Starting out as a freelance writer can be confusing, can’t it?
You have no idea what steps you should take, how you should be spending your time, or if you’re even doing the right thing.
But the truth is that it doesn’t have to be that way:
Starting a freelance writing business is simple, easy and doesn’t require any money to get started. You just need to know the right steps to take, at the right time, to get your business moving.
That’s where this article comes in, because in it I want to show you exactly what you need to do, to start a freelance writing business.
Here’s what you can expect…
What You’ll Learn
- The 7 free essentials you need to get started
- 9 easy ways any beginner can make money (without experience)
- How to find a profitable writing niche
- Where to find jobs that accept beginners (at good rates)
- How to write a pitch that will jump out of their inbox and into your bank account
Who Am I To Teach You All Of This?
Four years ago I was a dead broke shoe-salesman, with £18,500+ in debt; working 10 hours a day for £5 an hour. I had no qualifications, no connections and no idea what to do with my life.
That was until I stumbled across an easy system for starting and growing a freelance writing business that transformed my life, freed me from debt, allowed me to travel to over 30 different countries and generate more than $120,000 in income.
Then my passions turned to helping teach others start their own freelance writing businesses. And, I’m on the mission to help 1000 people like you start and grow a profitable freelance writing business.
As a writer my work has been featured in some places you might have heard of:
So, James approached me to write this article for you because, well…I know my stuff which lead me to create the Freelance Writers School.
And if you follow the steps and the advice in this article, you too can start and grow a full-time freelance writing business.
What Is Freelance Writing?
A freelance writer is what I like to call a “Pen for hire”.
You exchange your words (or time) for money, regardless of your niche or medium.
You provide a writing service to a client based on their needs, which you’ll work out in advanced or will be published in their job description.
Let’s say you’re a freelance writer who writes blog posts, and you’ve been contracted to write an article for Matt’s site.
You’ll pitch an idea (or be given one) and you’ll work on this independently. The amount you’ll charge will be calculated on the amount of words, or the amount of time, it takes to write an article.
You get paid when he’s happy with the article (you can get paid before once you’re more established), and you work together to make it right for his readers.
You’re not an employee and you’re an equal partner to your client. Whilst this is a service and you’re obligated to provide what the client wants – the same way your phone provider is – this is a relationship between the two of you.
Why Become A Freelance Writer?
I’ll admit I’m bias, but freelance writing is one of the greatest jobs to do.
Since 2014 I’ve been able to travel to over 30 countries, relocate to Germany, write for millions of readers, help people change their lives and earn more than $120,000.
All whilst being able to sit at my laptop, sip coffee, and create art.
You’re in control of your income – as long as you’re willing to put in the work – and can rid yourself of the shackles of a nine-to-five lifestyle. (Or use it to grow your income outside of your job).
There are drawbacks, because you have to: find your own clients, motivate yourself, do your own taxes and learn extra skills.
But if you want a life that you control, to do work that you love, whilst earning $40,000+ from the comfort of your own home, then every drawback is worth it.
Quick Start Checklist: Do You Have What You Need?
There are a few essentials you’ll need before you get started.
The good news is that they’re freely available to anyone who wants to start this type of business.
Here’s a short checklist:
- Computer: So you have somewhere to do, and save, your work.
- Internet Connection: You’re here so you’ve got that down.
- Email Address: Make it professional – moc.l1537428558iamg@1537428558deewe1537428558komsd1537428558naytr1537428558apote1537428558voli1537428558 isn’t going to woo any clients.
- Word Processor: You can get this free from Google Docs or you can use Microsoft Office.
- Free WordPress Blog: So you can have a portfolio; but also practice writing and scribble down ideas as you go.
- A Paypal Account: That way you can get paid.
- A Desire To Write: Because this job is hard if you don’t enjoy it.
That’s really all there is to it. The rest of it can be learned on the job. There’s no need for any extra products, or investments. If you find you do need anything you can just learn as you go.
For example I’d been writing for a year before I knew what the legal requirements for an invoice were. It didn’t stop me making money or building a business, it just gave me an extra 60 minutes work at tax time.
You also don’t need any qualifications. I have none, and I failed English at college. If I can do it, so can you.
Get started and learn as you go.
9 Ways Beginner Freelancers Can Make Money
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I want to show you some of the ways that you can start making money writing in the next few months.
These methods have lower barriers to entry and you can mix and match them whilst you find what you like to write, and to increase the amount of income streams you have.
#1: Freelance Blogging
Freelance Blogging is how I’ve made 90% of my money over the course of my career (in conjunction with option #11 too).
It’s also one of the most beginner friendly ways to make money writing because the barriers to entry are much lower than elsewhere.
There are two main options you should look at:
- Content Marketing: Writing blog posts for companies who are using blogs, social media and SEO to grow their business.
- Helping Bloggers: Lots of successful bloggers don’t have time to create all of their content anymore. You can come on board and help them with their workload. (100% the most fun way to earn money).
Unless Google drops off the face of the earth tomorrow, or people decide they don’t want independent help and advice, then this is a way of making money that is here to stay too.
#2: Freelance Website Copywriting
One of the easiest ways to break into freelance writing is by helping people create the copy for their new website. Here’s the thing:
Hundreds of people get new websites made for their businesses every day. But they have no idea what they should write there. And why would your local plumber have any idea what they should write?
