How To
14 min read

What Is Freelance Writing?

Francisco Quintas

June 2, 2022

In the last two years, we’ve seen a shift in the working mindset all across the globe. “The great resignation” caused workers to reflect on their jobs during lockdowns.

As a result, freelancing became the way to go for many discontent workers. 

Since 2019, the number of freelancers in the United States has risen by nearly 10 million, and it seems the trend isn’t slowing down. By 2028, 20 million more will have opted for this new type of work.

In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about freelance writing and see if it may be a good career fit for you.

What is freelance writing?

Legally, freelancing means you’re hired as an independent contractor to solve a specific issue for an individual or company.

More specifically, being a freelance writer means you write content without being a full-time employee for an organization.

Instead, the employer hires you to solve a particular task, whether it’s regularly or a one-off occurrence.

grayscale photography of Brother typewriter

How does freelance writing work?

Freelancing is a lot of work. The benefits can be enticing, but being a freelancer is far from a get-rich-quick scheme.

Writing is just one aspect of being a freelance writer. While putting pen to paper is perhaps the most significant portion of the job freelance writers need to understand what it is like to be a business owner and everything it encompasses.

Self-employment is a blessing in some aspects, but most times, people only look at the positives. 

Freelance writers need to employ a marketing strategy to convince potential buyers they’re the right choice for solving a specific pain.

Additionally, freelance writers should be aware they will need some basic accounting skills. 

For instance, freelancers' daily lives involve additional tasks like:

  • Billing clients
  • Keeping track of invoices
  • Everything related to the job’s financial side

What are the benefits of freelance writing?

If you’re feeling discouraged so far, don’t go anywhere! There are positives to freelance writing, and they outweigh the negatives. 

Flexible Hours

The most attractive part of the lifestyle is probably the flexible hours. 

Are you a night owl? Work at night. 

Early bird? Wake up early and get going! 

Freedom is something most 9 to 5 workers lack. The fact that you can work when you want ultimately leads to more productivity. 

When you single out the periods when you're not naturally adept at getting work done, you'll be doing yourself and your clients a favor. 

Quality will increase, and your profits will skyrocket.

person clicking Apple Watch smartwatch

Higher Income

Higher incomes are obviously appealing as well, and freelancing can be lucrative. Since you won’t have to deal with a daily commute, you’ll be able to dedicate more hours to your craft. 

In addition, since you’re a business owner, when your results impress your clients, you can progress steadily and increase your income over time. 

First, try to deliver quality work to the clients you already have. 

Then, once you expand your network, you will be able to increase your rates at a higher pace and increase your income faster than with any traditional job.

What are the drawbacks of freelance writing?

While the benefits of freelance writing are great, there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind before making a career switch.

Managing an entire business

Perhaps the most significant drawback of freelancing is having to focus on multiple aspects of owning a business. 

If you have a passion for writing and don’t want to be distracted by other tasks, freelancing won’t be for you.

Handling clients is also something most people will find challenging. 

When you’re managing your network, you will find so many distinct personalities that staying on track can become overwhelming and burdensome. 

Most people are cordial and easy to work with. However, you’ll find some people unbearable to deal with if you’re not used to customer service.

Creating and managing a portfolio and developing a website will be a necessary step in your freelance writing career as well. You can always outsource some of this work if it isn’t your cup of tea, but it will be another source of stress and worry.

Social Stigma

We mentioned the positives of working flexible hours. However, it’s also vital to discuss it as one of freelancing's drawbacks. 

Not having a strict schedule is often frowned upon by friends and family. 

Juggling professional and personal life can become tricky. Sometimes the line between the two becomes blurry, putting some relationships in jeopardy. 

It can also be easy to fall off the tracks when you don’t have a boss enforcing working hours. 

If you lack self-discipline, it can be challenging to maintain a healthy work plan and stick to deadlines, ultimately compromising your career.

Are freelance writers considered self-employed?

Yes! Freelance writers are self-employed. In fact, more than being self-employed, they're business owners.

Some people even work 9-5 jobs and freelance on the side to make extra money. You can work your own hours when freelancing, so it's the perfect activity to balance your traditional job.

Since freelancers are self-employed, they're allowed business deductions when filing taxes. These deductions can include:

  • Home office expenses
  • Office supplies
  • Your work computer
  • Business-related software and subscriptions (such as Grammarly)
  • Traveling expenses (but only when meeting clients)

person holding paper near pen and calculator

Do I need a degree to be a freelance writer?

No degree is needed to become a freelance writer. However, that doesn't mean that writers can’t have an academic background. 

Clients don't look for a diploma when hunting for a writer. Instead, a portfolio is the name of the game. 

