Decided to try your hand at freelance writing? It’s a great gig—with the right clients and skills, as a freelance writer you can work as much as you want, wherever you want, whenever you want. And one of the main advantages of freelance writing is that you don’t need to have gone to college or hold a specific degree to do it.
But landing freelance writing jobs with no experience is easier said than done. If you’re at that difficult stage where you’ve decided to embark on a freelance writing career but don’t know where to turn to find clients—or how much to charge them—don’t worry. Every writer, at some point, had to go through the same thing.
In this guide, we’ve assembled all the information you need to build a successful career as a freelance writer, from building your portfolio to landing your first clients and improving your writing skills.
What exactly is freelance writing?
If you’re searching for entry-level freelance writing jobs, it’s important to be specific about what it is that you’re looking for. In short, freelance writing is the work done by a self-employed person—a freelancer—who earns money by writing articles, white papers, blogs, and other text-based content for one or more clients. Often, freelancers work from home offices, coffee shops, or coworking spaces.
Although some tasks might be paid hourly, freelance writers are normally paid according to the amount of work they do for a client. Sometimes that means setting a price for each word written or for a certain number of weekly articles.
Clients hire freelance writers to create content on a huge range of topics. Some freelancers stick to certain niche topics or fields that they have lots of experience with, often because their expertise enables them to charge a higher rate for their work.
However, a large proportion of successful freelance writers are generalists who quickly learn about and write on unfamiliar topics according to their clients’ needs.
Although a large proportion of freelancers search for and contact clients themselves, finding freelance writing jobs for beginners is time-consuming, and the hours spent searching for new sources of work are unpaid.
For this reason, many freelancers are turning to writing agencies such as Eleven Writing. At Eleven, we pair writers with clients in need of their specific expertise.
Even if you haven’t got any previous professional writing experience, we can help you to develop your skillset while earning a competitive rate for the work you do. Eleven partners with a diverse range of clients, ensuring that the freelance writers we hire always have as much work as they need.
How much can freelance writers make?
According to information published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, writers and authors in the USA earned a median rate of $63,200 per year in 2019, getting paid $30.40 per hour on average. However, that stat covers both freelancers and salaried writers, who are typically more experienced and better compensated. PayScale.com estimates that freelance writers earn an average of $23.90 per hour, which is probably a more accurate figure.
At first, earning a decent wage as a freelance writer without experience can be a real challenge. However, as soon as you land your first batch of freelance writing gigs and put together a portfolio, things are sure to pick up. When you understand and can demonstrate the value of your work to clients, you’ll be able to better tailor your writing to a target audience and earn higher rates.
If, like the majority of freelancers, you charge per word, two core factors will determine how much you earn — the speed at which you write and your negotiated rate.
Although some types of content simply take longer to produce than others, with time, your writing speed is sure to increase. As a writer with no experience, it might take you an hour to write and edit 200 words for a straightforward blog. After a few months, however, you could well be hitting 500 or 600 words per hour.
Rate per word, on the other hand, varies from client to client and changes according to the type of writing you do. For example, reviews and blogs are often straightforward to write and aren't worth as much per word as complex opinion pieces for major news websites.
The average rate of pay for freelance writing also changes dramatically over time. To see what writers are earning today, check out the Who Pays Writers website. This is a free resource where freelancers submit anonymous reports of what they’ve earned from different clients. You’ll see that some organizations pay over $1 per word for extremely specialized content, while others pay $0.04 for simple blog pieces.
Another useful source of information is The Freelancer Rates Database published by Contently.
What do you need to be a freelance writer?
One of the reasons that the freelance industry is booming—roughly four million people in the USA turned to freelance work between 2014 and 2019—is that you don’t need any particular experience or training to become a freelance writer.
As long as you have a good command of whatever language you’re writing in, are ready to learn about new topics, and are motivated to reach out to clients, all you need is a laptop and an internet connection.
However, if you’re looking for entry-level freelancing writing jobs, one other thing you need is resilience. Out of all the story and article pitches you make, the chances are that you’ll hear back from a relatively small percentage of clients. You shouldn’t expect much more than 10% of the emails you send out to lead to paid work.
This is certain to improve as you get better at tailoring your writing proposals and portfolio to potential clients but first, it’s important not to get disheartened by rejections.
10 Ways to break into freelance writing without experience
Wondering how to get into writing? To help you land your first paid articles, we’ve put together the following ten steps. If you stick to these, you’re sure to find interesting freelance opportunities even if you’ve never written more than a couple hundred words before.
1. Write samples
Whenever I’m asked about how to get started freelance writing, I always recommend putting together a portfolio of writing samples. You can fill this with any writing you have to hand, such as academic essays, but, especially if you haven’t written professionally before, the best thing to do is to write a handful of samples in a similar format to the pieces you intend to pitch.
Even if they only take a cursory glance, a potential client might be won over by the very fact that you send them a portfolio. Having a selection of samples immediately demonstrates that you are capable of following through on any work you pitch.
2. Find a writing agency to support you
As a freelance writer, the best decision I made was to start working through an agency—this enabled me to skip a lot of the growing pains that new writers typically put up with when launching their careers.
