the process.
🤹 Hone your skills
Now that we’ve explored the benefits of freelance writing, it’s time to learn how to become a freelance writer.
In order to build a successful freelance writing business, there are two types of skills you’ll need to develop:
- Writing skills. Writing might come naturally to you, but it’s still worth brushing up on things like grammar before you start a freelance writing business. You’ll also want to learn lucrative forms of writing like copywriting and SEO writing to maximize your earning potential.
- Business skills. Running a business, even a solo home-based business, requires certain organizational and financial skills. You’ll also need to brush up on local laws related to running a business and especially paying taxes as a business.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these:
You’re probably thinking about being a freelance writer because writing comes easily to you, but it’s still a good idea to polish up on the basics before starting a writing business. Spend some time on sites like Grammar Girl and invest in tools like Grammarly to ensure that your work always looks professional.
💡 Pro tip: Many online publications require articles to be written in US English. If you live outside the US and use a different version of English in your daily life, set Grammarly to US English so that it’ll catch you when you use the wrong spelling of a word.
Learn lucrative writing styles!
Personal stories and essays are great for occasional sales, but they’re probably not going to be the core of your business. To make a living out of writing, you’ll need to master at least one profitable type of it. The good news is that in today’s world, there’s an almost endless variety of writing jobs available.
Let’s take a look at some of the most lucrative options. Note that for the purposes of this article, I’m only focusing on writing businesses you can build without a specialized post-secondary education. All of the resources and courses I’ll recommend are 100% online, and many of them are free.
Here are the types of professional writing that are most likely to earn you noticeable (or even great) income:
💻 Blog writing
Since this is a blog, it makes sense to start our conversation about how to become a freelance writer by talking about blog writing. This type of writing has some key characteristics:
- Short paragraphs. These are easier to read on screens, especially the smaller screens of most mobile devices.
- Friendly, informal tone. A blog should read like a conversation. That generally means addressing the reader directly, using contractions, and sticking with simple language. Some blogs will also encourage you to use techniques like humor to make your work more approachable.
- Use of visual elements to break up text. Long blocks of text are hard to read on a screen, even if the individual paragraphs are short. To combat this, blogs use elements like headers, bullet points, tables, and images to organize and break up text.
In many instances, bloggers are also required to master SEO, but this isn’t always the case.
- Many blog gigs are ongoing, providing more stability than other freelance gigs.
- Appearing on high-profile blogs makes you more searchable.
- There are a lot of low-paying opportunities, so finding good blogging jobs can be a challenge.
If you want to become a professional blogger, I recommend starting with the following resources:
📈 SEO writing
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) writing is a specialized style of writing that emphasizes keywords in order to make content more visible on Google and other search engines. You start with a keyword or set of keywords and build content around it.
Today’s SEO writing isn’t as simple as using a keyword in every other line, though. In fact, Google heavily penalizes keyword stuffing. To be a successful SEO writer, you must strike a balance between writing for humans and making your content recognizable to bots.
- There are numerous SEO tools and free SEO courses to help you learn these skills.
- A strong understanding of SEO can help you diversify your business with consulting and planning services.
- This type of writing is only applicable to the internet. If you want to see your name in print, you’ll need to take another route.
To get started with SEO writing, I recommend the following resources:
Copywriting is writing for advertisements or publicity material. In other words, any content made for the express purpose of convincing someone to take action – usually buy or sign up for something. To accomplish this, copywriting uses many of the same techniques as persuasive writing.
- There is a huge variety of copywriting jobs, from writing product descriptions for online catalogs to scripting commercials.
- Copywriters are always in high demand; you can build a freelance copywriting business now and use those same skills to get a full-time job later.
- You’ll typically have stricter rules for content than other types of writers.
If you want to become a copywriter, I recommend the following resources:
⚒️ Technical writing
Technical writing is any writing that:
- Shares information about specialized topics, such as medical procedures.
- Is communicated through help files or similar documents.
- Provides instructions for completing a task or using a product, regardless of the specialization involved.
More specifically, technical writing is defined by a neutral, clear, and direct writing style. There are no embellishments, humorous turns of phrase, or friendly elements. The goal is simply to provide information or instruction.
- You can charge higher rates for the specialized knowledge involved in technical writing.
- Less competition for jobs.
- High barrier to entry; in most instances, you’ll need highly specialized knowledge.
To get started as a technical writer, check out the following resources:
Finding success as a freelance writer also requires some basic business skills:
- Pitching. Many freelance opportunities require some kind of project proposal.
- Project management. As a freelancer, you’re the one making sure you meet deadlines. In many cases, you’re also the one creating the deadlines. This means you need to learn how to estimate the time involved in a project before you start. You also need to understand how to break a project down into its components, both to stay organized and to provide an itemized proposal and/or bill if required. You can use a tool like Trello to keep track of your projects and deadlines.
- Time management. When you become your own boss, you make your own hours. This is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you can shuffle tasks around to make room for things like important appointments. On the other hand, you’re the only one who will tell you to get back to work. Take some time to study effective time management strategies used by other freelancers.