Two of my first ever clients were local businesses (they were across a corridor from each other, so when I landed one I landed the other) who needed their websites writing for them. I saved them money doing it with the agency, and they helped me get my business off the ground.
If you can find a local business with a new website where you can easily see they need better writing, or get friendly with a local design agency, you could find an endless stream of income.
#3: eBook Writing
If you’re a specialist on a topic – let’s say from your past job, or what you studied at college – you can get your break into the industry writing eBooks for people.
My first ever freelance writing job came writing a fitness eBook for a client through Elance (now UpWork), because I was a personal trainer when I was in my teens.
Take a look at this video interview from Dave Koziel and Aleksander Vitkin:
Dave’s entire business is built on freelance writer’s creating eBooks for him. And that’s just one guy. Think of how many sites sell eBooks, or offer them as a free download.
#4: Podcast And Video Script Writing
Think Podcasters and YouTubers do everything off the cuff? Think again.
Many of them have scripts that they work from to keep them on track and focused. And, even as a beginner, you could be the one to write them.
One of my students, Rebekah Donovan, got one of her first gigs writing for a podcast in the health niche, without any experience as a freelancer.
Speaking of Podcasts, Transcription is also a great place to get your foot in the door because it’s a non-skilled position. (You’re basically getting paid to write what someone said).
However it can be incredibly valuable content for an online business. So, if you see a podcaster using transcription, you could be the one to help her.
Do you speak a second language, or is English not your first language? If so, there’s a market for you here.
Many bloggers and content writers want to reach a wider audience, and if you can translate their content into: German, Spanish, Russian, French, Arabic, Chinese or any other language where there is high demand for content, you may have a niche.
To make a professional note: you need to qualified to be a translator. However if you’re a fluent speaker of two languages, many potential clients won’t mind, as long as it’s accurate. Just be sure to declare up front.
#7: Review Writing
Review’s come in a lot of different forms. You’re on an Internet Marketing site so you’re probably only thinking Amazon and Digital Product reviews, but your scope here fits into any niche:
- Product Review Writing: Amazon, Digital or other. This can extend into blog posts too, like this review of UpViral. And if you really want to grind, you can get paid by services like DooYoo to write reviews too.
- Show And Performance Reviews: If you’re interested in the arts, you can get involved with publications that will pay you (or at least cover expenses) to go and review shows.
- Service Reviews: You can be hired to write a review on services in your niche. For example, writing about the customer service provided by a hotel or a retail chain.
These all branch off into their own mini-niches too, that you’ll find as you become familiar with the niche you’re writing for.
#8: Product Description Writing
When someone once asked me what I do for a living, I read out a mental list of topics and he said, “Oh yeah, I suppose someone has to write all of them!”. What he was referring to was Product Content Writing.
Take a look at this random page for a fridge on Amazon that I pulled up:
Someone has to write them, right? And they’re readily available jobs. I once went through and wrote product content for over 200 customer claims sites.
It was as mind numbing as possible, but it sure felt good when I got that pay cheque.
Here’s a surprising fact:
Many bloggers, business owners and even authors don’t personally write all of their own content.
Often they bring in someone like me, a ghostwriter, to help them with their workload and create content they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to write.
In all niches you can find clients screaming out for ghostwriting clients, and if you’ve got the ability to adapt and change your writing voice, this can be a long-term contract that pays well.
Step #1: Find Your Writer’s Niche
Choosing a freelance writer’s niche is d*** scary.
By saying “I only write in this niche”, it feels kinda like you’re shutting yourself off from thousands of other paying clients you could work for.
And, you are…
But that’s a good thing. Let me explain:
Working in a niche is kind of like playing a video game. At the early levels you get all of the lowest grade items, small payouts for your quests and all of the higher level characters can kill you in one swipe.
But as you progress the levels, and specialise is a skill – magic, stealth, strength – you start getting better items, bigger payouts, and those n00bs will think twice before they try and fight with you.
The same goes for niching down. At the start – where many freelancers spend their time – you can only get the low-paying entry level jobs because you’re not good enough, knowledgeable enough or well-known enough.
But once you get through those entry level jobs and start working yourself up through a niche, you build a portfolio and can start writing for other higher paying clients and begin commanding, $60, $100 and even $200+ an hour for your services.
So whilst you decrease the amount of total clients you can work with, you increase the amount you can earn.
In this section you’re going to learn how to find your niche and unlock a world of higher earning potential.
Start With The Past…
When I first started thinking about niching down I had no idea where to look. I didn’t feel like I had any real interests and skills (outside of writing) that could make me any money.
I told my Mum about this problem and she just looked at me like I was an idiot. “You’ve got lots of skills, what are you talking about?” she said.
She ran upstairs, grabbed me a pen and paper, and told me to write down ten things that I’d done, achieved, enjoyed or read about in the last five years.
Here’s what that list looked like:
- Worked as a personal trainer
- Backpacked around Australia and Europe
- Coached soccer in America for one year
- Was the highest KPI seller in my retail store
- Played in a semi-professional rugby league
- Mentored an 18 year old through his fitness instructor program
- Written guest posts for Lifehack and Addicted2Success
- Learned basic Spanish
- Read a lot of books on productivity and business
- Took a Salsa dancing class
It was surprising to me to see how many skills and pockets of knowledge I had that were at least above a completebeginner level.
