How to Start Freelance Writing (and make money doing it!)

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When I graduated college with a degree in journalism and mass communication, I had no idea how to take my skills to the workforce AND make a decent living.

My interests lied muddled between magazine and blogging. But “magazine blogging” jobs weren’t exactly jumping at me from the depths of LinkedIn and Indeed. So, I ended up in corporate marketing working for a large institutional investing firm. *Cue sideways glances from friends and family*

My love for words and writing never faltered, in fact, it grew stronger during my first few months in a highly organized, cookie cutter, corporate setting. I felt an inescapable need to spend my evenings typing away at my personal blog, just to keep myself sane. Eventually I thought, “Why don’t I monetize my skills?”

BINGO. *Cue learning curve known as “becoming a freelance writer”*

The following post is a compilation of what I’ve learned thus far, what worked for me and what didn’t, what I wish I’d known, and a few commonly asked questions. I want to be clear: this is what worked for me. That doesn’t mean it will work for you or in the same way. There’s not one correct way of accomplishing this feat (because it is a feat!), so take my advice and apply it to your unique situation.

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Background Work

Before you even think about tackling the world of freelance writing, I suggest you do the following:

  • Understand that it IS work. Freelance is not a walk in the park and you’ll be putting in long hours outside of your 9-5.
  • Keep your day job. Yes, you can make a living by freelancing, but it often takes a few months or even years to reach that point, so I suggest keeping your day job – at least in the beginning.
  • Be realistic and start small.
  • Create and update your professional portfolio. Link to professional works. Edit, edit, and edit again. Your portfolio should tell your story in a way that makes prospective clients want to use your writing.
  • Create and maintain a personal blog. Your blog is where your personality shines and you can show off works that really speak to who you are and what you’re passionate about.
  • Submit articles for free to online publications like Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, or other names you admire and would love to write for.
  • This guide is absolutely everything I know about freelance writing and how to start. However, there are tons more resources out there and I 100% suggest reading them.
  • Read a lot. Reading makes you a better writer – I promise.

Once you’ve checked off everything on this list, you’re ready to jump in. Let’s get shaking.

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Getting Started

You want to pick a niche. Ask yourself: what do I love talking about and what am I super knowledgeable on? Your answer will guide you toward a topic. For instance, my niche is health and lifestyle with sprinkles of travel.

The next question to ask yourself is what type of writing you love. Are you a blogger? A magazine writer? Do you prefer news? I’m not saying you can only do one, but figuring this out and starting small helps you narrow your search.

Now for the fun parts!

  • Use your network. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Medium are great places to make connections that lead to future gigs. When I got started I literally posted a Facebook status that read, “Wanting to dig deeper into the world of freelance writing. Do any of you know of people looking for writers? Or, are any of you writers yourself with great advice? Message me!”I received 4 messages and landed 1 recurring gig and 1 guest blogging post. CONNECTIONS. ARE. EVERYTHING.
  • I’ll be honest, none of my writing gigs have come from pitches, but they’re still important to understand and master. Your pitch should tell someone what you have to offer them, why you think the story deserves to be published by them (specifically by THEM), and what angle you’ll take. Be concise. Use proper grammar. And pitch in the same voice you’d write a story in.
  • Keep reaching out. Even if your first attempts fail, freelancing is all about hustling until you land your next gig. If you want to quit after hearing “no” a few times, freelance probably isn’t for you.

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Landing Gigs

Once you’ve scored your first story (congrats!) it’s time to get writing. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Contracts! Make sure you read them carefully… every last word. Never sign something you don’t understand or agree with.
  • Style guides. Study them. A lot.
  • Read past pieces from the publications/company to get a better idea for tone and structure.
  • Ask questions. You want to fully understand what the client is looking for. Make sure you know: the audience, the purpose, and the proper tone. Don’t be afraid to ask – it’s better than assuming and being wrong.
  • Edit. Edit. Edit. Edit.
  • Have someone else read your piece and provide feedback.
  • Edit some more.
  • MEET DEADLINES. Don’t take on more than you can chew, but if you agree to have a story in by Thursday at 3 PM, you better have your story in by 2:45 and no later. On time = late.
  • Ask for feedback. I like to check in with my editors every so often and ask if there’s anything they’d like to see change in my writing or in our working relationship. Once you receive the feedback, make sure you actually implement the necessary changes.

