Anyone can work as a freelance writer. Making a living as one is an entirely different matter. If you jump into freelance writing without any plans or knowing what to expect, you’re in for a rough ride.
Right now, there are a lot of people looking to make up for lost income by finding remote or freelance work. That means there’s plenty of competition. However, there are also a lot of potential work opportunities for savvy freelance writers.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the five steps it takes to start working as a freelance writer. We have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s jump right in!
Step 1: Set Up a Portfolio (And Make It Good)
A freelance writing portfolio is a website where potential clients can go and take a look at all your best work. Most freelance writers don’t work for one publication only, so chances are your samples are spread out around the web.
With a portfolio, you show clients you’re professional and give them an idea of who they’re dealing with. There are two ways you can go about setting up one:
- Set up a website from scratch, using a Content Management System (CMS) such as WordPress.
- Use a platform such as ClearVoice, which enables you to set up a portfolio for free.
Personally, I’m a big fan of creating your own portfolio. You have full freedom over how it looks and what work you share, and it’s much cheaper than you might imagine.
On average, a .com domain name costs around $10 per year and you can find hosting plans for less than $5 per month. All in all, it’s a tiny price to pay to look more professional.
If you don’t want to spend any money yet, platforms such as ClearVoice offer a free alternative, while you get your first clients. For now, decide what approach you want to take and make sure your portfolio focuses on your best work samples.
Step 2: Make a List of the Job Boards and Platforms You Want to Target
One of the worst mistakes you can make as a freelance writer is focusing on a single source of work. Take freelance platforms such as Upwork, for example. There’s plenty of writing work there, but also a lot of cheap competition:
You can find well-paid work there, but it doesn’t make sense to limit yourself to only looking there. As far as I’m concerned, the best sources of freelance writing work are job boards such as:
- ProBlogger Jobs
- All Freelance Writing
At this stage, your goal is to make a list of websites that publish new job opportunities often. Narrow down your choices to two or three platforms, which are the ones you’ll check periodically for jobs that are up your alley.
When you’re starting off, you should be pitching new clients daily. Before you send that first email, though, you need to take care of some preparations.
Step 3: Decide On a Per-Word Rate and Set Up the Payment Processors You’ll Use
Every client will have a different budget and some will be upfront about how much they’re willing to pay per word. Before you sit down at the negotiation table, you need to know how much you’re willing to charge per word.
We wrote one of the most thorough articles on the subject a while back, so check it out if you’re not sure what number to settle on. As a rule thumb, the less experience you have, the less you can charge – that much is simple.
However, it’s important to avoid the mistake most freelancers make, which is undercharging or settling for jobs that pay peanuts. It can be tempting to take any work you can at first, but it’ll only hurt you in the long run.
Once you have a figure in mind, you need to decide how you’ll process payments. Most clients you’ll meet use PayPal, so if you don’t have an account yet, open one.
Other common payment methods these days include TransferWise, wire transfers, and local processors. If you can’t receive money through any of these methods, then you have a more serious problem at hand and you won’t be able to find work.
Quick note: Most clients won’t touch cryptocurrency, so it’s not a viable option for getting paid as a freelance writer. At least not if you want to make decent money.
Step 4: Get a Contract Template Ready for Your First Clients
Just as with any other job, you shouldn’t start working for a client until you have a contract in place. Dealing with contracts as a freelancer can be intimidating, but you need to get used to it. Freelance contracts will help you outline the scope of your work, how much you’ll get paid, and when.
In my experience, freelance contracts also help you weed out problem clients. If a potential customer pushes back too much on the idea of a contract, there will probably be headaches down the line.
As for how to deal with contracts, it’s easier than you might imagine. If you use freelancing platforms such as Upwork, they’ll take care of it for you. On the other hand, if you’re hunting for clients independently, you’ll want to use a freelance contract template you can tweak for each job.
Take this template, for example. It’s for freelance design work, but it establishes the basics of the parties involved and what the project will cover:
You don’t need to be a lawyer to draft a passable contract between two parties. Here’s a quick guide on what clauses your freelance contracts should include, to give you an idea of how the process works.
Step 5: Start Pitching Clients
Let’s recap. At this stage, you should have all the following ready:
- A freelance portfolio containing your best work.
- Multiple job boards and other platforms you can scour for work daily.
- A firm idea of how much to charge per word and ready-to-go accounts for receiving payments.
- A basic freelance contract template you can modify for each job.
So far, all we’ve done is in preparation for the most difficult part of being a freelance writer, which is finding work. Ultimately, that comes down to persistence. When you’re starting off, you should be sending multiple pitches every day until you start getting jobs.
For some people, that might take days, but in my experience, it can usually be weeks or months. During this process, you’ll want to try different pitching styles to see what gets you better results.
Initial pitches should be short and to the point, since you’ll be sending so many of them. Once you get your first clients, life becomes a lot easier. You might get referrals and you’ll be able to start saving a little money, which gives you more breathing room when it comes to finding more work. At that point, you’re already a bonafide freelance writer.
Anyone can make a few dollars here and there as a freelance writer. However, if you want to make a living writing online, you need to come prepared. That means having samples you can show potential clients, knowing how much to charge, and more.
In a nutshell, here are the five steps you need to follow to start working as a freelance writer:
- Set up a portfolio (and make it good).
- Make a list of the job boards and platforms you want to target.
- Decide on a per-word rate and set up the payment processors you’ll use.
- Get a contract template ready for your first clients.
- Identify jobs worth your time and start pitching clients.
Do you have any questions about how to find work as a freelance writer? Let’s go over them in the comments section below!