How to Become a Successful Freelance Writer in 2022: The Complete Guide

September 29, 2022
Updated: Nov 23, 2022
How to Become a Successful Freelance Writer in 2022: The Complete Guide

We're in 2022: life doesn't have to be a linear, inflexible path from school to college to a job with a meager raise, then retirement.

Whether you love writing or just love the idea of it, becoming a freelance writer may be the perfect job for you. 

It is one of the hottest careers in the world today to create content for institutions, publications, and brands. Many people earn upwards of six figures per year in this field.

If you follow our step-by-step guide, you can immediately get started on becoming a successful freelance writer with a steady income and a flexible career you control.

Let’s dive in.

Freelance writers are LOVING Wordtune, the AI writing assistant ♡ >

Who needs freelance content writers and why?

There’s an unending demand for good content for every possible industry and profession on earth today.

  • Any business or brand that needs to communicate with its customers, from local restaurants to Fortune 500 companies 
  • Publications: from mainstream publications in verticals like sports, business, education or healthcare; to trade journals in niches as specific as dental implants or mushroom growing
  • Agencies of all types: advertising, PR, social media and content marketing agencies
  • Professionals such as doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, real estate agents and even creative professionals such as singers and artists 
  • Content entrepreneurs and personalities who need an active social and digital presence
  • Educational, governmental and not-for-profit institutions from community colleges to the department of defense; from global NGOs to your local dog shelter
  • Students looking for help with writing college entrance essays, terms papers, resumes and more

Everyone needs to communicate with their internal and external customers, tell them what they do, and why they do it better. And while they are busy doing whatever it is they do to run their industries and professions, they need you to create content that helps them stand out in a crowded, cluttered world. 

The best part is that they are willing to hire you on a project basis or pay you based on the hours you work. It’s a win-win all around! Clients get professional writers on a pay-as-you-use-basis; and you, the freelancer, get the income, flexibility, and work-from-anywhere life you always wanted, all while following your passion for writing! 

So, how much money can a freelance writer really make?

Well, I’m afraid I have to say ‘it depends’ on a bunch of variables like:

  • Your level of experience and expertise: newbies will obviously make less than those with a portfolio of published work. If you are starting afresh as a writer but already have a high-level of expertise in a very specialized field, you will still likely be able to start with a much higher rate. 
  • The kind of writing gigs you apply for: thought leadership content for big brands will pay more than technical writing guides for a start-up software firm, a school district’s teacher handbook, or a set of product descriptions. Of course the time, effort and expertise needed will vary as well.
  • The industry niche you have chosen: some verticals, such as IT and consumer products pay better than others such as not-for-profits. According to ZipRecruiter research, the top paying freelance verticals are finance, psychology, architecture and science. 
  • Geographical location: even though you can work-from-anywhere as a freelancer, your clients location may determine the value they place on good quality content or the laws that regulate how much they must pay per hour. 
  • And the most important factor is the number of hours you choose to work! For example, a mom with two kids may not be able to write for more than a few hours each day, which will obviously mean a limited number of clients. If you are a student or a wannabe novelist, you may be able to take on a lot more work per month. 

Variables aside, there are some stats to help us benchmark ourselves and how much we should or could be earning as a freelance writer. For example, Salary.com puts the median salary of freelance content writers at around $55,000 per year, and ZipRecruiter puts it at $66,000, with an hourly rate of around $30 per hour. Other sources put the rate for beginners at about $100 per 1000 words. Experts and established writers can easily command upwards of $100 per hour.

Well-known freelancers such as Holly Johnson, who used to work full-time in a funeral home for $40K per year, now earns more than $200K per year writing blogs for other people. Jennifer Gregory has even written a book on building a freelance writing career that’s pretty much considered a bible of sorts to those getting started in the business. Both of them - and so many others online- have gone from $0 to six figures in a matter of a few years. But there are others who languish at the bottom of the value pile, earning pennies to write a mind-numbing number of product descriptions on no-name ecommerce sites. 

Ultimately, how much money you make as a freelancer boils down to your goals, talent and bandwidth. Just remember, it’s not a static thing. As you learn the ropes, you can build up a diverse set of clients without putting all your eggs in one basket.

