In Part 1 of this series, I covered the basic qualifications you need to make a living as a freelance writer. In Part 2, I’ll give you my best tips on how to get started as a freelance writer. If you’ve made it to Part 2, you’re feeling confident that you have the skills and experience to venture into a writing career.
So, what’s next? How do you get started in freelance writing? Here are eight simple steps to help you on your way.
Understand the types of content freelance writers create.
One of the things I enjoy the most about writing freelance is the variety of content I get to create. When I first started writing full time, I edited a biography for a man who said he was a descendant of Davy Crockett. I wrote copy for manufacturing and automobile websites. I even edited a fly-fishing magazine and got paid in flies!
Today, I’ve settled into writing educational content. About 90 percent of my income comes from writing print and digital textbooks. This is a niche that meshes well with my experience and qualifications but also provides me with a lot of variety. I write everything from original fiction stories for elementary students to AP human geography curriculum.
Before I found my niche, I dabbled in a lot of different types of content. Casting a wide net is the first step to seeing what’s out there and how you fit into it. Here are the main types of freelance writing:
Types of Freelance Writing
- Educational writing: textbooks, assessments, ancillaries, teacher guides, interactive activities, videos, online courses
- Technical writing: user manuals, assembly instructions, detailed instructions, operation manuals, procedures manuals
- Business writing: stories for trade publications, training manuals, human resource documents, grant proposals, business proposals, presentations
- Copywriting: product pages, sales sheets, advertisements, web content, social media posts, email campaigns
- Public relations: speeches, public statements, press releases
- News writing: articles, interviews, broadcast scripts, feature stories, reviews
- Ghostwriting: writing for other people under their names; blogs, articles, books
Use this list to help you identify the areas that seem to mesh the best with your experience. When you start out, try a variety of assignments. After six months to a year, you’ll find yourself pulled toward certain industries or assignments that give you the opportunity to deliver your best work. At first you may have to pursue work based on where the demand is even if you’re not especially interested in a certain type of writing.
Document your writing experience.
Most of us aspiring writers have more experience than we realize, and the best way to assess it objectively is to organize and document it. Use a spreadsheet to list and categorize the writing projects you’ve completed. The spreadsheet will serve as your base list that later can feed into a writing portfolio, website, or resumé.
Questions to help you get started:
- What writing have you done at your current or most recent job? Even if “writer”isn’t in your job title, have you written job descriptions, work procedures, or articles in trade magazines? For example, I worked in supply chain and distribution during my first-act career. I co-wrote a few technical articles with one of our consultants. I also wrote training manuals for new employees and the templates used for our performance reviews.
- Have you written anything as a volunteer? Maybe you volunteer at church or on a team at work. One woman I know is on a diversity and inclusion team and writes the monthly newsletter that goes out to everyone in the company. A friend of mine has a technical role on a project team. Because she enjoys writing, she publishes weekly project updates on the company intranet. The updates are a unique blend of creative and technical writing.
- What writing have you done for other people? Have you written resumes or cover letters for friends? Maybe you wrote someone’s professional biography on a business website or LinkedIn profile. Or you regularly proof or edit a friend’s blogposts. A woman I know homeschooled her children for years and wrote some of her own curriculum to teach them.
- What writing have you done for yourself? If you write a blog that will complement the work you want to do as a professional writer, include it. Only do this if you’re confident in your communication and writing skills. Quality content on your blog speaks to your love of writing and showcases your abilities.
- Have you been published? Whether it’s an article in a digital or print magazine, a devotional, or a short story—being a published writer is noteworthy. Likewise, if you’ve won any writing contests or awards, include these accolades in your list.
In short, brainstorm any writing you currently do or have done in the past and document it!
Build an online writing portfolio.
Now that you’ve documented your writing projects and accomplishments, select your best work to go into your online writing portfolio. There are several (free) websites that allow you to customize your space and showcase your writing. This is important because potential clients want a fast, easy way to read your work and get a feel for your writing style and depth.
Early in my career, I discovered that most clients did not want a resume. They wanted a link that would take them to an online portfolio where they could view samples of my work. When I started out, I used Clippings.me. The basic version is free and allows you to showcase ten articles or writing samples.
Here are a few extra tips:
- An online portfolio can easily substitute for a website. I used my online portfolio for a full year before I created my first website. In many ways, a digital portfolio is more client-friendly than a website. It’s easier to build a professional portfolio than a professional website.
- Keep your portfolio simple and professional. Fancy designs that take away from your writing or creative but difficult-to-navigate pages can result in your client losing interest and leaving.
- Be aware of any non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that may prevent you from sharing a verbatim writing sample. For example, in the educational publishing world, I would be violating my NDAs if I included samples of textbook lessons I’ve written in an online portfolio. To get around this, you can create generic writing samples that model work you’ve done for clients.
- Don’t forget to include any writing you’ve done as a volunteer! If it’s professional and some of your best work, include it!
Join freelance writing organizations.
Experience is the best teacher, and when you join a freelance writing organization, you immediately benefit from the experience of hundreds and thousands of other writers. There are two organizations whose guidance I found to be priceless.
The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA)
The EFA costs $180 a year to join, but you will quickly make that money back when you land your first writing gig. Check with your accountant as this fee can likely become a tax write-off. Most of my early writing jobs came from this organization, but they also offer resources, community, and classes. Members who are experienced writers love to help fledglings. They offer advice and guidance on business development, marketing, current rates, and more. Many cities have local chapters, where you can meet with other writers in person.
The EFA has a job listing service for potential clients, and you can sign up to get alerted when a new job is posted. They also filter out clients who want to pay less than the standard rates.
Membership to this organization is free, and the organization serves all professionals who work freelance. This group is a nonprofit and is less about writing and more about the business side of freelancing. They provide resources that help you understand how to file taxes, interpret and write contracts, deal with health insurance, and manage your business. If you’re like me and most of your career was spent as an employee, this organization will help you successfully switch over to freelancing.
Cast a wide net!
As I mentioned before, cast your net wide when you first start freelancing. You’ll have plenty of time to narrow your search later.
Get the word out with family, friends, and former business contacts.
Network! Two of my first long-term writing jobs came from contacts I had in my business career. I wrote technical blogs for warehouse robotics and interviews with industry experts. Don’t be shy about letting people know that you’re writing as a side hustle or making a career transition. Obviously, frame this communication appropriately, depending on your job situation.
Sign up for job alerts and start applying!
Create job alerts in all of the following places:
- LinkedIn: Go to the Jobs section and sign up for email alerts. You can customize these to match your interests.
- The Editorial Freelancers Association
- Your alma mater. I signed a 5-year contract with my alma mater my first year as a writer! I graduated more than 20 years after I contacted them, but they were happy to help me find writing jobs. I ended up writing for them. Most universities offer lifetime job services to former students.
Beware of what freelance writers call “content mills.”
These are typically online sites that match the client with the writer, but the content is cheap and the rates match. These types of sites may help you build your resumé, but they typically don’t pay enough for you to earn a living as a writer. A content mill may be an option if you’re experimenting with writing as a side hustle while keeping your day job.
I hope these steps clarify what you need to do to become a freelance writer. Jumping into a new career can be overwhelming, but this step-by-step process can help you transition in a way that is manageable. As I mentioned in part 1 of this series, I’ve been a full-time freelance writer for eight years now. No matter what you may have heard from other people, earning a solid income as a writer is possible! It takes courage and discipline, but it is a dream that is within reach.
If you have any questions about becoming a freelance writer, drop your question in the comments. I’d love to hear from you and help you.