How to Start a Freelance Writing Business

Discover how to turn words into income

Freelance Writer
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Writing is one profession that is especially suited to people who want flexibility in where, how, and when they work. That's because most types of writing today only require a computer, an Internet connection, and word processing software.

The Internet is a source of information and entertainment, and while much of that is offered visually, such as through video, the written word still the dominant method for delivering online content.

As a result, there is a large demand for freelance writers.

Pros of Freelance Writing

  • Work from home or anywhere you have an Internet connection and computer
  • Flexible schedule
  • Wide variety of types of writing available, including articles, copywriting, and more
  • Wide variety of subjects to cover, which means you can avoid getting bored
  • Low overhead to get started. In fact, you can get started for free

Cons of Freelance Writing

  • Takes time to find a steady stream of clients
  • Some forms of writing don't pay very well
  • Income can ebb and flow
  • Competition is fierce especially for high paying writing jobs
  • It's solitary work.

Types of Freelance Writers

There are plenty of types of writing that are in demand. You can focus on one type of writing, such as web content, or do several types. Further, you can specialize in a particular topic or industry, or be a generalist, covering many topics and industries. Here are just a few areas to consider:

  • Article writer (print) - Print magazines, journals and papers can be one of the more difficult types of writing to break into, but often pays better than online counterparts. While some magazines hire writers, freelance writers pitch article ideas that a magazine either accepts or declines. You're paid when the magazine accepts (or prints) your article.
  • Web content writing - All sites need good content for SEO, luring traffic, and providing helpful and entertaining information to readers. Because marketing is often a component of web content, you should have a basic knowledge of search engine optimization or are willing to learn, you may be able to command a higher rate writing keyword rich web content. Some writers are hired to provide regular content (i.e. 2 articles a week) while others work like magazines in that you have to query your idea.
  • Medical writing - Pharmaceutical companies need technical writers who are very knowledgeable about medicine and about FDA requirements.
  • Technical writing - If you like computers and software, if you have an engineering background, or even if you like to take things apart and put them back together again, this could be a great field for you.
  • Marketing and advertising copywriting - Copywriting involves crafting sales letters, ads, product descriptions, and other promotional materials. Unlike other forms of writing, copywriting requires an understanding of what entices people to respond to promotional materials. If you understand the psychology of sales and can write persuasively, copywriting is one of the more lucrative forms of writing. There are some excellent books and courses on how to write copy.
  • Blogging - Similar to content writers, blog writers create articles for bloggers based on the blog's topic. 
  • Resume writer - If you can craft a great resumes, many job seekers need your services. Similar to copywriting, resume writing requires a special understanding of how to present a job seeker in a way that attracts an employer.
  • Business plan writer - If you're business savvy and can write clearly, you can also offer your services writing business plans.

Skills and Experiences Required to be a Freelance Writer

Interestingly enough, you don't necessarily need a degree in journalism or English to be a successful freelance writer. You don't even have to have a lot of experience in writing. What you do need is the ability to write well. Other skills or experiences you should have include:

  • Good grammar 
  • Ability to proofread and edit your work 
  • Research skills
  • Knowledge of writing styles, such as the Chicago Manual of Style
  • Ability to market yourself as a writer

For online writing work, you should:

Other skills that might be useful include:

  • Experience in photography
  • Knowledge of graphic design or desktop publishing programs

What Freelance Writers Get Paid

Because of the relative ease of entry, very low start-up costs and a better than average opportunity to work from home, writing is a highly competitive business. Further, because the market is full, pay for many types of writing has dropped, especially for online writing.

What you get paid for freelance writing will depend on several factors including the type of writing you do, the length and amount of work that goes into the writing, and who you write for. Payscale reports that the average writer gets paid anywhere from $10.67 to $51.77 per hour with a median income of $36,781 per year. 

If you go through general freelance websites, you'll likely find lower paying writing jobs. Some bloggers offer low pay as well. Some writing work pay is so low, it's not worth your time (i.e. $5 or $10 per article).

Copywriting is usually the most lucrative paying work, and sometimes even pays royalties based on how well your marketing does. Also, if you have a special knowledge or skill set, you maybe able to earn more. For example, many health and wellness resources want nutritionists or other certified professionals to write for them. Because the certification is a requirement for the work, the job often pays more.

It helps to know how much you need to make and determine your per hour rate before agreeing to take on writing work. For example, if it takes you one hour to write a 600 word article for $50 but two hours to write a 1500 word article for $75, the shorter $50 option is better ($50 per hour versus $37.50 per hour for the longer article). 

You may need to settle for lower pay in the beginning, but once you have experience and referrals, you can increase your rates or seek higher paying writing work. 

Finding Writing Work/Clients

There are a number of ways to find clients as a freelance writer. Unfortunately, it can be a challenge to get those first few assignments when you're starting out.

Before you start seeking work, there are a few freelance writing tasks you should do first:

  1. Define the type of writer you're going to be. Will you write articles online or create marketing materials?
  2. Make a list of topics you're knowledgeable about. It will be easier to break in as a writer if you start with topics you're familiar with. Further, make a list of your credentials which can often lead to higher pay. For example, if you have a masters degree or are certified as a specialist.
  3. Determine your pricing for writing work. While some jobs will have a set fee, in some cases you'll be able to negotiate your pay.
  4. Draft a few sample pieces related to the type of writing and topic you want to do. Or if you have already been paid to write, gather these clips together so you can submit them as a sample of your writing skill.
  5. Consider setting up a LinkedIn profile or a website to send potential clients to so they can learn more about you. Having an online resume and profile will be crucial to getting hired.

Once you're ready to market yourself as a writer, your next step is to find work. Here are a few ideas:

  • Freelance writing job site: There are a host of great resources for freelance writing gigs, such as MediaBistro.com, WritersWeekly.com, and JournalismJobs.com. LinkedIn is a great place to network for jobs, but also, has freelance writing job listings.
  • Writer market resources; If you're looking to pitch articles to print or online magazines, writer's market resources provides submission guidelines for thousands of markets. The Writers Market by Writers Digest is the most well-known source, but there are other resources you can check as well. You can check out writer's market books at your library if you want to save the money from buying one. WritersWeekly.com and AllFreelanceWriting.com has a large data base of market.
  • Network: Many freelancers find work through Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking. 
  • General freelance websites: Many of the freelance websites, such as Upwork and Freelancer.com, have listings of writing jobs. 
  • Referral: Don't forget to ask your current clients for referrals. Most successful freelancers build most of their business through referrals.