So you want to be a freelance writer, huh?
Well, I’ve got some good news and I’ve got some bad news. Let’s start with the bad.
Building a successful freelance writing business is no walk in the park. It takes a LOT of hard work and dedication. Especially in the beginning.
You will f*ck up.
You will doubt yourself (a lot).
And you will feel like quitting.
If that’s not something you’re willing to accept, you better close this page now and go back to playing Candy Crush.
Still here? Great.
Because the good news is, this article will guide you through the EXACT steps you need to take in order to become a professional freelance writer.
(And, more importantly, how to get paid a decent living in the process — something even experienced freelance writers struggle with at times.)
Let’s talk structure…
Here’s How I’ll Break This Down…
I spent a lot of time thinking about how this article should be structured, and believe me when I say there were multiple iterations.What I’ve ended up with, I believe, is the most logical way to approach starting your freelance writing business — especially as a beginner.We’ll go through this in 3 phases, like so:
Phase #1: Finding Your Market
Knowing what kind of service you’re going to offer is not enough. In order to fast-track your success a freelancer, you’ll need to establish your position in the market and “nichify’ your offering.
Phase #2: Developing Your Craft
Once you’ve identified a market and honed your focus on a particular sector of that market, you can then use the methods discussed in this section to become an “overnight” expert.
Phase #3: Bringing In The Moolah
It doesn’t matter how much you know or what you can do, if you don’t know how and where to market yourself effectively, you’ll never turn your skill (preferably passion) into revenue.
Please, don’t skip this section.
If there’s one mistake I see plenty of new freelance writers making, it’s branding themselves as exactly that…
…a freelance writer.
Unless you’re Jeff Bezos (Amazon Founder), you should never try to be all things to all people. It’s FAR more effective to narrow your focus and serve a small portion of a larger market.
I know, it sounds backward; after all, how does appealing to less people help you make more money?
The answer is relevance.
The more closely your service (or solution) speaks to the job (or problem), the more desirable you will ultimately be to the client.
Relevance is often valued over things like experience and qualifications — even if some clients aren’t consciously aware of that fact.
Not sold it yet?
Well, niching down comes with various other benefits, including:
- Easier to identify your preferred clients
- Allows you to establish yourself as an expert
- Increases the chance of referrals
- Higher possibility of repeat business
- Significantly less competition
It’s fair to say not everyone will agree with this approach. In fact, the whole “big fish, small pond” argument is often debated.
The reason I think it works so well with freelancing, is because you can slowly expand your offering as you begin to outgrow the pond.
It’s easier than you think.
As someone who uses Upwork as their primary source for new clients, it’s literally a case of adjusting my title and bio.
(And yes, I do recommend using Upwork when you’re starting out, but I’ll talk more about that later.)
Like I said, easy.
Assuming we’re we on the same page about the importance of positioning, I think it’s time for the real meaty stuff.
How To Find Your Positioning And Dominate A Smaller Market
There are essentially two angles you can take when it comes to positioning yourself.
- Selecting a niche market
- Selecting a writing niche
(I recommend taking both angles to some degree, but this will start to make more sense later.)
Let’s talk about what they mean, exactly.
Angle #1: Selecting A Niche Market
Despite me using the term “niche market”, you don’t actually have to go very niche with this at all.
In fact, you can be a successful freelance writer without choosing a niche at all:
Do I recommend it?
No, I don’t. Especially if you’re a beginner.
Instead, you’ll give yourself a much easier ride if you focus on serving clients in a specific niche market, like:
- Health & Fitness
- Real Estate
And where the demand is strong, you can niche down even further. For example, there are a number of sub-niches for “Health & Fitness”
- Weight loss
- Body Building
- Skin Care
We’ll talk about validation shortly, but don’t be afraid to venture deep when it comes to niching down.
Note: This is an interesting podcast interview with Kendell Rizzo, a freelance copywriter on FIverr who niched into ‘crowdfunding’ (a subsection of finance) and is now making 6-figures as a result. (Yes… you can charge a lot more than $5 on Fiverr.com.)
Angle #2: Selecting A Writing Niche
This one is REALLY going to influence the next phase, and it’s the one I recommended spending the most time getting right.
What am I talking about, exactly?
Well, the key here is to zero in on specific sectors of writing, not just writing as a whole.
Some examples of writing niches include:
- Academic Writer
- Article Writer
- Content Writer
- Blog Writer
- Sales Copywriter
- Business Writer
- Copy Editor
- Creative Writer
- Press Release Writer
- Technical Writer
- Book / Ebook writer
- Guest blogger
Note: If you want a more exhaustive list, this is an excellent resource covering 50 writing niches you can potentially dive into.
