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How to Launch a Freelance Writing Career: Answers to 5 Common Questions

by | Aug 13, 2019

When I stepped into the wonderful world of freelance writing 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 triumphs (and naturally, 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 how to become a freelance writer.

1. How do I get started as a freelance writer?

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’ve already done to build 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.

Consider working 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. In the beginning of my freelance writing career, I wrote unpaid guest posts for credible websites because I saw the value in having my name and work associated with those sites. I knew they’d help me get to the next paid opportunity. 

2. 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. (Our ebook on freelance writing jobs for beginners is a great starting point!)

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 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 editor. Six 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. 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 these great portfolio sites for freelance writers.

4. How much can I earn as a freelance writer?

Dun, dun, dun…this is the number one question I hear from most new (and experienced) freelance writers. How much should I charge my clients?

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 content 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 most blogs that pay tend to offer writers between $50 and $150 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 The Write Life founder 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.

5. How do I send an invoice and get paid?

Worry about landing clients and producing great work first. But once you’ve got that down, you’ll need to create an invoice.

This is a challenge all new freelancers face, so we’ve outlined how to write an invoice and provided an invoice example.

A simple PDF invoice sent via email is probably the easiest starting point, just remember to specify how you want to be paid (for example, via PayPal or check). Once you’re jugging multiple clients, you’ll probably want to transition to a software that generates invoices for you. Most offer a free version or at least a free trial, and they’ll help you keep track of which bills have been paid and which are outstanding.

There’s a lot to figure out as you start freelance writing, but rest assured that everyone faces this learning curve initially. If you have more questions and want answers from successful freelance writers, The Write Life Facebook group is a helpful resource.

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.