How to Start Freelance Writing as a Beginner
Getting paid to write, sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? The exciting news is it’s not a dream, and you can do very well by starting a career as a freelance writer! Today we’ll talk about the different opportunities that exist for freelance writers, plus how you can start freelance writing as a beginner.
What is Freelance Writing?
Freelance writing is when you work for hire to write something for someone else. In most cases, a freelance writer today will be writing articles which will appear on websites and blogs online, as well as potentially in print magazines, newspapers, and other publications.
As a freelance writer, you can work for a number of different types of people. For example, you could be hired by a company which needs blog posts on their website, and they hire you to write these posts.
There are also websites where you can sign up to be a freelance writer and they will pay you based on the articles you submit. These types of sites however are typically referred to as “content mills” – and it’s easy to burn out fast as you often have to produce quantity over quality to make it worthwhile.
Today I will share how I have done well as a freelance writer, and how today I charge anywhere from 50 cents to 800 per word when I am hired to write. I often meet people at various conferences who beg me to write – so learning how to write well and what to write about is important!
I’ve also hired freelance writers in the past, so hopefully these tips will help give you a nice understanding of how freelance writing works and what you can do to start your freelance writing career on the right foot!
Here’s How to Start Freelance Writing:
Step 1: Start by Creating a Portfolio
Your portfolio as a freelance writer is critical. You will want to write articles and pieces which are easy to read, informative, and accurate. Having examples of your written work is critical in helping people decide whether or not they would want to hire you as a writer.
You can also create a portfolio of writing samples online. This could be your own blog or website, or you could easily set up a google docs account to upload your writing samples to be viewed by potential clients.
Step 2: Create a Profile at Freelance Job Boards
Creating a profile at most freelance sites is relatively straightforward. Some freelance job boards will require you pay an application fee, which is typically a relatively small price, such as $5. This is usually how they try to keep out spammers. You will also likely need to authenticate your account with a phone number and possibly even a copy of your photo ID and tax information.
These steps can be annoying as a new writer, but it is helpful to do this, as it will make your life a lot easier for billing and taxes. It also adds a level of trust to the website, because if someone goes through all of that trouble they are more likely to be reputable and trustworthy as someone who will actually pay you!
For example, if you are a psychiatrist, you can get paid more simply for your credentials as an expert in the field of psychology. If you are a licensed plumber, people will pay more to have someone who is knowledgeable in that subject.
While a good writer can write about any topic, even a topic they know very little about, having experience will show through. It’s important to list any type of experience you may have that would make you a desirable writer for hire!
Step 3: Begin Submitting Proposals for Writing Jobs
It is important when you first start submitting for work that you do not underbid your worth! Many writers think, oh, everybody else is charging $5o to write a 500 word article, I’ll charge $35 and hopefully win more writing gigs that way. Unfortunately, there are a lot of problems with this!
First of all, it devalues the work of all writers everywhere. In order for writing to be taken seriously, we have to know our worth as a writer. The myth of being a starving artist of a writer is silly, and we can’t keep feeding into that idea. Writers need to make a living wage, because the work they do typically does cause a lot of return for the businesses and individuals that hire them.
A website that hires you to write articles is likely making a lot of money off your writing – otherwise they would not pay you to write those articles! One single article on a popular website can translate to thousands of dollars per month for that website in income.
DO NOT SELL YOURSELF SHORT!
If you charge $50 per article, and your goal is to make $3,000 – guess how many articles you have to write? You would have to write 60 articles, or two articles per day every single month.
Now, let’s imagine you find a client who is willing to pay you $350 for every article you write. If your goal was to make $3,000 in a month, now you only have to write 9 articles per month. If you write 10, you’ll actually make more money than your original goal.
See the big difference? Know your value as a writer. Don’t compromise. If you are a good writer, tell people you are a good writer. If you are a good writer, people will expect to pay top dollar for your writing.
It’s true, in the beginning as you build up credibility, you will likely need to charge a little bit less. However, this does not mean cutting yourself short. As you build credibility and a proven track record with the success of your writing, you will be able to soon be able to charge more for your writing.
Step 3: Build More Credibility as a Writer
Building credibility is not as difficult as it seems. The portfolio you created in the first step is a good starting place. However, it’s good to also know what people who are hiring writers want and need – this way you can have these qualifications to outshine the competition.
