How to Become a Freelance Writer – A Dozen Tips for Success

Think you can write? I can’t tell you how often we hear people wanting to know how to become a freelance writer. More often than not those inquisitive minds are beginners wanting to break into the freelancing world and think their writing skills will take them there.

Do you envision yourself at a coffee shop, espresso and laptop in front of you, diligently writing about your favorite topics? Do you see your bank account growing because people are actually paying you to write for them?

If that is your dream, but you have no idea how to become a freelance writer, we have some things you need to know to get started.

How to Become a Freelance Writer Online (and keep your sanity)

Being a freelancer comes with challenges. No dreams come true without hard work – and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes patience, dedication, and perseverance.

1. Building your Portfolio

Any potential client will want to see your work. Your portfolio will tell them if you are a fit for their writing needs. Samples of your work are not an option – they are mandatory.

You might be surprised all the places where you can build a portfolio. Does your church or kid’s school have a newsletter? Ask to write for it. They are probably looking for help.

Non-profits are another place to where you can reach out. Be upfront. Tell them you want to build your portfolio and are willing to write for them no charge. Don’t be shy either. Ask them for a testimonial when you are finished. This could turn into a paying gig too, because non-profits do often pay for copywriting and content.

Your local newspaper is another place to get started. Write a letter to the editor about a topic that brings out the passionate side of you. Getting published there is often easier than you might think.

Blog it

Blogging is perhaps the best way to showcase your work. Building a website to house your blog is pretty easy too. WordPress themes make the basics fairly simple. We’ll touch more on the basics of that in a future post. It can be done relatively cheap too. If you really want to know how to become a freelance writer, this is a critical step.

portfolio blog

Choose a topic that inspires you to make writing come more naturally. What do you dream of? What are your hobbies? Here are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

  • Organic gardening
  • Car collections
  • Raising kids
  • Gluten-free cooking
  • Sports memorabilia
  • Arts and crafts
  • Physical fitness and training
  • Traveling on a budget

Go Web 2.0

If you aren’t ready to go with a full-blown website for your portfolio, web 2.0 sites are an alternative — and there are plenty from which to choose.

One of the newest places to publish articles … and one of our favorites, is LinkedIn Pulse. If you don’t have a LinkedIn account, run to your nearest web browser and set one up. It can help you in many ways.

Other sites to publish your writing accomplishments include:

  • Hubpages.com
  • Medium.com
  • Newsvine.com
  • Tumblr.com
  • Tinypress.co

2. Writing for the Internet means Grabbing (and keeping) Attention

You only have a few seconds to engage your reader. Do it quickly, within the first sentence. Starting with a question, statistic, or a witty saying or quote, can do the trick.

Writing for the internet is not the same as the essays you wrote in your English 101 class. People online are incredibly impatient. If paragraphs go on and on with seemingly no end you will lose your readers before they even take their first sip of coffee.

There's a big difference. Writing for the internet is not like your English 101 class… Click To Tweet

Keep paragraphs no longer than four lines (as in a typical Word doc). Use headings frequently to making scanning the article easy. Short paragraphs with bolded words can create a dramatic effect and urge the reader on.

We can’t emphasize enough how important your title is, so don’t rush it. Taking the extra time for an intriguing title can mean tons more viewers. A well thought out title will reach a variety of types of readers, including those that might not have noticed your article at all.

A particularly well phrased title can increase the appeal of your article and reach different types of readers who might not have otherwise taken the time to notice your article.

Construct a clear, descriptive title.  In search engine terms, the title of your article is the most interesting element.

Source: AmericanEthnologist.com

3. Spread the Word

Once you have some of your writing online, start spreading the word. Share it on your Facebook account, Twitter, or whatever your favorite social media accounts are. Let the world know you’re a writer.

4. Know Search Engine Optimization

Are you serious? Do you really want to know how to become a freelance writer? Then you most definitely need to understand SEO (search engine optimization).

Yes, writing for the internet is different. Writing with the search engines in mind is also key. It is going to be on the minds of almost all of your clients, so you better understand how it works.

Although Google has made keyword stuffing a no-no, writing for specific keywords and phrases is still applicable. You need to know how to naturally insert keywords into your writing. You will want them in your title, headings, and throughout your work. A good rule of thumb is for keywords to be around 1-2% of your article. Some say 3% but that can be a bit overwhelming.

