Becoming a Freelance Writer
In this age of the Gig Economy, freelance work is on the rise. About 35% of the U.S. workforce did some freelance work in 2019, according to an Upwork survey. While some of these contract workers are Uber drivers, Amazon delivery workers, or graphic artists, there’s also a sizable chunk that work as freelance writers.
Many people dream of working as a writer and, specifically, in a freelance capacity. But what’s it really like to do so? There are several benefits to the freelance writing life, but also quite a few drawbacks.
Freelance writers make their own schedules, avoid commutes to the office, and take on a fun variety of assignments. On the downside, freelancers don’t get the benefits of full-time employment, such as health insurance and generous perks like a company-matched 401(k) account. When working as a freelancer, you’ll have to figure out these benefits for yourself.
But many people who work as freelancers enjoy it. The freedom to earn as much as you can, the flexible hours, and the ability to work from home are all appealing.
While you may not make much money at first, the top freelancers can earn respectable annual incomes. Finding the right niche to target, sharpening writing skills, and networking like a boss can help make the writing dream come true.
Empire Resume will delve into what it takes to become a successful freelance writer, including what the average freelancer earns per year, how to get started in the industry, and the best places to find gigs.
What Freelance Writers Do
Freelance writers are writing professionals who earn a living working for themselves rather than a company or organization. Like any other freelancer, they work in a contract capacity. While freelance writers must have sharp writing skills, they must also have a keen business and marketing mind.
Many freelance writers have a variety of clients and work as generalists, writing about several different topics. Others have a few lucrative clients or specialize in niche areas. Typically, specialized writers earn more money.
Many companies hire freelance writers because they only need one or a few projects done. Hiring a writer on a contract or per-project basis is less expensive than hiring a full-time writer. Other companies that don’t have a fixed location may also hire freelancers. This gives them the advantage of not having to hire local writers and being able to cast a wide net, sometimes even internationally, in a search for talent.
Freelance writing and freelancing, in general, are on the rise. A 2017 study by Upwork predicted that freelancers will account for the majority of U.S. employees by 2027. The freelance economy has grown because of several factors, including new technologies that make it easier to find work, the demand for more flexible work arrangements, and employers’ demand for contract workers.
The million-dollar question, though: Can you make a decent living as a freelance writer? It depends.
According to PayScale, a part-time freelance writer earns between $24,000 and $115,000 annually. That’s a wide range, but we’ve found it to be true. Freelancers can make a high income, but it depends on a several factors.
One crucial factor is what niche or industry you specialize in. For example, financial writers earn a mean salary of about $86,000 annually, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Medical writers also make good money, as some statistics estimate that even part-time medical writers earn an average hourly rate of between $60 and $70.
Pros and Cons of Freelancing
Making a living as a freelance writer is tough, and it’s not as glamorous as some imagine it to be. But there are several benefits to freelance writing.
As a freelancer, you can work on a variety of diverse projects, and choose which projects you’d like to work on. The world is your oyster, so to speak. If you want to write about music and movies, there’s not much stopping you from becoming an expert freelancer covering those areas.
Key benefits freelancers talk about is the ability to work from anywhere and to maintain a good work/life balance. Freelancing can be done from anywhere, whether in your home office or at the local coffee shop. Many digital nomads work as freelance writers, which allows them to travel the world while still earning a decent income.
As for work/life balance, freelancers don’t have to call out sick or stock up on PTO days. If you’re good at time management and get the work done efficiently, you can schedule your work around your life – and not the other way around.
But life’s not all sunshine and rainbows for freelancers. Some disadvantages of the freelance life are lack of employer-provided benefits such as health insurance, less job security, and clients who don’t pay on time.
Freelancing can also be a lonely lifestyle, as you’ll likely be working at home alone and not be able to shoot the breeze with co-workers. Also, to be a freelancer, you must be excellent at money management, marketing, and the business side of things. Some freelancers figure out the hard way that they’re not.
Traits of Successful Freelancers
Getting a start in freelancing is difficult, and it can feel like an uphill battle at first. To weather the storm, you’ll need to have a few innate characteristics and develop some traits to make you successful.
Self-discipline is one trait you’ll need. Many people say they’d like to be their own boss, but they may not realize how difficult that is. Without a manager staring over your shoulder, freelancers need to put the work in day-in-and-day-out – and not lapse into binging Netflix or watching YouTube videos.
