Maybe you’re a bit like me: a busy mom, possibly feeling overwhelmed either in a job you’re no longer loving, or looking for a way to contribute to the family budget. How to become a freelance writer with no experience is actually a lot easier to do than you might think. Good news, friend! You’ve come to the write place (see what I did there)?
Since I started my freelance writing career last year (after taking a major break from ten awesome but exhausting years as a freelance reality TV producer) I’ve had numerous conversations with friends and family who are interested in doing the same thing and have no idea where to start. I thought it was time I shared what I’ve learned from the various deep dives I’ve taken into this business.
I’ll go over everything from where to start, to how to build a portfolio, to what happens once you’ve landed your first client.
Some of the links below contain affiliate linking, which means that at no extra cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. You can read my full disclosure policy here.
Why Freelance Writing is Awesome
Freelance writing is a flexible way to earn extra cash, supplement your income, or take steps toward living a laptop lifestyle. It’s also a really great option for stay at home moms and dads looking to contribute to the family bank account.
I currently earn a competitive income working from home about 20 to 40 hours per week (depending on my client load) on both my blog and with my clients. But the best part is that I have the flexibility to go to all of the school events at the boys daycare, spend quality bonding time with them in the morning and at night, have time and energy to be an attentive wife and friend, and never have a commute unless I head to a coffee shop to write instead of home.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll know that the month of August, 2018 was particularly challenging for my family. Having the flexibility of being a write-from-home momma has made a world of difference.
I was able to take entire days off without having my income suffer.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that if I wasn’t already a work from home mom, after the series of family drama we’ve experienced this year, I would have to be.
Understand the Freelance Writing Industry
Before you jump into applying for gigs, it’s important to research and understand this world. (Hopefully, this blog is a great jumping off point for that!)
Having been a freelance producer for years I had a baseline for the hustle that would be involved in pitching to clients, maintaining relationships, and pursuing better, higher paying gigs over time.
If you’ve never been a freelancer this can be a bit disconcerting.
At first, there’s very little that you can do to “plan” your income for the coming months. You’ll be flying by the seat of your pants. I’d recommend starting this while you still have a “regular” job or have some other source of income so that you’re not panicking.
I also scoured the internet googling variations of freelance writing. I found this article to be super helpful, as well as this breakdown of what a content mill is (and if you can avoid them, you really should).
Where To Find Freelance Writing Jobs
When I first started out I joined Contena which takes you through a guided video course on how to create samples, even if you have no experience, and how to search their platform to find gigs.
Contena does charge a monthly fee of $100, and they only allow a certain amount of members to enter at one time (they periodically open their membership up).
My favorite thing about this platform is that you are paired with a mentor who will read your samples, give you notes and feedback, and recommend changes. I often pitched ideas to my mentor and she was always very accessible, sometimes responding within 24 hours.
I grew a lot initially just through the process of working with my mentor. $100 a month is a steal for the one on one feedback and consultation I received (what would amount to thousands of dollars from another platform).
After I went through the coursework, built my portfolio, and had succeeded in landing a few gigs, I found the platform to be an elevated job board that I was paying $100 a month for. After a few months, I canceled my subscription.
But it’s definitely a sound investment for the freelancer just getting started, or if you you’d like to save time searching all of the job boards when you’re looking for a new gig.
Other Freelance Writing Web Sites and Job Boards
Upwork is a platform that charges a commission (20% for the first $500 you’re paid by a client, 10% on all income after that).
I have an entire section dedicated to Upwork below because, ya’ll, I have thoughts about Upwork and they are many (so keep reading).
Freelance to win is another excellent website/resource for freelance writers. Danny Marguiles is the creator and has made a fortune as a freelance writer without any prior copywriting experience.
His Youtube Channel is full of very helpful videos that are worth checking out. He also occasionally will host webinars on Upwork, which is how I was first introduced to him.
Danny has had an insane amount of success, particularly for someone who had no prior copywriting experience, but it’s important to know that he struck lightning in a bottle. To a certain degree. And to emulate his success, at this stage in the game, would be short sighted.
His paid coursework is ridiculously expensive (in my honest opinion). While I’m sure there are some people who don’t mind making that kind of investment (Aprox. $1200 for a freelance writing course), I was able to glean enough from his free material to create content to strategize how to build my portfolio on Upwork (and elsewhere), as well as what rate to charge, and how to pitch to new clients in genres I’ve never written for before.
Upwork is one of the biggest freelancing job platforms available. They have listings for jobs ranging from graphic design, to copywriters, to website design, and virtual assistant/ administrative duties (and tons more).
You’ll need to register and set up an account and verify your location.
The biggest downside to Upwork is that it rewards its users before any experience that you may have had prior to joining the platform. For example, if you’ve spent ten years working as a copywriter, and decide you want to give freelancing a try, you’re starting at the bottom on Upwork. No. Matter. What.
This is my biggest beef with them. I’ve found that one of the only ways to game the system is to take some shitty jobs at first just to build up some street cred.
My first job on the platform was reviewing a shower head for a company for their Amazon store. They paid me $5 and I got to keep the shower head (which we still use, it’s marvelous!)
After I booked that job, I instantly saw an increase in attention to my proposals and finally people responded to my inquiries.
The lesson here: Don’t be afraid to take some crap jobs at first, in fact, double up on those initially.
I wish I had skipped all the “real” jobs and just looked for the super low paying, easy, seemingly mindless gigs. If you land one of these, make sure you do a really fucking good job. Because you’ll want them to give you a five star review and hopefully write something marvelous about the work you did.
This is what my editor from that first gig wrote about me:
“Beth did an excellent job testing our product and providing insightful feedback that we could use in our marketing campaign. Plus, her talent with words makes her feedback a joy to read.”
