What Is Freelance Writing? Answers to the Awkward Newbie Questions

I also agree with Timothy — building some other income streams, in addition to the freelance writing, helps take some of the pressure off. It’s a natural transition to shift from articles and posts to your own blog, ebooks, etc. I know my ebooks have given me enough of a stable income that I have breathing room to really choose clients that are a good fit, rather than “anyone who comes along.” Of course, that then ties in with your other point: you have to market your work… and then market it some more!

freelance job board

What is Freelance Writing? The Ultimate Guide

You’re not the only one. The definition of freelance writing can vary dramatically depending on who you’re talking to. Freelance writers can do tons of different jobs, find work differently, and work with different clients.

Freelance writing is the act of getting paid to write, without being on a company’s official payroll. Freelance writers can work with several companies at once on a self-employer or subcontractor basis.

    Per word: The writer and client agree on a set rate per word for an article. Freelance writers being hired to write blog posts, for example, usually start with a per-word rate of

    What does a freelance writer do?

    Wondering what a freelance writer does in their day-to-day role? It depends on the type of content you’re writing. But as a general guide, here’s what a freelance writer does (alongside the obvious one–writing content):

    You can choose who to work with

    The beauty of freelancing is that you’re in complete control of who you do (and don’t) work with. It’s unlike a standard, 9-to-5 job where you’re forced to work for one employer, and you don’t get to choose your co-workers.

    Whilst freelance writers don’t have co-workers as such, they’re in complete control of who they work with. They can choose to turn down clients who don’t have a budget to pay them, or they just aren’t interested in writing for. That’s not possible with a full-time job.

    Your routine is flexible

    Since a freelance writer is in complete control of who they work for, their routine is flexible. Clients don’t pay them to sit at their desk from 9am till 5pm, with half an hour for dinner, every day of the working week.

    It’s why freelance writing is a superb career choice for tons of people–especially those who drop the kids off at school, and want to be able to attend midday appointments without that awkward conversation with your boss. (Let’s face it: having to explain to your boss why you need the morning off for a doctor’s appointment is awkward.)

    You can make lots of money

    We all want to earn more money, right? Article writing is a superb way to do that. The entire industry is very lucrative: get in with the ideal clients, and you can out-earn what you would in your day job by a long shot.

    But it’s worth remembering that not all of the money you make as a freelance writer is take-home pay. You’ll need to fork out for expenses (like a computer), tax, and insurance. Either way, there’s still a good chance you can beat what you were earning in a full-time job by becoming a freelance writer.

    .10. This can go as high as

    The downsides of freelance writing

    It takes time

    Not only that, but it’s easy for new freelance writers to fall into the trap of thinking their new freelance writing job will only consist of writing. Reality is: you’ll spend time doing other admin tasks–like finding new work, creating a freelance website, and dealing with accounting. All of those things eat into your schedule, but you don’t get paid to do them.

    It can be unpredictable

    Even if you’re on top of your freelance writing career from day one, finding reliable work can be tough. It can be difficult to reach your audience as a freelancer, especially when you have a small marketing budget. And it doesn’t help that you’re up against freelance content mills like Upwork and Freelancer.com.

    Similarly, freelancers can fall into the feast and famine mindset. If you’re working job-to-job without any contracts or monthly agreements in place, you don’t always know where your next paycheck is coming from.

    disadvantages of freelance writing

    .75+ for experienced, in-demand freelance writers.

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I have a question: How do you get clients to pay you high rates, if you aren’t an expert on the topic? I was wondering about this, since I love your advice on how even beginners should charge higher rates, but how would you justify the high rates if you aren’t an expert on the topic? Like even if you pick a specific niche, if you don’t have a background in it, why would a client pay you a lot?

Like for an example, say I have excellent writing skills and clips, in a financial niche. Well, even if they love my writing, how would a client guarantee my research was a 100% on point? If I’m just googling, I could make a mistake and not find out the correct or updated information about finances or the laws…How could they guarantee that wouldn’t happen, if I’m not an expert?