Although not all of them were winning ideas, the options in bold are what I felt I would be comfortable writing about for a larger audience. .
If you feel that you don’t have any knowledge or skills you could write about, I’d highly recommend trying this task for yourself, and don’t underestimate any skills you might have from the past.
To steal a little from Ramit Sethi, even speaking English is a skill!
Follow The Money
The next best place to look for your writers niche is where you spend your money. This is usually a great indicator of what you’re interested in, and topics you could write about.
You can look at:
- Recent Amazon purchases
- Recent eBay purchases
- Courses and classes you’ve taken (both online and in-person)
- Your direct debit / monthly subscription payments
- Items you’ve always wanted to buy (but never had the budget for)
- The types of books you buy
Are you the kind of person who spends $50 on a haircut? Perhaps there’s a career writing in fashion and grooming.
Are you the kind of person who takes Thai cooking classes? Food blogs might be calling your name.
Are you the kind of person who has subscriptions to SERPed and Ahrefs? Then maybe a life of SEO writing is in your future.
The Drill Down…
Once you’ve fleshed out all of your ideas, you’d do well to group them into their major niche categories. This could look like:
- Internet Marketing
The final step is to drill your niche into its relevant sub niches and where you can write for them. Each niche has a tree that looks a little like this:
For example, if you were to write in the travel niche this could break down like this:
And if you want to write in internet marketing – much like I did – you might find a breakdown like this:
Each niche and sub niche will have businesses, blogs and podcasts associated with them. This is where you begin to really see all of the opportunities in your niche and where you can begin to look for jobs.
What If My Niche Doesn’t Have A Lot Of Money In It?
Trust me, it does.
Unless you’re into Albino Badger Wrestling or Bon Jovi Themed Horse Racing Events, you’re going to be able to be able to find at least one form of income. Although, those niches probably need freelance writers too.
You can break down a niche into a lot of different chunks and there’s money to be made in all of them. Take your niche – I’m going to use Travel for this – and explore to see which of these elements it has.
Perform a quick Google search of “your niche + blogs”, for example, “travel + blogs”:
If there’s blogs about your niche – which there will be – here’s one really lucrative opportunity for you to Freelance. In fact the more niche you go, the more money you can make for blog posts, because writers are few and far between.
For example, Model Railroad Hobbyist will pay a minimum of $230 for a blog post about model rail interests.
Companies With Products
If there are businesses in your niche selling products or services or information, there is an opportunity to make money with them.
For example, if I look for Travel Companies on Google I find STA Travel. On their site there is a section about Adventure Tours:
Somebody has to write all of this copy, why not let it be you?
Think of how many pages there are like this across the internet that you could get involved with. For every page on the internet, there’s a chance to write great copy (at a price).
Where there are affiliate programs there is money to be made.
For every product you can find here, there are blogs and niche sites and businesses making money from them. And, all of those sites need copywriting to sell those products:
Not sure of the opportunities here? You can create: blog posts, sales pages, product reviews, website copy. Just about anything that involves writing and can help sell a product.
This Step In Short
Take some time to explore the niches that you want to work in. They can be based in:
- Your past experience
- Where you spend your money
- The topics you’re interested in
Then explore the niche a little bit deeper; what products or services need you to write for them? Are there bloggers, product reviews, industry websites, news sites et al. that you could create for?
If you get this step right, the rest of your business will effortlessly click into place.
Step #2: Where To Find Freelance Writing Jobs Online
In this step I want to show you where to find freelance writing jobs.
Don’t worry…you don’t need to pitch to anyone yet.
But as early in your career as possible you should get into the habit of checking job boards, content sites and classified ads. Why?
So you can get used to what a job description looks like, the little nuances in them, and seeing which work you’d like to do (and which you wouldn’t).
There are three sub-sections to this section:
- Advertised Jobs: How to find people that are actively looking for writers.
- Non-Advertised Jobs: Choosing who to pitch to and finding those hidden jobs.
- Super Secret Insider Info: Simple methods I use to find clients that work.
They’re all easy to do, they just take practice, but you’re never more than an email address away from your next client.
Easy Places To Find Advertised Jobs
These are the easiest types of job to find because they come from clients who are actively seeking your services.
They normally come in the forms of:
- Freelance writing jobs Boards
- Website Job Alerts
- Classified Ads
- Content Sites (like UpWork)
You can find all of these freelance writing jobs online for free.
But keep in mind that they’re often high competition and low paying. They should be used as a tool to help you build your business and not as the lifeblood of it.
However I have found lots of clients here and built long term relationships with them, that have grown both of our incomes over time.
Not all the jobs here will be in your niche(s), but that’s completely normal and the whole point of having a niche!
That being said, let’s look at how to use them effectively…
How To Effectively Use Freelance Writing Jobs Boards
Freelance writing jobs boards are the place to find mid-range job with established clients.
Some people will say that job boards need you to be a better writer, but I don’t think that’s true. You just need to be good enough to get paid.
Below are the only job boards I’d recommend looking at. The rest are normally rehashed links back to the pages here:
They all compile freelance writing jobs that have been posted there, or direct you to jobs posted on classified sites giving you the cream of the crop.
There’s not much to this, really. You don’t need to sign up or do anything magical. You can just start bookmarking freelance writing jobs that you like the look of.
Setting Up For Freelance Writing Jobs Alerts
If you’re interested in taking on high-paying, corporate clients, you can use job alerts to notify you of work that is posted in your niche.
