So, you want to become a freelance writer?
Rule#1 – Invest in yourself before selling your writing services.
I learned writing good articles before I took my first paid writing assignment.
Rule#2 – Never sell yourself short.
Don’t ever accept cheap writing assignments that pay you less than Rs. 1 per word.
In fact, I never accepted any writing work based on per word. I always took per article basis work where I committed the range of words.
I got my first paid writing work from YourStory at Rs. 2,000/- per article where I committed 800-1200 words per article.
Let me tell you a story:
Long ago, when I started my first startup in 2013, I was 90% technical guy and 10% marketer. I learned a few things about social media marketing but I was afraid of writing sales pages and blog articles on my website.
I was 100% dependent on my co-founder who used to provide me content for the website.
I got the courage to write my first article in 2014 and it took me 7 days to write 300 words. I thought that was my first and last article because it was damn difficult to put the words on the blank screen.
But my destiny was something else.
My first startup could not make money and we had to shut down our startup in heavy losses. I joined another startup where I got the role of pure marketing.
I left with no other option to write because we did not have any money to hire freelance writers. Within a few months, I got the confidence to write articles.
I was contacting to startup media houses for the press coverage of our startup. We could not get the coverage but one of my articles got published on YourStory as guest post.
I was thrilled.
The article received a great response from YourStory audience. People came back to me telling that they liked my article. I was surprised and elated given that my background was in computer science and coding.
I am still not a professional writer but a simple guy with average English writing skills.
I realised that people were loving my article because there was value inside the content. My article was written with average English but with a strong helpful message for entrepreneurs.
I got the lesson that changed my entire career.
I stopped worrying about my English writing skills and focused entirely on helping my audience.
I am still doing that through this article – isn’t it?
My articles have been published on Huffington Post, LifeHacker, Entrepreneur, YourStory, Inc42 and on the websites of big brands.
My clients paid me Rs. 5000 for writing 1000 words article for them.
..if you are at beginner level then keep reading..
You don’t need to have a degree in writing or extraordinary writing skills to become a freelance writer.
Having said that, you can’t become successful writer overnight.
Just start in the right way and grow slowly. If you know the basic writing skills then follow below points.
Select Your Favorite Section
- #1. Select Your Niche
- #2. Focus on a single type of writing
- #3. Skills and Tools
- #4. Build a Portfolio
- #5. Reach out to clients and Pitch to jobs
- #6. Set Your Rates
- #7. Keep Learning
#1. Select Your Niche
“If you want to become a highly paid freelance writer, the biggest blunder you can make is offering your content to each & everyone on the earth“
No audience means No money.
Let me help you in selecting the right niche so that you can build a strong expertise and reputation among your audience.
Let’s break this process into two simple steps.
#1. Niche in which you have knowledge and interest
Start with a small mental exercise. Ask yourself –
- What topics are you really good at and have knowledge on
- What do you read about mostly
- What are the hobbies that you carried with you for a long time
- What topics do most of your friends generally seek help from you on
- What is your educational background
- What areas do you have professional experience in
For example, you could be a fitness lover and might be having a lot of knowledge in this domain. Which would mean that you could target fitness publications, fitness websites/blogs, and many other gigs on fitness.
I can share my story.
I am passionate about personal finance. I can target and write on a range of topics related to personal finance from credit cards, savings, income tax to retirement and so on. You see the point I am trying to make.
I also have experience of running two startups, so I write about entrepreneurship, productivity and marketing.
I enhanced my skills in these two domains and clients paid me as much as Rs. 5000 for a 1000-1200 word article.
Similarly, figure out what niche you want to focus on. There could be more than one niche that evokes your interest. That should not be a problem as in the next step I am going to show you how to finalize on one niche.
#2. Validate the Market
You might be interested in writing about primary education or traffic safety but you may not make any money if there are not enough businesses who are looking for content writers in that segment.
You should validate your market before picking up your niche.
Step 1 – Google Search
Head to Google search engine and type in the niche you are interested in. Let’s say one of your interest is writing on fitness.
Then type in “ fitness writing “ , “fitness writer” , “fitness writing jobs” and such related keywords and check out the results on Google.
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In the Google search results, look out for the following things to validate whether there is a market for the niche you are interested in
- Are there freelance writing jobs & gigs posted
- Can you find advice on that niche in the form of articles and publications
- Are there established writers in that niche
Step 2 – LinkedIn
In the LinkedIn search results, check whether
- There are lot of writers in that niche
- There are jobs posted in that niche
- What kind of freelance jobs are they offering
- Are they from reputed companies or websites in selected niche
Bonus Tip: Don’t worry about the location of the job postings and freelance writers as you are just trying to validate the market for your niche.
