how to become a freelance writer

How to Become a Freelance Writer in 2021

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This post will give you all the info you need on how to become a freelance writer. For digital émigrés, freelance writing is an excellent choice. It’s the ultimate portable online business, and the skills you acquire will be useful in many other areas too. 

Back in 2012, I launched my first online venture as a freelance writer, focusing mainly on blogging. Later on, I moved into different areas of freelance writing, always maintaining my location independence. You can do the same.

Some people think it’s hard to make good money from freelance writing. I used to think the same. When I worked as a freelance journalist, I was lucky to make £500 from a single article.

That included a lot of work: finding the story, pitching it to several editors, being rejected, then finally accepted. Rinse and repeat. Later came interviewing, transcribing, sometimes hiring an interpreter, then writing the whole thing up.

It was hard work with low financial reward, although it was satisfying to see my bylines in outlets like Al Jazeera and the Daily Telegraph.

But I needed to make more money.

It took me a while, but I finally got there. If you want to become a freelance writer as part of your émigré journey, this post will help you avoid wasting time (like I did) on the wrong things.

Why become a freelance writer?

You can become a freelance writer and make good money. I’d say that generating at least 5k GBP in monthly revenue is well within your reach.

Can you imagine what that would do for your digital émigré aspirations? It would allow you to make a confident move abroad. You’d be easily accepted for residency in almost any country that needed proof of sufficient income.

In this post, I’m going to walk you through the exact things I did to become a freelance writer earning good money. If you follow these tips carefully, you should be able to generate a healthy income as a freelance writer.

The different types of freelance writing

Before jumping into the details of how to become a freelance writer, let’s get familiar with the different kinds of freelance writing. You want to make sure you pick the one that suits you best, while still making sure it has decent earning potential.

Blogging

Blogging is the mainstay of writing online. Blogs first appeared in the 1990s, mostly maintained by a single author.

But gone are the days when the word ‘blog’ called to mind images of someone writing their diary on Blogspot, or sharing stories about their pets or travels (although those still exist, of course).

Over the last few years in particular, blogging has gotten serious. It’s become de rigueur for companies of all stripes to maintain active blogs. To be effective, these blogs need to be more than just news about company achievements and latest hires.

Blogs now have to deliver real value to their target audience, free of charge, in order to build trust and rapport for future purchasing decisions. In 2021, blogging is a key tool in a company’s marketing kit.

Five years ago, companies would often task their in-house employees to keep the company blog supplied with fresh content. But that’s no longer enough in 2021. Thanks to changes in the way Google ranks web content for SEO, the most effective blog posts are LONG.

Nowadays, blog posts should be anything from 1,800 to 2,500 words (if not more) to rank well in Google search results. It’s hard for company employees to churn out such long blog posts alongside all their other tasks. And, of course, those posts need to also be high quality.

In 2021, blogging has become specialist work. That’s why many companies need dedicated expert writers to keep their blogs supplied with high quality long-form posts that rank well in search. The great news is, one of those writers could be you.

Content writing

Content writing is a more general term that includes blog posts, but also encompasses social media updates, ebooks, client case studies, how-to guides, reviews and lead magnets.

In a nutshell, it’s any form of marketing-oriented writing for the web that doesn’t involve direct selling (that’s called copywriting).

Content writing is about building trust, rapport and engagement between a business and its target audience. To become an effective content writer, you’ll need to understand how SEO works and how to craft compelling stories around those key-phrases without sounding repetitive, wooden or stilted.

You’ll also need to get a good grasp of your client’s business, especially when it comes to understanding the main problems of their target audience.

It’s also important to adapt the style and tone of your content to blend in with that of the wider client business. You can do this by studying the client’s existing content to see what they say and how they say it.

Copywriting

Copywriting is a form of persuasive writing that encourages people to buy a product or service. Think about landing pages on your favourite websites, other website copy, text on Facebook ads, LinkedIn ads, and sales pages.

All those are forms of copywriting.

Copywriting taps into aspects of consumer psychology, so it can be an interesting direction for those with a background in psychology. But you don’t need any specific qualifications to become a freelance copywriter.

Copywriting is a great skill to have in your freelance writing arsenal. It commands high pay, because your words can make the difference between a prospect buying or clicking away.

Being close to the money also makes it easier to communicate the added value of your copywriting service to a prospective new client.

To get a good foundation in the basics of copywriting, I’d recommend starting with these resources.

