Life as a freelance writer can be exciting, fulfilling, empowering, and full of freedom to work and live as you see fit. After all, you’re the boss. And because you’re not tied down to one specific location or business, you can even be a freelancer from anywhere in the world with an internet connection and decent coffee (cause every writer knows there ain’t no work getting done without a steady drip of caffeine).
So yes, there's a big upside to a career in freelance writing. Even better news? There’s never been an easier time to get started than right now. In this article, we’re going to share exactly how you can build a freelance writing career in today’s world, whether full time or on the side.
How to setup your freelance writing business
Before you start cashing those big checks and hashtagging pictures of you at the beach with “RemoteLife” there’s some less exciting, but equally important stuff to do. Namely: Deciding how you're going to structure your business, and getting some systems in place to make things run smoothly once the work starts pouring in.
Structuring your freelance writing business
In terms of structure here, we’re referring to what makes sense from a legal and tax perspective. Whether it’s part-time or full-time, you have a few options:
- Single member LLC (Limited Liability Company). This means the state/government recognizes your freelance writing business as a separate entity than yourself for business purposes but not for tax filing purposes.
Pros: If someone sues you, they can’t get at your personal assets.
Cons: You’ll have to pay a fee to file and an annual cost to keep the LLC active. You may also have to pay for a professional to help you set up the LLC.
- Sole proprietor or DBA (Doing Business As). This means you’d start freelance writing under your name or choose a separate business name.
Pros: You can skip the paperwork needed for an LLC.
Cons: If someone sues you, they can get at your personal assets.
In the end, choosing a business structure really just comes down to risk and exposure. A few of the main reasons freelance writers get sued are defamation (saying something about a client publicly that damages their reputation), clients wanting refunds, and security breach (you’re often entrusted with access to companies’ private information). So there are certainly some upsides to establishing an LLC.
Setting up your bank accounts
Having a dedicated bank account for your business is considered a best practice. Most business and tax experts recommend creating two separate bank accounts:
- Business Checking Account—for when you get paid (income) and have to write out business expenses.
- Business Savings Account—to put aside money for taxes so you’re not hit with a big surprise when it comes time to file.
(For more tips on how taxes can impact your freelance writing business, check out An accountant-approved guide to taxes to get insights from a Chartered Professional Accountant.)
Now that your foundation is set, let’s talk about how you can get your first paying client.
How do freelance writers find work? (Tips to land your first few paying clients)
We won’t sugar coat this. Finding potential clients is one of the most challenging aspects of freelance writing. But, armed with determination and a few tricks of the trade, it certainly is possible to build a thriving client roster that allows you to do work you're passionate about and make a great living. And eventually, once you’ve honed your craft and gained some experience, you may even find getting more work than you can handle—a great problem to have. Here’s our top tips for landing your first clients:
1. Browse job boards
This includes places like LinkedIn and ProBlogger as well as private job boards in communities like Freelance Writer’s Den and Copy Chief. And while there are certainly some downsides (like lower pay over all and shorter term projects), global marketplaces like Upwork and Fiverr can be a great place to begin building out a portfolio of diverse work examples, developing a writing niche, and exploring what kinds of industries your interests and skillset is best suited for.
2. Pitch companies directly
Done right, you can respectfully (and authentically) promote your freelance writing skills to prospective employers without the stigma often attached to cold pitching. This takes some practice, and there will be bumps along the way as you learn what feels right to you (and what works), and what doesn’t. One writer’s go-to method involves three simple steps:
- First: Establish a connection. Rather than jumping right to the sales pitch, start by offering a compliment. Find a company or individual who’s doing work you’re passionate about and let them know you dig what they’re doing. This could be as simple as saying, “Hey I loved the most recent article on your blog talking about ‘x’, that's a really important topic that doesn’t get enough attention these days. Keep up the good work!”
