Freelance writers are in high demand in the growing gig economy, with two out of three writers now being self-employed according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Writing jobs were previously concentrated largely in journalism-related fields, but there are now writing opportunities that include positions such as copywriters, technical writers, and content strategists. If you’re interested in a career as a freelance writer, it’s good to be aware of all the opportunities.
Here are the top 27 freelance writing tips from the pros.
1. Master the Business of Writing as Well as the Writing Itself
Uwe Dreissigacker, Founder, InvoiceBerry
On top of being just a good writer, you will also need to master the business side of things as a freelance writer. This includes everything from finding potential customers and successfully approaching them to closing the deal and providing them with an excellent experience before, during and after you delivered your work. Make sure to pitch for new freelance writing gigs on a regular basis – if possible, try to make it a daily habit. Too many freelance writers still miss the basics; set up a website and blog and make sure to become a guest author on some blogs in your niche in order to provide new potential customers with real life references.
If you ghostwrite for your customers, you won’t be able to provide potential new customers with references that include you as the author. Being a guest blogger on a few industry blogs helps in these situations.
2. Grow Your Skills and Income by Ghostwriting
Bryan Heathman, CEO, Made for Success Publishing
An excellent source of income for freelance writers is ghostwriting non-fiction books. For people who are skilled at writing, there is an abundance of ghostwriting work to support people who desire to write a book but do not have writing skills or the time to write. Made for Success Publishing works with authors worldwide who have tremendous ideas to share but need the help of a ghostwriter to help with the craft of writing. Our approach typically starts by taking authors through the Draft a Book Experience to formulate their ideas into a book outline. This book outline serves as the writing plan for a writer to get paid to write. Both an editor and the author work collaboratively with the ghostwriter to produce a spectacular book.
3. Get to Know the Website You Want to Write For
Jay Egger, Digital Marketing Strategist, Fit Small Business
Study the websites you want to write for to the point of making you crazy. You should have so much knowledge of the type of content that they produce that you could be an assignment editor. Most publications have a pattern in their article titles, which you can take advantage of for coming up with ideas. For example, you might see articles with titles like, “7 Crazy Ideas For [x],” which you can use as the foundation for your own ideas. You’ll be miles ahead of other freelance writers if you spend at least 30 minutes getting to know your future publications!
4. Showcase Your Portfolio on Contently
Joseph Payne, Marketing Manager, Blurpoint Media
To start a freelance writing career, you should start working on your portfolio. The heavier your portfolio is, the higher rates you’ll be proposed. Start writing for yourself as a guest contributor to well-known publications in your favorite niche. The best platform on which you can showcase your all online articles is Contently. These contributions will be the proof of your proficient skills and help you attract high-paying clients.
5. Simplify Your Finances with a Business Bank Account
Deepal Bhatanagar, Web Content Writer and Editor, Viitorcloud
A freelancer is a company in itself, so treat your freelance activities as business transactions and open a separate bank account. A business bank account gives your freelance business a better, professional image. With a business account, it is easy to sort the financial issues, especially the tax details. For easy calculations, a business account separates the personal details. Although a business account can be expensive, having one for your freelance business definitely results in simplified finance management.
6. Start Your Own Blog
Youness Bermime, Professional Content Writer and Owner, WritersDo
If you are just starting out, you’ll realize that everyone wants to see your published samples. That’s why I advise you to start your own blog. You can use it to publish pieces of content that you are really proud of and then use them as samples when you pitch clients. In the long run, your blog (if managed well) can attract visitors, who, in turn, can become clients. It is a win-win situation for you: you show your skills and gain more popularity.
7. Learn Basic SEO
Monica Mizzi, Content Director, Compose.ly
If you plan (or are already writing) content for the web, make sure you take the time to learn some basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) skills. I have seen the benefits of freelance writers possessing SEO knowledge from both the perspective of a client and as a freelance writer myself. From a client’s standpoint, not needing to ask writers to fix very basic SEO considerations like headings, anchor text, and formatting is truly a relief. You’d be surprised how many freelance writers profess to know SEO and still slip up on the fundamentals. From my freelance writing experience, I find that clients are always impressed when I know exactly how to optimize a page both for SEO – which just shows how uncommon it still is!
