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How to Get Started as a Freelance Writer

Updated on January 13, 2014
racetalkblog, Ben Haber
racetalkblog, Ben Haber

Being a freelancer (or “independent contractor”) means you’re working for yourself. You are your own boss! A freelancer produces written content has few different ways of making money from it.


  • Ghostwriting. Some people just aren’t very good at writing. Instead of producing their own written content, they may contract a freelancer (like you) to write a piece for them. As a ghostwriter, you won’t be receiving credit for your writing—only payment. Essentially, these people would be paying you for the right to display your work as their
    own.


  • Usage rights. As a freelance writer, you can produce any kind of written content you like. There really are no limits! If someone likes your writing, he may pay your for the right to use your writing in his publications or on his website. He won’t own your writing (you still hold rights to it), but he is able to use it as he pleases.


  • Advertising. Is your written work receiving web traffic? If so, advertisers may be interested in your work! Freelancers can make money by displaying companies’ advertisements and receiving a cut of the revenue they generate!

mashable.com, Emily Price
mashable.com, Emily Price

How much money can I make?

I won’t sugar-coat it: don’t quit your day job. While it’s true that you don’t have to be a published novelist to make money from writing, freelancing doesn’t provide the stability that a part or full-time job does. Because we freelancers aren’t employees, we don’t earn a salary or an hourly wage. We only generate income when our writing sells…or when the ads we display generate income!

Freelance writing is a very conditional state of work, and it’s hard to be successful at it. Very few freelance writers are actually able to live off the money they make from their writing. Your writing may very will provide you with some extra spending money or take the burden off your grocery bill, but it’s very unlikely that it’ll pay your rent.

Though I’m still pretty new to HubPages, I’ve been seriously pursuing my freelance career for about a year now—mostly through Constant Content. To date, I’ve made a little under $100…hardly enough to pay for my living expenses as a full-time college student! This is why I also have a part-time job.

Your earnings from freelancing will have huge potential to snowball—especially if you’re making money from advertising and affiliate sponsors—but this can take a long time. In the meantime, your time is best spent working a real job. Let freelancing be something you do on the side—not your primary source of income.

How do I get started?

Freelance writing is a very weird semi-profession. You see, nobody willing to spend decent money on your writing will pay you if you have no experience…but many of these same people won't consider you "experienced" unless your writing sells (or perform well, if you’re using ads). Talk about a paradox.

The best way to get started (in my opinion) is to build yourself a portfolio on entry-level sites like HubPages, Squidoo, Bukisa, and Yahoo Voices. These are excellent places for beginners to get a feel for freelance, develop their writing skills, and get some experience!

Eventually, you may want to consider sites like Constant Content (which requires writers to pass a pretty intense grammar and usage test) or Demand Media (which requires writers to submit a résumé and a writing sample). These sites will give you a far greater potential to earn, but you’ll need prior experience to be taken seriously.

freelancefolder.com, Laura Spencer
freelancefolder.com, Laura Spencer

What should I write about?

You can write about anything! That is one of the better perks of being a freelance writer—you’ll never have to adhere to a prompt! But it’s important to realize that not every topic is a “winner”. There are a few basic things you should consider before writing on a topic:


  • Does this topic interest me? It’s important that whatever you’re writing about holds your interest. If you’re bored as you write, you can be assured that readers will feel this same boredom. You’ll be far more successful if you write about something that won’t bore you after the third or fourth written piece. Pick something you feel passionately about!


  • Are others interested in this topic? Naturally, some topics are in higher demand and more frequently searched for. So if the subject you feel passionate about is underwater basket-weaving, you may have a hard time finding people who are interested in your work.


  • Does this topic have a high market value? Some topics are highly valued by advertising companies. Others…not so much. Ad companies will pay you a higher CPM (cost per thousand ad impressions) if they feel that their ads will be very effective when displayed with your writing. This means more money for you!

How do I get traffic?

Whether you’re writing for ad revenue or for direct sales, you won’t see a penny for your work if nobody reads your writing. This is why it’s important to write in a way that will bring internet traffic to your work. This is called “Search Engine Optimization” (or simply SEO). You see, the more “search engine-friendly” your writing is, the higher it will rank in search results.

This has become a significantly harder task in light of new search engine algorithms (namely, Google’s Panda Algorithm). Gone are the days when you could rank high on the first page of results just by jamming hundreds of the same keywords into your writing. Nowadays, it’s quality that sells.

