Learning to become a freelance writer can be daunting…
…and like most people:
You probably have no idea how to get started either.
But let me be honest with you:
Anyone can start making money online as a freelance writer, including you!
So in this post, I’m going to show you how to turn that freelance dream into a profitable career.
What You Will Learn
- The 7 essentials you need to get started
- 10 super easy ways to make money with freelance writing
- Insider secrets of how to generate leads that pay
- How to write pitches that make you money
- What you need to create a freelance writing portfolio that sets you apart
Who Am I To Teach You About Freelance Writing?
Back in 2014 I’d come home from travelling and I was working 40 hours a week in a shoe store; one of those big, soulless chains that sucks every bit of joy out of you. And on the side I ran a little WordPress blog that I wrote because I wanted a hobby.
As the months went by I got more and more despondent with my job and more into writing. In fact, I fell in love with it. And as I do with the parts of my life I love I talk about them all the time.
It was one of these conversations where a friend pointed me towards Elance (now UpWork) and told me to look for some freelance writing gigs. I pitched and pitched and pitched and I learned how to get people to pay attention; then I started making real money from it.
Within two months of signing up I’d overtaken all of my retail income (about $1000 a month) which meant I could quit to focus on freelance writing. And my income went up.
And as I sit here typing this I make between $3000-$4000 a month for less than 20 hours work a week. I don’t use Elance anymore, and I’ve been able to work with some of the biggest blogs across the Internet – you might even know a few:
I’m fortunate enough to be able to work from coffee shops, hotel bars, beaches and AirBnB’s the world over. It’s also given me the freedom to branch into other ventures – like my new travel guides site, One Day Guides. Not bad for 24, right?
So, Matt approached me to write this article for you, because, well…I know my stuff. And I’m about to teach you everything you need to know about freelance writing.
Here’s how you can do it too…
What Is A Freelance Writing?
A freelance writer is what I like to call a “Pen for hire”.
In every niche that you work in you’ll exchange your words or time for money.
You work completely independently. You don’t work for anyone, but you always work with people on your projects.
For example, I’m writing this article for Matt’s site. But, I am not employed by him. He pays me based on the amount of words that it takes to write an article.
And, I’m paid when he’s happy with it. We work together to make sure the article is right for you and other readers.
“A freelancer trades time for money; An Entrepreneur invests time for money. That’s an important distinction to make.”
You can work in a lot of different niches as a Freelancer, too. It’s not all blog posts and books.
You can make money in some creative ways. But before we get into that let’s look at why you should even want to become a freelancer, shall we?
Why Become A Freelance Writer?
There are a tonne of benefits to being a Freelancer that you don’t get in any other job.
You work your own hours: It doesn’t matter if you’re working at 9am, 10pm or 2am. As long as the work is done on time and of good quality you can basically work whenever you want.
You can also work from wherever you want. For example, I wrote the entire 8 Point Blogging Checklist from a hostel in Peru after coming back from Machu Picchu. And this article you’re reading now was commissioned while I was backpacking through Europe.
As long as you have an Internet Connection and a Laptop, you can work and travel easily.
There’s also the fact you get paid to be creative. At the end of the day all writing is an art form; even Amazon product reviews.
Content Marketing is big business and words are never going away. There is always space for a good writer and there will always be opportunities to make money.
Still interested in becoming a freelance writer? Fantastic. In this next section you’ll learn exactly what you need to get started.
The 7 Point Quick-Start Checklist
The number one question I get about freelancing is: “How do I get started?”
And the answer is really simple, you just need to tick off the seven points on this checklist:
- Computer: You’ve got one of those, right?
- Internet Connection: You’re here so you’ve got that down. Great work.
- Email Address: Make it professional – firstname.lastname@example.org isn’t up there.
- Word Processor: You can get this free from Google Docs or you can use Microsoft Office.
- Free WordPress Blog: So you can have a portfolio; but also practice writing and scribble down ideas as you go.
- A Paypal Account: That way you can get paid.
- A Desire To Write: Because this job is hard if you don’t enjoy it.
Yeah, that’s about it; anything else you need can be picked up as you go. There’s no need for any fuss about products or add ons or optional extras. You can get started with that exact core and build as you go.
I’d been writing for a year before I figured out I needed a proper invoicing system.
So, you know, learn as you go.
How About Qualifications?
I have none.
In fact I have less qualifications than you. I finished High School and…that’s about it.
There will be some companies on a corporate level that are actively seeking someone with a degree in marketing, advertising, journalism or English language/literature. But in my experience a good portfolio and relevant experience can get you through that barrier.
The industry itself – and all of the ones associated with writing – are unregulated. Heck, do you think anyone cares if Brian Clark of Copyblogger has a degree? No, because he’s Brian Clark.
The only exception I’d put here is if you’re going to write in a field like Medical or Law it’s worth having a background knowledge in that subject. But, for anything else, experience wins the day. You’ll learn more about how to get experience later on in the article, don’t worry.
Last One, What About A CV/Resume?
Personally, I’ve never needed one. But there are some people who recommend to use them.
Sophie Lizard has a readily downloadable Writers CV on her Lizard Creative Chaos website:
My advice would be to create one and have it readily available in the background.
But, chances are, you’ll probably never need it unless you’re applying for an in-house job with an agency.
10 Easy Ways To Make Money With Freelance Writing
Freelancing isn’t just blog posts and articles (unless you want it to be); you can mix and match any form of writing to scratch your creative itch and earn your cash.
Here’s a breakdown of the main ways you can money so you can decide for yourself:
01: Freelance Blogging
Content Marketing grows year on year: as of 2015 a whopping 72% of marketing departments have a content marketing strategy in place. And they need freelancers to keep up with demand for their audiences.
