Have you ever read an amazing article online and thought “I could do that!” Well, once you learn how to become a freelance writer, that really could be your piece of content published for all the world to see!
I don’t know about you, but I was definitely that kid who poured over every book I could get my hands on and reading is absolutely an interest I carried over into adulthood. At the same time, it took a long time for me to think I could one day as a way to earn money.
But it’s absolutely possible to make a living as a freelance writer. In fact, plenty of people do it, earning thousands of dollars every month from a range of freelance writer jobs – while working from essentially anywhere in the world.
So do you have a way with words and enjoy researching new topics? Do you want a job that both pays well but is as flexible as you need? If the answer is yes, it may be time to get started as a freelance writer!
How to become a freelance writer with no experience
1. Learn what it takes
While you don’t necessarily need any qualifications in order to become a freelance writer, there’s no question that learning what it takes can really help you to hit the ground running.
And sure, it may sound counter-intuitive to spend money to make money. But making that investment now can go a long way to helping you to maximize your income, allowing you to earn more in a much shorter amount of time.
There are a bunch of different courses out there, some better than others, but I always like to learn from those who’ve done exactly what I want to do myself. That’s exactly why I recommend the Earn More Writing course.
It’s run by Holly Johnson, who makes over $225,000 per year as a freelance writer. Using her years of freelance writing success, she’ll teach you:
- How to create an online brand and leverage social media to build your portfolio
- How to develop the perfect pitch and attract clients
- Her top tips for reaching your maximum earning potential
- Her best strategies for writing great content quickly and effectively (read: more money)
- Exactly what clients are looking for to make sure they keep coming back to you
…and a ton more.
FYI: If you go to the Earn More Writing homepage and scroll down a tiny bit, you’ll find a link to Holly’s free workshop on How to Build a Six-Figure Writing Career. It’s a great option to get started with becoming a freelance writer – for free!
2. Find your areas of specialization
While not all freelance writers niche down, those who do often report having more success. This can be for many reasons, like the fact that you’ll have recognized expertise in your space and that clients in that niche will begin to turn to you as you become known for your work.
Of course, you don’t have to do this. For those freelance writers who don’t have one set niche, they’re considered general writers. In those cases, you’ll be marketing yourself as someone who does research for various topics.
But for anyone looking to specialize – which you should seriously consider doing – you can choose to focus on literally anything under the sun. After all, there are articles online about almost any topic, whether that’s DIY, beauty products, sports, dog food, a certain type of recipes, finance, technology, health, real estate and much, much more.
3. Create your online portfolio
One of the major issues people face when looking for freelance writing jobs for beginners is that it’s hard to get clients when you don’t have a portfolio to show off your work. This is why the best way to show your writing to prospective editors and publishers is to create an online portfolio so they can easily find you.
The best way to do this is to create a website for your online portfolio. In fact, I’d argue that anyone looking to make a living from freelance writing needs their own website where clients can see what they offer.
To launch your brand new site, I recommend getting started with Bluehost. For less than $3 a month, they’ll host your website and let you choose a free domain name – perfect for helping you to keep costs down as you launch your new freelance writing career!
Fortunately, it’s incredibly easy to create your own website, as you can see from our step-by-step guide on how to start a site. Even without any tech knowledge, just follow that guide and you’ll be able to launch your new site in less than 20 minutes!
By doing that, you’re giving yourself the best chance possible to attract new clients and for word to spread about your great work.
4. Publish some content
Don’t worry, you don’t have to start pitching to clients just yet. But while it’s great to create your online portfolio, it’s even better if you have something to put in there.
This is why you should look into utilizing a free site like Linkedin or Medium to start publishing content in your chosen niche. Medium even has a program that pays people to write on their site.
While your aim will ultimately be to write for other people, by having some published work online, potential clients will be able to see your style of writing and know if you’re a match for what they’re looking for.
5. Learn how to craft a good pitch
When freelance writers apply for a posted position or cold-contact editors for commissions, they must craft a pitch letter. A pitch is a way to sell your specific topic or your general writing services. A good pitch is especially important for cold emails, since you have no relationship with the editor yet.
