HOW TO BECOME A FREELANCE WRITER IN 2020

Here we go… let’s learn how to become a freelance writer, post haste!

We are living in the time of stories! From your bottle of mineral water to your smartphone, from your weekend catch-up with friends to your bedtime meditation – you scroll through many.

Why? Mainly to connect and understand the world in a better way so we can live an enriched life.

Picture this. You are planning to cook a special lunch. You don’t merely browse for a recipe, but a blog where the writer has created an experience around their recipe. While cooking, for a brief moment you experience their life, culture and customs. And it is not just restricted to cooking, even if you are filing your taxes or trying to understand the complexity of a disease or looking for a gadget review, you get help from a writer who has contributed their knowledge to the vast internet.

Now is the best time to pursue a career in writing and become a freelance writer because the internet has broken down the formal barrier of a writing career and made it accessible to anyone who wants to create, share and connect through the written word. It has proven to all that anyone can be a writer. Oh, the joy!

Great! Now that you know that it’s not just for a select group of highly educated or experienced people, you eye all around to see if there’s some way to earn money online from your interests and passions.

Well, you can always join a content company like Shreya in the case study below, but if you value the freedom of selecting your own projects I would suggest waging your own battle.

Welcome! To the world of learning how to become a freelance writer.

But how to start freelance writing? How to become a freelance writer who can successfully sell their wares and pocket some money?

Well, read on.

By the end of this blog post you’ll have a much better understanding about:

  • the different types of freelance writing work available
  • how to start freelance writing in the 7 steps to success
  • some great resources to up-skill to greatly improve your rate at which you succeed in starting an online business as a freelance writer in 2020 and to start earning money online.

WHAT IS FREELANCE WRITING?

The dictionary definition of ‘freelancer’ is pretty self-explanatory – one who is self-employed and is NOT a part of company staff. A freelance writer means that you offer your writing services in return for a fee.

Freelancing comes with some great freedoms such as choosing your own work hours, your own place to work, no forced commute to a dull office, pick projects that satisfy your creative urge, quote a remuneration you think you deserve, no boss to answer to, no communication gap between client and you because of other hierarchical involvement, no office politics and above all, you can take off whenever you want.

Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?!

freelance writer enjoying being creative by the water

I’m not going to tell you that it’s all fun and no responsibility. As a freelance writer you’re an independent business owner, so you have to manage all parts of your writing business. But I won’t weigh you down with details as I’d prefer to inspire you to follow your dreams and deal with technical aspects as they arise on your journey.

After all, if you’ve seen any of my content you’ve probably worked out that from my experience, freedom trumps business technical difficulties any day of the week!

So without further ado let’s check out several different types of freelance writing work that you can pursue:

  • Blogging – A personal web log about the things you are confident that you can provide a valuable opinion on.
  • SEO Content – Writing with relevant keywords to rank an article high on Google search.
  • Web Content Writing – When you write for online magazine style websites whether with a central theme like Architecture or Home Decor or with more diverse content needs.
  • Copywriting – Writing for brands to market their products. It can range from ad copies to Facebook posts to writing blogs and can be both online and offline.
  • Article Writing – When you write features or articles for clients about things that interest you or you are an expert of. For example backpacking through South East Asia or cooking traditional Cajun recipes.
  • Ghostwriting – When you write for someone else who is the named author and your name doesn’t appear as a creator for the content. There’s a big market for this in the e-book space amongst other mediums. 

HOW TO START FREELANCE WRITING – 7 STEPS TO SUCCESS

Prefer video format for the 7 Steps to Success? Fair enough, here you go…

STEP 1 - DEFINE YOUR NICHE

Every beginner freelance writer faces the same question – where to begin? If you see above, you will realize the types of freelance writing works are many. It is very easy to get lost. Add to that endless subjects you can write about.

Ask yourself this question: if you want to score some organic produce, would you go to a local supermarket or organic farmers markets? See, you will always approach experts because not only is there an assurance of quality that comes with their expertise but they are also the right people to answer any of your questions, educate you more, add value and make your organic produce buying exercise an experience in itself.

