Welcome to my guide on how to become a freelance writer and start a successful writing career.
I’m going to show you how to launch your writing business, get clients online, and start making money as a successful freelance writer even if you have no experience.
To save you time and hassles, I’ll also share the mistakes I made along my path to earning $5,000 a month through freelance writing.
Finally, I’ll reveal how much money you can expect to earn as a beginning freelance writer and which types of freelance writers make the most.
Freelance writing is the act of being paid to write for people or businesses (i.e. clients) on a contractual basis rather than a full-time, permanent basis. Freelance writers can have multiple clients and can make their own schedules.
One downside to freelance writing is that you won’t receive benefits and health insurance from the employer, since you’re not a full-time employee. Freelance writers often make up for this by earning a higher wage than full-time, permanent employees.
In my experience as a recruiter, the typical freelancer is able to charge 25-60% more per hour than their full-time counterparts. However, this percentage/gap between freelance writing pay and full-time employee pay increases as you gain more experience, so you might not see quite as large a gap when you start your freelance writing career.
Next, let’s talk about how to get into freelance writing.
There’s a myth that people are born great writers. The truth is if you want to become a better writer, then start writing a lot. You get there by practicing.
You can also take a writing course if you want to jumpstart your freelance writing career, but you can also learn to write by reading great writing online and practicing each day.
I was an awful writer when I started out.
I’m still not the world’s best writer, but I do earn a full-time income from this blog.
But when I wrote my first few articles, they were terrible. My boss at the time had offered to help me and give me feedback on my writing, since I told her that I wanted to start blogging here at Career Sidekick.
But when I showed her one of my first blog posts, she told me that it was so scattered and disorganized that she couldn’t even begin to help. She told me to rewrite the whole thing.
We all start as beginners. Step 1 to becoming a successful freelance writer is to write each day.
You also get there by reading great writing from other people, so you should do that as well if you’re planning to start a freelance writing career.
It doesn’t have to be books. You can read blog posts, etc. In fact, if you plan on taking writings gigs centered around blog post writing, then reading blog articles is more beneficial than reading books.
Don’t worry if you have no idea what type of freelance writing you want to do, either. I’ll help you with that throughout the rest of this article.
One of the biggest mistakes that I see new freelance writers make is refusing to “niche down” or pick a specific area of focus.
They’re afraid of limiting themselves so they chase every possible project and have no clearly defined niche.
These are the freelance writers who struggle the most to get clients and struggle to break past $1,000 to $2,000 a month.
It’s alright to try many types of writing at the very beginning of your freelance writing career to see what you enjoy.
But once you’ve done that, I recommend picking one specific type of service to offer.
There are some big benefits to picking a narrow niche.
When you offer one particular service as a writer (like email copywriting, SEO blog writing, etc.) you get better at delivering the work and also at completing projects faster.
You also become better at pitching/selling your freelance writing services so you land more writing jobs with fewer sales calls.
In addition, you’ll build up relevant testimonials in this one niche faster, since it’s all you’re doing. Then you’re an even clearer/easier choice for your potential clients.
By niching down, you’re giving yourself a smaller potential market but making yourself a much clearer choice for that market.
The bottom line is: Choosing a niche is a key step to start earning more money from your freelance writing.
I did this myself, first choosing copywriting, then niching down into just email copywriting. Each project was similar so I got the work done (and got paid) FAST.
Coming up, I’ll share the various types of writing niches for content writing, copywriting, and more, so keep reading.
To help you choose a niche, here are some of the most common (and high-paying) freelance writing niches. I’ll share more about which ones earn the absolute most later in the article.
Once you decide you’re interested in becoming a freelance writer, you should focus on getting your first client as quickly as possible.
Your first big goal should be to complete one project for a client so that you have a real result (and hopefully a testimonial) that you can leverage to get more clients. You can even build a case study showing the “before and after” of the project.
If you don’t feel you’re a good enough writer to earn a strong testimonial yet then practice and improve your writing skills more.
Then, do whatever it takes to land one writing gig to get a testimonial in your desired niche, even if you have to do it for free or at a deep discount.
It’s going to be much easier to grow your freelance writing business once you have a piece of published work that you can point to and say, “I just completed a successful project where I did ___.”
