New to Freelance Writing? Here’s How to Start Making Money

New to Freelance Writing? Here’s How to Start Making Money

Now is the time to launch your freelance writing career.

Almost every business on the planet is investing in content marketing, so thousands of legitimate freelance writing opportunities wait at your fingertips.

I’m proof that anyone half-decent at riveting words together can make money as a freelance writer.

I was never a “good” writer by traditional standards. I always had a hard time stringing words into intelligent-sounding sentences.

But I started writing about a year ago because I realized it was one of the best ways to grow my business.

Getting started wasn’t easy

The first pieces I wrote were awful. I mean, complete and utter garbage. I’ll never forget the reaction I got when I tried to promote those pieces on Reddit. I got trashed in the comments.

Instead of curling up in the fetal position and abandoning writing all together, I learned from those comments. Fast forward six months, and I’m writing for some of the world’s top marketing blogs (Moz, SitePoint, ahem, here) and have my built my own blog to a 50,000-pageview-per-month powerhouse that fuels my marketing business.

In addition, I get paid offers to write for some reputable top brands. Even though I started writing to promote my business, I developed a skill set that adds extra zeros to my bank account each month.

I’m not trying to gloat. In fact, I’m trying to do the opposite. I want you to know I’m not special. If I can do it, you can do it, too.

But freelance writing requires a particular set of skills. Yes, you have to be able to write like a badass bat out of hell. But writing alone won’t cut it.

If you’re going to kill it as a freelance writer, you have to do one absolutely crucial thing: Monetize your writing.

Mo’ money = mo’ problems

But no money = no freelance career

It’s one thing to talk big about starting a freelance life. It’s another thing altogether to actually start making bank from your freelance work.

Here are some tips to help you start making money as a freelancer.

1. Start your own blog and build a following

This is nonnegotiable. If you’re a writer, you need a blog and it needs to be awesome. No excuses.

When I first started writing, I had trouble getting responses from editors because I didn’t have a portfolio of content published on reputable sites.

But grabbing editors’ attention has little to do with where you’ve been published. It has more to do with the quality of your writing.

If you don’t have a portfolio of content, build it. Start your own blog and fill it with your best content. Then, go out and promote it on social media, forums and communities.

Not only will you find writing opportunities, you’ll build a following of people who will find value in your content and help promote it.

2. Find paid writing opportunities in your own network

If you’re new to the freelance world, you probably have no idea where to find paying jobs.  Luckily, the Internet has made it ridiculously easy to find people who need content.

How many contacts do you have? Let’s say 300 Facebook friends, 200 phone contacts, and 300 email addresses. Assuming some overlap, that gives you about 500 to 800 individual contacts.

What are the odds that some of them need freelance writing work? Pretty good.

But your contacts can’t hire you if they don’t know you’re taking on clients.

Update your social profiles to let contacts know you’re freelancing. Send out the occasional status update indicating that you’re open for business.

Just don’t be that guy who talks about his business in every update. People will unfriend you faster than a moody teenage girl.

Old bosses, colleagues and networking contacts are some of the best sources for finding freelance clients. Just be sure not to oversell yourself, particularly with contacts you don’t know personally.

When you do land a freelance writing gig, share your work on social media. Remember, you’re still building your portfolio!

3. Make it easy to get paid

Every once in a while, someone is going to take your work and not actually pay you. It sucks, but there’s a pretty good chance it will happen at some point during your freelance writing career.

However, there are a few things you can do to increase your odds of getting paid.

  • Require payment ahead of time whenever possible
  • Require a signed contract, particularly for new clients
  • Send invoices promptly, including all relevant info: name, date, invoice number, phone number, services rendered and payment-due date

The financial part is often the biggest hurdle new freelancers face. All that hard work isn’t worth a thing if you don’t get paid.

In addition, take advantage of online invoicing solutions to track your time, send invoices and accept payments online. No paper, no bills, no files to keep! A few highlights:

  • Shopify: It’s not just for ecommerce — Shopify also offers an invoicing solution
  • Expensify: Similar to Shopify, this option also allows you to track expenses
  • FreshBooks: Invoicing is a cinch with this simple and clean user experience

4. Consider the worst-case scenario

When you’re in the trenches trying to decide if now is the time to start freelancing, there’s a lot of noise. The voices in your head worried about student loans and car payments. The business partners or parents who rely on you to keep your stuff together.

