You may or may not know that I haven’t always been learnnow’s Editor-in-Chief — I previously spent years (and years) learning how to become a freelance writer and editor.
And during that time, I was a learnnow reader. I didn’t know the site’s founder Brian Clark or former Chief Content Officer Sonia Simone.
But I pretended that I did. 🙂 Of course I didn’t tell anyone that … I just received so much guidance from learnow that helped me position my writing and editing services for success that it felt like I knew them.
Should I be a freelance writer?
I’m bringing all of this up today because I’m happy to pay it forward, if you will, and share a list of top 30 steps that help you learn how to make money as a freelance writer.
But before I do, you might be wondering if you should be a freelance writer or how to become a freelance writer with no experience.
Of course, there are pros and cons to every career path, and even if you have experience, it’s important to recognize that your writing talents only get you so far.
When you become a freelance writer, you develop a service business. Professional writers typically know how to make sales and manage client relationships. It’s an entrepreneurial endeavor that requires strong marketing ethics, as well as sharp administrative and interpersonal skills (pardon my generic résumé lingo).
How to become a freelance writer
Does this sound like the right move for you? All set to learn how to be a freelance writer?
The following guide will show you where to start, even if you have no experience.
Let’s dive in …
1. Begin with the basics
The overhead to work as a freelance writer in the digital space is quite small compared to a brick-and-mortar business.
Get clear on the bare minimum you need to take your first step as a new writer.
If you’re like me, you’ll also need a lot of Moleskine notebooks for ideas and drafting.
But see? Nothing too complicated.
2. Assess short-term and long-term goals
It’s fun and exciting to think about all of the projects you have planned for your business.
But one of the most important skills you can build is the ability to focus on your current work and short-term goals that keep the present incarnation of your writing services running.
You don’t have to forget about your ambitions; you just have to prioritize your time properly.
For you, learning how to become a freelance writer could look something like spending:
- 90 percent of your time on your immediate responsibilities
- 10 percent of your time working on that Next Big Project
Because, remember, you’ll never get to your long-term goals if you don’t meet your short-term ones.
3. Create an order of operations around how to become a freelance writer
Once you’ve got a handle on your short-term and long-term goals, select an order for the tasks you need to accomplish.
Which marketing projects will help you get your first clients?
If something sounds like a good idea, but you don’t have the time or budget for it yet, it’s a distraction from actually making money sooner rather than later.
During this process, you’ll narrow down your short-term and long-term goals even more. Swiftly move distractions to your “future possibility” list, for when you’re in a better position to take them on.
4. Recognize that your skill set helps businesses
People often have a difficult time understanding how to make a living online, especially as a writer.
Some might assume you write fiction. Perhaps they ask if you work in entertainment. Those genres are somewhat easy to grasp.
So, when you say that’s not the type of writing you do, confusion sets in — along with the notion that you probably just toss around blog post ideas as a hobby.
That obstacle can distort your self-image as a writer.
It also perpetuates the false belief Learnnow Certified Content Marketer Alaura Weaver wrote about in How to Make a Living as a Writer When Creative Writing Isn’t Paying the Bills:
“… because almost everyone can write words, anyone can be a writer.”
Amateurs don’t excel at good, strategic writing, and that’s what sets you apart.
You think in terms of using your communication skills to help others clearly convey their messages.
5. Determine your freelance writing prices
Many people don’t know how to write better content and translate ideas in their minds into cohesive sentences and paragraphs.
Your professional writing services can satisfy their needs.
Accordingly, you have to set your prices with confidence. And it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process, either.
Learn the basics in 5 Stress-Free Steps for Pricing Your Services.
6. Demonstrate you’re dedicated to producing excellent work
Proof that supports your professional rates is a win-win.
You’ll communicate your marketing ethics to your clients, so that you don’t feel like a sleazy marketer, and your clients will get a clear picture of what it’s like to do business with you.
A combination of content marketing and copywriting helps you achieve this one. More on both of those storyselling elements in upcoming tips.
7. Outline the details you consider when evaluating a new freelance writing project
As a premium service provider, you won’t be able to accept every project someone proposes. It’s a reality that’s easy to overlook when you’re excited about discovering how to become a freelance writer.
