What is a freelance writer? A freelance writer is somebody who takes on writing projects on a part-time, full-time, or project basis, without being directly under one employer. (The geeky answer is that a “free lance” used to mean a fighter who did not serve a single lord, but served whoever paid for services instead.)
Anyone can call themself a “freelance writer,” but the truth is that there are many kinds of freelance writers out there. You can actually specialize, although that’s something that’s more likely to come later in your career. The most important thing to know is that there are a lot of niches and styles out there, and there might be room for yours.
Table of Contents
- What is Freelance Writing?
- How Much Does Freelance Writing Pay?
- A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Start Your Freelance Writing Career
What is Freelance Writing?
The freelance writing business is an industry or area of work where writing projects are outsourced to writers who are not employed by those initiating the projects. Rather, the freelance writer would consider the project-initiators as clients, and may write for more than one at a time.
While it may seem unstable compared to a full-time writing job with an employer, the freelance writing business has quite a number of perks. Here are a few on how to become a freelance writer.
Freelance writing usually comes with flexible hours
More often than not, the freelance writer works within a set deadline of deliverables rather than on a set schedule every day. Because of this, they can decide when they get to work.
One way this is particularly helpful for some people is because of the circadian rhythm theory. Put simply, people are alert and sleepy alternately at different times of the day. Our bodies respond to changes in light, but they don’t all respond the same way.
The freelance writer who finds themself much more alert at night often are much less productive during the day. They sometimes struggle in 9-to-5s with regular meetings and daily updates.
With freelance writing, the freelance writer gets to work when they are most alert, produces competent output within a reasonable amount of time, and earns without burning themself out. If you are a writer or looking to find freelance writing jobs, this kind of setup is great for your confidence and self-esteem.
Freelance writing means you are your own boss
We will get into the cons of this in a little bit, but it’s a pretty big perk of freelance writing. You get to decide which projects to accept, what rates you want to set, what hours you want to keep, what vacations you want to take. As we will see soon, this is not the easiest thing in the world to reach, but it has the potential of it.
Being your own boss also means that you are able to speak for yourself in a way that, possibly, you would not be able to speak to an employer. You can also usually decide where you want to work, whether it’s a home office or outside, and you tend to be free to explore opportunities with many kinds of different clients and in many kinds of industries.
To put it simply, freelance writing gives you a little more traditional independence than a full-time job would. If you thrive on this kind of independence, if you find yourself much more productive with this kind of freedom, the life of a freelance writer might be for you.
Freelance writing can bring in substantial income
It may take you some time to get started, but with some regular projects to pay the bills and a couple of bigger ones to build up savings and give you some budgeting leeway, you can earn a substantial amount as you start freelance writing.
Depending on how it goes, you may find it easier to increase your income in this way rather than yearly increases at a regular job or by switching up employers.
This may take a year or more of building your new career as a freelance writer, marketing yourself, and budgeting wisely. However, once the foundation is laid down, you can begin to build towards your income goal. It takes a lot of hard work, but if it’s for you it can work out in your favor!
Freelance writing is a good starting point for a wider career
Freelance writing can start with writing, but it can also branch out to many related career paths or even side hustles. For example, writing might be what you are most comfortable doing, but you take on a couple of proofreading jobs and discover another possible path.
As there are quite a few freelance writers out there, you might want to include this in your list of services. You can also begin to look into project opportunities for sites where they already have in-house writers, they just need to outsource proofreading. Editing work, reviewing and editing articles, might also be something down your lane.
We will get into the kinds of freelance writing work in a minute, but the more you get involved in scriptwriting for videos, for example, the more interested you might become in video production. The more you write for various brands, the more interested you might become in marketing and strategy.
Freelance writing is so flexible, and spans so many industries, that you are sure to find ways to expand your career past writing alone, if that is something that interests you.
However, there are some cons as well. Here are a few.
Freelance writing means you manage your own time
While some of us say we’ll work better without anyone keeping tabs on how we spend our time, the truth is that making ourselves keep to a steady schedule without anyone keeping tabs on us is a challenge in and of itself.
