Writing is one talent that simply never escapes you. Regardless if your professional narrative took you in the direction of wordsmithing or an unrelated field—if you were made to write, chances are you have considered a great deal on honing your niche once and for all. Maybe you love editing and content development or have plotted a fantasy novel in the silent moments during your end day commute. Or perhaps you are one of the few that enjoys academic writing, essays, or conversational pieces with educational overtones. From academic papers to poetry, it appears at one point or another most writers will consider at least once supplementing their income by offering freelance writing services.
Because you are a writer—it is not something you do, it is a primary component of who you are, and chances are you do it very well!! In fact, your talent has the potential of not only becoming a lucrative side gig, but given the right topic, niche, platform, and direction, a fulltime opportunity that has catapulted writers into triple digits a day.
If you are skeptical—you are not alone. We simply do not live in a culture that places emphasis on writing as a viable career. Nine times out of ten, writing is regarded as a flavorful hobby that once retired—you are free to explore. This could not be further from the truth. Considering that every printed piece of content from HR manuals, websites, medical handouts, informational pamphlets, to the blurbs people read while in line at Starbucks are all created by paid writers—professional writing remains in the shadows. The simple fact that writers are irrevocably linked to the idea of literature and fiction has created several barriers, farces, and assumptions to understanding freelance writing and the writing profession in general. That is not to say that there are not thousands of opportunities to ghostwrite, author eBooks, or write fiction for money! There are. However, it represents an exceedingly small part of the writerverse.
One of the first obstacles you must overcome as a writer is the invisible wall of culture that leads you to believe: you cannot make money writing.
Luckily for you, we can dispel this together. Right now.
It is no surprise that the most common question I receive from writers and nonwriters about my work as a freelance writer is about income. “How much do you really get paid to write?” The answer is both simple and complicated.
It is simple because as a part-time freelance writer (who works fulltime) I make as much money as I want to each month. In the last five weeks, I made over $8,000. I have made more when I needed and considerably less when I focus on other tasks. During this same timeframe, I turned down six contracts or offers of employment, accepted two, and am booked for the next six months.
Your potential for earning is vastly dependent upon how fast you work. This might not be something you know about yourself until you have begun. It is not uncommon for freelance rates to change as the writer obtains a better sense of their time, efficiency, expertise, and output.
Thus, how much you earn as a freelancer is not nearly as important as your earning goals you set. Your potential is endless. There are that many jobs. However, to make ends meet and walk away with more, you must establish a monthly goal and actively work to fulfill it. Setting this number before you embark gives you leverage and works to alleviate some of the novice mistakes, we all make in the beginning. All of this looks different for someone who writes on the side for expendable cash verses those who use this for their fulltime employment. Some areas of freelancing pay more than others. Therefore, coming to terms with that monthly number ahead of time, will make you more money moving forward.
If you can write, you can make money freelance writing.
Here is how you do it.
5 Steps to Becoming a Freelance Writer
1. Creating Your Freelance Mindset
Before you begin, it is helpful to understand what freelancing is and what will be expected of you. Simply put freelancing refers to the act of providing a single service based on contract for money. This is not the same as salary-based employment, where you provide a reoccurring service for one employer.
Believe it or not, one of the most difficult aspects of freelance writing is not finding work, it is learning to put your craft into a business model wherein your financial health and quality of life are contingent upon success. For those who regard writing as their sacred place, this can be a difficult reality to swallow. Freelance writing is not about how well you write (because it is automatically assumed that as a writer you are proficient in this area) it is about how well you write for them.
As a freelance writer you will adopt new language styles, tones, words, conversational styles, preferences, audiences, and expand your talents in exciting, new directions. In over a year, I have built training modules, penned out “How to” manuals for various organizations, written content for many websites, research and developed strategic medical publications, provided content development and proofreading assistance to academic professionals, written many articles in financial health & wellness, and created presentations for state level professionals. My upcoming projects include research and development in the field of psychology and proofing a book of poetry.
As a professional writer your job will be to produce quality content in a timely manner based upon your contract.
2. Choose Your Niche
After you adopt a freelancer mindset, it is time to choose what type of freelance writer you will become. This may be the singlehandedly most important decision you make as a freelancer. It will determine your platform, your PayScale, where you will find most opportunities, your market, and most importantly, how you will spend the next years of your life as a professional writer.
What is a Niche?
Great question. A niche is often regarded as a distinct segment of a certain market. In writing, this refers to blogging, medical writing, white papers, academic development, e-books, nonfiction, website content, writing services (content development, editing, proofreading, copyediting) ghostwriting, and much more etc.
Why Are Niches Important?
Your niche serves as the direct link between you and potential employers. It is how they will find you and becomes the foundation of your platform moving forward. Although there are many jobs available to writers, findability remains an issue in the slush pile that is the internet. Choosing one specific domain creates better access to your services.
What Niches Pay the Most?
While I feel that there are well paying jobs available in pretty much any domain, some niches are more lucrative than others. This is mostly because of content demand. It should be no surprise that writing for on-trend topics will render more opportunities for work, creating larger payouts.
