Freelance writing is fun, challenging, and deeply rewarding. I love (almost) every minute!
Because I’m a prolific writer, I get asked quite a lot of questions from freelancers. All want to know how to get started earning as a professional copywriter.
Rather than replying to everyone individually (which is getting harder and harder for me to find time to do) I’ve written up these tips and guidelines for you to follow as you get started.
As you may already know, I’ve been working as an SEO Copywriter and Content Strategist since 2014. I’ve also worked with a digital agency where I would sometimes need to write as many as ten 800+ word articles a week!
It was creatively exhausting work, let me tell you.
Nowadays, I set a more reasonable and passion-driven pace. I only work with companies and organizations that align with my personal priorities.
Along the way, I’ve learned a few things that may help you on your journey to becoming a professional copywriter. Here are some tips to help you make the transition to your new writing career.
Experience is golden
One of my strongest passions is community service. I see it as a compulsion and duty. Over the years, my volunteer grant-writing (essentially storytelling) won grant awards for various community and university projects I’m passionate about.
Having won several grants for community organizations and university programs in my younger days, I applied and was inducted as a volunteer grant writer for an Oregon-based non-profit. Through my efforts, we won tens of thousands of dollars in grants – all while I was living over 7600 miles away in Karachi, Pakistan.
While I don’t want to encourage you to regularly work for free, in many cases, internships and volunteer positions are a great way to get a “crash course” in writing copy for the types of projects you’re passionate about.
Keep a lookout for unpaid positions on sites like Idealist.org or local paid positions on sites like WorkHalal.com.
You can also create your own opportunities! Reach out to companies that you would love to work for and offer to give them a month or two of free services.
Following this strategy, you’ll gain valuable experience in your niche. If you do well, you’ll also gain great social proof in the form of outstanding client testimonials and referrals.
This is exactly what I did in 2014 to further develop my grant writing abilities. The organization even sent “thank you” funds my way in appreciation of my efforts!
If you know the culture, speak the language, and have value to offer, you can work remotely with amazing organizations. You can also turn some of these opportunities into paid part-time or full-time positions.
With any job, the hardest thing is getting your foot in the door. It’s critical to show companies or organizations what you’re capable of. Once you plant that foot, all you need to do is deliver (or over deliver) on whatever you promise.
Understanding freelance platforms
Freelance websites are a great way to practice your writing skills and see what type of writing you enjoy most. You generally won’t get rich working on them, but they’re good for gaining valuable experience and professional recommendations.
Bear in mind that you will need to work your way up from the back of the pack. You’ll be competing against established freelancers and even whole digital agencies.
To be competitive in this space, make sure that your pitches are unique and tailored to each client as you share what you can do for them. “Cut and paste” form pitches will get you nowhere fast. Clients may not be paying much, but they still expect individualized service.
Be prepared to accept low-paying jobs (or even participate in “spec. work” contests a few times) to beef up your freelancer rating before you move on to higher paying projects.
*Note* It’s worth noting that I don’t recommend “spec.” work in general. Spec. work means work done on “speculation” without a payment up front. It’s usually only paid upon acceptance. However, spec. work can be a necessary evil on many of these platforms. It’s virtually unavoidable if you want to quickly build your reputation.
Don’t get stuck doing too much of this. Set yourself a deadline of one or two months of part-time spec. work. Aim to get a few projects under your belt, or win a few contests, to gain some testimonial and review traction. Then, consider yourself graduated and move up to pitching clients for their listed paid projects.
Also, if you do decide to go the freelance platform route, remember to keep everything on the platform. This ensures a digital trail and protection in the case of payment and project disagreements. It’s also worth noting that it’s usually against the T&Cs of the platform to work with your clients off the platform anyways. Doing so may get you banned.
To keep your clients happy, set milestones and then stick to them. And always, always, meet your deadlines by providing impeccable work.
Writing your passions for publications
You may decide that you wish to become a citizen journalist. I’m sure there are issues in your community worth shedding light on. By all means, write about them, share them, and get them some attention!
I’m passionate about domestic abuse education and prevention. You could call it a pet project of mine after living through 11 abusive years of marriage. You’ll notice that many of my online articles explain and address issues related to domestic abuse – and that’s fine!
I use my storytelling powers to explore causes I feel passionately about, and it shows in my writing.
Guest posts and contributed articles for a variety of publications (paid or unpaid) are also an excellent way to build up bylines online. They serve as easy to share writing samples with potential clients.
I personally use my Contently Portfolio to park my articles, but you could also use your website or other platforms as well.
Additionally, if you build a website (or at least buy a domain) from the get-go (which I would highly recommend) the SEO-building backlinks to your website from higher authority sites will build your domain authority and online clout immediately.
Remember though, there is an art to pitching publications, so check out these publication pitching tips for more advice.
So there you have it! This is a great starter guide to working your way up as a freelance writer. But I’ve only scratched the surface. There is always more to learn so be sure to read, learn, and practice as many tips and strategies as you can find.
Remember to take lots of online courses, and attend in-person workshops and classes. Strive to perfect your craft.
Soon you’ll have companies reaching out to you and seeking you out rather than the other way around.