I’ve always dreamed of being a professional writer. I’m working on writing a book in my spare time, but I really want to spend my entire work week writing. I’ve never written professionally before, so I’m struggling to find a full-time job as a writer. I’m really interested in pursuing freelance writing so I can build my portfolio, but I don’t fully understand what my options are. What is a freelance writer and how can I get started as one?
Working as a professional writer is something that many people feel is out of reach. The good news is, it’s not actually as far-fetched of a dream as it sounds. Copy touches everything businesses do. From their sales decks to their websites to their social media campaigns to their product labels. Which means, there is a very high demand for writing skills. Not to mention, you can work in the editorial space as a journalist or writing creatively. Of course, you can also shoot for the stars and write movie scripts, books, or poetry. Because you’re looking for a career in writing, we’re not going to focus on those dreamier options. We’re going to focus on the realistic and practical ways that you can make money as a freelance writer. Not only can this be a creative, lucrative, and fulfilling career path, but working as a freelance writer can give you the flexibility and time to work on personal creative projects that excite you—like writing your first novel.
What is a Freelance Writer?
First things first—we need to address what a freelance writer is and what they do. A freelance writer is a writer who works for themselves, not a single brand or publication. This means, they can write for whoever they want, but likely only do so on a part-time or occasional basis. Let’s look at some example of what a freelance writer can do:
- Copywriting for consumer brands
- Grant proposal writing for nonprofits
- Articles and essays for magazines and blogs
- News reporting for news outlets
- Content marketing for B2B and B2C brands
- Social media and email marketing copy for any company
When you work as a freelance writer, you won’t work for one company for forty hours a week. Instead, you’ll work for a handful of different companies. Some may hire you to do one-off projects (like writing a personal essay for a magazine) and other brands may hire you for a more consistent engagement (like writing a weekly email newsletter). Chances are, you’ll end up with a mix of project types and some will be more consistent than others.
Because you work for yourself, you can decide what jobs to take on, how much you want to charge (as long as you can find clients willing to pay that amount), and what industries you want to work in. The flexibility comes at a price—running a business. Working as a freelance writer isn’t all about writing. You have to run your business properly to make sure you get paid on time, handle your taxes correctly, and can afford to purchase benefits, take time off, and save for retirement.
How to Become a Freelance Writer
You mentioned in your letter that you don’t have professional experience working as a freelance writer and that’s okay. The good thing about freelancing is, the stakes are a lot lower for your clients than they are for your full-time employer since they won’t be paying you a full-time salary and benefits. Freelance clients can afford to take a chance on newer writers. That being said, you do still need to find a way to prove to them if you have writing skills. So let’s look at how you can become a freelance writer and how you can build out your portfolio along the way.
Step 1. Build a Digital Portfolio
These days, editors and hiring managers want to see samples of your writing before they hire you. That’s actually the best part about being a freelance writer, it’s really easy to illustrate your skills to clients because the proof is in your writing samples. You need a digital home for your writing samples and this is where a website can really come in handy. It’s fairly inexpensive to create a website (and can be free if you don’t want a custom domain) and you don’t need anything fancy. All you need to do is have a clean and organized place where you can talk about your work. For articles and blog posts, you can link out to the websites where someone can read your work. For other types of writing work like product copywriting or ad campaigns that tend to be hard to track down, you can take screenshots of your work and share them on your website.
Step 2. Get Writing Samples
For aspiring writers who don’t have any writing samples yet, one of their goals early on needs to be getting some polished and professional writing samples ready to show potential clients. Because it can be hard to land clients who will give you the chance to write for them if you don’t have any professional writing experience, there’s a few ways you can work around this to build out your portfolio.
- Volunteer for a nonprofit. Find a cause you care about and offer to volunteer your time in the form of writing. All nonprofits need help with marketing copy, web copy, donor materials, and grant proposals. Because you’re volunteering your time, they’re more likely to work with an inexperienced writer.
- Start a blog. You don’t have to be paid for your work in order for it to count as a solid writing sample. You can start a blog and can fill it with high-quality content.
- Take on a new project at work. Even if your full-time job doesn’t currently involve writing, can you ask to take on a writing project at work? Maybe your company’s marketing manager needs help filling out your corporate blog or is struggling to come up with new campaign names. See where you can lend a helping hand.
Step 3. Build Your Personal Brand
Whether or not you have ever been paid to work as a professional writer, now is the time to start branding yourself as a writer. If you don’t think of yourself as a professional writer, no one else will. Before you ever book your first freelance writing client, you need to start building your personal brand so that people easily identify you as a competent freelance writer who can bring a lot of value to their business.
Here’s a few ways you can accomplish that goal:
- Finish your digital portfolio. This isn’t just a place to store writing samples, a digital portfolio serves as proof that you take yourself seriously as a writer and are a professional.
- Post on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a great place to share thought leadership content and to establish yourself a professional writer. Commit to posting regularly about your work, updates on what is going on in your industry, and best practices you can shed some light on. You can also work on expanding your network by engaging with commenters and other posters you come across on the network.
- Attend conferences. Having a network full of writers, editors, and other professionals who engage with writers is a great way to get your name out there. Attending conferences can help you meet other professionals in your space (who can potentially be clients or refer you for work) and shows that you’re invested in learning more about your industry.
Step 4. Put Yourself Out There
Launching any kind of business is scary, but you have to put yourself out there if you want anybody to hire you. Spread the news on social media, attend networking events, and tell anyone who will listen that you’re a freelance writer. Even if you’re still working a full-time job in an unrelated role, that’s not how you need to identify yourself. Start forming new connections as a freelance writer and don’t be shy when people ask what you do. You need to let the world know who you are, what you offer, and why they should hire you. Now is not the time to be shy.
If you want to work as a freelance writer—or any type of freelancer—then our upcoming course All About the Hustle: Freelancing Demystified is the perfect way for you to start setting the foundations of your business. We designed this course to help you streamline the process of getting your freelance business rolling. That way, you can save yourself years of trial and error by learning how to run a successful freelance business from a seasoned freelancer.