This doesn’t always have to be corporate, either. Most blogging coaches, like Tom Ewer of Leaving Work Behind, recommend that you find work in a niche that you’re interested in.
There are always blogs and online magazines looking for contributors who are passionate about a subject and know it inside and out.
02: Freelance Copywriting
Copywriting is a broad term, so let me narrow it down for you a bit.
This is text that is used with advertising or marketing purposes (blogging being the exception here). For example, if you look at the sidebar of this site, you’ll see advertisements:
The words there are copywriting. This also includes: sales pages, leaflets, PPC adverts, website banners, product reviews and many more.
The reason this has it’s own section though – and you’ll see more subsections – is that you can just have copywriting as your niche. In fact, for the first six months of my writing career, I was just a copywriter. I never needed to go more niche than that.
As you’ll see in the next few sections you can go more niche, but it pays to keep your options open.
03: Magazine Writing
You know all those magazines you love reading? You could be getting paid to write for them.
Magazines have the problem at the moment of needing to create a lot of content. Many of them have print and online editions as well as blogs and journals and newsletters. Which means they’re always on the lookout for new talent to contribute for them.
For example, take a look at just how much content is on this National Geographic Traveller website:
That’s a whole lot of content on top of their print magazine, right?
And as Linda Formichelli points out in this article on Smart Blogger, some of them can pay you up to $2.50 per word which can be upwards of $250 an hour.
You can even combine this with freelance blogging, because as this blogger found out, she could get her post published in Cosmopolitan and get paid for it. Winner.
04: Writing Books and eBooks
There are a lot of people out there, from business people to authority bloggers and niche site owners, who need books writing. And they’ll pay you handsomely to do it for them.
Dave’s whole Amazon business depends on freelance writers creating his books so he can sell them under a pen name to people. And, the best part of doing this is that you don’t take any of the risk for if the book sells.
These types of jobs appear quite often on job boards and freelancer sites, so we’ll delve into that a little later.
This ties a little into the last point, but can cover all forms of freelancing too.
Ghostwriting, if you’re not familiar, is where you write something – an article or a blog post or a book – and someone else puts their name on it. For example, Andrew Crofts is one of the most successful ghostwriters in the world, but he can’t reveal any of the books he’s written.
I have had the same issue where I’ve been featured on many blogs under lots of different names but not my own.
You might think this is a frustrating industry to work it – and at times it can be – but it is often a great way to make money. Why?
Because there are many professionals out there in lots of different industries who just don’t have enough time to write. Or, simply, they can’t write well enough. This is where you can step in and make a pretty penny.
06: SEO Copywriting
This is a specific style of writing within itself. You need an understanding of how SEO works, as well as a knowledge of copywriting, semantics and a lot of other processes.
Sean Ogle of Location 180 started out as an SEO Copywriter and it’s a lucrative way to begin your freelance career. It’s definitely a job you can learn on the go – at least for those more basic projects – so if you like SEO and writing, this is a good place to start.
07: Review Writing
Review’s come in a lot of different forms. You’re on an Internet Marketing site so you’re probably only thinking Amazon and Digital Product reviews, but your scope here fits into any niche:
- Product Review Writing: Amazon, Digital or other. This can extend into blog posts too, like this review Matt did of SERPed. And if you really want to grind, you can get paid by services like DooYoo to write reviews too.
- Show And Performance Reviews: If you’re interested in the arts, you can get involved with publications that will pay you (or at least cover expenses) to go and review shows. I got plenty of experience doing this with a local publication.
- Service Reviews: You can be hired to write a review on services in your niche. For example, writing about the customer service provided by a hotel or a retail chain.
These all branch off into their own mini-niches too, that you’ll find as you become familiar with the niche you’re writing for.
08: Product Content Writing
When someone once asked me what I do for a living, I read out a mental list of topics and he said, “Oh yeah, I suppose someone has to write all of them!”. What he was referring to was Product Content Writing.
Take a look at this random page for a fridge on Amazon that I pulled up:
Someone has to write them, right? And they’re readily available jobs. I once went through and wrote product content for over 200 customer claims sites.
It was as mind numbing as possible, but it sure felt good when I got that pay cheque.
I wouldn’t recommend this as a full time career, but you know, each to their own.
09: Script And Speech Writing
You live in an age where video content is incredibly important. YouTube is an impressive traffic generation tool; Facebook is prioritising video (especially their live feature) and people can spend hours in their car listening to podcasts. But why’s that important?
Think of all the places people need to be speak to an audience:
- Conferences And Business Events
- Udemy Courses
- YouTube Videos
- Weddings And Funerals
It common that people who want to speak to an audience – for example starting their own podcast – will have no idea what to say or how to put together a script or speech. That’s where you come in.
I have a close friend and freelancer, Rebekah Donovan, who got her first ever freelancing gig writing Podcast episodes for a company in the health niche.
Even famous writers like David Quantick, the author of How To Write Everything, have made a substantial amount of money writing Best Man Speeches. So, there’s a whole lot of money to be made here as well.
10: Fiction Writing
Fiction writing isn’t my strong suit – I’ve never even tried to get paid for it – but it’s still a well paid industry if you’re good at it. I mean, take a look at this UpWork job directory. There’s a posting for Freelance Minecraft stories:
That’s $80-$120 for posts about freaking Minecraft. Never mind when you start exploring other niches.
The pay for these is a little unfair when you first get started, I will admit. But once you become more established – like any business – you will start to get better rates.
Okay that’s the 10 main ways you can make money as a freelancer. Next step? Choosing your niche.
Step #1: Choose Your Writers Niche(s)
It’s important for you to find and choose a niche from the start as a writer. This will allow you to burrow down and create content to a better standard. And, the more known you become in a niche the easier it is to get jobs.
