Last updated: February 12, 2019
How to Get Started with Freelance Writing to Earn Money with Your Words
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Freelance writing as a career has existed for a long time, but in the internet age it's easier than ever for anyone to get started earning a living as a writer or blogger.
In this article, we'll be talking about two different types of writers:
- Professional bloggers who earn a living from their own blog(s).
- Freelance writers who earn a living writing (often blogging) for others.
What Freelance Writers and Professional Bloggers Do
Freelance writers and professional bloggers do similar work. But they are distinct.
"Freelance writer" is a broad term that can refer to many different kinds of writing careers.
Some use the term solely to refer to those who write for publications, such as magazines or online publications, but it can also mean any independent writer. Projects can be one-off assignments, or recurring regular work.
The term "freelance writer" might refer to:
- Magazine writers: specialize in writing articles for popular magazines (such as Vogue or Esquire) or trade magazines (industry-specific publications like Advertising Age or Automotive News).
- Journalists: investigate and write articles for news publications.
- Bloggers: specialize in writing paid blog posts for clients' blogs.
- Copywriters: create "copy" for the purpose of marketing or advertising. Copy can include web content, direct mail, taglines, brochures, sales letters, emails, etc.
- Social media writers: specialize in writing updates for social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
- Web content writers: create articles for online publications.
- Ghostwriters: take on the voice of their client and write for them, without getting a byline credit. Instead, the piece will be credited to the client, and the ghostwriter generally kept secret.
Some writers are generalists and take on a variety of work. Others may specialize in a certain format or industry, or have multiple specialties.
Even among different types of writers, there's an incredible amount of variety. Freelance writers can earn a living with all kinds of niche specialties. For example, a copywriter might choose to specialize in just writing brochure copy, direct mail pieces, or product descriptions. A ghostwriter might specialize in helping people write their own memoirs. A writer who specializes in business might make a living just writing annual reports or business plans for a specific industry, or grant proposals for non-profits. Some freelancers only write blog posts or web content on specific topics they specialize in. Others choose to specialize in social media strategy for one platform, planning campaigns and writing effective updates for just Facebook or Twitter.
Typical tasks performed by freelance writers will vary depending on the type of writer, and may include:
- Pitching article or project ideas to clients or publications
- Conducting research and interviews
- Presenting drafts to editors and clients for feedback
- Working with editors and clients to shape the material to their specifications
- Communicating with clients throughout the project
- Coordinating with graphic designers, SEO experts, etc
- Publishing content to a client's blog or social media outlet
- Marketing themselves and getting new clients by applying to job postings, asking for referrals, cold calling or cold emailing, social media, content marketing, etc
- Maintaining their own portfolio or website
- Accounting, bookkeeping, and taxes
- Negotiating with and invoicing clients
- Managing subcontractors for research, writing, etc.
Professional bloggers ("pro bloggers") maintain their own blogs and "monetize" them in different ways to earn an income. Thus they are generally working for an audience rather than clients.
Their typical tasks are similar to those of a freelance writer, but divert in important ways:
- Choosing blog post topics to interest their readers
- Writing, editing, and publishing blog posts on their own blog
- Managing the technical aspects of their website (hosting, design, troubleshooting, etc)
- Designing graphics for their blog
- Interacting with their readers by answering comments, replying to emails, updating social media, etc
- Marketing their blog and growing their audience through a variety of strategies, possibly including search engine optimization (SEO), networking, social media, etc
- Writing other supporting materials such as email newsletters, books, etc
- Managing member communities
- Seeking out and managing relationships with advertisers and sponsors
- Taking on speaking gigs
- Creating products to sell to their audience.
(See our Ultimate Guide to Blogging for Beginners (PDF) for more info and resources on these topics.)
Freelance writers and bloggers can work anywhere they have a computer and internet connection. Many writers work at home, whether in a dedicated home office or at their kitchen table or couch. Other use co-working spaces, rented office space, or in various environments while they travel.
Many freelance writers work long-distance with clients and may never even meet them face to face. Others may work face-to-face with local clients, or travel to meet them. Communicating with clients may be done by email, phone, or using video chat technology like Skype or Google Hangouts. Many writers also use project management software such as Asana, Basecamp, or Trello to communicate on project details.
Many freelance writers work part-time or variable hours. One of the biggest benefits writers mention about freelancing is the flexibility and ability to set your own schedule.
Since freelance writing is a global profession, freelance writers can live anywhere in the world. Living in an area with a lower cost of living will stretch your money farther.
One of the downsides of freelance writing is the lack of office camaraderie. It's important for freelance writers to network with other writers and get out of the house regularly in order to stay healthy.
