It came as a complete surprise to me that the month of May means I’ve been freelance writing for a full year.
What started off as an innocent google search of “how to make money writing” has turned into my full-time job. As great as it is to get paid to do something I love, I won’t pretend that the learning curve wasn’t steep. Becoming a freelance writer was less an artistic endeavor for me than a process of learning how to start my own business from the ground up.
Nonetheless, I’ve made a lot of progress in the past year. I have clients I can trust for consistent work and a bank account that’s growing in surprisingly steady increments. At this point, I feel like I have ample proof that not only is freelance writing NOT an internet scam, it’s a perfectly viable employment opportunity for anyone that wants to work from home- no matter their previous experience.
I never set out to be a writer, but with freelance writing I’ve found a career that aligns with my passions, goals and lifestyle so perfectly I can’t imagine going back to conventional employment. And I don’t think I’m alone. I believe there are thousands of other people who want to live this way.
What is Freelance Writing?
From my experience, there’s a lot of misconceptions about what freelance writing really is. Few people I talk to seem to understand what I do, and at this point all my writing friends are only virtual acquaintances. Not enough people are taking advantage of this incredible employment option, so I want to shed some light on the details to give you the head start that I didn’t have.
Below are the biggest questions I’ve received about freelance writing and my answers after a year of experience. Will my answers be different in another year? Probably. It’s all part of the learning process of becoming a micro-business owner, but I hope my experience inspires you to think seriously about making a switch to self employment. From my experience, it’s completely worth it.
1. What Are Freelance Writers Hired To Do?
Anything and everything to do with words, the internet, and the people who read them.
I’ve written articles for print magazines and popular online blogs (check out the ‘Green Gazette’ in Mother Earth News!), ebooks, instruction guides, and I’ve recently dug deeper into social media promotion for web articles, which involves writing attention-grabbing headlines and phrases that get the articles shared.
Perhaps my favorite kind of writing is copywriting, which is the content you see on advertisements and webpages. Short, snappy sentences full of meaning take a lot of creativity, and they are so much fun to write!
Beyond what I do, freelance writing can take many forms. Some writers rewrite medical jargon for laypeople, while others write white papers or press releases for businesses. The options are endless and opportunities exist in just about every niche you can imagine.
2. What Does a Typical Day Look Like?
Let’s be real, writing is hard work. Maybe other freelancers can write compelling copy for 8 hours a day, but my brain fizzles and dies after 5. That doesn’t mean I put in a short work days, though.
Working from home looks different for everyone, but for me it involves waking up before 7 am and making a huge french press of coffee. After spending half an hour looking through the news and new job postings, I work on the most stressful project I have for the day and try to tackle it early to build up my confidence. From there, the rest of the workday is usually broken up between bursts of productivity and breaks to play with my puppies. Because I typically get weekly deadlines for assignments, I try to schedule out my week in advance and make sure I have enough projects lined up to meet my earning goals.
What surprised me for the first few months of freelancing was how much of my time was spent doing things other than writing. In truth, organizing the week, staying on top of emails, and searching for new jobs takes up between a quarter to a third of each workday.
3. How Much Can You Really Earn?
Brutal honesty time. 20 percent of freelancers are making over 80 percent of the money.
There’s absolutely money to be made in this field, but when you’re just starting out you’ve got to claw your way to piece of it. My first two weeks of freelancing earned me a grand total of $177, which averaged about $6 an hour BEFORE taxes took their 30% cut. That being said, momentum can grow quickly. I recently achieved my first $5k month, and there are lots of freelance writers that make over $100 grand a year.
The key to making a living as a freelancer is setting yourself apart enough from the competition to be in the 20 percent that’s making all the money. The specifics of what that takes will be different for everyone.
4. What Should You Charge?
More than you think.
It’s important to realize that there is no real comparison between an hourly rate in a conventional job and as a freelancer. Freelancing implies that you are your own boss, which means that convenient things like health care, a 401k and automatic taxes do not exist for you. When I started freelancing I was thrilled to make $20 an hour, until I realized how much time I needed to spend prepping to work those hours and how big of a bite taxes took out of it. Since then, I’ve tripled my rates and will continue raising them until the jobs slow down.