Right now, the highest or most lucrative niches are:
- Financial health and wellness
- Personal finance
- Website content and development
- Website articles
- Medical writing
- Alternative health and CBD
- White papers
- Technical writing
- Online interactive gaming
- Parent & child content
Although this list represents the highest paying niches, I see positions that extend far beyond this list daily. While making money is important, if you do not enjoy the work, your writing will suffer. Thus, it is equally imperative that your niche supports the best facets of your writing and abilities. Do not choose cryptocurrency, if finance makes you ill. Do not become a freelance writer who specializes in white papers if summation and marketing bores you to tears. One of the features of freelancing is that you are only as limited as your skillset. If you have a niche for ghostwriting, want to tell stories, love history, or want to write for interactive gaming–go for it. Freelancing is about embracing your passion, not quelling it with work that exhausts the best parts of your skillset. You may have to be creative and flexible, but I would encourage you to choose a niche that best describes who you are as a writer.
If I choose a niche, am I limited to that topic?
Yes and no. I strongly encourage you to put in the legwork in the beginning and build up your portfolio in your niche area, and as you become more proficient and develop your technique, then consider branching out to diversify your profile. This will not only make you appealing to future employers but provides inroads to other projects.
3. Determine How Much You Need to Make
Redirecting your thinking from “How much could I make?” to “How much do I need to make?” will help you set clear goals. Let us be honest: no one wants to just make ends meet! In fact, maintaining a quality of life is dependent upon having money beyond all monthly responsibilities. Therefore, you will need to account for this in your goal. However, make sure the number you come up with is feasible—both monetarily, taking into consideration the true amount of work you can perform.
Remember that your monthly earnings may be lower the first month you begin. The adjustment period always takes time. On that note, be flexible with your going rate. Be careful and do not charge too much or miss out on reoccurring work that could pay you more in the long run than time intensive projects that take more time than they are worth. Choosing time efficient projects on topics you know about and can write quickly is what you should be aiming for.
4. Get Organized
It is time to get organized. As a freelancer, you will likely be speaking to many individuals and taking on projects where you are required to manage several time zones, completion dates, and work around fulltime schedules. If you have never maintained a calendar, consider either purchasing a desk, wall, or utilize your phone calendar for upcoming deadlines and communications.
Be sure you have a word document platform, reliable computer, and reliable internet connection. You simply cannot do any work without it. Furthermore, Microsoft word is almost always preferred, due to protections, universality (most people use it), format maintenance, and track changes. If you are working in academic research or writing of any kind, this will be expected. Moreover, be sure you are connected to Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and GoToMeeting. Be prepared to use virtual meetings. Some clients prefer to be active throughout your process and apart of it, while others prefer to give you the requirements and go about their day. Everyone is different, but you will want to be prepared to meet the diversified needs of your clients.
Set up a PayPal Account
If you are not using Upwork, or additional platforms that allow direct deposit, you will mostly be paid using PayPal.
Create a Workspace
Locate a workspace that preferably is not your bed or sleeping area. This might seem strange but keeping personal space separate from the bulk of your work is beneficial to both your performance and overall mental health. Some writers love cafes or working in spaces not linked to their home at all. Some create a corner office, while some prefer to utilize a corner of the sofa that is all their own! Whatever you choose, be sure it is conducive to your work style and a place you can focus, free from stimuli that dampers your creative flow.
Plan for Taxes
This can be one of the most overwhelming aspects of freelancing of any kind. Mostly because the money you make as an independent contractor is not taxed. In fact, unless you make more than $20,000, contractors are not required to provide you with a 1099, which can further complicate end of the year reporting.
Here is what I have to say about this:
How freelancing effects your specific tax situation is based upon many features, including whether this is your secondary or primary income, whether you have dependents, are married, how much you make, and a slew of other special considerations. Some states charge a work from home tax, too. My recommendation is to begin working with a tax specialist—because owing money at the end of the year that you did not account for is never a pleasurable experience.
When I say it is easy to make money as a freelance writer, I truly mean it. You might find yourself with a $10,000 payout at the end of a month—before you spend it, keep taxes in mind.
Getting the information in the beginning will save you undue stress come April 15th. I strongly encourage you to work with a tax specialist to identify a certain percentage of your earnings you should be withholding.
5. Choose Your Platform
Some suggest building a website, creating a LinkedIn profile, and beginning your venture as a writer cold emailing (or sending unsolicited emails to companies detailing the nature of your work in hopes to create partnerships). This is a fantastic way to begin for some. Especially those who have time to build their startup, financial padding to last the first couple of months while clients may be irregular, and financial dollars to pay for memberships that offer well paying job boards as a perk.
Alternatively, you can begin your journey on a freelance website. Despite some attitudes around utilizing these platforms, they are ideal for beginners and those searching for dependable, quality work. Why? Because instances such as Upwork, help you build your clientele, provide direct professionals and individuals looking to hire writers, and provide direct access to reoccurring work. Upwork is known for quality, and as such, it is not uncommon to find contracts for $1000 or more. One point of contention some freelancers have with Upwork and similar platforms is charge fees. For example, Upwork takes 20% of your first $1000—that being said, you can merely take that into account when you set up contracts with clients or choose projects to work on.
