The greatest works of art, entertainment, politics, music, and life are either writing or have been written about over the ages. Writing is one of the most personal things you can do, but it's also a core skill that drives the success of nearly every business you come across, from menus to global marketing.
For someone considering the choice of becoming a freelance content writer, that's both exciting and daunting. You're entering a world of greats and have a chance to become one yourself. It's what landed you on this website after typing in a search engine or looking at a social post. Writing has gotten you here, and we'll use it to get you a little further.
So, aspiring writer, here is a freelancer's guide to help you answer a few essential questions:
- What is a freelance writer?
- What tasks and projects can you work on?
- How much can you expect to make as a freelance writer?
- Does earning change during your career?
- What are six chief steps to getting started?
- Where is the best place to build a portfolio and start your career?
Speaking as a writer, content is at its best when it's useful and helpful. So, let's jump right into information you can use when deciding to become a freelance content writer.
What is a freelance writer?
The main task of a freelance writer is to write the content that your clients need. That may sound simple, but there are major differences in writing, content areas, preparation, and related tasks for creating that content. People pay freelance writers to create everything from books and novels to articles, website pages, news articles, and posts for social media and in-depth reports.
You may work specifically on content created in a word processor like Microsoft Word or Google Docs, or you could work within content management systems (CMS) like WordPress. If you post social content, you might make it directly on a service like Twitter or Facebook, or use social media planning tools to create a broad set of content at once and schedule it to go out later.
Thankfully, whatever you like to write and wherever you like to write it, there will be people and companies looking for that.
Some of the more common tasks you'll perform include:
- Researching topics related to businesses and products
- Writing blog posts around businesses, products, and news
- Editing documents for clarity and proper grammar
- Editing content for length
- Finding photos to use in content and helping to secure proper rights and attribution
- Sharing documents with clients and getting feedback
- Responding to edits and finding empirical data to support your points
- Creating posts on social media and monitoring responses
- Writing emails and sales letters for clients
- Creating outlines and topic lists for future projects
Nearly every piece of writing you'll do comes with research and reading before you write. Even if you're a subject matter expert on the topic, you’ll need to review content requirements and other client materials. For creative projects, from advertising to writing short stories and more, you'll want to review current trends in your industry, check punctuation and spelling preferences, and adjust documents to meet guidelines.
How much do freelance content writers make?
Freelance writer rates and income vary significantly based on your clients, type of content, and expertise. You can make anywhere from a few dollars an hour to hundreds per hour or charge from $0.01 per word to more than $1 per word.
For you, one perfect place to look for work is here on Upwork. You'll discover that new writers make in the $20 to $40 per hour range. Mid-tier writers can make up to $60 or $75 per hour. Expert writers can charge more than $125 per hour and find many contracts on Upwork.
One important note is that some writers focus on costs per project instead of hourly tasks. For larger projects like research papers or recurring packages—such as offering to write a set of three blog posts—charging a flat rate can end up earning you more over time as you become faster and more capable. A book called Writer's Market is updated each year and can provide you with up-to-date rate and pricing information if you're unsure how much to charge for the content you create.
How do I become a freelance writer?
There are multiple paths to becoming a freelance writer. Many top marketers and writers don't have a traditional education in writing. They may come from backgrounds related to their field (e.g., engineering) or broader areas of study where writing is useful (e.g., psychology or the sciences). So, while we discuss how to become a freelance writer, remember that your journey can be unique, and you can still become an excellent wordsmith.
Here are six steps to get you started on this new career path.
1. Study the field of writing and content
There's a lot to research when it comes to starting your freelance writing career. First and foremost, you'll want to look at the field in general and see what kinds of things people are writing. Are companies still paying freelancers to create blog posts? Are trends pushing people to create their own newsletters and sell ads? Are agencies looking for someone with your experience?
One of the best pieces of advice for getting started is to reach out to other writers. Generally, they'll have some resources to share or point you to so you can learn about the practice. Writer websites, classes, and professional groups on places like LinkedIn can help you begin. If you live in a big metro area, look at community media centers and co-working spaces to see if there are classes or presentations. Your local library may have something, too.
Beyond that, there are many excellent websites out there designed to help new writers. These sites may charge for content or offer a lot for free. The best thing to do when picking a site is to look at what’s most relevant to what you want to do, which leads to our next point.
2. Determine your content area
Start to condense your searches to the types of content you want to write. Review what you know and have experience with, both subject matter expertise and what kind of writing you've done.
Some writers choose to stick to a specific subject like healthcare or technology. Others may specialize in content types, such as blog posts or writing scripts for YouTube videos. Yes, there is often an outside writer helping your favorite star if they create long-form content.
