How to Start a Freelance Writing Career When You Have Zero Experience
So you want to start a career out of freelance writing?
Like many industries, breaking into the world of freelance writing and getting potential clients to notice you when you do not have professional experience to back you up can be tough.
But, it certainly does not mean that it’s impossible to get yourself out there. It just takes a little more work to let potential clients see your capabilities.
You probably will be tempted to take on penny projects that will just waste your time and take every little bit of creativity in your brain (I know; I’ve totally been there). However, it doesn’t mean that it will go on forever.
If you want to go freelance writing right now — and even make a full-time income out of it — here are some top tips that I recommend especially if you are just starting out:
1 / Find out what you are really good at
I’ve been writing on and off since I was in college but never really truly embraced it as something that could bring out full-time income until about a six months ago.
I went through all sorts of writing projects — blog posts, articles, website copy, reviews — and even through all sorts of topics (yes, even the adult-themed ones).
However, it wasn’t until 2015 that I was able to really hone in on my writing skills.
I was able to get hold of a local client, whom I still work with until today, who gave me all sorts of travel related subjects to right on. I also maintained a family travel blog and felt that the subject was what I was truly passionate about.
Finding out what you really want to write about can be a looong journey.
It took me a while to find out what I really wanted to focus my personal blog on, much less find out what I wanted to write about for a living. After all, if it’s money that’s coming in, I would definitely want to take it one way or another, no matter how boring or complicated the subject is.
Most of the times, the things that you become really good at are those that you are passionate about. Even if you are not an expert at it just yet.
[bctt tweet=”The things that you become really good at are those that you are really passionate about. #freelancing”]
Reading finance topics can easily get us to sleep but when I became pregnant, I was so dead set on getting our finances right that I read extensively on the topic (yes, even the really technical ones) and would even share what I learned — in my own words — to my friends and colleagues.
When I quit my 3-year corporate job for a life of freelancing, I instantly became passionate about finding ways to turn my personal blog into a business. I would read blogs and articles on social media, online marketing, SEO and branding.
Last year, I was able to snag another local client who owned a digital marketing agency. He assigned me lengthy, authoritative articles on digital marketing topics and it amazed me how easily the words flowed. I mean, could you imagine putting together 8,000 words on just a single topic?
2 / Create a writer website
My writer website (this one) was just recently set up but because I specialized in travel writing, I have been using my personal blog as a sample of my work.
However, if you would like to go for a more professional look or would like to have the flexibility to expand your services later on, then create a separate site instead.
[bctt tweet=”Create a website that exudes professionalism and allows you to be flexible later on.”]
Initially, I had planned for this website to offer various services such as WordPress design, virtual assistance, social media management and content creation and marketing (something that I have had experience with through my family travel blog) but I realized that I should just focus on for now.
I love it though that the site allows me to be a writer, blogger and ghostwriter not just on travel-related topics but also on the other subjects I have become passionate with such as personal finance, digital marketing and freelancing.
3 / Start writing
The best way to get started on a career in writing is to simply write.
[bctt tweet=”The best way to get started on a career in writing is to simply write.”]
You can add a blog to your site with just a few clicks and you can help improve its SEO rankings as well as your writing skills.
Having several posts in your site also gives your clients a glimpse of your work, especially if you do not have something to show elsewhere just yet.
4 / Spread your word through social media
It’s impossible to get hired to do something if no one even knows about it.
You’re active in social media, anyway, so why not use it to your advantage?
Visit your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram profiles and edit your bio to let the whole world know that you are a freelance writer for hire. Who knows who might just stumble into your account looking exactly for the service that you provide?
I had a friend who was looking for a writer through Facebook. I commented on her status but she didn’t know I was a writer until she saw my profile. So, make sure to put your social media bios to good use!
In addition, make sure that you separate your personal and professional social media accounts. If you hate having to manage multiple accounts, you can turn the former into the latter but just make sure that you keep your updates as professional and related to your industry and niche as possible.
