How to Become a Freelance Writer

Would you like a job that allows you to be creative, to spend your time reading and writing about subjects that you find fascinating and that you can do from anywhere?

Would you like a job with practically limitless earning potential? And that will allow you to run your own business and get a real sense of pride seeing your work being enjoyed by millions of readers?

Then you should consider being a freelance writer.

Being a freelance writer provides you with all those amazing benefits and more. And there has never been a better time to become a freelance writer thanks to the number of businesses that are migrating to the web. Digital marketers say that ‘content is king’ and that means that writers are king.

To become a freelance writer, all you need is a computer and the ability to write good English. Anyone can do it and there is ample work available. The only problem is that a lot of people have no idea where to start. Here then we will take an in-depth look at what it takes to become a freelance writer. This will be a comprehensive guide that will provide you with all the tools, tips, advice and more that you could possibly need to be highly successful.

If you’re at all interested in being a freelance writer, then read on. This will act as your comprehensive crash course that will prepare you for the big wide world.

Skills and Traits You Will Need to Succeed

Before we jump into specific tools and tips, it’s a good idea to start with the basic skills you’ll need to thrive as a freelance writer. What service are you providing and what skills will you need in order to offer that service to a good quality?

Writing

Of course the most important skill for any freelance writer is to have good writing skills. In other words, you need to be able to write well in strong English (or whatever language you’re working in). At the same time, you also need to be able to write in a number of different styles from persuasive writing to entertaining and ‘colloquial’ blog posts etc.

The most important thing you need to be a good writer is to have the ‘voice’ that readers and publishers are looking for. Having ‘the voice’ means that your writing should read as though you were talking to someone. They should thus be able to easily follow what you’re writing and to pick up on the correct tone and meaning from everything you say. The voice is also largely what makes your writing engaging.

This is something you can improve with practice but to a large extent it’s innate; you either have it or you don’t. Ask a friend to read over some of your writing and to honestly appraise it. If you don’t have the voice then you may want to think about different careers.

What’s also important in terms of writing ability is that you have good grammar and good punctuation. This means knowing where to put your commas and how to use parentheses correctly. This is something that you can learn, so it’s worth swatting up on proper editing and grammar before you start putting yourself out there. Note though that some issues, such as the ‘Oxford comma’, are contentious and don’t have a right or wrong answer. This is where your discretion comes in.

Speed

If you become a great freelance writer then you might be able to land big clients with huge websites or even magazines with large circulation. However, there’s a good chance you’re not going to be working for those big clients to start with and that means you’re going to have to offer your services cheaply. This is especially true if you are looking at finding clients on the web who run websites or if you will work through an intermediary such as a writing agency.

This means you might have to work for anything from $1 per 100 words to $2 per 100 words. That might not sound like very much but that’s where speed comes in. If you can write 10,000 words a day, then you can earn $200 potentially which is no small amount of money. Some writers will manage 20,000 or more a day! What’s more, there’s nothing to stop you doing a little extra work at the weekends if you have an expensive week coming up.

Just make sure that when you go this fast, you aren’t compromising quality. Of course mistakes are inevitable when you’re writing at this speed and for that rate – and good clients will recognize this and may even hire an editor. Still though, you need to make sure that even at high quantities, your work is still largely error free and this means you need to be focused on what you’re doing. A good keyboard helps a lot here, which we will look at later.

Quality

While working fast, you still need to stay committed to the quality of the work and that means focusing on what it is the client wants to achieve with their content. If they’re selling a product then you need to make writing that is highly persuasive. If they want to inform their audience on a subject, then your content needs to be informative and better than the competition.

You need to have the right attitude in order to succeed as a writer and that means caring about your clients. If you don’t, then they won’t come back to you for future work. Every time you send a piece of writing to a client, you should feel a little sad that you aren’t going to be keeping it for your own website. That’s when you know you’re really delivering quality.

SEO Knowledge

SEO is ‘Search Engine Optimization’ and this means the creation of websites and marketing strategies designed specifically to perform well on Google and to get to the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs). Usually this involves the subtle use of keywords as well as the creation of content that is highly sharable and clickable.

There is some overlap between SEO and writing services seeing as ‘content marketing’ is a big part of promoting a website online. While you don’t necessarily need to be an SEO expert, it certainly helps to have a grasp of this subject. Thankfully, there is plenty of information available online and even on this very blog.

Research

Being a good writer also means being a good researcher. Sometimes you will be asked to write on topics you know nothing about. Actually, this is one of the fun things about being a freelance writer as you’ll find you end up with all kinds of knowledge on a wealth of subjects. To cope though, you will need to be able to quickly understand the crux of a new subject and then bring that to your content in a way that makes you sound like an expert.

