How To Become A Freelance Writer And Earn Your First $1000
When you’re learning how to become a freelance writer, you don’t have to look far to find detailed tutorials on creating an online platform, finding remote writing jobs, or getting started with freelance blogging.
It can be overwhelming. All you want to do is get started on the path to a satisfying freelance writing salary — one that will more than justify leaving that “regular job” and spreading your wings.
Getting started as a freelance writer is easier than ever, though, thanks to the pioneers who created the resources they wished existed when they were starting out.
Thanks to them — and to this article (no false humility, here) — you’re about to learn what you need to know to get paid to write as a freelancer.
How to Become a Freelance Writer
You know you have it in you; you just need a clear, up-to-date guide on how to start freelance writing and earn your first $1,000.
So, let’s begin.
Table of Contents
1. Plan ahead and prepare to succeed.
If your family depends on your income — and you’re living from one paycheck to the next — it may not be the best time to quit your job and start freelance writing full-time.
The good news? You don’t have to go full-time all at once.
You can start this as a part-time side hustle, using your free time to tackle small writing jobs and build your freelance writer portfolio.
You can also build an online presence with writing samples by starting a website with a blog and a page that tells prospective clients what you write and what you charge for it.
Whatever you’re doing to prepare for the transition to full-time freelancing, do something every day to get closer to it, even if that something is spending half an hour on a new blog post or writing a letter of introduction (LOI) to a potential client.
And don’t forget that if you want this badly enough, you will make it happen. Write down exactly where you want to be three years from now, and don’t worry about how it will happen. Give your imagination free rein with the question, “What would I love?”
Then get to work, and keep those expectations high.
2. Find your niche and develop your knowledge and skills in this area.
Don’t think you have to sell yourself as an all-purpose writer in order to find paying work as quickly as possible.
If you market yourself this way, you’re more likely to attract clients who can smell the desperation for paying work and who will pay you a low rate for a writing project while requesting one revision after another, until you’re earning pennies per hour.
The clients who are willing to pay for high-quality writing want writers who specialize in their niche, whether that’s self-publishing, personal technology, naturopathic medicine, or something else.
So, do yourself and your future clients a giant favor by identifying what topics and types of writing you specialize in. Make a list of your top personal interests and ask yourself some questions.
- “Which of these could I see myself blogging about on a regular basis?” or
- “If a client asked me to write regular articles for them, which of these topics would have me internally jumping up and down with excitement?”
- “Which of these do I know so well I wouldn’t have to do an hour of research before writing an article about it?”
Because if you’re writing for the same niche one week after another, you want to know and love that niche — or you’ll burn out.
You don’t want to end up thinking, “If I have to write another article about fungal infections/insect mating rituals/manscaping, I’m gonna punch a hole in this wall with my head.” Save your head (and the wall) and choose a niche (or niches) you love enough to write for every week.
You’ll be happier for it, and so will your clients.
3. Create an online writer platform.
The sooner you build an online platform — a website with a blog and freelance services page — the sooner you can build an online portfolio of writing samples and a way for potential clients to reach you with questions and offers.
If you’re not sure what domain name (URL) to choose for your self-hosted website, try posting a poll on Facebook or Twitter to get some feedback from people. On Facebook, it’s easy enough to tag specific people whose feedback you trust.
In any case, don’t sweat this for too long; pick one you like (or one that gets positive feedback from people whose opinions you value) and that’s available, and run with it. If you think of a better domain name down the road, you can always register that one, too, and link it to your hosting account.
4. Build a portfolio.
Once your online platform is up and running, you’re ready to add content to attract your ideal clients and show them what you can do.
Start with these pages:
- About. Your “About” page should tell your visitors how you can meet their (specific) needs, and why they should trust in your ability to do so. You can include relevant details about your life, but focus on what you can do for them. Because that’s what you want them to remember when they leave your site for the day.
- Services: Create a page for your freelance services. Give it a name like “Writing Services” or “Work with me” or something that clearly communicates that it’s all about what you can do and what you charge for it.
Insider Tip: Clients won’t want to have to contact you to ask, “So, how much do you charge for writing ____?” Because if you reply with your rates, and it’s more than they want to spend, they’re left with the options of negotiating a lower rate, backpedaling, or ghosting you.
Do yourself and your clients a favor by being upfront about this on your site. We’ll discuss rates later in this article.
If you have books published, be sure to add a “Books” page with images and links to your books’ sales pages, along with brief, compelling descriptions for each. You can also include a link to a free PDF sample of your book — just enough to make them hungry for more.