I did this and then used the testimonial everywhere… on social media, on my Upwork profile, and more.
Here you can see I led off with it on Upwork, just below the headline:
I’ll talk more about Upwork and the other best ways to start getting freelance writing clients next…
After you’ve got one completed project and testimonial, you can leverage that to get many more.
You can do this via freelance marketplaces like Upwork.com, social media, word of mouth, referrals, and more.
The best approach for you will depend on many factors including your writing niche, whether you have any existing connections on social media, whether you have an existing network outside of social media, etc.
Overall, though, job boards and freelance marketplaces are a good place to begin. They’re not the perfect long-term solution and you eventually want to be able to get referrals, send cold emails to pitch to businesses you’d like to work with, etc. But when starting out, job boards aren’t bad.
The best freelance marketplace to grow your writing business is Upwork.com. I personally built myself up from zero to $5K USD per month on Upwork, so that’s what I recommend. You can read my full review of Upwork here, which has many tips on how to succeed on the platform as a beginner.
I also have a list of 18 remote job boards here and many feature writing jobs.
You may be tempted to offer low prices as you build your freelance writing business online. However, after completing at least one project, I recommend pricing the rest of your writing jobs high.
Never compete on price! It’s a race to the bottom that won’t end well. It’ll also attract the worst type of clients: Extremely cheap businesses who complain about every detail of your freelance writing work, request endless revisions, etc.
I can tell you from first-hand experience that the clients who pay more are easier to work with, more relaxed, and ask for LESS.
Aim to price yourself in the top 75-95% of the market. Price also implies quality. There are many business owners who simply look for the most premium, expensive service because they assume it’s superior.
Just make sure your freelance writing abilities are at a solid level! I’m not suggesting you go out and trick business owners into hiring you when you’re not competent. But once you’re a competent writer, charge high and go deliver great results and communication/service.
That beats offering low-priced writing jobs and competing on price any day!
In your first year of freelance writing, I recommend having a clear yet generous revision policy. I used to tell clients on Upwork and other job boards that we’d keep working on the project until they’re completely happy.
I was working as a direct response copywriter, which is an area most clients didn’t know much about. So they just trusted my writing and asked for few revisions. So this policy was never abused.
If clients started to ask for too many revisions, I would have changed my policy to something like two rounds of revisions per project.
So start generous, and then adjust. You’ll land more new clients faster and more consistently this way, which is key to becoming a freelance writer that can support yourself full-time.
One other benefit to offering revisions: You’ll get fewer negative reviews on freelance marketplaces like Upwork and Fiverr.
I was always able to maintain a 100% job success score on Upwork, and this is due to the fact that I offered revisions for free if a client wasn’t happy.
Do everything you can to maintain a high job success score on Upwork if you end up using the platform as a part of your freelance writing business. If your score drops, it’s difficult to win projects and climb back up.
One of the most frustrating parts of freelance writing, or any freelance work, is completing a project and not being paid. Or, having to chase a client for weeks to finally get that payment.
This happened once to me many years ago and I decided: “never again.”
So I began asking for 100% of the payment up front. I did this successfully in blog post writing, email copywriting, website copywriting, and other content marketing services throughout my freelancing career.
Occasionally, if a client wasn’t comfortable, we’d settle on 50-70% up front. That compromise is still fantastic for you as the freelancer. You know that no matter what, the client has already paid for at least 50% of the work.
If a client is resistant to paying 100% of the money upfront, simply say:
“I ask for payment up front on all projects. I don’t stop working until you’re satisfied, but I’m in the business of writing great content, not sending invoices and worrying about collecting money, so I do request that projects be paid in advance before I start.”
If you’re more comfortable asking for 50% up front, you can say:
“For payment terms, here’s what I normally do: 50% up front, 50% upon final delivery.”
Don’t do any less than 50% to start! Ever. That’s my advice for new freelance writers with no experience in collecting payments.
And then don’t even begin researching their project until you’ve been paid! Sure, you get on a sales call and learn a bit about this client and their needs, and you want to do some basic preparation for this call to impress new clients.
