How to Start a Successful Freelance Writing Career in 8 Steps

Austin L. Church
May 7, 2021
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Want to pursue freelance writing?

Your timing couldn’t be better.The decision to become a freelance writer is both exhilarating and scary. Whenever you’re not 100% sure of anything—which, if we’re honest, is 99% of life—you can always find another reason to stay stuck in analysis paralysis.2020’s many challenges gave aspiring freelancers a really good excuse to… wait. At the same time, remote work became normal. Startups and corporations, local mom-and-pop’s and international brands—all were forced to rejigger their workflow and processes. As a result of COVID and work from home orders, 47% of hiring managers said they’re more likely to hire independent professionals. 62% expect their workforce to be more remote going forward.Now that everyone is now comfortable collaborating online, the difference between hiring a local employee or a freelancer 3,000 miles away is negligible. This paradigm shift has produced more online writing jobs. If you’re here, that means you want some of them. Do you see freelance writing gigs as a great way to earn extra money? Or maybe you see an opportunity to launch a full-time writing career, be your own boss, and become location independent?Either way, your timing is perfect. You want to know how to be a freelance writer, and now is the time to make your move, friend. The first step may seem counterintuitive at first. Don’t keep your options open but instead pick a niche.

Statistic of Hiring Managers Hiring Independent Professionals

Get traction with your freelance writing career by following these 8 steps

1. Pick a niche to write about.

Choosing a freelance writing niche or handful of specific topics can feel confining at first. However, limiting your options offers several advantages:

  • More potential clients will perceive you as an expert if you narrow your focus to one or two topics. For example, “Oh yeah, she’s the writer and editor who knows about health care memberships.” And, “He’s the guy who writes email content for online course creators.
  • By narrowing your focus, you will find it significantly easier to find freelance writing jobs online. You’ll make it easier for prospective clients to find you too.  
  • When you have specialized, niche-specific knowledge, you won’t spend as much time doing research to educate yourself. You will finish projects in less time and can pivot to fixed price, fixed scope projects.
  • Because you spend less time on any given project, you can take on more freelance writing gigs without making yourself miserable.
  • You can refine your processes over time and continue to keep ratcheting up your freelance income while ratcheting down the time invested. You reward yourself for your expertise and efficiency.

One common objection I hear from freelance writers is this: They’re already comfortable writing on a wide range of topics. I understand that way of thinking. From concrete polishing to Botox, you name it, I’ve written about it. And as proud as I am of my ability to learn quickly and write well, I still wish I’d niched down sooner. Why? I wasn’t interested in concrete or Botox. Once my initial curiosity tapered off, I’d find myself getting bored. Mustering my enthusiasm took more and more effort.If you’re bored writing it, your readers will be bored too. So do yourself, your clients, and your future readers a favor and pick a niche that flows with your natural curiosity and enthusiasm, not against it. For example, Val Geisler is a successful freelance writer who writes email campaigns for SaaS and subscription-based eCommerce brands. That’s pretty dang specific.

Val Geisler's Work With Me Website Page

If you’re just getting started, you can pick one of these popular niches:

  • Cryptocurrency
  • Travel & Leisure
  • Cannabis
  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)
  • Digital Marketing
  • Ghostwriting
  • Email writing
  • Copywriting
  • Alternative Health
  • SEO / Content marketing strategy

Better yet, read this guide to finding a freelance writing niche. If you pick a niche you don’t end up liking, that’s okay. Pivot to a new one.

2. Establish your online presence.

Now that you’ve chosen a niche for your freelance writing career, you need to make it easy for people to find you online. Here are two ways to do that:

Improve your LinkedIn profile.

You may not be on LinkedIn, or you may not like LinkedIn. In the past you may have treated your profile as an afterthought. Whatever the case may be, if what you’re doing now isn’t producing the results you want, then try something different. Here’s why LinkedIn is a worthwhile experiment: Last year, screening in person became quite difficult. More hiring managers started to rely on LinkedIn. The number of recruiters using LinkedIn passed 70%. This trend will likely continue: 81% of talent professionals say that online recruiting will continue even after COVID-19.So go ahead and get cozy with LinkedIn. To make it easy for potential clients to find you, improve these five parts of your profile.