Or for another example: Like if you research about SEO (which is for ranking webpages in Google so you can get lots of traffic, and the guidelines change frequently), you can find old articles very easily on how to do it. So, if I had never heard of it before, and found an article from 2012 and thought it was OK to reference…I would be giving them the wrong information!

Good pay doesn’t come from…’just Googling.’ People who come out of the content-mill world often don’t understand that better paying gigs usually involve interviewing and finding new information that isn’t already floating around the Internet. Often, a lot of interviewing.

For instance, I’m currently doing a $3,000 corporate research project. I have made over 100 interview requests on it so far, looking to find hopefully at least a half-dozen people willing to share their insights on an executive’s management style. Good pay comes from harder projects, that not every writer could execute on.

Yes it did, thanks! How long can interviews take, like from the first time contacting people (for things like magazine articles) to having the finished and ready to send to the editor version? Like how does that factor into your working hours?

I could tell you how long it takes ME, but that would have nothing to do with how long it will take YOU. You’ll find out how long it takes you…but doing it, and tracking your time. There really isn’t another way. And every interview and assignment will vary. As I say in the post, you’re looking for ‘this is the way it works’ answers, but there is no ONE way things work, in freelancing.

Those articles look like they’d be really useful, thanks! yes…the times would vary definitely, I just thought you may have a general range/estimate, like for just magazine articles, like local ones a newbie freelancer would do.

Among the topics I’ve earned large amounts writing about that I am NOT an expert in are surety bonds, insurance, lawsuits, franchising, home improvement topics like trends in shower-curtain styles, advanced washing machine technology, real estate…I could go on and on.

But what really makes the difference in charging more is knowing how to identify and successfully market yourself to better-paying clients — generally, bigger and more successful magazines and businesses.

Once you have a basic portfolio of first clips, you want to move in that direction as fast as you can — but few new writers have any idea what makes a good client. If you’re interested in how you identify those, check out my Get Great Clients e-book. 😉

Oh…I thought interviewing was mostly for magazine articles, although I do remember now people do them for case studies too! I had thought interviews were for only certain things. I was thinking more like, what if I was writing for a company on their blog?

Again, your expertise is WRITING. Writing in the tone and style they want. Weaving the information they want out there into a compelling story. That’s what you offer. You ask a lot of questions, and find out the info you need to put in their copy.

One last question, what do you think about freelancers working for content agencies? Like the agencies hire freelancers to produce content for their clients. They say the work can be really steady, and that they pay more than content mills.

Yes, agencies CAN be a source of steady work, usually at pretty low rates compared to what you can get prospecting and finding your own clients directly. There are good agencies, and there are sleazy ones. They’re not all the same, in how they operate, or pay. But yes, probably better than a content mill (unless that mill is ClearVoice or Contently, sometimes).

But…agencies tend to hire experienced writers, particularly with agency staff experience. Is that you? I personally applied to agency gigs over and over and never got anywhere, despite 12 years as a staff journalist and many awards. I didn’t have the right type of experience for them, I believe.

Or specialize in the forms of writing that are tedious or difficult for your client to do in-house, but for which they supply most or all of the data, such as white papers, case studies, and annual reports?

What Does A Successful Freelance Writer Do?

But most of the people I know who’re focused on those three things end up washing out as freelancers. They never take it seriously, don’t learn about how to run a business, and don’t take the steps needed to get their business going.

The approaches you should use for marketing depend a lot on you. If you’re shy, you probably won’t do in-person networking, for instance. If you hate social media, that probably won’t be your best marketing venue.

My golden rule of freelance marketing is that the best kind of marketing is the kind you’re willing to do. On a steady, ongoing basis. Try several kinds, see what’s in your comfort zone (secret: you might actually find this a fun challenge!), and do a bunch of marketing.

Then, track what worked to get you clients, and do more of that. Lather, rinse, repeat. This is the teeth-brushing of freelance writing — a vital task you simply need to do every week, to keep your business healthy.

