Start a Freelance Writing Career in 9 Simple Steps

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Written by Nikki Dee

Freelance writing is an exciting world full of interesting projects, big-name clients, and living the laptop life.  I highly recommend it. 

One of the most-asked questions I get is “How do I make money as a freelance writer?”

It can really be broken down into just a few steps.

What to Write to Make Money as a Freelance Writer

In order to make money as a writer, you must WRITE WHAT SELLS.

This means that if you want to be a well-paid writer you must let go of the idea that you are going to write whatever you want and make money at it (at least in the beginning).

The key to making good money (like, turn in your 2-week notice good) is to set yourself up for success in what you write.

Could you write anything you want and try to sell it? Yes.

Is that the way to make money easily and quickly? No.

1. Choose a Writing Niche

If you want to have a long, enjoyable, lucrative writing career, you must choose a niche where potential clients already know they need your services and are willing to pay for them.

Find a niche that appeals to you - because you're going to be writing about it A LOT. Seriously, choose wisely but don't stress too much about this.

Nothing is permanent - except maybe getting stuck in the "I must find the perfect niche" evaluation loop and never choosing.

Some niche choosing tips:

  1. Write each of the big three categories on a piece of paper - Health, Wealth, Relationships
  2. Create a list of related subcategories (aka niches) that you know enough about to write a blog post about without much research.
  3. Circle the ones that appeal to you most
  4. Pick One

Want to make sure it's a profitable niche?

Spend some time on Google, search your niche on Facebook, Amazon, and Udemy - to make sure that it is a popular one.

The best niche is one where there is competition - because this means people are already spending money in that niche.  

Niches, where consumers spend money, are niches where businesses pay freelance writers.

If you choose a niche that doesn't get good results when you do these searches, choose a different one from the list you made and search again.

Choose What You Want to Write

Next, decide what kinds of writing projects you want to do within this niche.

Freelance writers fall into one of two categories: content writers (blog posts, articles, ghostwriting, ebooks, etc) and copywriters (sales pages, emails, headlines, funnels, etc).

Content writing is easier to break into, results in a higher volume of work, and is a lower-paying gig.

Copywriting has more of a learning curve and is generally a higher-paying opportunity. You can do both or just choose one to specialize in.

2. Identify Your Dream Client

Most beginning freelance writers (and a fair number of experienced ones that hate what they do) fall into the trap of writing for anyone.

Some even go so far as to pick the right niche, but never define the kind of clients they want to work for - and end up struggling.

Why?

Because the right kind of client can make or break your results, morale, and soul as a freelance writer.

Making sure that you love the clients you work for, starts by defining what those clients look like for you. Not so much hair color and height, as work ethic and expectations - but to each his own.

Compile a list of things that describe your dream clients.

Here's one to get you started:

  • Someone who knows the value of good copy/content
  • Someone that doesn't haggle over prices
  • Someone that understands that the quality of my writing is only one factor in the success of a project
  • Someone who has worked with freelancers before

Once you have a list of the things that are important to you as a freelancer, make these your non-negotiable must-haves.

This may mean that you turn down work - don't cry. I promise you will cry more tears over frustration, tyrannical, unrealistic clients than you ever will over losing them.

Part of being a good freelance writer is setting yourself up to be creative and productive for your clients.

When you write for clients that make things difficult, you cripple your production and your business.

Once you know what you want in a client, you can protect that standard by creating a few levels of communication before work begins.

Invite potential clients to tell you about their needs and expectations BEFORE you sign a contract. Using a list of initial client questions is a good way to gauge whether or not a client is one that you want to work with.

When a client is interested in your work, send them  a questionnaire to fill out with questions like:

  • What is your website address?
  • How do you use copy/content in your business currently?
  • Who currently writes your content and copy?
  • What products and services do you offer?
  • What is your sales process?

This questionnaire should have about 20-30 questions on it all designed to tell you if they are a good fit for your business. If you don't like the answers to these Q's or they throw up a red flag, you can turn down the work.

When you set the standard for the kind of client you want to work with, you create an environment that you love to work in - where you can thrive and your clients can get the results they are looking for.

3. Write Like a Pro Even if You Aren’t One Yet

To make a living as a writer you have to be a good writer. It seems kind of crazy that I have to say that, but alas, I do.

I can't tell you how many times I've had people ask me how they can make money as a writer...without knowing how to write well.

Let me make this very clear: writing literary fiction and writing copy that sells are two very different things.

You CAN learn to write the kind of work that sells - and sells big.  But it is not something that you are born with. In fact, it is usually the people who are "born writers" that have so much trouble with freelance writing projects.

