Freelance writing can be a great way to make money in the gig economy. You can work from anywhere, and all you need is a computer. Plus, with websites needing more and more content to stay current and improve their search rankings, there’s more than enough writing to be done.
So how do you take writing from a hobby to a job? You find someone who will pay for it.
There are many ways to go about finding clients, but for most beginners it’s easiest to start with an online freelancing platform like Upwork or Fiverr. These sites give you access to a wide range of projects at various price points.
The upside of remote work is that you can find projects from all over the world. The downside is that you’re competing against freelancers from all over the world—and the better the gig, the stiffer the competition.
Goal #1, then, is to get past the competition and land your first few writing projects.
Here are some tips to help you get started.
1. Know What Clients Want
To make yourself more appealing to clients, it helps to know what they want. And while their specific needs may vary, most of the requirements come down to three things:
A. Reliability. Once they’ve assigned the project, they can trust that you’ll complete it on time and according to their specifications.
B. Price. Given two identical products, clients would prefer to pay a lower price.
C. Quality. Better writing is, well, better than bad writing.
Every client wants reliability, and being reliable is an easier way to stand out than you might expect. With the anonymity of the internet and the lack of accountability, it’s common for freelancers to drop off without a word and fail to deliver the project. Needless to say, that behavior doesn’t lead to loyal clients.
While reliable freelancers are always preferred, clients differ greatly on how much they value quality versus cost.
If you take your writing seriously, you’ll eventually want to pursue clients who are willing to pay top dollar for your highest-quality work. But when you’re starting out, the “high volume/low standards” clients may be your best bet. Why? Because they offer lots of projects and hire lots of writers, and they don’t require significant experience to get started.
2. Start Small
A freelance career is like a snowball. At first it grows very slowly as you squeeze bits together to make a solid starting point. Once you get the ball rolling, though, you can attract more and more work with less effort.
So how do you start small in freelance? By accumulating a number of gigs that don’t take much time or effort (and accepting that they also don’t pay much).
Regardless of the platform you use to find work, you’re more likely to be noticed and taken seriously once you have experience on that platform.
3. Make it Personal
Freelancers who solicit a lot of work tend to use a template when bidding on a job. This enables them to apply to more jobs quickly, but it also means clients are surrounded by boilerplate text when reviewing their options.
You can stand out amid a sea of bids by personalizing them.
Pick up as much information as you can from the client’s profile and the project posting. Use that information to make a connection.
You’d love to write about horses, perhaps, because you have fond memories of riding at your uncle’s house every summer. Or you’re knowledgeable about internet startups since you took a class about them in college.
Don’t hesitate to admit you’re new to freelance, but show the potential client that your previous jobs or personal life make you a great fit for this project.
4. Bid Low (for now)
Your first few gigs are not about getting paid. They are about laying the groundwork for your business. Think of them as investments, and spend the time you need to do a solid job while charging next to nothing.
Some sites will restrict how little you can charge for your work, but go as low as you can. Remember, your goal is to satisfactorily complete your first few projects. Tell the client you’re offering your services at a promotional rate to build some experience on the platform.
As you build a reputation and a body of work over time, you’ll raise your rates to reflect the value you provide.
5. Find a Niche
It might go against your instincts, but you’ll have more success if you establish a niche for yourself. Maybe you really can write anything, but you’ll fade into the background if you don’t state your specialties. Some platforms allow you to create multiple profiles you can use when bidding on different types of jobs; this can be a good way to handle a variety of projects while still marketing yourself as a specialist.
6. Solicit good reviews.
When you’re new at your freelancing business, good reviews can be worth much more than a good paycheck. Before you apply or bid on a project, look at the client’s history. Have they rated their past freelancers well? Have they left positive feedback? If so, there’s a good chance they’ll do the same for you.
Once you’ve completed a project, if your client hasn’t left a review, you may want to contact them and request one. They’ll be more likely to help you out if you give them an honest positive review, too.
7. Reach out to your network.
If you’ve been collecting LinkedIn connections for years, this is your chance to use them. Let everyone know you’re doing freelance writing now, and give them a link to find you. They may come up with a project that would suit you, or they might pass your name along to a colleague.
8. Be visible.
In order to impress future clients, you’ll need a web presence. Make sure you appear active on your chosen platform, and have a link to a website you update frequently. Make the most of your profile—make sure it shows some personality and appeals to the kind of client you want to attract.
9. Screen and filter.
You may find dozens or hundreds of writing jobs posted, just waiting for you to apply. While you do want to go for volume in the beginning, it helps to target your proposals to the best jobs.
If freelance is your goal and you’re not trying to find a permanent job, screen out long or ongoing projects. Short turnarounds are better when you’re new because they let you experience a variety of clients and projects.
Look for clients who hire a lot of freelancers. Aim for jobs posted recently—if you’re one of the first to apply, you have an automatic edge over latecomers.
And the more local, the better. You can work for people all over the world, but you get preference from clients nearby, especially if the are looking for a native speaker of your language.
10. Stand Out and Overdeliver.
How can you overdeliver on a writing project? First of all, make sure your work is flawless and nicely formatted. That’s not overdelivering; it’s just good work. Next, submit before the deadline. It’s usually a pleasant surprise to the client when the work comes back early.
Another way to make a good impression is to offer a few bonus suggestions: a couple of related blog topics they might want to consider, an alternative introductory paragraph, or a link to a helpful resource, for example.
11. Play the Ratings Game
Do some research into how your chosen platform rates its freelancers and how they appear in searches. If there is a special designation for certain writers, make it a goal to fill all the checkboxes in order to qualify. Look at your profile from another user’s account to see how you appear. The goal is to appear as a preferred freelancer, earning you a better shot at the best jobs as you make progress.
If you can write, you can find work as a writer.
As in so many endeavors, though, success breeds success in freelance writing. Once you have some experience, a portfolio and a good reputation, your opportunities will increase greatly.
You’ll have a shot at better projects. You’ll be able to explore new tools, such as writing-specific content marketplaces like Contently and Scripted. And best of all, past clients and new ones will start to come to you on their own!