Self-Starter

Being a self-employed writer means that you’ll have no boss and no one looking over your shoulder. It’s down to you to meet the deadlines you’re set, to exceed expectations daily and to keep looking for more clients when you don’t have enough work. This takes immense mental discipline. If you’re the kind of person who starts a new training program every year and doesn’t see it through, then you might not have the kind of drive necessary to be a freelance writer.

What You Will Need

Now you know the skills you’ll need, you should have a basic idea of whether or not you can realistically cut it as a freelance writer and you may or may not still be interested in going ahead with this career choice.

If you have decided that freelance writing is for you, then the next step is to look into some of the tools of your trade in terms of software and hardware that can be very useful. Here we will look at some things that every freelance writer needs to succeed:

A Small Laptop

Having some kind of portable laptop or computer is a very important tool for a writer. One of the very best benefits of being a freelance writer is that you will be able to work remotely and to travel as you do. If you invest in a small laptop that can slip into a bag, then you can work while on the beach or while sitting in your garden. Look for something with a long battery life, a light profile and a good keyboard.

A Great Keyboard

Speaking of which, you may want to invest in an additional keyboard that will be comfortable and that will provide you with the best accuracy even at high speeds. A great choice here is to get a ‘mechanical keyboard’. If you get a Windows tablet then you can use a bluetooth keyboard like this without sacrificing portability.

Word Processor

Your word processor is the software you will use to write with. The most famous example of this is Microsoft Word, which comes as part of Office360. Getting a subscription to Office360 is pretty much a no-brainer for writers and will mean you’re able to take advantage of a lot of fancy features. If you write ebooks for clients for instance, Word will let you instantly add a table of contents. If you are asked to proofread work by another writer meanwhile, you’ll be able to use Word’s comments feature. This is a must-have tool then for any serious freelance writer.

If you can’t afford Word to begin with though, you can choose free options such as TextEdit for Mac, OpenOffice or Google Docs. Google Docs saves to the cloud so is especially useful if you find yourself moving from computer to computer a lot. It does require an internet connection though.

While Word is required for more advanced projects, you can easily ‘make do’ with Google Docs and then get Office360 once you start profiting.

A Website

Having your own website will give you a great place to promote your services and to make yourself look good. The best thing about a website is that you can promote it with other means (such as PPC advertising) and you won’t be competing with anyone else on there. Having a website makes you look more professional and this in turn means you can charge a little more for your services.

Skype

When you start working with many new clients, they will often request to have a Skype meeting first. This way they can ensure that you understand the project they are going to give you and they can see that you care about their project and that you are cognizant and capable.

Samples

When you first hear from a new client, often the first thing they will ask for is some samples that they can see. Likewise, if you want to promote yourself on your own website, then having samples online will help you to stand out and to inspire trust in potential customers. Spend some time then creating examples of your very best work and be ready to show those to people who ask for proof of your writing prowess. Note too that these samples should cover a broad range of types of articles, styles and topics. This way you can always show a sample that is relevant to the kind of work that a client wants you to do for them.

PayPal

PayPal is the main payment method that you will use as an online freelance writer. While PayPal does charge a fee, it’s also fast, convenient and secure. If you develop a long-term relationship with a client then you might be able to organize wire transfer. Otherwise though, PayPal will be your best bet and with the amount you’re going to be transferring you will need a premium or business account linked to a real bank account.

Copyscape

Copyscape is another paid tool, this time for checking that content is ‘original’ and hasn’t been directly lifted from another source online. This is important for your clients as they need original content in order to ‘rank’ highly in the SERPs (Google doesn’t like duplicate writing) and because there are copyright issues when you lift work (you also cannot sell the same work to multiple clients). ‘Copyscape passed content’ has become a synonym for ‘100% unique content’ which ensures your clients that it’s not stolen.

That said, you don’t actually need Copyscape as long as you know you are writing in your own voice and using sources only for research – not for copying. It can be useful for checking sometimes though and some clients may specifically request that you test your writing with it.

VAS

A ‘VAS’ is a ‘Virtual Assistant Service’. In no way is this a necessity but it can certainly help in some cases. Basically a VAS is an individual or team who provide a wide range of services that can be carried out online, normally at a very low price. As a writer, you can use them to research topics for you, to gather useful links or even to help you find work!

Finding Clients

Before you can begin writing you need something to write and that means you need clients!

So how do you find writing clients online? Usually the answer is through a site for freelance work, through a content mill, or through a forum for webmasters/digital marketers.

Some of your best options include: Elance, PeoplePerHour and oDesk (for all kinds of jobs), Freelancer.com (for writing specifically), Fiverr (for work starting at $5), WarriorForum (a forum for digital marketers) or DigitalPointForums (a forum for webmasters).

