Polls report that around 80% of U.S. citizens dream of becoming a published author. Obviously, that sheer number of people will never find success in the writing world — it’s statistically impractical. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t take things into your own hands and learn how to start freelance writing.`
Despite what many people believe, professional writing isn’t just about becoming the next George R.R. Martin or J.R. Tolkien. Actually, you pass by dozens of examples of freelance writing every single day of your life.
Think about it:
Someone has to write the words on each billboard, the script behind every YouTube ad, the articles you search for online, and even the manuals that come with your newest dishwasher or treadmill.
And if you have the writing skills and experience, that someone could be you.
So, You Want to Be a Freelance Writer
As with any romanticized profession, many people dream of becoming a professional writer without really understanding what the job entails.
While we’d all love to be handwriting thoughts in a Moleskine notebook, preferably somewhere like a scenic patio or trendy coffee shop, that’s not the day-to-day reality. Instead, freelance writing is just like any other type of creative work.
You will have deadlines.
You will have writer’s block.
And you will have to submit work that you aren’t 100% satisfied with (though that doesn’t mean it isn’t good work).
With that said, many people have exactly what it takes to make it in the freelance writing world. In fact, many people have the skills to outright excel in this profession.
So, where do you start?
How to Start Freelance Writing and Turn Your Words Into a Career
First things first — there’s a big difference between landing your first freelance writing gig and turning this work into a career. But, just like any other field, you need to start somewhere!
If you think learning how to start freelance writing is the right path for you, then there are just a few things you need to take care of to get started:
1. Develop your skills
Alright, this step should be obvious. But you’d be surprised how many people choose to pursue a career in words when they just don’t have the spelling, grammatical, or storytelling skills.
Of course, you also need to remember that what one person (or niche) considers great writing, another will not.
For example, you probably won’t find a best-selling romance writer who also excels in writing instructional manuals for heavy machinery (but please, prove us wrong!).
There are many ways to develop your writing skills before jumping into the world of freelance. The most straightforward of which is formal schooling.
Even if you don’t have an English degree or something adjacent, traditional U.S. schooling places a heavy emphasis on learning to read and write. Chances are, you’ve learned a lot more than you realize during your time in school.
You can also practice your written skills on your own. Many experts suggest that aspiring writers put pen to paper every single day.
While this practice doesn’t benefit all new writers, it can open up a world of language you otherwise would have never discovered.
2. Find a niche
As we mentioned above, there are far more examples of written work besides novels and newspaper articles. On a very related note, one of the first steps to learning how to start freelance writing is to decide what you will write.
Remember, in the world of freelancing writing is a marketable skill. Yes, writing for an income is still creative. But you’re bound to much more than just your artistic whim.
And as a marketable skill, you’ll need to learn how to sell your words to clients. This means deciding who your clients actually are.
Do you want to write ad copy? Or do you want to craft technical articles for trade magazines?
Perhaps, instead, you’d like to write product descriptions for online retailers. Or, maybe, you want to do something else altogether.
Okay, what do you want to write about?
Deciding the format for your writing isn’t enough, though. Most successful freelance writers also focus their work on a specific subject.
While this subject can be practically anything, from gardening to theoretical mathematics, it’s important to position yourself within a specific niche.
Don’t choose something you have little knowledge about, though. The whole point of limiting yourself to a certain subject (or range of subjects) is only writing about topics that you’re knowledgeable and passionate about.
3. Build your portfolio
In an ideal world, potential clients would know whether they wanted to hire you right away. Unfortunately, the world of freelancing just doesn’t work that way.
You do have one thing on your side: The Internet.
From platforms like Reddit to a designated website domain, the Internet gives you the opportunity to share your work with as many people as possible. And without seeing your work first, most clients probably won’t give you a second look!
But how do you go from nothing to a fleshed-out portfolio?
If you wrote in school, you might have some documents that will make appropriate portfolio items. If not, you’ll need to dive into your personal work.
Worst case scenario, if you don’t have anything that will work for your very first portfolio, it’s time to sit down and write something brand new. If this is what you decide to do, take the time to write as if you’re writing for a client within your chosen niche (yep, research and all).
4. Sort out the nitty-gritty details
True, freelance writing is work. But for those who are truly called to this profession, it’s also quite a bit of fun.
Do you know what isn’t fun, though? Dealing with income taxes as an independent contractor. Or learning that what you thought was an ironclad client contract actually left you completely unprotected.
Before you even think about hunting down clients, you need to get your bookkeeping in order. This includes deciding what platform, such as invoicely, you’ll use for handling invoicing and payments, how you’ll track your business expenses, and maybe even meeting with a lawyer to look over your contract.
5. Find your first client
Don’t get too excited. Even with the perfect portfolio and all of your bookkeeping ducks in a row, landing your very first client can be excruciating.
Fortunately, freelance writing works on momentum. Once you land that first project, you’ll soon find yourself with another, and another, and…
But how do you find that very first client when you have nothing to work off of?
Again, the Internet is here to help.
There are countless freelancing websites out there today, many of which cater exclusively to writers. If you’re not in the know, though, finding the right source for hunting down clients can feel like a lost cause.
When it comes to choosing your preferred hiring platform, there are two main categories:
First, you have curated websites like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer. These websites certainly have their drawbacks, like requiring an application from prospective freelancers and taking a cut of your earnings. However, these platforms are often the best for finding your first (albeit, probably low-paying) jobs.
Second, you have more traditional job boards. Like platforms that post job openings for restaurants, banks, and medical offices, you can also find listings for freelance writing projects.
Some of these listings may be on mainstream websites like Indeed or Monster. But the best place to find these listings is on writer-specific job boards like ProBlogger and BloggingPro.
6. Expand your business
Like we said, freelancing is about momentum! With that said, don’t lose that momentum while you have it in your grasp.
Luckily, each new client becomes easier to find. Once you gain experience and visibility in the professional writing world, you might even find that clients start coming to you.
Even if you find yourself booked full with projects, keep in mind that nothing in freelancing is guaranteed. You should always have an eye on prospective new clients, work to improve your existing skills and knowledge, and, perhaps most importantly, run your freelance writing career like a business.
After all, if you’re not bringing home an income, you’re not freelance writing. You’re just writing.
Enter the World of Freelance Writing Like a Pro
Freelancers are, by definition, one-person shows. This means that any time you spend on bookkeeping, filing taxes, or even cleaning your workspace, you could instead be spending on client projects!
Obviously, you can’t completely shirk these responsibilities. But you can make your work life a little bit easier by thinking ahead.
Programs like invoicely are invaluable tools for freelancers with limited time on their hands. Rather than spend hours of your week creating, sending, and filing invoices, you can automatically create and send invoices online (your clients can even pay you right through the invoice).
Whether you’re just starting out on your freelance writing journey or have been in the game for years, learn how invoicely can change the way you get paid today.