For example, over the last seven years as a freelance writer, I have built up a mixed portfolio which consists of a few higher-paying corporate clients, a few publications, and a few bloggers. For the big brands, I write long-form content such as eBooks and guides that can take up-to a week each but which pay more. For the publications, I write regular columns of about 800 words each, I get to pitch interesting topics and I always get a byline, which acts as a good source of new business for me. And finally, my blogger clients who pay the least, also demand the least in terms of time and effort. I do that because I get to write on topics as diverse as parenting and pet care, and it’s just fun. My approach keeps things interesting for me, there is less danger of creative burnout. Plus, no matter what the economic environment, one of those sectors will still have the budgets for content, so it keeps the home fires burning.

Getting started: 5 steps to become a successful freelance writer

For you, we’ve researched the path to success of several successful freelance writers from various verticals and niches, and distilled them down to five solid steps in this guide. Get these right, and you too can set your freelance career up for success from the get go.  

1. Level up your writing and professional skills

Certain writing skills are absolutely non-negotiable for a career as a writer. But in addition, there are also several professional skills you need to level up on as a freelancer. This is because freelance writing is not a creative pursuit. It’s an entrepreneurial career and you need to run it like a business to truly reach your earning potential.

Must-have writing skills

If you are new to writing, invest in a paid writing course or workshop that trains you on effective writing techniques or take one of the many free or low-cost courses on Udemy or Skillshare. You can also follow some of the many established freelance writers who blog or podcast about their freelancing journey or send out free newsletters packed with tips and insights on how to be a better content creator. As a professional content creator, you will need to also level up on understanding the basics of content marketing, content strategy, and search optimization (SEO) tactics in order to do a better job with each piece of content.

Constantly improve your writing with practice and discipline. Write at least 1,000 words every single day. This is especially useful if you are just starting out and do not have a body of work. If you have picked a niche, just ‘commission yourself’ to write articles about common themes in the niche. Not only will you get practice, you will soon build a portfolio of relevant content to share with potential clients. Using a smart tool like Wordtune is helpful to see how a sentence can be framed better or reworded.

Learn to read a content brief and understand the intent of the content you are supposed to write. A creative brief will usually include the intended target audience, the purpose of the content, the expected outcomes, and any specifics such as writing style (AP, Chicago) and technical jargon. Getting the content brief right will save a lot of rework, and give your client more predictable outcomes.

Clarity of thought: this is an important skill for a writer, especially a freelancer, because you are working on multiple topics and themes as an outsider. You need to create a strong outline based on the brief to cover key aspects of the topic, and tell a complex or boring story in a simple or engaging way.

Self-editing: while you can always hire an editor or proofreader to check your work, it’s an additional burden on your initially meager pay. Instead, level up on self-editing skills  to make your own piece grammatically and structurally as correct as possible. Self-editing is especially useful when you work directly with brands as unlike publications or agencies, they tend not to have editors on board.

Good research skills: if you want to charge a premium for the content you create, you cannot rely on regurgitating the top 10 of a topic from the internet. To find a unique angle or perspective for a done-to-death topic, your research needs to go beyond Page 1 of Google. Study academic essays, books, listen to podcasts and webinars, and even reach out to practicing professionals to get insights. I love to use a smart research tool like Wordtune Read to get the essence of multiple long-form content before finding my own unique angle.

Must-have Professional Skills for Freelance Writers (besides writing)

Unfortunately, just good writing skills will not automatically transfer into a successful freelance content writing career. As an independent professional, the buck stops squarely with you. Your clients will expect you to be in charge and deliver on your commitments. So have total clarity on:

  1. Organizing and managing your bandwidth: don’t commit to deadlines you can't keep, don’t bite off more than you can chew; and plan buffers for sick days into every project deadline. 
  2. Get your paperwork in place: be a thorough professional around the client’s proprietary information, and sign and respect an NDA if you have to. Get everything signed off in writing - from client feedback to raising invoices. For example, never have monetary discussions or accept changes to the brief over phone calls or WhatsApp - always ask for emails. If possible, learn negotiation skills and be confident about the value you bring and about your pricing.
  3. Learn to take client feedback objectively and act on it effectively.

