Freelance Writing: A Guide to Getting Started for Beginners– A long-form article by Haley Clark
A long-form article appearing on the blog of Haley Clark | Freelance Writer February 2019.
Inspired by a follower’s comment from a different blog post, I decided to start a 3 Part series in which I outline the process of starting a freelance writing business.
See the article now at https://haleyclarkwrites.com/2019/02/13/freelance-writing-guide-to-get-you-started-part-1/
Freelance Writing: A Guide to Getting Started for Beginners (Part 1)
Welcome to the first post in a three-part series about how to start freelance writing! If you stumbled upon this article by accident and are wondering, “What the heck is a freelance writer?” Let me point you toward this blog post before you continue.
The internet is overrun with blogs and articles promising that you’ll make $2000, $3000, even $4000 as a freelance writer.
The hype can be discouraging when, after your first month, you realize you barely scraped together enough money to pay the bills. Let alone $4000! You might be so discouraged that you quit freelancing and go back to that 9-5.
I understand your frustration. And I’m here to share a little truth– if you’re a freelance writer with little to no experience, making $4000 a month is not realistic.
At least, not right off the bat.
To be a freelance writer, you have to be patient. You have to be willing to do the grunt work before you start landing repeat clients. And in the world of freelancing, growing a list of clients who keep comin’ back for more is KEY to making the big bucks.
So instead of hyping you up, I’m here to walk you through the process.
The 9 Steps I outline below are the steps I took when I was new to freelance writing. And after three months, I was lucky enough to start freelance writing full time.
No, I didn’t make four thousand dollars a month (I still don’t!). But at 25 years old, I have plenty of time to build up my client list and start making some real money.
Trust me– if I can do it, so can you. Let’s get started!
1. Research and Practice in Your Writing Niche
You should already have some idea of the kind of content you want to write and sell as a freelancer. If not, I talk about the different kinds of writers in this post.Once you’ve figured out your freelance writing niche(or niches), it’s time to immerse yourself in your craft.
The best way to transition from the I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing phase to the totally-hirable-shiny-new-freelancer phase is to study what the pros are doing.
This may mean…
- stalking popular blogs and studying the structure of their most popular, highest SEO-ranked posts
- hoarding stacks of your favorite magazine and breaking down the editorial articles within those glossy pages
- cracking out your old English notes on how to write a good research essay or argument
Once you’ve studied, it’s time to practice what you’ve learned.
While structure should be consistent, practice using different styles, voices, and tones in your writing. Unique and/or flexible writing styles will stand out to prospective clients. And if you’re going to land freelance writing jobs, you need to stand out from the competition.
2. Draft Samples for Potential Clients
If you want to book a job as a freelance writer, you need to show prospective clients you can write.
This is especially true for freelancers who have little to no experience. After all, how will prospective clients know if you’re any good at writing if they’ve never even seen your writing?
This is where writing samplescome in. Writing samples are fully written, edited, and proofread examples of the kind of writing you want to sell to clients.
If you want to be a copywriter, this means creating the copy for a website as a sample. If you want to be a technical writer, this means drafting up a well-researched article in the technical field you want to write in.
During this step, I recommend creating your own website or blog, where you publish and share your samples. As you’ll see in the next step, even work published solely on your personal blog is better than unpublished samples.
3. Create a Freelance Writing Portfolio
The whole point of creating samples is to accumulate enough work for a writing portfolio.
Sound fancy? Portfolios don’t have to be. They just have to have the following components:
- the style of writing you want to sell (copy, blogs, novels, etc.)
- the kinds of topics you want to be hired to write on OR
- the niche you want to be hired to write in (or both)
Once you’ve written at least three sample works that you’re proud of, make sure you edit and proofread them. There’s nothing worse than sending your samples to a prospective client only to realize there’s a massive typo in the headline… Oops.
If any of your work is published online (this includes work published on your personal blog), use these articles more often than not. Clients value all samples, but they value published works even more highly.
Now it’s time to compile your samples into a single document (or onto a single page of your website). Introduce each piece with a short who, what, and when. AKA who you wrote the piece for (this can be your own blog), what you wrote the piece about, and when you wrote it.
A portfolio is probably the most important thing to learn if you want to get freelance writing clients.
The first 3 steps are all about the prep work: the research and writing you need to do before even thinking about applying for a freelance job.
These next 3 steps should look more familiar. That’s because the process of finding and applying to freelance writing jobs is super similar to the “normal” job-seeking process.
Ready to learn more? Let’s get started with Step 4!
4. Fix Your Resume
Not all freelance jobs require a resume. Some do, especially high paying jobs and technical writer positions. So just in case, make sure your resume is polished.
As a writer, you should already be pretty good at typing up a stellar resume. If not, here’s a quick guide for drafting the perfect freelancer CV.