Personalize your profile banner

You can use free design tools like Canva to create a custom LinkedIn banner that makes it obvious you’re a freelance writer. You don’t have to be a talented designer to create a good-looking banner for free.  Here are the five simple steps:

  1. Go to
  2. Search for ‘linkedin banner.
  3. Pick a template you like.
  4. Use the template to create your design.
  5. Download your design files.

Note: Canva allows you to make changes and add elements for free the navigation on the left.

Steps to Design LinkedIn Banner in Canva

You don’t have to look far to find freelance writers using personalized banners. Caroline Mameesh did a nice job with hers.

LinkedIn Profile of Caroline Mameesh
Turn your title into an elevator pitch.

Try not to overthink this, knowing that you can always tweak and refine it later. One popular formula is pretty straightforward: Mention your target audience, how you help them, what the results are, and one or two of your core offers. Here are noteworthy examples from Helen Pritchard and Joey Gilkey:

LinkedIn Title of Helen Pritchard
LinkedIn Title of Joey Gilkey
Use your LinkedIn About section to generate project leads.

LinkedIn summary is an overview of your professional life. You have the opportunity to share who you are, what you do, what makes you unique, and what you can offer clients. Instead of treating this summary as yet another remix of your resume, I recommend that you speak directly to your target audience—that is, decision-makers in the niche you chose. Put the focus on them. Explain in detail what problems you solve for them and how. For example, Caroline Mameesh targets startups and small businesses wanting a content writer who knows SEO strategy.

LinkedIn About Section of Caroline Mameesh

Pro Tip: LinkedIn’s collapsed view of your summary as the default. Be sure to make strategic use of the first 178 characters by treating  them like a catchy headline. Then, spend the rest of your 2,000 word limit on your value proposition, followed by a clear, strong call to action. Here’s mine: “Send me a DM or go to: ""

Showcase your past work experience.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Ugh! I don’t have the experience. That’s why I’m reading this blog post!”It’s okay. We all have to start somewhere. Go ahead and add “Freelance Writer” or something similar to your work experience. Then, take heart in the fact that LinkedIn dynamically changes your profile to display what is most relevant for each visitor, based on that person’s searches. Listing your most relevant and valuable past work experiences will take some time. However, the more you add to this section, the better your chances of showing up in search results.The past experience Caroline uses on her LinkedIn profile is quite long. The screenshot below shows 3 out of 10 roles, including several that lasted only a few months.

Caroline Mameesh Work Experience Showcased in LinkedIn

Pro Tip: No matter how much or how little work experience you have, be sure to maximize your visibility in search results by adding any and every role you can.

Grow your network with the right people.

LinkedIn is different from Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, Tiktok, and other social networks because it caters to professionals.Because that’s true, your growth strategy here may look a little different. You don’t want to connect with Joe Schmoe just because you went to the same university. Instead, your goal is to purposely and proactively grow your network with decision-makers in your target audience. LinkedIn can help you land freelance writing jobs but only if you’re strategic in which connection requests you send, around 10-15 a day tops:  

  • Prospective clients
  • People who are experts in your field
  • Fellow freelance writers

Pro Tip: Check out Helen Pritchard’s episode on The Side Hustle Show podcast: “LinkedIn Lead Generation: How to Attract Your Ideal Clients on LinkedIn.”

Start a freelance writer blog

Having a blog is a great way to showcase your writing skill online. When you pitch potential clients, your blog can serve as your portfolio in a pinch. The more people that can see your work online, the more potential freelance writing jobs you can land. If you’re worried about starting a blog because it’s costly, well, don’t be. Medium gives you a free option. It’s super easy to get started, and the writing and formatting experience is quite enjoyable. In other words, blogging doesn’t have to cost you a dime.All it takes is effort and creativity. I have published a couple of hundred posts on Medium, including this one that explains why you don’t have to do free work to build your writing portfolio.Joel Klettke’s Business Casual site is a solid example of a self-hosted WordPress blog.

