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Getting started as a freelance writer - copify

Getting started as a freelance writer: what you should know

When you’re getting started as a freelance writer, all the different advice can be confusing, overwhelming and downright contrary.

Should you focus on Upwork or similar sites, or look for your own clients? Should you have a website and what should you put on it? How do you even get clients and, if you do, what on earth do you charge?

Try answering those questions with a Google search and you’ll get a variety of conflicting opinions, which might make you want to throw your hands up in despair and go back to the 9 to 5!

Let’s see if we can shed a little light on the subject:

What do you need to be a freelance writer?

A computer and an internet connection, basically. And a means of getting paid, of course.

Being a freelancer of any kind also means you need certain characteristics, without which you might not succeed:

Obviously, you need good writing skills, though you don’t necessarily need a degree. You need to be tenacious enough to keep persevering in the face of rejection (sadly, you won’t get every job you apply for); adaptable and flexible enough to deal with a variety of projects and clients; and determined to keep learning and improving. You need to be organised and able to plan out your work, so you meet your deadlines and still have time to market and develop your business. While you might be wonderful with words, you also need to have a business head on your shoulders and be comfortable enough looking at your numbers to make sure you’re earning enough to be able to live.

Working at home has a rosy image of lounging on the sofa all day with your feet up, and working in your pyjamas, and we’re not telling you that doesn’t happen, but you do need to put in the work and take it seriously.

Getting started as a freelance writer - copify

Get your setup ducks in a row

Decide whether you want to be self-employed or to have a business, register with HMRC for tax, and do all the other things you need to do to start your business off on the right legal footing.

However tempting it may be to just get started, don’t skip this bit. It’s not glamorous, it’s not exciting, but it is necessary.

Your freelance writer website

Next, you need to consider your writer website. Here’s an excellent step by step guide from Jorden Roper on how to set your site up.

Bear in mind that if you use something like Wix or, rather than buying a domain name, using self-hosted WordPress and hosting your own site, you are giving away your real estate on the web. If Wix suddenly decides to change the rules tomorrow and remove your site, it’s gone and there’ll be nothing you can do about it, but if you host your own site, you’ll always own it, and no one can take it from you.

What to charge

Now we’re getting to the good bit! Presumably, you’re not running a charity and you’d really like to make the big bucks with your freelance writing.

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a list of rates for each type of freelance writing, but here’s where you start:

Take a look at Brennan Dunn’s Freelance Rate Calculator and work through how he suggests you calculate your rate. It’s in dollars, but ignore that and use it as if it was in Pounds Sterling and it will still work for you. You’ll also get a free nine-lesson email course from Brennan that can help you increase your rate, which is well worth signing up for.

Getting started as a freelance writer - copify

You’ll note that he doesn’t suggest you just double what you were paid per hour at your old job or have a guess at

what to charge. The whole idea is to work out how much you need to earn to live, and then look at how much you *want* to earn. That way you’ve got a far better starting point than picking a figure out of the air.

When you freelance, you have to pay your own taxes and National Insurance, and you don’t get sick pay, holiday pay and a bunch of other benefits either, so your rate needs to be enough to cover those too.

After that, do some research and look at what other freelancers are charging. It will also help to join a writing community like Carol Tice’s Freelance Writer’s Den so you can chat with other freelancers and get advice on pricing.

Marketing and finding jobs

Again, the Freelance Writer’s Den is a brilliant place to get advice about finding work. There’s a very active forum, and you can build relationships with other freelancers, which is an excellent thing to do. You may find you’ll be able to refer jobs to each other or even work together on bigger projects.

Not only that but the Den also has a huge list of courses included, where you can learn everything from how to get started to the more advanced courses on Content Marketing, writing Letters of Introduction (LOIs).

The Den is a paid membership and costs $25 per month (around £20) but it’s well worth it.

Failing that, if you don’t have the budget for that yet, try Carol Tice’s other site, Make a Living Writing, which is free and utterly brilliant. Try the Start Here page to choose what you want to learn.

Marketing and getting writing jobs is a huge topic that could fill several books, never mind just another article so we can’t cover everything here, but here are some places to start:

Earn Money Online: Monster List of 161 Markets for Freelance Writers

Problogger jobs board

• Read our article, 6 freelance writing opportunities for beginners, for other job boards and a section on cold pitching.

• If you want to blog for a living, explore Sophie Lizard’s excellent Be a Freelance Blogger site for advice on how to get clients.

• Get your portfolio set up

• Collect testimonials from satisfied clients and put them on your website for social proof.

• Going back to Double Your Freelance Writing, Brennan Dunn has amazing articles on starting out in freelancing, marketing, and a whole lot more.

Getting started as a freelance writer - copify Keep learning!

Nobody knows it all, not even if they’ve been freelancing for decades. The trick is to always keep learning. You can’t rely on what you knew ten years ago to still be entirely relevant now. Ten years ago, for example, video wasn’t as popular as it is now, and nor was writing video scripts as lucrative.

Keep on top of the trends, improve your writing with a copywriting course, and keep learning new skills, and you’ll always have something valuable to offer your freelance clients.


Main image credit: Grant Source
Image credits: CV UribeLuz BratcherMichael Coghlan

Gill Fernley

The director of her own copywriting firm, Gill writes B2B and B2C content for SMEs and digital marketing agencies. She has a background in performing arts and writes conversational, direct sales copy for businesses on a range of topics. She’s also a keen writer of chick lit.