The Secret to Creating a Successful Freelance Writing Business
Everybody thinks about freelancing as a side hustle or a part-time job, but did you know that it is entirely possible to have a flourishing, full-time freelance career?
In order to show you how it’s done, I spilled the secrets of my own six-figure freelance writing business. Keep reading to learn how I got started as a freelancer, how to start your own freelance writing business, and what must-have tools I use daily.
Getting started as a freelance writer
Originally, freelance writing was more of a side hustle for me. I had just graduated college, and I needed a way to make extra money while applying for full-time jobs. I knew I could write fairly well, so I made a profile on Upwork. At first, I took all kinds of writing gigs (most of them for very little money) and, eventually, the grunt work paid off. I used the writing samples I had created to land a full-time job as the Women’s & Lifestyle Writer for a BuzzFeed-style startup.
I worked there for a little bit over a year until they ran out of funding, as sometimes happens with startups. Shortly after the company shut down, I realized that I never wanted to let someone else be in charge of my paycheck ever again. I didn’t want to a lump in my throat wondering how I was going to pay rent after I was laid off in the blink of an eye. That’s when I decided I was going to start my own writing business.
Even though I had decided to make a career out of freelancing, my success didn’t happen overnight. At first, I freelanced part-time while also working another job to help pay the bills. In my first year as a freelancer, I made a total of $35,000 from my writing clients. However, four years later, I consistently make over six figures as a Freelance Real Estate & Personal Finance Writer, and I am working to grow that amount even further.
How to build your own 6-figure content writing business
Now that you know more about me and how I got started in the industry, let’s get to the fun part. Below are the steps you need to follow to build your own freelance business from scratch. Read them over to have a better idea of what it takes to make it as a freelance content writer.
Study up on your chosen writing format
Like most other jobs, being successful as a freelance writer requires having some foundational knowledge of the subject. However, in this case, rather than going back to school and getting another degree, you can usually learn on your own or by taking some courses led by other successful freelancers.
It’s important to note that not all genres of freelance writing are created equal. For instance, on a day-to-day basis, bloggers tackle tasks much different from what I handle as a freelance content writer. Meanwhile, a copywriter will look for agency clients, as opposed to the websites and media companies that make up my client list.
With that in mind, you’re going to want to do some research into what it takes to succeed in each area of specialization before picking one that feels like it might be the right fit for you. Then, do more of a deep dive into creating the type of content you want to specialize in. For instance, I write blogs, but some other content writers specialize in writing email sequences or landing page copy.
Create work samples in your desired niche
Once you’re pretty clear on how your content creation process should work, the next step is to create your writing samples. Ideally, when you’re done, you should post them online so that a link can easily access them. If you’re starting out working on a platform like Upwork, you can post them there. However, you can also post on Medium or LinkedIn for free.
That said, rather than just creating any writing samples, you’ll want to pick a niche first and choose topics that will play well in those industries. As I said above, I work in the real estate and personal finance niches, but many other writers have found success working in different industries such as healthcare or marketing. Ideally, you’ll want to choose a niche where you have some background knowledge or experience.
Whichever niche you ultimately choose, creating relevant samples will be key to landing your first writing job. It will show your potential clients that you have a foundational knowledge of the industry and how to create content that will appeal to their clients.
Make a portfolio website
After you’ve posted your writing samples online, it’s time to create a portfolio website. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need anything particularly fancy or expensive to get started. However, you do need a website that advertises your business. If you’re not very techy, you can use a drag-and-drop website building tool like Wix or Square to get started.
At base, your website should include the following elements:
- A domain name that is catchy and easy to spell
- Information about the specific services you offer
- Information about you and your experience in your niche, as well as anything that sets you apart from other writers in the field
- Your writing samples
- A reliable contact method for you
Pitch your work everywhere
At this point, you should have everything you need in place to start going after potential clients. Again, if you’re just starting, it may be a good idea to use sites like Upwork for leads. Still, you don’t want to rely on content mills for too long. You can get much higher rates elsewhere and, once you have a little experience under your belt, it makes sense to move on.
