What You Really Need to Know About Starting a Freelance Writing Business
“Your net-worth is highly dependent upon your network” — Grant Cardone
The writing profession is one that is primarily suited for those types that desire flexibility in their personal and professional life. They want to be able to work wherever they feel like working, whenever they feel like working, and according to their own terms.
In the past, those kinds of work demands were quite laughable. But due to technological advancements — such as the Internet and WiFi capability, as well as improvements to word processing software — not anymore!
The Internet is, quite frankly, the central hub for all information and entertainment needs, and while much of that information is offered through visual means, the written word is still the most dominant method for providing online content — although some may disagree, the facts show that there is still a large demand for freelance writers.
The Pros of Being a Freelance Writer
- The ability to work from anywhere — albeit, you have an Internet connection and computer
- Flexible work schedule
- The ability to write a variety of different types of content — such as articles, copywriting, blogging, social media, and the list goes on and on
- The ability to write on just about any subject — which means the less likelihood of ever getting bored
- Low overhead cost to get started — in fact, about the only thing you are going to need to purchase in order to start your writing business is a laptop, the necessary software you’ll need to write your pieces, and the monthly fee to your Internet service provider (or you can go mobile and use free WiFi to do your research)
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The Cons of Being a Freelance Writer
- It can take time to find a steady stream of clients
- Not all forms of writing are created equal. In other words, not all types of content pay the same
- Getting paid is often a waiting game, which means you really have to know how to manage your finances well in order to make due while you’re waiting for that next check to come in.
- Like any thriving industry, competition is no joke. Especially for high paying writing jobs
- It’s often considered to be solitary work (however, in my opinion, it doesn’t have to be)
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Types of Freelance Writing Markets
The fact of the matter is this: Writing is an industry that will never die! As other industries come and go — or even when the Internet fails to exist — the need for writers will never cease. In fact, it’s been said, “It’s the communicators that lead their fields.”
To that end, there are plenty of types of content that are in high demand — and which will continue to grow no matter the economic or technological situation or circumstance.
Now, because this industry and profession is so flexible, you can either focus on one type of content style, or you can dabble in as many different types as you feel led to do so. Moreover, you can either specialize in a particular discipline or industry, or you can become a generalist and cover has many topics, industries, or niches that you heart desires.
However, most experts and professionals will tell you that it is better to specialize and become and expert in a certain field or discipline rather than trying to serve everyone. In short, “If you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.”
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Here are just a few freelance writing markets to consider:
- Freelance Journalism (print): Truth be told, print magazines, trade journals, and newspapers are the most difficult types of writing to break into — which is why they often pay better than their online counterparts. Now, it bears mentioning that not all of these types of publications (pubs) hire freelance writers — but some do. The way it works is freelance writers pitch article ideas to the editors of these pubs and they are either accepted or declined. That freelance writer is then paid when the pub accepts (or prints) their article.
- Web Content: When we talk about producing web content we’re talking about traffic generating content — such as video, social media, and long form written content. This particular market is strictly focused on search engine optimization (SEO) and keyword generated content.
- Medical & Scientific Writing: Pharmaceutical companies and scientist need technical writers who are knowledgeable about medical and scientific research, experiments, and insider jargon in order to take that information and communicate it in such a way that a lay-person can understand.
- Technical Writing: Similar to the medical and scientific markets, if you like computers and software, or have an engineering background, or like to take things apart, seeing how they work, and then putting them back together again, this could be a great market for you. For example, who do you think writes all of those instruction manuals that no one reads?
- Copywriting: Also referred to as “salesmanship in print”, copywriting is the ability to sale through the written word. We’re talking about writing sales letters, online and offline ads, product descriptions, brochures, and other types of promotional material. The fact is: Copywriting is actually the most lucrative writing market— it actually trumps writing for magazines and newspapers, or writing a New York Times bestseller. It requires an understanding of the psychology of sales.
- Freelance Blogging: Similar to web content writing, freelance bloggers write articles based on a blog’s topic. Even though there is an uptick in video content online, most of the video content is scripted, which means someone has to write the scripts that the online personality communicates. Moreover, the truth is, you’re not going to be paid for writing online content as well as you would be paid writing print articles. However, you have a better chance at acquiring ongoing work writing content for blogs than you would writing for print publications. Just something to keep in mind.