Also, selecting a niche allows you to explore more opportunities within that niche. Take a look at the mind map that I’ve created below to see what I mean:
When you enter a niche, you start to be able to look at sub-niches. Then, from those sub niches, there are even more sub niches and opportunities. Then more. And more. And more.
In the travel niche, for example, it might look like this:
And for my journey in Internet Marketing it goes like this:
All of these niches and sub niches have content attached to them, as well. Depending on the niche you’re in, it can just keep going deeper and deeper. Heck I’ve only just scratched the surface here.
So let’s look at how you can choose your niche, and what you need to keep in mind when you do…
Choosing That Perfect Niche
When you choose your niche make sure it’s something that you’re passionate about. If it’s not something you would read, write or talk about even if you weren’t getting paid for it. In this job you’re going to find yourself putting a lot of hours into what you write, so it’s better to enjoy it.
The passion and purpose shows through in your writing, and your tone, which makes for better content. And, as the author Neil Gaiman once said in his incredible commencement speech, no job done just for the money is ever worth it. It’s better to enjoy it.
This doesn’t have to be just one niche, either. Let me give you a personal example, I’m passionate (and knowledgeable) about:
- Internet Marketing
- Self Help
- Mental Health
So I take it upon myself to work inside all of those niches. My biggest income comes from Internet Marketing, but I still have my fingers in all of those other niche pies.
Take some time to figure this out for yourself. Look at the blogs you tend to read, the books you read, the hobbies you have and the company that you keep. What ties them all together into a niche, or across other niches?
But What If My Niche Doesn’t Have A Lot Of Money In It?
Trust me, it does.
Unless you’re into Albino Badger Wrestling or Bon Jovi Themed Horse Racing Events, you’re going to be able to be able to find at least one form of income. Although, those niches probably need freelance writers too.
You can break down a niche into a lot of different chunks and there’s money to be made in all of them. Take your niche – I’m going to use Travel for this – and explore to see which of these elements it has.
Perform a quick Google search of “your niche + blogs”, for example, “travel + blogs”:
If there’s blogs about your niche – which there will be – here’s one really lucrative opportunity for you to Freelance. In fact the more niche you go, the more money you can make for blog posts, because writers are few and far between.
For example, Model Railroad Hobbyist will pay a minimum of $230 for a blog post about model rail interests. And, as All Indie Writers points out in this article, some writers have made over $1000 writing for them.
Companies With Products
If there are businesses in your niche selling products or services or information, there is an opportunity to make money with them.
For example, if I look for Travel Companies on Google I find STA Travel. On their site there is a section about Adventure Tours:
Somebody has to write all of this copy, why not let it be you?
Think of how many pages there are like this across the internet that you could get involved with. For every page on the internet, there’s a chance to write great copy (at a price).
Where there are affiliate programs there is money to be made.
For every product you can find here, there are blogs and niche sites and businesses making money from them. And, all of those sites need copywriting to sell those products:
Not sure of the opportunities here? You can create: blog posts, sales pages, product reviews, website copy. Just about anything that involves writing and can help sell a product.
This Step In Short
Find a niche that you’re passionate about. If you don’t enjoy writing about it you’ll not enjoy your work.
As cliche as it sounds pick niches that you would be interested in regardless of whether you get paid. And, don’t worry about being too niche, those obscure ones can pay you a lot of money.
Pick a broad topic, drill it down and explore all of your options. There will be hidden corners and angles that you’ve not thought about that can be really lucrative.
Step #2: How To Find Freelance Writing Jobs Online
“Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime” that’s the old saying, right?
Well, my Freelance friend, dust off your pole because I’m about to show you how to do the best fishing you can.
I’m putting this section before everything else – pitching, creating a portfolio and all the rest – because this is the most important part of being a freelancer. At the start of your career, and at times throughout it, you’re going to spend a lot of hours doing this.
This is a skill you can perfect while you’re building a portfolio, honing your writing skills and working on your pitch. Making perfect sense to give it you straight from the off.
There are three sections to this section:
- Advertised Jobs: How to find people that are actively looking for writers.
- Non-Advertised Jobs: Choosing who to pitch to and finding those hidden jobs.
- Super Secret Insider Info: Simple methods I use to find clients that work.
They’re all easy to do, they just take practice, but you’re never more than an email address away from your next client.
Simple Ways To Find Advertised Jobs
These types of freelance writing jobs are the easiest to find because they’re actually on the internet, ready for you to find. They normally come in the forms of:
- Freelance writing jobs Boards
- Website Job Alerts
- Classified Ads
- Content Sites (like UpWork)
You can find all of these freelance writing jobs online for free. But keep in mind that they’re often high competition and low paying. That being said they are a the best way to cut your teeth and start building a name for yourself.
The jobs here won’t always be in your niche, but that’s the same for every writer with a niche, so don’t fret about that. Sometimes you just have to bide your time and keep your options open.
Let’s go through all the different places you can find these advertised jobs together…
How To Use Freelance Writing Jobs Boards
Freelance writing jobs boards are the place to go for jobs. They tend to be higher paying than content mills, and from a better calibre of client.
Some people will say that job boards need you to be a better writer, but I don’t think that’s true. You just need a little more portfolio samples behind you. And that’s easy to take care of, as you’ll find out later.
These are the only job boards I’d recommend looking at. The rest are normally rehashed links back to the pages here:
They all compile freelance writing jobs that have been posted there, or direct you to jobs posted on classified sites giving you the cream of the crop.
There’s not much to this, really. You don’t need to sign up or do anything magical. You can just start bookmarking freelance writing jobs that you like the look of.
Setting Up For Freelance Writing Jobs Alerts
This will be specific to your niche, and it’s geared towards more corporate clients, so this is either going to be a great fit for you…or a terrible one. That’s for you to decide.
