In this beginner’s guide to making money as a freelance writer, you’ll learn how to go from a complete beginner to a highly-paid and sought-after pro.
Our step-by-step approach is based on our team’s decades of combined freelance writing experience.
Beginners will want to read this guide from top to bottom and then work their way through each step. For those with paid experience as a freelancer, the table of contents below will take you directly to the stage you’re at.
How Freelance Writing Works
If you’re considering a career as a freelance writer, it’s important to have a good understanding of how both freelance writing and the freelance industry as a whole work.
It’s common for beginners to think that common freelance writing niches like creating blog posts for a website are all the opportunities that exist within the field. In reality, there are many different ways to make money as a freelance writer.
The simplest way to define freelance writing is the act of getting paid to write for others as an independent contractor (a.k.a., as a freelancer). The writer’s job is generating the text that is asked for by the client.
But what many beginners overlook is why clients need written text in the first place. After all, they’re looking to achieve a result of their own. Your job — whether you’re working with a Fortune 500 company or a small local business — is to discover and deliver that desired result.
This may sound basic, but a common mistake many freelance writers make is focusing on what they want. Beginners hear about the flexible hours, the good pay and the opportunity for steady work, and that’s all they focus on.
The correct mindset, and the one adopted by the highest-paid freelance writers, is to focus on the results their clients want first.
This is the reason why it’s important to pick a quality niche.
The 8 Steps to Start Making Money as a Freelance Writer
Step #1: Research Markets and Niches
A niche is how a freelancer defines what they do. Take the example of a writer who writes how-to articles for how-to websites; this would be the niche they write in, and it’s how they’re known in the industry (as well as how they market themselves to prospective clients).
Without a niche, you become a generalist. The problem with being a generalist is that you’re competing against niche experts. And since clients want results, they’re more likely to want to work with someone who has proven they can deliver that result.
One of the best pieces of advice I can offer freelance writers is to be very intentional about your niche.
The niche you select impacts:
- The amount of fulfillment you get from your work.
- The amount of money you can make.
- The type of clients you work with.
What I can’t stress enough is that you get to pick your niche! Choose well and you open up the opportunity to nearly limitless amounts of work that fulfills you.
As a beginner with no experience, your goal is to choose the best niche available as of today. Start by examining your existing skills and knowledge, and consider how that can be applied to a specific niche — keeping in mind that you’re not limited to only your writing experience. Instead, look at specific areas where you have above-average knowledge on a particular topic.
For example, suppose you’re an avid exerciser and you’ve been going to CrossFit religiously for a few years. You’re passionate about fitness, and you understand the language, the people, the brands and the spaces, because you’ve been living in that world. This has certainly resulted in you having above-average knowledge of this topic, which can help you secure a job writing about it.
There are likely around five to 10 areas where you have above-average knowledge like this.
Focusing on topics where you do have above-average knowledge is a great place for beginners to start.
For an in-depth guide on niche selection, you’ll want to read our article “How to Choose a Freelancing Niche.” This guide walks you through niche selection, offering four tips for those just starting out. Also, read up on what we feel are the best freelance writing niches for beginners.
One last note on niche selection: your niches can and should constantly evolve the more you learn and grow your skills. Without experience, you’re operating on a limited knowledge base.
For this reason, it’s good to start with a broad category and then drill further down into subcategories. The initial broad category is how you’re able to get paid work and experience as quickly as possible while discovering better opportunities.
For example, you may start writing informational content for blogs in the CrossFit space. But as you learn more about the type of work out there and what pays well, you may see that there’s a need for quality copywriters in the space.
Step #2: Establish Credibility by Building Your Portfolio
Freelance writing portfolios come in a variety of forms.
Some freelance writers have their own website, where they share information about their services while providing reasons clients will want to work with them.
While this is something you’ll want to do long-term, it’s not necessary for absolute beginners (although it can surely help land you work).
Others may want to create a resume or a credible profile on a site like Upwork that stands out.
The end goal, no matter the type of portfolio, is to establish your credibility as a writer and earn the respect of potential clients. Remember, clients are looking for results and they’re likely to hire the freelancer that seems most likely to deliver those results to them.
It’s here where having a niche is so important. Even without a client to your name, you can still establish credibility.