But that’s for you, not them. Don’t get off this sales call and start preparing for the job, writing down ideas for this client, pouring over every page of their website, etc., until you’ve been paid. That’s just asking to have your time wasted. Start working for new clients when they’ve paid for your work.
Testimonials will be your best friend as you look to become a successful freelance writer. Get written testimonials, video testimonials, case studies/examples, etc. Anything you can.
The best way to prove you’ll do a great job for your next client is to say, “I just completed a project for another client in your niche, and we were able to achieve ___ result.”
So don’t stop gathering testimonials as you start and build up your freelance writing career.
You do not need a website to start a freelance writing career. There are plenty of other online platforms like Upwork where you can build a profile and find clients, and you can also use LinkedIn to build a profile, show writing samples and testimonials, and bolster your online presence.
Creating a website takes time and effort, and almost nobody is going to be visiting your site at the beginning of your new freelance career.
So you’re better off building your portfolio on sites that already have millions of visitors, like Upwork and LinkedIn, and then focus your effort on becoming a good writer, landing clients, and getting paid.
You can always circle back and create a website later, but to begin, I’d start by building out a LinkedIn profile (or customizing your existing profile) to suit your ideal freelance writing niche and then finding one or more freelance marketplaces like Upwork.com to build a profile on, too.
That’s the quickest path to making money and being able to earn a full-time income through online writing.
By the way, you can read my best LinkedIn profile tips here.
If you choose to charge an hourly rate for your freelance writing, you can earn anywhere from $10 USD per hour to $100 per hour and above. Your hourly rate as a freelance writer depends on whether you’re doing general content writing, copywriting, or another specialized type of work such as technical writing.
If you’re a freelance content writer in your first one or two years of working, then it’s common to charge 10 cents per word, or $100 USD per 1,000-word article.
However, more experienced freelance content writers with a great writing portfolio can charge much more. I’ve contacted writers recently for my own projects/needs and have been quoted upwards of 40 cents per word! So, there’s certainly an opportunity to charge more money for your freelance writing.
However, you may be surprised to find out that the best-paid freelance writers don’t charge per word, article, or hour at all…
Freelance copywriters often charge per project or even receive a percentage of sales generated by their copywriting (if writing a product sales page, for example). For this reason, freelance copywriters are some of the top-earning writers in the world once they master their craft over the course of two to three years.
In particular, I recommend looking into “direct response copywriting,” which is writing (both online or offline) that’s designed to get a reader to take a specific action, such as buying a product, clicking a link in an email, signing up for a webinar, renewing their subscription, ordering a product via mail, etc.
I personally niched down into email copywriting and started charging a flat rate of $200 per email. I was helping businesses write B2B cold emails that they’d use to grow their own business, and I would sell a package of three to four emails at $200 per email.
I was no longer being paid for my time and could earn far more. I was able to create templates, too, so each project felt like it was half-finished before I even began.
This is a tip that deserves its own section, so I’ll share more about this topic very soon. Let’s recap what you can expect to earn in your first year, though:
In the first year, you can expect to earn between $20,000 and $60,000 USD from freelance writing. Your exact results will depend on the niche you choose and how successful you are in attracting clients. There’s a learning curve to pitching freelance clients and landing gigs when you first start out.
Different freelance writers will also have a different learning curve depending on whether you’ve sold services in the past. When I started, I was fortunate to have done some phone sales previously for employers I had worked for. So I was comfortable getting on the phone with potential Upwork clients and closing deals.
If you have no prior sales experience, this is another area you’ll need to become comfortable with and learn if you want to succeed in freelance writing.
The reality of your first year as a beginner freelance writer is that you can expect to spend 50% of your time obtaining clients and 50% doing the actual writing work. So writing is really only half of your job as you begin your freelance career.
As a freelance writer, you can use a payment processor like Stripe or PayPal to accept card payments from clients. You can also accept ACH bank transfers. I like PayPal because it allows you to sound a professional-looking invoice via email that the client can then pay via card or PayPal balance.
If you use freelance marketplaces like Upwork to start pitching and getting your first few paid writing clients, then the platform will handle payments for you. You’ll simply add your bank details to receive your payouts.
As you get started as a freelance writer, you’ll want to have a plan for getting paid, so iron out that plan before proceeding. It’s just as important as deciding what you want to write and how you’ll find clients.