It’s also important to remember how little of your time as a freelance writer is actually spent directly earning money. I might only write for 20-25 hours a week, but I try to adjust my rates to reflect the 15+ hours spent on administrative tasks, too.
5. Where Are the Best Jobs?
Others may disagree with me here, but I can only speak from experience.
At the moment, my clients are split between Upwork, job sites like Problogger and companies I am directly contracted with. Upwork gets a bad rap from many professional freelancers because it takes an exorbitant 20% of your earnings with each client under $500 in billings, but the truth is that it’s the largest freelancing website in the world and has an incredible amount writing opportunities (thousands of new jobs are added every day). I’ve found clients on Upwork where seemingly one-off projects turned into contracts worth thousands of dollars, so I find the ease of accessing high quality clients on this platform well worth the fees I pay.
6. What Are Taxes Like?
Fairly brutal for non-data people like me, which is why I conveniently married someone who somehow finds them fun (thanks Ian!).
As a freelancer, you need to keep detailed records of all your earnings and track down any client you earn more than $600 from for a 1099 form. The process can be a major pain and you’ll be amazed how much you owe, so don’t shoot yourself in the foot by spending all your money before tax season or by keeping shoddy records.
More detailed tax help for freelancers can be found here.
7. What Should You Know Before Starting to Freelance?
This isn’t an “easy” job. When I started, I had dreams of working 20 hour work weeks and spending the rest of my time in self-employment bliss. Maybe I’ll get there in five years, but it’s hardly true now.
No matter how much I work to prioritize my time, freelance writing usually requires me to spend eight plus hours in front of my computer every day. The job search process is endless, and I’ve even pulled all nighters getting in work for clients with punishing deadlines.
Perhaps the hardest adjustment is that I’m never really “off”. Working with clients around the world means I get emails at any time of the day or night with work requests and it’s not always financially advantageous to avoid them until they better fit my schedule.
Freelance writing might be highly satisfying, but it’s still a job, and it demands the same level of commitment of any other profession.
Top Tips For Freelance Writing Success
Also known as the things that worked for me and probably will work for you, too.
Always Meet Your Deadlines
I know this sounds obvious, but I believe it’s incredibly important- oftentimes even more important than the quality of your work!
Here’s my reasoning. Just about everyone CAN produce well-written articles if they absolutely have to, but many people hate the process enough they’d rather outsource it to someone else. In that way, the service I’m selling is often less about writing than it is about providing ease of mind to my clients in knowing that someone else is taking care of a burdensome task. (But only to a point, high quality writing is essential too!).
By meeting every deadline, you can prove to clients that they don’t need to worry about you, and once they realize you’re reliable they’ll keep sending work your way.
Don’t Settle for Less Than You’re Worth
Every time I’ve accepted a job I wasn’t enthusiastic about or worked at a lower pay rate than I was comfortable with, I’ve regretted it. Every. Single. Time.
Don’t accept content mill rates just because the work is available. If you don’t accurately value your work, I promise that your clients won’t either. Turning down low paying jobs can be hard when you don’t have backup options, but I’ve personally found it’s better to take on a lighter work load than to accept terrible projects. Extra free time only means that I have the availability to seek out and accept better paying jobs instead.
Specialize Without Limiting Yourself
My writing niche is health and natural living, and I proclaim it loudly on my Upwork profile. Because of this, lots of clients have directly contacted me with specific requests for jobs. If my profile said something generic like “High Quality Content Writer” I don’t think I’d be approached nearly as much because nothing would stand out from the thousands of other writer profiles. That being said, I take on lots of work that has nothing to do with health and wellness. By niching myself in a field, I ensure that quality clients can find me without limiting the kind of work I do.
You might not know what your writing niche should be, but I’d recommend choosing a few topics and marketing yourself with them. It’s an easy way to stand out from the over-saturated crowd of mediocre writers.
Any Farther Questions?
And that’s what I’ve got! Did I miss anything you want to know about freelance writing? Leave me a message in the comments and I’ll get back to you soon.