Most marketing gurus share a similar insight to sales trainer and motivational speaker Tom Abbott – “discovering your niche is about finding customers suited to your purpose, expertise and market trend”. 

For example, you want to be a travel writer. Great! Ask yourself the following questions –

  • What appeals to me more – backpacking or luxury?
  • What to give importance to – experience or convenience?
  • What is my focus – relaxation or adventure?
  • What is my style – flirty and fun or serious and factual?

It is very important to find answers to these because clients are always looking for the best fit for their brand voice. And you can only conquer the battle if you position yourself there well. A 5-star property will definitely not seek a hostel-style review. A luxury train experience won’t have a tone of your Bangkok tuk-tuk ride.

Bangkok tuk tuk ride freelance writer style

So, invest some time to find your niche! It would also be super beneficial to do Step 1 in our blog on How to Start a Successful Blog which is all about uncovering your passions and experience. This is pretty dang important when refining your niche.

STEP 2 - FREELANCE WRITING SKILLS AREN’T HEREDITARY – THEY’RE EARNED THROUGH PRACTICE

In the book The Talent Code, the author Daniel Coyle discusses his findings surrounding what skill really is. Ultimately it comes down to Myelin which is white matter in the brain that wraps around neuro pathways when you practice something. The faster and more regularly you trigger that neuro pathway through practice, the more Myelin wraps around the pathway which helps you improve.

For example, have you ever seen someone practicing their jump shots on a basketball court? Each time they fire the various brain signals to bounce the ball, raise it up, jump and shoot, Myelin is coating the neuro pathways so that over time each function is done slightly more accurately, resulting in more shots going in the hoop.

Much like sports skills, freelance writing skills are simply neuro pathways that can be improved upon with practice. Typing, using grammar correctly, pitching to prospective clients, efficient researching for a blog post, using imagination for creative writing, creating an outline or structure for an article. They’re all complex webs of neuro pathways that can be Myelinated, exercised, strengthened and improved.

Of course, everybody can write. But to pen down your thoughts coherently with a clear beginning-middle-end is quite a difficult feat. Whether you are writing a long piece or a catchy ad copy, you need clarity, connect and flow of thought.

Over the years, I have practiced a rather easy method to make sense of all the wordy madness in my head. Writing meditation!

Preferably I do it in the morning, straight up first thing! But if you are a night owl, you can do it then. Whenever suits, but just before you sound your creative gong. And it is a must for a beginner.

So what you do is, pick up a piece of paper, a page of a journal, a Microsoft Word Doc – anything – and completely empty yourself out. Just write down whatever is going across your mind. Trust me your piece does not need to make any sense. Just be yourself!

This exercise not only flexes your brain muscles and aligns your thoughts but also cleanses your brain of any negative energy.

Ultimate result: a vast playing field of thought opens up in your head. You can think of fresh ideas, develop them, tease them and add-subtract without any doubt.

Now that your head is clear, there are other exercises that will help you to practice your freelance writing –

  • Creative Mill – Go to a cafe, eavesdrop and pick up a random strain of conversations from strangers and write your own story around it.
  • Two’s a boon – Get together with another writer friend or join a writer’s club and help each other grow by creative criticism, but don’t underestimate the mental boost you get from compliments too.
  • Catch a tone – Follow your favorite brand. See how they position themselves. Pick up their tone. Write something of your own.
  • Complimentary contribution – Till the money rolls in, build your writing portfolio by sending articles or posts to any website or social media page which crowdsources its content. You will get like-minded people giving feedback and will know where you need improvement.
  • Language and grammar tests – Worried about your writing abilities? There are a tonne of free tests available online in job portals like Upwork. Keep testing your mettle and improving.
  • Read. Read. Read. – You cannot write unless you are a voracious reader. Period.