2. Pick a niche

This is a very important and probably the hardest challenge to address in your path to freelancing success. While there are writers who are generalists, specialists will always get paid a premium because they would know their subject better than others. 

On the other hand, you don’t want to take on content writing gigs in highly specialized areas without knowing enough about it. Google will especially not help with technical subjects.  For example, I often get enquiries about topics that I am not an expert in, which I politely decline, along with an offer to connect them with someone who is. Not only does this build credibility, it also helps me do a good turn to a fellow freelancer. 

But how do you go about picking the right niche for yourself if you are not an expert in anything yet?

One way is to pick a niche by subject/ industry. Everybody knows something about something. If you haven't had professional or paid experience, dig deep to think about what you know or are good at or are passionate about. For example, you may have traveled or backpacked a lot in your college days. You could start with travel writing. If you are a single parent struggling with child care, then write parenting articles that focus on single parenting struggles! If you’ve grown up in a household where art and culture or food was always a central topic, then start by finding clients in related industries where you can add value with your rich perspectives and knowledge. Trained your own pets? Maybe try your hand at writing for pet care blogs or brands. Sunk a lot of money in crypto? Why not use your experiences to specialize in writing about the crypto economy?

You can take anything you know or are passionate about - even stuff you’ve failed at - and apply it to your writing. Remember, as you get initial gigs and get better at writing, you can always expand your scope to newer niches. Either way, being specific about what you can write well about makes it easy for clients to find you and choose you. 

Alternatively, or in addition to a subject niche, you can further specialize by service/ format or channel. Even within a chosen niche, you may find that you are just better at writing a certain kind of format. For example, over my years of specializing in writing about marketing and CX, I’ve realized that I just do better with mid-to- long-form content - anywhere between 800 to 4,000 words. I’m not, on the other hand, as proficient with website content or social media content. So I tend to opt for projects that suit my skills. Recently, I found that I am pretty good at note taking and distilling down key insights from longer verbal conversations - so I’ve been pitching some of my corporate clients to repurpose webinar content into blogs to support the discoverability of their gated webinars.  

There is a huge range of formats to choose from, such as articles (short and long-form), newsletters, blogs, social posts, video scripts, speeches, research reports, case studies, website and marketing copy, journalistic writing, white papers, eBooks, and so many more. In the unlikely event that you really do not have any particular area of passion or interest, but are a competent writer with strong grammar and punctuation skills, you could even start with technical guides, user manuals or product descriptions; or simply focus on being an in-demand editor and proof-reader.

Finally, if you know a particular channel really well - say Facebook or TikTok, or are really good with writing emails, then you could also consider specializing in creating content just for that channel. 

If you are confused about finding the best niche for you, try this:

  • Make a list of subjects or skills you feel comfortable with or are adept at. It could be an area where you’ve had professional or amateur experience, just a hobby or passion, or even just something you’ve grown up around. Everything teaches you something!
  • If absolutely nothing comes to mind, make a list of subjects that interest you or you think you may find interesting or exciting to learn and write about. 
  • Then, try and find at least 5 paying jobs in that niche on writing sites, job boards, through agencies, and even via local contacts.
  • If you can, then it’s worth going ahead with. Obviously niches that absolutely no one wants content about may not be great picks, but trust me, there is a market out there for everything! If companies are selling it and making money, then chances are they need content.

In 2022, some of the higher paying niches include:

  • Financial writing - everything from personal financial to investing
  • Cyber security
  • Crypto economy and neo banks
  • Health and wellness
  • Education and parenting
  • IT and SaaS 
  • Travel and recreation
  • The pet care industry

Some of the rapidly growing content format and service opportunities include:

  • Video scripting including SEO content for video and audio formats
  • Content for online educational videos, workbooks and guides
  • eBooks and white papers are always in demand with corporate clients
  • Research reports, annual reports, donor reports are getting more user-friendly and often come in interactive digital formats. This is a growing area of opportunity
  • Ghost writing for CEOs and famous personalities that want to build their personal brands
  • Podcast scripts 
  • Content repurposing - taking existing long-format content and repurposing it for social media posts, blogs and infographics

3. Build a portfolio and personal profile 

Okay, so once you have picked a niche or two to focus on, and decided on your preferred services, formats or channels, it's time to let the world know that you are open for business!  But if you want buyers, you need a store where they can see the goods you are trying to sell! If you have no paid or published work to display, here’s where all those blogs and articles you ‘commissioned yourself’ to write should come in handy. The main thing is to communicate to potential clients that you know your niche and you can write well about it. 