Secondly, use Linkedin Premium feature (free for first month) to perform the above validation for your niche. I suggest LinkedIn premium feature because it searches deeper across people, jobs, posts, groups, companies etc all at once and shows you the results in a better way.
Step 3 – Freelance Portals
To check how much freelancers are earning in the fitness niche, let’s search on UpWork platform.
You can see that freelancers from all over the world are earning from $10 to $50 per hour.
Steve T. has earned $80,000 till date by profiling himself as ‘Expert Fitness Freelance Writer’.
Do you think he could have earned this much by profiling himself as “I write whatever the shit you ask me to write”
You get my point.
Be specific and be more valuable in your niche.
Let’s move to the next step.
#2. Focus on a single type of writing
“Become an expert at one type of article rather than becoming average at ten type of articles“
Once you have finalized your niche, you can go one step further to become an expert in a specific kind of writing within that niche.
Be the arjuna of your market.
Strong experience in one type of article will fetch you more money in the long run.
Here is the list to choose from..
- Writing for blogs
- Writing e-books
- Writing Press Releases for startups & corporates
- Technical writing
- Writing landing pages
- Writing sales pages
- Writing webinar scripts
- Writing email funnel sequences
- Writing columns and editorials for magazines
Bonus Tip: Don’t get intimidated by the number of options listed above.
Most of the freelance writers only focus on blog articles and miss the entire opportunity to make money in other segments. Remember that although you are trying to specialize in single type of writing, you can occasionally accept other options as well.
This is because the fundamentals of writing would largely remain the same among these specializations but profiling yourself as an expert in single type will help you win the client against other candidates who are profiling themselves as generic writers.
#3. Skills and Tools
“The secret of becoming a writer is to write, write, and keep on writing.“
Become a good writer to become competitive enough to succeed in your market. Read a lot and write a lot. Let your creativity flow even if you don’t make money in the initial days.
Just like a software engineer becomes better at programming by coding a lot or a marathon athlete becomes a strong runner by practising running, you will become a better writer only through practice.
One of the best way to practise writing is to start a blog of your own. Starting a blog will not only help you to practice writing and become a better writer but it will also help you to showcase your work which I am going to cover in the next section.
I have written a step by step guide to start your blog in 5 minutes along with practical videos to configure your blog.
Follow the steps and start your blog in less than $50 investment.
Reading has multiple benefits. It helps you to
- Gain knowledge in the niche that you plan to become a freelance writer
- Improves your vocabulary
- Arms you with information which you could use in your writing
- Become more empathetic towards your readers
Tip: Read books and blogs in your niche, especially those of successful bloggers to gain the above benefits.
“Write like a drunk and edit like a sober”
Edit your work before you hit the publish button. I write the article in one sitting without editing a single work. Then I start editing next day and improve my article.
- Taking help of a mentor or a friend
- Hiring freelance editors
- Use tools like Grammarly for basic editing help.
#4. Creating Images
Writing articles for your clients or for your own blog posts is not just about writing plain text but also using images and infographics to make your work appealing and engaging.
You can go through my articles to understand how I use images to capture the reader’s attention and provide them additional value through snapshots of my work.
You can make use of tools like Canva, Photoshop, Unsplash, Pixabay to design & gather copyright free images.
#4. Build a Portfolio
“ A good portfolio is more than a long list of articles and blog posts. It is a record of proven skills and provides the writer with immense opportunities.“
Yes, it’s difficult to establish your expertise and reputation for clients in the initial days. But if you are serious about your work, then your first aim should be to deliver quality work to your client even at low cost.
This way you can stand out from the crowd and also demonstrate practically your passion for the profession.
You can build a portfolio of your work by
- Creating a professional blog and posting content in your selected niche regularly.
- Writing and publishing articles on Medium.com in your selected niche.
- Guest posting on blogs or websites who are in your niche.
On the last point – guest posting, I would like to elaborate a bit as it can fetch you great dividends if done rightly.
Guest posting which means writing on someone else’s blog or website is a great way to connect with new audience and get your name out there in the online world.
Depending upon your niche, apart from blogs, try to guest post on bigger platforms like YourStory, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Entrepreneur or other such big ones in your niche, which command a strong brand value and have ton of readers.
That will build your reputation, enhance the quality of your portfolio and will help you in getting that first paid assignment from a client.