I began on Upwork and they have yet to disappoint. They make the experience easy. The clients you work with are personable, professionals, who are excited and proactive. Furthermore, writing platforms generally protect their writers by requiring contract holders to pay upfront, to be held in escrow until you complete the task. This assures you are paid for your work. Lastly, once your profile is built, contracts come to you, which alleviates money loss associated with finding clients and building your profile.
Consider the following platforms:
Charge: 20% for the first $1000 billed per client and 10% thereafter.
Upwork provides quality freelancers with access to professional opportunities nationwide. Here you can find an array of opportunities spanning from web content, media, marketing, ghostwriting, fiction writing, poetry, editing and writing development, education, manuals, eBooks, gaming or linear storytelling, academic research and assistance, resume writing, and much more. Upwork has an extensive vetting process, wherein you must apply to become a freelancer and become approved. Do not be discouraged, it is relatively painless. After, you build a profile, confirm your identity, and explain your services.
Charge: 1$ goes to fiver–$4 goes to you. This does not apply to Pro-level, which is different.
Mostly known for providing freelancers to opportunities structured for quick payouts and short projects, it has expanded its platform in recent years. Some freelancers prefer Fiverr because it offers an alternative to long contracts and traditional freelance work. Here you could perform web searches, write short blurbs, and carry multiple contracts, without working on elongated projects (if that works best for you). However, to make money on Fiverr, time is key. Unless you are offered projects (which do sometimes range over $1000) you must be sure you are completing enough contracts to assure an active income.
Charge: Two months free and $7.99 per month thereafter
Splice is a company that specializes in linking potential employers to qualified freelancers who have experience in administration, consulting, art/media (to include writers), marketing, human resources, finance, operations, and other domains. However, keep in mind that Splice is geared toward more technical writing and technical services and most of their opportunities are in Canada. Splice operates differently than Upwork, which is self-governed and resembles a marketplace for opportunities. To begin, search their job board and simply apply for one of their open positions.
You can consult well-paying jobs on popular sites such as:
Charge: Free unless you use their platform
Hubstaff is a completely free, freelance hub that links potential employers to freelancer and vice versa with no fee attached. To me, it is a simplified version of Upwork, alleviating fees, token systems, and allows for conversations outside of the platform. On the other hand, it does not come equipped with payment assurance and charges you for any services you want to use beyond job finding. While it is an excellent way to locate opportunities, this is a perfect example of how free may impact you in the long run, especially if you are needing assurance and payment oversight. That said, those bells and whistles are far less than 20% on a $1500 contract, so there is much to consider.
Charges: Fixed contracts: 10% or $5 per total. Hourly contracts: 10% fee
Freelancer.com is a remarkably similar platform to Upwork, but you do not have to be approved to use it. While freelancer.com generally pays less, their expectations are not as high, and the culture is quite relaxed. Freelancer.com also charges a little less, but unlike Upwork that fee does not go down over the lifetime of a client. It is much more informal, but for some, this works to their benefit. The best way to find out what truly works for you is to give it a try.
In the beginning, consider utilizing multiple platforms to see which fits. Making yourself available on one to three sites also increases your chance to contract work and start building your profile. Overtime, it is likely you will choose one to work from as the need to apply for jobs decreases and regular work ensues. Once you have taken on a few projects and your profile is up and running, you will find that work almost always finds you.
When this begins, this is a great time to think about branching out into other domains. Create a website. Begin adding connections on LinkedIn and targeting niche companies or potentials that you can work with moving forward. Some love to start with this, but in my opinion, having marked success, clientele, exposure and experience, an active resume, and a default to fall back on as you expand are essential ingredients to propelling you forward.
Do Not Forget to Embrace your Freelance Life
Once you have some experience behind you, be sure as you grow, you adjust your rate based on quality and expertise, and choose projects that you want (and are excited) to work on. In the beginning, there is less opportunity for selection as you build your profile. Remember transitions and orientation take time, but do not last forever. If you are proactive, you will be passing on contracts in no time. If I can make $800 my first week on Upwork as a newbie, you can too.
Freelancing should never add stress or concern to your life. It is a lifestyle designed to work for you at your capacity. Be skeptical of those who want 100 hours of work for less than $100 or come to you asking to pen out an entire 25,000-word eBook on an advanced research topic for $300 and no room for adjustment. Be sure the projects you take make you money and do not waste your time. Becoming efficient in your skill alleviates overages, but this is a skill you must hone. This takes time like anything else to develop. In the meantime, be sure you do not take on more contracts than you can handle, work on saying no, and be careful about projects you take. Also, be sure to protect yourself against nonpayment if you are completing contracts without the use of a professional platform.
Above all, freelancing should be your inroad to a career in professional writing and expand your quality of life tenfold. There is something to be said about grabbing hold of an opportunity to do what you love. Freelance writing not only comes with financial freedom, flexibility, and the privilege of exercising your talent to the best of your ability, but it allows you to write, every single day… For most of us that is the very definition of “living the dream.” If you can write and are looking for opportunities to boost your monthly income, freelance writing is for you.