I use Gorkana for freelance writing jobs alerts because they have a ‘Journalism Jobs’ section; but you can also sign up to specific job boards, or use Andrew’s advice in this article to set up Google Alerts.
Don’t read too much into the titles of jobs on these job boards – like Journalist or Customer Content Creator – they’re just business jargon.
All you need to do through a site like this is set your filters, find a search that suits your needs and then choose their update option. Like this email subscription box here:
That gives me a lot of emails a month, like the ones below, with job information.
These are usually pretty effective because they don’t just send you needless updates, they send them out only when a job gets posted:
Classified Job Postings
Classifieds are an underrated job search tool, but they can be highly effective. There are even services like FreelanceWritingGigs.com that pool the best of the best together for you for free.
You can look for these job postings a little closer to home as well using sites like:
And refine your search under the jobs section of your local area. Like so:
Getting Stuck Into Content Sites
Content sites are a great stomping ground for beginners. You can get a lot of experience, and get paid for it because of the sheer volume of jobs.
I wrote about all of these sites more in depth in my huge article about all the ways to make money online. But, here they are in short for you:
The lessons you’ll learn in this article will help you get jobs on these sites.
That’s it for advertised jobs, time to move on to unadvertised jobs.
Dig Out Those Unadvertised Goldmines
There’s an unwritten rule in Freelancing that says:
The highest paying jobs are never advertised.
And it’s one of the most true statement you’ll ever hear. In fact, a solid 90% of my client base
right now didn’t advertise their jobs. I went to them, or they were referred to me, and they’re willing to pay more.
I don’t know why it works that way, but you’ll just have to accept that’s the way this world works.
But that begs the question: how do you know to pitch to them if it’s not advertised?
The short answer is that you don’t. You just have to go out there and speak to people, network and find out what they’re looking for.
However there are a few strategies you can employ to make your search a little easier.
Finding People To Cold Pitch
Earlier you looked at breaking your niche down into categories – like Blogs and Companies – now you’re going to use those same searches to find people to pitch to.
When I first got into the Internet Marketing Niche, I’d look for the parts of the niche that interested me:
- Social Media
Then I’d narrow them down even further to find what I could write about. Take social media, for example, there were a two options open to me:
- Blogs about Social Media
- Social Media Tools
So I’d go and look for all the social media tools I could. Which lead to me pitching to Share As Image (now Stencil) and becoming their Content Manager. And, to me landing an epic blog post spot on Buffer:
Think of how you can apply the same to your niche. What do the different parts of your niche break down to? You can find:
- Corporate Sites
- Tools and Plugins
- Local Businesses
- Fortune 500 companies
And from all of those you can break down even further, like if you were to look at retailers for the travel niche, that could be:
- Hiking stores
- Camping equipment
- Travel Agents
- Online Guidebook Shops
That’s just the tip of the iceberg as well. There are probably hundreds more options on top of that.
Be thorough. Dive deeply into your niches and find all of the options of companies that will need writing in some form, as you looked at before.
From there you can add them to your list of people you can write a cold call email too.
Finding Referral Clients
If you don’t have any clients at all this is a step for the future. But, I can show you how to get around that in the next section.
Referrals are one of the most powerful ways of landing a client. Because you come with a guarantee, from someone they know, that your work is of a high quality.
I regularly send out emails like this to clients, asking if they know of anyone who is looking for a freelance writer. And, sometimes you land a winner.
Search For Local Clients
You have a huge network you’re not even aware of.
Just cast your mind out to all of the people you know and all of the people that they know. There is an endless supply of people who could hook you up to a new client.
- Old Classmates
- Current Classmates
- Old Work Colleagues
- Current Clients
- Old Clients
- Your Hairdresser/Barber
- Your Social Media Friends
- People You See When You Walk The Dog
The list goes on and on and on. Who’s to say what’s going to come your way through these channels?
Two of my first ever corporate clients came this way. A Training Company and a Language Interpretation service that operated across the hall from each other. The first owner was my cousin’s best friend, the second just came and sat in on the meeting and chose to buy in.
There will be hundreds of businesses in your local area that other writers have never even thought to pitch to, either. While they search the furthest reaches of the internet, why not walk into their building and request a meeting?
And, as Sean Ogle once told me when I interviewed him for a Podcast (that never actually aired):
“Get to local events – conferences, marketing events and anything else. There is no substitute for meeting people in person.”
You can find a whole host of these events on MeetUp or pay attention to local publications and magazines.
2 Super-Secret Insider Methods For Finding Online Jobs
There are some really easy other ways of finding clients, too. In fact they’re right under your nose and they can be accessed easily.
Here they are…
The Upside-Down Method
I want to share with you the most effective way I’ve found of getting to write for people. These are instantly warm or hot leads you can pitch to, and the success rate is much higher than any other way I’ve tried.
Take a look at one of the online magazines or blogs in your niche. And, find for times that a freelance writer has contributed. Usually they’ll have a biography that tells you they’re a freelancers, like this bio from Kristi Hines on Nichehacks:
Now, even if there’s not a link in their profile, almost all freelancers have an online portfolio – whether that’s on their own hosted site or a free WordPress blog – so you can find that by searching in Google for their name (include freelancer or blogger if their name is really generic):
Once you’re on their site, look for pages with names like Portfolio or Latest, where they show you a list of the clients they’ve worked (or are working for) by sharing their latest or most successful posts:
Right in front of you right now there is a full database of potential clients that are open to having freelancers work for them. They’re at least paying one freelancer so they’ll be open to others, too.
