How to start a freelance writing career (and actually get paid)

Sean Meyer
Jun 2, 2018 · 7 min read
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Last Thanksgiving I was at a family reunion, just enjoying my turkey and minding my own business…

When ol’ crazy aunt Angie decided to come up and start a conversation.

As most awkward conversations go, we went through the sequence of:

  1. How ya been?
  2. Where you living at now?…

And then the worst:

3. What are you doing for work?

I say worst because as a freelance copywriter, it’s the absolute hardest thing to explain…

And I usually just say drug dealer as it’s easier (seriously)…

But for some reason, I decided to tell her the truth.

She sat there and stared at me for a solid 10 seconds, seeing if I was joking with her or not…

But after seeing I was serious, she got a small grin on her face and asked, “is it even possible to make money with writing? If so, why doesn’t everybody do it”…

Which always makes me laugh because is it possible?

Absolutely:

Easy?

Not exactly.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s the hardest industry, as there’s A LOT of demand out there…

But the hardest part seems to be understanding exactly what you need to do.

That’s what happened to me anyway, and even though it sucked going through this process, I learned a lot of things along the way…

Which is exactly what I want to share with you today, starting with:

The 3 methods of “freelance writing”

To my knowledge, there’s really 3 main ways you can make money as a freelance writer — so let’s go over those first.

Method #1 — Working for content agencies

This was actually the first method I experimented with, and even though it sounded cool at first, after I dug into it…

I learned it’s one of the worst things any new writer can do.

Why?

Because they pay terrible, like absolutely terrible.

It seems like these types of agencies shut down everyday, but one of the most popular is Blogmutt, and according to their current rates…

They pay $10.50 for a 300 word article, then you’re eligible for “better pricing” after that.

Now don’t get me wrong, I realize it doesn’t take long to write a 300 word article, but the hardest part of writing is always planning what you want to say…

So when you look at the process as a whole, from start to finish, then you’re not even making $10/hr.

That’s terrible in itself, but then you’re a contractor on top of this, meaning you’re subject to much higher taxes…

So long story short, unless you’re looking for something that’ll allow you to get a few portfolio items under your belt, then I’d stay away from this…

And at the end of the day, I guess you shouldn’t even consider this option for portfolio items either — as I can easily show you how to get clients without one (more on that later on).

Quick recap:

  1. With this method, you become part of a content agency that sells articles to clients
  2. You create the work, make it available, and if one of their clients like it — they’ll buy your article and that’s when you get paid

Pros of this method: You don’t have to find clients, work comes to you

Cons of this method: The pay is terrible, and you don’t get paid unless a client “buys” your article

Method #2 — Submitting articles to publications

Okay, so this is one method I’ve never tried…

And not because I don’t think it pays well, but because there’s too many gatekeepers.

What I mean by that is…

Well, when you’re submitting articles to publications, they have control over what you’re saying and how you’re saying it…

Which are 2 things I just can’t do.

I don’t know, maybe it’s the arrogance in me…

But when I’m writing, I always have to have complete control over it, so that’s really a major downside of this option.

In addition to this, I’ve known a lot of people who tried this route, yet never really made a lot of money off it…

And don’t get me wrong, that’s not saying it’s impossible, I’ve just never seen anybody succeed with it — so I’m skeptical.

WIth all that said, if this was something you wanted to try, the main process is:

  1. Finding publications that fall within your expertise
  2. Read some of their existing articles/editorial guidelines
  3. Submit your pitch (that’s essentially asking if they’d pay for your article idea)
  4. Write an article for them if the pitch is accepted

I’ve also never really had a lot of success finding publications that pay (decent money) for submissions, which is another reason why I’ve never looked into this method…

But if you’re going to look into it, I’d start with: http://whopayswriters.com/#/results

Quick recap:

  1. With this method, you essentially write articles for publications and get paid that way
  2. Not a terrible option, as you don’t have to deal with clients or anything…
  3. But, I know a lot of these editors like to have things done their way — which kills creativity (in my humble opinion)

Pros: Low barrier to entry, you just have to understand pitches and write great articles

Cons: High editorial standards, not the best pay

Then there’s method 3, my absolute favorite.

Method #3 — Working with clients

This seems to be the one method that most freelance writers avoid, as they don’t want to work with clients…

And trust me, I get it, but like everything else in life…

If you want real rewards, sometimes you have to do a little extra.

What I mean by this is, as weird as it sounds…

You usually make a lot more money this way and for the most part, you don’t have to have any experience…

Because good clients only care about one thing, what you can do for them…

And that brings me into my next point, defining what I mean by “freelance writer”.

I think this is actually one of the biggest problems most freelance writers have, as they think freelance writing is nothing more than creating a few fancy words and making a living that way…

But one of the hardest things for me to learn was that clients don’t care about my writing, they care about what it can do for them.

In other words, if you try and sell yourself as a “freelance writer”…

Then clients aren’t going to pay you well and you’ll always be scraping the bottom of the barrel.

On the other hand, if you pick a specialization and position yourself that way…

Then you can really make some decent money doing this.

To give you an example, I’ve had 11 different freelance niches/skills over the years…

But a few of my most profitable were:

  1. Content copywriter for Tax Firms (industry specific, they liked me because I specialized in their industry)
  2. Landing page copywriter that gets conversions (clients loved me because I always get above-average conversions, even though my copy is far from “grammatically correct”)
  3. Email funnel copywriter that gets sales (clients loved me for obvious reasons, because I always got sales)…

And I could tell you about the other 8, but it all comes down to one concept…

Writing is important, but results are what really matters.

This is same reason why I tell new freelance writers to find a specialization they can start with, master it, then expand out from there…

And a few specializations you could do are:

  • Explainer video scriptwriter
  • Facebook Ads copywriter
  • Content marketer for a specific niche (for example, when I started I was a Copywriter for Tax Firms)
  • LinkedIn Profile copywriter
  • Powerpoint copywriter
  • About Me page copywriter
  • Ebook editor
  • Landing Page copywriter

Then after you’ve chosen your specialization and learned how to master it (if needed)…

All you need to do is create a portfolio item (of your own), share it with clients (via URL, I always do mine on a Google Doc) and go from there.

As for how you can find clients, again, it’s the internet so the options are endless…

But I’ve personally always been an Upwork guy.

I know a lot of people hate Upwork and say it’s a content mill, but I’ve never made under $45/hr on there (as a writer), and I have zero education or experience in writing (my education and background is all Accounting)…

So I’ll just leave it at that.

Quick recap:

  1. Pick a specialization, then become an expert in it
  2. Create a quick portfolio after that
  3. Figure out how you’re going to find/get clients (again, I’m a huge fan of Upwork for this)
  4. Share a relevant portfolio item with clients, tell them how you could help, pick up the contract and begin making money

Pros: From my experience, it pays a lot more than other methods — which allows you to work less and create better work.

Cons: You do have to work with clients, which some people don’t like

And that’s honestly everything you need to know in order to get started on a freelance writing career.

Again, I’m not saying it’s easy, as nothing good in life is…

But as somebody who’s had success in this field, even though I had zero writing education or experience…

I can assure you, it’s certainly possible.

Bottom Line Grind

Helping each other navigate the world of online entrepreneurship.

Sean Meyer

Written by

Sales/marketing consultant.

Bottom Line Grind

Helping each other navigate the world of online entrepreneurship.

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