Be like Nike: Just do it.

Seriously.

What’s the worst that could happen? Sit down and work out the worst situation in your head and face it.

In 2010, amidst a global financial crisis, I hated my job and was miserable. My father gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me:

“If you quit your job, you can always beg for it back. If you need a place to stay, you can always come home. You’ve only got one chance at this ‘life’ thing, so swing for the damn fences.”

Say you fail miserably. Three months in, you have no clients and you’re ready to throw in the towel.

What do you do? Get your old job back? Work at a bar until you find a job in your field again? Move in with a buddy until you’re back on your feet?

Once you consider the worst that could happen, you’ll be better prepared to plan for success as a freelance writer.

What advice would you add for new freelance writers?

Filed Under: Freelancing
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25 comments

  • Good and helpful information to kick start career. Thanks

  • Lizzie says:

    Great piece, Ryan!

    I’m also a freelance writer (as I’m sure most people here are!), and I have a pretty successful blog where I show new freelancers how it all works and whatnot. I get asked SO many times how I started out, what made me so special, etc. The answer? I am not special AT ALL. If I can do it, anyone can with a bit of elbow grease and determination.

    I think the most important things are a) tapping into your network – you already have connections with them! b) creating a place where you can direct potential clients to see your work and past experience, and c) making sure you produce awesome work that will get you ongoing gigs and referrals.

    I’ve had so many emails from people who want to start freelancing but have no idea how that I’ve been working on an e-course to give people that initial boost they need.

    Thanks again for a great piece!

  • Hello Ryan,
    Starting and building up your freelance writing career just like every other career out there is never easy but if its truly what you want and you’re determined to achieve it then, you will definitely work your way up at all costs.

    Yes, starting your own blog is the first process and in my own opinion, its a must because that will serve like your virtual office.

    I agreed with everything you said here Ryan.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Therese Pope says:

    As a professional copywriter, I write my comments with all due respect, but not everyone can just “be” a writer. You even said yourself that your first writing attempts were horrible. I’m not saying you aren’t a decent writer, but it really bothers me when people who are in business for themselves (especially marketers) say that “anyone” can be a freelance writer. We all have our strengths and talents, but not everyone is a good writer. That’s just reality. However, I’m not saying one can’t learn and polish their writing and grammar skills through writing courses, etc.

    I have a degree in journalism and I’m sure there are many of us who are in the same boat (and many with advanced writing and journalism degrees). I’m not saying that if you don’t have a writing degree you can’t be a writer but YOU NEED to have a good grasp of the English language and strong grammar skills. I do agree that you need to start a blog if you are a freelancer, but you left out some important tips about blogging. Don’t write about just anything. You need to niche yourself in your area of expertise and set up an editorial calendar to keep you on track.

    I work with marketers and also contracted with a fast-paced marketing agency as their copywriter so I understand how important content marketing is for entrepreneurs and companies. I’m sorry but unless you’ve been in the trenches for years as a freelancer and a very strong and successful marketer bringing in a passive income you can’t just “make bank” overnight. I agree that you have to think like a marketer when you’re a freelancer, but most freelance writers don’t have marketing backgrounds and it doesn’t come easily to them. As a content marketer, you bring in a substantial income as a result of marketing content but many freelancers don’t understand that concept. There are learning curves and you have to pay your dues and then some. Yes, your article touches upon good points but your article just barely scratches the surface and washes over the true reality of freelance writing.

    I am a copywriter and I bring in most of my income from longstanding/consistent work with corporations and companies that have the money to pay their freelancers. If people are serious about freelancing, it’s all about networking (I agree with you there) and hitting the pavement every day. It also helps to niche yourself as a freelance writer. My area of specialty is restaurant/food and hospitality copywriting. I also write about other topics, including freelance writing.

    Also, a blog filled with great content won’t cut it. You really need to have a legit portfolio and I highly recommend NOT to work with content mills. Been there done that and it just sets you up to selling yourself (and your writing) short and getting paid peanuts.

    Sure, you can find tons of online writing jobs but the reality is you’re going up against writers who used to work as journalists (or still do) and the thousands of freelancers out there who are competing for the same job/writing gig as you. That’s why I mentioned above that it’s really important to niche your writing and make sure you know your topics and industry inside and out. You also have to be on your game with research and be Internet savvy.

