If you’re reading this, you’re probably curious about how to become a freelance writer.
Maybe you’re tired of receiving vague advice instead of real steps that actually help you get started too.
Well, I have good news. Becoming a freelance writer doesn’t have to be a lengthy or confusing process.
In this article, I’ll cover all the need-to-know with actionable steps so you can begin your freelance writing career right away.
Anyone can follow along and become a freelance writer too. You don’t need a degree or expensive certificates already under your belt.
Sure, having strong writing skills helps to get started, but you can (and should) continue to improve those as you go along.
In fact, if you’re equipped with a keyboard and internet connection, you’re already capable of getting started as a freelance writer wherever you are in the world.
So let’s get right to it then!
What is freelance writing?
You might be wondering, what is a freelance writer, anyway?
And what is freelancing, for that matter?
Simply put, a freelancer is someone who’s self-employed and contracts their services out to individuals or companies, often on a short-term basis.
So, as a freelance writer, you’ll typically work with individual clients, agencies, companies, or publications, contracting your writing services to them.
Freelance writing is a flexible and potentially lucrative way to make money online, whether as a side hustle, a full-time career, or anything in between.
It’s true—freelance writers can take full rein over their career growth by choosing their own schedule, who they work with, what projects they take on, where they work, and so on.
Pretty great, huh?
Not to mention, there are multiple different kinds of freelance writing you can pursue, providing a wide range of specializations and project opportunities at any given time.
Let’s go over the most common types of freelance writing you’ll want to know.
Freelance content writer
A freelance content writer produces content online that informs, educates, or entertains. Great content writers need to be able to write in a variety of different tones and styles and typically need a solid understanding of search engine optimization (SEO).
Some types of content they create are blog articles, web pages, video scripts, white papers, and more.
Though there’s some overlap, copywriting differs from content writing in that it’s all about persuasion; copywriters take a strategic, data-driven approach to writing that’s meant to convince people to buy a product or service.
Freelance copywriters write things like search engine and social media ads, slogans and taglines, website landing and product pages, email marketing campaigns, and more.
A freelance columnist works regularly with a specific publication, providing journalistic articles through the lens of their own opinions and worldviews. Whether a newspaper, magazine, or website, columnists usually contribute to a specific section, like cooking, sports, or politics.
Freelance ghostwriters create written work on behalf of and credited to another individual or company. Ghostwriters often work closely with those they’re writing for, following their voice, style, and other specifications to a T.
Freelance ghostwriters can work on a variety of projects, from fiction and nonfiction manuscripts, online articles, manuals, or speeches.
Freelance academic writer
As the name suggests, freelance academic writers write academic content that’s rooted in evidence-based facts. Because of this, academic writers need exceptional grammar and research skills as well as an understanding of referencing styles, like APA, MLA, and Chicago/Turabian.
Some common content types freelance academic writers create are articles, scholarly journals, and class materials.
Becoming a freelance writer: Savannah’s story
The only downside to having so many opportunities is that it can make getting started as a freelance writer feel somewhat overwhelming.
One of the biggest initial challenges people face is trying to picture what the process of becoming a freelance writer actually looks like.
While the origin story of every freelance writer can—and does—look a little different, it’s helpful to ask around in person and look at stories online to visualize the process and get some inspiration.
To illustrate the process, I asked my friend Savannah how she got started as a freelance writer, and here’s what she shared:
“Like many people, I wasn’t too sure what to do with my life as a college student. Despite being an English Literature major, I ended up going down the path of becoming a digital marketer because it felt ‘safer,’ and I decided to pursue my love of writing in my free time by creating a lifestyle blog.
While I really enjoyed the analytical side of things with digital marketing (and those skills certainly came in handy later), I found myself longing for more creativity and a better schedule.
I started to travel a lot and grow my blog more as I went along, and I realized that I didn’t want to give those things up.
Basically, the freedom of working wherever I wanted and doing what I loved as a freelance writer grew more and more appealing.
