A composition notebook, a computer keyboard, and a pair of glasses used when writing a blog

How to become a freelance writer

Coletta Teske Whitehead
Latest posts by Coletta Teske Whitehead (see all)

If you have solid writing skills and want to become a freelance writer, don’t let anything get in your way. The freedom to choose what you write, when you write it, where you write it, and who you write it for is unmatched.

If you thrive on flexibility and desire to be the boss of yourself, the freelance life could be the life for you.

Can you become a freelance writer with no experience?

I’ll give it to you straight. It ain’t easy to start freelancing as an inexperienced writer. I struggled to find enough gigs to pay the bills when I first started. Many new freelance writers rely on a full-time job (or maybe their partner or parents) to survive.

While the road to becoming a freelance writer is long and filled with speed bumps, u-turns, and dead ends, the journey is exciting and might land you in the best place you could ever hope to be.

I’ve had more than my fair share of tough times and spent many months wondering if I could pay the rent. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing. I love the freedom that freelancing gives me. I choose the gigs I want, work the hours I want, and I’m in complete control of my destiny.

My early years may have been rocky, but my freelance writing business has grown to be an enjoyable, profitable, and easy-to-manage one-person show.

I’d like to share the secrets I’ve learned over the years and help you have a smooth ride on this journey to freelance writing success.

A writer's toolbox, including a keyboard, a composition book, and reading glasses.

Follow these 5 steps to become a freelance writer and be your own boss

Freelancing is challenging. But more than that, it’s a risk. First, you’re betting that your writing skills are marketable, you have a writing style that appeals to readers, and your writing talent matches or exceeds the writing skills of other freelance writers.

You’re also betting that you have a great plan, can attract high-quality clients, and have the skills and resources to manage a business.

What is a writing style? Your style is the way you string together words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. One way to further your writing career is to learn the elements of a good writing style and look for ways to improve your style.

Are you curious about style guides, why you should use one, and the popular ones? Check out the Purdue OWL style guide overview.

When your bet pays off, you win big. If becoming a freelance writer doesn’t work for you, you’ve risked and lost your time, maybe a dependable full-time job, and possibly the money you invested in your startup costs.

Before quitting your full-time job, ask yourself these questions to see if you really want to consider freelancing:

  • Do I have the writing skills and innovation to offer clients something they can’t get from other freelance writers?
  • Do I have the management skills to run a business, attract clients, and make a profit?
  • Am I willing to take the risk and work under uncertain conditions?
  • Do I have the confidence to walk into the unknown?
  • Do I understand the needs of my potential clients?

To answer these questions, follow these five steps to put yourself on the right track to becoming a freelance writer.

You’ll start by determining if you can cope with the highs and lows of freelancing, have the skills to run your own business, and have the right attitudes for freelancing. Then, you’ll assess your strengths (and weaknesses) and set goals for your new business.

It’s all about having a plan and making it work.

Consider the good and the bad of becoming a freelance writer

While you may have the skills to make it as a freelance writer, you should be familiar with the pros and cons of the freelance writing business.

Making the switch to freelancing is a wild lifestyle change. If you’ve been an employee of another company, you may enjoy the freedom of choosing your own hours, but you may not like the long hours you’ll put in at the beginning of your career.

The common reasons people choose to become freelance writers include:

  • To be their own boss.
  • To profit from their skills and experience.
  • To work on projects that appeal to them.
  • To enjoy the adventure and new experiences.
  • To use their creativity and test new ideas.
  • To take advantage of tax deductions.
  • To work flexible hours.
  • To avoid dressing up for work.
  • To change a morning commute to a morning walk.

New freelancers quit and find full-time jobs for many reasons. These are just a few:

  • Long hours.
  • No employment benefits or paid time off.
  • Loss of structure.
  • Miss the support of working in an office.
  • Bookkeeping, taxes, and other legal documents.
  • Unpredictable income.
  • Always looking for the next gig or contract.
  • Not enough savings to pay the bills between gigs.

This list is just a quick overview of what to expect when you go out on your own. Freelancing is a risky and rewarding business.

Before you start your freelance business, consider the good and the bad of being a freelancer so that you can prepare for the lifestyle changes it will bring.

Bookkeeping, taxes, and other legal documents. LYFE Accounting discusses the expenses you can deduct on your U.S. tax return. That is, as long as you keep accurate records.