I use Gorkana for freelance writing jobs alerts because they have a ‘Journalism Jobs’ section but there will be job boards in your niche that you can sign up to also.
Don’t read too much into the titles of jobs on these job boards – like Journalist or Customer Content Creator – they’re just business jargon.
All you need to do through a site like this is set your filters, find a search that suits your needs and then choose their update option. Like this email subscription box here:
That gives me a lot of emails a month, like the ones below, with job information.
These are usually pretty effective because they don’t just send you needless updates, they send them out only when a job gets posted:
Classified Job Postings
Classifieds are an underrated job search tool, but they can be highly effective. There are even services like FreelanceWritingGigs.com that pool the best of the best together for you for free.
You can look for these job postings a little closer to home as well using sites like:
And refine your search under the jobs section of your local area. Like so:
Getting Stuck Into Content Sites
Content sites are a great stomping ground for beginners. You can get a lot of experience, and get paid for it because of the sheer volume of jobs.
I wrote about all of these sites more in depth in my huge article about all the ways to make money online. But, here they are in short for you:
The lessons you’ll learn in this article will help you get jobs on these sites. But if you’re looking for a more tailored experience for this type of freelancing you can read this article about how I made $1,593 a month from UpWork and how you can too.
That’s it for advertised jobs, time to move on to unadvertised jobs.
Dig Out Those Unadvertised Goldmines
There’s an unwritten rule in Freelancing that says:
The highest paying jobs are never advertised.
And it’s one of the most true statement you’ll ever hear. In fact, a solid 90% of my client base right now didn’t advertise their jobs. I went to them, or they were referred to me, and they’re willing to pay more.
I don’t know why it works that way, but you’ll just have to accept that’s the way this world works.
But that begs the question: how do you know to pitch to them if it’s not advertised?
The short answer is that you don’t. You just have to go out there and speak to people, network and find out what they’re looking for.
However there are a few strategies you can employ to make your search a little easier.
Finding People To Cold Pitch
Earlier you looked at breaking your niche down into categories – like Blogs and Companies – now you’re going to use those same searches to find people to pitch to.
When I first got into the Internet Marketing Niche, I’d look for the parts of the niche that interested me:
- Social Media
Then I’d narrow them down even further to find what I could write about. Take social media, for example, there were a two options open to me:
- Blogs about Social Media
- Social Media Tools
So I’d go and look for all the social media tools I could. Which lead to me pitching to Share As Image (now Stencil) and becoming their Content Manager. And, to me landing an epic blog post spot on Buffer:
Think of how you can apply the same to your niche. What do the different parts of your niche break down to? You can find:
- Corporate Sites
- Tools and Plugins
- Local Businesses
- Fortune 500 companies
And from all of those you can break down even further, like if you were to look at retailers for the travel niche, that could be:
- Hiking stores
- Camping equipment
- Travel Agents
- Online Guidebook Shops
That’s just the tip of the iceberg as well. There are probably hundreds more options on top of that.
Be thorough. Dive deeply into your niches and find all of the options of companies that will need writing in some form, as you looked at before.
From there you can add them to your list of people you can write a cold call email too.
Finding Referral Clients
If you don’t have any clients at all this is a step for the future. But, I can show you how to get around that in the next section.
Referrals are one of the most powerful ways of landing a client. Because you come with a guarantee, from someone they know, that your work is of a high quality.
I regularly send out emails like this to clients, asking if they know of anyone who is looking for a freelance writer. And, sometimes you land a winner. Like when our very own Matt referred me to Colin Klinkert of SERPed, where I became the content manager there.
Search For Local Clients
You have a huge network you’re not even aware of.
Like, seriously. Just cast your mind out to all of the people you know and all of the people that they know. There is an endless supply of people who could hook you up to a new client.
- Old Classmates
- Current Classmates
- Old Work Colleagues
- Current Clients
- Old Clients
- Your Hairdresser/Barber
- Your Social Media Friends
- People You See When You Walk The Dog
The list goes on and on and on. Who’s to say what’s going to come your way through these channels?
Two of my first ever corporate clients came this way. A Training Company and a Language Interpretation service that operated across the hall from each other. The first owner was my cousin’s best friend, the second just came and sat in on the meeting and chose to buy in.
There will be hundreds of businesses in your local area that other writers have never even thought to pitch to, either. While they search the furthest reaches of the internet, why not walk into their building and request a meeting?
And, as Sean Ogle once told me when I interviewed him for a Podcast (that never actually aired):
“Get to local events – conferences, marketing events and anything else. There is no substitute for meeting people in person.”
You can find a whole host of these events on MeetUp or pay attention to local publications and magazines.
2 Super-Secret Insider Methods For Finding Online Jobs
There are some really easy other ways of finding clients, too. In fact they’re right under your nose and they can be accessed easily.
Here they are…
The Website Hijacker
I want to share with you the most effective way I’ve found of getting to write for people. These are instantly warm or hot leads you can pitch to, and the success rate is much higher than any other way I’ve tried.
Take a look at one of the online magazines or blogs in your niche. And, find for times that a freelance writer has contributed. Usually they’ll have a biography that tells you they’re a freelancers, like this bio from Kristi Hines on Nichehacks:
Now, even if there’s not a link in their profile, almost all freelancers have an online portfolio – whether that’s on their own hosted site or a free WordPress blog – so you can find that by searching in Google for their name (include freelancer or blogger if their name is really generic):
Once you’re on their site, look for pages with names like Portfolio or Latest, where they show you a list of the clients they’ve worked (or are working for) by sharing their latest or most successful posts:
Right in front of you right now there is a full database of potential clients that are open to having freelancers work for them. They’re at least paying one freelancer so they’ll be open to others, too.
Using this method – including Kristi’s Site – I’ve been able to land writing work with a lot of big, high paying clients. Oh, and stay tuned for a niche little tip on pitching later on, too.
