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How to become a freelance writer

Read Time 12 mins | Written by: Wendy Woodhead

Perhaps you carry a notebook around with you to capture observations, mentally rewrite others’ articles while you’re scouring the internet, and even have a running top-ten list of advertising jingles in your head. That’s all well and good, but if you’ve set your sights on writing for a living, you need to know how to become a freelance writer.

How to become a freelance writer

Freelancing is becoming increasingly popular, especially since the pandemic which led to a rise in remote working and business expansion online.

There were 4.4 million self-employed workers in the UK in 2022, with 'artistic, literary and media occupations remain[ing] the largest group' in the freelance community according to the IPSE. 

Whatever you may have thought about the chances of becoming a freelance writer in the past, the truth is that the internet has broken down a lot of the old barriers such as geography and education. That means you can be writing from the UK while your client is on the other side of the world. Or you may decide to become a freelance writer in later life or after a career break.

These steps offer a guide on how to get into freelance writing:

1. Decide what you want to write

The first step to becoming a freelance writer is knowing what kind of writing you want to do. There are several forms of freelance writer, including:

  • sales copywriter or web content writer
  • blogger
  • article or features writer
  • news writer or journalist
  • creative copywriter

It can help to define your voice if you have a particular specialist area: perhaps related to your degree studies, a line of work you’re familiar with, or a specific interest or hobby. This will help you narrow down lines of work and potentially secure yourself better rates of pay. However, it is by no means a necessity.

2. Set a goal

Key to being a successful freelance writer is knowing what you want to achieve. Being as specific as possible helps you visualise, work towards and realise that dream. However, keep it realistic. Start by making a list of publications you’d like to write for and set progressive targets for each quarter.

3. Get writing

This is something you should be doing from scratch. Practice makes perfect as the old saying goes, and the more you write the more convincing your voice will be.

Make sure you have a blog and update it frequently, especially if it's a core service you want to offer to clients. Set a schedule so that you don’t find excuses not to write. If you update this every few months and make a concerted effort to write one month’s worth of posts in one weekend, it’ll be more manageable and you will be less likely to quit.

Some writers use an organisational tool such as Trello to manage their writing goals, jobs and pitches. HubSpot also has advice on how to plan your content marketing, but a simple Excel spreadsheet can do the trick just as well for organising your editorial calendar.

4. Start a website

It doesn’t have to be all-singing, all-dancing, but having a web presence is crucial to marketing yourself as a professional that clients should take seriously. You need a contact page, an about page, a testimonials page and, of course, your blog.

You can get started on WordPress or Wix for free, though you will look much more professional to clients if you shell out for a personalised domain and email address. Make sure you have your social media profiles linked to your website as well as sharing buttons on all your pages and content.

Familiarising yourself with SEO isn’t just a good way of getting found online, it’ll also help you in your freelance writing career, especially if you go into copywriting.

4. Keep a swipe file

Excellent grammar and a natural flair for writing in a compelling way are key attributes to become a successful freelance. But if you’re still unsure how you’d approach certain types of content, then one old-school tip amongst copywriters is to keep a swipe file.

Copyhackers defines a swipe file as "a collection of memorable content you can use for copywriting ideas. Save emails, pages, ads, etc. in your “swipe file.” And refer to your swipes for inspiration (and in place of templates) when you start writing."

Keep your eyes and ears open to any content that elicits a response from you (whether good or bad) and be sure to file it away for future reference. If you’re still wondering what to do with it, SmartBlogger has some excellent tips on how to create and use a swipe file effectively.

5. Take a course

Whether it’s a journalism course at your local college or university, or an online introduction to blogging – a writing course can give you the basics you need to complement your writing talent and potentially even become accredited (in the case of journalism) in whatever area you wish to become a freelance writer.

We’ve blogged before about studying a copywriting course as a great way to give you direction, insight and experience, as well as hone your writing skills. You’ll get into the habit of writing regularly, will pick up tips and techniques, learn where to find clients, plus when you pass you’ll get a diploma to put on your CV.

There’s plenty of free content online too to help you master the art of writing, including Copywriting 101 from Copyblogger and a short but sweet course from CopywriteMatters.

6. Get some experience

Experience is the foundation on which you will you build your freelance writing career. A copywriting course can give you a good introduction to writing different kinds of copy, but you won’t know how effective your words are until you put them in front of a real paying client (and their audience).

Getting experience can come in many different forms. First and foremost your blog will prove your skills at blogging in general, but here are some other ways to get real, tangible writing experience:


  • sign up to jobs boards
  • scan employment sites and social media for freelance positions
  • join a content marketing agency
  • pitch work and guest posts to established newspapers, magazines, websites or industry blogs
  • approach local or niche-interest community groups and businesses 

7. Learn how to pitch

When you pitch ideas you need to make sure you get your point across in as professional, succinct and engaging a way as possible. Each publication may offer its own guidance on pitching, so always check the website first. The Write Life has tips on pitching for long-form journalism and copywriting.

You’ll need to pay attention to the style of content they produce and make sure your pitch is in line with this. As a rough guide, your pitch should contain:

  • an engaging headline
  • a question which your article seeks to answer (and some idea of what you expect to uncover)
  • why this is important
  • prospective sources

8. Be open to communication

Whether you’re connecting with potential clients through social media, online forums, in person at local business networking events or you receive inbound requests, be contactable. As a freelancer, you’ll need to show your prospective client you can make things easy for them. This could include Skype, telephone, email, a contact form on your website, and professional networking services like LinkedIn.

9. Create a portfolio

Even if you have no published works, it’s important to have an attractive and professional-looking portfolio with a link from your social media profiles and website. It’s the shop front to your freelancing business.

While you’re still waiting to get clients, write samples of different kinds of content to showcase your skills. When you have new work published, ensure you add it to your portfolio as soon as possible (if you’ve produced a piece of content for a client, you may need approval from them first). 

Read More: How to create a killer copywriting portfolio

10. Don’t neglect the practical aspects

When you embark on a freelancing career, you’re technically going self-employed. Therefore, there are some additional matters you’ll need to prepare for:

  • Register for self-assessment with HMRC and keep records of your incomings and outgoings.
  • Take out insurance should the worst happen.
  • Be prepared to budget while you are building up your brand. Keep a log of your income and don’t overcommit.

For a while, you may need to juggle freelancing with regular paid work but keep your spirits up and your goal in mind and it will be worth it in the end!

Takeaway

If you've ever wondered how to be a freelance writer then follow these steps and you'll be gaining the writing experience and confidence you need to kick-start your writing career. A new world of flexibility and freedom doing what you love is waiting at your fingertips! We wish you the best of luck on your journey to becoming a freelance writer.

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Thought Catalog
Wendy Woodhead

Wendy is the Account Director at Copify and a qualified copywriter and proofreader. She has spent six years copy editing and copywriting for B2B and B2C clients and has experience in freelance and in-house arts marketing and digital content creation. Wendy likes to write about language and literature, digital marketing, history, current affairs, and arts and culture. In her spare time she enjoys yoga, reading and writing fiction.