How to become a freelance writer – a 10-step guide

September 09, 2021  •  Reading Time: 25 min.

The fact that you’re reading this tells us that you’re probably thinking about starting your own business as a freelance writer – but don’t know exactly how to go about it yet.

Don’t worry! We’ve got something lined up for you.

In this 10-step plan, we’ll give you all the tips and tricks you need to become a freelance writer.

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The fun side of freelance writing

What’s great about freelance writing is that there are so many different ways to get started. Not only because there are so many different writing styles, but also because there are so many niches you can get into as a freelance writer.

And here’s more good news: your path to becoming a freelance writer doesn’t have to be long, hard, or confusing. You don’t need a university degree or expensive certificates for freelance writing.

All it takes to become a successful freelance writer is a laptop and an Internet connection – and maybe some talent or at least a passion for writing.

Here’s a brief overview of the advantages that lie in store for you when you set up your own freelance writing business:

Independence

As a freelance writer, you’re not bound by the tight structures of a 9-to-5 job. By freelance writing, you can leave the stress of bosses and colleagues behind and do what your heart beats for.

Freedom

Freedom is probably one of the most well-known and essential advantages of freelance writing. As a freelance writer, you can work from anywhere in the world and set your own workload and hours. This means that people who like to get up early can start working at the crack of dawn, while late risers can start the day leisurely and then get going.

As a freelancer, you work at your own pace and freely divide up your working hours. In other words, you decide for yourself when and how much free time you want to take. You set your own schedule.

Plus, the benefits to your mental health are endless and your work-life balance will improve as well.

In addition, as a freelance writer you also have more freedom in choosing your writing projects – of course, only if the order situation is good – and can choose the freelance writing jobs that fit you. 

Income

Once you’ve made a name for yourself as a freelance writer and things are going well, you can often earn significantly more than regular employees. A freelancer sets their own hourly wage (or word rate – but we’ll get to that).

Investments

To get started as a freelance writer, you don’t have to invest much at first. You benefit from a home office and only need a computer and the appropriate software (being Microsoft Office). In most cases, you already have these things and can start freelance writing right away – without the risk of high initial investments.

Sounds good? Then let’s get started!

Let’s dive a little deeper into the world of freelance writing and talk specifically about what you should keep in mind when starting out so that your freelance writing career will work out.

Here’s our 10-step guide on how to become a freelance writer:

1. Research, research, research …

When you start out as a freelance writer, you will first have to answer many questions for yourself. For example, what kind of texts do you want to write. What kind of clients you want to work for. Where to find freelance writing jobs. Or how much money you want to charge for your texts (or should, in order to reach your financial goals. But more on that later …).

It’s obvious that new freelance writers can’t have an answer to all these questions right away. But there sure is another freelance copywriter on the World Wide Web who’s already successful with their business – and is blogging about how they made it.

To get started, it can be helpful to first do extensive research and look at successful freelancers to see how they started their business, what different writing styles there are, and what rates other freelance writers charge. 

There are also many helpful online articles on how to approach different types of texts. Here’s our extra tip: Don’t be afraid to reach out to other freelance writers whose work you like and ask for info.

Everyone started out small and most experienced freelance writers are happy to offer advice to their rookie colleagues on the way to starting their own freelancing business.

2. Be clear about your strengths (and weaknesses)

One mistake many people make when starting out in freelancing is thinking they have to start from scratch.

But in fact, everyone usually already brings a wide range of skills with them – for example, from previous jobs in full-time employment, through hobbies and personal interests, or through school education – that can be put to excellent use when starting a freelance writing business.

So what topics are you passionate about?

Think about what you already know and in which areas you have prior knowledge that can be used for your freelance writing work. For example, use your everyday life, your previous jobs, your school years, your experience in community service, or your hobbies as sources of inspiration.

From the knowledge you’ve already gathered from all these areas, start by making a long list. Just write down everything you can think of – and then start narrowing it down a bit and filtering the topics with your freelance work in mind.