Freelancers must also be persistent. Just like while looking for a full-time job, freelancers face a lot of rejection, and they must push on despite this. During the first year of freelancing, about 30% of writers make less than $10 per hour, according to a survey by Small Business Trends. To succeed, freelancers must stick to their business plan and ride out tough times.
Lastly, successful freelance writers must also have a growth mindset. As a freelancer, you’re also a business owner and somewhat of an entrepreneur. People with a growth mindset believe they can continue to get better with enough self-improvement and hard work. This is essential for freelancers.
How Do You Find Work?
Another million-dollar question: How do you find work as a freelance writer? This is crucial since most of the time you’ll spend as a beginner will be landing your first clients. Luckily, there are many ways to go about it.
Increasingly, it’s getting easier to find freelance work online. Some of the top ways to find work include cold pitching, job board ads, through social media, through networking, and marketing through a personal website.
No surprise, one of the best ways to find freelance work as a beginner is networking. This will be much easier if you’re already several years into a writing career and have worked some full-time jobs in the past. Simply reach out to former co-workers and bosses and let them know you’re looking.
However, even recent college grads or younger freelancers can use networking to their advantage. Ask friends, family, and co-workers from previous jobs if they know of anyone looking for a writer. Other good ways to network are joining local groups dedicated to writing, or online groups, such as on Facebook or LinkedIn.
Freelancers can also find work through job boards, some of which are focused solely on freelance writing. Some of the top sites include ProBlogger Job Board, MediaBistro, FreelanceWriting.com, and Freelance Writing Jobs (FWJ).
As a freelancer, you’ll want to develop your skills in pitching ideas. In a cold pitch, you can email companies, websites, and bloggers and present ideas about how to grow their business. You can also pitch stories to websites and magazines that are looking for articles on specific topics.
Lastly, an excellent way to find work is to market your services through social media and a personal website. Create a professional-looking website for your freelance writing and drive traffic to the site. Not only does it improve your credibility, but potential clients may also contact you directly.
Be Wary of ‘Content Mills’
When getting started as a freelance writer, you may come across job postings on sites like Indeed for recurring gigs. Some of these postings are for companies that are “content mills,” a slang term freelancers’ use for websites/companies that churn out cheap content and pay meager rates.
Many of the advertisements are similar. The companies hire writers with little to no experience, promise good money, and typically hire dozens of writers at once. It can be tempting to give them a shot, especially if you’re a beginner or in need of a few quick bucks. But Empire Resume advises against using them.
Some beginning freelancers have had success with content mills. It gets them a foot in the door, they earn a few bucks, and it generally requires a low commitment. But there are many disadvantages to working for them.
Many content mills will pay rates as low as $5 per article and require writers to meet very high standards. Also, while you’re getting some experience, it’s typically not very valuable experience. Most of the assignments are obscure and shallow, and you’ll have little interaction with editors.
Empire Resume’s advice: Be wary of content mills and avoid them if you can. You’re better off spending more quality time looking for better gigs and assignments and sharpening your skills.
The Future of Freelance Writing
Making a living as a freelance writer is challenging, but it’s a legit career path to follow if you’re so inclined. With hard work, perseverance, and a little luck, many people can succeed as a freelancer.
The U.S. and global economy are also tilting toward more flexible and freelance work, especially in the wake of the recession caused by COVID-19. About 28% of Americans freelanced full-time in 2019, up from 17% in 2014, according to figures from Website Planet. Workers who master the freelance lifestyle today may be better prepared for the future of work.
Every freelancer needs an excellent LinkedIn profile, which Empire Resume can help you with. Contact us today at 801-690-4085 or firstname.lastname@example.org and ask about how we can optimize your LinkedIn profile to help land you high-quality freelance gigs.
Stay tuned to Empire Resume’s blog for more insights like the ones in this article, including resilient job skills to have during the pandemic, how to prepare for a video interview, and how to use social media to land a job.
Nick Pipitone is a freelance writer living in the Philadelphia area that contributes regularly for Empire Resume. He has covered business and management topics extensively throughout his career, and he enjoys rooting for Philly sports teams and getting lost in used bookstores.