All you need to impress a client is your past work. A collection of well-made samples should be enough to secure gigs and cement your reputation as a seasoned freelance writer.

 The best way to build your portfolio is to read and write. 

As with most things, practice makes perfect, and writing is no exception. The more you write, the better you’ll be at it. The better you are, the easier it will be to impress clients.

Don't get caught up in doing too many online courses or chasing a degree. They can help initially, but the sooner you start putting pen to paper, the better you'll become in the long run.

How much does a freelance writer make?

Freelancer writers' salaries can range immensely. 

Of course, you won't be making more than $10 or $12 an hour when you start out. However,  that's where the beauty of freelancing resides. The more you work and the better you become, the more you earn.

Intermediate freelance writers report salaries of around $50/hr after just one year, assuming they have a full 40-hour schedule like a traditional worker. In reality, most freelancers don’t work full hours, so that value is actually higher when you adjust it to the hour.

Some freelance writers can afford to work only mornings, earning nearly $200 for each hour they're actually writing. Those may be the earnings for a top-tier writer, but it is certainly attainable.

Overall, a freelance writer averages nearly $26/hr. That's a respectable number considering you don't have commuting expenses and can work the way you want.

person getting 1 U.S. dollar banknote in wallet

How do freelance writers get paid?

If you have the wrong client, payment can be a hassle because of: 

  • Unclear requirements
  • Shady payment methods
  • Late transfers

This is where the importance of laying out some ground rules comes in. Make it clear:

 

  • When they need to pay
  • How they'll pay
  • Your rate 

The whole process will be a breeze for you and the client if you set definite goals from the start.

The first agreement should be on a rate. There are several ways you can charge for your work as a freelance writer to accomplish that.

By the word

Charging by the word is arguably the most common. 

This method is a simple way to make you and the client agree on a concrete value. 

However, the main downside is that clients often report freelance writers take advantage of this rate and become wordy to hit a specific word count.

By the hour

Charging per hour is also standard among freelance writers. 

You agree on a rate and log your hours in an app or website built specifically for the matter. 

The primary disadvantage is that keeping track of hours is sometimes tricky, and quickly getting the job done is penalized.

By the project

Finally, the client can give you a budget for a project. No matter the length, that's how much they will pay you. 

This can work when you have an established relationship with a client and know each other reasonably well. 

In that case, both parties know what to expect from a project and can easily agree on a fair budget. Otherwise, it's nearly impossible to get a fair budget for a project.

How to receive payments as a freelance writer

When you’ve completed the work and both you and the client are happy, it’s time to get paid. It's never been easier to transfer money anywhere in the world. 

As an example, here are a few of the most sought-out payment methods among freelancers:

  • PayPal
  • Cash App
  • Zelle
  • Venmo
  • Facebook Pay

Aside from these, a few freelance platforms like UpWork or Fiverr make the payment even more effortless and take care of invoices. 

The catch? They take a 20% cut of your earnings. But it gets better. 

When you’ve earned $500 from a client, your fees for that client will drop to 10%. When you get to $10,000 in earnings from a client, your fees for that client drop to only 5%! 

Is it a fair percentage for making your life a tad easier? That's up to you to decide.

How to be a successful freelance writer

Thriving as a freelance writer goes way beyond being a good writer

Experts say that your ability isn’t even the principal factor in making your career successful. Instead, how you handle all that comes with the job will make or break your freelancing future.

Remember, the client isn’t paying for your writing prowess. Rather, they need your help solving a particular problem. 

You need a few fundamentals to make sure you know how to navigate all that a freelance writer job will throw at you.

1. Go above and beyond

The best way to expand your network and get referrals is by delivering content that impresses your customers. 

If you deliver good work on time, that's great and probably enough to keep that client. However,  the only way to grow your business and propel yourself to the next level is to underpromise and overdeliver.

Set a deadline and deliver outstanding work two days early. Clients will be so impressed they will start referring you to their connections, helping you grow your business long term.

2. Agree on clear goals

There is nothing worse than delivering work only to find out you misunderstood the client's intentions. 

Reviews are part of the job, but it shouldn't take a redo to get a project right. Setting objective goals from the start is a golden rule to live by. 

After that, adhering to the guidelines you agreed on is fundamental.

3. Network

A passion for writing is a must. However,  you must be prepared for every aspect of freelancing life, including attending social gatherings potential clients are at. 

Solidifying your connections and broadening your network will be life-changing in the long run. 

In addition, the more clients you have, the higher your income will be.

4. Brand your services

Most freelancers are individuals running a single-person operation. However, just having a name may deter high-profile clients from hiring you. 