Questions that can help you with this are for example:       

  • What do I have the most experience in?      
  • In which area do I have the most expertise?         
  • Which topics do I enjoy the most?     
  • What do I personally like to read about?     
  • What could I easily write a blog article about off the cuff today?     
  • Can I also earn money in this industry?

If you manage to find a passion or a field of expertise in which you feel comfortable, it will be much easier to find suitable text assignments.

Therefore, at the beginning of your freelance career, think carefully about where your interests lie – and perhaps also about the topics you’ve always had trouble with. This way you will find a rough direction about which topics you (don’t) want to write about.

Always be aware that at this point of your freelance career it’s not about making a final decision for the rest of your professional life.

It’s about finding something you can start with. A subject area in which you feel comfortable and in which you can quickly gain a foothold as a freelance writer with hopefully little effort thanks to your previous knowledge.

If you later realize that you find other topics more interesting, you can always change the subject area. Some things won’t work out, but that is okay. It only means you have to change your direction.

Perhaps you will also encounter new clients from other industries during the course of your writing career, which will help you to find your “real” area of expertise. 

And what are your professional skills?

Once you’re clear about what topics you’re good at, you should also take a look at your professional strengths and weaknesses. In other words, ask yourself what skills you have already acquired in the course of your life that could be useful for freelance writing.

Do you have previous writing experience, for example from school or from a previous job? Are you active on social media and perhaps already successfully running your personal Instagram page?

Do you have a penchant for creativity or do you prefer factual information?

Are you an organizational talent or do you tend to live in creative chaos? What soft skills do you have that can propel you forward as a freelance writer?

The clearer you are about your own skills, the better you can assess whether you already have what it takes to become a freelance writer or what you might still be lacking to make a successful start (more on this in tip number 7).

3. Find your freelance writing niche

Once you know your strengths and weaknesses, that leads you directly to step number 3: find your niche. Why a niche at all? Because clients are rarely just looking for a “freelance writer”.

Clients want a writer who knows what they’re talking about.

Accordingly, a generalist approach usually attracts far fewer clients. Moreover, as a generalist, it is more difficult to gain expert status and set higher rates.

A niche can be either the focus on a specific industry (e.g. healthcare, software or technology) or on a specific type of writing (e.g. only blog content or only B2B writing).

For new writers, we don’t recommend focusing on a specific type of writing. That limits the options too much to get started. Rather, newbies should focus on an industry and get a feel for what type of writing is needed within that industry.

Once you’re established and in a position to even turn down offers, you can become someone who does only one type of writing. However, many freelance writers also love the variety that different writing styles bring and don’t settle on one particular type of writing at all during the course of their career.

To determine which niche best suits you, the strengths and weaknesses you gathered in the previous step come into play again.

The easiest and most lucrative writing niches are usually where your experience and interests overlap with a lucrative topic or industry.

You don’t always have to limit yourself to just one niche. In fact, it’s usually better to choose two or three topics. That way, you stay a little more diverse, attract more clients and can easily stay afloat even if the economy and individual industries fluctuate at times.

4. Put together a “starter portfolio”

It’s hard to get assignments if you don’t have a portfolio. But you can’t build a portfolio without assignments. That’s the basic problem many face when starting out in freelance writing.

So how do you get started with a “starter portfolio” that can land you more clients, and then gradually build up your “real” writing portfolio?

One answer is free guest posts. Approach a blogger within your chosen niche and ask if you can write some free blog post for them to create writing samples. You can easily find blogs that accept such guest posts by googling your writing niche + writing for us.

You’re probably thinking to yourself now “but I want to make money from writing” and that’s still the goal. However, it may be worthwhile to offer some writing for free at the beginning. That way you build up a pool of writing samples that potential (paying) customers can read online.

And who knows, maybe your unpaid guest posting will lead to paid writing opportunities if the portals you’ve published the posts on like your writing!