- Second: Brainstorm ideas for how you could help them further their mission—and share it with them. Follow the company on social media, read their blog, sign up for their email list, and connect with the content or marketing team on LinkedIn. Anytime you see something that catches your eye, send them a quick note sharing what you loved about it. When possible, be open and authentic about what you do—for example, you might say, “That latest post on Instagram was amazing. As a freelance writer by trade, I love seeing companies who are willing to be so open and authentic when engaging with their audience.”
- Third: Make the pitch. Now that you’ve built a connection with someone at the company, and you’ve hinted at what you do, it’s time to go for it. Analyze the areas of the business your skills align with (content marketing, copywriting, SEO, ads, product descriptions, etc.). Then, reach out to share your ideas or even a couple writing samples. Offer to set up a short Zoom call to talk about some of the exciting opportunities you see for their business right now (i.e. a couple guest posts). Will you get a “Yes!" every time? Probably not. But with consistency and some patience, this can be a powerful way to not only score work, but to do so at places you really want to partner with.
3. Ask for referrals
If you’re just starting out, you may not have current or past clients to get referrals from—yet. But as you gain experience this can become the number one way you get more work. It’s very straightforward: After you’ve helped a client with your freelance writing magic, ask them if they know of anyone else who could benefit from your services. If you’ve produced quality work and cultivated a good working relationship, most clients will be more than happy to connect you with other businesses looking for help. And remember to always ask for testimonials from happy clients!
Bonus Tip: Find a freelance writing mentor to help hone your craft
One of the writer’s we spoke to in preparation for this article shared this nugget of wisdom:
When I was first starting out as a freelance writer, I found a few people who were already doing it successfully, and I emailed them. It wasn’t anything too special, just “Hey, you’re an amazing writer. I’m just starting out and wanted to let you know that you inspire me daily. If you have any tips or advice for a newbie, I’m a sponge for your wisdom :).”
This led to a connection with one person that started out as an email back and forth every now and then. After a while, I asked him if I could pay him to be my mentor. For $1,500, he mentored me for 3 months—providing feedback on some of my work in my writing portfolio, sharing ideas for honing my skills, and teaching me his methods for building connections with prospective clients. This was a big investment for me at the time, but it’s paid off ten-fold. With time, my mentor referred work to me and eventually even helped me land a full time job at a company I dreamt of working for. To this day, this connection has BY FAR been the most impactful lever in my success as a freelance writer.
How much does starting a freelance writing business cost—and what tools do I need?
When it comes to starting (and maintaining) your online writing business, staying organized is key. The most important tools you’ll need can be separated into two basic categories: 1) Managing the day to day operations of your business, and 2) Managing workflow.
Here’s a list of our top freelance writing resources to make sure you’ve covered:
- A way to manage business operations, keep track of income and expenses, and communicate with writing clients. You can piecemeal this, or you can use something like Practice’s customer-relationship-management (CRM) platform for scheduling meetings, invoicing and payments, creating contract agreements, and more
- Trello for work-flow organization and project management—very important if you’re working with multiple clients
- Grammarly (for producing error-free work)
- Microsoft office or Google Suite—most writers simply using Microsoft Word of Google Docs to do their actual work, and Slides or Powerpoint for creating client proposals
- Help from a Chartered Professional Accountant come tax time (freelancing has some important tax implications that can be tough to navigate on your own in excel)
- Nice to have: Your own website and blog (aka. your digital shingle) — instead of coding it from scratch, most writers will use an out-of-the-box website builder like Wordpress or Squarespace that has built-in search engine optimization options
How much does all of this cost? Much less than most people think. Many of the tools above are free. A customer relationship management platform, like Practice’s, can range from $25-50/month. And guidance from a tax professional varies, but tends to average around a few hundred dollars each tax season.
How much do freelance writers make?
In short: It depends. That may not exactly be the precise answer you were hoping for. But this is the reality of the freelance writing industry. For example, according to ZipRecruiter, the average hourly rate for freelance writers is $5.29-59.15. That’s a big range.
The problem with these numbers? They don't tell the whole story—like how experience and the type of content you’re doing will impact pay. Conversion copywriting for sales pages and emails, for example, tends to carry a much higher rate than content writing like blogs, articles, or social media posts.