One of the most difficult parts of a freelance writing career is finding work. With an agency like Eleven Writing, client outreach is largely handled for you — the only conversations you need to take part in are those related to the content you’ve been asked to write. You don’t have to waste valuable time bidding for work or pitching stories.
The other great thing about working through a writing agency is that you’ll collaborate with experienced editors who can help you level up your writing skills over time. Even if you’re confident in your ability to turn out a good essay, professional writing requires you to adapt to an entirely new writing style, so collaborating with someone who's been in the business for a while is an invaluable opportunity.
3. Launch a blog
A straightforward way to get your writing online is to launch a blog. This is a great opportunity to hone your knowledge and opinions about a certain topic that you’d like to write about professionally. What’s more, if you gain enough of a following, you can consider monetizing your work through ads.
Don’t be intimidated by the prospect of having to build a website by yourself. These days, with extremely affordable web hosting and easy-to-use website building packages, anyone can create a professional-looking website or WordPress blog on a very restrictive budget. Alternatively, you can dive straight in by publishing articles on your LinkedIn profile.
4. Write for friends and family
Practice makes perfect, and all writing experience is worth something. One of the easiest ways to improve your written communication skills is to start creating content for the people around you. Try to canvas any business owners you know and offer to create content for them at a discount rate, or write about something more personal—what you’ve been up to, your thoughts on current events, or a more specialized subject.
Starting with a small and familiar audience will help you to feel more comfortable when drafting your pieces, and it’s a great way to get feedback on your work.
5. Network with other freelance writers
As they say, it’s not about what you know but who you know. According to some studies, up to 85% of jobs are filled through networking. Using your connections is just as important in the freelance writing industry as any other.
Reaching out to any contact who works as a freelance writer is a great way to find new opportunities — a more experienced writer will be able to point you to useful resources they’ve used in the past and give you feedback on your portfolio, and they may even be able to pass clients off to you if they’ve got too much on their plate.
If you don’t know any freelance writers in the real world, you might be able to make connections through social media instead. In just a few minutes of Facebook searching, you'll find thousands of regularly updated job board groups. Don’t feel like reaching out directly? Then add some content marketers to your network and get a feel for the type of content they’re putting out.
6. Get your start with a content network
In recent years, one of the biggest internet media revolutions we’ve seen is the propagation of content networks. In short, these are enormous networks of websites that require large volumes of content on a diverse range of subjects. Also known as “content mills,” three of the best known content networks are Demand Studios, VeryWell, and Writing Bunny.
Content networks and content mills often produce revenue through ads or affiliate links, and they require a mind-boggling volume of original words and articles to operate. Consequently, they’re one of the most consistent sources of work for freelance writers and a great place to begin your search for clients in need of new writers.
7. Revise and refresh your grammar
As a freelance writer, you’ll need to write with a clarity and precision that isn’t needed in the majority of text-based conversations you have day-to-day online. Therefore, if you’re trying to work out how to get started freelance writing, one of the first things you should do is brush up on your grammar and make sure you don’t make any obvious blunders in your portfolio or when pitching to clients. In the Eleven Writing Knowledge Base, you can find guides to help you improve the tone, accuracy, and content of your work.
8. Learn about SEO
In 2020, one of the most marketable attributes you can have as a freelance writer is a working knowledge of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This is, in essence, the art of getting any articles you write to the number one spot on Google search pages.
At Eleven, we’re experts at doing exactly that, and we’ve even published a few handy pointers to help you advance your SEO skills. If you’ve never heard of SEO before, have a search for a full video course on the topic—there are plenty of great guides out there.
9. Cold pitch larger sites
You can take your freelance writing career to the next level by reaching out to organizations you’ve never worked with before and pitching them stories, even when they aren’t advertising any freelance writing positions.
This is known as cold pitching. Although it might seem more intimidating than using a freelance marketplace such as Upwork, what do you have to lose if you’re turned down by a media organization or company you don’t have a prior connection with?
Cold pitching successfully takes a good understanding of a company’s content requirements; do your research first, and this could lead to lucrative and exciting opportunities.
10. Find a stable place to work
Everyone responds differently to distractions, but there’s no question that writing requires focus. Another core component of successful freelance writing is finding the kind of environment and equipment that boost your productivity.
This could be as simple as noise-canceling headphones or as grandiose as an expensive coworking location membership. With a good office chair and a quiet environment, you’ll likely be far more productive than on the couch.
Freelance writing isn’t a lifestyle that works for everyone, but by reading this article and informing yourself about the industry, you’ll be able to quickly work out whether or not it’s the right gig for you. For the best results when pitching your first articles, don’t forget to follow the straightforward steps we've detailed above.
I’ll leave you with one parting piece of advice. Remember, as you’re launching your freelance writing career, to keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to write on topics that you are genuinely interested in and care about. This is the single best way to turn freelance writing work from a slow grind into an exciting activity that you feel passionate about doing well.
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With an MSc in Interdisciplinary Sustainability, Jacob's work at Eleven surrounds the preservation of our planet. When he isn't writing, he can be found jogging through Barcelona, studying languages, or sharing several plates of tapas with friends.