5. Share your work online

Trust us when we tell you that you want to have an online presence as a freelance writer.

Your online presence is your base. It is the way potential freelance writing clients can easily find you. In other words: it is your (textual) signboard.

Many freelance newbies fail at this step because they build their online presence much more complicated than necessary. It’s perfectly fine to keep the site simple in the beginning.

A basic portfolio page to showcase your writing work is often enough for the start. This can be created very quickly and easily on free platforms like Contently, Journoportfolio or Muckrack, just to name a few.

You want to go one step further? Then create your personal website. This will make the step into freelance writing feel even more serious. You can also present your portfolio and tell something about yourself. For example, about your resume or your motivation. 

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Start your own blog

If you are starting from scratch, it can also help to integrate your own blog on the website. There you can write about how you started freelance writing or publish articles about topics from your niche that interest you personally.

This way, you automatically expand your portfolio. After all, everything that can be read on your website are basically writing samples that your potential clients will demand from you when you apply for a freelance writing job with them.

However, this doesn’t mean that the posts on your blog have to be directly perfect. Again, the main point is to get started. Clients can get a better idea of your skills and creativity.

Keep your social media channels up to date

To make your online presence perfect, you should also make sure to keep your social media accounts up to date. Here, too, you should present a good image to the outside world that matches your appearance as a professional freelance writer. Most clients will look there to learn more about you.

6. Go and find your first clients

There are many ways to find your first clients – and you probably should use all of them (or at least more than one way) to get your business going.

Use content platforms

There are some content platforms for freelance writing that take a lot of the acquisition work out of your hands for the start. Provided you use them correctly, that is.

Contently and Skyword are two of the most popular sites for this.

You can sign up there for free, post your work, and with a little luck (and the right knack for the site algorithm) a potential client will find you and contact you. 

The downside of these sites is that as a writer, you have to wait to be found. There’s no feature that lets you search for available jobs.

Cold-pitch for all you’re worth

Another way to find your first clients is to do what is probably the hardest thing about freelance writing: you have to put yourself out there and apply to various publishers and websites for copywriting jobs – out of the blue. With so-called cold pitching.

How do you do that? It’s simple: find bloggers, entrepreneurs, companies, or startups and tell them how you can help advance their business as a freelance writer.

It’s important to always research the right contact beforehand. You don’t want your pitch email to go into the secretary’s office unread.

Your pitch should definitely be brief and include     

  • how you became aware of the company,
  • who you are,
  • and how you can help the company with your ideas and your skills.

Also, always send along some samples of your work, chosen (if you already have choices) to fit the pitch and give a good impression of your tone and creativity.

Pitch a complete story

Pitching yourself to magazines with fully researched and written stories is another way to land jobs as a freelance writer.

This is especially useful if a topic interests you personally and you realize that there is general interest in it – for example, if it is currently trending in social media or is being covered a lot on TV.

In any case, always address your pitch to the editor-in-chief of a magazine. If there is a specialist contact, turn to them. For example, the head of the travel editorial department is the better contact person if you want to pitch a travel report.

Find clients among your friends and acquaintances

Sounds way too easy, but you never know until you ask! Talk to your friends and family before you take the plunge into freelancing. Maybe a friend or family member has a business and happens to need copywriting help with advertising?

If you decide to quit your 9-to-5 job to work full-time as a professional writer, former colleagues are also a good source of orders. They could be your first clients or give you your first testimonial.

Also, always be prepared for potential writing jobs in your day-to-day life. Make yourself business cards (yes, even in today’s digital age, business cards are still a thing) and be prepared to give them to friends and family if something comes up in conversations.

7. Keep working on yourself – become a better writer

You don’t have to be the best writer on planet Earth to be successful with freelance writing. However, you should be able to write in straight sentences and get your thoughts across.

The good news is: basically everyone can learn how to write!

