What You Need to Get Started As a Freelance Writer
I’ve received so many questions on how to get started as a freelance writer that I wrote a whole book on it, How To Start Your Freelance Career From Scratch: No money, no contacts, no problem. But I still hear excuses from would-be and wannabe writers, who say they just don’t have what they need in place right now to get started.
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You need less than you think you do. So I’ve decided to address that in five bullet points. Here’s what you really need to get started as a freelance writer:
I’m in love with my Mac Book Air. It’s the choice of professional writers everywhere. But any computer will do. Your clients will have no idea how fancy your hardware is (or isn’t), and you can upgrade as you earn more (and write off the cost of your computer for tax purposes if you use it mainly for work). I haven’t had a desktop computer for years. A laptop is fine and you can take it everywhere and work on the go.
Word processing software
I use Microsoft Word, even though I work on a Mac, because almost every client I’ve ever worked with is happy to work with Word files, but Pages (which is standard on every Mac) doesn’t work for every client. The only exception to working with Word (for me) is that some clients like me to work with Google docs, especially when a team is collaborating on a project. The good news? If you have a (free) Google account, you have (free) access to Google docs.
In-depth knowledge about your chosen writing specialty
Successful freelance writers specialise. You want to choose a niche and go after clients in that niche. To start with, your knowledge of a niche area may be even more important than your writing skills. When you have little in your portfolio to impress a new client, your background, experience or credentials in the topic you’re writing about may be what lands you the gig.
You’ll also need to be knowledgeable about your chosen writing formats. If you specialize in writing blog posts then you need to know how blog writing differs from other types of writing. If you specialize in sales copy then you need to know how to write a good sales page. You can study this yourself (by reading about 1000 great blog posts or sales pages) or take a shortcut with a little education and training (see below).
A way to get clients (and get paid by them)
You can sign up for freelance jobs site like Upwork, Guru and Freelancer, but I don’t necessarily advise it. The best way to get clients is always to pitch them directly. Download my free resource list Freelance Writing Markets That Pay Writers to find a ton of markets that pay freelance writers (complete with direct links to their guidelines) or invest in a solid resource like Writer’s Market.
Many clients will have their own invoicing system, but for those that don’t, sign up for a Paypal Business account. It’s free to set up, although Paypal transaction charges can be a little high. Personally I find it’s worth it to be able to bill clients easily and quickly through the Paypal Business invoicing system, and to have the security of not having to give out bank details to clients. Your Paypal fees should also be tax deductible once you start making money.
A little education/training
You can spend a little or a lot on your freelance writing education, and if you commit to a few good quality training programs, you’ll generally find your investment pays off. You could start with something as simple and affordable as my “Get Started” ebook, or invest in a high-quality online course. The best I know of right now? Write Your Way to 1K. Check it out here.
If you’re writing mainly for blogs and online markets, I’d also recommend Blog Writer’s Bootcamp. On a tight budget? My Freelance Writer’s Success Kit includes a 15 Days To Better Writing Skills guide – 15 easy daily lessons, each delivered as a one-page breakdown of a topic, with an exercise to help build your writing skills. The exercises even help you produce writing samples you can submit to publications or add to your portfolio. Get the entire kit half-price when you subscribe to my newsletter). You can also put together a self-study program based purely on books (start with my 30+ books for writers and publishers – your local library might have some of these on their shelves).
- A website – I explain how to build a freelance writing website in this post.
- A blog – A niche blog is a great way to build a body of work in your specialist area, but it’s not essential.
- An online presence – I talk about how important an online presence is in this post, but you can build it as you go.
- A portfolio – As you get work published online, slowly build a freelance portfolio to showcase it.