How to start freelancing
being a writer

How to Start Freelancing: A Step-by-Step Guide

I’ve been doing freelance writing for a year and a half now, and in that time, I’ve gotten a lot of questions on how to get started with freelance work. So I thought, why not make a blog post with all the details for anyone else who might be wondering? This post will take you through the step-by-step process I went through to get started, but it will also include warnings to help you avoid the mistakes I made (lucky you!)

* Disclaimer: This is not an affiliate/sponsored post. Any products
or web services that I recommend are just really good, useful tools.
I make no money if you decide to use these tools yourself. *

1. Create an Online Portfolio

If you’ve never done freelance work before (or if you’ve never done any professional writing before), DO NOT PANIC. You can still totally put together a portfolio. Take a deep breath, and read on my friend.

An online portfolio is an excellent way to help you get freelancing jobs. First, it shows employers that you take writing seriously and have been writing long enough to develop some real skills. Second, it makes you seem more professional to have a portfolio of your work. And finally, it allows employers to peruse your writing to see if your style will fit with what they’re looking for.

Okay, great, you need a portfolio, but like…how?? Well, here’s how not to do it.

Warning: Avoid This Mistake

I created my first profile at 5 am after a series of all-nighters as a
way to put off finishing my thesis in my senior year of college. I
panicked over tiny details like fonts and colors, and the whole process took
me hours longer than it should have. It’s far better to create your
portfolio in a calm, well-rested environment if at all possible. That way,
you can focus on making the important decisions, like what types of
writing to include.

Okay, back to how you should do things. Start by collecting any and all samples of your work that could demonstrate your skills. These do not need to be professional samples if you haven’t done that kind of work yet, but they should be high quality. If you’re looking to write website content or blog posts, try to include essays that you’re proud of from school (but please read back through and make any and all possible improvements). You can also write new material. If you want to write blog posts for others, write a sample blog post to include in your portfolio. Anything that can give potential employers a taste of your writing style should be in the running for inclusion in your portfolio.

Once you have some samples, you need to find a way to create your portfolio online. There are a lot of options out there that run the gamut from highly intensive to relatively simple. Personally, I use Clippings.me, a site specifically designed to host professional portfolios. The basic version is free, and it allows you to upload up to 16 pieces of your work. It looks professional, and it’s incredibly easy to update if you end up landing some jobs and want to add new content that’s officially been published.

2. Set Up Profiles on Freelancing Sites

Okay, step two! Once you have a profile to share with potential employers, it’s time to go out and find those employers. Luckily, there are several established freelance sites designed to help you do just this. Personally, I use Craigslist/jobs, Upwork, and Guru, and I’ve found some amazing opportunities through all three sites. But you can’t just send out quotes willy-nilly. Before accepting your quote, they will almost definitely check out your profile to make sure you aren’t a bot, so your first step is to create a profile. Each site differs slightly, but generally speaking, you will need a professional-looking photo, a resume, a brief description of your skills, and what you charge for those skills. You can Google what passes for a professional photo and resume, and you know how to describe what you can do, but you won’t find a clear-cut explanation of what to charge.

Warning: Avoid This Mistake

There are a lot of ways to determine what to charge for your freelance
writing services, but one way you don’t want to do it is tell yourself
you’ll just accept anything. There are people out there willing to
completely take advantage of amateur freelancers, paying as little as .01
per word. If you’re doing this for fun and can afford to accept
absolutely atrocious payment, then that’s fine, but know ahead of time
if that’s the case for you. If you need this as a source of income, you
just have to bone up and stand up for the price you have to charge.

3. Determine Your Rate

The rate you charge will depend on a lot of factors, a few of which I’ve outlined below:

  • Your educational experience
  • Your professional experience
  • The level of technical expertise required to do the job
  • The income you need from this job
  • How long the job will take you

The more experience you have, both educationally and professionally, the more you should charge. Not because you can, but because you have put in the time to get better at this, and that makes you more valuable than someone with less experience. That doesn’t mean you have to accept a pittance if you don’t have much experience, though.

You should also consider how much technical experience you have for each specific job. For instance, early on in my freelancing career, I landed a job writing blog posts about acne because I have a background in research and I’ve had acne for a decade. My experience in this area and my research expertise made me more valuable, so I charged more for my time.