Many freelance writing gigs online are to create content for websites and blogs to rank in search engines. This is called SEO writing. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty details of writing for SEO here, but it is something that a lot of freelance writers simply don’t understand.
Why? Because those of us who do know how to write well for this type of writing aren’t too quick to spill all of our secrets – after all, that is what makes us valuable as writers!
The good news is you can easily take a course online on this, and all of the information out there is basic common sense. Write good content, people will share it, and people will find it.
Organize your notes
Note: If you don’t organize your notes, writing your article takes practically forever, what with all the leafing through the pile to find that one quote you wanted. You might think skipping organization is a time-saver, but trust me, it’s not.
The secret to writing a first draft…fast. I want to give you a big article-writing tip for creating a strong first draft: Try putting aside all your notes and quotes, and just writing the story.
This ‘spit draft’ will often be a lot better than what you’ll come up with if you cobble the draft together slowly, shuffling through your notes, stopping and looking up names, and rechecking exact quotes as you go.
I’ve often spent a grinding, 8-hour day making all that happen. Instead, see if you could create a first draft in short order. Then, refer to your notes and outline to fill in details and make sure there isn’t an important point you forgot to include.
Now that you have that big-picture, ‘how to write an article’ process tip, it’s important to understand article structure, so your draft has all the key pieces needed to impress your editor.
This is journo-speak for the lead sentence or three, or the beginning of your article. Simply put, the lede needs to be fascinating. Its job is to compel readers to continue reading the rest of the story.
Don’t write a ‘wind-up’ or ‘throat-clearing lede,’ where you take five paragraphs to get to the point (unless this is a very long article, and the publication’s style allows for this). Readers generally don’t have the patience for that anymore.
Instead, cut to the chase with something that makes us just have to keep reading. For instance, I once began a reported story with, “Briefly, it was Bambi in bondage.” You want to know what that’s about, no?
Everyone told Tom Kennedy to expect flooded trails when he hiked through Big Cypress National Preserve in the spring of 2015. But as he sloshed through miles of waist-deep swamp water that hid alligators and aggressive snakes, the trail quickly got the better of him.
It’s a hallmark of amateur freelance writers that their ledes are boring. You want people to read your whole article, after all the hard work you put in, right? Make that lede shine, and they will.
Remember, this lede serves double-duty, as you may also use it in your proposed query letter to try to get hired. Spend some time on it — I’d say I rewrite mine dozens of times, typically, before I’m satisfied.
The ‘nut graf’
A paragraph or three on from the lede, after you’ve finished that opening anecdote, interesting fact, or brief expert quote, it’s time to orient readers. They won’t read through a long piece without having a sense of what they’re going to find out if they do.
If you believe the news, we’re a country full of half-awake zombies who need to chug caffeine just to make it through the day. While the reality isn’t quite that bad, many Americans are sleep deprived, and it’s harming their health. We spoke with health clubs and sleep medicine experts about why health clubs should help their members get the Z’s they need—and how to do it.
Note: A strong nut graf sends your reader on to complete the story with the confidence that they understand the direction this article will take — but not with enough info that they feel fully informed and stop reading.
- Simplify. If you research and interview like I do, you likely won’t be able to fit everything you’ve learned into this article. Look for side issues you could prune out and possibly spin into another article.
- Watch your transitions. Your article body shouldn’t jump abruptly from topic to topic. Read the last sentence of one paragraph and the first sentence of the next. Do they make sense together? If not, adjust.
- Organize sources. Try not to ping-pong back and forth between your sources and quotes…it’ll get confusing for the reader. Introduce an expert, use them, and then use the next one. Maybe come back to the first expert toward the end.
- Quote short and zingy. Usually, 1-2 sentences is good. Don’t use a quote where you could sum up a point narratively. Quotes should add insight, show the personality of the subject, or convey something that would be lost if you rephrased it in narration. Don’t overuse quotes.
Tip for longer articles: Outline the sections you’ll need, and give each a proposed wordcount. This will help you write to length and avoid having to do a ton of cutting later.
Writing a strong conclusion also helps prevent editor chopping from the bottom (a habit many editors have). If you have a strong final point, the editor’s more likely to come to you and ask you where to shrink the piece down, giving you more control over your article’s final form.