8. Know Your Goals and Know Your Worth
Whitney Meers, Writer, Whitney Meers
There are dozens of publications out there that want you to write for free or for peanuts. In some cases, you might make the choice to do so: Perhaps it’s a fun topic and the publication has a wide audience, or you’re new to this and need the clips. However, no one should ever feel obliged to write for little or no pay. Have a strategy, and get comfortable talking about money with potential clients. Your clients should respect you as a writer and compensate you fairly.
9. Learn How to Write an Awesome Article Pitch
Pierre de Braux, Content Strategist, Spiralytics Inc
Unfortunately, there are millions of freelance writers out there and you’ll have to differentiate yourself in order to be successful. If you don’t already have an established brand name, the only way publishers will notice you is through the strength of your article proposal. A good pitch is concise and straight to the point. Editors are likely to get dozens of pitches on a daily basis, so anything that beats around the bush will simply get ignored. A good pitch should also use catchy words to draw the reader in. Instead of saying something like “simple tips to save time,” jazz it up a bit by saying something like “incredibly easy ways to save hours of work.” Lastly, try to tailor your proposal to how you think the editor would like to see it.
For example, if you’re pitching a fitness article to a sports equipment brand publication, talk about how you’ll stress the importance of having the right exercise gear. In other words, tell them how you’re going to make their brand look great.
10. Sell Your Results, Not Your Writing
Sharon Gutowski, Freelance Writer, SharonGWriting.com
I think the most important thing for new freelance writers to understand is that you’re not selling writing. Writing is your how, not your what. You’re selling the difference your words make, usually in the context of helping a business make more money. This is often a tough obstacle for new freelancers, but it is everything. Mastering this idea usually indicates a critical shift in mindset from employee to business owner. One telltale sign a writer hasn’t made this mental leap yet is a laser focus on job boards. Job boards are fine, but if you’re only looking there, you’re still in a mindset of needing permission to work. Freelancing is not about constantly applying for micro versions of a salaried position – it’s about creating solutions for people that are worth investing in.
11. Practice Proper Time Management
Jim Hastings, Marketing Copywriter, The Power Line Group
If you’re fortunate enough to get regular work, you need to make sure you have the time to do it. That can be difficult for those who freelance on the side. Writing isn’t like crunching numbers. It takes time to do it correctly – and there are no definitive answers. A writer needs to understand that and plan accordingly. Getting into the groove, dealing with writer’s block, and battling with fatigue or burnout can all stymie progress. That’s why a professional writer should start right away and not put things off. You don’t want to end up facing a deadline and handing in sloppy work because of poor time management.
12. Specialize in a Niche
Sumit Bansal, Co-Founder, Productivity Spot
You may be creative and quite knowledgeable about many topics, but it pays to start out with a specific niche. It helps you in building expertise in that niche and attract relevant clients. It also helps you in building a portfolio of clients in that niche, which will be perceived as valuable by your other potential clients.
13. Join Paid Groups of Like-Minded People
Kaeli Sweigard, Professional Digital Marketer, KaeliSweigard.com
Paying to join a “group program” by experts that tackles your niche (as these groups are usually called) is absolutely worth every penny. These groups do not necessarily need to be specifically for writers. Seek out groups in your niche – you will definitely find people with writing work in there. I am part of several paid groups focusing on digital marketing and sales, and it is an absolute hotbed of people looking for talented copywriters just like me. And the best part is – there is no talk of “free” work. Because these are paid groups, people are serious and are putting their money where their mouth is; they understand they need to invest in their business. Being part of a paid group in your niche basically “pre-qualifies” people as prospects.
14. Do Your Homework Before You Start
Lisa M. Rohner, Director of Production, Crowd Content Media
Writers are creative types – and we love that about them. It’s not always good for the business side of things, though. I’ve worked with many writers who learn by doing and skip the part about reading the creative briefs or style guidelines. They assume they’ll learn the project ropes from the editor’s feedback. That is not a way to gain the client’s admiration. Force yourself to read all instructions and understand them before you start on any project. If you have any questions, ask rather than make assumptions. It will definitely win you brownie points in the end.