To build credibility, especially in the first few years, showing clients you can manage your time well as a freelance writer will go a long way towards retaining clients and pitching to more.
Freelance writing can mean multiple clients
Some say that freelancing, in any industry, means you go from one boss to many. This is not strictly true, as you still have somewhat more independence when it comes to choosing clients, setting rates, and fixing deadlines.
However, this does mean that you will end up learning more than one style of work for your writing jobs. Some clients will be more up front, some will be more casual, some will be okay with almost all of your output, others will send stuff back more than once.
While, in the long run, you may get to vet the clients you really want to work with, managing multiple clients in the short-term will give you both experience and opportunities as a freelance writer. You will also learn more about how you work and the kinds of clients you are able to manage.
Freelance writing sometimes has unpredictable income levels
Unless you have retainer clients, and sometimes even when you do, you may not be able to predict how much income comes in every month. This may mean sticking with stringent budgeting, or even with a part-time or full-time job, until your income evens out.
Think about it as really owning your own business. If you launched a cafe, for example, you would still need to work on marketing it and making it profitable month by month. It has to pay its own bills. For freelance writers, your projects need to pay your own bills.
Freelance writing means you take care of marketing and taxes on your own
Part of the time you devote to being a freelance writer should go to marketing yourself, to get more projects or more preferred clients, or to preparing your files for tax season. Because you are technically your own boss, you need to do your own taxes . . . for yourself.
You might want to invest some time researching or consulting with an accountant for the first year or so, or even invest in your own accountant later on.
How Much Does Freelance Writing Pay?
If you’ve ever asked a freelancer or the internet this question, you know that they will probably give you a range of rates rather than an explicit answer. This is because pay is dependent on a lot of factors especially for writing jobs.
Any freelance content writer needs to gain more experience before raising their rates. The length of the writing always matters, as does the technicality of the writing. Something that can be written with minimal research may cost much less than developing an academic or journal article.
First let’s look at rate ranges, then let’s study the factors that frame how much you can charge per project.
A 1,000-word blog article or webpage content
This can go as low as $50 and as high as $175 or more depending on the client, the topic, and the research required to write. It is suggested that you have a personal baseline rate for 1,000 words.
For example, you think about 1,000 words, how long it would probably take you to write this kind of content, and set a rate that you think would make taking the project worth your while. Let us say you set your baseline rate at $125 for a 1,000-word article.
Keep the baseline rate in mind as you listen to the client’s pitch, and see if the scope of the work they are pitching to you is less than or more than what you already decided $100 is worth.
If the work is worth less than $125 to you or you can do it faster than you do a $100 article, then you can lessen your rate. In the same way, if the work seems more than what $100 is worth, then you can raise your rate.
Last but not least, prepare baseline rates either per word or for every 250 or 500 words. In this way, if someone asks you for less or more than 1,000 words, you can easily adapt your rates to match the word count.
In the beginning, you will need to get a feel of what potential clients are willing to pay for whatever type of work, maybe by asking other freelance writers. Later on, it will become easier to estimate or negotiate with clients.
A 1,000-word research article
One way to make pricing easier for you for articles that require additional work is to use the same baseline pricing as you do for your 1,000-word blog article. From there, you can tag on a baseline research fee that you will add upon learning that the scope includes substantial research.
What would you consider substantial research? If you study the scope and realize that research will take up around half of the total writing time, you might want to consider adding a research fee.
For example, let’s set your research fee at $35. Your baseline rate for a 1,000-word research article is now automatically $135. As you study the scope, decide whether or not it’s worth less or more than the $35 baseline rate, and drop or raise the rate accordingly. You can also automatically tag on the research fee for every 1,000 words.
For example, you have a 2,000-word research article to write. You are okay with keeping the rate at $100 per 1,000 words, so your baseline fee is now $200. You tag on a research fee of $35 per 1,000 words, so your complete fee is now $270 You can round it off to $300 if you feel like it calls for it.