I had no idea how to be a freelance writer, though, so I turned to a friend who was already working as one and asked her for advice. She led me to a freelancing platform called Upwork and was kind enough to give me some tips and share her profile to reference.
Soon after talking with her and putting in some solid market research, I started pitching myself to a ton of potential clients on the platform.
Nerve-racking as it was to put myself out there (and rejections are an inevitable part of the process), it wasn’t long before I found someone who wanted to work with me.
Since then, I’ve continued to grow my own blog and have worked with multiple clients across industries, writing blog articles, social media posts, web pages, and much, much more. As of today, I’ve happily been a freelance writer for the past three and a half years.”
Now, with an idea of the process in mind, are you ready to create your own freelance writing story?
How to start freelance writing – your first 5 steps
1. Explore freelance writing job opportunities
The best way to get started is to see what kind of freelance writing opportunities already exist.
There are multiple online freelance marketplaces you can explore, with thousands of job opportunities posted every single day. Upwork, Contena, and Freelancer.com are some popular choices, to name a few.
You can learn more about the best places to explore writing jobs online here.
I suggest starting with an online platform instead of attempting to grow your own website and do your own networking upfront.
By taking the first steps of your freelance writing career in an existing marketplace, you’ll be able to get paid writing opportunities and build legitimate connections right away.
Upwork is one platform I often recommend getting started with. You’ll find a ton of writing opportunities there, making it an awesome place to get a feel for the freelance writing market and, of course, actually begin your career.
Start by scrolling through some of the job listings and taking notes on what clients are asking for.
Here are some specifics to pay attention to:
- Job type (blog post, social media copywriting, etc.)
- Rates offered
- Popular industries
- Popular niches
- Problems and objectives
- Skills desired
Through this process, you’ll learn what desirable opportunities exist for you and how you can position yourself to appeal to those posting them.
So, instead of picking a niche from the get-go, as many suggest, use this research to inspire and guide you. What’s currently in demand might surprise you.
And while you’re doing this research, you should begin brainstorming which of your existing skills and interests align with the opportunities available.
The takeaway here is, it’s important to get a thorough idea of what clients want first so that you don’t waste any time crafting an irrelevant profile, pitch, or portfolio.
Gaining this solid understanding will give you a clear sense of direction to start from.
2. Create your freelance writing site profile
Now that you have a great idea of what freelance writing clients are looking for, it’s time to create your profile.
After taking a few minutes to sign up, there are three sections in your profile we’re going to focus on that will help you stand out from other freelancers:
- Your photo
- Your title
- Your overview
I’ll walk you through each one of these to make sure your profile is the one winning clients.
When picking out a photo for your headshot, a great trick is to choose a smiling one with your teeth showing. This communicates on a subconscious level that you’re a friendly and even trustworthy person.
Moreover, a genuine smile makes you seem more approachable, which will help clients feel comfortable reaching out to you.
And, of course, the goal is to have clients coming to you.
Create a job title that directly addresses clients’ needs instead of writing what you think your role is.
For example, instead of calling yourself a “Freelance Content Writer,” use a title like “Blog Content That Gets You More Traffic.”
The idea behind this is to put yourself in your target client’s shoes and use language they’re actively thinking about and searching for.
By doing so, you’ll show them that you might be the solution to the problem they’re trying to solve, inspiring them to take a closer look at your profile and potentially hire you.
Likewise, you want to take a client-focused approach in your profile overview too.
This is a chance for you to go further into detail on what you can do to solve your client’s problems and how.
So, rather than talking a lot about yourself, where you like to go on holiday, and your cat, Greg, tailor your profile overview to focus on clients’ needs, positioning yourself as the solution to their problems.
Because you’ve already done your research, you should have some specific ideas on problems clients are currently dealing with, and which skills or experience you have that can help solve them.