- Business Writing: If you have a background in business, or if you went to business school like I did, you possess knowledge that is extremely valuable, not just for yourself, but for others as well. For instance, similar to copywriting, perfecting the art of writing resumes is something that could really benefit you and other job seekers. It requires a special understanding of how to attract employers. While more and more people are entering the workforce, believe me when I tell you, the work load that you can find in this market is almost endless. Moreover, you can also make a handsome living writing business plans.
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Skills Every Aspiring Freelance Writer Needs to Have, Learn, or Develop
I’m going to be honest with you, I’m about fed up with some of these other articles that tell you that you can start a freelance writing business with no contacts, and that you don’t need a journalism or English degree, or that you don’t have to have a lot of experience in writing.
That is all baloney …
You may not “need” a degree, per se, but you do need to have some experience in writing. You most definitely need to have a passion for it. In other words, if you don’t like to write, then you’re not going to be very successful in this industry.
Moreover — sure — you can start a freelance writing business without any contacts, but you’re not going to get very far until you do.
With all that said, some of the skills that I think every aspiring freelance writer needs to have, learn and/or develop is good grammar, the ability to proofread and edit your own work, research skills, awareness of different writing styles — such as the APA and Chicago Manual of Style — and the ability to market yourself.
In addition, when it comes to writing for online markets, an aspiring freelance writer needs to have some understanding of search engine optimization (SEO), knowing the difference between writing for print and for the web, how to use online publishing tools and platforms such as WordPress, as well as social networking and marketing skills.
Finally, I would say the two most important skill sets an aspiring freelance writer can develop is the ability to network offline and produce strong contacts as well as the ability to negotiate.
You see, as I’ve already mentioned above, writing is a very solitary type of profession — at least to some degree. And most writers tend be very introverted personality types, I happen to be very introverted myself. However, being an introvert is no excuse for being anti-social.
Let me put it to you like this: Think of professional journalist, or those in professions such as the FBI or police force. When we think of these professions we always hear them talk about their sources or following leads. You see, a journalist or FBI agent is really nothing without his/her sources or leads.
Truth be told, journalist and FBI agents alike are required to increase their contacts (sources or leads) or they risk the chances of losing their job, or not being very good at their job.
In short, it is highly important to establish connections and develop relationships with experts and high profile individuals that you can go to for inside information. In fact, it was Adam Michaels who said:
“The number one most important element in order to have successful persuasion is credibility. And the number one way to gain credibility is to be introduced through someone who is perceived as credible.”
Lastly, your ability to negotiate can really determine how much or how little you are able to make per writing project. We’ll talk more about that in the next section.
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Freelance Writers: Money Talks!
Believe it or not, the freelance writing industry is growing dramatically. The reason for this uptick, more often than not, is because of the relative ease of entry — such as the low overhead and the fact that more and more people are leaving the traditional work environment in order to take advantage of the ever growing opportunity to work from home.
Moreover, because of this dramatic increase, the pay rate for many of the types of writing that we have discussed above, especially for online writing such as web content and blogging, are decreasing just as fast.
The fact of the matter is this: Successful freelance writers get paid based on the length and amount of research that goes into the writing, as well as the kind of results their writing brings in for the pub or client.
In other words, unlike most traditional jobs where one gets paid by the hour, a freelance writer is paid based on results.
Look, let me put it to you like this: Where most people look at their finances from their hourly rate and then outward towards their annual income, wealthy people look at their annual income first, and then work their way back in, toward their hourly wage.
In fact, Payscale reported that the average writer gets paid anywhere from $10.67 to $51.77 an hour with an average income of $36,781 annually, while according to a recent Bureau of Labor Statics report, the average writer or author is earning $61,820 a year (or $29.72 per hour).
Are you able to see the difference in how one verses the other approaches the math? Payscale looks at the hourly rate first, and then calculates for the average annual income. The Bureau of Labor Statics, on the other hand, looks at the average annual income first, and then determines an hourly rate.
In short, the reason some people make more than others simply comes down to how people approach the math. If your focus is primarily on your hourly rate, you’ll always make less than the person whose focus is primarily on annual earnings — fee based on project and results.
“Poor people get paid based on time. Rich people get paid based on results” — Dan Lok
Now, as I mentioned before, because of the increase competition in the freelance writing industry, publications and clients, such as blog owners, are paying less and less for content. In fact, some writing jobs pay so low, it’s not worth your time — we’re talking $5 or $10 an article.
Again, as I’ve mentioned before, copywriting is by-far the most lucrative writing market there is. In fact, on top of the amount a freelance copywriter gets paid for writing the marketing material, that same writer is often paid a royalty based on the results their marketing does for the client.
