You don’t have to become a bestselling novelist or Pulitzer-winning reporter to make money from tapping out words all day.
The opportunities are out there for you to craft a unique career as a freelance writer, tailored around your interests and skills. Best of all, work from wherever you want and on your own schedule.
What Is a Freelance Writer?
While the amount of people freelancing has been steadily increasing for some time, by the end of 2020, nearly 60 million individuals in the US were offering independent contractor services in some form.
Freelancing, an early 19th century concept, means you don’t have one fixed employer and you’re your own boss. You make all the rules, picking up writing projects for whoever needs them. With no office to be at every morning or 9-to-5 timing to stick to, you can work from home in your pjs in the middle of the night if you want to!
What Work Will You Do?
Writing is fairly broad, with different outcomes depending on who you work for and the experience you have. Freelance writing specialties are typically broken down by either the type of writing you offer or the niche you work in, sometimes both.
If your background is in marketing, freelance writing jobs you apply for might include putting together:
- email copy
- social media posts
- press releases
- business website pages
- digital or print advertising
- case studies
Dabbled in journalism before? Your skills in research and constructing a compelling story can easily translate into writing blog posts, articles or detailed eBooks on various topics.
If there’s a subject you’re particularly knowledgeable about, choosing projects in that industry can be a lucrative way to make money. You’ll soon become the go-to resource those clients are looking for.
While copywriting is what the majority of freelance writers offer, extra skills can mean more money. Editing work, such as proofreading, or blog management, where you’re more hands-on publishing content, are options you can charge additional fees for.
Like any self-employed role, how your day-to-day looks is entirely up to you. You could work with a handful of clients on recurring writing tasks throughout the week or month, or you may choose to become a full time writer for one big client over a fixed amount of time.
As you build your professional network and take on more assignments, you’ll quickly learn the projects you most enjoy. When a writing style or particular client no longer fits with your career plans, you can switch direction to find new opportunities.
Starting Your Freelance Writing Career
You’ll bring your own experiences to the table when you go down this professional path. There’s no right or wrong way to become a freelance writer.
Degree Options for Freelancers
An arts or humanities degree like English literature, journalism, history and even business programs can all be useful, as they require you to do extensive research and write papers frequently. You’ll build your communication skills and learn how to succinctly put words together.
That’s not to say you can’t become a freelance writer with a STEM degree, though. Having a background in a field such as engineering or chemistry can lead to exciting writing opportunities that are only a good fit for specialists.
Technical writers are called on to put together product manuals or documentation in healthcare, finance and technology. This writing requires using specific language that often makes no sense to someone outside the industry, so having a good grasp of the concepts or phrasing can be a significant asset to a prospective client.
Writing for college newspapers, blogs and magazines, regardless of your major, can also give you the experience and writing samples you’ll need if you want to find freelance work after graduation.
A degree program with large amounts of writing isn’t essential to building a career as a freelance writer. You can take classes and training programs to help you brush up on key areas and improve your skills.
Knowing grammar, communication and storytelling basics will be essential if you want to succeed as a freelance writer.
Once you’re comfortable with these core skills, you can turn your attention to more specific classes. This is particularly helpful if you’re new to a certain type of writing or you’re looking to move from, say, journalistic articles to writing marketing content.
Even without a college degree or training, you can still write for a living. When you’re getting started as a freelance writer, you won’t be able to charge clients a high rate as you have nothing to prove you know what you’re doing.
Talk to local small business owners or nonprofits to see if they have any writing work you can do for free or a small fee to start building a collection of published work.
Once you have a solid portfolio to show prospective clients, chances are they won’t even ask about your educational background. They simply want to know you can write well for their audience.
Working as a Freelance Writer
Anyone who gets paid to write can call themselves a freelance writer, but not everyone uses this exact title to pitch their services. You’ll come across job postings, and other freelancers doing similar work to you, using “freelance blogger”, “SEO writer”, “content writer” or “ghostwriter.”
Each job comes with nuances that mean specific skills are needed or your writing will be used for a particular purpose. But they all boil down to the same principle—a gift for putting pen to paper and letting the right words flow.
A large quantity of writers for magazines and newspapers are freelancers rather than full-time staff. Since 2008, newspaper newsroom employment has dropped by 57 percent.
This all means more demand for good freelance writers to fill in the gaps. As publications shift to producing daily digital content, rather than once a week or month print magazine, this need is only increasing.