The LinkedIn Lead Generator
This process is a similar to the above. But, with a little twist that you can guess from the title. You do it on LinkedIn instead.
Once again, find yourself a freelance writer on one of your favourite publications in your niche. Then, instead of looking for them on Google, go ahead and search them on LinkedIn:
From there head down the page to find their Freelance Work Experience. This will either be under the tab of their company name, like it is for Kristi here:
Or under different experience tabs like it is on my personal LinkedIn Profile:
Once again you have a tonne of companies to reach out to and pitch to because they’re interested in freelancers.
Don’t worry about stealing income from that freelancer, either. Normally you’ll be working in-addition to them so it’s not like you’re taking food off their table. You’re just putting it on your own.
Okay, that’s how to find potential clients all wrapped up. Now, how can you actually get them?
This Step In Short
Freelance Writing jobs can be found in three different ways:
- Advertised: Where it’s posted on a freelance writing jobs board, forum or freelancer site etc.
- Unadvertised: Where you contact a company or person unsoclicited looking for opportunities.
- Referral: Where friends, family or current clients send new clients your way.
Advertised jobs are best found on job board like ProBlogger Jobs or Freelance Writing Gigs.
Unadvertised freelance writing jobs take some searching: but you can use methods like The Website Hijacker to find companies that are open to working with freelancers. Or, get involved in your local community and find the people around you who are open to it.
Referral clients come from asking the question and generating warm leads from people that you know. This can be a great method of automating your marketing.
Step #3: Build Your Sales Tools
Writing is far too subjective for someone to determine what makes a good writer and what makes a bad writer.
You can see it for yourself in literature. There will be writers and novelists who have a huge following but write in a way that you just can’t stand to read. I can’t bear to read Harry Potter, but J.K Rowling is still out there making a fortune.
The way someone can choose whether you’re a good writer, then, is:
- Whether they like your writing style
- How good your portfolio is
- If other people have published your work
- What other people say about your writing
They won’t even use all of these. They’ll be happy with just two or three of them. So don’t worry if you can’t tick all of these boxes. Heck, most freelancers can’t hit all four of these when they move from one niche to another.
But you do need to do need to be able to showcase your work to people, in order to land the client. So let’s look at how you can start to build these up.
A Rock Solid Portfolio
Your portfolio is where you can show people your work and let them make a decision for themselves. There’s no right or wrong way to do a portfolio, but it should be:
- Frequently Updated
- Relevant To Your Niche
- Relevant To Your Skills
I’m going to show you a few different examples of portfolios so you can get an idea of what I mean.
Portfolio #1: Simple And Visual
This portfolio from Copywriting Is Art is simple, but really effective. If you’re going for a copywriting angle, this is a great one to follow:
Simple imagery gives it authority and is easy for people to see that there is an endorsement of his work. When you follow the links through the image you get a comprehensive breakdown of the work done, too:
Portfolio #2: Direct Links
This portfolio is my own personal one at JamesWritesThings. I use screenshots of my posts, with headlines that link directly to them:
Again it’s simple and effective, but it serves to show people I’ve been published elsewhere and can be trusted to write for their site. When they see a site they know, it’s also a big bonus.
Portfolio #3: Excerpts And Logos
This final portfolio comes from Erin at The Travel Copywriter. She again uses visuals – much like the graphic I showed you at the start of this post – to create a sense of authority:
And to create less of a barrier between a potential clients and buying from her, she’s added excerpts of her articles with additional links to grab attention:
Your Portfolio, Then…
You can see in all the above samples that they aren’t anything special. They don’t sing and dance, they just provide the information that’s needed. So don’t worry about needing a big ol’ website full of widgets.
Just create a space – using a site builder or WordPress or your own domain – and put your work online.
But, What If I Don’t Have Portfolio Pieces?
If you’re getting started you won’t have anything that even resembles a portfolio yet. And that’s okay, I’m going to show you how to create a portfolio from scratch, with little to no effort. There are two steps to it.
Step #1: Start A Blog
Start a blog about your Niche and start writing it. Use different techniques, use different styles and start writing as though you’re creating for a huge audience.
You don’t have to share it with anyone if you don’t want. You can have it on a private link for all that matters. But you do need to give people an opportunity to see your style in the context of your niche.
Step #2: Find Freelance Writing Jobs And Complete Their Tasks
I used to use this method a lot when I first started writing. Because, it gives you something more tangible to work with. And, they can go on the blog you’re going to start.
Head to one of the freelance writing jobs boards or content mills and find a job posting. It doesn’t matter if it’s current or expired. Look for one with a pretty specific description, like this one:
Then just go ahead and create an article or piece to that specification and stick it on your blog.
This process has two benefits:
- You get to experience what clients are looking for and work to specification
- You get to build out your portfolio with real-world examples
You can even go the extra mile and screenshot the job and present it to a potential client you’re pitching too, so show what you’ve done. Anything that gets you noticed from the other freelancers that are entering the field.
Okay, there’s another way you can pad out your portfolio and gain endorsements from people. That section deserves a whole section of it’s own…
In the Internet Marketing world people are really on the fence about guest posting. But, for Writer Marketing, it’s by far one of the best things you can do. It doesn’t matter if you’re in it for magazines, copywriting or anything in between.
Guest Posting gives you valuable experience working with someone who will publish your work. It also teaches you to work to guidelines, deliver to an audience and what it’s like to have your content published.
For example, the guest post on Buffer that I mentioned earlier has brought me a tonne of emails like this:
And having written for sites like Addicted2Success and Lifehack and got a decent amount of shares showed that I could write for a big, well developed audience too.
Landing guest blog posts is a whole topic within itself. So when you choose this option, I’ll hand you over to this expert post from Venchito Tampon.
