How to Make Your First $100 as a Freelance Writer

How to Make Your First $100 as a Freelance Writer

We’re artists, passionate about our word-crafting. This industry is such that we’re almost afraid to say we want to make a living writing, because so few people do. And those fearful of writing for a dollar are the ones not making the bucks.

But how do you get started from scratch? How do you become a freelance writer? What’s the best way to get paid to write?

By analyzing your assets and setting goals, while at the same time remembering that long-term dream that drove you to enter this profession in the first place. In other words, it’s all about organization and drive.

Start off by determining the following:

  1. Your long-term goal;
  2. How much money you want to make in a year, in two years, in three years; and
  3. What you’re willing to do to make the bucks.

There’s a reason that last one sounds like a hooker (yes, as in prostitute), because that’s what you’ll become if income is your immediate desire. You need to be willing to write almost anything, because you must be recognized as a writer first and foremost before you attempt to become a NY Times Bestseller novelist or world-renowned blogger.

At this point, most new writers are spinning in place, wondering how the heck to get started. Your fingers are itching to write, but you have no outlet. You have no idea how to become a freelance writer. You aren’t sure where to start or what to write about.

And that’s OK. We’ve all been there. Take a deep breath, slow down, and look within — and don’t make the mistake of thinking you have a drab life or minimal knowledge.

You’ve got tons of interesting things to say, and we’re going to make it easy for you to find them. Here’s how.

How to become a freelance writer

List three assets that define you. Those could be life events, personality traits, interests, experiences, other careers or professions, leadership roles you’ve had, your education, etc.

Next, list three things about life that inspire you. For example: parenting, nature, religion, charity, freedom, military, etc.

Now, list three things you dream of. These might include retirement, publishing, grandchildren, traveling, marriage, financial success, sustainable living, etc.

From these three lists, you amass a wealth of topics to address. This is your expertise.

From here, you’ll start seeking markets — because girls and guys, when you want to earn money with your words, you have to seek clients. They aren’t going to magically come to you… at least not at the start.

But there are parties out there who will pay for your written knowledge, whether they’re businesses who require copywriting for their newsletters, websites and advertising, or magazines that seek freelance features. By focusing on your areas of expertise, you can start to make yourself into a marketable asset. You need to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk. (Click to tweet this idea!) Sure, you can write anything, but tapping your lists — i.e., your best subjects — will help you jumpstart your career in a flash.

freelance writing

Now, it’s time to start hustling.

Here are some great places to find freelance gigs and magazine markets:

  1. Writers Market is a paid service, but $5.99 per month is a small price to pay for the knowledge and connections you can glean.
  2. Upwork is a peer-to-peer market specifically designed to match freelancers of all stripes with the businesses who need them.
  3. Contently is a great spot to host your digital portfolio once you start amassing some clips, but it can also bring you even more work — the site puts your existing pieces in front of the businesses who might want to recruit you, and gives you an opportunity to pitch directly to their content requests.
  4. Craigslist can be a great resource, although there are some caveats. First of all, avoid those who ask you to write pieces on a topic as part of the application — they’re likely just gathering free material. Also avoid listings that lack real-people connections.
  5. Blogging Pro has tons of helpful hints and tips, and also includes a daily-updated job board.
  6. ProBlogger’s job board is one of the best places to find long-term freelance writing work, no matter where you are.
  7. FreelanceWriting.com is similar to a few other writers’ resources websites on this list, but also has a well-kept and frequently-updated jobs list.
  8. Worldwide Freelance offers freelancers a writer guideline database, free monthly newsletter, valuable lists of specified writing markets and more.
  9. Simply Hired is a traditional job board, but you can find lots of writing opportunities on it.
  10. FlexJobs is another good one for writers. It’s specifically a board for remote work, but since writing fits that bill, you can find lots of writing gigs in its listings!
  11. Morning Coffee Newsletter has been around for ages, and has time and again proved an invaluable tool — all delivered directly to your inbox!
  12. Freelance Writing Jobs publishes a post with some lucrative freelance writing, blogging, and copy-editing opportunities just about every day.
  13. LinkedIn — the paid upgrade has many more opportunities.
  14. Free Trade Magazines offers free subscriptions to magazines you won’t find at the newsstand — and which often need freelance writers to flesh out their content base.

