How To Get Started As A Freelance Writer When You Have No Experience
So, you want to start a freelance writing business? If you like writing, I think you will enjoy this field a lot. I get to work with some pretty fantastic clients. I started writing for others for pay in 2017, and it was a great decision. The flexibility that comes with freelance writing is terrific. Today, I wanted to teach you all some tricks you can use to get started. Are you ready? Let's go!
Need more advice? Check out my epic 6,000-word guide to getting started as a freelancer. Today's guide offers a quick guide to getting started in freelance writing specifically, while my more extensive guide delves into the world of freelancing in general.
Note: This post contains affiliate links.
Listen To The Audio Version Of This Post
Did you know I have a podcast for freelancers called The Ambitious Freelancer? I recently decided to create an audio version of this blog post on that podcast. Listen to this podcast down below or read the full post.
1. Pick A Type Of Writing
First and foremost, I am a huge believer in picking a type of writing. You may also consider this choosing a niche in a sense. The bottom line is that writing a blog post is different from a case study. I want to make sure that you are putting all of your energy into offering one type of writing at first. If you don't have a ton of experience, you won't do well providing all the writing types. I chose blog post writing because it was something I was comfortable with. Over time, I have written a few emails and a ton of social media updates. When you start small, you can specialize and truly make an impact. No one wants a mediocre blog post writer who can also write bad social media updates and awful case studies. Stick to one writing type.
2. Pick An Industry
After you pick a type of writing, choose an industry. This what most people consider picking a niche. I started writing content across a variety of industries, and I still do in a sense. Most of my clients are in the human resources technology field, but I will pick up another client if they like my work and seem like an excellent client to work with.
So, how did I go from getting a Master's in Sociology to writing for human resources technology startups? It wasn't a conventional path. I pitched an HR tech startup in 2017 on Upwork, and I fell in love with the industry. Since then, I have decided to pour my heart into the industry and focus much of my time and talent there.
Picking an industry allows you to build a professional presence. You can learn a lot about an industry which will enable you to command a higher rate for your work. At this point, I have charged upwards of $150 per post in the HR tech industry. My first job was $35 per post. Talk about a pay increase!
3. Read Content From Others In Your Industry
Now that you've picked a type of writing and industry, it's time to become well-versed in how the industry communicates. Do your research, you want to bring your flair, but you don't want to stand out like a sore thumb. Find some high-quality content in your niche, and follow it for a while.
For example, if you want to become a personal finance case study writer, read all the case studies you can find in your industry. Do a little outside research too, does another industry do something that you can borrow from in your case studies? How can you go above and beyond what's already out there?
How Do You Set Yourself Apart?
When I was thinking about what sets me apart as an HR tech writer, I genuinely think my background sets me up for success. Sociology has given me an extraordinary amount of empathy for both the employee and the employer. I can utilize my knowledge of research and my experience writing content online to boil down big concepts into statements all managers can understand. I also bring a millennial perspective to the equation in an industry where so much is written about us and not by us.
Do the same for your industry. What makes you so different? Why should your clients hire you?
4. Create A Basic Website
Now that you know more about yourself and your industry, it's time to boil all that down and start the process of creating your website. I pushed this off for so long, but I am glad that I eventually decided to sit down and make this a reality last year. Are you stalling on creating your website? Stop. I have an excellent post on Amanda Cross Co. featuring everything you need to know to create a freelance site.
Here is the TL;DR:
- Get a domain name. I use Namecheap to get all my domains.
- Get hosting. I use Squarespace for my freelance website, but I use WordPress self-hosted for this one. If you want to use WordPress self-hosted, I encourage you to invest in Siteground as a host. Siteground is the host I use, and I love it.
- Get a theme. It doesn't have to be professionally designed. CreativeMarket has a ton of themes for WordPress. If you are using Squarespace, they have some beautiful pre-made templates you can use.
- Create the pages for your site. You need the following pages:
- About: Share your why and how you can help the client.
- Hire Me: Post your services and the rates for those services.
- Portfolio: Share some examples of the work you can do (we'll chat more in-depth about that in a second.)
- Testimonials: Once you have them, share them here.
- Contact: Give people a way to contact you. Make sure you have a professional email, I suggest G Suite for this.
Related: A Simple Step-By-Step Guide To Build Your Beautiful Freelance Website In A Week via Amanda Cross Co.
5. Produce At Least 3 Samples In Your Niche
Now, you need to produce some samples that your potential clients can view. You must have at least a few examples, even if they aren't in huge magazines or websites. Everyone starts somewhere. You have to make sure that the quality is there. Here are a few places to publish your sample:
Publish On LinkedIn/Medium
I am a huge fan of posting on LinkedIn as a freelancer. I spend at least a few hours on there each week engaging with my connections and using hashtags to expand my reach. You can publish some pretty lengthy microblogs on LinkedIn to get attention, but you can also create entire articles using LinkedIn Publisher.