Why?

Because freelance writing is largely comprised of formulaic writing that is less about flowery language and appropriately placed punctuation, and more about what sells.

There is no way that I can teach you everything you need to know about this kind of writing in one post - but I'm going to give you a good idea of what's involved. That way you can see just how doable it is.

6 Tips to Write Copy that Sells:

  • Use simple language. Keep it on a fourth-grade level and you'll be gravy. This kind of writing is much more about the ideas you are conveying than the literary way you convey them.
  • Put your audience first. You must know who you are talking to.  And you must know everything you can about their needs, fears, and desires. Always put the person you are writing to first.
  • Emotions & needs. They aren't just the center of a good reality TV drama. They are also the central element of sales writing. The emotions and needs of your audience are the keys to making your freelance writing clients very rich - and in turn, you.
  • Fears & Dreams. Equally as important as emotions and needs are fears & dreams. You gotta know them too. What keeps your audience up at night and what they most want in life.
  • Tell stories. If you want to be remembered, stories are the way to go. Whether they are one-sentence anecdotes or full paragraph re-tellings, it all depends on what you're writing. Story is key.
  • Use a call to action. You must tell your audience what you want them to do as a result of your writing. A beautiful blog post with no "click here for more info" is an ineffective blog post.
  • Solve problems. You must always make a connection between what you are writing about and the

4. Create a Killer Freelance Writing Portfolio

Now that we’ve covered the basics - what to write, who to write for and how to write, this step is all about proving that you can write (to yourself and to your clients).

The great thing about being a writer is that you don’t need a degree or a certification to prove yourself. You may spend years in the real world school of learning, but during that time you can earn money on the job.

So, the question becomes: if you don’t need a degree to be hired as a freelance writer, what do you need?

You need PROOF.

When you have a few customers and some raving reviews under your belt, that becomes easy. You have testimonials and referrals and freelance writing opportunities fall from the skies - right?

Actually, no.

Being a freelance writer will ALWAYS entail an element of finding clients and proving yourself to them.

It’s actually much easier than you might imagine - you just write.

To prove that you are a good writer who has what it takes - you write.

To attract the perfect clients effortlessly - you write.

To create samples of what you can do - you write.

To make a name for yourself as a wordsmith - you write.

AND you publish it. On a blog, on social media, in newspapers - everywhere. The world is teeming with possible places to write things. When you create content like this in a strategic way, it also becomes a client-getting machine.

For example, let’s say you have decided to be a writer in the weight loss niche, specifically with eating well. 

So, you start a blog and/or a social media campaign putting out daily content about how eating well can help people lose weight. You educate them and prove that you know what you’re talking about.

Then, when you employ the tactics in Step 7 to Get Clients, you are set up as an expert in the industry you want to write for. The content that you create can be your portfolio - and a beacon for people in that industry to find you organically.

Make your writing about helping people solve problems. Forget about trying to sell anything and just help.

There comes a time for selling, but if you have put in the work to help people upfront, you will never have any objections when it comes time to ask for money.

Post content every single day - even if it’s just a quote from a blog you wrote, or an inspirational quote that you live by.

Consistency is the key to keeping you in front of your audience.

More content is produced online every single day - so if you aren’t putting your content out there consistently, you will soon be forgotten.

So, the fourth step in making money as a freelance writer is to WRITE - every day, all the time.

Write and publish somewhere.

Every single day.

Not only will this get you noticed and show that you have talent, but it will also help you develop your skill. You can get experience even before you have a job.

5. What to Charge as a Freelance Writer

I know that as a beginning writer you are literally just trying to make your first $1 as a writer - and that you would gladly accept any job that someone would pay you for.

But I just want to give you a simple warning before you do:

DON’T DO IT.

Seriously, your soul will be in peril.  When you start your freelance career exchanging words for mere pennies, you quickly get discouraged - and decide this whole writing thing isn’t for you.

Clients who are looking for writing “on a budget” are not the kind of clients who understand the importance of what you bring to the table or the kind that will respect what you can do.

The closer to free something is, the more people expect it to deliver.

So do yourself a favor and charge what you’re worth from the beginning.

There are lots of schools of thought on how to do this, but after years of writing, I’ve tried them all and hated most of them. So, I’m going to tell you about the system that I use that works for me.

I don’t charge per project. I don’t take on clients who need “5 blog posts about cats”. 

Instead, I charge in packages that are tiered to allow for the amount of work involved.  Because so much goes into writing well for a client that can’t be billed without freaking them out.

Also, I don’t publish my prices.

