10 practical tips to launch a career as a freelance writer

Fancy yourself as a freelance writer, but not sure where to start? Read 10 practical tips to help you launch your freelance writing career.

With an increasing number of freelance platforms to join, it can seem easier than ever to launch a freelance writing career. But how do you stand out on a platform among thousands of other freelance writers? Especially writers with more experience than you?

And just as importantly, how do you take that first step from inexperienced, aspiring writer, to a freelance writer working on a paid commission?

10 practical tips to launch a career as a freelance writer

To help you take the first tentative steps in a new freelance writing career, here are 10 practical tips.

1) Start with your own blog

Clients look for freelance writers who have experience and great reputations – they want to see evidence that you’ve successfully delivered projects for other happy clients. But what do you do if you don’t have a bulging file of testimonials or professional samples?

Even if you’ve only had one or two commissions so far, you can write case studies to showcase your experience.

If you’ve yet to land any freelance work, you can start a blog and use that as a portfolio. Use your blog as an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and writing ability. Make sure you keep it regularly updated with quality content though – nothing looks sadder or less enthusiastic than a neglected blog!

But don’t just write anything. Think about what type of client you want to work for, or any areas of writing you’d prefer to specialise in (more about that later) and write content that your ideal client will find interesting, or will demonstrate your skills in that area.

2) Create a profile on a freelance platform

So where will you find your first client(s)? Once you’ve established a reputation, you’ll find new clients via word-of-mouth referrals. But how do you get your first break as a freelance writer?

There are an increasing number of online platforms and directories you can list on, such as Upwork, Freelancer, and Guru. The opportunities listed vary greatly in terms of quality and pay, but you can find some gems if you look hard enough.

If you’re UK-based, We Like To Work and FreelanceUK also have some great projects.

(Don’t just rely on freelance platforms for work – see later on for more marketing ideas.)

3) Start sending pitches

If you find an ad for a freelance writer that appeals to you, you need to get in touch and explain why you’re the perfect person for the job.

Most clients ask to see samples of your work. If you don’t have any yet, this is when your blog puts you at an advantage. Include the link and invite the client to explore.

Don’t be afraid to ask the client questions too. Asking the right questions can demonstrate that you are genuinely enthusiastic about the project, and that you have the experience they’re looking for.

4) Focus!

Only reply to ads that are relevant to your skills. If you have zero knowledge about technology, for example, skip the ads for tech blog posts – they will only give you a low rating (if your freelance platform allow clients to rate your services).

Consider your education and interests, and stick to topics that you feel you could do a good job on. Economics, law, marketing, yoga, beauty, or writing itself – there are plenty of different opportunities in the freelancing industry.

Another great advantage of focusing your work, is that you can establish a reputation as an expert on writing about specific topics. This makes it easier for you to define your potential customers – and go out and market to them, rather than waiting passively for them to find you.

It also means that, by default, over time you actually become an expert in that niche – and ensure you are the go-to writer for companies in that area. This also means you can charge higher rates for your work, as you’ll have less competition.

5) Be persistent

Don’t worry if you don’t get any response to the first applications you send. Keep going! Sooner or later, you’ll find a client who’ll be interested in your work.

The moment you start writing for someone and you gain a good rating, offers will start to come in and you won’t need to search for them. You’ll also find that happy clients are only too eager to recommend your services to their friends and contacts.

If your profile has been up for a while, and you’ve applied for many projects but not secured work yet, it may be worth ensuring you’re not unintentionally putting clients off.

Research best practice for creating a profile for your freelance platform, or ask someone you trust to look at your profile and/or emails to clients to see if there’s anything you can improve.

6) Be attentive to the client’s requirements

When you land a job, make sure you pay close attention to your client’s brief – both content and preferred style. The clearer you are about what they want at the outset, the higher the chance they’ll love your first draft.

Not only does this mean you’ll complete the project more quickly, but they’re more likely to give you a good rating, use you again and recommend your services if they’re happy with your work.

If you’re not completely clear about what they want, don’t be afraid to ask them questions before you start work. And if you have a verbal brief from them, follow it up with an email to clarify your understanding. Not only does this give you something concrete to refer to later, but if they turn out to be a difficult client, you have proof you stuck to the brief!

If a client has a particular style they’d like you to write in, it’s also a good idea to ask them for two or three websites, or other samples of a style they like. It can be hard for clients to express their preferred style verbally, but if you see it in black and white it’s easier for you to picture what’s in their head.

7) Don’t be nervous about revisions!

It would be great if your work was spot-on first time round. But more often than not, a client will ask you to revise your work once you submit it.

Maybe you misunderstood their instructions. They don’t like the style, form, or information in your article. Or they may need you to support your claims with more facts.

So don’t panic if you’re asked to make changes. Accept any requests for amends politely, and clarify anything you’re unclear on. Hopefully the second draft will be exactly what they need. And if not, then don’t take it to heart. Not every client is going to get or like what you do. Some clients are just tough to please – even for an experienced writer!

8) Only take on tasks you can complete

It’s easy to find yourself saying yes to every work enquiry in the beginning – terrified that if you don’t the work may dry up. But if you take on too much you’ll find yourself rushing to get finished, and stressed because you don’t know if you have time to meet everyone’s deadlines.

Remember that it’s fine to say no sometimes. If you’re overwhelmed with work, and struggling to manage your personal life, don’t take on extra burdens.

Before agreeing to write another article, ask yourself:

  • Do I have enough time for it?
  • Do I have the knowledge and skills to complete that content?

If you give yourself the green light, go for it. If not, politely decline. Explain that you’re already booked up with work right now. It doesn’t hurt to let clients know that you are popular (and therefore good at what you do)!

And if you like the client or work, let them know when you’ll be free, just in case they can postpone the deadline.

9) Work on your marketing skills

What separates an okay freelance writer from a busy one? More often than not it’s marketing.

Great freelance writers, the ones who make a successful career out of the industry, know how to market themselves effectively to clients. Here are some ideas to help you sell your skills:

  • Your online profile – take the time to get this perfect. Think about what potential clients want to know about you, and are looking for in a freelance writer and give them that information.
  • Your website/blog – most clients will want to know more about you and see more of your writing. Even just a simple website or blog can tick this off your to-do list.
  • Social media – what platform are your potential clients on? Join it and write a professional profile – then get out there showcasing your skills, connecting with potential clients and linking to your website, blog or profile.
  • Networking – most successful freelance writers understand the value of networking. So practise your elevator pitch and go and meet potential clients face-to-face. Remember to take your business cards!
  • LinkedIn – if you don’t already have one, write your LinkedIn profile. Then get in touch with ex-colleagues and contacts and ask them to share it with anyone who may need your services.

10) Target trade magazines

Trade magazines sometimes pay really well for content. These are online magazines focused on people who work in a specific industry. So if you know a lot about banking, for example, you could approach The Federal Credit Union.

Some trade magazines pay up to 50 US cents per word, so you can sell an article of $1,000 for $500. That’s something you can write in a single day. To compare, you could get $20-$50 for an article of the same length on Upwork and other platforms, depending on the client’s budget.

So think about your expertise and interests and start researching trade magazines in those industries. Then create a spreadsheet of contacts at each and start approaching them to see if they need freelance writers.

You may not get work from them straightaway, but ask them to keep your details on file, or if they’d mind if you followed up in a couple of months. You never know what may happen in future!

Read more about freelancing

Need more tips about launching a successful freelance career? You’ll find lots of great advice in these articles:

Jessica Freeman is a passionate freelance content writer. She writes for Australian Writings. Jessica focuses on freelance, education, and career topics. You can follow her on Facebook and Google+.