Using this method – including Kristi’s Site – I’ve been able to land writing work with a lot of big, high paying clients. Oh, and stay tuned for a niche little tip on pitching later on, too.
The LinkedIn Lead Generator
This process is a similar to the above. But, with a little twist that you can guess from the title. You do it on LinkedIn instead.
Once again, find yourself a freelance writer on one of your favourite publications in your niche. Then, instead of looking for them on Google, go ahead and search them on LinkedIn:
From there head down the page to find their Freelance Work Experience. This will either be under the tab of their company name, like it is for Kristi here:
Or under different experience tabs like it is on my personal LinkedIn Profile:
Once again you have a tonne of companies to reach out to and pitch to because they’re interested in freelancers.
Don’t worry about stealing income from that freelancer, either. Normally you’ll be working in-addition to them so it’s not like you’re taking food off their table. You’re just putting it on your own.
Okay, that’s how to find potential clients all wrapped up. Now, how can you actually get them?
This Step In Short
Freelance Writing jobs can be found in three different ways:
- Advertised: Where it’s posted on a freelance writing jobs board, forum or freelancer site etc.
- Unadvertised: Where you contact a company or person unsolicited looking for opportunities.
- Referral: Where friends, family or current clients send new clients your way.
Advertised jobs are best found on job board like ProBlogger Jobs or Freelance Writing Gigs.
Unadvertised freelance writing jobs take some searching; but you can use methods like The Website Hijacker to find companies that are open to working with freelancers.
Or, get involved in your local community and find the people around you who are open to it.
Referral clients come from asking the question and generating warm leads from people that you know. This can be a great method of automating your marketing.
Step #3: Build Your Sales Tools
Writing is far too subjective for someone to determine what makes a good writer and what makes a bad writer.
You can see it for yourself in literature. There will be writers and novelists who have a huge following but write in a way that you just can’t stand to read. I can’t bear to read Harry Potter, but J.K Rowling is still out there making a fortune.
The way someone can choose whether you’re a good writer, then, is:
- Whether they like your writing style
- How good your portfolio is
- If other people have published your work
- What other people say about your writing
They won’t even use all of these. They’ll be happy with just two or three of them. So don’t worry if you can’t tick all of these boxes. Heck, most freelancers can’t hit all four of these when they move from one niche to another.
But you do need to do need to be able to showcase your work to people, in order to land the client. So let’s look at how you can start to build these up.
A Rock Solid Portfolio
Your portfolio is where you can show people your work and let them make a decision for themselves. There’s no right or wrong way to do a portfolio, but it should be:
- Frequently Updated
- Relevant To Your Niche
- Relevant To Your Skills
I’m going to show you a few different examples of portfolios so you can get an idea of what I mean.
Portfolio #1: Simple And Visual
This portfolio from Copywriting Is Art is simple, but really effective. If you’re going for a copywriting angle, this is a great one to follow:
Simple imagery gives it authority and is easy for people to see that there is an endorsement of his work. When you follow the links through the image you get a comprehensive breakdown of the work done, too:
Portfolio #2: Direct Links
This portfolio is my own personal one at JamesWritesThings. I use screenshots of my posts, with headlines that link directly to them:
Again it’s simple and effective, but it serves to show people I’ve been published elsewhere and can be trusted to write for their site. When they see a site they know, it’s also a big bonus.
Portfolio #3: Excerpts And Logos
This final portfolio comes from Erin at The Travel Copywriter. She again uses visuals – much like the graphic I showed you at the start of this post – to create a sense of authority:
And to create less of a barrier between a potential clients and buying from her, she’s added excerpts of her articles with additional links to grab attention:
Your Portfolio, Then…
You can see in all the above samples that they aren’t anything special. They don’t sing and dance, they just provide the information that’s needed. So don’t worry about needing a big ol’ website full of widgets.
Just create a space – using a site builder or WordPress or your own domain – and put your work online.
But, What If I Don’t Have Portfolio Pieces?
If you’re getting started you won’t have anything that even resembles a portfolio yet. And that’s okay, I’m going to show you how to create a portfolio from scratch, with little to no effort. There are two steps to it.
Step #1: Start Your Own Blog
Start a blog about your Niche and start writing it. Use different techniques, use different styles and start writing as though you’re creating for a huge audience.
You don’t have to share it with anyone if you don’t want. You can have it on a private link for all that matters. But you do need to give people an opportunity to see your style in the context of your niche.
Step #2: Find Freelance Writing Jobs And Complete Their Tasks
I used to use this method a lot when I first started writing. Because, it gives you something more tangible to work with. And, they can go on the blog you’re going to start.
Head to one of the freelance writing jobs boards or content mills and find a job posting. It doesn’t matter if it’s current or expired. Look for one with a pretty specific description, like this one:
Then just go ahead and create an article or piece to that specification and stick it on your blog.
This process has two benefits:
- You get to experience what clients are looking for and work to specification
- You get to build out your portfolio with real-world examples
You can even go the extra mile and screenshot the job and present it to a potential client you’re pitching too, so show what you’ve done. Anything that gets you noticed from the other freelancers that are entering the field.