Instead, I invite potential clients to contact me and set up a time to talk about their needs.  This gives me a chance to both determine what they need (clients rarely know exactly what they need) and establish myself as an expert.

So, if a client comes to me and wants a revamp of their website, I take a look at the website and set up a consultation call.

Because more than likely when I look at the website I realize that what they actually need is a landing page to grab contact info and an email sequence follow-up - or something else decidedly not just a rewrite of the website.

That way I can demonstrate my expertise when telling them what they really need, ask lots of questions that tell me everything I need to know, and then quote them a price based on their needs.

Because if someone orders a website rewrite at $1,000 - and then once I start the project I realize their website it fine but they just need more customer engagement in other ways - then I am stuck either rewriting a website that doesn’t need to be rewritten and that won’t make a hill of beans difference to their bottom line.

OR I’m going to put in way more time, effort, and work than I would normally charge $1,000 for and be frustrated.

By charging in custom packages, I can give the client what they actually need, which makes them happy. And I get a reputation as a genius.  It’s a win-win.

When knowing what to charge a client, I use a formula based on how much money I need/want to make to support my family AND how many hours per week I want to work to have the life I want.

Because if I’m charging an hourly rate that I have to work 70 hours a week, I’m going to hate my job and be less productive.

Once I know my dream hourly rate, I can effectively quote custom prices for clients based on how many hours I think the project will take me.

This pricing structure gives me a business that I love that also creates an income that supports my family.

6. How to Sell Anything with Your Words

Help, don’t sell.

Be like the helpful bookstore employee who helped me find summer reading material for all four of my kids based on the info I gave him about their ages and interests.

I spent thirty minutes with him suggesting titles that I bought and that each of my kids ended up loving.

Don’t be like the kiosk salesman guy who chased me down outside the bookstore to try his hand cream - supplying me with a handful of lavender smelling goo even after I said, “No”.  I reported him to the BBB.

There is a big difference between desperately trying to sell someone a product (or service) they don’t need, and helping them find a solution to a problem that they are actively trying to solve.

How does this translate into finding the perfect writing clients?

The very best way to start a writing career is to find people who are looking for help with the services you provide - and help them.

There are lots of places to find these kinds of people - back in the day it was online forums, now it’s Facebook groups or LinkedIn, and never discount networking in business groups or your chamber of commerce.

Wherever business owners in your chosen industry are hanging out, that’s where you should be. Because then you will be able to help them with the problems they are asking about.

I’m part of several business groups on Facebook, which is where I have found a lot of my best clients.

I simply set aside some time for a day or two to be active in those groups, answering any and all questions that I can - with NO expectation of getting a client out of.  Just help.

In order to do this, you have to be more than just a writer. You have to become the expert giving advice to a potential client - it’s more of a mindset shift than anything else.

AND it is one of the reasons that choosing a niche you have an interest in becomes so important.

Because then you have knowledge beyond just how to write great headlines - you can give advice on content and execution of marketing campaigns.

By helping others solve their problems you create goodwill...which comes back to you as paid clients and referrals.  Try it.  You’ll be amazed at how it works.

Also, consider creating a series of helpful content on your own social media and blog to attract the right clients - and to point people to who need help with content.

A little disclaimer: I’m not suggesting that you work for free. That will just leave you broke and frustrated.

Instead, concentrate on helping people find answers to their problems - not by solving their problems for them.

For instance, if someone posts a question like, “How do I get clients with my organic social media content?” 

You could give a well-thought-out answer about the importance of knowing your audience, targeting them with content that stops their scroll, and giving them a call to action.

But don’t say, “I’d be happy to create all your content for you - in exchange for a testimonial!”

There’s a difference between showing that you have the answer to someone’s problem and giving the answer away for free.

7. How to Get Clients as a Freelance Writer

There is a reason that this is Step #7 of 10….and a reason that this question often has less than satisfying answers for most people. Because if you have done the other things that we talked about so far - finding clients is the EASY part.

Now you understand that you will turn some clients away because they aren’t a good fit for you. Not everyone who owns a business is a good client for your freelance writing skills.

After steps 1-6 you understand that knowing what you write, how you write and what you should charge for your writing are all integral parts of getting good clients.

Without further ado, here are the top three best ways for new freelance writers to get clients.