Editors receive countless pitches, so you need to make your query standout. After all, there’s a reason that marketing – including marketing yourself! – is one of the best high income skills out there. A typical pitch is fairly short and shouldn’t include your full written story or article. Instead, just give a brief and concise synopsis of what you want to write.
Most importantly, research the publication or agent first, as they may have specific requirements for pitches. And don’t hesitate to pitch an editor or publication that previously turned you down. Editors change or your style may be a better fit for the current story or time.
6. Utilize social media
Social media provides you with an audience of millions around the world. For example, people often share long expositions about current events, commentary on the latest Netflix original, or funny memes on Facebook. Some posts are very well written and the most engaging ones can go viral.
In my case, I engaged family and friends on Facebook with well-thought out narrative essays about my extended travels in Asia. The overwhelming response encouraged me to try freelance writing in the travel niche again.
And another great way to use social media to become a freelance writer is to find clients there. For example, I’m a member of a number of blogging Facebook groups where some freelance writers are also members. From time to time, another member will post a message asking for recommendations for writers – which is exactly where they can step in and grab a new client with very little work!
7. Review your grammar
As a freelance writer, your grammar is as important as your content. If you don’t know what passive voice means, how to use a colon, or the Oxford comma, it may be time to refresh your knowledge.
No need to pull out old high school books. The internet provides a bunch of really good resources to become an expert at grammar, like the following:
- Grammarly – free cloud-based writing assistant that reviews grammar, spelling, and clarity
- Grammar Girl – podcast and website for quick writing tips. You should also check out her book, which is a gold mine of information: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
- Purdue Online Writing Lab – free resource for writing, citation, and research tips
- Grammar Monster – online interactive tool that helps correct grammar and punctuation
- Scribens – checks over 250 types of grammar
Grammarly is my personal favorite for running a piece of content through, just to pick up anything I may have missed while writing the article. What’s great is that you can use it in your web browser or as a plug-in on your WordPress site, so it’s very easy to use no matter how you plan to use it.
8. Study correct writing formats
Freelance writers will need to get familiar with headings, outline structures, title case, and APA formats.
For example, when writing a piece of content that will be published online, you don’t want to write a big wall of text. Long paragraphs are fine for books, essays, and medical research journals. For the web, however, you must become familiar with breaking your thoughts up into short paragraphs, especially for those reading on mobile.
Similarly, it can be a good idea to become comfortable with using things like heading tags and how these work online. For instance, see that subheading above? That’s a H3 heading, whereas the heading at the start of this text has a H2 heading tag. This page explains more, but knowing this (and doing them properly) will get you massive points from your clients.
9. Create a comfortable work space
Once you start as a freelance writer, you will need to ensure that you have a comfortable space to sit and work for long periods. You will also need decent internet so that you don’t have problems delivering your assignments on time.
If you work from home like most writers, try to have a designated desk space and chair that provides back support. You don’t want to end up hunched over or with back pain after hours of writing.
Digital nomads should certainly ask about desk space and wifi speed before handing over funds for an AirBnB or apartment. You can also research cafes near where you’re staying that cater to remote workers. In addition, if you plan to stay in hostels while traveling, check for co-working spaces in the city you plan to temporarily move to.
Where to find freelance writer jobs for beginners
Are you ready to start freelance writing with no experience? Check out these sites:
- Upwork – tons of jobs but fiercely competitive bids
- Fiverr – to become a freelance writer on Fiverr, all you have to do is create a profile that lists your services. Use the right keywords and potential clients will come to you
- iWriter – quick application process and weekly pay
- FlexJobs – many screened remote or flex-time jobs
- ProBlogger – great gigs for freelance writers that are interested in blogging
- VirtualVocations.com – tons of screened remote jobs
- MediaBistro – jobs geared toward media and entertainment
- WriterAccess – intense application process but tons of clients
- BKA Content – content mill focused on SEO writing
Many new freelancers swear that Upwork is the best freelance website for beginners. It is certainly a place where budding writers can bid on easy freelance jobs and be given a fair shot. I like how accessible the site is to everyone, although this does mean it can be pretty competitive
That said, I scored an ongoing freelance contract during my first few days on ProBlogger, so I can 100% confirm that there are freelance writing jobs for beginners on there. Some clients want a certain amount of experience. Others will give you a shot if you simply have some great samples.