Home Page of Joel Klettke's Website

By the way, if you’re not sure what to write about, I can email you some prompts. I’ve curated the best of the best. I’ll email them to you, and you can save the email in a new folder. That way, the next time you need a good idea, you know exactly where to look. Enter your name and email address below, and I’ll send you the blogging prompts.

3. Create your freelance writing portfolio.

If you want to have a successful freelance writing career, you need to treat it as a serious business venture, not a hobby. You want to give the impression that you are a professional committed to this path of freelancing.Why? Many clients will want to establish a strong working relationship with you. They want to know from the outset that you will be available for hire for the foreseeable future. Assuming everything goes well with the first project, you have the potential to become their trusted, go-to freelance writer who saves them time and headaches. Speaking of trust, one way to earn it is to show samples of your work. Even if you’re not an accomplished writer, you can still create a writing portfolio.

  • Start by publishing a few of your own blog posts. (Be sure to share the links on your socials, and start conversations around the topic if you can. I have landed multiple clients this way!)
  • Write something for your church, a local nonprofit, or another cause you care about.
  • Pick one of your interests or hobbies and write 8-10 social posts in a style that matches what they already have.
  • Pick a brand or company you like and write a fake press release for their new product.
  • Dream up a new company and write their homepage. For example, I always thought it would be funny to create a fake brand called Your Mom Casseroles.
  • Take some weak copy or content you find on a website and rewrite it.
  • Rewrite the LinkedIn titles and About sections for three friends.

You catch my drift. You don’t need paying clients to create your online portfolio.  And you most certainly do not need to spend hours crafting pitches for guest posts on popular blogs and websites. Ugh.I never did this. I repeat: I never did this.Can you land a guest post eventually? Maybe.Will you get a backlink to your website and a logo you can add to your homepage? Sure. So why would you avoid this strategy? Because it represents one of the most indirect paths to making a living as a freelance writer.You already have the writing skills. You can create a writing portfolio, demonstrate those skills, and start looking for freelance writing jobs without asking a gatekeeper to approve your pitch.

4. Go find project leads.

At this point, you should have several of the puzzle pieces a freelance writer needs: a niche, an online presence, and a writing portfolio. Next up is learning how to put yourself out there and finding writing projects.Believe it or not, freelance writing isn’t a meritocracy. The most skilled writers don’t always land the best clients. The quality of your work is certainly important, but that quality doesn’t matter if you’re invisible. That’s why your willingness to put yourself out there is just as important as your talent. The only way clients can know you are offering that kind of work at all is by you telling them, right? If you know how to write and will learn how to be proactive about connecting with new prospects, then you can build a successful freelance writing career. Here are some places to start prospecting:

Join Facebook groups

Check out Facebook groups for freelance writers. It’s not unusual for people to share job postings, and you can pick up writing tips, deepen your knowledge of freelancing, and expand your network at the same time. Over the years writers and other freelance creatives have sent dozens of projects my way.Joining groups related to your niche is also worth a try. For example, if you’re familiar with ConvertKit and you help real estate agents, then you could join a ConvertKit group and an email marketing group for real estate agents.

 Facebook Groups for Freelance Writers

Check out freelance writing sites

You will find no shortage of websites that have gigs for writers. Here are some of the best freelance writing sites:

Several words of caution, though: Most of the clients who put up job postings on these sites are looking to pay the cheap rates, not premium rates.When thousands of freelancers on the same platform are willing to charge $5 an hour, you have to work that much harder to stand out and win projects.You may still find some well-paying writing gigs, but I would advise against building your entire business around a single source of project leads. One unhappy client giving you a 1-star rating could really hurt your credibility.Instead of building your business on someone else’s platform, try to get as many “private” clients as you can. You want to own those relationships.