  1. Offer Your Services with the Help Formula. Offer to help people with their content and copy problems that you can solve. Be proactive about finding people that you can help. Forget spamming mass groups of people that you don’t know to get a client. Offer the help first - openly, honestly and without asking for money. Then, when they are impressed by your knowledge, you can offer your services to help them implement the solution to their problems. Not sure where to look? Start with Fiverr.
  2. The most overlooked place to start to find clients is in your current circle of influence. Put an announcement out on social media that you are filling your freelance writing client roster - and ask if anyone is interested in learning what a freelance writer can do to help their business.  You can also do this via text and email to everyone you know. Don’t just ask if they need help, also ask if they know anyone who might need help.
  3. You can also reach out to successful copywriters that you know (or that you stalk on the internet) and ask if they need help with their work overflow. Don’t be pushy with this. But it can be a good way to create great relationships if you do it the right way. You may also consider joining freelance writer groups to meet these people.  Often successful writers will ask for help in these groups when they are looking for other writers to pick up their overflow.

Once you have your first few clients under your belt, then your challenge is to create a system that gets you a consistent flow of clients clamoring to work with you. 

For now, you should be able to get your first paying client from these methods.

Use connections that you have and make new connections. People like to work with people that they “know”. By offering to help others and create a working relationship with them, you give them an expert that they “know” and want to work with.

8. Create a Writer Brand for Your Freelance Business

One thing that sets rich writers apart from struggling ones is their marketing activities.

Creating a writer brand is essential to being a well-paid writer. Because it is what sets you apart from other writers.

Your writer brand is what makes you unique, what gives you an edge over the other competition out there wanting to write for the same potential clients you’re targeting.

As you market your writing services you will create content to demonstrate your skills, to attract potential clients, and to establish yourself as an expert in your industry. In doing that you will be putting yourself out there with your marketing.

Creating a brand will help you stand out.

Ways you can create a stand out brand:

  • Incorporate parts of your personality in your content
  • Establish a brand voice by writing the way you talk
  • Use unique things about you (your love of exotic pets, your interesting hobby, etc)
  • Colors, fonts & graphics - using the same ones consistently
  • Catchphrases that you use incorporated in your content
  • A tagline (a short sentence that describes what you do)
  • Be consistent with the brand you put out there

Every piece of content you produce for your own business (your blog, social media, ads, etc) needs to have your brand on it.

The very best brand you will ever create is one centered around who you really are.

That doesn’t mean that you have to air all your dirty laundry on the internet.  It simply means that you don’t have to make something up when it comes to your brand.

Your brand is about who you are, even if there are some parts of yourself that you choose to keep private.

9. How to Get Paid the Big Bucks as a Freelance Writer

Be the Expert, not the writer

There is a perception in the world that to make good money as a writer you have to be famous. Otherwise, you’re doomed to a life of starving and waiting tables, or worse teaching,  while writing into the wee hours of the morning.

Even for those who have discovered the enchanting world of freelance writing, the prospects seem dismal.

All you have to do is take a stroll around some writer's job boards to see just how low the pay is for some jobs - I mean $20 for a 1500 word article that it takes you three days to research and write?  That’s ridiculous, and yet people do it every day.

On the other hand, there are people who make multiple six figures as writers even though you’ve never heard their names.

How is that possible?

It’s all in how they present themselves.

Writer #1 spends all her time looking through job boards, messaging potential clients on Craigslist and Googling “freelance writer rates” to see if $35 is a good price for a 500 word blog post. She makes less than $10,000 per year as a writer and gives up because she spent almost 80 hours a week pitching to potential clients for jobs that paid less than $100.

Writer #2 has a system of networking and marketing set up that brings her dream clients right into her inbox, where she sells them an initial consultation for a one-time low-priced fee of $250. During the consultations, she sells her expertise to the potential client, showing them the problems they didn’t even know they had and giving them pointers on solving them. She then gives them the opportunity to let her solve their problems for them.

Writer #1 presents herself as a freelance writer with a portfolio of one-off projects to prove her worth.  Writer #2 presents herself as an expert that can solve her clients’ problems before she even quotes them her fee.

The moral of the story is that experts get paid well. Writers have to fight for every penny.

It isn’t so much about what you call yourself as to how you present yourself to potential clients. The path to the big bucks is by making yourself a solver of problems.

Start a Freelance Writing Business

All printables available on this website are for personal use only. You may not alter, sell or redistribute them in any form without the written consent of the author, Nikki Dee Woods. If you wish to share these printables with someone, please share the blog post link with them.

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About Nikki Dee

From the time she was young, Nikki Dee knew she wanted to be  a writer. After spending years making money as a freelance writer, she became a mom. With her days full of squealing toddlers, client calls became almost impossible and Nikki Dee decided to start her own blog. Now she helps other moms who are trying to find their path to a dream life.

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