Leave downtime

Before becoming a copywriter, I was mainly a proofreader and copy-editor. Yet roughly half of all the work I was being sent was meaningless dross. So when I got the chance to write for one of my clients I grabbed it with both hands.

Ha! I’ve done this more than a few times, simply nodded my head and said, “Sure!” when I was asked to do things like write a recruiting package for nurses, or ghost-blog for a CEO (in 2005). And then figure it out. Now that we have the Internet, my joke is give me a day and I’ll *be* your expert.

I have a similar line. When clients say, “do you have experience working with ,” I always say, “A big part of being a good writer is being a good researcher, so once we get started I’ll dig in and learn as much as I can.”

Now this sounds like me. I know I can do the job, I just don’t know how to ‘yet’. Of course I don’t tell that to my clients, just inside my head 🙂 . You can be an expert in almost anything if you have the guts and know how to research thoroughly and effectively.

When you say “Send out job applications,” to me that sounds like you’re responding to online job ads, which a marketing approach I recommend. I’d say “do proactive marketing every week” — in person networking, social media marketing, sending queries, researching prospects’ websites and sending letters of introduction…that sort of thing.

I assume you meant to say “which IS NOT a marketing approach that I recommend,” the cop-out approach for every beginner who wants the path of least resistance. Which in just about every aspect of existence is also the path of least fulfilling results.

I was stuck in that stage for a while … and then for even longer in the next-step-up-and-hardly-much-better stage of trying to copy the successes point for point, so your point about finding one’s own best approach particularly resonated–in fact, it qualifies as the “one thing I need to learn and implement now before doing any more learning.” (If I could get paid for learning alone I’m sure it would be my top career choice. …) I’m very visually oriented and on the shy side, so I’m focusing heavily on effective networking and referral hunting from people I already know–and on choosing networking events (online and off) for their relevance to my preferred health/human services niche, or for their communications and referral trading foci. And I think that social media is the best invention in decades for those of us who would rather be shot than make 20 cold calls a day by phone!–however well that worked for Peter Bowerman; I remember I interviewed him a couple of years ago and he said he’ll still take phone over email any day. To each their own path.

Wow Carol!
This post is almost like a mini-course for freelance writers.
In addition to your excellent advice, I found these three hacks to be super-useful:
1. Track my time every 30 minutes
2. End my work-day at 9 pm – and then review and set goals for the next day.
Thanks again.

For years, I just had a reporter’s notebook by my computer that had my to-do list. Now, it’s in my calendar online. But same thing. I’d be sunk without my list, especially when I come back on Sunday after taking Saturday off. My brain has been completely erased by my Sabbath. 😉

And one thing I’d just like to add for the “Execute” part: don’t worry about perfection. I’ve heard all too often (and have been guilty of this myself), “I can’t send out this pitch out yet–I need to keep tweaking it.”

If the core idea is good, an editor will take it, and they may even tweak the pitch a little bit to give you some direction or clarity. I recently was re-reading a pitch I sent out for a magazine, and noticed I had a typo in it. Guess what? Still got the assignment. All because I stopped worrying about all the extraneous details and just started going for it.

I especially like the point of marketing when your on your downtime. It’s always good to throw out some pitches and see who bites. I got a few clients from throwing out random pitches when I wasn’t even planning on marketing in the first place. The marketing techniques that has been working for me so far is finding websites that I would personally like to write for and send them a message.

Most of the time, I leave a few comments, and try to write a custom proposal that can improve weak areas of their content. It’s been working fine for me so far – haven’t found any of those $100 an article clients, but I know I’ll find out at some point.

Obviously, I can continue freelance writing for the rest of my life, and I don’t think I’ll want to either, so I want to work towards creating a money making website, and write articles that are specifically designed to make me cash. So I can write for myself and I can always know the articles I publish will send cash in my direction. Obviously it takes awhile to build a website where that’s possible but I’m willing to put in the work. It’s one of my dreams.



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