For that reason, you should invest in your brand image. 

This makes it easier to market yourself and get better deals by conveying more authority in the eyes of a potential client. 

5. Be Resilient

Clients will reject you. If you haven't gotten a “no” in your career, you're just getting started.

Even the most seasoned freelance writers take multiple “no's” every year. 

The way you deal with rejection will set the tone for your career as a freelancer. The trick is not getting caught up in the denial. 

Instead, accept the rejection and move on to the next prospect.

Writing services you can offer as a freelancer

Freelance writers can make their career authoring a wide variety of content. 

Your best bet is to focus on one facet of the job when you're getting started. Then, as you get more confident, you can try your luck in different areas.

This allows you to broaden your offering and ultimately upsell your current services.

Editing

Editing involves going over other people's texts and correcting any mistakes you find.

You could be a fantastic editor if you're sharp and have an eye for:

  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Form 

Businesses with in-house writers might be looking for an editor to proofread their content before it’s published. 

If your error-spotting skills are on point, companies will be more than happy to have you on board.

Web content

Every modern business needs top-notch web content. Organizations that don't invest in their web presence don't last in the new era of the digital economy.

There are tons of potential clients looking for a writer who will make their web pages informative and captivating. 

Blog writing

Blogging is the cornerstone of many websites. Blog posts can bring the much-needed traffic every company needs to its website. 

Well-crafted blog posts that rank well in search engines can have a dramatic impact on a business's ability to reach new customers. 

If you're great at telling stories and informing people about something without boring them, blog writing is a popular writing service you should try, and it’s easier than ever before in history to find blog ideas and topics.

Pro Tip: Use our free article topic generator to generate blog and topic ideas within seconds.

Ghostwriting

CEOs frequently require ghostwriters to write for them. A ghostwriter's job entails producing content for someone who claims it as their own.

This type of service requires a writer to adapt to their client's voice. 

Once the work is complete, the freelancer sells the rights to the piece they just produced.

Social media marketing

Short content for social media could be an option if you're a marketing genius with great communications skills.

Most brands lack the time or know-how to develop a solid social media presence. However, social platforms have taken center stage in the digital world. 

Present yourself as a knowledgeable social media writer. Brands will be more than happy to add you as the missing piece in their marketing strategy.

Email writing

Email outreach is still among the top methods companies use to grow their following. Therefore, businesses hire email writers to improve the quality of their writing and lead magnets.

Enticing content prompting potential customers to buy a service or product is something every business needs. 

If you're great at keeping your texts short and captivating, email writing might be for you. 

Product descriptions

If you thought email and social media content needed to be concise and well-thought-out, product descriptions take it to the next level. Short and sweet is the way to go here. 

It might seem like putting together a small group of words describing a product is easy. However, any experienced writer will tell you that the less space you have to write about something, the harder it gets. 

If you think you can describe something in a couple of lines, product descriptions might be your freelance writing niche.

How to create a freelance writing portfolio

You need a portfolio to get jobs, but you need to be hired to build a portfolio, right?

Well, there's actually a way around it. You don't actually need to secure jobs to build an authentic portfolio that will expand your network and land you more gigs.

Despite popular belief, you can create a portfolio even if you haven't been hired yet. The following are three strategies you can use to start building your portfolio.

person opening notebook on brown wooden table

Start your own website or blog

By writing your thoughts on a topic you're comfortable with, producing amazing content will not be a problem. 

There is no better way to start building a portfolio and honing your skills than writing about something you take an interest in. 

Creating a blog or website is an affordable method to jump-start your freelance career.

Guest post on other blogs

If you're not a fan of starting your own blog, you could try guest posting. 

Several websites with established followings need guest writers to come in and produce content for them. While it doesn't pay, it's an excellent way to contribute to an active blog and get readers to actually engage with your writing.

Invent clients

The last strategy is to come up with an imaginary client and produce enough content to compose a portfolio that will feel real. 

While the client may be invented, the content you wrote will be enough to showcase your writing skills, and that's all the client needs to see.

The trick here is creating samples that resemble something your ideal client would ask you to write. 

In a matter of days, you'll have enough content to send potential clients and land paying gigs. From there, you’ll be able to cement your portfolio while being paid for it.

How to find freelance writing jobs

Once you’ve figured out the niche you’d like to write in and have a portfolio together, it’s time to start landing some new clients!

Cold Pitching

While cold pitching is best suited for freelancers with proven results, it’s one of the best ways to land your ideal clients.

When you send your portfolio to companies you have no previous connection with and ask for a job, you're cold pitching.

Sending your portfolio to high-profile companies may seem daunting, but it should be the end goal of your freelance journey. It’s the single best method you can use to land big-money clients.