You have to be a good match for the job, and the work has to be a good match for you.
Gathering information about a project helps you decide if it’s the right fit for your business and also allows you to tailor your service — before a client has given you any money — in a way that justifies the rate you’ll charge in exchange for your exceptional work.
You’ll convey that you’re highly focused on your client’s business goals — and that you may have even given those goals more consideration than he has.
Some questions you might ask are:
- Does the client have a budget for this project? If so, what is it?
- What’s the client’s business goal?
- How does this project fit into the client’s marketing strategy?
- Does the client intend to make any alterations to the completed project (i.e., edits to the text)? Or, is there any subsequent work the client or other service providers will perform related to this project (i.e., formatting, graphic design)?
- Is this a project that could lead to regular work (daily, weekly, monthly), or is this a one-time task?
8. Present a compelling service proposal
After you’ve evaluated a project, outline what you will produce if the prospect chooses to hire you.
And, most importantly, provide details about how your services will help them achieve what they want.
When you present the benefits of your offer as well, you provide the information your prospect initially requested and potentially even spark excitement about your collaboration.
9. Set (and meet) your own deadlines
If your client gives you a specific deadline, give yourself one that is even earlier than theirs.
The earlier the better — it gives you time to handle unexpected events that may arise in your business or life and still keep the promise you made to your client.
If your client is vague about a deadline, set a precise one for them based on the information you gather about their project. Then tell your client when the project will be completed and meet (or beat) the deadline.
10. Communicate that clients must agree to your terms of service and payment policy
Just as setting your prices doesn’t have to be stressful, having a terms of service and payment policy doesn’t have to be intimidating.
You could think of them as a “comprehensive frequently asked questions form” that your clients must review and agree to before working with you.
Some aspects will be standard for all clients and some you’ll customize each time.
Elements you might want to consider include:
- A detailed description of the client’s goals for the project
- How your service will specifically meet each goal
- Your project deadline — the date and time you will return the completed project
- The number of revisions included in your price
- Payment method options and when payment is due
- The best way for the client to contact you if they have a question
- When and how the client will receive a payment transaction receipt
- What will happen if the client cancels the work requested after payment has been made but before the project has been completed
- The extra costs and consequences that will incur if the client has an additional request that goes beyond the terms outlined
Once a client agrees in writing, you have a work contract you can reference if confusion arises.
When you draft your first terms of service and payment policy, you don’t have to cover every possible scenario that could develop.
Rather, think of them as “living” documents you can update with:
- Rules to prevent common problems
- Additional details that help your clients understand your offerings
- Processes that will make your workflows easier
Your business and future clients will both benefit from these types of revisions.
11. Think like a professional artist
All of the tips above cover business logistics, which are necessary for a sustainable writing career.
But let’s not forget that you’re an artist.
As Sonia has put it:
“Wise marketers embrace art as integral to what they do, as much as strategy and execution are.”
12. Embrace the art of copy as you learn how to become a freelance writer
For a long time now, Learnnow has existed in the intersection of persuasion (copywriting) and online community (blogging). It’s a proven resource for learning how to become a freelance writer.
Words that drive specific actions can transform blog posts, podcast episodes, and videos into business assets — for both your own business and your clients’ businesses.
13. Master your marketing voice
When you master your own marketing voice, it demonstrates to clients that you can help them with theirs.
14. Identify your ideal freelance writing client
Pinpointing your ideal client is the first step to attracting that type of company.
When freelance writers don’t specify who they want to work with, they often end up taking low-paying jobs or unfulfilling assignments.
But the real danger is believing that low-paying jobs or unfulfilling assignments are the only options for freelance writers.
If you want to work for companies with substantial budgets for creative work, you must speak to them directly in your marketing materials and appeal to their sensibilities.
15. Learn content marketing strategy
Strong writers make great content marketers because clear communication is essential when you deliver a company’s message.
Content marketing strategy helps you meet prospects where they are and guide them to where they want to go — all while positioning your business as the only reasonable choice for their needs.
16. Showcase your authority
Your own website that demonstrates your expertise and builds trust is the best place to show prospects what you have to offer them.