Develop the business management skills needed to become a successful freelance writer

Do you have the characteristics to be self-employed and manage a successful freelance writing business? To find out, look over this list of qualities that are attributed to entrepreneurs and see how you compare:

  • Freelance writers are creative people who sometimes accomplish extraordinary things because they’re passionate about their work.
  • Freelance writers take risks and are optimistic. They work long hours to achieve their goals.
  • Freelance writers are flexible and adjust to changing situations to meet their client’s needs.
  • Freelance writers take pride in their work and strive to deliver excellent content.

Many freelancers start small, usually as a one-person show. They may begin by working as an independent contractor at an agency. Agencies sometimes have large clients, giving the freelancer experience in their industry.

Or, they may be a part-time freelancer who has a short list of high-quality clients. Starting small helps them overcome the hurdles of having limited skills and resources.

No matter how you choose to run your freelancing business, your success depends on how well you manage and grow your business to achieve your vision.

What can you do to increase your odds of being a successful freelancer?

Have a stash of cash. You’ll need some savings to get you through those times when you can’t find work. And when times are good and your income is more than your expenses, add some of that cash to your savings account. You’ll be glad you did.

Find your niche. List the topics you know and the types of clients you want to work with. Look at current trends in your areas of expertise that could further your success. Which of these ideas excites you? Which ones spark your creativity? That’s where you’ll find your niche.

Freelance part-time in the beginning. This is a good way to test the water without giving up a regular paycheck. Juggling two careers may be tough, but it’s good preparation for what lies ahead in your freelance journey.

Get to know your peers. Other freelance writers are not your competition. Get to know other writers who offer similar or complementary services. It’s an effective way to network and grow your business. Plus, you’ll learn from those who’ve been in the business longer than you, and they’ll be a source of ideas and inspiration.

Don’t give up on your dream if you don’t think you have the chops to make it as a freelancer. You can overcome any obstacle with the right mix of planning, perseverance, and creative thinking.

Acquire the right attitudes to be a successful self-employed writer

Successful and not-so-successful freelance writers have certain attitudes that guide how they make business decisions and run their businesses.

These attitudes include how they treat their clients, their eagerness to change and improve, their ability to learn new topics and tasks, and how they manage their time and finances.

Here’s a rundown to help you decide if you’re on the right track or if you need an attitude adjustment:

A strong work ethic. Because you are responsible for your business, you must be willing to put everything you have into doing high-quality work, and that means being self-motivated and adaptable. Always improve your skills, keep up with changes in your industry, and be willing to learn new things.

A professional attitude. This trait is crucial for long-term success. Clients will hire you again and recommend your services to their friends and colleagues if you’re reliable, organized, and deliver high-quality work on time.

Survival instincts. You’ll need a good dose of perseverance to keep your business running when times are tough. All it takes is a lot of motivation and a belief in yourself. Hone your survival skills by setting goals, seeking support from colleagues, and practicing self-care.

Creativity. Writing is a creative art, and all writers experience a creative drain from time to time. When your creativity needs a spark so that you can overcome writer’s block, exercises such as freewriting, brainstorming, and mind mapping will fill your brain with new ideas.

An entrepreneurial mindset. You’re the proud owner of a small business, so it’s essential to act like a successful professional. It takes organization to manage your workload, track your finances, and meet every deadline. You must also be client-focused, a strong communicator, and flexible.

Your head needs to be in the right frame of mind to succeed in the freelancing business. And this list gave you lots to think about. Use this checklist to make sure you start on the right foot.

Look at how you can change your way of thinking so that you have the right attitudes for freelance success.

You can start from zero and be a success. Warren Buffet tells of two people who did just that. While you may not become a millionaire, Buffet shares some wise words on running a client-focused business that provides a comfortable cash flow.

Assess your strengths and weaknesses before going freelance

How do you find out if you’re one of those who can be successful at freelance writing? Assess your strengths and weaknesses by asking yourself a few relevant questions:

Am I a self-starter? You’ll need to develop and follow through on your ideas. And you’ll need to organize your time.

How well do I work with different personalities? You’ll need to develop working relationships with a variety of people, including unreliable vendors and cranky customers.

How good am I at making decisions? You’ll make decisions constantly and often under pressure.

Do I have the emotional and physical stamina to work overtime? Can you handle six or seven or more workdays in a row of as long as twelve hours a day? It may not always be like that, but sometimes you can’t afford to turn away jobs. You may run into a dry patch and need the money from those extra hours to pay the bills.

Can I make a plan and stay organized? If you can’t stay organized, you’ll get swamped by the details. Poor planning results in business failure.