Testimonials are powerful pieces of information. In fact, 90% of consumers say that online reviews impact their buying decisions. So these glowing endorsements from people can play a huge part in this.
If I’m honest, you can kind of make them up here. To an extent, at least.
Let’s say you have a friend or a relative who runs a business, you can have them say:
“John’s work is fantastic. The copy he creates is clear, concise and to the point and he’s always open to feedback”
– Darren, owner of DBK Construction
It’s not really a lie. I bet he does love your copywriting…you just didn’t write it for him. And, if they ask for a piece that you did, you could just, you know…write it in a rush.
The important thing is to have testimonials. As long as a client believes you got it for having great skills – which you do – it doesn’t really matter.
Right, that’s the foundation. Let’s look at how to land a client now…
This Step In Short
There are three components you need to sell your online:
- Portfolio: Where potential clients can get a feel for your style, tone and the results your work can deliver.
- Guest Posts: Having an endorsement of your work on someone else’s site, even if only slightly relevant to your niche, can have a big impact on converting customers.
- Testimonials: These reviews of your work – from paying customers – can be the final blow in converting a client. Seeing a glowing recommendation can put their mind at ease and make them more likely to buy.
You can build a portfolio yourself by just writing blogs for your niche, or by finding jobs and writing them for your own site to gain experience.
Guest Posts can be obtained by following the link in that part of the section.
Testimonials can come from anyone who has seen or used your writing and can be built up over time. The sooner you get someone to write one though, the better.
Step #4: Writing Pitches To Get You Clients
Pitching is a numbers game – more on that in the next section – but you can create pitches that grab attention. In fact, I’m not only going to show you how to pitch: I’m going to give you my own pitching strategy that you can copy and paste for yourself.
But first, let’s understand what makes a good pitch…
Pitching To The Right Person
The first question about pitching is usually: Who do I pitch to?
This is an important question because it can make or break whether you get spoken to or if you just get lost being passed around between departments in a company.
If you’re applying for an advertised job this is usually posted, like in the footer of this posting here:
But when you’re not it’s a little more difficult. There are three points of contact that you need to look for:
- Direct Email: The best you can find is a direct email. This is usually to an editor, marketing manager or content marketing executive.
- Department Email: There are often emails that go to someone in a department – marketing etc. – that you can get through to someone on.
- Contact Form: If there’s nothing else find a contact form under the ‘contact’ page on a site or a publication
And if you really can’t find anything you can use this sneaky little hack that I came up with.
When you’re on a site that you want to get in touch with go to the footer where you’ll often find tabs like this:
Click the Terms & Conditions tab (or Disclosure policy as it’s called here) and it’ll bring up a page full of legal jargon. A quick search of the page and you’ll be able to find and email contact, like this one right here:
Gotcha. Now, you can pitch to someone in the company and find a way to the right person.
Pitching 101: How To Stand Out From The Crowd
Considering freelance writers are a group of individuals paid to write things…you suck at writing pitches. Sorry, it’s just the truth.
Don’t worry, I did too. In fact, so did every freelance writer I know at one point or another. Because pitching is hard. You’re trying to convince someone to pay you instead of the hundred other people they could choose from. It’s a daunting proposition.
That usually means your pitches go on far too long. They miss the point. Or, they’re too short for anyone to know why you’re even writing to them. But I’m about to give you a simple acronym to help you remember how to write a perfect pitch every single time. It goes like this:
- Easy To Understand
Okay, it’s not exactly the most masculine acronym I’ve ever created, but I know you’ll never forget it. PETAL pitches are the best kind, because they’re guaranteed to get responses. I’ve taught them to lots of writers and they’ve always come good.
Let’s break them down:
Personal is simple. When you’re writing to someone, you should address them by their name. This will normally be the prefix in their email (‘james’@pitchtome.com) or on their job description.
If that’s not available I’d suggest you opt for a “Hey Guys”, or “Hi Team” because it sounds a lot more personal than just “Hello”.
Easy To Understand
The people you’re pitching to often receive a lot of emails. So you need to be clear, concise and focused on why you’re writing to them. Especially if you’re cold pitching to someone who doesn’t know they’re being pitched too.
Basically you need to make sure nothing get’s lost in translation.
I usually combat this by saying exactly why I’m writing to them. Like:
My name’s James and I’m a freelance writer from Manchester, England. I’m writing to you to see if there was any room for a freelance writer on the Company X team? I think I’d be a perfect fit!
Now they can make no mistake about why I’m in their inbox right now.
There’s a rule in Newspaper writing:
Put the most important information at the top and put the least important at the bottom. Because newspaper editors cut the information from the bottom of the article.
The exact same rule applies to pitching. Put the most important information at the top incase they don’t make it to the end of your pitch. You’ll see more on how that’s done in the copy and paste section next.
You need to state what you’ve done. Where you’ve worked. Provide information that’s relevant to the job you’re pitching for. And, any additional information that’s required.
As a writer it’s normal for you to…waffle on. You know, write more than is necessary. It comes with the nervousness with a pitch. But follow this rule for writing your pitches and you’ll be fine (this is stolen from Winston Churchill):
A good pitch should be like a skirt; short enough to be interesting long enough to cover the subject.
The 100% Golden Rule Of Pitching You Must Obey
If you disregard everything else you learn about pitching in this article please remember this simple rule:
Read the job description.
When you’re pitching for an advertised job there will be part thrown in there to keep you on your toes. Specific requirements that will affect you getting the job or not.
The most common form of this is them asking you to put something in the pitch to prove that you read it. Like this job pitch where I had to put two specific words in the subject line:
So make sure you go through everything with a fine tooth comb before you send anything. Copy and pasting is great, but not if it loses you a job.
The Copy And Paste Pitch Template
Okay, so that’s how you should be pitching to get clients.