The key is to respect your professional time while also considering your employer’s budget. You don’t want to start with a price so high that it scares them away. But you also don’t want to undersell yourself. The exact price you charge will differ from person to person and job to job, but generally speaking, here are my rules of the trade:

  • Never charge less than $10/hour or $10 per 1000 words unless you have zero experience and need super cheap, crappy jobs to build up your resume.
  • Charge by the hour for research-heavy tasks. If you charge by the word, then your employer isn’t paying you for the massive amount of time you’re going to spend looking things up in order to write a quality piece.
  • Charge by the word for editing or for writing fluff pieces that you don’t need to do much research on. Basically, charge based on what the majority of your effort is going into.
  • Up your rate for highly technical jobs where you have significant experience. You are a valuable asset for them, and they should pay you like it.

4. Start Applying for Jobs

You’re finally ready to actually apply to some jobs! I know it was a long time getting here, but all your prep work is going to pay off, trust me. People who post job listings for freelancers get tons of responses from bots or people applying en masse to every job on the site, regardless of whether or not they can actually do it. Your quote, with a legitimate profile and portfolio attached to it, will definitely stand out. But there are a few other things you can do to stand out:

  • Address the person by name if a name is provided with the job listing. This shows an attention to detail that most employers look for in a freelance writer.
  • Tailor each quote to each specific job. This is time consuming, and it’s tempting to just send out a general template quote to every job, but I promise that employers pay more attention to quotes that are clearly tailored for their job.
  • One way to do this is to pay very close attention to the job listing itself. Read it carefully, then read it carefully again. Make sure you know exactly what you’re applying for and what skills the employer is looking for, and make sure your quote shows off your abilities in those areas.
  • This last tip isn’t for everyone, and not for every job, but I think it helps to make your quote sound like you, even if it makes it somewhat informal. It gives the employer a sense of who you are, it makes you seem like a real person instead of just one more message in their flooded inbox. This is how I’ve landed nearly all of my freelancing jobs.

5. Follow-Up & Negotiate

Once you apply to the jobs, it’s tempting to just sit back and wait for the responses to come rolling in. Sadly, that’s not usually how this works. On average, if I send out to 10 jobs, I will hear back from three and maybe land one job. To a certain extent, freelancing is a numbers game. You’ve got to apply to a lot to work a lot.

Once you’ve sent a quote out, give the employer two business days to respond. If you haven’t heard from them by then, reach out again. Politely ask if they’ve had a chance to look over your proposal, and reiterate how excited you are to work on this project together. Thank them for their time and say that you look forward to speaking with them soon, and leave it at that. If you don’t hear back from them after another two business days, you can reach out once more if you like, but odds are that it’s a dead end.

Try not to stress too much about these scenarios. They are going to happen a lot, and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with your writing, your quote, or anything about you. Maybe the project got canned but they forgot to take down the job listing. Maybe the job is spam and no one was ever going to respond. Maybe the absolute perfect candidate applied and just beat you out. It happens, and the less time you spend freaking out about it, the more time you can spend applying to (and landing) other jobs.

If they do respond, then that’s great! Many times, employers will give you some kind of sample work to see if you’re a good fit. Before completing this task, make sure they will pay you for your time. Even though it’s just a sample, you are using your professional time to do it, and they should compensate you for that. Any legitimate employer will not see this as greedy or anything, and many will discuss payment upfront.

They next step in the process is actually getting the job and coming to terms that work for both you and the employer. Your rate was almost definitely included in your quote (it’s a required section for both Guru and Upwork) so they already know that, but they may offer you something different. If it’s higher, great, but often it will be lower. If this is the case, decide if it’s even worth negotiating with this person. If your quoted rate is $30/hour and they offered you $5, odds are you will not get them up to a rate that works for you. But if they quoted you $20/hour, you might be able to get them up to $25, which could work.

Warning: Avoid This Mistake

Make sure you know exactly how and when they are going to
pay you. Do not, like me, accept terms that have you work for a
full month before getting paid, because odds are you will never get paid.
If you want to read about that horror story from my past, you can check
out my post, My Experience Working for a Bot for a Month, as Told By GIFs.

6. Manage Your Time

The final step in freelance writing is simply learning to manage your time. I have a whole separate post about how I typically spend my days as a freelancer (A Day in the Life of a Full-Time Freelancer), but that was before I had a son. If you’re a parent trying to take care of your kids and write at the same time, stay tuned for a future post all about that whole new level of time management.

Ta-da! You made it! I know this can seem a little daunting, heaven knows I didn’t handle all of these steps very well myself, but I think it would have been a bit easier if I’d had a post like this to guide me. I sincerely hope this helps other people get started with freelance because I think it’s an excellent way to make money from home or make some extra money on the side. If you give it a shot, please let me know how it goes in the comments!

6 thoughts on “How to Start Freelancing: A Step-by-Step Guide”

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