Most beginner-to-intermediate freelance writers get new clients by writing cold emails. An excellent cold email pitch should be sent to someone on the editorial staff of a website or media company within your niche. It will briefly touch on all of the elements that I suggested you include in your website.
Ultimately, the email is used to ask the editorial staff if they would like you to write content for them. It may take you a few emails to get a positive response, but persistence is vital. Once someone agrees to your pitch, you can start officially building your portfolio.
Continue to build your portfolio and raise your rates
After you have a few clients and multiple bylines under your belt, it’s essential to continually up your game. Every so often, when you book a big-name client, it’s a good idea to try and raise your rates accordingly.
If you start taking low-paying writing jobs, it can be time to raise your rates to six-figure territory, but it can be done. When I started writing, I got paid $8 an article to create recipes for a lifestyle blog. Now, I consistently earn between $0.50 and $1 per word for my real estate and finance clients.
Additionally, while the amount you can charge will largely depend on your experience level, in general, it’s a good idea to set a per-project fee rather than an hourly rate. In my experience, potential clients are much more receptive to a flat rate than doing the math on what I charge per hour.
Become an industry expert
At a certain point, you can leverage your experience to become an industry expert. In addition to having clients start to come to me after reading my work instead of pitching myself to various media outlets, I have also had the opportunity to appear on podcasts and television segments as a subject matter expert (SME).
Once that happens, you can start to think about adding different income streams to your freelance writing business. While I’m still figuring out how this will look for my business, some options that I have been considering include offering coaching to beginner freelance writers and writing an ebook about my experiences.
The 6 tools you need to be successful as a freelancer
Now that you know what steps to take to launch a freelance writing career, it’s essential to look at the tools I regularly use to keep my business up and running. With that in mind, I’ve laid them out below. While you don’t have to use the same programs that I use, it’s a good idea to ensure that you have similar systems in place.
The first and most important tool that you will use in your business is a CRM system. In industry, CRM stands for “client relationship management.” This system will be a place to keep track of your leads and your various writing assignments.
In particular, I use Dubsado. I like it because it’s pretty much an all-in-one system for freelancers. I use it to track my leads, handle my invoicing, keep track of my deadlines, do basic accounting tasks, and handle new client onboarding.
Since my CRM system only handles accounting basics, I need another plan to track how much income I have coming in monthly. In all honesty, I use a basic Google Sheets spreadsheet for this and update it regularly with my projected income and expenses. Other software like Credit Sesame helps a lot.
That said, eventually, I probably will be upgrading to accounting software that communicates with my CRM system, my business credit card, and my business bank account.
The other tool I utilize regularly is my portfolio website. I’m not very tech-oriented, so I chose Wix as my provider and created my website fairly quickly. At this point, I rank decently for keywords like “freelance real estate writer,” so my website has become a consistent source of lead generation for me.
It’s worth mentioning that as your portfolio and experience level grows, you should be sure to update your website to reflect your new bylines and any noteworthy clients.
Other than my CRM, Google’s suite of apps is probably the tool I use almost daily. Though I recently upgraded to a paid version of Google Workspace, I used the free versions for years. Typically, whenever I create content for a client, I write it up in Google Docs. I also use Gmail as my business email.
I specifically like Google Docs because it allows me to change the sharing permissions on the document according to who needs to see the finished product. It also offers a word count feature, which helps me ensure that I keep each article to my clients’ desired length.
Lastly, I maintain active social media accounts to share my work, connect with potential sources, and grow my network. In particular, I update both Twitter and Linkedin regularly. While I am still learning the optimal social media strategy for each of these sites, I currently use them to share my articles with a broader audience and connect with others in the real estate and financial industries.
It is possible to earn a good living as a freelancer, especially as a freelance content writer. However, it doesn’t happen overnight. It can take a while to build up your portfolio and increase your rates to the point where earning six figures is a realistic income goal. That said, if you follow the steps listed above, it can be done. With a little hard work and due diligence, you, too, should be able to build your own six-figure freelance career.
Tara Mastroeni is a freelance writer with JoyWallet.com.