    I am on the same page with you about requesting payment up front (or at least 50% deposit if it’s a long-term project where you are working daily with a client for a few months) and definitely (and always sign a contract).

    It’s a tough freelance writing world out there and it’s not for everyone.

    • Kim Smyth says:

      Hello Theresa,

      My problem is that I’m just starting out and can’t figure out if I need a website, blog, portfolio or all the above! I want to be a copywriter, but keep falling into the trap of taking course after course, reading relevant material all day but never getting started doing what I need to do. It’s hard to figure out how to assemble everything even with hundreds of guides out there. That’s the problem, too many gurus and guides but no real solution. I started with a blog in the health and nutrition genre. Then I decided I wanted to be a copywriter. I’ve been writing articles, and submitting stories, entering contests, writing for content mills…have not made a dime yet. I have no portfolio but I do have a few writing samples. Nothing as a copywriter yet because I have no experience in that field yet. I feel lost and frustrated. I guess I need a real “first step”. Any advice for me?

      • Steve says:

        Hi Kim

        Sorry I cannot assist your query but I can fully understand how you feel. I am from Australia and the market here may be different to elsewhere around the world. I have written several magazine articles for a niche magazine and won a submission in a book with a chapter as part of a contest, and haven’t made a dollar from any of my writings either. For the past year I have been reading and researching freelance writing and how-to-pitch editor articles, and have sent out about 25 pitches to various publications with not a single interested response. I’ve received a few rejections but most go unanswered. Admittedly that is not many, but I put quite some time and thought into my pitches. I also did a short course in September this year in freelance writing and pitching here in my home state for $240.00. I’ve been tempted to do another online course but am seriously beginning to consider whether it is worth it now for two reasons mainly: 1) I’m beginning to suspect that the architects of these freelance writing courses are selling false hopes to hopeful writers to generate business. Hmmm well of course! 2) Maybe I would be much better off channeling my energies and efforts into applying for a higher-paid job. I already work full-time in the public service which ain’t a bad job really, so maybe I could better leverage those skills (which funny enough include quality comms in both speaking and writing) to advance my career and income. I’m still researching and trying and haven’t given up completely (yet) to find paid freelance writing opportunities but have re-evaluated the industry over the past year, in particular for a beginner with very little clips to sell an editor.

        • Kim Smyth says:

          Well, I really appreciate your honesty, I was beginning to think the same thing myself. I have an opportunity for a “real job”, and maybe I could do this “writing thing” on the side in my spare time. I don’t want to give up on the idea either, especially after all the lessons I’ve taken and money I’ve spent on various courses. I’ll keep plugging along and ,aye someday something will just click! Good luck to you, I hope everything works out for you as well.

    • Debra Tandy says:

      Thank you for your candor. I’m a 52 year-old former English teacher. My undergraduate degree is in written communications, with a public relations major and a marketing minor. I also hold a master’s in education.
      Teaching was a second career after staying home with my children for twenty years and getting divorced. I’m a wonderful teacher, but I found working with students who were not interested, at least about 90 percent of them, very frustrating.
      Anyway, my heart wants to write, so I’ve decided to substitute teach full-time in order to begin freelancing. Fortunately, I do understand the marketing concepts, but most of my writing in recent years has be religious based. Right now, I’m trying to decide whether to self-publish my book about spiritual healing from divorce, or to try to find a publisher.
      Anyway, I write well; I research well, and I can create excellent copy quickly. Can you offer me any advice on how to REALLY break into such a cut-throat arena? As far as becoming an expert, do I stick to Christian material or choose an industry to learn?
      Thank you,
      Debra Tandy
      816-377-1434

  • Winter says:

    I think this article will be useful once I really understand what it will take to freelance write.

    What I CANNOT find the answer to is: What license and/or documents do I need to do business as a freelance writer? When building a portfolio do I need licenses and/or documents in order to legally write for anyone and anything? I’m concerned about what I should do to freelance legally.

    • Lisa Rowan says:

      Winter, it all depends on where you’re based, but in the U.S. you can either write as a sole proprietor under your SSN or incorporate to gain some additional legal protection. But beyond figuring out how you want to be set up and file your taxes, you don’t need much to get started!
      Thanks for reading,
      Lisa Rowan
      Editor

      • Winter says:

        Thank you for replying, I live in Northern CA, but would like to write for anything and anyone. I plan on blogging to discover what I can write about, it may not be technical at all, more opinion pieces or analysis of things, and I plan on seeing where I can post my availability to help anyone with their editing and writing, as well as to write anything for anyone to build a solid portfolio before deciding on what to charge people for services.