To give you a clear idea of what a great profile looks like, let’s take a closer look at Alex’s profile, shown in the picture above.
In his overview, he uses a specific formula for success that you can follow too.
I’ll break this formula down for you with snippets from his overview as examples:
Describe the client
The first step in writing your overview is to describe who your target client is.
Paint a clear picture of who they are so that they can immediately identify themselves as they’re reading what you have to say.
By speaking directly to them, you’ll effectively establish a connection right off the bat.
Example: “If you’re like most of my clients, you know creative content marketing and killer copywriting are fundamental to the success of your business.”
Describe their pains
Then describe the problems, difficulties, and annoyances that are plaguing your target client.
By describing these pains, you’ll begin strengthening your established connection with them.
If a client can relate to the problems you mention, they’ll see that you get it and can potentially help.
Example: “…You’ve been disappointed with your traffic and conversions so far, but with an overwhelming number of things to do, you’ve put off doing anything about it until now.”
Describe the gains they want
Client “gains” are the value they’re looking for from a freelancer.
Here you’ll put the results they’re looking for into words, showing that, once again, you’re the best person to help.
Example: “You need content so valuable to your target audience, they’re practically compelled to share (and consume) each and every piece…”
Position yourself as the solution
Now, you want to tell clients explicitly that you’re the exact solution to their problems—the answer to their unique needs.
Example: “This is where I come in…
Imagine generating more sales with copywriting so good, your customers will thank you for making them an offer…”
Provide validation (testimonials and results)
At this point, it’s a good idea to provide validation that backs up your claims. Doing this will help establish trust and can really win over a potential client on the fence.
An example of validation might be a glowing testimonial from someone you’ve previously worked with or proof of positive results you’ve achieved.
Example: “Alex did a great job on this project. He not only created great work but added additional value and ideas to the project! Really great to work with!”
End with a call to action (CTA)
Finally, make sure to end with a call to action.
Believe it or not, people like being told what to do—or, better said, they like having a clear option that says, “do this, and you’ll get what you want!”
And that’s exactly what a CTA is.
A good CTA serves as a nudge for a potential client, guiding them from inaction to action—above all, encouraging them to work with you.
CTAs usually use an active voice, speaking directly to the reader with specific instructions on what to do next and implying the benefits that will follow.
So, an example of a CTA might look like, “contact me today” or “get more conversions now;” however, there are several ways you can play around with it to showcase your unique personality and stand out (like Alex does).
Example: “…I guarantee you’ll be satisfied with the results – or I won’t charge you a thing. So take a deep breath and relax (for a moment at least).”
3. Make your freelance writing portfolio… while you apply for writing jobs
Once you have your profile all set up and a solid understanding of what clients are asking for, you’re ready for the fun part: pitching yourself.
As you start sending out your proposals, this is also when you’re going to create your first portfolio sample.
Yes, I advise waiting until you’re actually applying to jobs before putting any effort into a portfolio.
Why? Because this way, you’ll know which content is currently in demand with real, paying clients, and you can create a targeted sample that’s relevant to the exact job you’re applying to.
This strategy is called the MVP method, or “Minimum Viable Portfolio.”
Basically, instead of wasting your time coming up with random ideas, like “101 Ways to do Underwater Basket Weaving” that might not be relevant to anyone, you’ll create an effective writing sample that aligns with what a client is looking for in their listing.
And the best part of the MVP method is, all you have to do is spend half an hour or so writing just one highly efficient 200-400 word sample, as opposed to spending days or even weeks writing several long portfolio samples that could potentially lack any significant appeal.
It’s the age-old advice of “quality over quantity” in practice—you’ll be showing your target client a small glimpse of what they can expect when you’re working with them.
Keep in mind to make sure your sample is just similar enough to be relevant to the topic and content type mentioned in the listing but not so exact that the client could rip off your work.
For example, if a client is looking for blog articles on pet care for dogs, you could create your sample on “3 Simple Tips to Survive Bathing Your Cat.”