So just because you’re not naturally blessed with writing talent doesn’t mean you can never make a career as a freelance writer. It just means, ultimately, that you’ll have to work a little harder for it.

But whether you’re a gifted writer or not, you should continually work to improve yourself and your writing style either way.

Practice putting meaningful detail into your writing and eliminating filler words. This is where your personal blog can come in handy again.

Reading is also a great way to expand your vocabulary and knowledge. Try reading blogs from your niche or picking up a book or two in your spare time.

Invest in yourself, attend writing workshops

As with any skill, writing is no different: The more you practice, the better you get. And the better you get, the more you can charge for your freelance writing. 

So look around for online writing courses. They’re usually cheaper than formal degrees, and you can take them from home (and in the evenings or on weekends).

A freelance writing course can give you the basics you need to supplement your writing talent.

Think about what skills you’re still lacking to set yourself apart from the other writers in your niche (that’s what the list from step number 2 was for, amongst others). Is SEO writing in particular demand? Then take a course to learn how good SEO writing is done.

You’ll get into the flow of writing, get tips and techniques from experienced writers, and if you pass the course, you’ll get a diploma to put on your resume. Afterwards, when you introduce yourself to potential clients, you can use it to emphasize that you’re perfect for their needs.

8. Network your way up

Yep, networking is still a thing – even for freelance writers. As a freelancer, you’ll get lots of jobs through your network. But before that happens, you need to build that network.

Not everyone finds it easy to get in touch with strangers and start a conversation. But there are countless ways to build a network. Show interest in others, exchange ideas and share your experiences.

Wondering who you need in your network? A mix of other writers, related service providers like designers, editors or photographers, and potential clients or people your potential clients might know is ideal.

a bunch of hands gathered in the middle, different people reaching in, connecting

Team up with other freelancers

For example, don’t think of other freelance writers as natural enemies, make friends with them. Who knows what great freelance writing opportunities will arise? Maybe your colleague’s schedule is bursting at the seams one day and they ask you – their good freelancer friend – to take the writing job they have to turn down due to time constraints?

Find a co-working space to get the job done

Co-working spaces bring together a lot of interesting people from a wide range of industries. By sharing an office with other freelancers or even entrepreneurs, your freelance writing network practically grows by itself. Especially for networking among the self-employed, a co-working space is the perfect place.

Keep in touch with former colleagues

We already mentioned it above: Former colleagues could be your first clients. They already know your professional achievements and it’s worth staying in touch. If you have already worked for several companies, let all your former colleagues know that you are now working as a freelancer. Maybe one will inquire about a freelance writing job soon enough!

Put yourself out there on social media

Seems almost obvious in this day and age, but we’d still like to give it extra emphasis. LinkedIn is one of the most important platforms to boost your freelance writing career.

There you can join freelance writing groups and share or be active in interest groups that fit your niche. The more active you are on LinkedIn, the faster your digital network grows – and the more likely you are to land new writing jobs.

9. Set your price – and your financial goals

So, let’s finally get to the numbers: Now that you’ve set yourself up well and landed your first clients, you’re probably already wondering how the money for your freelance writing work is going to move from their bank account to yours – and how much your work as a freelance writer is actually worth.

After all, you don’t want to start your own business just for the professional freedom, you’re also looking for financial independence, right?

tiny blackboard with financial goals written on it with white chalk, piggy bank and jar with coins standing next to it

The first thing you should do is set yourself a financial goal – on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, so you have some guidance on what it will take to reach your overall annual goal.

For example, if you want to make five figures a year, say $70,000, with freelance writing, that sounds like an insane amount at first.

However, breaking it down further, it means you would need to earn at least $5,833 a month. Calculated to the day, that would be at least $291 if you work 20 days per month. That’s still a lot, but it’s absolutely not impossible. There are freelance writers who make around $600 per day.

Find the right rate

The rate you set for yourself as payment is very individual and depends on your needs, experience, cost of living and the type of texts you write. Therefore, there is no universal rule.