Ask friends and family

If you want freelance writing projects, ask for them. Reach out to friends via email and text. Hit up your family members. Make the following abundantly clear:

  1. You’re doing freelance work.
  2. You’re available to hire.
  3. You’re focused on [your target audience].
  4. You help them with [your specific services or offers].
  5. Your clients get [benefits or results].
  6. You’d appreciate one or two introductions by email. Does s/he know anyone in your target audience? If so, you’d be happy to write a short introduction paragraph in third person that s/he can use in the email.
  7. You cannot wait for or expect other people to connect the dots for you. You must ask for help, but guess what? People like helping!

Send emails

Sometimes, the most direct path is the best path. You can connect with potential clients by follow these three dead-simple steps:

  1. Make a list of 20 to 30 dream clients in your target audience.
  2. Dig up the email addresses of the decision-maker using LinkedIn to search for the right person’s name and title and email discovery tools like to find an email address. For example, you probably want the marketing director, not the CEO.
  3. Send an email introducing yourself and pointing out the obvious: If they are ever in the market for freelance writers, you like to throw your name in the hat and be considered.

If you’d like to check out my 5 cold outreach email templates and use them to create your own, then put in your name and email address below. I’ll send you the download link.

5. Request reviews from past clients.

You need clients to build a freelance writing career, and testimonials from past clients will help you get new clients. You can ask your previous clients to share their experience in working with you. Even a few words will do. I use these client testimonials on my website:

  • "I’m so thrilled with the rebrand. I'm walking around smiling." – Dave
  • “Balernum can do all the branding, beautiful design work, strategy, and content creation. They’re good people who are excellent at what they do.” – Travis
  • “My company needed a complete brand refresh, including a new website. Balernum knocked it out of the park for us.” – Kent
Testimonials on Balernum Homepage

Good clients are, more often than not, willing to provide a testimonial, and this is yet another reason why it’s important to choose your clients carefully. Pro Tip: Instead of asking your clients to write testimonials, ask them if they’d be willing to answer a handful of questions about their experience working with you.Once your client agrees, send them a link to a simple form with questions like “What happened after you hired me? What were the results?” and “What in particular did you like about working with me?”You can then stitch together the client’s answers into one cohesive paragraph and get the client’s approval before you start sharing the testimonial.Clients love this because it means the pressure is off. They don’t have to write a formal testimonial, only answer a few questions.

6. Get started now.

Do you find yourself hesitating? If you want an excuse to procrastinate, you won’t have to look very far:

  • “I haven’t decided on my niche yet”.
  • “I have a full-time job, I’m too busy.”
  • “I’m not confident about my writing skills.”
  • “The economy.”
  • “My kids.”
  • Write your own here. 😜

We all get the same number of hours in the day, so we all must make a decision about importance. Are your dreams more important than your fears? Is your desire to become a freelance writer strong enough to propel you forward?If this freelance lifestyle is something you want, then you must be prepared to go for it and risk failure. Success isn’t guaranteed. That’s why I’d recommend picking a struggle you can love. My wife and I have three young children. Life is very busy. I have learned from experience that you have to build your dream business, your desired lifestyle, 30 minutes at a time. If you’re holding out for big blocks of time, you’ll be waiting a long time, my friend. So pick the next important task and do it. Tomorrow, move down your list. You can build your freelance business one 30-minute task at a time.

7. Work on your freelance writing mindset.

Starting a career in freelance writing takes guts, effort, and commitment. Believe me, you’ll have plenty of days when you want to throw in the towel.I want you to know, going in, that you’ll have to take your head trash to the curb—maybe daily.One of the most important things I do as a freelance writer is examine and work on my freelance mindset:

  • Imposter syndrome is a very real thing for freelancers. Most of us feel like a fraud at some point. The key is remembering how far you’ve already come and how hard you’ll work to deliver on your promises and make clients happy.
  • Many writers are introverts. You don’t have to masquerade as an extravert to get projects, but you do have to put yourself out there. You can succeed even if you’re not particularly outgoing. It’s more important to ask good questions, listen well, and identify root problems than to be charismatic.
  • Comparison is the great joy killer. Some freelancers have full-time jobs and pick freelance writing gigs on the side for extra cash. Others want to go all-in and live the location-independent dream. Don’t let Freddie Freelancer write your definition of success. Instead, build a business that supports the lifestyle you want.
  • No matter what you do in life, you’ll fail. Seriously, failure is unavoidable. Thankfully, failure can be an excellent teacher. By all means, give yourself thirty minutes to feel disappointed or discouraged, then ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience? What will I do differently in the future? What’s the next experiment I can try?” You can proactively turn your bad day into a good one.