Here's an example of a microblog I did:
While I've never published on Medium before, I know that there are plenty of freelancers who have. It's a great platform that has a pretty spectacular built-in audience that you can utilize.
Start A Blog On Your Website
Having your own website means that all of your content is bylined. You have so much control over what goes up there, so use that to your favor. Make sure your entire portfolio isn't made up of pieces you've self-published on your website or sites like LinkedIn.
Write A Guest Post In Your Niche
Guest posts, while usually free, are a great way to get your name out there. When you are first starting, you will probably do a ton of ghostwriting projects, so getting some bylined guest posts will help a ton. Many sites allow guest posts (including this one by the way!) Reach out with a perfect pitch and you are bound to make an impression.
Pitch A Small Business To Write In Exchange For A Byline And Testimonial
If you don't mind doing a bit of unpaid work, you could reach out to a small business that's in your niche but not your ideal client. For example, maybe they can't pay you as much as you'd like. Offer a blog post or two in exchange for a byline and testimonial for your website. Small businesses can be a great asset for you as you are building your business even if they can't pay you much.
6. Start Pitching
One of the easiest ways to get started as a freelancer, in my opinion, is cold pitching. While I did have a soft spot for sites like Upwork because that's where I got started, I think that cold pitching is worth it. If you have a few niche-specific examples up your sleeve, start sending those to companies and get introduced to their content marketing department.
Cold Pitching Isn't As Scary As It Seems
Some of my best clients have been clients that I cold pitched. I feel like cold pitching versus using a site like Upwork creates a more equitable playing field with the brand. Cold pitches don't have to be long. They'll likely be 1-3 paragraphs. You aren't trying to write a blog post in an email. You are just trying to get their attention.
When I create a cold pitch I usually do the following:
- Greet a person by their name if I have it, or address the team.
- Open by complimenting the brand and what I like about them. I pay specific attention to their blog.
- Introduce myself, my niche, and my services.
- Close by sharing that I'd love to help them write content for their blog.
- End with a call to action to set up a meeting or see if they want me to send some blog post ideas their way.
Cold pitching is all in luck. Because your potential client hasn't actively promoted a need for a writer, you may get a lot of rejections because they don't need your services, or they don't need them at the moment.
If you get:
- A No: You should move on.
- A Not Right Now: See when a good time to follow up would be, and follow up.
- No Answer At All: Prepare to follow up in about a week or so.
What Do I Do If I Get A Call?
Calls for me are probably the scariest part of the process. I am introvert by nature, but I would say that introverts are everywhere. I've had tons of calls where the potential client was just as awkward as I was. Put yourself out there, and read my guide to client calls as an introvert, linked below.
Do Not Provide A Quote Over The Phone
Something you may be persuaded to do is offer a quote over the phone. I noticed that when I did that, I usually undercharged my services because speaking a high number out loud is difficult. Instead, get all the information you need to price the project. Tell your potential client that you will come up with a project-specific price based on their needs and the prices listed on your website. It's okay to take your time to produce this number. Make sure that you always have access to their company information and site before you share a price with them. I've noticed that when dealing with startups, they can be either completely broke or worth millions of dollars. You don't want to charge too low and be taken advantage of.
7. Start Promoting Your Services
After you've got a client or two up your sleeves, start promoting your services. In my huge freelancing guide, I cover a ton of ways to promote your services. In this guide, we've even touched on a few already. Creating your website and publishing on platforms like LinkedIn are great ways to start promoting your work.
Social Media Is Your Friend
When it comes to promoting your freelance business, turn to social media. Create a social platform that you can utilize. I enjoy Twitter or Instagram for attracting freelancing clients. Check out my huge freelance social media guide below for what to post on social media as a freelancer.
8. Use The 90-Day Ambitious Freelancer Planner
Staying organized as you are building your freelance business is one of the most important things you can do. Are you looking to level up your business right now? Start by using a 90-day planner to kick things into high gear. I recently released a planner called The 90-Day Ambitious Freelancer Planner. I built this planner with freelancers in mind so you could set yourself up fo your best and most profitable freelance quarter yet. After you get your land legs, I encourage you to invest in this planner to work on your goals. This planner is undated so you can start the planner when you're ready and be on your way to having a spectacular quarter.
Conclusion: You Can Do This
There you have it. That's my foolproof guide to getting started with freelance writing when you have no experience. I hope that this post was actionable and valuable as you start your freelance writing career. I have SO many more resources about freelancing here on the blog for you, don't forget to check those out. Do you have any questions about how to make freelancing work for you? Leave them in the comments or shoot me a message at email@example.com. I'd love to help you get started!
This was beyond helpful as a college lifestyle blogger who has dabbled in freelancing, yet still has no idea what I’m doing. Your entire freelancing series has helped me tremendously. Thank you so much!