That kind of written feedback is worth every single penny on this platform, so you’ll want to strive for something that zings!
They do charge a commission on work you do of 20% up until the first $500 you bill with a client and then 10% after that.
Indeed, Problogger, and iFreelance
These are useful job search boards that do tend to post a lot of freelance writing gigs. One of my biggest clients came from a job posting on Indeed and for six months they provided me steady, well paid, regular work that was flexible and interesting. (They’ve since transitioned to two in house writers but my editor occasionally still reaches out to me with odd job assignments).
For me, I’ve focused my energy in finding jobs via Upwork, Facebook postings, and Indeed. I recommend focusing your efforts or you can easily find yourself totally overwhelmed.
Just like anything on the internet, be wary of things that seem too good to be true, or that insist that you give a credit card number or provide some other financial information before you do any actual work.
Freelance writing can be an awful lot like the wild wild west, so trust your gut in all the things. If it feels fish AF it probably is.
Finding other freelancers to run ideas by, or to get input from companies, or contracts you have to sign is also essential to feeling like you have some control in this.
How to Make Actual Money as a Freelance Writer
After a few months you’ll more than likely find yourself in some sort of niche within the freelance copywriting world.
Whether it be based on the genre you’re writing about (beauty, health, finance, etc), or the kind of copy you write (are you an expert at emails? Newsletters? Blogs?).
Here’s what the people who make the money are saying where the money is: Ghostwriting and Financial technology writing. At least right now.
I think it’s because a) nearly everyone wants a by-line so it’s less desirable to be a ghostwriter, and b) Financial technology (or fin-tech) is one of those difficult topics that sounds like it can involve math, which for us creative writer types can be intimidating and scary (at least for me it is!).
All of my clients are ghostwriting clients at the moment, and I actually prefer this because I am also in the process of establishing myself as the DGAF Mom so if you search my name, I really don’t want a bunch of other articles popping up about health, or finance, or book reviews for celebrity penned books or whatever.
As much as I’d love to show my mom my work, I seriously could give zero fucks. And for good reason. I’m making money writing other people’s shit and it works out really well for me.
Get Ready to Fucking Hustle Your Ass Off
I had been a freelancer for nearly ten years as a TV producer, so I was primed to expect a certain level of hustle. For the newly initiated it can take some adjustment. You will write emails and cover letters and submissions and spin your wheels and take misdirection. It’s just going to happen.
But keep moving forward.
Accept jobs at first that you can learn and grow from and then eventually, build up clientele and a base rate that you can feel proud of.
I always told myself to just keep moving forward. I didn’t have the choice to stop or go back. I had to keep moving. Just like Dory in “Finding Nemo,” Just keep swimming. (Or in this case, keep writing).
At some point the client you rely on the most on may end up having a shift in focus or budget, and they are going to let you go. It happens TO EVERYONE. Be prepared by never relying too much of your salary on one client, and also know that this is how this industry works.
Grieve the loss of the income and relationship and then, get back to work.
Managing All of the Work
So you’ve landed your first gig! Congrats!! Now what?
How do you manage and keep track of all of the work? Where do you keep your documents? How do you send your work back and forth?
A lot of this depends on the platform and the client so it’s important that you have a conversation about expectations.
Most clients are totally fine with documents exchanged via Google Doc as it’s relatively secure, easy to access, and allows for editing and sharing.
Use Trello To Organize Your Clients and Assignments
I use Trello for everything in my fucking life and it is the best. I’m not kidding. I meal plan, I plan birthday parties, I manage my workflows for this blog, and for my clients. I also have a board that’s entirely dedicated to my schedule for the week.
I intend to provide a freelance writing workflow board soon, so if you’re interested please sign up for my email below to get the latest.
In the meantime, the skin and bones are that I have one list for ideas/assignments. One for rough drafts, one for final drafts, and then one for when I need to invoice/get paid. Once I’ve been paid for the assignment I archive the card and move on with my life.
Also Trello is free so it costs you nothing to try it out:
Freshbooks is a bookkeeping program similar to Quickbooks. They charge a small yearly fee to access their services, but it’s worth it. I tend to send invoices via Freshbooks, as it keeps track of everything.
I love that Freshbooks also helps you to keep track of expenses, so signing up for this service is something that you can write off on your taxes too! (You’ll need to confirm with a licensed professional regarding your specific tax situation).
And if you use Paypal to get paid (which many freelancers and businesses prefer), you can avoid the insane transfer fees when you link your Paypal account to Freshbooks, which ends up saving me so much money in the long run (because I keep all the money Paypal would have taken!)
Other Business Business
I established myself as an S Corp because of the amount of work I do and create. It made more sense to establish myself as a business than to deal with the potential tax ramifications later on. Everyone’s situation is different so it’s important that as you start to build a solid base of clientele you have a meeting with a qualified tax professional to guide you on this process.
Finding Other Freelance Writers
Whew. If you’ve made it all the way to the end of the post, a) you’re a rock star, thanks for sticking with me, and b) I certainly hope you’re feeling motivated to get started on your own freelance writing career.
This is hands down the most rewarding, fulfilling, and exciting job I’ve had in my entire life. I get to write every single day, and I get to spend quality time with my kids.
It’s seriously a dream come true. It takes hustle, for sure, but it’s worth it in the end.
How are you getting started with your freelance writing life? Be sure to share this article on Pinterest by sharing the pic below. I love when I can help other mommas find writing work, and Pinterest is an awesome medium for that.
You can also share on Facebook or even comment below to let me know where you are in your journey and what your goals are. I really want to know. Good luck getting your freelance writing on!