Moreover, if you have a special skill set or degree in a certain discipline you may be able to negotiate more for your work. For example, many medical and/or scientific departments want writers who are certified professionals in these areas because the certification or degree is often times a requirement for the work.
To that end, it helps to know how much you need to make on a monthly (and annually) basis before agreeing to take on any writing project. In fact, I share the following example in this article, but I will re-emphasize it here:
“As a writer, you could either write 10 articles at a thousand words a piece for $100 each, or you could write 1 eight page sales letter for $5,000. Which do you think is better?
Well, writing the 10 articles (input) would be hard work, but you would only receive a $1,000 (output) for that amount of work. Writing a single eight page sales letter (input) for $5,000 (output) would be more desirable, right?
Now, imagine working on 2 eight page sales letters at $5,000 a piece ($10,000 for 2 sales letters, $1,000 for 10 articles). Which would be the smarter thing to do? Well, writing 10 different articles for a handful of different clients would require a lot of research in many different areas, where writing 2 sales letters for one client would reduce your research time and focus to only two writing assignments.”
Now, with all that said, I mentioned in an exclusive article that I wrote for Wealthy Web Writer, “ One of the best ways to start increasing your word count by the minute is to set writing goals for yourself. For example, when I first started out, it was taking me about two-and-a-half hours to write 500 words (not very good if I really wanted to make something out of being a writer). Now, it takes me less than an hour to write the same amount of quality content. Again, it all comes with practice.”
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Freelance Writers: How to Land Your First Client(s)
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to find clients as a freelance writer, some good, and others … not so much!
Look, let me be the first to tell you, never leave your day job! At least … not yet. You see, if you haven’t established enough clients that can provide you the same amount of compensation that you are currently making from your traditional employer, then you would be setting yourself up for failure.
In short, you — at least — need to be bringing in the same amount monthly (and annually) from your writing that you are from your “day job.” If you aren’t, then you haven’t reached that breaking off point, yet.
But before you even get to that point, or even start seeking freelance writing work, for that matter … there are a few things you should do first:
- Define the type of writing you want to do. Do you want to become a freelance journalist and write for newspapers and magazines? Or do you want to be a freelance copywriter and write marketing material that can potentially provide royalty earnings for the life of the piece?
- Do a self-inventory of the value you have to offer. It will be easier to break into certain writing markets that you have more familiarity with. Therefore, make a list of your credentials and the current skills you possess. Also, if you have a masters degree in a certain discipline, then you can consider yourself an expert in that field.
- Determine what your pay rate is going to be and don’t waiver from it. While some writing jobs will have a fixed fee, there’s still possibilities that you might be able to negotiate your pay. Let me also mention this: In the traditional workforce, when you go to interview for a job, and the topic of pay comes up, you don’t typically take a job if it doesn’t meet your current cost of living situation. In most cases you are more likely to respectfully decline any offer giving to you and move on — unless you’re in a situation where you just have to take whatever you can get. If that’s not the case, why would you not do the same when it comes to negotiating on a writing project?
- Get in the habit of providing value before you ever ask for compensation. In other words, create a few sample pieces related to the type of writing you are offering. For example, if you are wanting to be a freelance copywriter and write sales letters for a particular client, write a sample sales letter and marketing campaign for a particular product or service that that company sells, and allow them to use it for free. And then tell them to only pay if it produces results. This is — by-far — the best way to land a new client — one that will stick with you forever.
- Set up a LinkedIn profile to send potential clients to so they can learn more about you. LinkedIn is probably, by-far, the best client generating social media platform there is. Having an online resume and professional profile like this will often times guarantee whether you get hired or not.
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“The only way to accomplish something is to pursue it” — William Ballard
Once you’re ready to start marketing yourself as a freelance writer, the next couple of things you need to focus on, and continue to build up throughout your writing career are the following:
- Networking — As I’ve mentioned above, the success of your writing business is highly dependent upon how well you are at making connections and establishing long-lasting relationships with experts and high profile people — influencers.
You learn for personal growth, but you network for professional growth.
- Referrals — Lastly, don’t forget to set up a referral system within your business. The truth is, successful freelance writers build most of their writing business on a foundation of repeat clients that also provide an endless flow of referrals.
William Ballard, MBA is a highly sought after business strategist, marketing consultant, and founder of William Ballard Enterprise. He has been involved in digital marketing since 2009 and business management since 2013. William served a short stint in the military before becoming a serial entrepreneur. Since then, he has written 6 books and e-books and has no plan of slowing down.