What about that dream project? That award-winning novel in your head?

That’s your dessert each day. That’s what you fuss over once you’ve put in your time bringing home the bacon.

Plus, if you play your cards right, you can sell “fun” writing that relates directly to your interests. Here are a few roundups of magazines and outlets that are paying for personal essays, travel writing and short fiction:

Where to Submit Short Stories: 23 Magazines and Websites That Want Your Work

19 Websites and Magazines That Want to Publish Your Personal Essays

34 Travel Magazines and Websites That Pay Freelance Writers

Don’t get depressed that you’re abandoning your artistry, because you’re not. On the contrary, you’re building a foundation for it. Once you become adept at freelancing, you not only have income to use for your dream project, but — surprise! You’ve vastly improved your writing skills. And people now identify with you as a professional writer.

This post originally ran in August 2013. We updated it in June 2017.

Filed Under: Freelancing
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144 comments

  • Neil says:

    This is great stuff, Hope. I remember the first (and so far, only) time I got paid for an article I’d submitted on a personal experience. The online magazine, “Design News,” was looking for particularly difficult, real-life technical/mechanical “mysteries” and how they had been solved. I wrote of a problem with an ancient cement mixer truck from some fifteen years earlier. It’s trouble defied all my attempts at fixing until I was stumped to a headscratching standstill. On a sheer hunch I’d found the solution and when “Design News” accepted my crazy tale of frustration, I was thrilled. Imagine getting real cash money for that! Unfortunately, it was the only story I have in me that fit their need. So I’ve never written another. Now I find that many of my other experiences, interests, etc. are sought by all sorts of publications. I’d just never known about them or felt anyone would be interested. Thanks so much for opening my eyes to the many possibilities out there for “ordinary” Joes like me to tell our little tales.

    • You are quite welcome, Neil. Opportunities are all around us just like the one you mentioned. I had a similar experience about a landscaper who thought I knew very little. His face turned red when I told him my degree was in agronomy (plant and soil science).

  • I actually did it the other way around. I’ve only recently started gettting jobs from 3rd party sites. Instead I fell into freelance writing because people who knew me online asked me to work for them. When I decided to up my earnings – I went to elance and picked up a client fairly easily – because I have a VERY unique niche which fitted with a client’s needs.

    I also found that with my book formatting that I get most of my clients via my own website – though if I remember to ask – enquiries have usually seen my name somewhere or someone I do know have recommended. It is definitely worth doing some freebies to start of with to make sure you get some genuine testimonials and some examples you can point at.

    • Agree, Lis. But a lot of writers fall into a lull with the freebies and are afraid to ask for payment. That’s why I tell most writers to just leap at the paying markets from the outset.

      • francott says:

        I love writing but how do I earn money from this ? And where do I start ? If I approach organization they end up gathering my mmaterias .

        • Greg says:

          My thoughts as well. From what I’ve seen so far, I write the material and someone else can take my thoughts, my ideas, and do as they please.

          • Ruth Banks says:

            OH MY GOD!!!!!! I dearly can contest to what Greg says: on 1-19-16 @ 3:12pm: This is why a lot of good writers will not hand in their writings. I am taking a correspondent writing course and the first thing without teaching me anything is they wanted me to write a story. Ha Ha now I trying to teach them that I am not going to give my art of writing to them… So where does this leave me?????

    • adil says:

      i ve so many stories

  • Kate Johnson says:

    Great article! I’m making my lists and checking the links. I have done the freebies, but didn’t realize there was such a market for freelance. Going to get busy with this format soon!

  • William Swan says:

    Question – how do you submit clips or examples when the only ones you have are from content mills, online SEO gigs and older blog posts?

    • Hope Clark says:

      William, al of us start without clips. The point is to prove you are the best person to write the story, or pitch such a good idea that the clips don’t matter. But saying you have only written for writing mills, SEO, etc. can hurt you more than help. Just pitch a great story in a very professional manner and you’ll eventually grab your first real, bonafide clip.

    • Nathan Ocenasek says:

      Word Proccesor and a computer withat a good memory, there is endless possibilities for crafting works, I also suggest a proffesional writing class, with a college of your choice; technical writing, journalisim, and copywriting class, are a good start.