But I’m about to save you a lot of time by giving you a fill-in-the-blanks pitch for you to use.
Of course, you can edit it however you want, but now you have a structure that will work for any publication.
Thanks For Sharing!
Here is my personal copy & paste pitch template-
I know you must be really busy so I’m going to keep this brief…
My name’s [Name] and I’m a freelance [Profession]. I’m writing to you to you about… [Insert Opportunity, for example, “Your listing on ProBlogger”].
In recent years I’ve…[Insert Experience]
In fact, you can check out some of my portfolio samples below:
Just so you know who you’ll be working with, here’s a little about me… [Insert Short Biography].
Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing back from you.
And if you want an idea of how this should look in action here’s one I made earlier to wet your creative whistle:
I know you must be really busy so I’m going to keep this brief…
My name’s Steven and I’m a freelance writer from Detroit, Michigan. I’m writing to you to you about your job listing on ProBlogger. I think I’d be a perfect fit!
In recent years I’ve been able to work alongside small companies like Thwaites, Equilibrium and Maslen’s to help them create online content in the productivity niche.
In fact, you can check out some of my portfolio samples below:
Thwaites – Beer Comparison App – 3000 Weekly Users
Equilibrium – Messaging Application For Users
Maslen’s – iPhone Recipe App
Just so you know who you’ll be working with, here’s a little about me:
I’ve been a writer for two years, but I’ve been tinkering with code since I was just a little kid. But, in the times I do get out of my coder-cave, I like to go Wakeboarding and Fishing, as well as setting up little music festivals out in the country. Everyone needs a hobby, right?
Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing back from you.
But James, What About The Headline?
I didn’t forget, I promise.
I’ve tested a lot of different headline techniques and I’ve found two that work, at least for getting people to reply to your emails.
The first, if you’re applying for an advertising job is to put a simple subject like this:
But if you’re making a cold pitch, the undisputed best headline in my experience – and that of other writers I speak to – is to ask a question in your headline. I can’t tell you why this works, but it seems to be really effective.
Toy around and find your own unique stamp. Play with headlines and ideas to see what’s going to get you the most return.
Okay, you’re getting on to the final section, are you ready?
This Step In Short
People are pitching to your potential clients all the time so you need to craft pitched that make you stand out from the crowd. To do that, remember this (manly) PETAL acronym:
- Personal: Written directly to someone; in a conversational but professional tone.
- Easy To Understand: Be clear about what you’re writing or pitching to them for, and why they should care.
- Top-Loaded: Put the important information at the start and make it less important as you go down the pitch.
- Accurate: It should fit you, your niche, the job description and what your capabilities are.
- Lean: Short enough to be interesting; long enough to cover the subject.
Always remember to read the job description and edit your pitch to fit the specific client you’re talking to.
Ask questions in your headline, or reference the job listing, to get the best open rates.
Step #5: Setting The Right Price
Let’s talk money.
I’ve purposely saved this until last because it’s the most highly debated topic in freelancing. And, I want to make sure it get’s the coverage it deserves. But, I’m not going to spend too long telling you about it. Why?
Because, regardless of the arguments for and against what your prices should be, it comes down to you. Let me explain…
First, It’s About What You Want To Charge…
More to the point it’s about what you feel comfortable charging. When you first step onto the scene you probably won’t feel like you can charge $100; you’ll not have the portfolio to back it up, either.
So don’t charge it.
If you feel comfortable charging $10, charge that. Then up it when you feel comfortable charging $20 and $30 and $40 and so on.
But do remember you have to put food on the table and you need to respect your time. After all, you can’t get it back.
I started at $10 and hour, and I now comfortably charge $60-$100+ an hour depending on the project.
Secondly, Don’t Worry About Pricing Out
One of the best lessons I learned came from the team at Nifty Marketing. In this post they share how they set themselves a minimum that they refuse to budge on to attract the calibre of client that they wanted.
Set a minimum price that you will not go under by any stretch of the imagination. It can be whatever you think it needs to be, but don’t just take work for the sake of it. Respect yourself and be proud of what you will work for, as well as what you wont.
Thirdly, It’s About Negotiation…
Always be open to negotiation. Now if you have a minimum prices, that’s the lowest point you can negotiate to. But also be open to negotiations on different things.
For example, let’s say you pitch $50 an hour and your minimum is $30, you have $20 wiggle room to negotiate with there. There’s nothing wrong with having different prices for different clients on different projects. It’s the way the freelance world works.
Different Pricing Structures
There are a couple of ways that you can charge client with freelance writing.
This is exactly what it says on the tin; the price you’ll charge per hour. This can chop and change depending on the client, too.
It’s not unusual to charge $30 for one client and $50 for another, because the jobs come with different specifications and require different levels of effort.
And, as you saw in the last point, you need to be open to negotiation.
I’m terrible at Math, so the simple way I use to work out an hourly rate is:
- How many words per hour
- How much research is needed
- The average price of work in that niche
For example if you have an easy, stream-of-consciousness style article in the Self Help niche. That would charge less because you can get 1,200 words out an hour on that, you don’t need as much research and you can wrap it up in just a few hours. Also, the payment in that niche is lower.
But if you have a really niche, in-depth topic, that requires a lot of research – like SEO or Engineering – you would charge more. Because not only would you be writing less per hour, you’ll be spending a lot more time writing and referencing. You’ll also have to block out a bigger chunk of your day to do it.
The price per hour is also dependant on your experience. If you’re an established expert you can charge more than if you were the new kid on the block.
Price Per Word
We don’t mess about with the clarity of our titles in writing do we?
Price Per Word is one of the most common pricing strategies. I use it for almost all of my articles, especially on those longer articles – like this one – because it often works out fairer for you and the client. And, it’s easier to pitch. When a client hears 15 cents per word it sounds better than $150 for 1000 words.