How do freelance writers get work?
Most freelance writers get work by pitching ideas to editors in response to calls for proposals, getting exposure from running their own SEO-optimized blog, or posting articles on free sites like Medium. A strong social media presence also helps catch the eye of prospective clients, especially if you build a following in a specific niche.
More information on some of these is below.
Some publications may have an ongoing need for fresh talent. In this case, a writer should find the name and contacts of an editor online.
For a large publication that has several beats, make sure you email your pitch to the appropriate editor. In other words, don’t pitch a travel article to the sports editor.
FYI: Holly Johnson is a pitching pro…as you can probably tell from the fact she makes $225,000+ a year from freelance writing. If you’d like to do the same, check out her Earn More Writing course where she’ll teach you to pitch too – as well as everything else you need to know to become a freelance writer!
Maintain a blog
More and more freelancers are turning to self-publishing work on their blogs. It can take a while to monetize a blog, but it is possible with promotion, SEO optimization, and killer content. Search for topical keywords and find a way to write content around that word.
If your blog becomes popular, you can make money through sponsorships or affiliate marketing. A well written blog can help you get external clients for a higher fee.
Thinking about starting a blog to make extra money?
Great choice! After all, it’s one of the cheapest online businesses to start at under $3 per month – less than a cup of coffee! In fact, that’s the price you’ll get if you launch your site with Bluehost, which is easily my top pick for the best website host for beginners to use.
Not only will you get a free domain name, but you definitely don’t need any tech experience to get started.
To find out more, check out my simple step-by-step guide on how to start a blog as I show you the exact steps I took to start on the path to earning thousands of dollars every month – on the side of my full-time job!
Some freelance writers work through an agency. The agency may be focused on a particular genre like technical writing or have clients in different areas.
Some agencies assign work to the writer. Many content writing agencies allow writers to claim work on a first come first served basis from an open online pool.
Don’t look down on open work posts to get your start. A client that you initially worked with from an open agency pool may turn into a regular client when you consistently produce quality work.
Agencies also deal directly with clients and payments. So that is one less thing you have to worry about. However, they usually take some form of commission from each job. Sometimes, you may have to write a pitch for a direct client supplied by the agency.
What is a freelance writer?
A freelance writer earns an income by writing content without being tied down to one employer. This type of writer is self-employed and often works under a series of contracts. Freelance writers normally are not restricted to a set location or a set client.
That is, a writer may work on a single project after answering a client’s “casting call”, although they can also be engaged more long term and still be a freelancer. Their contracts will set out the specifics, showinf the general ongoing scope of work, pay rate, and expiration date.
Advantages of Freelance Writing
Freelance writers earned their name thanks to the freedom that comes with the job. As self-employed individuals, they can juggle several different clients at the same time and don’t have to be loyal to an employer. They can also work as much or as little as they like based on how many jobs they accept at any one time, meaning this can be a great chance to embrace working part time or even take it to full time hours.
Location independence comes with the job. Work from home, a cafe, a co-working space, or a foreign country. Save money on office commutes. You will no longer feel obligated to do Secret Santa at Christmas time – as a freelancer, you can take December off.
If you are a digital nomad who loves telling stories, you may want to start as a freelance writer. Easily earn money while you travel once you have clients. You don’t have to ask anyone for time off – vacations are at your discretion.
Disadvantages of Freelance Writing
Regardless of freedom, you are expected to meet deadlines as a writer. So, make sure you have good time management. Unfortunately, some clients also think that freelance means “free”, forcing you to chase payment at times.
In some instances, you may have to wait for payment. While I enjoyed writing an opinion travel piece for NBC, it took almost two months to get paid. Since it may take a while for your check to come, you should be extra mindful about your budget.