How to Become a Freelance Writer or Blogger
In the internet age, it's easier than ever to become a freelance writer and start earning an income. Freelance writing as a career is possible for most people, but that doesn't mean it's a good fit for everyone. Here's what is takes.
A college degree in English or communications may be helpful for those who need to improve their writing skills, but they are not required to become a freelance writer. While you should have good writing skills, this can be learned without a college education. Generally, clients will be looking at your relevant experience and portfolio, and will not ask or care about whether you have a degree in English.
However, for some industries, a relevant degree could help you land more work and negotiate higher pay for your expertise.
Freelance writers are often self-taught and continuously learn on the job to improve their writing and business skills. Sometimes writers will do pro bono work to gain experience or develop specific skills.
Just being a good writer doesn't guarantee success as a freelance writer or blogger. While good writing skills are essential, you also need to be good at managing a business and marketing yourself to get work.
Important qualities for freelance writers include:
- Humility: when you're writing for clients, it's not about you or your ego. You won't last long if your feelings are hurt by edits to your writing.
- Self-discipline: when you're self-employed, you are your own boss, and you need to act like it. Freelance writers must have the discipline to meet deadlines and work even when they don't feel like it, and keep up with "boring" tasks like accounting and invoicing.
- Independence: you need to be able to make decisions for yourself and take charge of your own business, without the need for someone to tell you what to do.
- Adaptability: you must be able to adapt to changing industries and developing technologies.
- Creativity: you need to be able to come up with ideas on demand.
- Critical thinking skills: you should be able to research and analyze information and understand new concepts so that you can explain it to others.
- Social skills: writing can be a solitary career, but you still need to be able to successfully communicate with your clients, interview subjects, and connect with your readers.
- Writing skills: you must have excellent grammar and spelling skills, and be able to clearly communicate your ideas to your readers.
- Curiosity: the most successful writers love continuously learning new things and applying their knowledge to change and grow their business.
As a self employed person, you are in charge of your own advancement and the development of your business.
Success and advancement will mean different things to different people. Some writers dream of working part-time hours and working while traveling. Others want to scale up their business and hire other writers. Still others want to transition to product-based, more passive business models.
Advancing, or scaling up your business, can be difficult for freelance writers. That's because as a service provider, you're trading hours for money. The amount you can earn is limited by how many hours you can work. You can make more money by increasing your rates, but there are only so many hours in a day.
Common ways to scale up a freelance business and earn more money include:
- Raising your prices
- Working faster
- Selling products in addition to services.
Pay for freelance writers and bloggers varies widely. There are so many factors that go into it, and such a wide range, that giving a median amount is meaningless.
Freelance Writers and Bloggers
The average income for freelance writers in the United States is $42,120. Freelance bloggers can make anything from under $10 a post, to $500 or more.
When you're a freelance writer, you're a business owner. Though freelance writing doesn't require as many overhead expenses as starting a store or a restaurant, it's not free.
Common business expenses include:
- Health insurance
- Retirement savings
- Website hosting and domain fees
- Office supplies
- Software (accounting, marketing, customer management, etc)
- Education (books, courses, certifications, etc)
- Payment processing fees
- Bookkeeping and accounting
- Subcontracting (hiring virtual assistants, writers, researchers, designers, etc).
In general, earning a living as a professional blogger is harder than doing so as a freelance writer. From various surveys and statistics around the web, most bloggers who try to earn money from their own blogs don't make much, but it is possible to earn a living:
- According to Blogging.com, 81% of bloggers have never made more than $100 from their own blogs. Only 17% of bloggers who answered the survey earned their primary income from their blogs.
- According to Problogger, only about 9% of bloggers made between $1,000 and $10,000 a month. Four percent make over $10,000 per month.
- This infographic by ignitespot says that only 14% of bloggers earn a living from their blogs, and they make $24,000 a year on average.
- According to Glassdoor, full-time professional bloggers make anywhere from $19,000 to $79,000 per year.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of writers and authors is projected to grow just 2% from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average for all occupations. However, this statistic includes all kinds of writers, from authors to journalists to movie script writers.
Self-employment, on the other hand, is increasing in many countries. According to research by Economic Modeling Specialists International, the number of people who primarily work on their own has increased 14% since 2001 in the US. The UK's Office for National Statistics also shows that the number of self-employed in the UK is rising.
While most bloggers don't earn a full-time living from their own blogs, many freelance bloggers and writers earn a living writing for others. Content marketing is on the rise, and more and more businesses have a need for written content, including blog posts, to market their businesses.