One of my biggest mistakes was internalizing my failures. When things didn’t go my way, I thought that was a statement about who I am. I’d think, “Clearly, I’m not cut out for this.”My tendency to brood and get mired down in discouragement often caused me to miss the good mixed in with the “bad,” and forget that freelancing is an adventure.Want to know what all adventures have in common? Something doesn’t go according to plan. We must roll with the punches, and look for the gifts hidden in adversity. Your mindset will either nourish your freelance business or stunt its growth.

Arrows Pointing Upwards in Reference to Upskilling

Photo credit: Jungwoo Hong via Unsplash

8. Grow your freelance writing business by adding new capabilities.

To be really good at something, you must practice, then practice some more. Here are some obvious and less obvious ways to improve your writing skills and business skills too:

Write often and build your quote library.

The Where of writing matters less than the How Much. Write a lot on your computer and phone, in journals and on scraps of paper. The more you write, the better you will understand the mechanics of writing. The better you understand the mechanics, the more obvious your strengths and weaknesses will become. You can then make strategic choices about what to improve.Also, whenever a thought or an idea pops into your head, write it down. When you read a quote you like, write it down and log some notes about why the quote jumped out at you.Down the road, you can use this private library of ideas and quotes to overcome writer’s block and spice up your thoughts with other perspectives.

Read often

Quote from John Cheever About Importance of Reading

Readers make the best writers. In fact, your reading habit is probably what turned you into a writer! If you want to succeed as a freelance writer, keep reading:

  • Reading helps us learn sentence structure, grammar, diction, and style.  
  • It helps us develop taste. We learn what we like and dislike.
  • Reading keeps our minds sharp and helps us find fresh ideas.
  • It helps us make new connections.

Many of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs cite their love of reading as a major driver of their success. The more you read, the more ideas you’ll have. The more ideas you generate, the better you become at both writing and business.

Take it a step further and invest in your freelance writing career

Freelance writing is a business venture. And as with any other business ventures, investing time and money is necessary. Otherwise, how will your business grow?Investing in yourself is the most effective way to have a successful freelance writing career. Over the years, I joined Mastermind groups, bought courses, and hired coaches.

Hand Holding a Compass as Guide

Photo credit: Valentin Antonucci via Pexels

Find a freelance writing coach

If you’re new to freelance writing or to freelancing in general, it’s easy to waste time on strategies and tactics that don’t work. Why? You don’t know any better!

  • How much should you charge?
  • Where can you get writing clients?
  • What types of writing pay the best?

Sometimes, freelancing feels like pushing through a jungle of questions with a blunt machete. A mentor can save you time and headaches. He or she can do the equivalent of sharpening your machete or simply airlift you out of the dense jungle and fly you to higher ground. This freelance coaching program will help you hit your goals faster and have more fun too.

Take online courses

Your writing skills may jumpstart your freelance writing career, but you need a different set of skills to grow your freelance writing business.These online courses will teach you good principles, practices, and processes. Once you put all the pieces together, your freelance writing business can be both profitable and satisfying. The key is to focus on the kind of projects that feel more like play than work.

Motivational Quote

Photo credit: Drew Beamer via Unsplash

What are you waiting for?! Take this next step today!

The world of freelancing may seem hard to break into, but you don’t figure it out all by yourself. I’d like to help you avoid rookie mistakes, get traction in 1 week, and learn how to make money as a freelancer from anywhere.Put in your name and email address below, and I’ll send you my free 6-video course with printable worksheets.