15. Organize a Workspace
Lesley Vos, Content Strategist, PlagiarismCheck.org
When freelancing, it’s hard to resist the temptation of spending time in bed, writing there with a laptop on your knees… It’s a trap! Our brain is lazy, so it won’t allow you to concentrate on writing when you both work and relax in bed. Design a business area in your room and write at the table. Otherwise, you’ll procrastinate a lot or have a feeling that you do freelance writing 24/7. Also, no matter how passionate you are about writing, make sure you have at least one day off a week. Your freelance work should leave you enough time for sleep, spending with friends, and other things that inspire you; otherwise, you’ll burn out soon, and the quality of your writing will suffer too.
16. Develop and Highlight Your Writing Credentials
J.R. Duren, Personal Finance Expert, HighYa.com
When I started my freelance career, I had a portfolio that included two years as a marketing writer at a private university in Florida and two years as a reporter at a daily newspaper in Florida. At the time, Upwork (oDesk, back then) was the main option for finding freelancing gigs, so I created my profile and made sure I emphasized my writing experience. I also emphasized the three awards I won from the Florida Press Club during my time as a reporter. The point is to show potential clients that someone else has trusted you to write for them. You also have the benefit of being able to link to past content you’ve written.
This first stage of getting your first five clients is crucial because it will build the momentum you need to get bigger, better clients in the future. If you don’t have any writing experience, do some free gigs with a local publication like a newspaper or magazine, or write for free on websites. Doing these free gigs in the beginning is well worth the leverage they give you for future applications.
17. Know Your Strengths and Set Expectations with Clients
Kimme Green, Head of Communications for QuickBooks Self-Employed, Intuit
In order to market yourself and promote your skills, know not only what you excel at, but where you get energy, and own it. There are many freelance writers out there, so it is important to reflect on what you are good at and speak to it with confidence as a selling point. And to keep your clients happy, it’s important to be very clear about what you expect from them and what they can expect from you. Work with them to come to an agreement on what will be delivered, when, and for what price. No one likes surprises, so total transparency is key.
18. Apply the Factory Method of Writing
Jason Lavis, Managing Director, Out of the Box Innovations Ltd.
While a new client could ask for content about any random topic, it makes sense to specialize. This is because readers can sense when a writer doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and it’s also hard for a writer to start from scratch on a new subject. My writing technique resembles a factory production line. I know which topics I’m knowledgeable about, and where writing comes easy for me. I also know which are the most interesting or timely sub-conversations. As for writer’s block, I literally never get them because I have a store of content in different states of completion.
Every time I have an interesting email exchange or Skype message trail, I cut and paste it into a raw material folder. When I get inspired about a new topic, I drop a headline or title into my headline folder. When I’m feeling very creative and can write thousands of words, I put these into my drafts folder. Then I have my editing, proofreading, and final polishing folder.
19. Try Starting with the “Trade-Up” Strategy
Sam Warren, Director of Marketing, RankPay
Freelance writing is tough, and there’s a lot of competition. In order to succeed, green writers should spend a little time cutting their teeth at some less prestigious outlets. If you don’t already have a strong portfolio, try employing the “trade-up” strategy. Build a list of publications you want to write for and organize them into a list, with the toughest and most competitive outlets at the top. Low-hanging fruit at the bottom. Start with the easy ones, and do the leg work. After you’ve landed a few features, mention and link to them in your pitches to higher-demand publications. That instant proof will drastically improve your chances of getting published at the more elite outlets. Rinse and repeat for some well-earned success!
20. Build Your Personal Brand
Syed Irfan Ajmal, Growth Marketing Manager, Ridester
My tip for freelance writers would be to work on your personal brand. Your social media covers, your website, and your blog should be relevant and great. Also, consider pitching topics on writing great content to relevant publications, local chambers of commerce, online podcast shows, etc. All of this enables you to be seen as an expert, authority, and thought-leader of your industry, and it gets you the social proof you need to earn potential clients’ trust.
21. Learn How to Do Research
Samuel Pavin, Brand Strategist, Samuel Pavin Group Ltd.