While this method will consistently bring you work later on, there are alternatives you should try, especially as a beginner. 

Upwork

The Upwork freelance platform is among the most popular in the world. UpWork allows clients to post their jobs, and you, as a freelancer, will be able to apply to the ones that look ideal. 

You'll have access to nearly unlimited options, but the platform will take a 20% cut of your profits. 

So, while it's a good place to start your career, you should start looking elsewhere as you get more experience.

The pros of using Upwork include: 

  • Easily accessible
  • Entry-level jobs
  • Simplifies secure payments and invoicing

The cons of using Upwork include:

  • Hard to find higher-paying jobs
  • High fees
  • Competition who will do the same job for less

Content mills

A content mill is a type of website that typically hires newbie freelance writers at low rates. The mill then sells the content to third parties at a much higher rate.

You shouldn't rely on content mills. Instead, move away from them and seek higher-paying gigs as soon as your portfolio permits.

The pros of working for content mills include:

  • Steady work and payments

The cons of working for content mills include:

  • Low-quality standards
  • Low pay

Job boards

More and more brands and companies are posting their job opportunities on job boards. Some freelance writing job boards examples are:

  • ProBlogger
  • Peak Freelance
  • MediaBistro

While it's not exactly a Job Board, if you hop on Reddit, you'll find freelance writer jobs on subreddits like /r/HireAWriter.

You may come across a lot of low-paying gigs, but you can find some well-paid long-term opportunities too. 

Checking each board every day will improve your chances of landing exciting jobs, though you may need a little luck.

The pros of using job boards include:

  • Easier to find higher-paying clients
  • No intermediaries

The cons of using job boards include:

  • Some jobs are fraudulent
  • It can be challenging to stumble upon a job in your niche

Your own website

Having a website where you sell services will make you look more professional and help you land high-profile clients. 

In addition, having all of your information on a website makes clients' lives easier.

The pros of using your own website include:

  • Easy to share
  • Will attract high-profile clients

The cons of using your own website include:

  • It can take a while before website views take off
  • Hosting a website will cost you money

Referrals 

Past clients, friends, and fellow freelancers may share your work with clients and help you secure gigs. 

Better yet, clients are more likely to choose you if someone they trust recommends you.

The pros of referrals include:

  • Clients are more likely to hire you
  • It takes virtually no work on your end

The cons of referrals include:

  • You have no control over whether you'll get a referral.

Social media

You'd be amazed at how social media reach can help your career take off. 

Just remember, it's a numbers game. If more people know you're selling freelance writing services, you're more likely to get hired.

The pros of using social media include:

  • Social media has more visibility than any other platform
  • LinkedIn Jobs has tons of opportunities

The cons of using social media include:

  • Freelancers may not want to share their work on social media

person using both laptop and smartphone

Freelance writing scams

Scams are lurking at every corner of the internet. Knowing where to look is a good start. 

However,  even on trusted websites, you'll come across fraudulent job postings.

The following are some of the ways scammers are likely to deceive you, get free work, or worse.

Fake job posts

 

You can find these on:

  • Job boards
  • Craigslist
  • Facebook

Once you apply, you'll find the job details are overly complicated and often ask for personal information from the start.

Unpaid trials 

Some clients post their job, ask for a portfolio, and then ask for a test article. 

These people promise a high-paying, long-term job if a writer aces their trial article. In reality, they are only looking for free content. 

Freelancers who agree never hear from the client again after delivering the free sample.

Cybercriminals 

Some scammers will try to install malware on your computer and ask for a ransom. 

Be wary of job postings asking you to download a file or click a suspicious link.

Work for exposure 

While guest posting is a valid option for a newbie, working for exposure is a red flag. 

Some scammers will tell you their website has tons of readers and that your work will get noticed. 

In addition, they may say you'll be paid once your content gets a certain amount of visitors or shares.

As a rule of thumb, you should be skeptical of any job postings that:

  • Lack information
  • Request a free trial
  • Ask you to click on suspicious links

Key takeaways

Freelance writing can take many shapes and forms. If your dream is writing for a living, just follow the tips from this post to excel in your craft.

Start off by weighing the benefits the lifestyle brings, its drawbacks, and everything that comes with the job. 

Then, decide what type of service you think you would be able to provide. 

Finally, once you establish yourself, keep going and solidify your skills.

Once you get the ball rolling, it's pretty easy to gain momentum and start making a living as a freelance writer. 

However, don't assume the work gets easier. You'll have to stay consistent and find ways to keep your clients happy.

Now go out there and put what you learned to practice. The sooner you get started, the better!

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