Going back to our CrossFit example, here are some things you can do:
- Create a writing sample of the type of content blogs in the CrossFit space are looking for (more on this in Step #4).
- Include proof that you have above-average knowledge in this space. For example, photos of you working out at a CrossFit gym.
- Post a video of you talking about how CrossFit has impacted your life and why you’re choosing to work in this niche.
Notice that none of these credibility builders require you to have worked as a freelance writer before.
For more information, see our article “How to Create a Freelance Portfolio From Scratch.” Also, check out our guide to writing a resume with no experience; a resume is helpful for writers considering using job boards to apply for a job (more on where to apply for jobs below).
Step #3: Create Freelance Writing Samples That Stand Out
The best credibility indicator freelancer writers have is work samples. After all, what better way to convince a client you can do the job they want than by showing them you’ve done it before?
Furthermore, the vast majority of people looking to hire freelance writers will not hire you unless they see a sample of previous work.
Many beginners hold off on showcasing samples of their work because they think they need to have clients first.
However, there’s no requirement that the samples within your portfolio be paid assignments.
More so, your goal here isn’t to hide the fact that you haven’t done paid work before; it’s to provide proof that you’re capable of doing the work a client wants.
In fact, many clients will be impressed that you took the time to create and showcase a writing sample of your own, seeing that it was unpaid.
As you’ve done your homework regarding the type of niche you’re wanting to work in, now go ahead and create a sample of what your ideal client is looking for.
This sample should showcase your existing knowledge in the field. So, pick a topic that only someone with above-average knowledge like yourself can create.
For example, an article with a title like “7 Things You Should Know Before Starting CrossFit” would help display your knowledge in the space. You could even add a personal story or two based on your own experience.
Step #4: Set Your Freelance Writing Rates
Setting your initial rates gets you one step closer to a paid assignment.
We talk about all the details in our article “How to Set Your Freelance Writing Rates,” but the big takeaway for beginners is that you shouldn’t overly focus on the rates you’re being paid for your first one to three assignments.
In the beginning, it’s more important to get some projects and positive client feedback under your belt.
Long-term, it doesn’t matter that much whether you price yourself at four cents per word or eight cents per word when you’re getting started. In fact, my first gig as a freelance writer brought me a whopping $50 for an assignment that took me 10 hours to complete.
But I was fine with that; I had strategically priced my services low because:
- It was the exact type of client I wanted to work for.
- I knew I had the skills to deliver what the client wanted.
As I got the job via Upwork, this client then left very positive feedback. Needless to say, that was the last time I ever worked for $5 per hour. My next assignment was at a much higher rate, and it wasn’t long until I was making over $100 per hour.
To summarize, you want to set an initial rate that allows you to gain experience as quickly as possible. When you have a few clients under your belt, then you can start charing more.
Step #5: Find a High-Quality Freelance Writing Job
Not all freelance writing clients are equal. While it’s important to gain experience as fast as possible, this doesn’t mean taking on any and all client work. The truth is there are many overly-demanding clients, and you definitely want to stay away from them.
Fortunately, because you’ve done the work of selecting a quality niche and establishing credibility within that niche, you’ll be able to avoid the lowest of lows in the freelance writing world (cranking out articles for a penny per word for an article writing service).
When choosing clients, beginners should focus on finding short-term jobs within their niche. The benefit of shorter-term work is that it aligns with your goal of gaining experience as fast as possible. It also doesn’t lock you into below-average rates for very long.
It’s also important to consider the type of person you’re working for. You want to work with someone trustworthy who will treat you with respect. This is where evaluating the communication before the assignment is vital. If you see red flags — e.g., the client is messaging you every two hours wondering whether you’re going to take the job — stay away!
The best-case scenario is finding someone who already knows and trusts you, as well as who you know and trust, to get your first paid assignment. For example, you could ask the owner of the CrossFit gym you go to if they’re looking for any writing work.
A close second is getting a referral from someone who already knows and trusts you — e.g., asking the owner of the gym if they know of anyone looking for a freelance writer in the community.
If you’re not fortunate enough to have a connection to someone looking for writers within your niche, there are plenty of great job boards online for finding freelance writing work.
Learn more here: The Best Freelance Writing Job Sites For Beginners and Pros.