After you’ve had a good start to your freelance writing career, you should invest some time in creating systems, templates, and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to help you complete each project faster.
This is yet another benefit to choosing one niche to operate in; it’s much easier to create templates and give yourself a head-start on each new freelance writing project that comes in.
This also makes it much easier to hire other freelance writers in the future if you’d like to build an agency and grow your revenue further or keep earning the same while working less.
Since this article is about how to start freelance writing and become a freelance writer with no experience, I won’t dive too much into building an agency and scaling to six or even seven figures potentially, but it’s possible, and creating SOPs/systems is the first step.
You can create systems for getting clients as well as for completing the writing work.
Online writing and freelance writing are fantastic career choices that allow you to work from anywhere and earn a relatively high income. I know plenty of freelance writers (mainly copywriters) who earn six figures per year or who have gone on to build writing agencies that earn six or even seven figures.
While your success and earnings potential do depend on the type of writing you choose and how good you become at selling your services and building efficient processes, there are enough good niches and types of writing that getting started shouldn’t be a problem.
Plus, the difficulties in being a freelance writer would come with any other freelance career, too, such as software development or design. So, freelance writing is as good as any freelance career, in my opinion.
I also like how simple it is. You don’t need an ultra-high-speed internet connection, the most expensive laptop, or constant contact with your clients. You typically take a sales call, arrange payment, have them send over some details about what they need, and get to work.
So being a freelance writer is also simpler and involves less back-and-forth with clients than most other freelance careers, in my experience.
I enjoyed this work thoroughly and took full advantage by doing some of my freelance writing work from Thailand, Vietnam, and other distant locations while still having my writing business based in the US.
Below are some of my favorite websites and blogs that will help you in your writing and freelancing.
A blog dedicated to copywriting, content writing, and mastering your craft as an online writer. They offer many free articles but also downloadable PDFs. I’ve used and saved these free PDF writing guides myself and they helped me tremendously.
CMI is a leading content marketing education and training website with articles covering a wide range of topics related to content marketing including SEO, social media marketing, and more. These will likely be key areas your clients are interested in if you plan on starting a freelance writing career online, and this website can help you build a foundation.
The Balance runs a number of large online sites on various topics (Small Business, Careers, etc.) and they have a thorough section of their Small Business site dedicated to freelance writing and consulting. This site can help you learn more about blogging, content marketing, how to break into freelance writing in general, how to earn more money from your writing gigs, and more.
The Freelancers Union offers a variety of information and services to help independent workers. Their content ranges from a contract-creator tool to free articles on topics like how to take vacation time as a freelancer and how to handle client onboarding. I recommend their blog in particular, which is the section of their site I linked to above.
They’ve also got an entire website section on resources for non-payment. But if you have read this guide to freelance writing step-by-step, then you know to get paid up front for each writing job, so this won’t be an issue.
Upwork, the popular freelance job marketplace, also has a blog/articles section with a lot of high-quality content on how to win more writing gigs and succeed after you land a writing job, too.
Their blog articles are not just dedicated to online writing, since many other types of freelancers use Upwork, too. However, the website has a lot of very high-quality information that’s relevant to starting out as a freelance writer. I’ve written some articles for their blog in the past, too:
I also recommend joining Facebook groups and Reddit communities centered around freelance writing. From there, you can start reading some discussions and asking any questions that you have. There are often many experienced people in these groups who are willing to “give back” and help new freelance writers.
Just make sure to ask specific, targeted questions. Don’t go on Reddit and ask, “How can I succeed as a freelancer?” That question is too broad and you won’t get high-quality answers.
Instead, ask a question like, “Freelance writers: Which freelance marketplace has worked best for you this past year?”
Or, “Question for fellow online writers: How do you decide which writing samples to provide a new potential client when they ask to see a portfolio?”
Becoming a freelance writer takes practice and hard work, but it becomes easier over time and can be a high-paying freelance career for anyone willing to put in the work.
To start, get your writing ability up to a high level, and then go land your first client via the steps mentioned above. Everything else will become easier after that, and you’ll slowly build your writing portfolio, your online presence, and your confidence as you pitch, close, and deliver more freelance writing jobs.
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.