In my personal experience, sites like Elance and oDesk involve a little too much competition, ultimately driving your price lower than you would probably want to go. WarriorForum, PeoplePerHour and DigitalPoint all however are great for finding steady, ongoing work in a slightly less saturated market – you do have to pay to place an ad on WarriorForum though.

Of course there are many other places you can find work too if you’re willing to explore. One strategy is to simply find blogs that look like they might accept freelance work (or advertise that they do) and to contact them. Another option is to try contacting print magazines to write for, or to read a magazine that lists markets for writers. I actually used to work for a magazine called ‘Writers’ News’ which would list other magazines, websites, competitions and more that were all looking for people who could write!

How it Works

Now you have the tools and the skills and you’ve found your first clients. What does working as a freelance writer actually entail?

When someone contacts you, they may be ready to give you an order right away, or they might want a quick chat on Skype first. Either way, you’ll eventually get set some work which will normally involve a word count and potentially a due date (otherwise your turn around time should be no more than 48 hours for medium-sized projects). Generally an order can be anywhere in the rage of 500 to 10,000 words though sometimes you’ll get huge week-long projects.

If you have multiple long-term clients then you need to be able to juggle the work you do for them so that they are all consistently getting prompt delivery. Turning down work when you’ve got too much will often mean going some days with nothing – so it’s worth cramming in an extra few hours to keep your clients sweet.

Make sure to pay careful attention to the description for the work and to include any keywords they ask, to follow the recommended tone and style and to help them meet their goals with what you ultimately produce. If you need more clarification, just ask.

Once you’re finished, you can then send the work as an e-mail attachment and request payment. Alternatively, you may wish to ask for payment upfront. What you do is up to you but a general advice to follow is to ask for payment in arears for small projects (500-10,000 words) but ask for 50% or 100% up-front if it will take more than a day.

Hopefully you’ll get some regular clients who want repeat work and you’ll learn quickly who you can trust and who you can’t. If you find anyone has a habit of paying late (or not at all) then inform them that you can only work with them if they are willing to pay up-front in future.

If someone completely fails to pay, then you can sell the work elsewhere (as long as they haven’t published it) or make money from it in other ways – such as putting it into an ebook.

Final Tips

Those are the basics of being a freelance writer. Ultimately it comes down to getting a computer and word processing software, placing an ad offering to write for $1 to $2 per 100 words and then delivering the work promptly with a PayPal invoice. It’s a beautifully simple business model and while it isn’t infinitely scalable, it’s certainly versatile to suit your specific requirements.

While it’s a simple system though, that doesn’t always mean easy. Follow these tips if you want to survive and thrive!

  • Commit to Quality – We touched on this briefly but once again: make sure you are delivering high quality work at all times. The best thing you can do as a writer is to get repeat and ongoing work from a satisfied client and for there to be any chance of that happening, you need to provide reliably high quality content every time.
  • Don’t Work From Home – Working from home doesn’t have to be taken literally. If you work from your house all the time you’ll find it’s easy to get distracted and that you go stir crazy from not leaving your four walls. Buy a couple of cappuccinos and work in a coffee shop instead.
  • Limit Communication Overhead – Unfortunately, you will find that some clients are more effort than they’re worth. In the nicest possible way, if someone is sending you 20 e-mails a day and only paying for a few articles a month then they are costing you more than they’re earning you. Keep e-mails brief, avoid Skype meetings if possible and drop clients who keep pestering.
  • But Don’t be Afraid to ‘Kiss-Ass’ – That said, a rude client or confused client who pays for regular work is worth keeping. Sometimes you will have to say ‘sorry’ even when it’s not your fault. While it can be a little frustrating, it’s not worth arguing with someone which wastes time, loses you business and may result in a bad review. Be the bigger man or woman and swallow your pride from time to time. I once had a prospective client contact me who was a little blunt and I almost told them to jog on. 7 years later I’m still working for them and wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now without them – I’m very glad I didn’t send that angry e-mail!
  • Have Limits – When you’re a self-employed writer you can always be earning more money. As long as the work is there, you can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. My advice? Don’t. There comes a point where you are living to work rather than working to live and in order to provide a good service and to enjoy your job you need that ‘me’ time to recharge. Set clear limits as to when you work and when you don’t and stick to them. The book ‘The Four Hour Workweek‘ is a great read that provides lots of tips of that nature.
  • Run a Blog – Writing for others is fun and rewarding to a point but if you never get to see your name on anything you write it can eventually get a little disheartening. Run your own blog then and that way you can still enjoy writing for the love of writing sometimes!

So there you have it, everything you need to know to start killing it as a writer on the web. There’s much more of course and you will always be learning until the day you put down the keyboard. The rest though, you’ll learn on the job. Good luck!

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