STEP 3 - CREATE A PORTFOLIO – YOUR MARKETING MATERIAL

A freelance writer’s portfolio is like a brand’s product page – it lists the kind of services you are ready to offer. An interested client should ideally cast a glance and get a feel of your capabilities.

Why do you need one? Simple! To sell your skill. To get more work. To get paid projects. To build trust.

But if you are a newbie in the writing biz, you might be wondering what to put into your portfolio. Got you covered. Follow these guidelines:

  • Showcase only your best and recent work.
  • Pick out pieces which represent your core skill. For example if your strength is powerful research, include a piece which portrays that aspect.
  • Include versatility in tone whether conversational, formal, humorous (if that’s your calling card) etc.
  • Don’t pack in a hundred pieces because that confuses clients and no one likes to find a needle in a haystack.
  • Categorize your content – divide long form and short form and then further break them down to social media posts, blogs, reviews, guides, article, editorials, newsletters, or whatever you’ve got.

A portfolio is incomplete without a writer’s bio which is basically an introduction to you and your work. Take some time out from all the writing and organize your thoughts around why someone will hire you. Describe what you do and how you do it. As you go on writing things down, you may see a pattern emerging.

freelance writer penning down ideas

It is critical for a lot of clients to see how you work around a project. For example:

  • How do you start writing? Do you just plunge yourself into a topic or do you take time to research and watch trends as to what sort of pieces are preferred by readers? A simple Google search on top ranking content will give you a clue.
  • How do you research? Do you use Google or Wikipedia as your research source, other credible websites, or books by experts?
  • How do you approach an article? Do you go about it randomly and let your free thoughts guide you or you plan and break it down and approach it piece by piece so that the article develops nicely and reaches a conclusive ending?

I hope you get the drift.

CASE STUDY INTERVIEW – SHREYA NANDY

“I started to write from a young age, more as a stress buster. I thought I can best express myself through writing. But when I grew up and started my career, I kept it off thinking I don’t want to end up tied to a desk.

I resurrected it pretty late in the day when friends and clients hounded me to start writing again. Also, I was pretty worked up with working at an office and the daily grind that comes with it. The Internet opened up a new world for me. Now I can travel and write. I love this flexibility!”

Shreya the freelance writer

What do you love about being a freelance writer?

Shreya – “The independence for sure! Of course, choosing is not easy and financial insecurity has a nasty bite. But am not going to compromise my creative freedom for anything.”

What was your first step to getting started as a freelance writer?

Shreya – “I started by creating a few articles on topics I am passionate about like traveling, cooking and mental wellness. I sent them to a good website that curate crowdsourced contents. I shared them on my social media platforms so that my network can see what I’m up to. Mind it, they were done for free and I was content with being given space in their online web space.

Also, I joined Upwork where I shared the same online published work. Clients could sample my style and efficiency and from there, projects started to trickle in.”

How did you get your first client?

Shreya – “I got my first freelance client through contact, so it was offline. Online, it was Upwork.”

Where do you find most of your freelance writing work?

Shreya – “I regularly work through Upwork. I’m working in Upwork for a year now. The start can be really jittery and nail-biting, but if you keep your cool and be patient and consistently work well, nobody can stop you!”

What advice would you give to aspiring freelance writers?

Shreya – “Don’t expect overnight results even if you are a great writer. Remember J. K. Rowling! Practice peace, meditate, exercise, eat healthily and let the energy flow clean.

Writer’s block is definitely there. But there are many ways to beat it. I usually take off time to pursue other hobbies like cooking something creative if I can’t be creative on papers. This strategy has definitely helped me a lot!”

Thanks Shreya!

STEP 4 - KNOW THE FREELANCE WRITING TOOLS

Writing tools are diverse. Starting from checking grammar to taking notes, from creating a coffee shop like ambience so that you can focus on your craft (if that’s your thing!), to hunting for stock photos, the range will definitely amaze you. Yeah! You run the risk of getting lost in the forest of writing tools too.

metaphoric tools to help become a freelance writer

So a piece of advice, search for them and learn them according to your need! You are not required to use a lot of them, and they will hardly improve your writing skills. They are a support system. Remember, there is nothing greater than your talent and skill, which as we’ve already discussed above is definitely improvable.