Technical writing

This is a less glamorous but potentially lucrative area of freelance writing. Technical writing normally involves creating detailed user manuals and guidebooks for machinery and software. But it can also extend to preparing detailed long form reports and white papers, likely with statistics and data analysis.

Technical writing is most common in industries such as IT, engineering, oil and gas, pharmaceutical, and agriculture. It’s also essential in cutting-edge emerging fields such as biotech, health tech, fintech (including cryptocurrency) and artificial intelligence.

If you have a good head for details and find that kind of writing stimulating, technical writing is a lucrative area to work in. It would be a particularly great fit if you have a background in a technical discipline like computer science, engineering, or physics.

Freelance journalism

Many aspiring writers are keen to become freelance journalists. The job has always carried an aura of glamour, reminiscent of vintage war correspondents and Ernest Hemingway.

I had similar visions in mind when I became a freelance journalist in late 2013. After gaining an NCTJ qualification online, I moved to Istanbul and launched myself into the unpredictable world of freelance journalism.

A few Google searches taught me how to write good pitches. On Twitter, I sent story ideas to editor after editor. Finally, one of them accepted, and my career began.

As I gained more bylines, social proof kicked in and other editors accepted my pitches more easily. I was thrilled when I got my first article published in the Daily Telegraph.

Many more followed, in several international news outlets. I did some edgy pieces, such as the one where I got lost in the back alleys of Istanbul, looking for an illegal bookstore. It was a fun time.

Despite the occasional thrills, I don’t recommend freelance journalism for wannabe digital émigrés. If you’re giving up an established career to go remote, then you’ll need to at least match your previous income. Unless you’re very lucky and/or extremely prolific, freelance journalism won’t pay enough to do that.

Also, as a digital émigré, you’ll need enough income to be eligible for your residency visa. Again, freelance journalism is unlikely to generate sufficient for that purpose.

If you want to make a decent living online for digital émigré purposes, you should definitely consider becoming a freelance writer. But I’d recommend thinking twice about going into journalism. 

How to make (good) money as a freelance writer

For starters,  focus on the industry areas where there’s plenty of money sloshing around. These include tech (especially venture funded startups), anything AI-related, healthcare and pharmaceutical, finance, real estate, and insurance.

Then, make sure your potential clients can afford you. Before pitching a new lead, I always do some research to make sure they can afford my rates. If they can’t, then it could be a waste of time to reach out. I use a couple of methods to assess this.

First, I check out the company profile on LinkedIn. I look for information about the number of employees, the location (is it an expensive capital city, or a low cost of living location?), whether they’ve hired many new employees recently, and news about successful funding rounds.

If the company is based in the UK, it’s also worth checking the Companies House website for the company’s most recent balance sheets and turnover. Those give a good indication of its financial situation.

Now, I’ll illustrate how you can make good money as a freelance writer.

Let’s start with the bare minimum: One client, one blog post per week.

To build and maintain a loyal audience, SEO experts recommend publishing one new blog post every week.

With Google algorithms getting smarter all the time, optimising your content to rank high in search results is more crucial than ever. In 2021, only the highest quality content will bee rewarded with a high search ranking. That’s not the only factor, but it’s certainly an important one.

In terms of blogging, that means businesses need to publish original, long-form (2000 words plus), detailed, clearly structured, value-packed posts. So what does this mean for you, the freelance writer?

Let’s say your rate is £0.20 (or around €0.20) per word, a realistic beginner rate for writers in the UK or Europe (It may vary if you’re in the US). 

Clients should be willing to pay this rate if you have a compelling portfolio with two or three good quality samples. That works out at £400 per blog post. One blog post a week is four per month, which is £1600. And that’s just one client.

NB: I suggest using the per word rate as a baseline figure to calculate your overall prices per piece of content, but don’t quote the per word figure directly to clients (unless they ask for it). Just give them your fee per project, e.g. £400 for a blog post of up to 2,000 words).

Don’t use hourly rates, as those penalise an increase in skill. The better and faster you get at your job, the less you get paid. Doesn’t make sense, right?

How many clients could you realistically handle in a month? Let’s say three. Three long blog posts per week is a manageable amount for most writers. That’s £1,200 GBP per week, which leads to revenue of £4,800 per month.

Now, let’s imagine you could sign all three of those clients for a long-term commitment, let’s say for 12 months (not always easy, but possible). That’s potentially over £57k GBP in revenue.

Of course, you’ll need to work hard to secure those clients, especially for the long-term. You’ll need a strong portfolio. And you’ll likely need to pitch new leads every day until you secure the ones who can afford you. But the point is, it’s a portable income that’s well within reach, even for those without formal qualifications.

