How to Start Freelance Writing: 5 Major Questions Answered

How to Start Freelance Writing: 5 Major Questions Answered

Congratulations! You’re a freelance writer!

When I stepped into the wonderful world of freelance writing nearly six years ago, I naturally had a ton of questions.

How do I find clients? What should I charge? How do I build a personal brand? How do I get started?!

Now, years later, with several triumphs (and a couple failures) under my belt, I want to answer your frequently-asked questions about making a freelance-writing career or side hustle work for you.

Read on for answers to five of your most pressing questions about freelance writing.

1. How do you get started, especially with no prior freelancing experience?

Sometimes getting started is the trickiest part.

The best way to get started, especially if you have little-to-no prior freelancing experience, is to do these two things:

Use the work you have already done to begin building a portfolio.

You may have no “freelancing” experience per se, but I bet you do have samples of the kind of work you want to do on a freelance basis!

For example, if you want to become a freelance writer, you might already have a blog that showcases your writing. If you want to do social media for small businesses, perhaps you’ve already worked or volunteered at a small business and manage its social presence. Use those samples to showcase your expertise and to help you reach toward paying opportunities.

Work for free.

Controversial topic alert, we know. Let me clarify: strategically work for free, in the beginning, to gain experience or to gain exposure.

Throughout your career, you may discover opportunities where writing for free is worth your time. I still write unpaid guest posts for credible websites because I see value in having my name and work associated with those sites.

2. I see so much stuff online about freelance writing from home-type jobs, but I doubt any of them are of much use. How do I find legitimate freelance jobs?

Freelance jobs can be challenging to find because there are a lot of scams out there. You definitely want to avoid these at all costs and be careful as you’re evaluating potential opportunities.

However, there’s a wealth of real, legitimate and awesome freelance writing jobs available online, too. It’s up to you to do the research to determine what’s a true opportunity for you.

First things first: Avoid content mills and freelance-bidding sites. I’ve personally never used one of these sites because it seems like an awful lot of work for a very small reward; the companies are often looking to hire someone at an extremely cheap rate, and you compete with lots of other writers all bidding on the same project.

Instead, spend your valuable time researching and pitching legitimate potential clients.

Networking can also lead to paying clients. I got one of my first major gigs when I mentioned a blog post the company’s founder had written in a post of mine. He reached out to thank me, and from there we developed a professional relationship. I began writing for him occasionally, and after a couple of months, I became the blog’s features editor. Three years later, we’re still working together!

3. What should I include in my online portfolio?

That depends on what services you’re planning to offer! The items below are great ones to consider for your online portfolio:

  • Blog posts
  • News articles
  • Feature stories
  • Case studies for marketing or social media projects you’ve worked on
  • Design projects
  • Links to relevant social media accounts, websites, etc. where your work has been featured

Testimonials are another great marketing tool for your online portfolio. Be sure to ask the people you’ve worked with to write a brief recommendation for you that you can include on your site or LinkedIn profile. I have a dedicated “Praise” page on my website that features multiple testimonials; I also sprinkle testimonials into my “Work With Me” page.

Don’t have your own website to house your portfolio? Check out Contently or Muck Rack to build a free professional online portfolio.

4. What if my client is pushing me to deliver more than we agreed upon in our contract?

Sometimes clients, whether they realize it or not, ask for more than you’ve outlined in your contract.

Take these steps to manage the situation.

First, evaluate the scope of what the client is asking you to do. Is the task something somewhat simple that you could complete this one time, for the sake of maintaining peace in the working relationship?

If it is, reply with the following: “I’m happy to complete X this month, but because this isn’t included in our agreed-upon contract, I’ll have to charge you X if you’d like me to add this service moving forward.”

Most of the time, after receiving a reply like this, the client will realize they’ve made a mistake (and sometimes it really is an honest mistake!) and will back off.

If the scope of the work is far greater than what you’ve agreed on, explain that. Instead of feeling uncomfortable, instead think of this as a chance to increase your work with that particular client!

If the client isn’t agreeable or you feel uncomfortable, recognize that feeling. Perhaps this isn’t a client you want to work with, after all. Better to know now!

5. How do I figure out what to charge for my services?

Dun, dun, dun…this is the number one question I hear from most new (and experienced) freelance writers.

The honest, and not very helpful, answer is: it really depends.

As a freelancer, you can choose to charge clients hourly, or on a retainer or project basis.

For my blogging/writing clients, I charge per post or per article. Some clients prefer to pay by the word.

For my blog management clients, I charge a flat monthly rate for all the work I do. I choose not to charge hourly for any of my clients because I like to base my fee on the value I provide, rather than the amount of time I put in.

Of course, when I’m putting together a proposal package, I consider how long a project will take me to complete, but I don’t let that become the deciding factor.

In terms of freelance writing and blogging, I’ve found that most blogs that pay tend to offer writers between $50 and $100 for a post of around 500-700 words. For longer feature stories, perhaps in a magazine or other type of publication, the rate can go much higher; between $200 and $1,000, or even more, depending on the project.

Here’s a piece of advice that Alexis Grant taught me: ALWAYS aim higher than what you really expect to be paid for a project. It doesn’t hurt to ask for more, and the worst that can happen is the client says no and you negotiate down (but not so low that you’re uncomfortable).

For more on what to charge, check out this post packed with rate-setting resources.

Have other questions about freelance writing? Leave them in the comments below!

Filed Under: Freelancing
30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success

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30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success

Gina Horkey’s course is designed for brand new freelancers who are looking to either supplement their income or earn a full-time wage as a writer.