Below are a few tools that Shreya has discovered over the years which have helped her a great deal and “added the necessary spunk in my freelance online writing jobs” –

  • Grammarly – if you are a tense-meddler and struggle to keep your writing error-free, this is a great way to minimize your anxiety. I write my piece, edit it myself and then run grammarly as my last step! It comes in a free and a paid version. Let us be clear that any tool is not 100% correct. So you are the ultimate master of your language.

  • OneLook Dictionary Search – take your word wizardry to the next level! Add some juice to your writing with this online dictionary. It not only gives you the usuals of a dictionary like word-meaning, synonym, antonym but also a tonne of other features like finding phrases, words, definitions and adjectives, etc related to a particular word.

  • Evernote – writing is a job where 100% is happening inside your head and we all know our real estate up there is pretty limited. So don’t burden your brain. Instead, keep your thoughts, schedules, inspirations, random observations in the note-taking app of Evernote. You can manage your projects and track your work, all in one place!

  • Hemmingway app – this is a fun one especially if you are writing for the netizens. To please the short attention span of internet readers, you will often be requested to write short, crisp sentences in a conversational tone. And that’s hella difficult! Best is to run your article in the app which will give you a readability score and also highlight portions which need to be edited. This app is both helpful and colorful.

  • Canva – if graphics is your sore point, rest your worries. No, you don’t need to be a graphic designer to whip up attractive looking social media photos and blog banners. On Canva, you can be your own designer. Create Facebook media or even presentations, funky looking resumes to invitation cards. They have a lot of fun design you can play around with.

Of course, there are plenty more apps, but the above-mentioned ones are a good way to start your journey in the writing ‘tool-verse’.

STEP 5 - CRAFT YOUR PITCH

Writing jobs don’t just land in your lap!

You have to let the prospective clients know that you exist and that you know their needs. Also, that you are the best person for the job. But how do you do it?

Pretty simple! You craft a perfect pitch.

best pitch ever for a freelance writer

And before we begin, please don’t use templates or cookie cutter pitches or proposals. Even though you might think they’re acceptable, they stink of copy & paste lack of effort.

In freelance online writing jobs, you can face two kinds of scenarios:

  1. You find a writing job on one of the online writing job portals like upwork or freelancer.com.
  2. You approach an online publication or company and propose a project, for e.g. Guest blogger to increase their conversions or generate leads.

The former comes along with a specific requirement in most cases. You can read the job brief and tailor your pitch accordingly.

Shreya had a good example, saying that she “came across a client who is a rug-seller and was looking for a blogger who can write an educating article for his clients on how to choose perfect rug size according to the room. The topic is pretty standard and you cannot budge much or get extra creative with inches and feet. So what can you do to stand apart?

“I ended up suggesting a unique treatment to my client in my proposal mail. My fresh idea of exploring the personality of each room changing depending on the size, texture, pattern, and color of the rug appealed to the client.”

The key to good pitch writing is to keep it short and crisp while briefly outlining the topic treatment.

But one pitch won’t work for another. For the latter where you are proposing a project to an online website, I will suggest you go with a cold pitch. For a cold pitch, you have to meticulously research your client. With in-depth research, you will hit two birds with one stone. Firstly, you will find the holes that you can plug with your proposed topics and secondly, you will find how to make your pitch relevant to the brand.

For offline publications like magazines and newspapers, you should send query letters to the editor which should ideally contain your bio, story idea, the purpose of the article and how you are going to achieve it through the piece.

Writing pitches and proposals can get tiring, but with every attempt, you will improve.

After writing every ten pitches, evaluate and analyze the result. Incorporate the points that work and cut the frill off the others. This will definitely help you be successful in your writing endeavor.