When clients see that you have writing experience similar to their needs, they’ll be so much more likely to hire you over your competitors.
And even if you don’t get the job this time, you’ll now have the benefit of an existing portfolio sample to your name.
4. Take a freelance writing course or two to hone your skills
So, you’re all set up now: you have a compelling profile, you’ve been applying to jobs and building your portfolio, maybe you’ve already done a couple of gigs too.
This is the point when it’s time to start focusing on improving yourself as a freelance writer.
This means really honing your skills so that you can grow your freelancing business, ensure seamless experiences that will wow your clients every time, and, of course, land higher and higher-paying jobs.
So, how do you advance your freelance writing skills? Perhaps the best, most straightforward method is to take a freelance writing course.
You might be thinking, why should I wait until now to take a course?
The important reason why I suggest waiting until this point is this: you don’t want to put spending tons of time and energy taking courses ahead of actually getting started as a freelance writer.
Now, look at you, you already have an established momentum going, and the only place to go from here is up.
And the right freelance writing courses will give you a structured path—or staircase, if you will—to elevate your skills and help you evolve your business.
Speaking of, here are three awesome courses I recommend that can help you do just that:
Freelance Article Writing: Start a Freelance Writing Career!
If you want to learn more about article writing, this is a valuable course to learn how to become a profitable freelance article writer. It includes hands-on advice on how to write and structure your articles, mistakes to avoid, how to secure the best-paying writing jobs, and much more.
Learn more about this course here.
Freelance Copywriting: Write Dirty. Go Big. Start Now!
For newbie copywriters, take this course to discover which steps you need to take to make money copywriting, tactics to grow quickly, the four types of copywriting you need to know, amateur mistakes to avoid, and other helpful tools.
Learn more about this course here.
Grant Writing for Nonprofits and Freelance Writers
If you’re interested in diving into the world of grant writing, this is a great course to learn practical techniques like identifying relevant funders, writing successful proposals, drafting efficient boilerplate language, and other essentials you’ll need to succeed as a freelance grant writer.
Learn more about this course here.
5. Grow your freelance writing business with your own marketing funnel
Now that you’re established as a freelance writer and have achieved a certain level of success on freelancing platforms, your next step is to build a marketing funnel of your own.
There are several reasons why learning to market yourself off freelance platforms is a great idea at this point.
By doing so, you’ll be setting yourself up for success by building your own brand and reputation; you’ll own your services without being dependent on external marketplaces to keep working, and you’ll be able to avoid any middle-man fees that take away from your income.
Sounds like a good idea, right?
If you want to learn crystal-clear, actionable steps on how to market yourself as a freelance writer, be sure to sign up for my Marketing for Freelancers course.
By taking this course, you’ll gain valuable insight on:
- How to represent your work with confidence
- Attracting the clients you want
- How to set your rates effectively
And, perhaps most importantly, you’ll set your freelance writing business up for long-term success by learning how to lead clients directly to YOU.
Even more advice on becoming a freelance writer
There you have it, your first five steps to becoming a freelance writer. That wasn’t so bad, right?
By now, you should have a much clearer picture of how to begin your freelance writing career.
Let’s take a look at the steps we covered one more time:
- Explore freelance writing job opportunities
- Create your freelance writing site profile
- Make your freelance writing portfolio… while you apply for writing jobs
- Take a freelance writing course or two to hone your skills
- Grow your freelance writing business with your own marketing funnel
This framework can help you get started right away and take you from landing your first paid gig to elevating your freelance writing business in no time.
There’s always going to be a learning curve when starting a new career, so take it one step at a time and enjoy it. You’ll continue to improve and grow as you go along.
If you’re still unsure whether writing is the route for you or want a broader overview of what it looks like to get started as a freelancer in general, then don’t worry—I have you covered.
Head over to my How to Start Freelancing article for even more advice and a walk-through on how to begin your freelancing business as a whole.