Once you’ve made connections with editors and have your first piece published, the sky’s the limit. You could negotiate for a set amount of feature stories or articles per month at a fixed rate, or be an on-call writer for when something comes up.
Publications aren’t limited to The New York Times or Vogue. Hundreds of industries have trade magazines which get sent out to their members monthly or quarterly. This is a particularly good route for those getting started in technical writing if you want to build a specialized portfolio.
In a traditional office job, your daily tasks will be assigned to you by your boss. When you’re self-employed, finding work is entirely down to you and your income depends on bringing in new clients.
Balancing searching and pitching for work with the actual writing you need to do is a continual challenge for any freelancer, but working with a marketing agency can cut down the time you’re spending looking for your own clients because they’ve already done the work for you. You’ll be brought in to provide expertise they may be lacking in-house, or to help support a maxed out team.
With agencies, your name likely won’t appear on any published work. Ghostwriters in business are common, as no author is attached to written material like a web page or social media caption. Read your agency contracts to see if you’re still able to use this work in your public portfolio.
You may be familiar with sites like Fiverr or Upwork. These boards are go-to hubs for companies to post on when they’re looking for freelancers to complete projects for them. ProBlogger is also a free board which advertises a range of legitimate freelance writing jobs, including both long term and one-off assignments.
Freelance job boards come with pros and cons. Some don’t offer the best pay rates and the quality of the projects are questionable. But they also help when trying out new niches and making connections to get a foot in the door.
Before you go exclusively freelance, you’ll want to have at least a few clients on your books. In many cases, these will be private clients you’ve found yourself and who you work with regularly. This roster will become the bread and butter of your freelance writing business.
There isn’t one single way to find these clients, and some of the best freelance writing jobs can come from unexpected places. It’s not unheard of for employers to ask an employee to do writing work for them when they leave their position to go full time freelance. You might even have a college friend who works at a company you’d love to have in your writing portfolio.
How Much Do Freelance Writers Make?
As with any self-employed profession, knowing what a standard freelance writer’s rate is can be like asking “how long is a piece of string?” What you make per year will be based on your experience, and the type and quantity of projects you do.
According to ZipRecruiter, the average freelance writer rate in the US is $32 per hour. However, this can vary widely based on location and averages aren’t always the most accurate. In a self-reported survey of over 200 writers, the most common freelance writer rates were between $250 and $400 for a 1,500 word blog post.
Setting Your Rates
When you first go freelance, it’s tempting to divide your previous salary into an hourly rate and run with it. But costs like health insurance and paid time off were all baked into the wage. Now you’re responsible for covering those yourself, so your freelance writer rate needs to account for that.
Not all freelance writers charge by the hour. Some choose to charge per word or a flat amount per project. Rates can also be set on a per-client basis—you don’t have to ask for the same fee from every person you work with.
If work is ghostwritten, you could charge a premium to make up for not having your name publicly listed. For small businesses, you could charge a little less than your bigger clients.
No exact science can tell you how to set your rates as a freelance writer. How much you choose to charge will change as you gain more experience and have a stronger portfolio to your name. Reflecting on your current pricing and researching average rates at least once a year is a good habit to get into to make sure you’re keeping pace with the industry.
Professional Organizations for Freelance Writers
Like many professions, organizations exist to help you connect with other people and find new work opportunities. They provide training and education, while actioning legal change to better the industry as a whole, so professional writers organizations are worth looking into.
National Writers Union (NWU)
The NWU can represent anyone who calls themself a writer. Joining can give you a press pass to international events, find you health insurance or provide legal support against disputes. The union also has a strong advocacy arm which lobbies Congress on bills to support freelance writers in their work.
Chapter meetings are held in cities across the country to help you find out more about the mission of the NWU and offer you the chance to meet other freelance writers in your area.
Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA)
Specifically for freelance editors and writers, the EFA provides ongoing business development, networking, and training opportunities in cities throughout the US. They have a free directory on their website and job listing board for both clients and freelancers to use, along with resources and education to enhance your professional skills.
Depending on where you live, there may be local writers’ groups you can join to meet new people and get helpful feedback on your work. Connecting with other writers is a key part of building a successful freelance business. When they’re stretched beyond capacity, you could be top of the list for a referral.
Take the Leap into a New Career
Going out on your own and leaving behind a seemingly steady salary can feel like a daunting prospect. But just as thousands have before you, starting work as a freelance writer and building a successful career is possible, no matter your background.
Get writing and watch those new opportunity doors fly open!