How do freelance writers get started?

If you’re ready to start freelance writing but worried you have no experience, no connections, and no idea what you’re doing, don’t worry. Follow our guide for getting started on the right foot.
How do freelance writers get started?
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Starting and growing a successful freelance writing business is about more than buying a MacBook Pro and hanging out your shingle.

You'll get better results when you follow a proven process. That's how you can attract and retain the best clients - or at least get your writing business off the ground much easier and faster. 

But as anyone who's ever tried to make money freelance writing can tell you, it isn't easy.

Sometimes you need a helping hand to show you how to start and grow a successful freelance writing business. So here are 10 tips from the trenches that can set you up for long-term freelance writing success. 

Now, let’s dive into my guide to starting and growing a successful writing business...

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What kind of freelance writer will you be?

10 steps to starting and growing a successful writing business

But first... what it takes to succeed as a freelance writer

Have you ever heard the Chinese proverb, “To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.”?

Well, I launched my freelance writing business almost 15 years ago. And guess what? One of the first lessons I learned is that being a great writer is only one part of running a successful writing business.

To succeed as a freelance writer you have to be ready for the challenges of running a business.

A lot has changed since I started freelancing. For example, 15 years ago, freelance writers had to rely on market directories, personal contacts, and a bit of luck to find new opportunities and projects.

<tweet-link>Today, the Internet offers more opportunities for freelance work (as well as research and ideas) than you will ever be able to take advantage of. But, to succeed, you’ll need to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset.<tweet-link>
  • 61% of skilled independent workers in the U.S. were full-time employees before starting to freelance according to the  2021 Freelance Economic Impact Report.
  • A recent study by the University of Phoenix, polling 1,600 adults under the age of 30, found that 63% of people in their 20’s either own their own business or want to in the near future. Of those who are not already entrepreneurs, 55% identified as wanting to be, one day.

The entire purpose of this blog post is to help you avoid some trial and error so you can succeed more quickly and have a solid, step-by-step plan for growing your freelance business.

I won't try to summarize all the advice that’s already been provided in books on how to launch and grow a freelance writing business. But I do want to explore why it’s vital to think like a business owner when you begin freelance writing.

As a freelancer, you're not just an employee—you're also the boss. And with that status comes the responsibility of making sure that your business succeeds.

Although you may not have to purchase inventory or buy a lot of equipment, to build a freelance writing business, you’ll need capital...like any other business. One of my writing mentors, Carol Tice says, “To start a freelance business — or any kind of business, really — you need money.” 

When you're working for yourself, you're the one who has to make sure all your bills get paid and that you have enough money in the bank to keep rolling along

In addition to managing money, you need to be able to manage your time effectively.

You might be tempted to just "wing it" and work whenever you feel like it, but that approach can lead to mistakes, missed deadlines, and poor performance reviews from clients. Instead, keep track of your schedule and plan out each day in advance so that you know exactly what needs to get done.

Another important trait of successful pro writers is the ability to handle rejection.

<tweet-link>It's a fact: You will get rejected. You will get lots of rejections. And that's OK!<tweet-link>

As a writer, it's your job to put yourself out there, and it's the nature of the business that not everyone you speak with will end up working with you. This can be frustrating, but it's important to remember that this is part of the process—and getting rejected doesn't mean your work isn't good enough; it just means that this particular audience wasn't interested in what you had to offer.

So, develop a thick skin. Your clients will give you feedback on your work. Use it to improve.

It’s a given you need to be able to write well. But, you don’t have to have Pulitzer Prize-winning writing chops at the outset to thrive.

As writer Tom Meitner says, "Writing skills will develop on the job. Practicing them by yourself all day doesn't do much for you. Getting your copy rejected and picked apart mercilessly over and over again will give you the skills you need in that arena. In the meantime, these are the skills that build you a career:

  • Sales
  • Conversation
  • Small talk
  • Making people feel at ease
  • Connecting emotionally with people
  • Highlighting your strengths
  • Downplaying your weaknesses

These are "soft skills". You only develop them by getting out into the field and doing it."

What kind of freelance writer will you be?

There are many different kinds of freelance writers, and this is the first thing you need to decide. Will you be a content writer? A ghostwriter? An editor? A copywriter? Or, maybe you’re interested in becoming a blogger. You can also explore building a writing business as a:

  • technical writer
  • travel writer
  • speechwriter
  • magazine columnist

… As you can see, there are many different kinds of freelance writing jobs.