However, we can give you two essential tips:

  1. Set a minimum price for yourself, below which you will not write a single word.
  2. If possible, charge by the project and not by the hour or by the word.

Get payed by the project

Getting paid by the project is especially smart for newbies. This way, the client won’t be “punished” if you take a little longer to write your texts at the beginning. Your hourly rate will then automatically increase over time as you become more efficient and take less time to write.

Set your minimum rate

When setting your minimum rate, it’s important to keep in mind that as a newbie, you tend to sell yourself short. Most freelance writers probably spent some time early in their freelance writing career charging too little for their writing.

Therefore, exchange ideas with more experienced writers (those in your network) and dare to set your minimum price so that you can live on it.

To calculate your minimum price, the financial goals we talked about earlier are essential. They give you a framework to guide you when it comes to setting your hourly rate (which you don’t communicate to clients, but need to determine your project pricing). 

Every time an offer comes in, compare the amount offered to your minimum price – and if it’s below that, bid higher and turn down the job (sounds crazy, but we promise it’s worth it) if the client doesn’t go for it.

10. Always keep going!  

We’re not going to lie: Building a career as a freelance writer takes time and effort. You’ll experience setbacks and get some rejections, especially at first. Then it’s a matter of hanging in there and moving on!

Focus on your wins and push the setbacks aside. It takes a strong-willed personality to become a freelance writer from scratch and to keep going even when success seems out of reach.

And one more thing: Working as a freelance writer isn’t always glamorous. Many paid assignments are bread-and-butter jobs that pay the bills – and give you room to dream big and pitch exciting projects that your heart burns for.

Start small and steadily increase, and you’ll definitely get to where you want to be as a freelance writer.

Not only can you achieve the kind of career flexibility and autonomy you’re dreaming of now, but freelancing also offers nearly unlimited income potential.

Don’t let anything deter you from your goals and keep working towards them – it will pay off!

Last but not least: What freelance writers need to consider legally

In itself, freelancing is a wonderful business, with lots of flexibility and the luxury of doing work you love. The legal aspects, on the other hand, tend to be one of the unloved things.

But they must be considered if you want to start freelance writing successfully.

Many aspiring writers find legal jargon confusing and complicated. This leads to ignoring the legal aspects and many writers get into trouble after some time in business because of that.

But don’t worry: We’ve got you covered.

We’re not only telling you how to become a freelance writer. Below we’ll also tell you what you need to pay attention to legally around taxes, insurance and contracts when you start your freelance business.

text <legal advice> shown on a srcreen on a desk with pen, ruler, keyboard, mouse, coffee etc.

Calculate taxes in advance

When you pursue a freelance writing career, you’re technically setting up your own business. That means you’re your own boss – and therefore completely responsible for your own self-employment taxes, i.e. social security and payroll taxes.

You should set aside money for these taxes. As a rule of thumb, you should save about 30% of your net income as a freelancer, which should allow you to meet your annual tax obligations.

It is best to estimate at the beginning of the year how much tax you will have to pay at the end of the year. To do this, you can check what you have already earned after the first quarter (January, February, March). Multiply this number by four (for four quarters) and you have an estimate of how much you will earn in the year. Take 30% of that and you know what you’ll owe Uncle Sam per quarter and at the end of the year.

Too complicated for you? Then sign up with a certified tax preparer or hire an accountant. It may sound expensive at first, but so are the penalties you’ll have to pay if you can’t file your tax return yourself at the end of your fiscal year. In that respect, it may pay to outsource the financial stuff while you focus on writing.

Sign freelance contracts

The very idea of having to draw up and sign a contract gives most creative people sleepless nights. But as much as you might want to work based on an informal agreement, that won’t get you very far if a client refuses to pay you.

The good news is that freelance contracts are much simpler than regular employment contracts and are easy to prepare without an expensive lawyer and tons of paperwork. There are numerous templates online that you can download for this purpose.