  • Thomas Parsons says:

    I would ultimately love a career as a freelance writer but at times I honestly question my ability to write. Do you have any recommendations for peer review for my writing? Would you suggest doing anything such as that? I am really just in search of opinions for my work to help me know for myself if my only love, writing, is the path I should be walking down. Thank you so much for your time.

    • Hope Clark says:

      Find a critique group in your area, Thomas. They are at bookstores, libraries, and you can always go to Meetup.com for your city and see if there are any posted there. But grab some how-to books for freelancing, READ a lot of material and learn from what’s already successful, then go to therenegadewriter.com and consider a magazine course from Linda Formichelli. She’s fabulous.

  • LauraLS says:

    I love love love *did I say love?* the way you put things into perspective here. This is the first and only article I have read where you demonstrate how to work on your “dreams” in writing, as well as concentrating in making some income. As a small business owner in a down economy, I need to find a way to make some decent supplemental income. I also have a dream I believe I am to work on in a more inspirational category. I hope I can heed your suggestions and create a balance between the two. Thanks for this information!

    • Hope Clark says:

      Laura

      Hey, it’s only realistic that we earn a living while also working on our dream project. There’s nothing wrong with doing both. One actually feed the other, IMHO. Glad to help and good luck!

      Hope

    • m ali says:

      i like your comments and i also want writing in the topic of science fiction novel short story and others please help me

      • Stephanie says:

        From a strictly constructive criticism point of view, I would personally recommend making sure you’re comfortable with puctuation, capitalization, spelling, and grammar in whatever language you’re planning to write in. Good editors are going to look for those things in even casual writing, such as random comments on random websites, and are not going to have someone proof-read your work for you. This was a conclusion I came to myself some years ago. I was used to neglecting punctuation and capitalization, and even spelling, on everything but schoolwork, until I realized that 1) it didn’t look professional and 2) I didn’t like how comfortable it became and how difficult it was to remember not to write like that at school. In grade 12 I wrote an essay on the grammatical difference between the words ‘who’ and ‘whom’ and my English teacher actually asked for a copy. I’ve thought of that often and wondered if I could have gotten that essay published. However, I couldn’t have gotten that kind of reaction all on my own. I read and re-read that essay probably three times doing my own proof-reading, making corrections, fixing mistakes and awkward phrasing, then asked my mum to proof-read it. She had even more corrections for me to make.

        So my suggestion here is to get yourself comfortable with all aspects of proper writing, and then find yourself a couple friends or family members who have good vocabularies, firm grasps on the language, and can proof-read the living tar out of your writing. Remember that it’s going to take a fair bit of work and several draft copies.

  • Angela says:

    Hi there…this was a super helpful and practical article. I especially liked your process for figuring out the topics I’m qualified to write about. I have one question. You gave a number of different portals for finding freelance gigs and markets. Right now time is limited for me (I have a full-time job), so if you had to recommend one place in particular to find work as a newbie freelance writer, where would it be?

    • Okay, since this is new for you, Angela, get thee to a Writer’s Market. Even go for paying for the online database to have a more accurate listing since a Writer’s Market is published once a year and markets change. A lot of writers have full-time jobs. My first three years writing involved another full time job. It’s just the way it is, unfortunately, until you build a regular clientele.

  • M.D. Law says:

    This is a great site with great resources! I’m so glad I found it.

  • david ingosi says:

    you realy inspire me whenever i read you post or coment. im thinking of becoming a freelace writer but i don’t know where and how to start. any advice please?

  • Hi Hope!

    Thank you for this article. I especially found your 3 lists to determine your expertise to be very helpful! I haven’t seen anyone else break it down like this for new writers.

    Sincerely,

    Loura L.

  • Tracy says:

    I wish I would have read this sooner! I’ve already done two ‘sample’ peices as part of an application process. Ah well, now I know!

  • Erica says:

    Wow, I was just saying that I feel like there is an abundance of information out there about freelance writing, but nothing that actually says, “Here, do this!” That is, until I read this article, which was so very helpful! I recently decided to take on freelance writing and (gulp) actually call myself a writer (which is a really hard thing to do at first). I have had one unpaid pitch and two paid ones accepted, and was invited to be a contributor on a website that I love. But now I feel like, as you said, I’m spinning in place, wondering where to go. Thanks for all your helpful resources and information. I will definitely be perusing your site daily!

