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How to Become a Freelance Writer (With No Experience)
Wondering how to start freelance writing? Here's how I became a freelance writer with almost no experience, and some tips to help you get started.
Becoming a freelance writer wasn’t easy, but it really changed my life for the better. It allowed me to spend more time at home with my kids, to lead a more balanced and fulfilling life, and to feel the spark for my chosen profession again.
If you have a college degree or a solid career, odds are good that you could pivot to writing about it online (AKA, content marketing), from the comfort of your own home - and making darn good money to boot. One of the perks of living in the Internet age!
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Here’s how I became a full-time, work-from-home freelance content writer, along with my 7 best tips for moms who are just getting started on this freelancing journey.
How I Became a Content Writer
Before I landed my first high-paying writing job, I had dabbled in freelance writing as a side hustle off-and-on for years.
Unfortunately, it was mostly for content farms that paid a few bucks per article - but it did help me pay a couple of bills during college. Still, after I had a terrible experience with a content farm that expected their freelancers to move mountains for $25, I stepped away from writing for several years.
By the time I got back into writing, I had graduated and was fully enmeshed in my career as a registered dietitian. I had one child and we were moving to a new state, and I stumbled across an ad on Facebook: a major health website was looking for registered dietitian writers. The pay was $200-$400 per article.
I whipped up a couple of pieces for the application, but was crushed to be short-listed. If I recall correctly I made it to the final four, but only three people were being hired.
Then I forgot about it, to be honest. But about a year later, in March 2019, I got - as cliché as it sounds - an email that would change my life forever.
The website needed one more writer, and they had saved my contact info. I was in.
I learned so much about writing good content during those first few months at this website. But I was happy to view it only as a side hustle. It generated a little extra spending money, and made me feel excited about being an RD again.
One day a few months after I started working with them, I logged into my extremely neglected LinkedIn page. I was shocked to find that my inbox was full of people offering me new writing opportunities and wanting to connect with me about their brand - all because I had a byline on this major website.
That’s when the wheels started turning. I never realized this whole world of online work, content marketing, and freelance writing existed - but that day, my eyes were opened to all the possibilities before me.
Within a few weeks, I had developed a plan: I was going freelance! This was in November 2019.
I hustled really, really hard for a few months. I’ll admit, writing for a large, well-known site made it a lot easier for me to get more work. That’s why I consider that first gig my “big break.” And when COVID hit in 2020, my business exploded - everyone needed health and fitness content, and they needed A LOT of it.
I was able to quit my job in August of 2020.
Since then, I’ve been happily freelancing - making anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000 per month (with one or two stray 5-figure months thrown in there).
The thing is, my story isn’t a one-in-a-million one. A lot of the dietitians in my “writing cohort” (who were getting started writing at the same time as me) have become equally successful, or even more successful than me.
7 Steps to Get Started Freelance Writing
If you’re ready to start making moves towards working on your own terms, here are 7 steps to help you define your goals, choose your niche, and score your first assignments.
1. Figure Out Your “Quit-My-Job Number”
How much money would you need to make each month to live comfortably as a freelancer?
It’s not quite as simple as “Oh, my typical paycheck is X, so I just need to be able to replace that.”
In fact, it’s best to work backwards to arrive at the right number.
First, calculate your yearly expenses, including bills, groceries, eating out, random things that come up only a few times a year (property taxes, oil changes, tag renewals, pest control, etc), vacations, Christmas gifts…. absolutely everything that you know you will spend money on within the course of a year. If you will need to purchase health insurance, make sure to include this - because it can be a big expense if you don’t get it through an employer.
Divide this number by 12. This is how much money you absolutely need per month.
If your partner brings in a consistent monthly income, you can subtract their monthly take home pay from this number to arrive at how much you’ll need to provide from freelancing.
BUT we’re not done yet. You’ll also want to consider savings and unexpected costs. A good rule of thumb for this is 10%, but if you’re closer to retirement age you might want to be more aggressive with your savings.
So, take your monthly expense number that you’ve already calculated, and multiply it by 1.1 to account for 10% savings.
But guess what?
We’re still not done.
Uncle Sam’s gotta get paid, too. I shuttle 25% of my money straight to a separate tax savings account, where I make my estimated tax payments from each quarter.
So, multiply your number by 1.25 to account for taxes.
Optionally, if you pay tithes, you can multiply your number by 1.1 after adding in taxes, which would add the 10% gross income tithe.
So in summary:
Total yearly expenses / 12 = monthly expenses
Optional step: Monthly expenses - spouse’s monthly take home pay = your share of monthly expenses
Monthly expenses x 1.1 = Monthly expenses and savings
Monthly expenses and savings x 1.25 = Monthly expenses/savings/taxes
Optional step: Monthly expenses/savings/taxes x 1.1 = Monthly expenses/savings/taxes/10% tithe
Voila! This is how much you NEED to make each month as a freelancer. This is your goal number, and now you’ve got that tangible amount to work your way up to.
My number was $6,000.
Now let’s talk about how to get there.
2. Identify Your Niche
Next, it’s time to figure out your niche. Neesh or nitch, however you pronounce it, it’s important to have one - they’re where the money is!
However, when you first start writing, there’s nothing wrong with choosing a really generalized niche. For example, as a registered dietitian, my niche was nutrition. Extremely broad, but still a good fit for my education and skills.
It’s a good idea to start with your degree/career. For the most part, if you make money doing it outside the home, you can make money writing about it from home.