Write good content on the topic which will attract eyeballs, share your bio, and send it across to such big platforms. They would respond and would be willing to publish it on their websites. A win-win for both.
#5. Reach out to clients and Pitch to jobs
“Some succeed because they are destined to, but most succeed because they hustle and are determined to. Writing is hustling of another kind.”
I receive emails from people asking for paid writing work. When I ask for their portfolio, they say that they are just starting up writing work.
Come on… Don’t expect paid freelance writing work unless you have proved yourself a good writer in your niche.
Once you have built a nice portfolio of your work, it’s time to hunt for freelance writing jobs.
Let me run you through the 6 different proven ways in which you can find your first paid freelancing gig.
#1. Reach out to Startups
Many startups in India and around the world look for freelance writers or contract writers who can deliver the excellent content. It could be writing for their blog, newsletters, press releases, landing pages and much more within the area in which startup is operating.
That’s why focussing on a niche and establishing your expertise in one to two areas of writing will come in very handy for you.
Reach out to these startups using platforms like Angellist, LinkedIn, Remote.co, Weworkremotely where you can find the startups and the contacts of their founders.
When you apply to these freelance writing jobs, make sure to include a cover letter that talks about your bio, expertise, link to your portfolio work, and how you can help them.
#2. Reach out to Blogs
Blogs are a great source to land your first paying writing gigs. Blog owners especially the top ones often find it difficult to post articles themselves due to lack of time.
A lot of them advertise for freelance writing positions on their blogs and some accept writing work if you send them a good pitch.
Even if they don’t advertise explicitly, reach out to them with your bio and portfolio of work and tell them that you are interested in working with them.
#3. Search on Job Portals
Not all job portals post quality freelance gigs and as a beginner freelance writer it might become difficult for you to locate authentic jobs.
Therefore, I have carefully curated a list of top job portals where you can find authentic and well paying freelance writing gigs, whatever be your niche.
- Morning Coffee Newsletter
- Writers Market
Bonus Tip: There are other established freelance job portals like Upwork and Guru which I didn’t include in the list. These are popularly referred to as content mills where thousands of freelancers compete and try to outbid each other often leading to heavy competition and very low pay.
You can start your career at the portals where competition is low and later on move to high competitive & high rewarding platforms.
#4. Use Social Media
Social Media especially Twitter and Facebook can be leveraged to find freelance writing jobs.
But don’t ever accept the cheap content writing work that is offered in many Facebook groups.
There are three reasons why you should reject the cheap work
- You will never improve your writing skills
- Your work will not be published on authority websites
- You will never get an opportunity to increase the price of your work
Rather, use social media to connect with the right people who can give you quality work even if you have to work for free initially.
That is the biggest mistake of first time freelance writers. They don’t look for quality work but fall for cheap writing work and never come out of that.
Let’s see how you can use the social media to your advantage.
#1. Finding Writing Work Using Twitter
Twitter is often an under tapped resource. It’s a great platform through which you can find the latest job postings by businesses.
Follow the below twitter handles to find paid writing jobs.
You can also use twitter to make yourself visible and get into the eyes of content publications.
Shreya who wrote a twitter post on the recent Mumbai floods and as a result someone from Huffington Post was trying to contact her.
2. Using Facebook for Finding Freelance Work
Facebook can be a great way to connect with prospective clients, build relationships with them, and ultimately land freelance writing work.
Depending upon your niche, join the relevant groups, participate in the discussions, and inform people that you can help them in writing.
3. Freelance Writing Work on LinkedIn
Technically, LinkedIn might fall under the social media category. But, LinkedIn is more about careers, businesses, and therefore is a very professional platform vis-a-vis others.
Use LinkedIn to search for many freelance writing jobs that get posted by companies, magazines, and publications.
You can also search for companies and businesses in your niche and target them by writing a cover letter or a small pitch.
Bonus Tip: See that your profile is complete and use keywords to fill your profile that directly is related to your profession, niche, the type of writing you are interested in, and your location. Prospective clients look for freelance writers by searching by keywords and so, this strategy will help clients locate your profile.
#5. Guest Posting
Remember, how we discussed about using guest posting as a strategy to build quality portfolio.
Once you have published guest posts for free and have impressed the owner of the blog or the content platform, you can ask and negotiate with them for paid guest posts.
The other way is to directly search for paid guest posts in your niche in Google and apply to them with a cover letter that talks about your bio, link to your portfolio work, and how you can help them with your expertise.