Freelance writers can also write for a variety of clients—they may sell short stories to creative writing journals, write newspaper or magazine articles, or work as a copywriter or content writer for a corporate client.

As you decide what kind of freelance writer you want to be, keep in mind:

  • The type of writing and the kind of clients you work with will impact your earnings
  • You'll have more success if you choose a niche and become known for one type of writing. You can always pivot later

If you’re evaluating the earning potential of different writing jobs, keep in mind the average freelance writer salary in the U.S. varies state-by-state from about $50,000 a year to $75,000 a year, according to ZipRecruiter.

10 steps to starting and growing a successful writing business

You've decided to start your writing business. You're ready to create the life you've always dreamed of, and we are here to help you do it. That’s why we've put together these 10 steps for starting and growing a successful writing business.

Define your goals

You need to have clear, measurable goals to ensure that you are on the right track and meeting your business objectives.

If you’re just starting out, it may be more difficult to define these goals because you don’t yet know what type of clients you will attract and what sort of projects they will ask from you. However, that doesn't mean that setting some basic parameters isn't helpful for your future growth as a freelance writer.

It can be helpful to write down your goals and review them regularly. Of course, you also want to make sure your goals are realistic. And, of course, you should make sure you have the money to achieve your goals; We’ll talk about establishing a financial runway later in this blog post.

Find a profitable niche

Choose a niche that you’re interested in. This is an important aspect of choosing a niche. If you love what you do, then it will be easier to keep going when times get tough and your motivation wanes. 

Choose a profitable niche. This can be difficult if your area of expertise isn’t well-known or in high demand by other businesses, but there are still plenty of niches to choose from where there is money to be made in writing articles or blog posts for people who make money online (i.e., e-commerce websites).

Avoid niches that may not be profitable enough for your business model.

Learn how to price your services

Pricing your services is a lot easier if you have a plan. If you’re just starting out as a freelance writer and don’t know what other writers are charging, it can be difficult to figure out where to start. However, there are some steps that will help guide you in the right direction.

  • Understand the value of what you do. Before beginning any pricing discussion with clients or prospects, it's helpful to know how much your services are truly worth. This does not mean that everything must cost thousands of dollars; rather, it means having an idea about how much time and effort goes into each piece of work that comes across your desk—and then determining whether those tasks contribute value for the client or prospect who needs them done. It may take some experimentation before this becomes clear (which is part of why we encourage freelancers not just follow industry averages when deciding their rates), but once you discover what works best for both parties involved (and what doesn't), setting prices becomes much easier from there on out.
  • Find out who else is  offering similar products/services at different prices.
  • Look at market trends over time before making any decisions about increasing fees or lowering them based on demand/supply factors.

Learn how to sell your services 

It's important to understand your value as a writer, and have confidence in the skills you bring to the table. You're not just a writer—you're a freelance business owner, and your time is valuable.

The first step towards selling your services is identifying what it is that makes you stand out from other writers. Once you've identified what sets you apart from everyone else on the market, then it's time to sell yourself.

Often, the outcome your clients are looking for will not be writing. In most situations, what you’re really getting paid for is what your writing gets the client. That may be leads, impressions, subscribers, etc. Understanding this makes it easier to market yourself.

Showcase your work online

Now that you’ve got your business started, the next step is to get your name out there. This can be done through social media, a portfolio website and blog posts on other people's websites.

When potential clients want to know whether you’ve worked with clients like them in the past, you’ll be able to share specific examples with them that can help convince them you’re the perfect freelancer for the job.

Create systems to keep organized

The first step to getting organized is deciding what systems are going to work best for you. Do you prefer a paper-based system, or something digital? Do you need a detailed schedule that accounts for every minute of your day, or can you make do with a rough outline? Experiment and see what works best.

For example, I like having cloud access to my calendar at all times so I can easily check my schedule and confirm appointments with clients. For other freelancers who prefer pen and paper over digital calendars, an appointment book works just as well. Maybe you like writing things down in checklist form; if so, an app like Trello could be ideal for keeping track of projects from start to finish (and even collaborating with other people).

The bottom line is you need to establish project management systems that work for you so you can stay on top of every aspect of your freelance writing business.

Get out there and start pitching

When you’re first starting out, you might feel like your portfolio is too small and your experience too limited to attract any clients. But that's not true—I got my first paid writing gig at 17 and my only professional experience at the time was bagging groceries!  If it worked for me, it can work for you too.

