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How to Get Your Start as a Freelance Writer

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Six months ago, I was the Director of IT Operations at a software company.  My day-to-day workload consisted of managing software deployments and cloud-based infrastructure.  Today, I do freelance writing and proofreading.  Talk about a serious career 180.

I don’t have a background in journalism; in fact, my college degree is in Business Administration.  Before I published my blog, I had never put any content out into the world.  What I’m sharing with you today is how I did it.  How I made the transition from being someone who thought writing might be something fun to do as a side hustle to becoming a freelance writer who has multiple clients and averages $50-$100 per article.

Can you become a freelance writer with no experience?

Yes!  I am living proof of this possibility. You may lack experience at first and that’s okay, but what you will need to have is:

  • a passion for writing
  • an understanding of the English language
  • a decent-sized vocabulary
  • the ability to do basic internet research
  • an account with Grammarly* or some other writing assistant tool

How do I break into freelance writing?

Below are the top 5 things I did that enabled me to break into the freelance writing game.

  1. Start a blog – Hands down this is the best thing I did for my freelance writing career.  To bid jobs as a beginner, you need to be able to show samples of your writing style.  I send potential clients to my blog every week.  It doesn’t matter if you’re the only one who visits it, and you don’t need to promote it.  Think about it as your beginner portfolio that will lead to getting more future work.
  2. Sign up for freelance sitesUpwork and Fiverr* are my two favorites, but there are plenty of other platforms out there.  The nice thing about these two platforms is they make payment secure and straightforward.  Especially as a new freelancer, the last thing you want is to be bamboozled by some schmuck you met on a job board who promises to pay for an article but never does.
  3. Up your google game – Freelance writing is a space where you don’t have to be an expert at something to be able to write on it.  Most companies are looking for people that can create a structurally sound and engaging blog and also know how to google. I’ve written posts about travel insurance, medicare supplement insurance, and student loan debt forgiveness, all with little to no prior knowledge.  The clients were super happy with the results because I googled my butt off, cited my sources, and created content that was pleasant to read.
  4. Consider niching down – While, as I outlined above, you don’t need to be an expert to write on a topic, it is a good idea to narrow your focus to a specific vertical. Not only does this allow you to become more knowledgable, but it also lets you cater blog content towards the type of work you want. For example, I have a deep interest in personal finance, which is why I’ve devoted a section of my blog to write about it. Because I’ve been able to send those pieces to clients, I now have three great recurring clients for whom I write specifically about topics related to personal finance.
  5. Develop your pitch – In my Upwork review, I walk through creating a great proposal.  Consider how you can serve the client you’re applying to work with and put the focus on them. Sure, you want to showcase your talents, but the client’s need and how you can fill it is the most critical aspect of any good proposal.
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For more tips on ways to establish great client relationships, check out the do’s and don’ts of client relationship management.

How much do you charge as a freelance writer?

One of the most challenging things I encountered in my journey to become a freelance writer was how much to charge hourly or per project.  Having zero experience in the industry, I had no idea of the expectations of clients and what they would be willing to pay.  Here are the basics of how to charge a client when you’re just starting.

Determine time per word count

Clients will ask you to quote proposals for work in word count—this article, as an example, clocks in right around 1,650 words.  On average, companies will be looking for blogs/articles with 500, 1,000, 1,500, or 2,000 words. Using a tool like Toggl, track exactly how long in minutes it takes you to create a blog post of each length for your blog, including edits. (You may need to do 2-3 articles and take the average.)

Articles with greater than 2000 words are considered long-form posts. They should be priced higher with estimates based on depth and time to research as they often take much longer to pull together. I would recommend avoiding bidding on long-form articles until you’ve had experience in creating one or more for your blog as they can be extremely challenging.

Take your average time and round up

Some posts are easier to write depending on your level of interest, research, and intended audience. Since writing for your blog is likely going to be easier than writing on a random topic from a client, add 15-20 minutes to the time you determined and make that your starting point for proposals. For example, say your average time to write a 500-word post on your blog is 40 minutes. You’ll want to use an hour as your standard when quoting clients.

Decide your hourly rate

Now that you know approximate article length and time, you can use it to determine your fixed and hourly rates. On fixed-rate contracts, you’ll receive a lump sum from the client upon submission of the content, regardless if it takes you 15 minutes or 5 hours. Hourly rate means you can charge the client for the exact amount of time you spent writing, again, be it 15 minutes or 5 hours.

Your hourly rate is going to fluctuate over time and go up based on your quality of work and level of experience. For those just starting, $20-25 hourly is going to be a fair bid for most clients. To put it in perspective, if you did freelance writing full-time for a year at $25 an hour, your salary, before taxes, would be $52,000. That’s not bad.

Use your hourly rate to determine fixed-rate

Once you’ve established your hourly rate and have your word count per hour, it’s simple to bid fixed-rate assignments. If a 1,000-word post takes you two hours to create, and your hourly rate is $25, you’d bid the fixed-rate job around $50. However, keep in mind that if the assignment will involve a lot of research or is an entirely new writing style (academic, and you’re used to casual), you’ll want to bid higher.

The main thing about how to charge as a freelancer

Your rate is as high or low as you want it to be, and that’s one of my favorite things about freelance! You can always submit a proposal to a client at $20 an hour and let them know that after X number of successful billed hours or X assignments, you’ll be upping your rate to $25, assuming both parties are happy. You are in control, and the market will generally let you know pretty quickly if you’re bidding high, low, or spot on.

Keep your business moving forward

What’s your process for creating content as a freelance writer?

Creating a high-quality blog post or article for a client is easier than you might think. It comes down to a few key steps.

  1. Start writing – If you spend too much time in the planning stages, it might make it harder to get off the ground.  Based on how long my content needs to be, I will open up a google doc, start writing, and stop when I feel like I’m reaching the approximate word count (500 words = ~1 page, 1000 words = ~2 pages, 2000 words = ~4 pages). It doesn’t matter if what I’ve written on this first draft is pretty or even makes sense; it’s about getting the thoughts out of my head and onto the page.
  2. Don’t forget your headings/sub-headings/lists – Nobody likes to read an article that contains one continuous block of text.  To mix it up for the reader’s eye and increase the ability to scan the page, be sure to use a heading, sub-heading, or list every 200-300 words.
  3. Do a round of edits, then sleep on it – You know that feeling when you’ve been looking at something for so long it starts to turn to mush in your brain?  That can happen with writing too.  I typically try to turnaround writing assignments in 48 hours. To do this, I write like a madwoman on day one to get to my word count, perform one round of edits in Grammarly, then let it sit overnight.  It is sporadic that I turnaround an article the same day.  I try not to do so because I like to give my brain rest on a post and see it with fresh eyes the next morning. It’s incredible the things you notice after stepping away and coming back again.  If you have deadlines to hit the same day, I’d highly recommend doing a first draft in the morning, then coming back again a few hours later after lunch for final edits and submission.

Are freelance writers in demand?

Absolutely yes.  I see 40-50 Upwork jobs come through every single day looking for freelancers.  The key is to find the clients that are willing to pay up for the service.  I see so many people offering to pay $5 for a 1,000-word article and it hurts my heart.  Even as a brand new writer, take care to not let clients take advantage of you.  There’s a fine line between getting experience and being scammed. (I cover some of the red flags to spot bad clients in my Upwork review.)

I hope you’ve found something of value here that enables you to get your start to become a freelance writer! I’d love to hear your feedback or anything else you’d like to know in the comments.

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