We are often told that to be a better writer, we need to be better readers. Indeed. Reading a lot helps but it will not be making a crucial difference when writing about a topic that proves a little foreign. This is where the reading has to switch to research. And this is where a lot of freelance writers, in particular, get lost – for lack of time, of background or of sheer understanding of what writing is about. A discipline is not only about putting words together but, rather, making sense of a topic and translating it into sentences, allowing anybody else to understand it. This is where writing creates more than just content – it creates value.
22. Find Clients Locally
Beth Brombosz, PhD, CEO, Brombosz Consulting LLC
Many freelance writers focus on finding clients online because there are a lot of potential clients to work with. But it’s been my experience that going local can be just as or even more lucrative. I’ve found some of my best clients through my local chamber of commerce, and they’ve referred even more business to me by telling their colleagues about the work I’ve done. Depending on where you live, going local can let you be a big fish in a small pond – the opposite of what happens when you focus on finding clients online. And, helping your community with your unique talents can give you an immense sense of satisfaction, too.
23. Don’t Overwhelm Yourself with Work
Shelby Rogers, Content Marketing Strategist, Solodev
Don’t continually bite off more than you can chew. Unless you have a painfully realistic understanding of your work ethic, there’s a good chance at some point you’ll accidentally overwhelm yourself in freelance work. (That’s okay. It happens to nearly all freelancers.) Unfortunately, the only way to grow from this is to first hit “the wall,” and once you get there, take inventory of how many work-specific projects you currently have going on. Finding success as a freelancer is a mixture of raw skill and also knowing your limits. Figuring out the time you can dedicate to various clients will help you be more judicious in picking clients and projects.
24. Compare the Freelance Websites
Robert McGuire, Publisher, Nation1099
Most new freelance writers quickly come across Upwork, but many competitors are emerging to challenge it. Most offer different payment terms. Many use different criteria to screen the freelance writers or to screen the gigs so that they have less of a Wild West environment. Some offer a more concierge-like service, where they match writers with gigs by hand. And many focus on specific niches such as freelance writing for a foreign-language market or for academic audiences. We maintain a list of the best freelance websites that our community is interested in, and if you take some time to compare them, you may find a more attractive option for your start to a freelance writing career than Upwork.
25. Write Down Your Ideas Immediately
Leslie Fischer, Founder, Sustainable Slumber
Great writing ideas often occur to me in the strangest places: in the grocery store, waiting to pick up a kid from soccer practice, or during dinner. These ideas often turn into great articles. The most frustrating thing that can happen is forgetting that great idea because I did not take the time to write it down. The moment I get a good idea, I either write it down on a piece of paper, write an email to myself with it, or create a note on my iPhone about it. Do not lose your great ideas! Writing them down creates mental real estate because you know they are written down somewhere and you can return to them when you have the time and space to write about them more in-depth.
26. Avoid Writing for Royalties
Cynthia MacGregor, Freelance Writer/Editor, CynthiaMacGregor.com
Do not agree to write a book for a share of royalties. You want an upfront fee. Offer to ghostwrite a book for professionals (e.g., doctors), or skilled craftspeople (e.g., fine woodworkers), or people in occupations that require specific knowledge (e.g., master gardeners/landscape designers) in your area with knowledge/information that they input but using your writing skills. You can, if you want, for a larger fee, shepherd the entire self-writing process – editing, layout, cover design, and print run. Or you can simply charge them for ghosting the book, then turn them loose to take it from there themselves. Explain to them that while royalties from sales of the book would be nice, their primary objective is just to get the book out there, where it can be seen by the most people possible as a draw for their business.
27. Write About What You’re Interested In
Dom Chatterjee, Freelance Editor and Writer, Logical Editor
Writers cover every single topic that you can think of. Don’t chase down the beats you have no interest in, regardless of how popular and high-earning they may be. Stick with the assignments that excite you, and your passion will show in your writing. That passion is a form of value you can offer that no school can teach. While every client will not be concerned with that level of quality, enough will to ensure your freelance writing career is one that makes you proud and brings you joy.
Over to You
Success in freelance writing means knowing how to find and keep clients happy. While you don’t have to be a highly trained professional writer to start your career, these tips on knowing how to market yourself as a freelance writer will get you the jobs you need to establish yourself in the writing scene.
Did we miss out on your favorite freelance writing tip? Let us know in the comments!