Here are a few simple ways you can assess the quality and search engine-friendliness of your writing:


  • Does your writing sound like a rant? A cheesy car salesman’s pitch? It’s important that your writing reads like it’s of quality. Go through your writing and smooth out any choppy areas and make an effort to write in a conversational, natural way.To help me when I write, I read everything I type out loud. Sometimes we don’t catch things that sound clunky or unnatural until we hear ourselves say them!


  • Is your writing overly-promotional? Crammed with keywords? With today’s new-and-improved search algorithms, keyword-stuffed articles register as low-quality spam and don’t rank very high in search results. Try to keep keyword densities to 2-3%, maximum. Try to avoid excessive linking as well. A few links is fine, but when you’re linking to dozens of other sites in the same piece…that’s just ridiculous.


  • Are your keywords even relevant to your topic? Have you ever seen Password, the TV game show? Picking relevant keywords is kind of similar. Your goal is to think of the keywords that everyone else thinks of when they hear your topic. Go on Google and search things related to your topic. What results come up? Use this to help you decide what keywords are most relevant to your topic.

Go for it!

Once you've decided on a topic (or maybe several topics) and have some draft pieces, get registered on a freelancing site (like the ones I mentioned above) and start writing!

For me, freelance writing is fun, oddly relaxing, and gives me a good challenge...plus it pays! Is there something you feel strongly about? Something that you'd like to share with the world? If so, give freelancing a try! You might enjoy it as much as I do!

All the best,

--TwerkZerker


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    • TwerkZerker profile image
      Author

      TwerkZerker 3 years ago

      You're welcome, Donna! Thanks for the read!

    • DonnaCaprio profile image

      Donna Caprio Quinlan 3 years ago from Newburyport, MA

      Thanks for the great tips! There is a lot to keep in mind when writing freelance, and your article has helped.

    • TwerkZerker profile image
      Author

      TwerkZerker 3 years ago

      Thanks Shamontiel!

      Glad to hear of your success! It really amazes me how some people are able to bounce back and forth like that! Be proud; it's pretty rare that a writer can make a full-time gig out of it! I'm still in college so that won't be me anytime soon! Although, I suppose even if I had the time I'd still lack the discipline, LOL!

      You too, happy writing!

    • profile image

      ShamontielLVaughn 3 years ago

      Good one. I agree with all the tips but one. I've found that writer who are good editors can easily bounce from one to the other to make it a full-time gig. I've done so a couple of times between jobs. People really sleep on transcriptions, which is more editing than anything. I've found jobs that aren't what I already want to do end up being a distraction and I end up writing while on the job. That's not to say one should put all their eggs in one basket but just to say look at the eggs in the basket and figure out which ones should be scrambled, hard-boiled, sunny side-up, etc. Happy writing!

    • TwerkZerker profile image
      Author

      TwerkZerker 3 years ago

      Thanks for reading, Practical Paws!

      I have looked into Elance, but haven't tried oDesk so far. Might have to do a hub about some of those other sites. Constant Content's another one I use, and I like it a lot. It's a little bit harder to sell your writing, but you can easily make $30-50 per article there if you write well (and are lucky enough make a sale).

      Have a great day!

    • Practical Paws profile image

      Debra Hine 3 years ago from Longueuil, Quebec

      Very interesting -- glad to see the honest assessment of the difficulty that a newbie freelance can experience when starting out. Have you looked at some of the opportunities for freelance writers posted on the larger freelance boards, oDesk/Elance? That would probably make another informative hub as well.

    • TwerkZerker profile image
      Author

      TwerkZerker 3 years ago

      Thanks so much, merej99! Happy writing!

    • merej99 profile image

      Meredith Loughran 3 years ago from Florida

      Found you as a Rising Star Candidate! Very interesting read. Very informative. I'm just getting back into writing after many moons. So before I start that novel I've been meaning to write I need to hone my skill and get back into the habit of writing every day. Best of luck to you. :)

    • TwerkZerker profile image
      Author

      TwerkZerker 3 years ago

      Thanks, amietchko! You're certainly welcome!

    • amiebutchko profile image

      Amie Butchko 3 years ago from Warwick, NY

      Loved this interesting and inspiring hub. Lots of good information. Thanks for sharing.

    • TwerkZerker profile image
      Author

      TwerkZerker 3 years ago

      Hi, NRCollins! Thanks for reading!

    • NRCollins profile image

      NRCollins 3 years ago

      Great hub!

    • TwerkZerker profile image
      Author

      TwerkZerker 3 years ago

      Thanks for reading, VKP!

    • VKP profile image

      Vivek Pal 3 years ago from New Delhi

      Nice One !!!!