Another thing to keep in mind:
Some of the writing niches I’ve listed above encompass a wider selection of smaller, but still profitable “sub-niches”.
A good example is copywriting, which can be further drilled down into email, sales pages, webinar pages, squeeze pages, etc.
Validate Your Niche Market (And Avoid Setting Yourself Up For Failure)
The screenshots above are from my go-to freelance platform, Upwork.
Since this is a marketplace with over 12 million freelancers and 5 million clients, it’s also the PERFECT place to validate a freelance niche.
So how do you a validate a niche, exactly?
It’s simple. If other writers are doing well in a given niche, it’s very likely you will too.
(In other words, they have already proven the demand.)
As you’ve no doubt guessed, we’re going to do that by looking at the freelancer database on Upwork — based on your prospective niche market.
Sticking with the “Health & Fitness” theme, let’s say you were interested in offering a writing service around ‘weight loss’.
Step #1: Head to the freelancer search page. (You can even do this from a freelancer account.)
Step #2: Open up the filter options, and apply a filter to show only freelancers under the “Writing” category.
Step #3: Apply a second filter to show only Freelance Writers that have earned over $1,000 through the platform.
Step #4: In the search box, use common keywords to describe the angle (or angles) you’d like to validate.
Step #5: Scroll through to see how many other writers are having success in that particular niche.
What should you do if you struggle to find others making money in your preferred?
You can always try going broader, but if that doesn’t work, I’d strongly recommend finding an alternative.
(Remember, you can always change this at a later date if you feel your niche is not working out for you.)
PHASE #2: Becoming A Master Of Your Craft… In A Matter Of Weeks!
Now that you’ve nailed your positioning (wait, you have nailed your positioning, right?), we can talk about the writing itself.
Coming into this, you may already have some experience as a writer. Even still, it definitely doesn’t hurt to go through this section and brush up on your writing ability.
If you have virtually NO experience as a writer, this section will help you get into the game as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The good news?
You can become proficient in almost any online skill in a matter of weeks, and writing is no exception.
(In fact, the idea behind doing phase #1 first, is to make phase #2 EVEN easier than it would have otherwise been.)
Rapid Skill Learning & How I “Wasted” 2 Years Of My Life
‘Rapid Skill Learning’ is the process of becoming proficient in a given skill over a very short period of time.
Not years. Not months.
I know it smells like BS, but hear me out.
During my 2-years at college, I studied software development. (Yeah, I thought I wanted to be a programmer.)
The saddest part?
I somehow managed to walk away with a marginally better understanding of software development. I mean, it was laughable.
Soon after, I decided to invest in an online course on coding a website from scratch, using a tool called Adobe Dreamweaver.
Within 1 week, I had gone through all the videos and learned more about coding than I had EVER learned over that 2-year period. No competition.
That’s not even the crazy part.
I paid $59 for that course.
That’s right. Fifty f*cking nine dollars for something I valued more than my 730-day stint at college.
Like it or not, online courses are just as — if not more — effective at teaching you something than going through the traditional education channels.
(The key difference being, you can get through the material in a FRACTION of the time.)
Moral of the story?
Online courses are the way to go if you want to break into freelancing writing, but don’t have the writing ability to back yourself up.
Shortcut Your Way Into Freelance Writing Through Online Course Marketplaces
Before I dive into courses specifically, I should clarify that it’s not the only channel when it comes to rapid skill learning.
There’s books, PDFs, blogs, podcasts, videos, etc.
The reason I’m so big on courses is because they’re organized into a complete, end-to-end system. In other words, the information is structured — very important for RSL.
(The other channels can, and should be used to supplement what you learn via a paid course.)
Note: In case you were wondering, I do have my own course that teaches freelancers — including freelance writers — how to use Upwork to land high-quality clients and kickstart their online freelance business.
If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, you can join the waitlist here.
So, where do you actually find these courses?
Well, with everyone and their mother throwing themselves into an instructor role these days, several marketplaces have emerged.
Let me break down some of the more popular options:
Avg. Course Price
$25 / month
$15 / month
As much as I love these learning platforms, a lot of the good stuff is, unfortunately, buried amongst low-quality information.
In this section, I’ll show you how to flesh out the gems.
Firstly, depending on your writing ability and confidence, you may want to brush up on the basics before going full-throttle.
What I mean is, looking for general courses that cover things like spelling and grammar.
For the real ROI, however, you need to leverage the second positioning strategy I outlined above.
Your writing niche.
Granted, some writing niches will be better served than others, but you should be able to find a handful of good courses in any case.
For example, sales copywriting:
Many of the courses you’ll find on these platforms are only a few hours long, but that’s often all you need to get started.