As a self-employed individual, you must do your own taxes and keep track of invoices. If you get sick, there is no pay for sick leave and you must pay for your health insurance out of pocket. Luckily, there are several invoicing and budgeting tools at your disposal. Quickbooks is a great way to keep track of your business accounting online, for example.
What qualifications do you need to be a freelance writer?
A freelance writer should have a good command of English (or whichever language in which they are writing). Writers must also exercise good time management to meet deadlines and be organized enough to handle personal business matters. The ability to follow client directives in a timely manner is a must.
You can find out some other key attributes you’ll need to have below.
The more knowledge you have of a particular topic, the easier it will be to write about. When you can showcase several pieces of content around a specialty, clients may view you as an expert. A quick look at my writing portfolio shows clients that I am knowledgeable about travel, technology, caffeinated beverages, and pets.
Does singling out one or two genres bore you? You can always focus on general freelance writing. Just be prepared to do lots of research. I learned about stop-loss protection for investments and how to dye a wedding dress thanks to recent writing assignments.
Freelance writers must keep up with project deadlines. When you take on a project, the client will establish an expected delivery time. If you miss deadlines, you may end up losing a valuable client.
Large projects such as books may have more than one deadline. Big projects need to be done and checked in stages until completion. A quick 500 word article may be due within a day or two. Some content sites like Copify expect a same-day turnaround.
As you get more work as a writer, your computer folder is bound to fill up without external storage. I find Google Docs very convenient for word processing and auto-saving documents. You may prefer cloud computing options such as Box to keep your computer from running like a snail.
Consider utilizing digital tools such as your calendar reminder, notepad, or sticky notes to remind you of upcoming deadlines.
If you work in a big team, you may have to use tools such as Slack or Basecamp.
Can I do freelance writing without a degree?
You can certainly do freelance writing without a degree. Clients look for engaging writing content, experience, and potential to rank in SEO, as well as a generally good standard of spelling, grammar and formatting skills. A successful blog with thousands of hits will eclipse a lack of a degree.
With that said, it definitely can’t hurt to have a degree in something like Journalism, Communications, or English, especially noting that some employers prefer full-time writers with some type of Bachelor’s degree. Specific majors have little relevance to freelance writing clients unless a subject matter expert is needed.
English majors should have an easier time getting started as freelancers due to command of the language, grammar, APA citation knowledge,etc. This is also why freelance writing can be great for, say, teachers who want to be paid in the summer. Writing long compositions is already common for English majors. At the same time, a freelancer with an English degree still needs to be able to write interesting content.
How much do beginner freelance writers make?
There is no set fee for a freelance writer’s salary. The average salary for a writer with less than three years’ experience is $1 to $20 per hour. Like any creative field, a freelance writer may have an incredibly low or high salary.
As a specialist writer, you will normally make more money than a generalist. Top specialities are technical writing and finance.
Keep in mind that it’s often more common to get paid per word rather than per hour, so your hourly rate will depend on how quickly you can craft your piece. When you’ve just become a freelance writer with no experience, expect to earn up to $0.03 per word, although it will increase from there over time. For example, once you get a bit of experience under your belt, you could easily earn $200 a day for writing a long blog post.
How do freelance writers get paid?
Waiting for a paper check in the mail is yesterday’s news. Freelance writers have access to the same electronic means of payment as other professions. That means that, these days, PayPal and bank ACH are the most common payment methods for freelance writers.
Once you submit your finished assignment online, you must wait for client approval. If revisions are requested, those must be made before final approval. You will see your payment in your profile account balance after the client signs off.
Many content writing agencies pay weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Some may allow you to withdraw funds immediately after approval. If you don’t have a paypal account, you need to get one since most clients will pay this way.
PayPal vs ACH
When agencies or clients pay you via PayPal, you will receive funds immediately. Paypal keeps a record of all your payments and will supply an I9 for your taxes once payment goes over $600. Content writers are normally paid by PayPal.
You can quickly transfer those paypal funds to your bank account.
Bank ACH may take a little longer. Once the client submits your payment, you should see it in your bank account within a few days. Publishers and large organizations will ask for your bank info once you sign a freelance contract.
Can you actually make a living by freelance writing?