Okay, there’s another way you can pad out your portfolio and gain endorsements from people. That section deserves a whole section of it’s own…
Guest Posting is my go-to strategy for building a profitable portfolio quickly.
It gives you valuable experience working with someone who will publish your work. It also teaches you to work to guidelines, deliver to an audience and what it’s like to have your content published.
For example, the guest post on Buffer that I mentioned earlier has brought me a tonne of emails like this:
And having written for sites like Addicted2Success and Lifehack and got a decent amount of shares showed that I could write for a big, well developed audience too.
Landing guest blog posts is a whole topic within itself. So when you choose this option, I’ll hand you over to this expert post.
Testimonials are powerful pieces of information. In fact, 90% of consumers say that online reviews impact their buying decisions. So these glowing endorsements from people can play a huge part in this.
This Step In Short
There are three components you need to sell your online:
- Portfolio: Where potential clients can get a feel for your style, tone and the results your work can deliver.
- Guest Posts: Having an endorsement of your work on someone else’s site, even if only slightly relevant to your niche, can have a big impact on converting customers.
- Testimonials: These reviews of your work – from paying customers – can be the final blow in converting a client. Seeing a glowing recommendation can put their mind at ease and make them more likely to buy.
You can build a portfolio yourself by just writing blogs for your niche, or by finding jobs and writing them for your own site to gain experience.
Guest Posts can be obtained by following the link in that part of the section.
Testimonials can come from anyone who has seen or used your writing and can be built up over time. The sooner you get someone to write one though, the better.
Step #4: Writing Pitches To Get You Clients
Pitching is a numbers game – more on that in the next section – but you can create pitches that grab attention.
In fact, I’m not only going to show you how to pitch: I’m going to give you my own pitching strategy that you can copy and paste for yourself.
But first, let’s talk about what makes a good pitch…
Pitching To The Right Person
The first question about pitching is usually:
Who do I pitch to?
This is an important question because it can make or break whether you get spoken to or if you just get lost being passed around between departments in a company.
If you’re applying for an advertised job this is usually posted, like in the footer of this posting here:
But when you’re not it’s a little more difficult. There are three points of contact that you need to look for:
- Direct Email: The best you can find is a direct email. This is usually to an editor, marketing manager or content marketing executive.
- Department Email: There are often emails that go to someone in a department – marketing etc. – that you can get through to someone on.
Contact Form: If there’s nothing else find a contact form under the ‘contact’ page on a site or a publication
Email Tools: You can also use a tool like Hunter.io to help you find the most contacted emails for the site.
And if you really can’t find anything you can use this sneaky little hack that I came up with.
When you’re on a site that you want to get in touch with go to the footer where you’ll often find tabs like this:
Click the Terms & Conditions tab (or Disclosure policy as it’s called here) and it’ll bring up a page full of legal jargon. A quick search of the page and you’ll be able to find and email contact,
like this one right here:
Gotcha. Now, you can pitch to someone in the company and find a way to the right person.
Pitching 101: How To Stand Out From The Crowd
Considering freelance writers are a group of individuals paid to write things…you suck at writing pitches.
Sorry, it’s just the truth.
Don’t worry, I did too. In fact, so did every freelance writer I know at one point or another.
Because pitching is hard. You’re trying to convince someone to pay you instead of the hundred other people they could choose from. It’s a daunting proposition.
That usually means your pitches go on far too long. They miss the point. Or, they’re too short for anyone to know why you’re even writing to them. But I’m about to give you a simple acronym to help you remember how to write a perfect pitch every single time. It goes like this:
- Easy To Understand
Okay, it’s not exactly the most masculine acronym I’ve ever created, but I know you’ll never forget it. PETAL pitches are the best kind, because they’re guaranteed to get responses. I’ve taught them to lots of writers and they’ve always come good.
Let’s break them down:
Personal is simple. When you’re writing to someone, you should address them by their name.
This will normally be the prefix in their email (‘james’@pitchtome.com) or on their job description.
If that’s not available I’d suggest you opt for a “Hey Guys”, or “Hi Team” because it sounds a lot more personal than just “Hello”.
Easy To Understand
The people you’re pitching to often receive a lot of emails. So you need to be clear, concise and focused on why you’re writing to them. Especially if you’re cold pitching to someone who doesn’t know they’re being pitched too.
Basically you need to make sure nothing is lost in translation.
I usually combat this by saying exactly why I’m writing to them. Like:
My name’s James and I’m a freelance writer from Manchester, England. I’m writing to you to see if there was any room for a freelance writer on the Company X team? I think I’d be a perfect fit!
Now they can make no mistake about why I’m in their inbox right now.
There’s a rule in Newspaper writing:
Put the most important information at the top and put the least important at the bottom. Because newspaper editors cut the information from the bottom of the article.
The exact same rule applies to pitching. Put the most important information at the top incase they don’t make it to the end of your pitch. You’ll see more on how that’s done in the copy and paste section next.
You need to state what you’ve done. Where you’ve worked. Provide information that’s relevant to the job you’re pitching for. And, any additional information that’s required.
As a writer it’s normal for you to…waffle on. You know, write more than is necessary. It comes with the nervousness with a pitch. But follow this rule for writing your pitches and you’ll be fine (this is stolen from Winston Churchill):
A good pitch should be like a skirt; short enough to be interesting long enough to cover the subject.