For newbie freelancers, the most important part of resume writing will be to highlight the aspects of previous jobs, volunteer work, and education that contribute to your success as a freelancer.
You can do this by including targeted keywords to catch your prospective employer’s attention. Employers usually list targetted keywords in the job description– only they cleverly disguise these words as job qualifications.
For example, freelancers in general should:
- be self-motivated
- have excellent time management skills
- require little to no supervision
- have great communication skills and
- have flexible schedules
Freelance writers in particular should:
- be excellent writers
- have a writing niche
- be decent self-editors
- have flawless proofreading skills
Using these keywords to target your resume toward the specific job or opportunity you’re applying to.
Don’t let your lack of experience hold you back from creating a killer resume. Even if you haven’t worked in writing before, prospective clients will recognize your potential if you optimize your resume.
Need more help creating your freelance writer resume? Here’s a post that tells you how to optimize your resume. It’s specifically targetted toward marketers, but works just as well for any industry.
5. Join a Freelance Platform
Upwork, Fiverr, and other platforms are excellent places to find freelance writing jobs when you’re first starting out.
If you haven’t heard, these platforms let you make a profile and upload your portfolio and resume. You find clients by applying to jobs and get paid through the platform’s escrow.
If you want to know more about freelance platforms, here are some pros and cons of using freelance platforms.
- an escrow to protect your intellectual property and income
- a quick and easy way to find and work with new clients
- gain experience while you get your name out there
- up to 20% of the money you make goes to the platform as a service fee
- you may have to take some low-paying jobs before you can land the good ones
- you will run into scammers and schemers
That last con may scary. Yes, there are scammers on freelancing platforms, just trying to take advantage of your beginner status.
But if you know your worth and adhere to the freelancing site’s policies, you’re in the best position to avoid getting scammed.
Freelance platforms are the best way to get experience as a newbie freelance writer before you jump into the frosty trenches that are cold-pitching. We’ll learn more about cold pitching in Part 3 of this guide.
6. Get Freelance Writing Experience
You need experience but, before applying to your first job, you should determine your rates as a freelance writer.
As a beginner freelancer with little to no experience, you’ll have to accept a lower wage for your work.
At least at first.
Once you have some good client reviews of your work, you can start raising your prices. In the meantime, read this post for an in-depth breakdown of how to determine your rates.
You may also benefit from doing some jobs pro-bono for reputable companies.
Yes, it’s frustrating when you work hard on a piece of writing and don’t even get a dime to show for it, but these pro-bono jobs have the potential to do more for your career than any paid job could.
Not only do you get to build up your portfolio but the best clients (the ones you want coming back for more) will also recognize your value and willingness to work hard for future success.
Alright writers, it’s time to bring out the big guns. And by big guns, I mean the three things that will skyrocket you from beginner to professional freelance writer.
Without completing these final three steps, clients won’t take you seriously and you’ll have a hard time trying to get your freelance writing business off the ground.
Are you ready to make your freelance writing career into a full-time business? Let’s get into it!
7. Create a Freelance Writer Website
While you can snag jobs off freelance platforms without a website, you’re doomed to fail if you try to start cold pitching (see below) without one.
A personal website showcases your services and skills as a freelance writer.
- where you direct prospective clients when they want to see your portfolio
- where people can solicit your services without you having to find them
- where you can offer free content to prospective clients before they decide to hire you
If you really want to get serious with your business, you can even think about making yourself an LLC. This has many benefits, the main one being separating your personal assets from your business assets.
To find out more about turning your freelance writing into a business, read this thorough article.
8. Cold Pitch Your Writing
Okay, I’ll admit it– cold pitching is terrifying. That’s because cold pitching is when you email or call a prospective client out of the blue and pitch an unsolicited project.
Cold pitching is the best way to land high-paying, repeat clients. It’s also the best way to land a job writing for your dream client.
But all these perks come with a price– you really have to learn to sell yourself.
When it comes to cold pitching, you won’t just market your writing. You’ll also market yourself.
That’s because the clients you cold pitch are clients you want to build long-term relationships with. They’re people who will get to know you as a writer and a repeat freelance employee. For a definitive guide on all things cold-pitching, check out this awesome post.
9. Build Client Relationships
Ah, here we are. It’s the end of your journey as a newbie freelancer. But don’t tune out just yet!
This step is where the money-making magic happens.
Though building client relationships may come last in your introduction to freelance writing, it is absolutely, 100% the most vital step in this guide.
That’s because repeat clients,
- are usually the best clients
- will pay you what you deserve because they recognize your worth
- vibe with your writing style and love how you deliver results
Most of all, they respect how much effort you’ve put into making your writing into a business. They’re not going to scam you or try to pay you less than you’re worth. They’re the clients you need if you want to make a living as a freelance writer.
If you want to know more about the ins and outs of building client relationships, head over to this link.