Step #6: Deliver High-Quality Work
The ability to deliver high-quality work begins long before you open up a blank document. It even begins before the research process.
An important principle for beginning freelancers to understand is that it’s your client that determines the quality of the work, not you!
Here’s what I mean: you can deliver your client an in-depth, well-written article that you feel is best-in-class, but that doesn’t matter if the client wanted something short and punchy.
In other words, good freelance writing is content that aligns with the client’s desires and expectations.
So, you have to learn how to effectively communicate your client’s needs back to them to make sure you’re on the same page. This is best done by asking a lot of questions before the job even starts. You want to make sure you understand how long the article should be, how long they’re willing to wait for it, what they expect to pay, and what their revision process looks like.
Summarize these important points in writing to the client.
Most importantly, you want to understand the client’s goals. What exactly is the purpose of the article and why are they creating it? (In other words, what result do they want?) This allows you to over-deliver on what’s most important to them (not what you think makes an article good).
One tip is to give your client an unexpected and value-added surprise when handing in your assignment. This surprise should come from understanding what the client’s goal really is.
For example, say your client’s goal is to gain organic search traffic for an article. When you deliver your assignment, you can say something like, “After I completed the first draft of the assignment, I ran it through an SEO checklist to make sure it was optimized for Google.”
This shows that you not only listened to what your client had to say but really cared about the end result — i.e., whether they get the results they’re looking for.
For more information on defining your deliverable, check out: How to Write a Freelance Proposal to Win More Jobs and Get Better Clients.
Step #7: Start Building Credibility Indicators
Over-delivering to a client doesn’t just make that person happy; it can and should be leveraged into better and high-paying jobs in the future.
When you’re charging low-end rates, potential clients tend to overlook you not having a website, having limited feedback on your profile, or having a lack of experience on your resume.
But the more you want to be paid, the more important these credibility indicators become. Every job you complete offers another opportunity to build trust with potential clients.
This trust can come in many different forms.
Some examples of credibility indicators to focus on include:
- Making sure you’re getting a byline for the article you turned in, which you can showcase to other potential clients.
- Adding the article to your published pieces on your website, freelancer profile or resume.
- If working on a site like Upwork, getting good feedback on your profile.
- A testimonial you can place on your website.
- Verified results of the article produced, such as page views, organic ranking, conversions, etc.
The work of building your credibility never stops. Every assignment offers a new opportunity to establish yourself as someone to trust within your niche. You want to take full advantage of it.
Step #8: Maximize Your Earning Potential by Thinking Like a Business Owner
Freelance writing can be very lucrative. I know many writers who earn six figures. It’s rare, but there are writers who earn seven figures.
How do these writers make so much money? It comes down to the value they bring to their clients.
As an example, copywriters are among the highest-paid freelance writers because what they produce directly correlates to a company’s sales. The right words can increase sales, and for some companies, that can add millions in revenue.
Increasing the amount of value you can provide to your clients starts with choosing clients where your work is highly valued. Remember, your niche (and therefore the type of freelance client you’re willing to work for) should always be evolving.
After your first few assignments, you’ll better understand the opportunities within certain niches. For example, you may find that the CrossFit blogs you work for make most of their revenue by writing in-depth product reviews. So, moving forward, you’ll want to focus on taking on assignments that involve writing about products, as well as increasing the value you can deliver for your reviews.
It’s here where you might consider taking a freelance writing course to level up your writing skills.
No matter the path, the end goal should be to constantly find clients where you can maximize the value you deliver (in most cases, this means revenue generated for the client) — in addition to increasing your own writing skills to deliver that value.
How to Become a Freelance Writer: Summary
Freelancing writing is certainly one of the best ways to make money from home. But while this article offers a step-by-step approach for getting started, understand that your path to becoming a successful freelancer will probably not follow a straight line.
You may find that there isn’t any demand for the niche you thought would be perfect for you, that your skills as a writer are not where you want them to be, or that you’re terrible at sales and can’t close a prospect.
Here’s the thing: everybody — even the most successful freelance writers today — failed miserably at the beginning.
How you deal with those failures will determine whether you’re able to build a successful and prosperous freelance writing career.
After all, it’s not really a failure if you’re learning from these mistakes and using them to improve yourself going forward.
Read Next: 5 Freelance Writing Sites That Pay Daily.