  • Jeremy Webster says:

    A very enjoyable and thought-inspiring piece. I’m faced with a peculiar situation. I’ve spent twenty years as a writer in a variety of fields for a few companies, as well as in journalism and in film criticism. This work eventually lead me into video and audio production and editing as well. I was laid off in May of 2013, but haven’t been able to get work in any of these fields in the area, which has been very frustrating. I know I could do freelance writing work, but, after so many years I don’t know where to go or what to do to get started. Hopefully this article will be able to help me at least build a foundation for this endeavor.

  • Rotouel Tigues says:

    Hi!My name is Rotouel Tigues. I am a poet and I love to write! I have recorded a song that I wrote. I have 3 professional videos on Youtube. I am not a conceited person, but the videos and the content are both very good. My question:How do I get noticed? The content is good,the presentation is great-where are the oppurtunities?I would be appreciative of your respone.Thank you very much

    • Hope Clark says:

      Rotouel,

      Several things:

      1) Have you established a homebase-type presence on YouTube? Don’t just post your videos. Establish a go-to site for people to find you, then you use it on all your emails and everything you do.
      2) Start a blog. Cover stuff in the business.
      3) Follow others in the business and be active on their social media.
      4) Keep writing and keep putting out videos.
      5) Post your material on other social media like FB, Tumblr, etc.
      6) Join professional organizations in your genre.
      7) Be patient and do something promotional each and every day.
      8) Consider a project to fund on Kickstarter or Indiegogo and work it hard to develop a platform. People get discovered on crowdfunding sites, but only if they work it VERY hard with a professional touch.

      It may not happen in a year, even two, but you stick it out. Good luck.

    • AR says:

      I would love to check out your YouTube channel. Mabye you could provide a link to your content, even here.

  • Dev Samal says:

    Hello, I want to be a freelance Writer and I’m really upset cause I am in need of work but there is no oppurtuning everybody asks for Writing Samples And URL but I dont have them. Can You Help me In This?

    • Yes, you’ll generally need writing samples to demonstrate your skills to potential clients. But they don’t have to be paid pieces — try writing some sample pieces based on your own experience or knowledge. If you’re focusing on blogging, this resource might help you get started. Best of luck!

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

      • Dev Samal says:

        Hi Heather,

        Can you give me some links where I can get real paid writing assignments? Its okay if it pays low amount. I just want to get started by doing a lot of assignments to get experience while I’m getting paid a little, It will increase confidence too, I think. Can you help me?

        Thank You.

        • Sure — there are lots of great resources in this post and this one. Best of luck!

          • Dev Samal says:

            All websites are asking writing samples and resume, but I’m a complete fresher, I want to build some writing samples, can you give me some links which will give me some topics to write Compositon, Essays, Article etc. so that I’ll be able to write few of them and include it in my fresher resume and provide them to websites?

          • Better to pitch yourself based upon a great query and great idea than to try to land cheap clips. The clips have to match where you are pitching, and a cheap market does not reflect well on you. Rule of thumb is not to mention negatives in a query. Not all markets want clips, and will overlook no clips if your query writing and article idea are sharp. Been there…done that.

  • Teresa G says:

    I am a college student that is heading into the writing field. I am new to the game of this profession currently. I am still going to college in the summer & fall of this year. I could use any kind of advice and resources to help me out. I am very determined to make it as a writer. I have started keeping a writer’s notebook and have written in it every single day for almost a month now. Do you have any kind of advice for someone like me?

    • You need some steps in here:
      1) Consider what type of writer you want to be – novelist (what genre), freelancer, copywriter, screenplay writer, etc.
      2) Read up on the industry by signing up for forums. blogs, groups on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
      3) Read those in your genre/type writing who’ve been successful. What makes they good? Rule of thumb in my world is to read ten times as much as you write, and write ten times more than you keep after you edit, and edit ten times more than you actually publish. That’s how you learn what works and what doesn’t.
      4) Be careful publishing before you think it’s great. Once published, it doesn’t go away, and trust me, you’ll regret publishing too soon.

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