As someone who is making a living as a freelance writer, I can say that yes, you can make a living as a writer. You may not make good money immediately, but you can make a part-time or full-time income. Some writers struggle for years, but may see a sharp income increase in a short amount of time.
The amount of time you put in also determines your income. If you freelance on the side, you may make a few hundred or thousand a year. However, you can join the six-figure club if you write fulltime in a profitable niche.
Like any liberal arts or creative field, you may deal with feast or famine as a writer. Luckily, you can take advantage of several different writing income streams. If one client dries up, write more of your other contracts.
Is freelance writing a good career?
Freelance writing can be a nice side gig or full-time career. You need discipline to meet deadlines. However, there is great flexibility and the ability to make a lucrative salary. It may also give you the opportunity to earn good money writing about a topic that you’re passionate about.
Some further advantages of becoming a freelance writer are set out below.
Teach without being a teacher
Many people are walking around with a wealth of knowledge to share, but don’t ever think about becoming a teacher. Freelance writing puts you in a position to teach any speciality you have without dealing with a formal classroom (which is also why this can be a great summer job for teachers, as they already have the skills needed to do this).
For example, in the travel world, many writers, including myself, have relished providing travel advice and reviews of exotic locales. My writing skills combined with a web production background have helped to explain technical concepts to non-techy people.
Similarly, I have never worked on Wall Street, but have gained knowledge from great finance writers. A good writer clearly explained a term to me called “stop-loss”, which protects investors from losing all money in a volatile stock. And I’d never have known that without this freelance writer helping me out!
Work in different content types
As a freelance writer, you have the flexibility to shift to various content types at any time. Bloggers can get hired to write articles for publications. If you are good with dialogue, you can write educational or video scripts. Social media pros can get paid to write web copy.
Nothing stops you from working on all these content types simultaneously.
Working in different content types provides different streams of income. You will get more money for a script than for an SEO blog post. You may realize that you enjoy writing in a different content type than you initially thought. I loved my short stint writing educational scripts for ESL learners.
Work as much or as little as you like
Like many other online jobs, one of the biggest perks of freelance writing is that you can work as much or as little as you like. There’s a reason why it’s one of the best part time online jobs out there, as the flexibility is almost unmatched.
For example, do you have a lot going on in your life at the moment or are the kids out of school for the summer so you have less free time? Perhaps don’t accept as many jobs for the next few weeks.
Alternatively, do you know that you have the next few weekends free and are looking to earn some extra cash? Time to start pitching more clients and turn this into a really lucrative weekend job.
Change your boss
As a freelancer, you are your own boss, so it can be a great opportunity if you’re looking for a job where you work alone. However, you do answer to clients, since they are the ones hiring your talent. If you don’t have a binding contract, it is easy for you and a difficult client to part ways.
Moving on from one bad client does not have to stop your writing flow. It can be more complex if you are freelancing through an agency. Always maintain composure and wrap up the difficult assignment as professionally as possible.
At least if you change your “job” or contact, you don’t have to pack your things and move out of an office.
Age is just a number
Age discrimination has been a serious issue in the working world for a long time and as much as we’d like to think it’s a relic from the past, that isn’t the case.
Writing, however, is ageless – which is why this can be one of the best jobs for retirees. The wisdom you build with age will simply add to your credibility as a writer. If you are 55 years old and still capable of writing a best-selling book or getting thousands of blog hits, no one can “fire” you.
I don’t know of any famous writers that retired at 35. This is not the NFL. Older professionals that want to jump into freelancing may command a higher salary than other beginners.
Are freelance writers in demand?
As the internet continues to grow, more business owners need more content. This content may be in the form of articles, SEO-optimized blogs, or web copy. Social media-savvy writers will have plenty of clients to do marketing content for.
According to Forbes, Freelancer.com posted over half a million jobs in 2021. FlexJobs.com also had a 10% increase in job postings. I immediately started working on several gigs during my first week with an agency.
There is good news for older workers. Over three quarters of freelancers over the age of 50 are getting work through sites such as Freelancer.com. As I mentioned earlier, those with years of knowledge are prime candidates to share it through writing.