I found a list of the most common occupations for women from the US Department of Labor, and then narrowed it down to careers that likely require a college degree (or at least several years of experience). Here they are, along with a broad beginner niche that may work for you if you happen to work in that field:
Human resources: business
Education administration: education
Social work: public health
Remember, as you progress as a writer you’ll likely drill down into a more specific niche where you make most of your money, but it’s perfectly all right to take jobs outside of your niche too.
For example, I occasionally do tech reviews and children’s product reviews, and I regularly write about beauty and mental health too - it keeps things interesting!
3. Connect With Others
The best thing I ever did for my freelance career was join a Facebook group for writers in my niche. (FYI, if you happen to be a dietitian, it’s Ana Reisdorf’s “RDs Who Write” group.)
It connected me with tons of other writers in my niche at all experience levels, introduced me to my mentor Ana, got me a few jobs here and there, and really ignited my whole career.
I’m no longer on any social media except LinkedIn, but the writing groups I was in on Facebook are what I miss most. If you’re on Facebook, I recommend joining Jennifer Goforth Gregory’s “The Freelance Content Marketing Writer” group, as well as any writing groups in your niche.
4. Create an Online Presence
You don’t need a website when you first get started, but you do need some kind of online presence. A LinkedIn page is perfect. Make sure it’s as complete as possible, and include “[your niche] writer” in your headline. As you get published pieces, share them on your page.
If you need online writing samples to share with prospective clients, you can even create posts on LinkedIn.
Over time, you may decide you need a website. But it’s not a necessity, and it’s so easy to get bogged down in the details. I spent hours and hours crafting my website (which got no traffic), and eventually just paid someone to redo the whole thing anyway.
5. Use Job Boards to Gain Experience
To be perfectly honest, these don’t tend to be the most high quality or high paying jobs. But they can be important stepping stones. A lot of my early work was through Upwork and a client that I found on Problogger. I accepted rates that were lower than I wanted, and in return got tons of experience.
If you develop a really standout Upwork profile and do good work, you can become Top Rated pretty quickly and then you’ll get invited to more and better paying jobs. I was able to earn Top Rated after completing just a few assignments, and that rank made it much easier to get more work. I haven’t touched Upwork in a long time, but it was invaluable early on.
6. Pitch Constantly
Keep a running list of every business (small, large, and in-between) in your niche that you’d be interested in pitching your services to, and send a personalized email to their marketing or content director offering your services. Here’s a great guide on how to write that brief introduction email.
Most of them won’t reply, and some might respond without offering you any work, but a few of them are going to have some work for you. They’ll also have your contact info and may remember your name when they do have content needs (which is why you should follow up regularly).
I hated cold pitching, to be honest with you. And I probably didn’t do enough of it. But, that work landed me a good entrepreneur client who has approached me several times offering content assignments for his new businesses. It also got me some very consistent work for a content marketing agency, at a decent rate for a new writer. I actually did a guest post on the The Freelance Content Marketing Writer blog about my cold pitching experiences in 2020, if you’re interested in reading.
Eventually, you will reach a point in your career where the clients come to you. When I come across opportunities that I’m interested in, I may apply if there is space in my schedule. But the vast majority of my work now comes from people who sought me out - and they pay the best, too.
7. Be Over-the-Top Confident
Finally, and most importantly in my opinion, you need to be ridiculously, absurdly confident that the freelance life will work for you and that your business will take off.
There’s a lot of hurry up and wait involved in building your freelance business. For me, things happened in waves. After what seemed like a period of stagnation, I’d get several new prospects all at once. Honestly, it still works that way for me - the freelance rule of three, maybe?
You have to keep investing in yourself during those waiting periods, without letting it shake your confidence. But where can you get that confidence from?
In my case, I knew that God placed this desire to be home on my heart for a reason. I prayed hard, put in the work, and trusted that He would make this happen for me. I dealt with a lot of imposter syndrome in those early months, so my confidence was (and still is) in God much more than myself.
But even if you’re not religious, you need to find a wellspring of confidence that you can draw on when you’re feeling low. A lot of the writing experts I followed when I started my business recommended keeping a record of your wins - new clients, glowing feedback, business breakthroughs, etc. - that you could easily read over on down days.
I was also fortunate that my husband believed in me every step of the way, to the point that he didn’t even blink when I invested nearly $1,500 in courses during those first few months when I was hustling to get to my “quit my job” number. (Those courses paid off in dividends… which I’ll discuss in a later post, I’m sure.) Having my partner and best friend’s unwavering support helped me to feel more confident in myself, too.
Here’s how to get into freelance writing:
Work backwards to find your “quit-my-job number.” That’s how much money you need to make each month to survive as a freelancer (plus a little cushion money).
Choose a broad niche based on your degree and career experience. Specialization can come later, after you have some writing experience under your belt.
Connect with other writers in your niche and experienced freelance writers. Facebook and LinkedIn are great for this.
Have a landing page to direct potential clients to, with samples of your work. A website isn’t necessary, but a complete LinkedIn page (optimized to reflect that you are a writer) is a really good option.
Use job boards to get your first assignments. They may be at a lower rate than you’re aiming for long term, but it’s vital to get some experience under your belt.
Send lots of pitch emails. Most of them won’t go anywhere, but just one “yes” can be huge for your new freelance writing business.
Be irrationally confident that you’ll succeed. Slow periods are to be expected, but you can’t let them sap your enthusiasm. Keep pitching, applying, networking, and preparing samples, and it will pay off!
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