Becoming a successful freelance writer takes a lot of things—among them, skill and luck. However, if you follow good advice, you’ll be able to skip much of the struggles newbies often go through.
Some of the best tips for freelance writing are maintaining a blog, defining your niche, and tracking your metrics. You should also try to charge for the value your writing creates and be reliable for your clients and editors. Develop a style, be reliable, and learn skills like marketing and SEO.
Whether you’re starting your career as a freelance writer or you’re a veteran, at least one of these tips should prove useful to you.
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1. Maintain a Blog
Any freelancer should strive to have a portfolio they can be proud of. And in the case of writers, there’s no better way to do that than having a blog.
Having a blog is a convenient way to demonstrate your skills as a writer and makes you seem more authoritative in the eyes of employers.
But it goes beyond that. Clients—or at least the type of client one hopes to find—don’t just want someone to pump out words. They want a writer that’s aligned with their values. Even if they’re unaware, making an emotional connection with a potential client greatly increases your chances of getting hired. A blog is a showcase of your personality, and it will help you do just that.
There’s a reason I chose the word maintain for the title of this subheading. It’s not enough to just create a blog, post a few articles you had lying around, and then forget about it. You should treat your blog with the same diligence you would give your clients. Don’t let more than a month pass without posting something.
2. Define Your Niche
If there’s a tip that can apply to all freelancers, it’s this. It might look like being a generalist writer will allow you to land more jobs, but the truth is that you won’t get beyond entry-level ones.
Focusing your time on one or a couple of niches will allow you to charge higher rates and help you build a solid network of clients. Good clients prefer to hire a writer that knows what they’re talking about—and, sadly, you can’t be an expert on everything, so you will have to choose a few areas to specialize in.
A niche is a segment of the market. That can mean a few different things. Most commonly, it refers to specific industries. Some industries are much more profitable than others, and you should keep this in mind when choosing a niche.
For example, movie and video game writing is saturated with writers, but personal finance has relatively few qualified ones. Meanwhile, the tech industry doesn’t seem to ever get enough reviewers. The more demand your area has, the more you’ll be able to charge.
A niche can also look like a form of writing or an audience. You could specialize in creating sales pitches or in writing articles for teenagers.
3. Charge for Value
This one is difficult to achieve, especially for beginners. It’s difficult to gauge how much exactly you should charge for your writing. It’s not a simple equation of experience + length. Many factors come into play, including:
- The client
- The difficulty of the topic
- The type of writing
- Standard rates in your niche
- Your experience in that niche
- The value you’re creating for your client
For now, I’m asking you to pay special attention to the last item: the value of what you’re creating. In a way, this includes all the previous points.
You know what your writing is worth. If you’re offering something more valuable than your competition, then your rates should reflect that.
If you’re an experienced writer and already have a few reliable clients, consider switching to flat rates. If you have to do a lot of research and preparation for a specific article, you’re more likely to get your time’s worth this way.
If you’re still starting, stick to per-word rates, but don’t forget to increase them as you gain more experience and meet higher-level clients.
4. Track Your Metrics
But how do you exactly determine how much your writing is worth? Here’s where metrics come in.
You should be tracking various numbers related to your writing, starting with research and writing time.
There are many time trackers out there, but I recommend going for Toggl Track. It’s simple to use but still has all the features you need. If you want to learn more about that, I wrote an article on essential time management tools.
Next, track the success rate of your articles. This isn’t always easy to do—not all clients will give you the necessary information. However, some of the numbers you should look for are:
- Click-through rate
- Ranking on the search results page
And anything else that provides value to the client. If you have those at hand, you’ll be on a firm footing when the time comes to pitch yourself and set your rates.
5. Manage Your Time
As a freelance writer, no one will give you a work schedule. Your deadlines won’t be consistent: some clients will give you a month to write a 1000-word blog post, while others will ask for a 3000-word article within a week.
If you want to stay on top of things, you need to manage your time wisely. It usually helps to have a routine: write at the same hour for the same amount of time. Try to have a space you only use for writing and turn it into a home office you like to be in.
Another way to manage your time wisely is to actually schedule your work time in your daily agenda. You may not need to reminder, but a visual cue that it’s time to work is helpful when it comes to staying on task (just make sure to schedule breaks, too!).
If you’re struggling with working from home, I have lots of work-from-home tips that can help you minimize the distractions and home in on getting stuff done.
6. Develop a Style but Be Flexible
Start developing a style early. Clients will connect with you more easily, and it will help create awareness of your work. You should strive to be a recognizable voice in the niche you’ve chosen for yourself.
However, you should also be able to follow any style guides you come across. This is especially important for new writers. Familiarize yourself with the different citation methods and pay attention to the voice of a particular client’s website. They will greatly appreciate it when you manage to blend in with their brand.
7. Learn Other Skills
There are a lot of complementary skills that can benefit you in your career as a freelance writer. Chief among them should be SEO—at least regarding creating optimized content for Google. This will greatly improve your value proposal.
Marketing should prove just as important. The key to landing great jobs is knowing how to market yourself, and that starts with creating a powerful brand.
If you’re going to specialize in copywriting, you’ll have to delve even deeper into marketing and sales.
Other skills that could prove useful include proofreading and editing.
8. Be Reliable for Your Editors and Employers
Be the sort of writer clients and employers want to come back to. This, of course, starts with being a good writer—but you’ll have to compete with many other good writers out there. Being reliable can help you stand out and be more competitive.
“Reliable” means a lot of things, but it starts with being punctual and diligent about your work. Meet your deadlines and deliver what you promised—if not more.
Be communicative. If you have any doubts about your work, ask your client. Show that you care and that you’re tailoring your work precisely for them.
If you’re working with an editor, make sure your writing is easy to edit. If you make your editor’s life easier, they’re much more likely to come back to you.