Once you’ve got these pages set with content, commit to writing and publishing at least one new blog post a week (if work and other duties permit) to showcase your writing skills for prospective clients and others who will benefit from your writing.
5. Find and woo some clients.
While building your online platform, you should also spend some time each week looking for your ideal clients and for freelance writing opportunities that interest you.
But where do you find paying work when you’re just starting out?
So glad you asked!
Not every client you meet will fit the description of your ideal client, but you can learn from each experience and make any necessary adjustments to your website’s services page as you go along.
Every freelance writer has stories to tell of their early days. What will your first one be?
Where to Find Freelance Writing Jobs for Beginners
Beginning work probably won’t pay what you’d like to earn, but for now, you’ll want to focus on getting yourself established as a credible writer whose work is well worth the rates published on your website.
And to do that, you need experience. The following sites may just be short-term stops on your way to a better work arrangement, but there’s no shame in starting small and building on it.
- Upwork (the most popular and well-used content mill and not a bad place to start)
- Freelancer.com (very similar to Upwork)
- Constant Content (more selective than the previous two but with better rates)
- WritingBunny (more selective than the previous three but with better rates)
Just the work of writing proposals to get a response from a potential client is good practice for crafting persuasive pitches to clients (outside these mills) who are willing to pay good rates for high-quality writing.
So, consider content mills as training wheels for your freelance writing business. You won’t need them forever – just until you learn how to get the wheels rolling.
Make it a goal to use up all your proposal credits (or Upwork “contacts”) for the month. Eventually, you’ll create a sort of template for your proposals, which will make it easier for you to write them more quickly.
Here’s a sample template:
Hello, [client’s name]!
You’re looking for a writer who can [sum up what they want you to do].
As a writer/author who specializes in [relevant subject area], I’ve [list a couple highlights that give evidence of your experience and expertise]. Your [type of writing assignment] sounds ideal, and I would love to get started as soon as possible.
I’m attaching a PDF sample of [some relevant writing, whether it’s an ebook, an article, a report, a sales letter, etc.]. You’re welcome to review other samples of my work on my website at [URL].
Your writing project deserves a writer who loves the kind of work you need and can exceed your expectations. I look forward to working with you!
With gratitude for your consideration (or “All the best”),[Your name]
Once you’ve had enough of content mills and you’re confident enough of your pitching ability to reach out to your “dream clients,” you can move on to the next step.
Where to Find Online Writing Jobs
Thanks to the pioneers in freelance writing on the internet, writers today have plenty of options for finding paying work as freelancers. Not all are free, and there’s no shame in starting with the ones that are.
- ProBlogger.com: If you’re particularly keen on the idea of writing blog posts for money, check out this listing and apply to the writing gigs that make you think, “That could be fun!” or “I could write this in my sleep.”
- BloggingPro.com: This is similar to ProBlogger.com, and you’ll likely see some listings here that are identical to ones you saw on Problogger. Even with overlap, it’s worth a peek.
- FreelanceWritingJobs.com: This job board collects job listings from sites like craigslist.com, Indeed.com, etc., and allows you to filter them by type and location (including “remote”).
- All Indie Writers: Here you’ll find another listing of writing jobs curated from outside sources, as well as helpful articles and other resources for freelance writers.
- MediaBistro.com: Like Indeed.com, this is a great place to search for jobs close to home; unlike Indeed.com, this was designed with freelancers in mind. If you’re looking for local opportunities (or remote) opportunities that will let you work wherever you want (at home, in a coffee shop, etc.), this site is worth bookmarking.
You may have to write several pitches before you get a yes (such is life), but the more you put yourself out there — pitching your heart out and risking rejection — the better and more confident you’ll get, and more your response rate will improve.
If you’re ready to pay for a monthly membership that provides not only up-to-date, selective listings of writing jobs that pay good rates but also resources to help you improve your skills as a writer, try the following:
- Freelance Writers Den with Carol Tice: You’ll have to get on the waiting list for this one, but they open twice a year for new members, and they’re constantly updating their material (articles, videos, and workshops) for freelancers to help you earn more money – sooner – with your writing.
- Contena: This popular paid job board curates freelance writing opportunities that pay better than most gigs you’ll find on the free boards. Contena Academy has video courses to help you hone your skills and develop new ones to ramp up your earning potential. The downside here is the cost, which is far above what you’d pay for the Den or for Paid to Blog (see next).
- Paid to Blog: Gina Horkey recommends this service, which saves you precious hours of searching for quality writing jobs and sifting through penny-per-word gigs. The heading on the main page reads “Find Freelance Blogging Jobs Quickly, and Get Paid What You’re Worth.”
What Are The Common Freelance Writing Rates?
