Easy and Quick Guide to Starting a Thriving Freelance Writing Business
What you need to know to start building your freelance writing business.
Maybe you already have a business going or are just about to start one. No matter where you are on your journey, I’m writing to you.
I’m writing because I want to share more of my processes and steps in an effort to make something a little bit easier for you. If there’s something that wasn’t covered in this article, let me know in the comments.
I’ll work up an updated version that has the information you are looking for included in it. That way we are all growing together.
In this article, I’m going to go over what I did to set up my writing business. I won’t go into the real nitty-gritty technical stuff like setting up a business account and all that fun financial jazz. What we’ll be focusing on is the internal workings of the business, where I find clients and assignments, and how you can implement this too.
When I first started out — hell, even before I first started out, I focused on learning from the people who were doing what I wanted to do.
That is a common piece of advice. Where I am going to push things further to help you actually start seeing a clearer way to your business goals and dreams is to analyze and watch those that are slightly above where you want to be. By examining those who are slightly ahead of you, you can find markets or publications that are more open to newcomers or new revenue streams.
This is a two-part process because you have to figure out where and who you want to be in your career. Don’t rush this process.
Listen to yourself and find a niche that feels like you can work in it for some time without losing steam or passion.
Once I had a good idea of where the writers I was analyzing were writing, I started reading those publications and finding new writers and new publications that fit inside my niche. People who have come to me for advice in getting a writing business going know that this took up a couple of years.
But by the end of it, I had a list of markets and publications that I could start submitting to. Years later, I still pull from — and grow — that list. It has been a steady way for me to get work and build relationships in my niche.
While I read and found new writers and publications, I also took notes and tried my hand at writing mock pieces for those places to try and get the voice and feel of what they published.
Do this. Write spec articles—fake articles to fill your portfolio—for the places and clients you want to work with. Set deadlines for yourself that are sometimes hard and fast or long and drawn out. That’s usually how freelance writing is.
Some clients or assignments will have a turn around of a couple of hours while others have deadlines that are months away. Doing this will help you get a handle on juggling multiple writing projects and figuring out exactly what type of workload you can handle.
In the previous section, I touched base a bit on how I go about finding clients and publications in my niche. But besides following a reading trail of all my favorite writers, I also actively searched them out.
There’s the Writer’s Digest Market book that they publish every year. In previous years, you were able to get an online membership and be able to access the same info but online. There is a switchover in companies happening that has this on hold for the time being. Expect that there will be a hold up to the next year's printing as well because they are already behind on when they normally drop their yearly tomb on markets.
I highly suggest you grab a copy of the most recent book and go through its pages to make a list of publications within your niche and what they pay. Get an idea of how many pieces you’d need to sell to make $1,000 or more in a month. Can you handle it? What about $5,000 in a month?
If you want to be a nonfiction writer with a byline in publications that pay you, this is how you go about it. If you want to be a fiction writer with stories in places, the process is similar except you’d aim for the fiction publications that publish the type of stories you write. There’s even a Short Story Writer’s Market book that lists all the different places to submit short stories to.
If you want to do the type of writing like ghostwriting or game writing or one of the other more specialized writing fields, use the techniques from the first section and learn the steps that they took. Also, reach out to those creators that you find and ask them for pointers. Many love to help out newcomers in the field.
Sites like Upwork and Fiverr are given a lot of bad press, but I have had success on those sites. I have also worked for pennies and been one of the horror stories on that site. It’s a mixed bag but if you have the time to devote to searching out the gems on Upwork, you’ll have success finding reliable well paying work.
To get any traction with Fiverr, I suggest building a bit of a network and sharing your work on there so that they can share what you are doing. A lot of times you’ll get clients from distant relations in your network. Once you start getting gigs and high ratings, more people will find your profile and gigs and you’ll be able to name your price and work on projects that you want to.
WHAT TO CHARGE
When first starting out, it’s hard to figure out what exactly to charge someone or what constitutes as too low or high to ask for. For me, I think it all depends on you and what type of work you put out.
Set your price at something that is reasonable or fair. Nothing below $15/hour or .05/word. I say this, but know that I have worked for less, and used the experience to build my portfolio, resume, and network. But that’s because I am one of those people who believes that sometimes working for free is worth it.
Sometime it’s not the issue of figuring out what to charge but asking for it from the client. It’s a messy and sticky business sometimes but it is necessary to getting you paid.
Overcome that fear by always bringing it up during the second interaction. After you are both ready to agree to work together, bring up your rates or payment before signing or agreeing to anything.
Unlike a term of service agreement, the contract that you will sign should be read over by yourself. If you are confused by it, ask for help from someone in your life or find a writing community that is willing to assist you in making sense of everything.
HOW TO GET STARTED TODAY
Wondering what you can do today, right now to start making money as a writer. I, of course, caution people to go through the steps of finding your niche and ideal clients first, but if you can’t wait, then here’s what you need to know.
Go on to one of the freelancing writing groups on Facebook or Reddit. There are tons of them out there and they are frequently posting about work opportunities. Reach out to the person who has posted a job you are interested in and get more information.
Before agreeing to doing anything, make sure there is a contract in place that you have read and understood. Make sure the both of you sign it and retain a copy.
If using social media isn’t your speed, hop onto Upwork and create an account. Begin looking at the different types of gigs posted. If any stand out, reach out to them.
Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this isn’t a one-stop shop for how to start your business. Learn the techniques that I talk about and tweak them to suit you and your work so that you are producing and working at your best, not mine.
If you’d like more information about my process and how you can make it work for you, sign up for my craft newsletter and receive a free PDF of My Sustainable Writing Practice infograph.