Guide

How to start a freelance writing business

Learn how you can make your dream of making a living from writing come true by becoming a freelance writer.

Person sitting at a desk writing on a laptop.

What does a freelance writer do?

Freelance writers have many options. They write for different mediums and genres, working as digital writers, journalists, content creators, copywriters, and ghostwriters.

Most freelance writers work remotely rather than at the office of a company or publication. This gives them a lot of freedom. They mostly work on a contractor basis, and because of this, it can be feast or famine at times. Also, freelance writers generally have to pay self-employment taxes and pay for their own benefits.

Being a freelance writer means you’re constantly juggling your time. You write, research, and edit; you connect and hold meetings with clients; and do have office admin to do. You have to be an expert in time management. Some freelance writing jobs can be full time, while others may be a part-time side hustle.

What types of writing do freelance writers do?

Freelance writers can be generalist writers or specialists who focus in a particular niche.

There are many different platforms and types of writing. The possibilities for freelance writing work are numerous. Some of the popular places for freelance writing gigs include:

  • Print publications: Including articles for magazines and newspapers.
  • Websites: Including web pages, sales pages, blog posts, video scripts, and SEO writing to drive traffic to websites.
  • Business writing: Including press releases, emails, newsletters, technical writing, white papers, video scripts, and case studies.
  • Social media: Including writing copy for social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Writers who specialize in a niche mostly choose a broad niche that provides some variety. Niches can be by type of writing or the subject. Popular types of writing include email marketing, content marketing, sales pages, and technical writing. Popular topics include ecommerce, business-to-business (B2B), travel, software-as-a-service {SaaS), and cryptocurrency.

Step-by-step guide for starting a freelance writing business

Becoming a successful freelance writer is difficult. It can take years to build to a full-time job, so you may want to start out with writing as a side-hustle instead. If you don’t know where to start, follow this guide for some practical tips:

1. Get experience in the field

Build a portfolio to show that you can write. You may want to start a blog or Substack site to show your skills. A good idea is to focus on a topic you already know a lot about. You can write about topics you are interested in and even interview people for your site.

Some entry-level writing opportunities are listed on the web on sites like Upwork, Fiverr, and PeoplePerHour. While you may not make much money from them, it will give you clips for showcasing your writing.

2. Choose your specialty

Make a list of your interests and past experience. Having a specialty doesn't mean you don’t write about other subjects, but knowing a topic or subtopic reduces the amount of research you have to do when writing.

Choose a writing niche from your list. It can be a type of content or a topic area. You’re not locked into your niche forever, but it provides you with your point of difference and expertise that can help you become a “go-to” writer in that area. For example, if you have a background in marketing and advertising, you could focus your writing on marketing communications.

3. Get the basic writing equipment

You don’t need much equipment as a freelance writer. The basic tools of the trade are a desktop computer or a laptop. In addition, you need internet access for research, video calls, and social media marketing. You’ll also need a phone to communicate with your clients.

There are other “nice-to-have” tools like an additional monitor to connect your laptop to, and a printer for proofreading on paper, but you can manage without them.

Establish a writing area to work from with a comfortable and ergonomic chair. The kitchen table is fine in the beginning, but having a dedicated place where you don’t need to pack up everything each time is ideal.

4. Write some sample pieces

You’ll need to gain experience and develop your skills. Creating and adding pieces to your portfolio helps prove your writing ability. Here are some ways to develop your portfolio with writing samples:

  • Offer to guest blog for a business, charity, or a writer friend to something published online. This can be a low-pressure way to get your foot in the door.
  • Start your own blog to showcase your writing skills and develop your expertise in your chosen niche. WordPress and Substack are popular and free, and when you build up a following, you can charge for premium content there.
  • Study types of writing and clients you want to write for and try writing some spec samples in the same tone of voice or brand.

Unfortunately, you do have to be wary of scams. Comparitech provides advice on some common scams and scam artists who prey on people looking for work, such as freelance writers. Research potential clients online, avoid anything that seems too good to be true, and don’t give any personal financial information.

5. Find a place to host your writing portfolio

There are different hosting options for hosting your online portfolio that don’t need to cost a lot of money. Many freelance writers create a basic website. You can buy a domain name that matches your writing name and start a website on WordPress or Squarespace. Ideally, your portfolio should have a home page, about, services, and portfolio pages.

If you prefer not to have a website, there are other options. Some good ones include:

Add five or six pieces of your best work to your portfolio, and update it over time to reflect your experience with different clients.

6. Set your prices

Decide on the prices for your writing. You don't want to charge too little and undervalue your work, or too much and scare off potential clients. Also, decide if you want to charge by the word or by the complexity of the assignment. LinkedIn has some suggestions on how to determine your rate. In many cases, your client will determine how much they’re paying; you have the option to accept or reject the work. Determining your worth beforehand will tell you whether the job is work taking.

7. Find clients for your writing

Finding new clients, or your first client, takes time and effort. Some actions you can take to find writing clients include the following:

  • Check out job boards, especially online. Reliable places include LinkedIn jobs and ProBlogger. There are often job postings on social media, and if you follow editors and people who make hiring decisions, you can find out about job postings early.
  • Online forums such as Upwork and Fiverr can provide opportunities. However, they can be low-paying content mills, as you are competing against writers around the world, often from impoverished countries, who are willing to accept low wages. If you choose to use them, you’ll need to create an account to bid for jobs. Beware of scams or people looking for free samples.
  • Prepare an elevator pitch for speaking about your writing services. It can be handy to describe what you do in a nutshell when you network or meet people at events.
  • You might want to reach out to local businesses who might need freelance writers. Explain what you have to offer.
  • Start a spreadsheet to track your applications. Include the date, the site, and the original listing. This can be helpful for future reference.
  • For more experienced writers, to get regular work, you need to get comfortable with pitching your ideas. Cold pitching is a part of freelance writing and finding clients. Check online for the contact email address. Keep your pitch email short but clear, and think carefully about the subject line.

8. Market your freelance writing services

You will need to market yourself in order to get more freelance work. Here are some tips for effective marketing:

  • Create an online presence to market your writing services. Set up social media accounts for your writing. You don’t need all of them, but useful ones include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Threads.
  • Set up a LinkedIn profile with a link to your portfolio. You can add pieces of your work to the featured section. Follow other writers, as well as businesses you would like to write for.
  • Tell all of your friends and family about your freelance writing career. They’re often the best sources of writing jobs when you first start out.
  • Try attending small networking events and small business association meetings to meet and network with other business owners. Learn about their needs and their current pain points. It will help you pitch them for their business.

9. Get testimonials from clients

Ask your past clients and anyone you’ve written for to write a testimonial about your services. Post the testimonials on your website and share them on your social media. A good testimonial should be two or three sentences.

Some people struggle to give a testimonial as they don’t know what they are saying. Try asking them a few questions to help elicit a useful review, for example, What was your experience like using my services?

You can also ask clients on LinkedIn to recommend your writing skills or write a review. Having a variety of sources adds to your writing credibility.

10. Set up your business systems and processes

As a new small business owner, you need to establish systems and processes for your business. Check out Xero’s tips and advice for sole proprietors to set up the systems you need.

Disclaimer

Xero does not provide accounting, tax, business or legal advice. This guide has been provided for information purposes only. You should consult your own professional advisors for advice directly relating to your business or before taking action in relation to any of the content provided.

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