The 100% Golden Rule Of Pitching You Must Obey
If you disregard everything else you learn about pitching in this article please remember this simple rule:
Read the job description.
When you’re pitching for an advertised job there will be part thrown in there to keep you on your toes. Specific requirements that will affect you getting the job or not.
The most common form of this is them asking you to put something in the pitch to prove that you read it. Like this job pitch where I had to put two specific words in the subject line:
So make sure you go through everything with a fine tooth comb before you send anything. Copy and pasting is great, but not if it loses you a job.
The Copy And Paste Pitch Template
Okay, so that’s how you should be pitching to get clients.
But I’m about to save you a lot of time by giving you a fill-in-the-blanks pitch for you to use.
You can edit this however you want but it is a sure-fire template that will help you land clients:
I didn’t forget, I promise.
I’ve tested a lot of different headline techniques and I’ve found two that work, at least for getting people to reply to your emails.
The first, if you’re applying for an advertising job is to put a simple subject like this:
But if you’re making a cold pitch, the undisputed best headline in my experience – and that of other writers I speak to – is to ask a question in your headline. I can’t tell you why this works, but it seems to be really effective.
Toy around and find your own unique stamp. Play with headlines and ideas to see what’s going to get you the most return.
Okay, you’re getting on to the final section, are you ready?
This Step In Short
People are pitching to your potential clients all the time so you need to craft pitched that make you stand out from the crowd. To do that, remember this (manly) PETAL acronym:
- Personal: Written directly to someone; in a conversational but professional tone.
- Easy To Understand: Be clear about what you’re writing or pitching to them for, and why they should care.
- Top-Loaded: Put the important information at the start and make it less important as you go down the pitch.
- Accurate: It should fit you, your niche, the job description and what your capabilities are.
- Lean: Short enough to be interesting; long enough to cover the subject.
Always remember to read the job description and edit your pitch to fit the specific client you’re talking to.
Ask questions in your headline, or reference the job listing, to get the best open rates.
Step #5: Setting The Right Price
Let’s talk money.
I’ve purposely saved this until last because it’s the most highly debated topic in freelancing.
And, I want to make sure it get’s the coverage it deserves. But, I’m not going to spend too long telling you about it. Why?
Because, regardless of the arguments for and against what your prices should be, it comes down to you. Let me explain…
First, It’s About What You Want To Charge…
More to the point it’s about what you feel comfortable charging. When you first step onto the scene you probably won’t feel like you can charge $100; you’ll not have the portfolio to back it up, either.
So don’t charge it.
If you feel comfortable charging $10, charge that. Then up it when you feel comfortable charging
$20 and $30 and $40 and so on.
But do remember you have to put food on the table and you need to respect your time. After all, you can’t get it back.
I started at $10 and hour, and I now comfortably charge $60-$100+ an hour depending on the project.
Secondly, Don’t Worry About Pricing Out
One of the best lessons I learned came from the team at Nifty Marketing is that they refuse to budge on to attract the caliber of client that they wanted.
Set a minimum price that you will not go under by any stretch of the imagination. It can be whatever you think it needs to be, but don’t just take work for the sake of it. Respect yourself and be proud of what you will work for, as well as what you wont.
Thirdly, It’s About Negotiation…
Always be open to negotiation. Now if you have a minimum prices, that’s the lowest point you can negotiate to. But also be open to negotiations on different things.
For example, let’s say you pitch $50 an hour and your minimum is $30, you have $20 wiggle room to negotiate with there. There’s nothing wrong with having different prices for different clients on different projects. It’s the way the freelance world works.
Different Pricing Structures
There are a couple of ways that you can charge client with freelance writing.
This is exactly what it says on the tin; the price you’ll charge per hour. This can chop and change depending on the client, too.
It’s not unusual to charge $30 for one client and $50 for another, because the jobs come with different specifications and require different levels of effort.
And, as you saw in the last point, you need to be open to negotiation.
I’m terrible at Math, so the simple way I use to work out an hourly rate is:
- How many words per hour
- How much research is needed
- The average price of work in that niche
For example if you have an easy, stream-of-consciousness style article in the Self Help niche.
That would charge less because you can get 1,200 words out an hour on that, you don’t need as much research and you can wrap it up in just a few hours. Also, the payment in that niche is lower.
But if you have a really niche, in-depth topic, that requires a lot of research – like SEO or Engineering – you would charge more. Why?
Because not only would you be writing less per hour, you’ll be spending a lot more time writing and referencing. You’ll also have to block out a bigger chunk of your day to do it.
The price per hour is also dependant on your experience. If you’re an established expert you can charge more than if you were the new kid on the block.
Price Per Word
We don’t mess about with the clarity of our titles in writing do we?
Price Per Word is one of the most common pricing strategies.
I use it for almost all of my articles, especially on those longer articles – like this one – because it often works out fairer for you and the client. And, it’s easier to pitch. When a client hears 15 cents per word it sounds better than $150 for 1000 words.
I use a similar system to the above for working this out. If you’re productive you can really increase what you earn per hour.
Price Per Project
This is a standard pricing package for small businesses and copywriting clients. For example, when I created the copy on this training company website, I set a fixed price for all of the content:
I find the price per project is normally based on your hourly rate, the hours you’re expected to work and a negotiation with the client. You can create a lot of ‘savings’ benefits here for a client, too. Where it feels like you’re doing more work and saving them money.
