You want to become a freelance writer.
Excellent! There’s never been a better time to be a writer. Print magazines and newspapers may be slumping or dead, but content rules.
I receive many enquiries from aspiring writers about getting started in the world of freelancing.
Unfortunately I also received sad messages from flailing freelance writers about the impossibility of getting good clients. (If you believe this, see below: “Avoid companies which advertise for writers.”)
Listen up. You can make more as a freelancer than you can at a day job, but building a lucrative six-figure income as a freelancer takes experience, considerable effort, and time.
Real-world tip: be aware that as a freelance writer, you’re a keyboard for hire.
Freelance writer? You’re a keyboard for hire
As a keyboard for hire, you write to order. You write material no one else has time to write, or wants to write, or perhaps can write.
- Easy, fun gigs usually pay little (because many others can write those fun gigs, and buyers know they can hire low-cost writers.)
- Projects which pay more demand more of you. (On the upside, you can charge more: sometimes MUCH more.)
Back in my magazine writing days, I knew that if I wanted to break in at a magazine, I could do it by offering to write the boring materials staff writers gleefully passed to the ink-stained wretches called “contributors.”
With writing to order in mind, let’s look at some tips to help you to get started as a top-earning freelance writer.
1. Write what people will pay you to write
What can you write that others can’t?
You can parlay many real-world experiences into real-world freelance writing gigs. For example, if you’ve ever worked in the finance and health sectors, you know how those sectors work.
Not only can you get gigs writing for those sectors’ trade magazines because you have experience, you can parlay those magazine credits into writing for companies in those areas.
Take five minutes now, and think about your read-world experiences. Chances are you can parlay some of your experience into money.
Real-world-experience example: have you renovated your home, or bought a home? The building and real estate industries hire writers… Use your experience to learn more, and write the material thousands of companies in these sectors need, and for which they pay.
2. You gotta start somewhere: write samples to build your book (portfolio)
In our first tip, I suggested writing for trade magazines to build your credits and credibility. The benefit of writing for trades is that you get paid in real money as well as in credits.
What if there aren’t any trade publications in your areas of expertise?
You can contact organizations and companies and offer to write them something pro bono. Heck, join a Facebook group of small business people or entrepreneurs and offer to write something for them for free. You’ll get LOTS of takers.
Important: let people know you’re writing to build your writing samples, AND ask them for a testimonial. The testimonial is your “payment”.
Oddly enough, 90 times out of 100 someone for whom you’re writing for free will give you your first paying gig, or they’ll recommend you to someone who will pay.
3. Avoid companies which advertise for writers
Yes, I know that sounds… odd. Well, here’s why you avoid advertisers: no company which pays well needs to advertise for writers. They either hire an agency, or they approach writers themselves after doing an online search and checking out your website.
Just after I created my first “name” website in the 1990s (before blogs were even dreamed of), I was approached to write for Barnes & Noble University, which is long defunct. It was a fun, excellent-paying gig… My point is, Barnes & Noble didn’t advertise: they knew what they wanted, and they found someone who could give it to them.
I’m often asked about freelance marketplaces like Upwork.
Here’s the thing: these sites serve their purpose. Many writers make a good living there, especially those who aren’t living in a western economy.
If you’ve never written for money, these marketplaces perform a good service. They get you used to writing to order. That said, I don’t send my students to these sites. There are much better ways of getting high-paying gigs.
Onward… I wish you much success with your freelance writing career.
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Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.