        I do not know if you said already, but to offer help to anyone with editing and writing, do I need any kind of license or make sure there is documentation that i helped someone with their writing or editing?

  • Kevin says:

    Thanks Ryan, I definitely feel there are huge opportunities for writers and for those passionate enough about writing to learn and grow their skills. As with most things in life there are always things you need to know and be cautious about so as to protect yourself and its great to read about what you have learnt. I’ve just started looking into a change of career and since I love writing I think that freelance writing / content writing / etc is a career I would really like to consider. I think that its great that you are sharing your experiences as there are many people like myself out there wanting to better understand the reality of writing for a living. The most important step in achieving anything in life, is to take action, and to persevere, which you clearly did that and i commend you for that!

    Thank you, Therese for your comments, it really helps getting that kind of feedback. I think its important for those starting out to be aware that in any field there are basics, intermediate and advanced knowledge and skills that you need to study in order to truely master your craft. The hype that the internet plays up about content writing often downplays professionals and makes it look like a get rich scheme at times. I’ve also decided against going the content mill way, I’ve read enough from forums and posts by people who have had really horid experiences to stay away and to rather look at building a portfolio of work, ie Blogs and finding clients to write content for, as I have already been approached to do by people who have websites yet need some one to assist them in building content and readership. Also writing about fields you most knowledgeable about will most definitely make it easier to connect with what you are doing and allow your work to be more relevant and useful.

    Ultimately the success any of us achieve is determined by what we do and the more things we do right the greater the success we will have. Our minds are our greatest asset especially as a writer although we all allow our minds to work against us at times, managing your mind is the path to mastery. To become great at anything you must believe you are great first and allow your mind to guide you forward, you cannot force yourself to be good, only manifest the process…

    Best of luck to all!

    Kevin (South Africa)

  • Rahan Halder says:

    Thank you for your post Mr Ryan!It’s really enlightening for beginners like me as you have pointed out the pros and cons so clearly. I am looking forward to begin as a free lance writer. I am not into this for the bucks but simply because it tingles my curiosity and I love to write!

    Thank you for the initial guidance.

  • uma says:

    Hi!
    It felt so good to read all the content. I started my free lancing career at a famous
    freelancing website. I was hired quickly. I was really excited. I wrote 28 articles in a week for an “Amenda Zenth”. She kept recieving all work from me and in the end she said : it was not the work worth paying for .
    I was really discouraged. However, reading your article gave me new strength. I have read some of the comments which was really very depressing. Can you suggest, I continue? I know I am good.

  • Hi. I’m looking for work currently as a freelance writer but I am unsure as where to begin. I have an interest in writing essays on Literature, as this is my first love but also writing short stories. I would love to know where to get my essays published, or should I start with a blog?

    Regards,

    Gernaine

  • Bravo says:

    Yeah. My dad gave my some good advice too. I just got a new job in a union, steamfitting, as a pre-apprentice. In about six years I will be making about $70/hr. But, the work was just a job. I wouldn’t have time to put any workin into writing, the thing I really want to do . I was torn.

    So he says to me, “What’s the worst that can happen? You can always go back. It’s not the end of the world. Get a different job that lets you have free time and work on your writing and if it doesn’t work out then you can always go back to the union.”

    Worse case, I spend another year as a pre-apprentice. Best case, I do what I love and I’m my own boss.

  • Babu says:

    Hi Ryan

    First of all, let me introduce myself. I came from southern part of India which is known for its tradition and culture. I am planning to start a blog on few topics and wants to merchandise my product. I am very new to this and in fact I have many ideas where I need to present it to the outside world

    Let this be the first one to start with and thank you for the wonderful tips

    regards
    Babu

  • Josh says:

    Hey!

    Inspiring article. I want to get more into writing. I have a site, yourcomputerzone.com and I enjoy writing articles on there, but I want to write more and to start writing for sites such as the ones you have listed. Do you think you could take a look at my site?
    Also, where did you find your first client/s?

  • Alena Sham says:

    Hi! I’m a beginner in freelancing. like to write poetry and short stories. I also like writing articles about parenting, pregnancy, relationships, animals, writing, and language. I would like to enquire about any jobs available in those categories. Thank you!

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