Taking both of these factors into play, good writers we spoke with who have a steady stream of work each month and 3+ years of experience working as a high-quality freelancer are making between $50-75 per hour. One reported making up to $100/hour. Those with more experience or professional writers who were doing freelance work as marketing copywriters reported being toward the higher end of that range. While those with less experience, or those who were in the content writer niche tended to be more on the lower end of this hourly pay range.
So, if you’re just starting out, $25-50 per hour seems like a sound place to start , depending on the type of work you’re doing (lower end for content, higher end for digital marketing copywriting).
The top 3 business models for freelance writing
When it comes to freelance writing jobs, there are three main types of writing work you’ll encounter: Hourly, project-based, and retainer agreements. Let’s take a quick look at each of these—including what exactly they mean and the pros and cons.
1. Hourly pricing
Hourly freelance writing work is just what it sounds like: An individual or company pays you for each hour of work you do for them. This tends to be the most popular pricing structure among starting freelancers.
- The fastest, smoothest way to get new freelance writing gigs up and running
- Can be a great way for new freelance writers to gain experience with smaller writing opportunities
- Very low amount of job security: Lots of companies looking for hourly freelancers are interested in squeezing the most they can out of them with the least amount of commitment
- Often shorter-term projects, which means constantly pivoting between new projects and businesses
- Tracking hours can become tedious
2. Project-based pricing
Project-based freelance writing involves a client and a writer agreeing upon terms to complete a specific project. This includes what the freelance writer will be paid for completion of the project, timelines, etc. This could be as small as writing a certain amount of articles over a two week period, or as big as helping a company overhaul their website over the course of a couple months.
- More job security (potentially): Project-based work can range from 2-4 weeks all the way up to 3-6 months or longer. This can help provide a feeling of “steady work” that’s often absent with hourly work
- Links the price to the end result of project rather than just trading dollars for hours worked
- You don’t have to tediously track hours or worry about trying to convince clients why things other than words on a page (like research for the project) are billable hours
- Can be difficult to accurately pitch estimated time to a complete projects—especially since things almost always change to some extent along the way
- Doesn't account for any extra time spent on the project outside of the proposal
A retainer agreement is a contract between a freelancer and a client that guarantees the freelancer a certain amount of work for a given time period—typically a few months or even up to a year. For example, you might have a monthly retainer that states you’ll write a certain number of emails or articles written per month in exchange for $3,000, paid monthly. This could be for a set period of time (such as 6 months), or indefinitely, based on what you both agree to.
- Steady work: As a freelancer, this is about as close as you can get to being able to enjoy some of the security regular employment offers—while still being your own boss
- More flexibility with your time
- Places the emphasis on the value provided rather than micromanaging hours worked
- Companies expect you to be more involved (in terms of response time, availability, etc.) than if you’re just an hourly freelancer
- If you take on multiple clients (or have other contract work in addition to a retainer), balancing all of the different work can be a challenge
Which is best?
Well, that depends. If you’re responding to a posted freelance writing job offer on a job board, the client may have already indicated how the interaction will be structured, so you may not have a lot of say (although there’s certainly the opportunity to negotiate).
But if you do have a choice, because they inquired about your writing services through your own blog, then it’s important to weigh the pro’s and con’s as outlined above before glossing past the impact this will have. Hourly work certainly feels like the easiest fix for many people (writers and their clients alike), but project-based and retainer agreements tend to provide more security and freedom to work how you’d like.
If you’re ready to turn your passion and natural-born talent for writing into a successful, fulfilling side hustle or full-time day job, now’s the time to get started. Just follow the steps outlined in this article to structure your business effectively, land your first paying client, feel confident charging a fair rate, and you’ll be well on your way.
When you start taking on new clients and you’re ready to streamline the day-to-day tasks of running your business, Practice can help. Designed for coaches and small business owners, our platform allows you to securely store client data, send messages and documents, schedule meetings, and receive payment. Start your free trial today.