I use a similar system to the above for working this out. If you’re productive you can really increase what you earn per hour.
Price Per Project
This is a standard pricing package for small businesses and copywriting clients. For example, when I created the copy on this training company website, I set a fixed price for all of the content:
I find the price per project is normally based on your hourly rate, the hours you’re expected to work and a negotiation with the client. You can create a lot of ‘savings’ benefits here for a client, too. Where it feels like you’re doing more work and saving them money.
Each client and project has it’s own specific needs. So, it pays to have a flexible option where people can talk to you and you will flesh out a price together for the work that needs to be done. This works on a per-client basis.
There are a number of ways you can get paid, too. This is usually when you bill out when you receive money:
- 100% Up Front: This requires a built up level of trust but once that’s established it’s easy to employ.
- 50% Up Front: Clients are often open to this method – 50% up front, 50% on completion – because the risk is lower.
- Upon Completion: I don’t usually employ this method unless it’s per word pricing or with a client that I really trust. Because you can retain the rights to the article until they pay, there is also the option to keep it and sell it on if you do get stiffed.
Insider Tip: The Subscription Payment Model
Okay let me lay a little bit of insider knowledge on you:
Clients are sometimes flaky. They’ll need six articles one month, two the next, disappear for a couple of weeks, come back with more work than you can handle and then drop off the map forever.
That’s just the nature of the beast. Not all clients are like this, but there is always a level on inconsistency.
But there is a way you can make it more consistent and guarantee yourself an income. You just need to employ a subscription model.
With every client that that likes this model they agree to:
- A fixed number of hours or articles per month
- For a set price
- To be paid at either 100% or 50% up front
- For a fixed-term (three, six, nine months)
That way you are definitely getting paid and you have guaranteed work every month.
Clients are usually pretty responsive to this model too so don’t be afraid to pitch it.
This Step In Short
Setting the right price is personal to you. There is no right or wrong price to charge. Just what you feel comfortable charging, the value you offer and where you’re positioned in your niche.
But, as a rough guide, I’d suggest these prices:
- Beginner: $20-$30 per hour / $0.05 per word – $0.10 per word
- Intermediate: $35-$50 per hour / $o.15 – $0.20 per word
- Expert: $50+ per hour / $0.25 – $0.50+ per word
Look to employ a subscription payment model, or a 50% up front model when you’re negotiating with a client to make sure you get paid.
Step #6: The Extras You Need To Know About
In this step I want you to explore some of the ways to improve and refine your business. And, learn about other technical aspects of the job.
Every piece of work will come with a brief. Sometimes that can be professional and in the shape of guidelines, like this:
Or it’ll be in a brief document like this (text covered, just in case):
There are also times where you’ll be asked to create the project brief. Or, it’ll come in the form of an email chain or a written on a napkin or something illegible you have to decipher for yourself.
But it’s essential that before you start on a project you create a clear brief for you and the client. Point out what it is you believe you should be delivering and if that is in line with what the client wants.
There is nothing worse – for you and a client – than going in blind and hoping you hit the target. It’s a waste of time and effort.
Ask as many questions as you need to and go into as much detail as possible. The clearer the picture the better the end product.
I don’t recommend offering any more than two rounds of revisions. Why?
Because you’re a good writer. And you’re crafting articles or content based on what an audience wants. You’ve done you research and you’ve decided this is the content that is going to work.
You do have to pay attention to what the client is saying and offer some changes based on what they ask for. But by the same token you have to respect your time and the decisions you’ve made.
As long as the article is in line with the above revisions and the thoughts laid out in the plan, then you’re fine to only offer limited revisions.
I didn’t know this when I first started out, you may not have either, but there are minimum legal requirements for an invoice that you need to meet. More than just slapping what you did and your price on a sheet of paper or in a document and sending it across.
If you’re creating your own invoices follow one of these links to see what requirement your country has (English speaking countries only):
But I highly recommend using a service like FreshBooks to manage your invoices. You can just input the client data, send it across, and the rest of it is taken care of for you. They also come with a tonne of different payment options too:
Contracts / Terms & Conditions
A contract can come in many forms and has to be made up of certain criteria, like this one from HMRC in the UK:
Contracts will sometimes be sent to you to be signed, others will be be an email correspondence or done through a Skype call. And, there is a good chance you will never have to enforce a contract, but you should have one in place.
They cover your back; make sure you get paid the right amount for the right amount of work; cover your client and make your business more professional. Much like a project brief, be clear in:
- What’s being done
- When it’s being done by
- How much it’s going to cost
- What the end product will look like
- What you’re offering
For example, you could do all of this in one sentence:
So I’ll going to be writing How To Become A Freelance Writer Online, it’s going to be 10,00o-15,000 words at the rate we agreed for the last article, and I’ll have it done by April 11th, is that correct?
They accept it. You’re covered. It’s that simple.
Recommended Reading & Development
Phew! Okay, onto the last bit now.
Like I said right at the start of the article, you don’t need any qualifications to become a writer. But there’s a lot you can read and practice on to become a better writer and create stronger, more impactful content. Here’s some of my biggest recommends:
- Write To Sell – Andy Maslen: Probably the best book on Copywriting I’ve ever read. It’s not long, but it’s really in-depth and clears up a tonne of questions you have early on.
- On Writing – Stephen King: If you’re trying to create content with a story feel to it, this book is an endless supply of hints and tips to create them.
- Made To Stick – Chip & Dan Heath: Amazing for finding out how to write and create articles that people remember.
Wrapping It Up…
Man, this is one long article. But I hope it’s given you all of the tools you need to get your freelance writing business off the ground.
And, if you need any help along the journey, feel free to ask questions in the comments and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.