If you want to dive into the world of freelance writing, chances are you already like to write. Even if you don’t have any professional experience, you probably have some degree of writing competency. My point is that you already have all you need—you just need a bit of guidance.
To start freelance writing with no experience, know the basics of content writing and choose a niche. Create some writing samples you can show to potential clients and have a blog that will act as a portfolio. Use job search sites, freelancing platforms, and cold pitching to get your first clients.
There’s not a definite set of steps to becoming a freelance writer. The journey is a little different for each person. However, there are some general principles that are guaranteed to help you when you’re just starting out.
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1. Know the Basics of Content Writing
Before we start, there are a few pieces of software that can make all of the difference when it comes to working from home. If you’re interested in learning more on the topic, check out my article on 7 essential tools for freelancers.
It’s common for beginners to worry about their writing skills. Although there’s no quick recipe for becoming a great writer, there are a couple of things that are guaranteed to help you: write a lot and read a lot.
Needless to say, you should have complete fluency in the language you’re aiming to write in. More often than not, that language will be English. Non-native English writers should note that job offers are simply much more abundant in English than they are in most other languages.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t find profitable gigs in other languages—especially as you become more experienced.
Tips for Writing on the Internet
No matter how fine your prose is, there are other skills that will make or break your career as a freelance writer.
- Research. You’ll be writing a lot of blogs and articles—sometimes about things you don’t have a clue about. You should be able to gain a decent understanding of any non-technical topic in a short amount of time.
- Explaining. All that research won’t be any good if you can’t transform it into simple words that anyone can understand. You have to be able to simplify things while remaining accurate.
- Engaging writing. I don’t mean “engagement” as a mere metric—I’m talking about the ability to hook a reader and make the content interesting for them.
- SEO practices. You won’t have to bother about the technical aspects of SEO, but you should know a thing or two about how Google deems some articles worthier than others. It mostly boils down to writing helpful, easy-to-read content for humans—not for machines.
- Professionalism. The key to finding great gigs is cultivating strong relationships with your clients. Be diligent with your communications and be clear about what you can offer.
2. Find a Niche
You’ve probably heard this one before. It applies not just to writing but to any type of freelance work.
As you specialize and become more knowledgeable in a specific niche, your work will become more valuable. You’ll be able to charge higher rates and, at the same time, you’ll be more efficient while researching and writing.
When choosing a niche, take a look at your own interests and expertise. If you’re already well-versed in something, take advantage of that.
You should also consider how well-paid different niches are. Usually, the more saturated a niche is, the lower the rates.
For example, it’s possible to build your gigs around video game writing, but you should keep in mind that there’s a video game “expert” under every rock. Niches like movies, comics, and video games have a high offer and not a large enough demand.
Other niches face the opposite problem: high demand for content and few writers. This is where you can come in and take advantage of higher-than-average pay rates—provided you have something to show for it.
These niches include finance, health, and other technical subjects. They might not be as “fun,” but believe me—any area can get tiresome after the hundredth article about it.
3. Create Writing Samples
After doing some research on the niches you want to write in, it’s time to prepare yourself for getting clients. That starts with the single most important weapon you have at your disposal: writing samples.
Writing samples, published or not, are what you’ll use to convince an employer to hire you. They’re a living testament to your writing skills and your understanding of SEO and your niche.
This is where newbies get nervous. You don’t have any writing experience, so how are you supposed to have something to show?
Easy: write articles for yourself as if you were writing for clients.
Choose a topic you like and write an article about it—just as if you had been hired to do it. Put some heart into it. Do it a couple of times more. Before you know it, you’ll have a small portfolio you can show to potential clients.
Don’t see it as an unpaid job—see it as an investment in your portfolio. You need some way to prove that you’re a capable writer, and nothing beats the real thing. Try to make the articles relevant to the niche you want to set yourself in.
4. Market Yourself
You know how to write, you know what to write, and you have something to show for it. Now it’s time to find yourself your first gig.
There are three main approaches you can follow: personal marketing, freelancing platforms, and job search sites. Let’s tackle marketing first.
Believe it or not, a well-maintained LinkedIn profile is a great way to get quality writing gigs.
Start by filling up your profile. Don’t leave any section out and use keywords that employers are likely to type while searching for writers. Pay attention to the Featured section—there, you can add a sample of your writing to give a test of your skills to potential employers.
At first, you won’t be getting many views on your profile, so you’ll have to do most of the connecting. Send connection invites to editors in the field you’re interested in and pitch yourself in the process.
Cold pitching can be scary, but you might find some of your best clients with this method. You’ll have to brace yourself for a lot of rejections, but if you want to be a freelance writer, developing a thick skin is essential.
In a nutshell, cold pitching is sending an unprompted email to a client where you offer your services or ask for work. Here are some tips:
- Keep it brief. No one has time to read through a lengthy email from someone they’ve never heard about.
- Make it personalized. Try to stand out among the horde of freelance writers looking for the same job.
- List your strengths and link your portfolio. If you’re a beginner, you won’t be able to show off your experience in the field, but you should still be able to vouch for your skills somehow.
If you’re wondering who to pitch yourself to, there are three main categories you should consider: content marketing agencies, businesses, and magazines.