Instant Proofreading With These KILLER Writing Tools
One last thing I’d like to cover before we move into the next phase, is writing tools.
You would be AMAZED at how good some online tools are at finding mistakes in your writing.
Grammarly is probably the most well-known.
You can install it as a Chrome extension (to monitor your writing in, say, Google Docs), or write directly in the web application.
The premium version gives you some nice benefits that are also worth considering, though certainly not necessary to get started.
Another one is Hemingway app.
It’s a free web-based tool that grades the reading age of your sentences. Believe it or not, but the key to great writing is having a lower reading age.
I find Hemingway to be a little too picky at times, but it’s definitely worth a quick check before submitting your work.
There are a bunch more, but those two will be plenty to get you off on the right foot.
Note: If you’re interested, I actually wrote a HUGE post outlining 60 similar writing tools. You can read it here.
PHASE #3: How To Secure High-Paying Clients For Your Freelance Writing Biz
If you skipped everything else and jumped straight to phase 3, I can hardly blame you.
This is easily one of the biggest question people have when they jump into freelancing.
How do I find clients who will actually pay me to write?
As it happens, this is also where my advice differs from most other freelance writers out there. At least to some extent.
While many will tell you to avoid freelance platforms like Upwork, I’ve actually found them to be a great channel for kickstarting (and even maintaining) a freelance writing business.
So, rather than just give you my own experience of what works, I’ll try to be as objective as I can here.
Note: It’s also worth mentioning that I compiled a huge list 101+ sites to find freelance work across several different fields, including freelancing writing.
The Case FOR Upwork (And Why You Should Ignore The Naysayers)
I’ll say it now, Upwork isn’t perfect. Far from it.
I’ve personally read/heard from plenty of people who have had a bad experience with Upwork, some worse than others.
What people don’t realize, however, is that 99% of these situations could have been avoided.
Take this classic example, posted on Reddit:
Note the highlighted section; Upwork told this freelancer exactly why his earnings were not protected.
If he had bothered to read up on what qualifies for hourly protection, he would know that he didn’t meet the requirements.
Do I think this freelancer deserved to lose out over not putting memos in his work diary?
Nope. Of course not.
Do I think Upwork has some pretty sh*tty rules that are not always in the best interest of freelancers?
But if the cost of tapping into this highly-lucrative freelance platform is taking some time out to make yourself AWARE of these nuances, surely that’s a worthwhile investment… no?
Like I said, most of these situations can be avoided if you just familiarize yourself with the way Upwork works.
Note: If you’re still shaky about Upwork, I wrote a post that’ll hopefully clear up any remaining doubt you have.
Why You MUST Diversify Your Client-Acquisition Channels
Many freelancers, including myself, have relied solely on Upwork to acquire new clients whenever needed.
The truth is, Upwork is large enough to supply you with all the work you could possibly need as an independent freelance writer.
But that doesn’t mean I recommend doing that — even if I don’t follow my own advice at times.
As great as Upwork is, putting all your eggs in one basket is never a good strategy. When it comes to running a freelance business, diversification is key.
So, while I am saying to focus solely on Upwork in the early stages, you should also eventually start building new channels to deliver leads to your business.
That way, if one channel was somehow removed from the equation, the damage that has over your business (and income) is severely mitigated.
There are a number of ways to achieve this, but none come so highly-recommended as the one I’m about to cover.
Building Your OWN Channel For The Craziest Conversions You’ll Ever See
You guessed it, a website.
Having your own website is one of the BEST ways to attract and convert potential leads for your freelance business.
It projects authority.
It establishes credibility.
And, most importantly, YOU control every aspect of what prospective clients will see and experience as they navigate your site.
That’s everything from your branding, messaging, pricing and promise… to the more granular details, like which portfolio items and testimonials to show (and where).
The best part?
These days, a complete beginner can have a professional-looking site up and running in as little as a day. (That’s right, no coding experience necessary.)
Of course, it does take a bit more work upfront to get it generating consistent leads, but it’s absolutely worth the effort if you’re serious about freelance writing.
Note: If you need some guidance with this one, I highly recommend Elna Cain’s course, WriteTo1k.
It’s a complete system that not only takes you through the foundational stuff, but also gives you a step-by-step process for setting up, designing and attracting prospects to your website.
Wrapping It Up
As I said in the beginning of this article, getting your freelance writing business off the ground won’t be easy.
Sure, reading guides (like this one) will soften the blow, but you gotta hustle if you want to make it in the freelance world.
The good news?
If you follow the steps I’ve outlined, you will give yourself the best chance to succeed, with the least amount of friction possible.