You can use networking as strategy to reach out to already established freelance writers in your niche.
There is no harm in trying to network with other freelance writers as they might help you out by referring some of their clients. Make use of LinkedIn to connect with other freelance writers.
Apart from directly networking with fellow freelance writers, one other way to make use of LinkedIn is to join the freelance writer groups where you can interact with people, participate in the discussions, and showcase your expertise.
Bonus Tip: Don’t straight away ask for referrals as soon as you connect with other freelance writers. First talk to them, build some rapport, discuss questions on your profession, and slowly you should be able to get some referrals.
Remember – We are building a long term career as freelance writer and not looking for making quick bucks.
#6. Set Your Rates
“The price you set for any work is the amount of life you exchange for it .“
When you are beginner and have decided to take up freelance writing, one thing you will not be sure of is how much should you charge?
Questions like what should be my rate might make you nervous especially for your first paid work.
Worry not, for I am going to share with you some pointers which will show you how to go about setting your rates and charge your clients accordingly.
#1. Never write for free (or cheap) with one exception
You might be beginner who is just trying to break into the freelance writing scene, but, that doesn’t mean that you write for free or dirt cheap prices.
This is a bad practice. You will come across many clients in the job portals and even in Facebook who would ask you to write for free samples. Reject it.
However, you can make one exception to this rule.
Remember, how I discussed about guest posting earlier in this article.
You can guest post for free for top blogs in your industry and big platforms like Your Story, Entrepreneur, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post and other popular magazines. Although you are writing for free, you are getting an intangible return in the form of building your own brand value and reputation.
When someone ask you for the samples, then show your work published on branded websites. You don’t need to write a sample for your client to win the project. A lot of saving of your time.
#2. Charging domestic clients
In case of Indian clients, when you are just starting out, you can charge Rs. 1000 for a 600 to 1200 words article. (No one is going to pay you that money unless you have a credibility as a writer, work on that first)
Once established within your niche, you can increase your rates to Rs. 1500 to Rs 2000 for the similar work.
Slowly, with time and experience behind your back, you will be a position where you could command Rs 5000 to Rs 10,000 per 1000 words article.
Don’t rush for it. Create value and people will be willing to pay you for your work.
I have been supported by income from freelance writing work in my initial struggle days. Now I reject even Rs. 10,000 offers for 1000 words article because I dedicate my entire time on my own business.
Bonus Tip: It’s okay to write more words in the article but never accept less than 1000 rupees per article. That will set your standard rate to Rs. 1000 per article in which you can write more than promised words to make your client happy. A long term association will be established.
#3. Charging foreign clients
As a freelance writer you will be getting work from across the world for which you can choose to set your rates differently.
In case of foreign clients, when you are just starting out, you can charge $25 for a 600 to 1200 words article. After that you can increase your rates to $50 for the same work.
A day will come when your client will pay you $100 happily for a 1000 word article. Come back and thank me on that day if my article made any contribution to your success.
#7. Keep Learning
Landing paid freelance writing work doesn’t mean you stop learning. Learning should be a continuous process and Investing in yourself should be your top priority.
Continue to learn new ways to improve your writing, gain more knowledge in your niche, learn creative ways to market yourself, and grow your freelance business.
In finance there is a concept called J-curve which can applied to our professional lives. Below is an illustrative snapshot of J-curve which proves that if you keep learning and keep working, initially you may not see results, but eventually you will reach epic success.
“Start writing no matter what. The water does not flow until you turned on the tap.“
It requires patience and a lot of perseverance to make your career in freelance writing. But, tell me which success story doesn’t have lot of hard work and patience behind it.
Humans often underestimate what they can achieve in long term which is a pity.
As I end this article, I would like to share a few important points as you begin your journey of a freelance writer.
Sometimes, the best paying writing gigs may not be posted on the job portals that I shared above. But, if you are good at your job, start your own blog/website, build a nice portfolio of work, make yourself visible in the online space through social media then you need not chase anyone.
Eventually, work will come to you both from domestic and international clients and you will be compensated quite well.
In all the industries, you will see products priced at different prices aimed at different customers. You have BMW, Audi cars which are priced premiumly but you also have Maruti, Tata cars which are manufactured and priced for a certain segment of customers.
Similarly, there will be freelance writers who charge low and charge high or clients who pay low and pay high. Where you want to be on that map is your sole decision and will require you to take action accordingly.
Action for you…
Join my email list in which I will help you with tips to earn money as freelancer or as an online business owner.