Simplifying your life with baseline fees will make it easier for you to calculate your fees for potential clients you meet.
Basic short-form media include social media captions and emails below 500 words at a time. Having a word count will save you from potential clients and companies who lump longer output like newsletters in your email count. You can charge between $1 to $10 per post.
You can place a set fee per email or social media post, as long as the word count does not reach 500 words. (As you get a better grasp of what freelance writing entails, you might want to cap the word count at 350 words and consider anything past 350 words in the 500-word range.)
Make sure you know the scope of what writing the post of email entails. Does it include interviews or coordination with others for content? Is there a lengthy approval process involved? If there are multiple aspects to the job beyond simply writing, charge for the time.
If newsletters are mentioned, you may want to price them in the same way that you do blog posts or longer-form content. In that way, you will receive the rate from your freelance writing clients that matches the longer writing duration.
Long-form technical or research writing
You may be tapped to work on much longer projects such as handbooks or white papers. These are usually of uncertain length, with less-predictable research times, and can be priced per overall project.
Charging for these can start at $500 and go as high as $5,000. The prices for these may seem high, but you need to charge for the uncertainties of length or research load.
Again, when it comes to projects such as these, be sure to scope them carefully. Has research already been done, and you are simply reviewing the sources and adding them into the writing? Are you expected to do the research or to add to the sources? The more you are expected to do, the more technical the job is, the more you can charge.
What factors determine how much you are paid?
As we’ll see in the later sections about starting your freelance writing career, experience is important in building credibility. As in most other jobs, it will be a toss-up between whether experience or education will get you further. However, there are many ways to balance it out.
The more experience in writing you can display, the more you can charge. They are paying for writing that is more skilled, better done, and with less possibility of revisions than writing of someone with less experience.
When preparing to write, always make sure you leave in a little time for proofreading or review of your own work. When preparing articles or pieces for your portfolio, double-check them for errors. Ask another friend or writer to review them for you.
The better quality you can display in your work, even if you are submitting a work in progress, the more you can charge. In other words, if you are asked to submit an initial outline, submit an outline that can be the backbone of a substantial article. If you are asked for an initial draft, make sure the thoughts are complete and that the draft is proofread, even if there are upcoming revisions. Showcase your writing skills from the very beginning.
The type of client you take on will also define how much you can charge. Your client might be a start-up that wants to invest in a writer but is not yet financially prepared to pay top dollar for it.
Your client might be a larger company that does have the resources to outsource to writers, but they also have a number of writers to choose from. It may turn into a bidding war with the project being awarded to the writer willing to be paid the least.
Your client may also have different approaches on how to price projects, which you will need to match while still making sure the pay is worth your while. You will be more important to some clients, and less important to others. Expect a thorough mix.
The truth is that even when we are adept freelance writers who can name our prices and negotiate like pros, every now and then projects will come around that we really, really want. In other words, we will come across projects that we are willing to take regardless of pay.
While you may not be able to accept all of those opportunities for financial security’s sake, you may want to pick out a select few that have something to do with the kind of writing you want to do in the long run.
You might also want to pick out some that have to do with the industry you want to write for. Script-writing, for example, might be something you get asked to do and you are willing to accept because you actually want to enter media production in the long run and become a freelance writer in that industry.
A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Start Your Freelance Writing Career
Many talk about freelance writing as if it were its own specialized career path, but it is as wide as the different kinds of law out there. While you will probably start out as a general writer, you will discover that finding your niche and taking on passion projects will help you sustainably stay in the industry for as long as you choose to.
This guide will help you start your freelance writing journey by giving simple and practical steps that will take you from one milestone to the next. This is how to become a freelance writer.
Step 1: Maintain your own blog and/or social media profile
If you are completely shifting career path and investing money in a new skill set (writing), you will need to 1) gain experience by 2) displaying experience. Yes, it may seem counterintuitive, or contradictory, but you can make it work.
If experience is what you lack, you need to bank on your skills to speak for themselves through writing samples. You may want to start up a blog, and work on writing blog posts of at least 500 words each. Since a lot of freelance writing means writing on command, writing personal posts with a level of consistency will say a lot about your writing ethic.