Sought-after freelance writers build their own audiences of prospects by consistently business blogging while learning how to become a freelance writer.
17. Choose content projects for your own freelance writing business
It’s smart to make progress on content projects for your own business while you work on client assignments.
Treat yourself like one of your clients and add recurring tasks to your schedule for marketing activities, such as producing an ebook or creating blog posts, podcast episodes, and videos.
Freelance writers who have overcome feast-and-famine periods know that you can’t ever put promoting your services on the back-burner.
18. Contribute to publications your ideal clients read
One way to attract new prospects to your business is to follow guest posting best practices and write articles for publications your ideal clients read.
Prepare a landing page for new visitors to your site, so you give them a proper welcome to your content hub.
19. Craft copy that persuades people to hire you
Most writing services are going to look the same to prospects who need to hire a freelance writer.
It’s your job to communicate the unique qualities you bring to the table.
Let’s look at an example from the mattress industry.
It’s difficult to find the right mattress — and most brands look roughly the same — so a mattress shopper might not know how to narrow down their choices.
The ad below (with more than 150 million views) for the Purple mattress brand uses multiple time-tested copywriting techniques — such as problem, agitate, solve — to stand out as a top option.
20. Deliver a return on investment to clients
You want to make it clear that your writing services don’t just provide words on a page for clients — you get results for their businesses.
If the work you do for a client makes them a profit that exceeds the cost of paying you, everyone wins. You get paid what you’re worth and they’re happy to pay high rates for your services.
21. Organize your email inbox
Keeping an immaculate inbox helps you respond to prospects in a timely manner. Organization is key as you turn pro and learn how to become a freelance writer.
Use folders or labels to keep track of different types of inquiries, so you can easily reference them in the future.
Also, decide on the best times for you to send important emails.
22. Use systems and processes to manage your time as you become a freelance writer
Freelance writers commonly blur the lines of their professional and personal time, which can lead to overwhelm and burnout.
When you treat your writing services as a business, you have set time for work and set time for leisure, just like an employee of a company has.
You’re an employee of your own company, so put procedures in place that help you manage your time, such as outlining your activities during a typical workday and crafting templates that help you answer frequently asked questions.
23. Market to those already looking for copywriters or content marketers
This one will save you a lot of time and effort.
Rather than trying to convince someone that they need to hire a copywriter or content marketer, speak directly to someone already looking to hire a copywriter or content marketer.
Your content’s job is to educate prospects on topics they’re interested in while showing them that you are the right person to hire if they could use extra help.
24. Have a specialty when you become a freelance writer
Here’s another win-win for both your business and your prospects.
When you’re a subject matter expert or you specialize in a type of writing, you’ll have an easier time marketing your business and prospects will immediately get a clear picture of the services you offer.
Publications you pitch articles to could also be thought of as “prospects.”
25. Love your work
One sentence from Sonia encapsulates this mindset for how to be a freelance writer:
“If you don’t love language and your topic and the act of putting words together, none of the rest of this really means anything.”
26. Write and edit your own story
Don’t listen to people who say freelance writing didn’t work out for them and the negative things they might have to say about learning how to become a freelance writer.
If it wasn’t the right fit for them, it doesn’t mean pursuing freelance writing is a bad choice for you.
There are so many factors about their situations that you don’t know, including their approach to business and their training (or lack thereof).
Only you know what you’re meant to do.
27. Build your support system
Once you’ve filtered out criticism that isn’t constructive, find those who support you.
Your favorite websites likely have online communities you can join, or you can browse professional groups on social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn.
28. Connect in person
In-person meetups and conferences can help you grow your digital business.
Live events are full of potential customers and collaborators.
29. Be flexible about freelance writing
Your first year (or first few years) as a freelance writer might not turn out exactly as you planned.
In fact, it probably won’t. Welcome to being a freelance writer. 🙂
30. Reframe mistakes
It’s perfectly natural to make mistakes on your business journey. Successful freelance writers adjust their goals, learn new skills, and keep working.
If you’re feeling stuck, you can always go back to tip #1 and then outline what you want to accomplish in the next year.