Next, let’s look at how to actually get started.

How to start a freelance content writing business

I didn’t have much of a plan when I first became a freelance writer. I did extensive research, read a ton of stuff on Google, and scribbled loads of notes in my notebook.

Finally, I took action. I bought a domain name and launched a WordPress blog about nation branding – a topic that had caught my interest during the research phase. I drafted the first post, tentatively hit publish and sent it out into the world.

Not much happened, but at least I’d made a start. It took a while to get things off the ground. With no one to guide me, my journey was messy and convoluted. I hope this next section will help you learn how to become a freelance writer faster and more efficiently than I did.

Assess your existing skills and experience

When starting a business of any kind, it’s common to have imposter syndrome. Perhaps you think you’re not qualified enough, or too old, to become a freelance writer. But let me tell you, that’s nonsense.

You don’t need any special qualifications to start a freelance writing business and make it a success. It doesn’t matter how old you are. In fact, becoming a freelance writer is a career that favours maturity and life experience.

Your existing career could be exactly the right place to help you find your niche as a freelance writer. All your expertise and connections make the perfect starting point, as you’re already credible in your field.

I’ll illustrate my point with a few examples.

Let’s say you’re currently working in banking, finance or accounting. You’re in the perfect position to become a freelance content writer for financial services companies, including the lucrative fintech space.

There are hundreds of these companies out there – and they all need to market themselves with online content. Some have in-house content writers, but others rely on freelancers to pick up the slack.

Or perhaps you’re an estate agent with many years of experience. You can leverage that to become a freelance content writer for the real estate industry, because you’re already known as an expert. You can weave that expertise into all your client communications to give them instant confidence in you.

So here’s my key takeaway:

Think back over your career history. Brainstorm a big list of your main areas of expertise. Then, highlight the areas you enjoy and are the most interested in. As well as your career, also think about hobbies and educational achievements that could be relevant.

Narrow down your niche

Having a clearly defined niche helps you find clients, build a personal brand and market yourself. The key to. success is matching your expertise and interests with potential clients who need freelance writing about that specific subject.

You’ll probably have already found your industry of interest from the previous section. Maybe it’s related to your current career. Now let’s try and narrow things down a bit more.

For example, let’s go back to our finance example. You’ve been working full-time in the finance industry. To become a freelance writer, you could focus on fintech (financial tech) companies. From there, you could niche down even further to become a specialist in fintech companies that offer direct debit services.

Niching down to this extent makes some things easier, but it may limit you too much. For example, there might not be many companies in that niche. In that case, it would be fine to focus on fintech companies in general. In my experience, that sort of level has been niche enough for success.

Then, fire up Google and look up companies in your field of interest. Examine their websites. Do they have blogs? Do they regularly publish case studies or white papers? Are they well-funded and/or making good profits?

If so, this could be a promising freelance writing niche.

Also check out your potential competition and what’s already being written about this niche. Type your niche name into Google, followed by ‘writer’ (e.g. fintech writer, machine translation writer). See what comes up. You’ll probably get a mix of writer portfolios, blog posts and news articles. If you find lots of writers, don’t panic! That’s a good sign. It means there’s plenty of work in your niche.

And don’t worry about getting stuck in the first niche you choose. It’s easy to switch niches. I’ve done it at least four times. The goal here is just to get started. Drawing on your expertise is the best way to do that.

Build your freelance writing portfolio

Having a portfolio is essential for any freelance writer. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should look professional and achieve its key goal: showcasing your skills for potential clients.

If you haven’t already done so, I recommend buying your full name as a .com domain (if available). Try to avoid hyphenating your name. If you can’t get the .com version, you could try .net, or one of the newer extensions such as .online.  

Once you’ve got your domain, you’ll need to get hosting in order to launch it live. Your best bet is to sign up for an inexpensive hosting plan geared towards bloggers. Bluehost is one of the most popular and affordable out there. You can grab a nice discount by signing up via our link.

You can then use your domain with a simple website built on Wix, Squarespace or WordPress. Having a portfolio hosted under your full name gives you a professional vibe, while also making you easy to find with a quick Google search. What pages should you include in the website? Here’s a great breakdown from one of our favourite freelance writing gurus, Carol Tice. 

Finally, you’ll need a few samples to add to your portfolio. This might seem daunting at first, but there are some tried and tested ways to get started as a newbie. Let’s take a look at some. 