The best way to get started pitching is by making a list of potential clients and researching their websites, social media accounts and blogs. Once you have some good candidates in mind, keep an eye on their news feeds or webpages for opportunities that could be relevant to your skill set (for example: if they just announced a new partnership or product launch). Then send them an email introducing yourself as someone who knows about the industry and would love to contribute content about this topic on behalf of their company/organization/etc., attaching samples of previous work that showcases this ability.

Get your first client...and do a great job

Now, it’s time to get your first paying client. You might not be able to find one right away, but keep looking.

There are many different ways to get clients — from cold email to job boards — so experiment and see which methods you’re comfortable with. You can attend conferences or in-person networking events. You can ask people in your network for referrals. 

Here are a few resources to help you out:

37 Beginner-Friendly Ways to Find Freelance Writing Jobs (2023)

20 Online Gold Mines for Finding Freelance Writing Jobs

Entry-Level Freelance Writing Jobs for Beginners: The Definitive Guide

Network

Networking is the best way to find new clients and make connections that can help you grow your business. You can even make friends who will support you as you build your writing career.

Networking is not just about getting clients; it's also about building relationships with other writers, editors, and marketers whose work you admire. By networking with others in your field, you'll learn from them and be able to take what they do and add it to your own skill set. You'll also be able to share ideas about how to market your writing business effectively.

So how do you go about networking? First, decide on a goal. For example, if your goal is to get more clients, then focus on building relationships with people in your industry such as other writers or editors. If your goal is to build a community around your blog or website, then focus on reaching out to others in the same niche as yourself.

Generally, it’s better to put aside 30 or 60 minutes every day to network consistently than to reserve two three-hour blocks of time each week.

Why? Three reasons:

1. When you do all your networking in big chunks, you start to lose momentum after the first hour. You’ll work less efficiently and get less done.

2. It’s harder to keep big chunks of networking time in your schedule. When things get busy, you end up skipping them. Smaller chunks of time are easier to commit to. And if you end up skipping one short networking session, you won’t fall as far behind.

3. When you dedicate a set amount of time to networking every day, it becomes a habit. And networking regularly is a habit that’s critical to long-term freelance writing success — whether you’ve just launched your business or are well established.

Remember: 

  • It's not about who you know, it's about who knows you
  • It's about quality, not quantity
  • It's about being genuine and sincere
  • It's about being helpful
  • It's about being memorable

Practice solid money management 

This means keeping track of the money you make and the money you spend. It also means making sure that your income is greater than your expenses on a monthly basis, so that your business can continue to run smoothly.

In fact, if you don't have good financial habits and practices, it can be incredibly difficult to get your business off the ground—and even once you have it up and running, it's not easy to keep it going.

So how do you make sure that your money management is on par with your writing skills?

The first step is to be honest with yourself about your goals. Are you looking for supplemental income or do you want this to be your full-time job? If it's the latter, you need to think about how much money you need to make for that to be possible. Then, figure out how much time it will take you to make that amount of money—and do not underestimate the amount of time it will take.

Next, calculate how much money will be needed to cover all of your expenses while also covering your costs while working on this project. This includes things like bills, groceries, housing costs, and so on. The last thing you want is to have no profit after all is said and done!

Finally, determine what kind of financial cushion or safety net you will need before starting up a new business venture like this one so that if things don't go as planned (and they probably won't), then at least there's something there for backup support when times get tough.

Pro Tip: Hectic’s handy accounting feature can help you stay on top of every financial detail so that you can pay taxes, bill expenses, calculate profits, and more all in one platform.

Over to you…

So there you have it! 

These are just some of the tips I’ve learned along the way and I hope they help you get started on your own freelance writing business. Remember, don’t be afraid to experiment. You never know when one little tweak might make all the difference in your success as a freelancer.

When it comes to the freelance writing business, there are no shortcuts. It takes hard work, determination and patience to succeed in this field—but if you're willing to put in the time and effort, there's no doubt that you'll reap the reward of financial freedom and creative satisfaction.

With this guide you won't miss a step setting your business up for success. Now get to it!

And don’t forget, Hectic is here to help you increase productivity and earn more money, as well as providing continuing education for freelancers to grow their skills. You can learn more about how Hectic works here.

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Anthony Sills
Anthony Sills is the Founder & Content Strategist at Professional Pen. He helps SasS and tech companies create marketing content that measurably attracts more customers using proven strategies, tactics, and frameworks.
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