There are plenty of writers on Fiverr and Upworks that are willing to write keyword focused articles for a penny a word. Don’t be that guy. Be the quality writer that can provide optimized articles that are professional and attract traffic.

5. Ask for Feedback

You might think your work is perfect. But one of the most important things to know about how to become a freelance writer is what others think about your writing.

However, be prepared to take both praise and criticism. If you are willing to graciously accept praise and wallow in your success, you also have to be able to take criticism and learn from it. Think carefully about any negative feedback you get and examine how you can do better. It might be tough to take, but it can only help you on your path to freelance success.

6. Know Styles, Proper Grammar, and Punctuation

If you’ve never heard of an Oxford comma (there’s one right above here) or dangling prepositions, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a freelance writer. But it does mean you have some learning to do.

Great debates have been about the Oxford comma. Do you use it? #OxfordComma Click To Tweet

Different writing jobs often require different writing styles and format like AP style and Chicago style.  You may have to switch between the two on different assignments. Although the differences can be small, they are significant. Distinctions can be in punctuation, ways to write numbers, ellipses, dashes, and abbreviations.

Knowing the different styles and how and when to use them will take your writing (and pay) level up a few notches.

7. It’s not all Rainbows, Lollipops, and Sunshine

So writing is your passion. You love arranging the words that make a beautiful representative of your favorite subject. But if you really want to know how to become a freelance writer you need to face the facts that you are probably going to be writing about some topics that aren’t exactly fun.

To be an online freelance writer, the jobs you take are going to be about subjects that you may not know (or care) a lot about. It is going to take research … and it might be pretty boring, at that.

Can you commit to writing about printing presses, bariatric vitamins, air conditioners, or exterminators? If you can’t, you need to rethink a freelance career, especially at the beginning when as a beggar you can’t be a chooser.

8. A Working Environment that is Conducive to Focusing

If you are working at home, like most freelancers do, it is mandatory to have your own area to work. The kitchen table, with the kids running wild, and TV blaring, is probably not the right place.

If you don’t have room for a separate office, carve out a place in your bedroom or living room. You can still stay organized by keeping paperwork neatly under your bed, on bookshelves, or in your closet. Trust me, it can be done.

freelancer at home

As long as you can concentrate and get your work done, you’ll be surprised at all the areas where you can work. Get comfy on the sofa, work in the backyard, or put your feet up on your bed and lean back on your pillows. As long as you can concentrate, you should be good to go.

9. When the Home Office Becomes a Burden

Working at home can be lonely. If your time spent at home becomes too constricted and isolated, get out! Go to a coffee shop. Most have Wi-Fi now. They have become the de facto workplace for many freelancers that can’t take the remoteness of being at home all the time. Be a part of that community.

If the weather permits, go to a park. You might not have Wi-Fi, but you can still write without it. Don’t forget to charge your laptop and devices before heading out. If weather doesn’t permit, try your closest library.

10. Set a Schedule

Working from home and being a freelancer means you have certain freedoms that those nine to fivers do not. But it still pays to set your own schedule. If you have always been a night owl. No problem. Work through the night. If morning is the time when you are most alert, start early and stop early.

Try to be consistent, but relish in the fact that you can take off for special appointments, and occasions.

11. How to become a Freelance Writer with help from a Mentor

Just like your favorite teacher that you visited years after you left that grade, having a mentor can be a huge help for your freelancing career.

Mentors can locate your weaknesses and tell you how to fix them. They can help you turn negatives into positives. They may notice things that never even crossed your mind.

But a mentor is so much more than just a writing guide. Especially relevant is that a good mentor will help you with your career. They can help you with how to start your business, how to deal with unruly clients, and how to manage your finances.

12. Be Motivated

Being a freelancer takes discipline and motivation. You won’t find work by sitting on your rear end waiting for jobs to magically appear in your inbox. You must have the motivation to pursue and find clients. If you aren’t a self-starter, you are better off working nine to five at the bank. It’s that simple.

You have to be confident in your skills too. You’re selling yourself so your sales pitch must reflect your belief in yourself.

According to FreelancersUnion.org, one in three Americans are working as a freelancer. If you’re ready to jump on the freelancer band wagon, check out our Freelancer Survival Training. You’ll learn more important details about how to become a freelance writer.