- Online magazines. These can be hard to get, but they’ll certainly give some much-needed prestige to your portfolio. Since you’re starting out, try small local magazines.
- Content marketing agencies. These are middlemen between writers and businesspeople who need a lot of content they can’t or don’t want to write themselves. They’re a great source of consistent work, although the rates will usually be lower than what you would get with a direct client.
- Businesses. Have you come across an online business in dire need of good articles for its blog? Find their contact email and pitch yourself.
Have a Blog
Having a great blog needs its own article—actually, it needs an entire series of articles. For now, I’ll just try to convince you of the importance of starting a blog as soon as possible.
I already hinted at this earlier in the article. There’s no point in promising heaven and earth to a potential client when you can simply show what you’re capable of. And since you have no previous jobs under your belt, having a personal blog becomes doubly important.
Create a blog on Medium or WordPress and write a post every now and then. It will be your most valuable asset when pitching yourself. And who knows—maybe someone will come upon it and be impressed enough to offer you a job.
Try to keep your blog focused on your niche. If you write helpful articles about specific topics, it’s much more likely that a potential client will find your blog. A focused blog also leaves a stronger impression.
5. Take Advantage of Third-Party Sites
Now we come to the second method of getting gigs: the infamous freelancing platforms.
Freelancing platforms get a bad rep. I’m talking about sites like Upwork, Fiverr, Constant Content, etc. If you’ve done any research on freelance writing for beginners, you’ve probably come across people telling you to stay away from them.
Here’s the main argument against these sites: it’s a race to the bottom. Clients post a job and writers are incentivized to offer lower rates than their peers in order to remain competitive.
On top of that, these platforms take a cut out of all your earnings—which will be especially painful if you’re just starting out. There are also many anecdotes of writers having terrible experiences with clients.
Does this mean you should ditch freelancing platforms? Well, not entirely. I think we can reach a wise middle ground. Here’s my take: you should take advantage of these sites, but you shouldn’t rely on them to find all your clients.
How To Use Freelancing Platforms Properly
Sites like UpWork foster a closed ecosystem. If you become too reliant on it, you’ll limit your possibilities and lose a cut of all your earnings. However, if you see it as yet another tool in your arsenal, it can be extremely helpful for beginners.
In fact, I believe UpWork is an amazing place to find your first gig. First, there’s the sheer amount of available work. Seriously—there’s no end to it. You’re guaranteed to find something eventually. This is especially true for simpler, lower-paying jobs, which is what you’ll be looking for in your first gigs.
Once you get a couple of good reviews, you’ll have a much better chance of finding better-paying jobs. Moving your relationship out of UpWork is a delicate matter that the platform frowns upon, so be careful with that.
Sites like UpWork and Fivver also offer another huge benefit for newbies: safety. Sure, you can always get unreasonable clients, but with the platform acting as a mediator, you’re unlikely to run into scams or clients that refuse to pay.
6. Use Job Search Sites
Job search sites are the middle point between freelancing platforms and pitching clients on your own. These places aggregate job postings from across the internet, let you search for the ones you might be interested in, and give you a link to apply directly on the employer’s website.
FlexJobs is my top pick for job platform. It’s one of the leading online service for remote, part-time, freelance, and otherwise flexible job listings. Users do have to pay a small fee to access the listings, but in the job-search world, it’s super helpful because they hand-screen employers to weed out scams, or too-good-to-be-true “business opportunities”.Take a quick tour and learn how FlexJobs provides the best flexible job search experience.
Other popular job search sites are We Work Remotely, Content Writing Jobs, and Indeed. There’s no reason not to give them a look. You get to search for jobs in an organized fashion without giving up a percentage of your earnings.
7. Set Your Rates
Now we come to the most dreaded step: setting your rates.
This is the part that most baffles new writers. The truth is that it isn’t as hard as it looks, but there isn’t a single answer. It depends on your skills and experience, the type of writing you’re doing, your location, and the client.
You should be able to find a gig that requires little to no experience at $0.05 per word. It might be worth it to go lower than that, but the job shouldn’t be too demanding. Many freelance writers start with gigs that pay $0.02 per word. If you get a chance to land a higher bid, absolutely go for it.
A word on writing for free: don’t do it. Your work is valuable, and you have to be the first person to recognize that. People who offer “exposure” in exchange for your writing are usually trying to take advantage of you.
As you gain more experience, you’ll be able to increase your rates and still remain competitive. After a few gigs, try shooting for $0.15 per word. It’s hard to say how long you’ll have to wait—it can be a month or a year.
An experienced freelance writer can charge $0.25-0.5 per word. Once you get to the point where you can sell yourself as an expert writer, you’ll be able to charge over $1 per word.
An often overlooked factor in how much money you can earn as a writer is your typing speed. If you’d like to speed up your writing process, check out my article on how to type faster.
There’s really nothing left to do. Whatever road you choose to find your clients, you should start writing right now.
This guide contains all you need to know to start your career as a freelance writer. With enough perseverance, you’re guaranteed to find a few good gigs. After that, it’s a matter of building up your reputation and expanding your network of clients.