- Long-term planning. You need to create both career and financial goals for the next year, the next five years, and the next ten years. These goals can then be your guide for building your business.
You’ll also need to figure out the legal and tax requirements for businesses in your region. We recommend hiring a professional accountant to help with taxes at least once, to help you understand what you can expense and any deductions you’re eligible for.
🧐 Define your expertise
The next part of figuring out how to become a freelance writer is to determine how your current knowledge can be leveraged to find writing work.
Let’s take a look at some examples of how this might work:
- If you’ve worked in digital marketing for a few years, you can pitch yourself to popular blogs about marketing. You can even get more specific and target blogs about email marketing, for example.
- If you’re a trained paralegal, you might establish a business writing web content for legal firms.
- If you’ve worked with a specific tool for a long time, you can write tutorials about using that tool and reviews of comparative tools. This doesn’t need to be paid work either; my experience running my own WordPress blog landed me my first paid blogging job.
You might already have some ideas of subjects you’re qualified to write about. If you don’t, you can figure it out with the following exercise:
- Set a timer for 5 minutes.
- List all of the subjects, tools, and industries you have knowledge and/or experience of. Don’t think about it too hard; just write everything that comes to your mind before the timer goes off.
- Go through your list and ask yourself the following questions about each subject, circling the subjects that get the most favorable answers.
- How much do you know about this topic? You don’t need to get into the details here, just think about whether your knowledge is beginner level, advanced, or expert level.
- Do you have any demonstrable knowledge or experience with this topic? This isn’t always necessary, but it definitely gives you an advantage when searching for related opportunities.
- Are you interested in this topic enough to write dozens or even hundreds of articles about it? If you establish yourself as a freelance writer focused on a specific topic, you can expect to be writing about it for years. You want it to be something you can maintain interest in over time.
- Are you interested in this topic enough to continue learning about it so you can maintain this expertise? Advances are always being made in every industry. To stay relevant, you need to pay attention to changes happening in the industries you’re writing about. If you’re not interested enough to follow the top blogs and magazines in the industry, you probably won’t be able to count on a long-term career writing about it.
- Choose 2-3 topics to focus on. Ideally, these topics should be connected in some way. For example, I write primarily about business, digital marketing, and WordPress tools. These topics complement each other, and are sometimes even featured on the same blogs, giving me more topics to pitch to each client.
Once you’ve selected your topics, you’ll be able to build your website, social media presence, and pitches around them.
🗄️ Create samples of your work
Samples are pieces of your writing that focus on the subjects you’re interested in writing about professionally. If you’ve done relevant writing for your existing day job, you might already have samples to show potential customers. If not, you’ll need to create some.
There are many ways to create these samples, depending on the type of writing you want to do. Here are a few examples:
- Create your own blog about the subjects you’re interested in writing about professionally.
- Pitch guest articles to blogs and online magazines.
- Volunteer to do the copywriting for a friend starting a small business or a local nonprofit.
Your samples can then be compiled into a portfolio.
📋 Building a portfolio
Example portfolio website
The next step in how to become a freelance writer is to build a portfolio. At its most basic, this is a page with links to your best published work. You can host your portfolio on a site like LinkedIn or Clippings.me, but we suggest having a self-hosted website using a tool like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace.
Your portfolio website should include the following elements:
- About page
- Samples page
- Services page
- Contact page
⭐ Finding opportunities
Once you’ve created a portfolio, the next step in how to become a freelance writer is to look for writing jobs. There are several ways to find these opportunities:
📢 Get your name out there
Along with actively searching for jobs, you want to be building your reputation as an expert in the subjects you plan to write about. There are several ways to do this:
- Write guest posts for popular blogs about the subjects you’re interested in writing about professionally. You can find relevant blogs that accept guest posts by googling write for us SUBJECT.
- Do interviews on podcasts or YouTube shows about the subjects you’re interested in.
- Create your own podcast about one or more of the subjects you want to write about professionally.
- Use SEO on your own site and blog to attract more relevant traffic from search engines.
- Build professional profiles on social media platforms, especially LinkedIn.
When you start getting freelance jobs, be sure to ask clients for testimonials and referrals. Remember, word of mouth is the best marketing!
Building a successful freelance writing career requires strategic thinking, long-term planning, and persistence, but it is possible.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of the advice in this guide, start with a few simple steps:
- Research different types of writing to determine what you’re most interested in doing.
- Create a list of topics you’re interested in writing about.
- Gather any samples you have.
- If you don’t have existing samples, plan some new samples to either write on your own blog or pitch to blogs in your ideal niche(s).
Most of all, remember that there are millions of great opportunities for a skilled writer in today’s world. You may face rejection at first, but you’ll eventually find the right mix of freelance writing gigs for you.
If you have any questions on how to become a freelance writer, feel free to submit them in the comments below. I’m happy to help you out if I can.
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