Diana Kelly Levey

How to Become a Paid Freelance Writer

freelancer getting started laptop

February 21, 2020

Whether you want to launch your full-time freelance writing career or you’re interested in dabbling in freelancing as a side hustle, here are some key components of getting started and becoming a successful freelancer.

Step 1: Educate yourself on the ins and outs of freelancing.

  • When you want learn how to become a freelance writer, it’s helpful to have a variety of resources at your fingertips. Here are a few of the freelance writing books I’ve found helpful when you’re getting started freelancing. 

Step 2. Decide what type of writing you want to do. 

  • A freelance writing career is more than just writing articles for magazines. Look around you. Peek through your postal mail. There’s copy and content everywhere. (Try this exercise to find content marketing clients right under your nose!) You could be a copywriter, copyeditor, editor, content marketing writer, freelance writer for magazines, freelance writer for websites, SEO writer, ghostwriter, blogger, press release writer, a corporate writer for businesses, social media writer, travel writer, the list goes on.
  • Figure out your freelance niche: Stick to a niche, and I bet it’ll get easier to write in that specialized area. Plus, editors will be able to find you through your network, you’ll have a growing list of contacts and sources, and you’ll even be able to branch off to other outlets and publications. 

Step 3: Search for freelance writing jobs.

  • Research content mills: This phrase means different things to different people and can have negative connotations. Beware sites that only give an assignment to the lowest bidder and pay pennies. You ultimately won’t win when you only “win” the lowest-paying gigs all the time. Personally, I enjoy working for higher-paying content marketing websites and reputable brands through those platforms, like Contently, Skyword, ClearVoice, and a few others.
  • Try cold pitching editors: This is the one many wannabe freelancers don’t always want to do because it can be tough, you can (and will often) get rejected or passed over, and it’s more time consuming to research the perfect outlet for your idea and tailor your freelance editorial pitch for that client. But, when you want to work with certain clients and don’t know anyone there, this is probably the best way to land an assignment.
  • Start a blog: You could write your own blog on a topic you want to get paid to write about and share the links with potential clients, showing the type of work you could do for them. Think beyond basic magazine content: It could be about crafting with kids, healthy snacks, fishing, hiking, pet advice, or something else that interests you. Some people make money this way through advertising dollars, while others leverage it to show clients their writing style and experience. I will admit that this is a slower revenue stream because it takes a lot of effort and time to build up a great audience and following. If you want to find freelance writing jobs fast or make money working from home quickly, you’re better off directly looking for freelance clients and writing jobs.
  • Use your network to grow your freelance career: Many of my full-time freelance writing friends leveraged previous employers and coworkers who moved around in the industry in order to kick-start their first anchor client. I’d say about 60 percent of my freelance writing revenue has come from people I know, former colleagues, or referrals. You don’t have to know someone in the publishing and media business to find work. Every website and brand needs content!

Step 4: Pitch!

Email freelance pitches on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: Whether you’re sending an intro email to a new client or you’re sending your best article pitch to an editor, I think that midweek is one of the best times to email an editor. Sure, your editor’s schedule is packed with meetings, but by Tuesday afternoon, they probably trudged through their Monday to-dos and are better prepared to make long-term decisions about story assignments (at least, I was when working on staff at WeightWatchers.com, Prevention magazine, and Muscle & Fitness magazine). Look to these freelance pitches that got accepted as a guide.

Step 5: Negotiate like an experienced businessperson.

  • Throw out a freelance rate higher than what you are willing to take: I can’t tell you how many times—particularly early in my career when a potential client asked my rate, I would share it, and they’d say, “Sure, that works.” I’d silently smack my forehead on the call and realize it was too low.
  • Toss out a price range for a project: Just like you’d do in a salary negotiation, this is fair to do, especially when you’re not sure of what the assignment would entail exactly. If I’m doing some straightforward copywriting on a topic I’m comfortable with, I could quote a client closer to $75/hour. If I think the work entails more complicated research (reading studies and translating difficult material), writing a white paper, or ghostwriting, I’d quote a rate closer to $100 to $125/hour. You can learn more about freelance rate mistakes here.
  • Ask if there’s any wiggle room in the budget on the freelance rate: If you don’t ask, you’ll never know! I’ve done this a number of times, and even a small increase in an hourly rate or a per article rate adds up at the end of year.

Step 6: Create content that fits your client’s wants and needs. 

When creating great content, it should align with the client’s core values, be something the ideal audience wants to ‘like’ and share on social, be easy to find (like having a prominent link to a blog on the website), and be original and fresh. Remember, it could even be a thought-provoking piece, like a thought leadership article on LinkedIn or an op-ed. Make sure you run down your client’s checklist of what they wanted the assignment to include before you turn it in.

Step 7: Get paid and turn your client into a repeat client.

After your editor approved the assignment, send over your invoice and wait for the money to roll in. While that’s happening, tell them how much you enjoyed working with them and pitch them a new idea. I love working with new clients but getting set up with the paperwork, investing time to learn what they want, nailing their tone and voice, and getting paid in the beginning takes hours. Do that for 10 to 15 new freelance clients a month and you’ll be spending a lot of time on research and admin work and not as much on writing or turning in assignments. Look at the clients who are giving you steady, repeat work for a solid pay rate and see if there are more assignments you could be doing with them. Get success tips from experienced freelance writers here.

Discover more reasons why you don’t want one-off freelance clients

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Diana can help with:

  • Writing content
  • Content marketing writing
  • Editing
  • Reporting
  • Magazine writing
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  • SEO writing and strategy
  • Branded content
  • Whitepapers
  • Syndication strategy
  • Launching editorial websites
  • Audience development
  • Blogging
  • Ghostwriting
  • Social media strategy
  • Development of voice and tone
  • Book projects

Email Diana about opportunities: Diana(at)DianaKelly.com.

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