Write your own blog

You’d be amazed at how far a blog can take you. Most freelance writers have blogs, and blogging is a great way to quickly build your personal brand and improve your skills, while also generating samples that you can use in your portfolio. So, creating a blog should be the first step for a newbie freelance writer.

Keep your posts relevant to your ideal clients. For example, if you want to get paid to write for fintech clients, your blog should contain articles focusing on problems and trends in the fintech industry.

Share your finished articles on social media (Twitter and Linkedin are great for professionals) and use hashtags judiciously. That way, you’ll be more likely to get onto the radar of your ideal clients.

For maximum results, you should aim to write a new blog post every week, although once every two weeks can work well too.

An active, thoughtful and well-crafted blog is a significant tool for attracting clients. And the great part is – you have total control and can start right away.

Write guest posts

Another great way to quickly score some samples for your freelance writing portfolio is to write guest posts for other blogs in your area of focus. Guest posting is usually unpaid. But you’ll get the dual benefits of additional samples for your portfolio, plus a potentially valuable backlink to your portfolio website.

What’s more, the blog you guest post for will share your article on its social media channels, leading to additional reach for your work and your brand.

You’ll also get a byline on the article, which normally incorporates a short bio. This helps build your personal brand and get visible to potential paying clients. Here’s an example of what a good bio looks like:

Samantha North is a freelance writer for the fintech industry, specialising in long-form content, case studies and white papers. Her areas of expertise include direct debit, AI and online fraud. Samantha is currently taking on new clients. You can reach her at samanthanorth.com, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Note how the bio includes my main industry specialisation, types of content, and key areas of expertise. It also clearly states that I’m taking on new clients, and provides several ways to contact me, via my website and social media channels. You can also write your bio in the first person, but it’s common to have it in the third person when part of a byline on another blog.

Pitch friends and family

Done right, the first two methods should provide you with enough samples to build a compelling portfolio. If you still need more, it’s also worth reaching out to your immediate network to offer your freelance writing services. People who already know and trust you are more likely to either hire you, or recommend you to their networks.

This method works best if you already have some samples from the earlier steps. Also, it has the potential to lead into getting your first paying client. We’ll explore some more methods for finding paying clients in the next section.

Ask for testimonials

If you write any pieces for your immediate network, whether free or paid, don’t forget to ask for a testimonial. You can then showcase these on your portfolio to help attract more clients. Here’s what mine looks like. Two or three is enough for starters. If you can get them to record video testimonials, that’s even better.

In fact, I worked as a freelance writer for several years without asking for any testimonials. Recently, when I overhauled my portfolio, I went back to previous clients to ask for some. It’s perfectly possible to get paying clients without testimonials, but you’ll need strong samples in your portfolio. 

Get your first paying client

To start the ball rolling as a freelance writer, you need to secure your first paid client.

For starters, I recommend reaching out to your immediate network, friends and family members. Let them know that you’re offering freelance content writing services and ask if they know any small businesses that might need your help.

The next step is to go where your target audience spends time online. For most businesses, LinkedIn will be the main destination. Make sure your LinkedIn profile clearly states that you are a freelance content writer for your target industry. You can start by joining LinkedIn groups for your industry.

Get yourself noticed by providing constructive comments and posting a few of your own blog posts. But don’t go overboard with posting your own links, instead save them for moments when they are directly relevant to the discussion. It’s all about adding value.

Alongside being active in relevant industry groups, you can also reach out directly to decision-makers at your companies of interest. For freelance content writers, the best decision makers will be content managers, heads of content, or marketing managers.

Reaching these decision makers is easiest to do if you buy a LinkedIn Sales Navigator subscription. It has a lot of features to help you target the best potential clients. 

Navigator gives you plenty of InMails (LinkedIn’s internal email service), which you can use to make cold contact with new prospects. It also allows you to perform advanced searches across the LinkedIn database and sort your targets in granular detail, such as according to their job title.

If Sales Navigator is out of your budget at present, you can also send connection requests with a short note. In this, you should briefly introduce yourself, include a link to your portfolio, and ask if they need help with content creation.

Be prepared to reach out to quite a few people before you get a positive result. But, if you target relevant decision makers with a brief and clear message, you should receive some replies. If they express interest, the next step is to arrange an introductory call to discuss their content writing needs in more detail.

Congratulations! You’re well on your way to scoring your first freelance content writing client, and creating a portable business to kickstart your digital émigré journey.

Did you find this post useful? If so, please share with anyone who might enjoy it. 

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