It’s better not to overthink the topic or the series; if you are the kind of person who needs to outline a whole blog post series before writing at all, you may do so. However, which is more likely, you may already need content to display as part of your portfolio.
In that case, write consistently, excellently, and in long-form about anything that catches your attention. You may write more about your day job, you may write book or movie reviews, or share your thoughts about a recent news event. When building your portfolio, you may want to put up at least 7 to 10 blog posts as writing samples on your own blog.
If you already have a personal social media account, begin to treat your captions as blog posts. Share your thoughts there in long-form, well-written and carefully formatted. As you work your way towards credibility, these smaller personal items will showcase your writing skills and the consistency of your work ethic.
Step 2: Develop your own freelance documentation
This sounds a little complicated, but it goes a long way towards building credibility. Let us break down the steps a little more from here.
Step 2.1: project summary
Let us say a potential client finds your website through social media posts and decides to reach out to you through the link in your profile. You chat on a messaging app, and inquire about the scope, timeline, and their budget.
If you do choose to accept the project, summarize it in a document that you then send over as a PDF. Lay everything out, especially the requested scope and rates. If you have any rates for additional tools or services, such as revisions, add them there as well.
Once this document is summarized, send it back to your client for review and signing or acknowledgment. From there, you can proceed to the output itself.
step 2.2: Invoice
After you complete the output, or even before, you can prepare the invoice for the client. This lets them know how much you are owed after you complete the output as agreed. The invoice also includes the rates of other services they requested that were not in the original project summary.
These may seem like very simple documents, but the truth is that they build credibility with clients. You look professional, like you know what you are doing, like you are taking the project seriously.
Step 3: Learn how to determine scope
Now that we have starting and documentation out of the way, let us look at how to determine scope. Here are the questions you must learn how to ask every client before accepting a project.
- What/Whom is this output for?
- How many words were you hoping this output would have? (In the case of longer-form writing, you can ask if they are aiming for a specific word count at all.)
- When were you hoping to receive the final draft of this output?
- How many levels of approval am I expecting? (This is important, as you may believe that the revision rounds have ended while the client is still wading through approvals.)
- Who is my primary contact person? (If you are writing for a larger company, you need to know who you send revisions to and who is allowed to relay edits to you.)
- What is your budget?
When you sit down to review the scope, think of three things:
- What else do I have going on right now that might interrupt this project, and vice versa?
- Given the timeline, number of revisions expected, and length of approval process, is the pay worth it?
- Does it look like the scope is unclear at the moment?
If you have other projects going on, you may want to adjust your rate a little higher so you know to prioritize the new project. On the other hand, you can afford to adjust your rate lower if it’s a project you need experience points in.
You can raise your rates depending on the urgency of the deliverable, and add on a little if you feel like you will be on hold for long periods of time because of the approval process. You can also raise your rates to compensate for the risk of unclear scope, such as vague word counts or writing directions.
Step 4: Learn how to determine price and negotiate
When presenting your rates to the client, make sure you can explain what the client is paying for as clearly as possible. Freelance writers can break down the amount per word, or discuss the research fee, or talk a little more about your writing process.
The important thing is that the client understands where you are coming from, and trusts that you are not simply throwing in a lump sum that you think they can afford. For projects that you really want, we suggest asking for their budget first, since you are willing to adjust; for projects that you are approaching more objectively, you may be the first to present your rate packages.
Some freelancers are terrified of the negotiation phase, but this is where most of the relationship-building begins. This is also where you can vet your clients as you become more experienced, as this is where both you and your client have an opportunity to display mutual respect. As you understand one another better, you will have a chance to build longer-term relationships in the future.
Step 5: Learn how to market yourself
Now that you have set the foundations of your own credibility and relationships with clients, learn how to market yourself. Post heavily on social media. Build partnerships with smaller accounts who are willing to post about you. You will be surprised at what your display of skills and professionalism can bring to your career in the long run.