5 / Submit guest posts
While most guest posting opportunities come for free, it is highly suggested that you do it (even if you are already an experienced freelance writer) for many reasons:
- Guest posts can be added into your portfolio which is a big plus if you have none to begin with.
- Guest posts help get you out there. Preferably have your content published on sites that get large page views or that have a very engaged community. Your reader might just turn out to be your next big client!
- If you have a site, linking to it from the authority website gives some page ranking juice that will help improve your site’s visibility in the search engine results.
- Contributing authoritative articles in bigger sites help establish your brand and reputation.
- It brings in a new set of readers who might not be following you just yet!
Finding out sites that allow for guest post submissions is quite easy, just type in “<niche> + write for us”. Or, you could also use contribute or guest post to replace write for us.
6 / Join marketplaces
A lot of freelance writers do not suggest going in marketplaces as it is a crowded community that often pay very little.
I started in ODesk (now Upwork) and have gotten my share of great and not-so-great clients.
When looking for great projects, filter the listed jobs and go for those that pay higher. Also, make sure to check that the job poster has good feedback and ratings and that their payment method is verified (although based on experience, it’s not a guarantee that they will pay). You can then just use your blog, if that’s the only one you have, as your sample.
A few marketplaces for freelance writers to bid jobs in include:
- People Per Hour (affiliate)
- Fiverr (pays $5 per gig but you can always offer add-on services)
- Freelancer (I personally abhor it because of personal experiences but others have had it better here)
For freelance writers from the Philippines, you can try:
- 199 Jobs (similar to Fivver; pays Php 199 per gig)
7 / Pitch through job boards
The biggest disadvantage when it comes to bidding on projects from marketplaces is that you tend to compete with really cheap service providers.
I’ve lived with being paid $1 per 500-word articles until I realized I was so much worth than that.
With job boards, job providers usually have higher budgets which would also mean that they need higher quality output. It puts not only your pitching skills to the test but also your actual writing skills.
Some job boards to check out include:
- Pro Blogger Jobs
- Blogging Pro
- Contena (paid)
- All Indie Writers Job Board
- Craigslist (some pay really low but there may also be some gold somewhere in this haystack)
And for Filipinos:
8 / Expand your network
I was a blogger first before I ventured into full-time freelance writing.
[You might ask why I never ventured into making full-time income out of my family travel blog — it’s because blogging is not yet as lucrative here in the Philippines as it is in the US. And I find it more fulfilling to get different topics to write on every time instead of being limited to just my niche.]
Anyway, I joined a local blogging community in my area and was really amazed at the opportunities that it gave me.
It did help me boost my family travel blog but it also provided me with connections that helped boost my freelance writing services in the local scene. I was surprised to bag three long-term writing gigs through these connections and I just found out that these two clients actually know each other!
Lesson learned: make friends with the right people and join their circle. Who knows what opportunities might just come up!
[bctt tweet=”Make friends with the right people. Who knows what opportunities might just come up!”]
If you want to have access to freelance writing jobs, you can network with people from the following industries:
- digital marketing
- website design
- website development
- social media management
9 / Never stop learning
You probably won’t be able to snag writing jobs right away but it certainly doesn’t mean that you should go sulking and crying in the corner. Instead, make great use of your time to learn more about writing, blogging, online marketing, SEO and so on.
Among the places I suggest you start going for some more in-depth reading would be:
- Elna Cain (my new favorite hangout)
- Alicia Rades
- Freelancer FAQs
- The Write Life
- Blogging Wizard
- CoSchedule Blog
- Buffer App Blog
- Quick Sprout / Neil Patel
- Social Media Today
- …and many more!
Hey, sorry, I totally didn’t mean to intimidate you with this long post.
Don’t worry, though — take it one step at a time and pretty soon, you’ll get to be where you want to be, maybe even more.
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About the Author
Hi, y’all! I’m Pam and I’m an outdoors-loving and adventurous millennial momma who moonlights as a freelance writer, blogger, and ghostwriter. I help businesses create compelling content that connects with their readers and specialize in writing in the travel, parenting, personal finance, digital marketing, freelancing and entrepreneurship niches. You can connect with me via social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.