STEP 6 - WHERE TO FIND FREELANCE WRITING JOBS FOR BEGINNERS

All you beginners out there, the internet is your bae! Make your portfolio in any of the below platforms and kick start your freelance writing career –

  • Upwork – Shreya swears by this job portal and cannot credit it enough. She has been pursuing her freelance writing career here amongst other places. What she loves most about this platform is that it doesn’t discriminate on the basis of your previous work experience. But from May 2019 they assigned a nominal fee to all proposals. This may be to reduce the onslaught of bots and content spinners. There are truckloads of topics you can try here – you can write on topics like cannabis, video games, discuss party decor themes and write a YouTube film script. 100% of Shreya’s clients have turned out to be “nice and courteous and nobody scammed me”. Upwork definitely takes care of the freelancers who are working through them.
  • Freelancer – same as Upwork and you can get jobs here with little or no experience. Project quality depends on your luck though. Check the job brief thoroughly before applying and if you are shortlisted, a chat with your client will dispel the rest of your doubts and their doubts.
  • iWriter – this is a website where you can build your reputation through your projects and earn more. Here you have to give a test after signing in and then you can start writing and creating your own client base. Joining is free but at the time of writing this blog the site was not accepting any fresh application. Worth checking!
  • Flexjobs – if you don’t mind making a small investment in your writing career or you are scared about the scammers and want to avoid them at all cost then Flexjobs is best for you! This is a subscription based job portal which regularly scans the job listings and has 55 different career categories including part-time and remote jobs as well.

This is only the tip of the digital iceberg. Plenty of online writing job platforms are available. Be watchful of the scammers and never pay to get a project.

STEP 7 - TRACK YOUR EARNINGS

This is the most important step in establishing a career as a freelance writer. Unlike a fixed salary in your account at the end of every month, most freelancers earn per project. And once the floodgate of projects opens, it becomes tiring to keep a note of everything.

Follow a few basic income tracking methods like the following –

  • Divide your work into a weekly stocktaking exercise. Check how much you are earning against the number of projects you are managing to finish that week. The green signal will be when you are making much more money with a lesser number of projects every month. That means either your work quality is increasing or your clients are paying you higher per project. This marks your growth!
  • Use a simple excel sheet to keep track of your clients, project, submission date, income, pending income, invoices, etc. and don’t be afraid to setup a line graph of something like projects vs time plus paid invoices vs time.

Don’t ignore financial management as this is an important step, otherwise, you will get lost in the chaotic world of freelancing and it will spit you out the other end.

FREELANCE WRITING COURSES

Having discovered first-hand the frustration that comes with pursuing a new venture, such as creating a YouTube channel that I tried to create a few years ago (which failed after a full year of effort and creating over 70 videos), I’m a big advocate for upskilling by learning from other people who have achieved something that you would like to achieve.

On that note, I strongly recommend having a look at the following courses that I found for you.

At the time of writing this blog post Udemy had a ‘Today Only! 24-Hour Flash Sale!’ which significantly reduces the prices of courses, and at SkillShare they have a ‘Get your first month of Skillshare Premium for free’ offer. So no excuses. Grab a course and learn as much as you can possibly absorb!

I chose these 2 Udemy courses as they both had more than 20 reviews and were top scorers at 4.5 stars. I chose these 3 SkillShare courses as they all had 100+ students which is a good sign.

Start A Profitable Freelance Writing Business In 5 Weeks – Udemy Course

Freelancing for Writers: Use Your Words to Start A Business – Udemy Course

Freelance Writing 101: Build A Successful Writing Career – SkillShare Course

Kickstart Your Freelance Writing Career – SkillShare Course

Start Freelance Writing NOW! How to Write a Pitch that Gets Picked Up and Jumpstart Your Career – SkillShare Course

I sincerely hope this blog post has helped you in one way or another and made clear how to become a freelance writer. If you got something out of it we would greatly appreciate if you could share this post so others can also benefit. Thank you and all the best!!

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