3. Discover what you need to write content in your niche
Determine what you want to write, and then research requirements for that topic or area. Sometimes, there aren't requirements beyond following a style guide like The AP Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style. In other cases, you might need certifications, degrees, or specific classes to be qualified to write. This is most common for technical subjects in healthcare and engineering, as well as financial services.
If you meet the prerequisites, congratulations. Your research should now focus on keeping up with the latest information and trends. Thankfully, as you write, this will often happen as you're reading for an assignment.
If you don't have the current skills or meet some requirements, look for online certifications and training if possible. You might find some free services and courses that can be used as "proof" for a potential company or project. If you want to write about marketing, consider these certifications that many marketers use for their careers
4. Get tools and practice writing
Most writers have a process that they follow when creating content. Some people build very bare outlines, while others make detailed notes that can quickly shift into paragraphs. Some authors work only at certain times of the day, while you might start writing whenever inspiration strikes. Practice writing as if it were for a paid job and discover what your process is. Take lots of notes.
When you've done some practicing, think about what works best for you and how you need to plan around it. Think about the parts you love and what you don’t. You might find that you’re a savvy editor and can turn your copy into a finished product after reading over it again. Or your eyes might glaze over while looking for serial commas. Each can work if you have the right tools to help.
Look for things that help you stay organized and manage your time. Then find the special tricks and tools that can clean up writing and avoid grammatical errors, like the Hemingway App or Grammarly. They're a great pair with free options to get you started.
Another helpful tool will be to create a checklist for the content you create. Write down what you'll provide customers with, including all aspects of the content itself. Depending on the engagement, the final list will change, but here's a sample for a blog post:
- Due Date
- Word Count
- Primary Keyword
- Secondary Keywords
- Metadata and SEO Content
- Images and Tags
- Social Media Posts
- Full Article Copy
Standardizing your outlines and prep documents can help you stay on track and turn in complete assignments the first time, even if your client doesn't see this list directly.
5. Create a portfolio
Next, you'll want to shift gears to the business side of freelancing. For writers, that means first creating a portfolio of your work. If you've been published in the past, get links to those articles, and consider saving them as PDFs, so you always have a quick way to share them in the future. On the Internet, links break and often change, so older pieces may get lost if you don't have a copy of your own.
Collect your writing and put it in a single place you control online to have your portfolio. Upwork makes this simple and easy with built-in portfolio tools and straightforward ways to stand out. You're creating a persona on the site, telling a story with your work. The goal is to demonstrate that you know the subject matter and can write it well, plus are reliable. Crafting your story is how you stand out.
You might not have samples when just getting started at freelance writing. If that's the case, write things you would enjoy reading. Create content that looks and sounds like what you want to write for others. Publish articles on your blog. Fill a Twitter or Facebook account with fantastic posts. Write a video script and put it online.
As you grow your freelance writing career, some clients may have you publish content under your name. Ensure that these are always part of your broader portfolio and update things regularly.
Your portfolio should always be easy to see and access. When you use Upwork to find clients and build your freelance writing career, focus your portfolio work there. The platform also allows you to collect feedback and ratings from customers. Reviews will help the next potential client trust that you can deliver high-quality content.
6. Start writing, pitching, and winning
All that's left now is to start landing clients. You'll need to pitch and create proposals so that people choose you for their project. Upwork creates specific pages that you can look at to find your next content writing assignment, which is helpful for learning what's available. Browse, search, and sort to look for jobs that match your capabilities.
When you respond to a post, be sure to answer all of the job poster's questions and demonstrate your experience. Suggest or link to profile pieces that are the most relevant, and note any related work you've done on the platform.
If you're looking to write for a newspaper or magazine, they'll have their requirements for how to pitch and the background you need. However, most will be pleased to see that you've done work in the relevant sector.
Land your first client and start your freelance content writing career
Many writers think that their work will speak for itself and they’ll land that first client with ease. Unfortunately, that's not the case for most people. You'll need to do more than just create content. You’ll need to sell yourself and your capabilities properly.
Landing your first client starts with finding the right people looking for what you can do. Get started with this freelance job page to see what's available on Upwork. Look for opportunities that you may enjoy and can do. Then, put your writing skills to use and craft a proper proposal. When it comes to getting work, this can be more important than having the perfect writing sample.
Stellar proposals introduce who you are and your skills while matching the assignment's tone and style. You also need to answer questions that the job poster doesn't ask directly. Explain what you can do and prioritize how you'll make the poster's life and work easier. That strategy works time and time again.
To do all of that, you've got to take the first step. So, now is the time to sign up with Upwork, build that portfolio, and begin your journey to becoming a fantastic freelance content writer. We can't wait to see what you write next.
Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this section. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.
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