How Does Freelance Writing Work, Exactly?

Freelance writer typing on laptop
••• Kristen Curette/Stocksy United

Congrats to me, I’ve been a freelance writer for over 10 years now!

I first started by doing small writing jobs online while I was finishing up my English degree at Michigan State University (for more info on freelancing as a college student, be sure to visit my new section on that very topic!). After I graduated, I continued doing small projects on the side while I worked full time. But, with two young children at home, logging long hours at the office wasn’t cutting it for me.

I took my internet skills and went home (or, at least, started working at home).

Despite these last 10 years (eight of which I’ve been writing in this space), there are still people in my circle who haven’t the faintest idea what I really do for a living. In addition, I’m often at those types of meetings or conferences wherein people like to shake your hand and hear about your job, and I’m still given the confused or consternated look. What does that mean? What exactly does she do, now? So, for all those suits out there who I have to meet in my future, once and for all: How does freelance writing work, exactly?

What Is Freelance Writing?

Freelance writing is the practice of writing for money, in its simplest state. Freelance writers produce whatever written text is needed by their clientele, generally at home in their own office, for money. They write for many different clients, often at one time.

The writing may be for a different person every day of the year, or for established clients who partner with one freelance writer for ongoing work. These partnerships may last for years, or even decades. 

What is a Freelance Writer?

A freelance writer is a writer who produces text in exchange for pay.

The writer most typically works at a home office (although sometimes clients prefer the writer works in their office), and generally works on their own schedule, at any time of day or night, as long as they meet their client’s deadline. Freelance writers are not only writers but are often also marketers, marketing themselves and their skills to potential clients. Freelance writers are also often business owners, as they form a business, such as an LLC, in order to separate their personal selves and their personal finances from their work and the money they make as freelancers. Successful freelance writers are often a combination of artist wordsmiths and shrewd business owners.

What Does a Freelance Writer Do For Work?

Freelance writers compose whatever text their clients need. Often, freelance writers specialize in one topic or subject, such as “culture” or “politics.” Or, writers may instead specialize in one kind of writing, such as internet content, or resumes.

Freelance writers often approach their work as a business, spending part of their day seeking new work, taking care of their records (such as money received, for tax purposes), and/or keeping up on the career and industry, through reading or classes.

However, the bread and butter come from the composition of documents, such as magazine articles, online articles, press releases and/or various business documents.

Who Are the Clients of Freelance Writers? Who Pays Them?

This varies, immensely. Freelance writers are paid to produce writing by many different people or companies. Basically, one’s client could be anyone who needs something written. For example, a writer may work with an individual person who needs a resume, and that one person comes to an agreement with the freelance writer and pays them for the finished resume. Or, a writer could work for a company or agency that sells resumes. Then, they essentially work for the agency, who takes care of the end-customer. They writer is paid by the agency, and the agency is paid by the original customer.

Writers may work for non-profits, political organizations, websites, magazines, publishers, companies, colleges, local governmental offices, or individual persons.

Since freelance writers often have a cadre of different clients, they must be really good at managing their time, their work schedule and their deadlines. They also must be personable and accommodating in order to interface with such a variety of different and numerous “bosses.” A good freelance writer will make the client wonder if they’re the only client being served.

How Do Freelance Writers Get Paid?

Ever client has their own process and payment type. Sometimes a client will want the writer to send them an invoice when the work is done. Sometimes, clients simply want a Paypal message that reminds them that payment is due. Other clients have intricate computer systems that tell them when it’s time to pay a writer (or all their writers), and no action is needed on the freelance writer's part.

Today, I personally have an even divide between payments that come via Paypal and payments that come via paper check. Many individuals and smaller businesses like the convenience of Paypal. However, my bigger organizations still send a paper check.

Sometimes payments come when the work is done. Other payments come at fixed intervals, no matter when the writing is completed. This kind of payment schedule means the writer has to be really good a budgeting and money management.

How Do Freelance Writers Get Work?

Basically, the workflow happens in two ways. Either the freelance writer seeks out work by looking for freelance writing jobs on the internet (there are plenty!), or the person or company who needs something written searches for and approaches an individual freelance writer.  

Why Are There Freelance Writers?

One reason that this career exists is that people or companies often need only one project done, such as one booklet written, or one article produced for a website. Therefore, there’s no reason to hire an employee. Instead, it’s simpler to enter into an agreement or contract with an individual writer.

Another reason is that freelancers are often cheaper. Even if an organization needs a specific kind of writing on a semi-regular basis, they often cannot keep an entire employee busy full time. Contracting with a writer is much simpler and less expensive.

In addition, let’s be honest: It’s a web world. There are many companies that don’t exist in a fixed physical location. Those companies need workers who are able to work independently, outside of an office (because there’s not a physical office to go to!). These kinds of companies are more and more often contracting with individual workers from anywhere in the world, and interfacing with them wholly online. It’s a new kind of work, and it works for many people.

Hopefully, this more accurately explains how freelance writing works. The freelance writing career is not only legitimate and feasible, but it’s also a fruitful and fulfilling endeavor for many writers. This career has longevity and staying power, but also translates into many different workplace skills, should the writer be interested in something else in the long run.