Is my drive strong enough? You’ll need motivation to get through the bad times in your business. Being responsible for your business’s success can cause you to burn out.

How will my business affect my family? Family members need to know what to expect before you begin a business venture. They must be ready for the financial difficulties they’ll face when you aren’t working. And, you and your family may need to adjust to a more modest standard of living.

Be ready for rejection. Jiang Jang, author of Rejection Proof, offers advice on overcoming your fear of rejection. Handling rejection helps you cope with emotional challenges and stay motivated.

Set the goals you want to accomplish after you become a freelance writer

Now it’s time to examine your motives before committing your time, energy, and resources to starting a new freelancing career. Ask yourself these questions:

What is my goal in starting a business? Do you want to make more money than your full-time job? Is choosing your writing projects and clients important to you? Or, is it to stretch your creativity? Maybe it’s something else.

What are my life goals? Visualize what your life will be like in 10 years. Describe it in detail concerning your relationships, work, location, and leisure time.

Does running a business fit in with my life goals? When you freelance, you may need to give up a few things, like a steady income or a vacation. Decide how freelancing could affect your present lifestyle and what you want for your future.

Take time when answering these questions. This self-assessment shows if your entrepreneurial skills and attitudes are ready to launch your freelance writing business. You’ll also discover which areas need more work before you’re ready to freelance.

A close-up of a keyboard.

So, you’ve made the choice to become a freelance writer. What’s next?

You’ve answered all the questions, evaluated your skills and attitudes, and decided that now’s the time to start your freelance career. What do you do next?

Write a business plan

Your first step is to plan your strategy and write your business plan. But, to get the most out of your business plan, you’ll want answers to questions like these:

  • How do I develop my business idea?
  • How do I go about planning a business?
  • How do I put together a marketing plan?
  • How do I increase the likelihood that I’ll succeed?

To keep your business on track and meet your freelancing goals, develop a plan that includes all the elements needed to become an entrepreneurial success.

Research jobs, target clients, and land gigs

After the planning is done, it’s time to target your prospective clients and land your first freelance writing gig, and your next gig, and the next, and so on, until you retire. (Yes, it’s a never-ending cycle.)

Before you start your search, get yourself and your marketing materials ready. As you put these items together, make sure your materials match the types of jobs and clients that fit your skills and goals.

Then, while networking and interviewing for jobs, schedule time for yourself to recharge your enthusiasm and keep your energy high. And when you’re chosen for the position, be ready to negotiate for the rate you deserve.

The most important thing for you to do after you start on a project is to put everything you have into it. A happy client is a repeat client. Plus, they’ll recommend you to their business contacts. Win, win!

Practice good project management

One way to make sure your new clients become repeat clients is to manage your projects like a professional. Applying project management best practices to your writing projects will help you plan and complete your projects smoothly and efficiently.

Plus, when you set goals and milestones, you’ll be a more productive writer, meet all your deadlines (this one is crucial, missing a deadline can ruin your reputation), and be offered better projects at a higher rate.

To keep your projects on schedule and make sure you deliver the content your clients want, follow these project management best practices:

  • Define the scope of the work and when it’s due.
  • Determine your client’s expectations.
  • Plan and organize the writing project.
  • Prioritize teamwork and communication.
  • Manage your time and costs effectively.
  • Put quality before everything else.

You don’t need a complex or fancy system to stay on top of your projects. 6 Figure Creative shares an easy way to always know a project’s status and what needs to be done.

Improve your sales and marketing skills

To get your freelance journey off to a good start and keep a steady stream of new clients coming in the door, take your marketing game up a notch by honing your sales skills. Your sales skills are essential to finding new clients and selling products related to your writing business.

You have many avenues for selling your services and products:

  • Set up a website and attract clients through search engine optimization and search engine marketing.
  • Take your marketing efforts to social media and share your talents and knowledge.
  • Consider affiliate marketing to create a passive income.

Successful sales and marketing professionals share common traits. You’ll need sales and marketing skills to maintain a steady cash flow and provide you with a comfortable retirement.

A writer's desk with pen, planner, keyboard, and decorations.

Enjoy your freelance writing business. And, write on!

Anyone who goes into business for the money alone may be in for a rude awakening. Are you ready to work longer hours and receive less pay than your full-time job? That’s the kind of dedication it takes to get a new freelancing business up and running.

But the rewards in terms of work satisfaction can be significant. You may be surprised at how your job satisfaction improves after you go freelance. Over time, you’ll find you’re better off working for yourself.

If you learned something new from this article, please share it with your friends so that they can learn something new, too!