Freelance writing rates per word depend largely on what you’re writing and on your skill level and experience (portfolio).
For instance, at the low end of the rate spectrum, you’ll see SEO writing, web content, and content mill work (Upwork, etc.).
At the more lucrative middle range, you’ll see newspaper and magazine article writing assignments, creative writing jobs, and business writing projects like white papers, reports, brochures, and grant proposals.
At the high end, you’re looking at technical writing jobs, medical and scientific journal articles, and big-name marketing/PR materials.
As for copywriting jobs (for sales funnels, landing pages, sales letters, web pages, etc.), you’ll find plenty at the low end of the rate spectrum, but if you find clients willing to pay well for persuasive copy, you can earn high-end rates.
Much depends on your client’s grasp of what constitutes good writing and what it’s worth.
Writing Under Your Own Name
If you’re wanting to create a portfolio of content you’ve written under your own name, your pen name, or your business name, you’re probably looking at the possible options:
- Guest posting on well-trafficked websites in your niche
- Article writing for online magazines and newspapers
- Writing an ebook and either selling copies online or providing it as a free download for potential writing clients (or both)
- Co-authoring a book on a topic you love with an author you respect
Writing for exposure isn’t a bad idea, either, if it gets your work noticed by paying clients and helps you build your online portfolio.
The idea of writing anything for free gets plenty of hate online, but you’re essentially doing that when you blog on your own site, anyway. And if your website doesn’t get much traffic, it makes sense to take advantage of an opportunity to write for one that does (and whose owner is willing to include a link to your website).
Yes, you want to earn that first $1,000 as soon as possible, but you probably know that, in order to become a successful freelance writer, you need to play the long game. And writing a few high-quality articles for exposure can be part of that.
With ghostwriting projects (books, blog posts, web content, etc.), you’ll find work that runs the whole spectrum in terms of pricing; the more experienced you are and the more your client likes your writing sample, the more you stand to earn.
It wouldn’t be unusual to find a client on Upwork who wants a 50K word book ghostwritten for $500, which comes to one penny per word.
Keep in mind that a 50K word book might take you about a month to write (possibly more) – just for the first draft – and another few weeks to revise and rewrite.
If you think you’d enjoy the project, though, and you can afford to work for a month or two for only $500 (assuming your client pays), then go for it and learn what you can from the experience.
Otherwise, see if you can negotiate a higher rate, or keep looking until you find something better.
Reasonable Rates to Start With
For example, 5 cents a word is a reasonable place to start if you’re confident of your writing ability and looking to create a portfolio, gain valuable experience, and collect testimonials from happy clients — whatever you’re writing for them.
When it comes to books, take the following steps to calculate your rate:
- Think about how many words you can realistically write in a month’s time. (e.g., 60K words per month). If you’ve ever written 50K+ words in a month for NaNoWriMo, you should have a pretty good idea of a reasonable month’s output.
- Now, think about how much you need to earn per month, and add 25%. For example, if you’re doing this part-time, and you need (or want) to bring in at least $1,000 a month with your writing, and you’re confident of your ability to write a 25K word book in a month’s time (the first draft, editing, and revision), add 25% ($250) to your monthly rate, and…
- Divide the total price ($1250) for the book by the word count (25,000) to get a per-word rate (0.05 or 5 cents per word).
Play with the numbers until you come to a rate per word that will generate the income you need to earn each month — one that will adequately compensate you for your work.
Make sure you know how much time you’ll be able to devote to writing in a given week and multiply that by four to get a rough estimate of your monthly writing time (in hours).
Once you know this, you can also calculate your rate per hour.
Don’t forget to factor in the time you’ll spend researching (if necessary) and for professional editing — whether or not you choose to outsource this.
As you become more efficient, you’ll be able to complete a 25K word book in less and less time, making it possible for you to earn more per month (and per hour).
Also, as you grow more experienced, you’ll be able to ask for higher rates of clients who love your work — or new clients who’ve received glowing recommendations from previous clients.
So, start with a rate you and your client can both live with, and go from there.
Ready to Get Started?
Has this article cleared the fog from your path to becoming a well-paid freelance writer? Our goal here is to help you make good money as a writer, so if we’ve given you a roadmap to the life you dream of, this article has fulfilled its purpose.
Depending on where you are in the process (e.g., whether you already have an online presence with your blog or with guest posts), you can use the information in this article to build on what you know to get closer to your first big payday.
And we’re excited to be part of that!
So, take some action today to get closer to your goal of writing full time and getting paid well for it. We’re rooting for you and ready to help with any of your questions.
And may your courage and sense of adventure influence everything else you do today.