Each client and project has it’s own specific needs. So, it pays to have a flexible option where people can talk to you and you will flesh out a price together for the work that needs to be done. This works on a per-client basis.
There are a number of ways you can get paid, too. This is usually when you bill out when you receive money:
- 100% Up Front: This requires a built up level of trust but once that’s established it’s easy to employ.
- 50% Up Front: Clients are often open to this method – 50% up front, 50% on completion – because the risk is lower.
- Upon Completion: I don’t usually employ this method unless it’s per word pricing or with a client that I really trust. Because you can retain the rights to the article until they pay, there is also the option to keep it and sell it on if you do get stiffed.
Insider Tip: The Subscription Payment Model
Okay let me lay a little bit of insider knowledge on you:
Clients are sometimes flaky. They’ll need six articles one month, two the next, disappear for a couple of weeks, come back with more work than you can handle and then drop off the map forever.
That’s just the nature of the beast. Not all clients are like this, but there is always a level on inconsistency.
But there is a way you can make it more consistent and guarantee yourself an income. You just need to employ a subscription model.
With every client that that likes this model they agree to:
- A fixed number of hours or articles per month
- For a set price
- To be paid at either 100% or 50% up front
- For a fixed-term (three, six, nine months)
That way you are definitely getting paid and you have guaranteed work every month.
Clients are usually pretty responsive to this model too so don’t be afraid to pitch it.
This Step In Short
Setting the right price is personal to you. There is no right or wrong price to charge. Just what you feel comfortable charging, the value you offer and where you’re positioned in your niche.
But, as a rough guide, I’d suggest these prices:
- Beginner: $20-$30 per hour / $0.05 per word – $0.10 per word
- Intermediate: $35-$50 per hour / $o.15 – $0.20 per word
- Expert: $50+ per hour / $0.25 – $0.50+ per word
Look to employ a subscription payment model, or a 50% up front model when you’re negotiating with a client to make sure you get paid.
Step #6: The Extras You Need To Know About
In this step I want you to explore some of the ways to improve and refine your business. And, learn about other technical aspects of the job.
Every piece of work will come with a brief. Sometimes that can be professional and in the shape of guidelines, like this:
Or it’ll be in a brief document like this (text covered, just in case):
There are also times where you’ll be asked to create the project brief. Or, it’ll come in the form of an email chain or a written on a napkin or something illegible you have to decipher for yourself.
But it’s essential that before you start on a project you create a clear brief for you and the client. Point out what it is you believe you should be delivering and if that is in line with what the client wants.
There is nothing worse – for you and a client – than going in blind and hoping you hit the target. It’s a waste of time and effort.
Ask as many questions as you need to and go into as much detail as possible. The clearer the picture the better the end product.
I don’t recommend offering any more than two rounds of revisions. Why?
Because you’re a good writer. And you’re crafting articles or content based on what an audience wants. You’ve done you research and you’ve decided this is the content that is going to work.
You do have to pay attention to what the client is saying and offer some changes based on what they ask for. But by the same token you have to respect your time and the decisions you’ve made.
As long as the article is in line with the above revisions and the thoughts laid out in the plan, then you’re fine to only offer limited revisions.
I didn’t know this when I first started out, you may not have either, but there are minimum legal requirements for an invoice that you need to meet. More than just slapping what you did and your price on a sheet of paper or in a document and sending it across.
If you’re creating your own invoices follow one of these links to see what requirement your country has (English speaking countries only):
But I highly recommend using a service like FreshBooks to manage your invoices. You can just input the client data, send it across, and the rest of it is taken care of for you. They also come with a tonne of different payment options too:
Contracts / Terms & Conditions
A contract can come in many forms and has to be made up of certain criteria, like this one from HMRC in the UK:
Contracts will sometimes be sent to you to be signed, others will be be an email correspondence or done through a Skype call. And, there is a good chance you will never have to enforce a contract, but you should have one in place.
They cover your back; make sure you get paid the right amount for the right amount of work; cover your client and make your business more professional. Much like a project brief, be clear in:
- What’s being done
- When it’s being done by
- How much it’s going to cost
- What the end product will look like
- What you’re offering
For example, you could do all of this in one sentence:
So I’ll going to be writing How To Become A Freelance Writer Online, it’s going to be 10,00o-15,000 words at the rate we agreed for the last article, and I’ll have it done by April 11th, is that correct?
They accept it. You’re covered. It’s that simple.
Recommended Reading & Development
Phew! Okay, onto the last bit now.
Like I said right at the start of the article, you don’t need any qualifications to become a writer. But there’s a lot you can read and practice on to become a better writer and create stronger, more impactful content. Here’s some of my biggest recommends:
- Write To Sell – Andy Maslen: Probably the best book on Copywriting I’ve ever read. It’s not long, but it’s really in-depth and clears up a tonne of questions you have early on.
- On Writing – Stephen King: If you’re trying to create content with a story feel to it, this book is an endless supply of hints and tips to create them.
- Made To Stick – Chip & Dan Heath: Amazing for finding out how to write and create articles that people remember.
Wrapping It Up…
I hope by now you have a clear picture of what it takes to be a freelance writer and how to start your business the right way.
It may seem overwhelming at first, but it really is as simple as choosing one of these steps and taking action until completion. As Matt often says, “Keep it simple, stupid”, and it’s a motto that works here too.