Personally, I’m now a “contracted writer” with the two main companies I write for. This means I don’t have to continuously search for my next gig because I know I’ll have assignments due each month.

However, if this ever changes, I will repeat the above cycle above over and over – because that’s what busting your booty as an entrepreneur is – constant hustling.

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Pay

Money, money, money… the real reason most people pick up a side gig. I won’t lie, a little extra cash every month has drastically helped my financial situation. I love that I can make money from my house and not need to deal with the retail or food industries. Not that I didn’t love waitressing, but I love my cozy home more.

Freelancing is a lot different than your typical “side job.” You’ll need to fill out the proper tax forms and keep in mind that you may owe taxes at the end of the year because you’re technically an entrepreneur now. If you make a certain amount of money each month freelancing (I think it’s $600+) you’ll start to feel the brunt of taxes. A good rule of thumb is to put 30% of your check away and save it for tax season.

I’m paid on a bi-weekly basis, much like your typical job. My checks are either directly deposited into my account or mailed to my house. I prefer direct deposit because it’s easy and seamless.

The amount you’re paid can differ a lot. Some companies pay hourly and some pay by the story. I’ve always been paid by the story, which is what I prefer. Here are a few examples of what I’ve been paid and for what so you get a better idea:

  • $20 for a 350-word blog post that took about 30 minutes to complete. Needed to keep SEO in mind. Didn’t require a ton of research. ($40/hr.)
  • $250 for a 1000-word blog post that took about 4 hours to complete. Required a ton of research and 9 scientific resources with citations included. ($62.50/hr.)
  • $635 for an 800-word magazine article that took about 5 hours to complete. Required interviews with health professionals, extensive research, and lots of editing. 10% went to an outside contractor ($63.50). So I made $114/hr.

On average I make about $72/hr. Now that sounds amazing but here’s the catch: unlike at my day job, I’m not working 8-hour days. I’m typically writing 8-12 stories per month and averaging $500-$1000. Those stories usually take me anywhere from 4-15 hours per month to write depending upon how many sourced/researched articles I’m writing. I also don’t always calculate in the time spent doing general background research and editing – so my actual working hours are a bit higher.

So yes, freelance writing is a totally viable way to bring in a good chunk of change every month. I like to put mine toward paying off my student loans quicker and adding to my 401k – call me a nerd, I don’t care, because I’ll be retiring early and living the dream.

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All The Other Stuff

  • Be honest. If you can’t take on more assignments, it’s better to let them know rather than miss deadlines.
  • Dedicate time nightly. Whether you’re researching, writing, editing, or just going over future assignments, try to spend at least 30 minutes every single night working toward your freelancing goals. I aim for 2 hours but some people need to start small.
  • BE ORGANIZED. I live by my planner and whiteboard. You’re going to want to have all of your important dates written down somewhere where it’s impossible to miss them.
  • Freelancing is awesome because you can step away from it when life gets too hectic and return at any time. Keep this is mind – sometimes your family, job, and health need to come first.
  • Get a mentor. Finding someone more experienced than you is a great way to continuously learn and improve your skills.

I hope this post opened your eyes a bit to the wonderful world of freelance writing. I can say without a doubt becoming a freelancer is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my post-grad life. I love the financial freedom it brings me, all of the cool connections I’ve made, and the ability to write from anywhere in the world.

Side note: I landed one of my freelancing gigs while lying on a beach in Florida sipping Titos and lemonade. HOW COOL IS THAT? Later that week, I wrote my first article for them while checking out a fancy coffee shop in Naples on PTO from my “real job,” so making double money. Life as a writer is grand.

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If you’ve got more questions, feel free to reach out! I’m an open book. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.)

Positive vibes,
Kails

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