Just make sure that the following points are covered:

  • Payment Obligations, e.g. when is payment due and what happens if the client doesn’t pay?
  • Scope of Services, e.g. what services do you offer?
  • Rights, e.g. who owns the rights to the finished product and can you present the product in your portfolio?
  • Confidentiality Obligations, e.g. do you have to maintain confidentiality? 
  • Termination Rights, e.g. what happens if you or the customer are not satisfied with the cooperation?

Be aware of trade descriptions

What many freelance writers don’t know: It is illegal to make false or misleading advertisements for your own products or services. This also applies to claims on your own website, in advertisements, or even in ordinary conversations.

As a freelance writer, you also need to be careful with customer testimonials in your portfolio. If you include such statements, you must always be able to prove that these statements are true.

So, always make sure that firstly, you don’t make any false promises in self-promotion and secondly, for all testimonials and supporting documents in your portfolio, you have the written consent of the clients and can prove that you really worked for the client. 

Insurance as a freelancer

It’s convenient to work from home as a freelance writer. But when it comes to insurance, it can be tricky – especially if you’ve set up a home office. Do you need homeowners insurance or business liability insurance now?

Newbie freelancers often underestimate the importance of insurance, especially if they work from home. Therefore, keep in mind that something can always go wrong and you should be covered for such an eventuality.

We recommend both home and business liability insurance for freelance writers. This way you are covered against any kind of damage or loss to your home office and you won’t be set back in case of damage, but can quickly start working again.

Check your (former) employment contract

Many newbies don’t start freelancing full-time right away. In fact, about 30% of all freelancers work part-time to earn some extra money or to first test the waters before quitting their full-time job.

If you plan to do the same, be sure to double-check your employment contract with your current employer first and make sure you’re not violating any non-compete clauses by moonlighting as a freelance writer.

Even if you’re jumping smack dab into the freelance business, it’s worth taking a look at your previous employment contract before taking on your first client. You may have signed certain legal documents that could limit what you can and cannot do as a freelancer and who you can and cannot work with.

Pay attention to whether your current (or former) contract may contain a non-compete agreement, a non-solicitation agreement or a non-disclosure agreement.

For example, a non-compete agreement could mean that you are not allowed to work as a freelancer in the same region or industry as your (former) employer for a certain period of time.

A non-solicitation agreement means that you are not allowed to solicit your (former) employer’s clients in order to get them as new clients for your freelance business.

And a non-disclosure agreement may not seem like a big restriction at first, but it could restrict your business. For example, you would not be allowed to use the same business model as your (former) employer.

Freelance writer FAQ

top view of a dark wooden table with a cup of coffee and 4 post it's in different pastel shades with black questionmarks on them
What qualifications do I need to become a freelance writer?

Basically none. A bachelor’s degree in English, journalism or communications helps, but is not a requirement. First and foremost, you need patience, tenacity and a strong personality. It also helps to have a knack for writing and budgets. Other than that, it only takes some writing samples, good ideas, and a strong network.

I don’t feel qualified. Can I just get started anyway?

The answer to this question is quite clearly, yes! You may think you need more than just writing skills to get started as a freelance writer. But you don’t. Everything you don’t know now, you can learn as you go along. And once you get started, you’ll quickly realize where you can improve.

Can you make a living with freelance writing?

A career in freelance writing requires hard work and the ability to dig in and keep landing new assignments. Once you’ve found your rhythm and built up a client base, freelance writing can be a really rewarding career and you can make a good living with it. It can be helpful to start out part-time and then take the leap into full-time self-employment when the order book is good.

How do I know my writing is good enough to make a living?

You won’t really find out if you are a good writer until you try. Once you’ve landed your first clients and completed your first writing assignments, you’ll quickly notice from the feedback whether your texts are well received. However, if you were a really bad writer, you probably wouldn’t even think about a career as a freelance writer, would you? So have a little faith in your writing skills.