How to start a career as a writer: 4 tips from a pro

by Gill Fernley

How to start a career as a writer: 4 tips from a pro

If you’ve ever read any of those scam sites which promise instant money while sitting on the beach and working only 2 hours per week and you believed them, then I have a very nice bridge I’d like to sell you in San Francisco!

Freelance writing of any kind isn’t an insta-fix type of career, so if you need to pay your bills tomorrow, don’t quit your day job right now and think you can make it work.

If you want to know how to start a career as a writer where you actually make enough money to live, then you need to do some planning first:

1. Where are you right now?

There are so many types of writing jobs, from blog writing and sales copywriting to tech writing and website copy, that you can be overwhelmed before you even begin. And that’s before you get into the plethora of advice that’s out there on how to get started and make a living as a freelancer.

While you do need to do your research, you first of all need to know what skills and experience you already have, and what kinds of writing appeal to you.


Before you do anything else, check this list of types of writing and make a list of the ones that sound interesting to you.

Next, get a big piece of paper, or use mindmapping software if you prefer (try the free programme, Freemind), and brainstorm a list of every talent, skill and experience you have. If you get stuck, call some friends and see if they can add to your list.

Finally, write a list of all the topics you are really interested in and know you could write about if you do some research.

Then compare the lists and see what types of writing you think will work for you, and where you have experience that you can reuse in your new career. Not only will this give you a solid starting point, it’ll also give you a massive confidence boost when you see how much you’ve done and how much experience you have.

If you’ve never done any freelance writing before, this exercise is a great way to see that you’re really not starting from scratch.

2. Do your research

Now you have an idea of the type of writing you’d like to do and the subjects you’d like to write on, dig a little deeper into the writing types you’ve chosen to see what a typical day is like in that writing job. Look at what skills and experience you’ll need and how you might find those types of jobs.

To start you off, take a look at some of our articles on particular types of writing, such as web content writingSEO copywritingdigital copywriting and ghostwriting.

You should also do your research on the pros and cons of being a freelance writer, and learn from other writers to help you avoid the pitfalls.

Great writing sites to visit

3. Set up your writer website and build your portfolio

Now you’ve got all the information you need to set up your freelance writer’s website.

Your home page and about page are the most important pages on your site as they can convince your potential clients that you can deliver what they need.

After that, the most important page is your portfolio. If you’ve never done any freelance writing before, you might be wondering what to put in your portfolio, but check out our article on creating a copywriting portfolio for ideas: it’s easier than you think.

Make sure your contact details are clearly visible too. You don’t want to have a perfect writer’s website with no way to get in touch to hire you!

4. Start applying for work

While hopefully you’ll have a reasonable idea of what you want to apply for after doing the exercise above, you might benefit from working with an agency like Copify, where you can sign up and see a compiled list of available writing jobs.

You can gain experience in writing a whole variety of jobs, which can help you feel more certain about the topics you want to focus on. You might even find that you don’t want to become focused, and that you’d rather keep your work general and varied.

Job boards

One other great place to look for jobs is on freelance writing job boards. Watch out for scammers and people who offer very low pay, but you can get some excellent, high-paying jobs if you use the right sites.

For the ultimate list of job boards, try Elna Cain’s brilliant article, 53 Places to Land Freelance Writing Gigs online.

Working with digital agencies

Digital marketing agencies, like Copify, specialise in SEO, content marketing and a variety of other digital marketing areas, and they often need writers.

Pros of working with an agency

• Digital marketing agencies already have the clients, so you don’t need to spend time looking for them and can focus on writing.

• With a busy agency, you could get regular, ongoing work, which is great for your cashflow.

• You can build a relationship with the people in the agency, learn what they want, and start to suggest other types of content that might work for their clients such as ebooks or white papers, which are higher paying.

Cons of agency work

• You might not get a byline and will need permission before using clips in your portfolio.

• If the clients don’t know you work for the agency, it can be hard to get testimonials.

• You could earn more money if you find your own clients.

Working directly with your own clients

You’ll need to find companies who require the type of writing you do, and who also have the budget to hire you. It’s a good idea to find businesses who’ve worked with writers before and understand the value that you provide.

Do your research carefully. A great way to find out if businesses are good to work with is to build up relationships with other freelance writers and swap information.

Then you’ll need to pitch your services to the companies you’re interested in, and we can’t give you a better masterclass on pitching than this brilliant article by Jenny Beres.

Building a writing career is not a quick fix, so build yourself a solid foundation, and think long-term to create a successful writing career that can support you for years.

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Gill Fernley

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.