Our world is made up of words everywhere you look. As long as civilization exists, there will be a need for writers to write those words. While the specific mediums may change and different industries may ebb and flow, there will always be opportunities for freelance writers looking to earn a living.
While you don't necessarily need a formal education to become a freelance writer or blogger, you do need to educate yourself on the profession if you want to be successful.
There's no lack of resources out there for getting started as a freelance writer — in fact, there are so many resources it can be overwhelming to get started.
Unfortunately, it's become quite popular to earn money online by selling courses and guides teaching others to do something you only have the most rudimentary knowledge of yourself. Consequently, aspiring freelance writers and bloggers should be extremely cautious about vetting self-proclaimed experts. Check the author of any resource you come across and make sure it's someone with a good amount of experience and proven successes under their belt, not a novice who's just starting out.
Long-running freelance writing blogs can be treasure troves of free information. These are some of the best, by real experts.
- All Indie Writers: this multi-award-winning blog by veteran freelance writer Jenn Mattern has hundreds of articles on freelance writing, professional blogging, and self publishing. Her no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is style is a refreshing contrast to other blogs. If you only read one blog on freelance writing, this should be it.
- Words on the Page: experienced writer Lori Widmer has been generously blogging advice for new freelance writers for over 10 years. She specializes in risk management and insurance writing, but her sage advice on finding clients, business planning, marketing, and more is applicable to writers in any industry.
- Make a Living Writing: award-winning freelance writer Carol Tice has supported her family with her writing since 2005, and has been providing blogging advice for writers on how to grow their income since 2008. The blog archives contain everything you need to launch a successful freelance writing career.
- Be a Freelance Blogger: Sophie Lizard's blog is geared more towards beginners, and focuses exclusively on freelance blogging. It's a great place to learn about what goes into a freelance blogging career and how to get your first clients.
- Doctor Freelance: Jake Poinier has been freelancing since 1999. His blog contains valuable info for intermediate-level freelancers who want to up their game and earn more. He also takes time to answer readers who write in with their own questions.
- Copyblogger: learn all the skills and techniques you need to write compelling copy for your blog and become a master at content marketing.
- Freelance Writers Den (paid): Carol Tice's community is extremely active and useful for beginner freelance writers who need one-on-one guidance. Forum posts are often answered with great advice from Carol herself, and you can also get personalized reviews of your work, marketing, pitch letters, etc. The community also comes with access to many courses and books on freelance writing. While this is a paid community, it's a fantastic investment for getting started.
- All Indie Writers Writing Forums: while not super active, this forum is a great place to interact one-on-one with veteran writers like Jenn Mattern and Lori Widmer.
- BAFB Community Forum: semi-active forum on all aspects of freelance blogging, frequented by new writers and big names alike.
While there's a lot of valuable information to be found scattered online, it can be more efficient to read a book with all the information you need in one place.
- The Well-Fed Writer (2009) by Peter Bowerman: a well-organized book on every aspect of freelance writing, and it includes plenty of examples and case studies of successful writers.
- The Wealthy Freelancer (2010) by Slaunwhite, Savage, and Gandia: this practical guide will walk you through starting your freelance writing career, step by step.
- The Science, Art, and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid (2013) by Jake Poinier: everything you need to know about pricing, estimating, and collecting fees for your freelance writing services.
- The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed (2010) by D'Agnese and Kiernan: not on freelance writing per se, but you'll need to learn how to manage finances as a self-employed person, and this book is a great guide on how it all works.
While job boards aren't the best way to sustain your career, they are great for getting started and picking up your first few clients.
- ProBlogger Job Board: this job board lists only blogging jobs, with a wide range of fees.
- Morning Coffee Newsletter: get alerts to the latest freelance writing job postings around the web from this curated daily digest.
- Flexjobs (paid): a job board exclusively for telecommute jobs, including writing jobs.
You don't need to spend years earning a specialized degree to become a freelance writer or blogger. This career is easy to jump right in and get started with — but if you want to be successful, you should do your research and seek to educate yourself along the way. With the resources above, you have all the tools you need for freelance writing and blogging success!
Further Reading and Resources
We have more guides, tutorials, and infographics related to freelance writing and blogging:
- 7 Common Blogging Mistakes to Avoid: don't get trapped blogging the wrong way.
- Blogging for Beginners: this is our ebook that tells you everything you need to know to start blogging.
- How to Search and Determine Credible Sources on the Internet: there's a lot of information on the internet that can help you in your writing. But not all of it is trustworthy.
Secrets of a Killer Blog Post
Want to know how to create a great blog post? Check out our video, Secrets of a Killer Blog Post.