Put your portfolio, however limited, on either a blog or webpage, or one of the free platforms such as Fivrr or Contently, which are really job exchanges but handily double up as a place to showcase your content. 

If you are aiming for a more B2B client base, then don’t forget to build your social media profile on LinkedIn and post regularly about your chosen niche to build your personal profile on the subject. 

Another great tactic is to start sending in free content to blogs as a guest blogger. Many publications accept guest posts if they fit the editorial guidelines, and while they don’t usually pay, they do give you a bio and link back to your website or LinkedIn profile if they publish your piece. 

The idea is for potential clients to easily find you and view your work, so that they can make a quicker decision in your favor. Of course, you need to be prompt with any inquiries the moment they land in your inbox.

4. Time for outreach: find those clients!

Now that you’ve positioned yourself to get work, it's time to find your first clients! Again, there are a plethora of options to choose from, including:

  • Marketplaces for freelancers such as Fiverr.com or Upwork 
  • Content writing and marketing agencies such as Contently or Skyword
  • Going directly to clients via referrals or job ads, or sending out letters of introduction to potential clients that create content and may be looking for writers. Your applications or outreach emails are of course the first impression about your writing talent, so take the time and trouble to get your pitch right!
  • Building a profile on LinkedIn and reaching out to people in your network. You can also start participating in conversations around content creation or your niche subject on LinkedIn and Twitter, to get noticed as a freelancer who knows their stuff. 
  • Activating your college, professional and if unavoidable, personal networks.

Content marketing agencies and boards such as FreelanceWriting or ContentWritingJobs  help freelancers connect with writing jobs, though the pay varies. I’ve found they usually offer between $25 and $100 per job.

The benefit of gigs on such portals and boards is the sheer diversity of jobs on offer, and as you can see in the screengrab below, the specific niches - from immunochemistry to technical writers, there is something for everyone. Shorter blogs are relatively quicker and easier to write, and you also get a byline in many cases, so it may be a good way to get started and build up a portfolio of paid work, however low. 

Going directly with clients like brands or institutions will of course pay higher, often more than $1 per word or $100 per hour of work; but in many cases you won't get a byline and no one will ever know that you wrote the content unless they agree to give you a testimonial for your website.

Also, these are more complex content pieces that often need a lot of research and even subject-matter expertise, so while they pay more, they also take up more of your time and clients can be exacting and very picky. 

Bonus tip: calculate your runway

Before you quit your day job to be a freelance writer, calculate your expenses and figure out how long you can survive without an income. 

Factor in food and living expenses for at least 4 to 6 months, because it may take a few months for your efforts to start paying off!

Set a monthly earning goal for yourself and work backwards to pitch the right kind of jobs and clients.

5. Land and Expand

All of these steps are sure to land you a gig or two and get the ball rolling.

Now it's time to upsell to existing clients, get repeat business and expand your base. Easy ways to do this is of course to do a great job of following the brief, delivering on time and making sure there are minimal reworks on the submission. Your first 3 to 5 clients will be the hardest, but after that, you should have enough work examples and testimonials to keep your momentum going.

Happy clients can be a source of income for years, and if they feel you really have a pulse on their product or publication voice and audience needs, they’d be happy to pay a premium to keep you on. You can further add value to your client by suggesting graphics to go with the text, more topics and ideas, helping distribute and amplify the content on your own social networks, and perhaps even learning some basic CMS skills to upload your content directly into their system to save the content team time and effort.

Life as a freelance content writer

We've discussed the 5 steps you need to get started as a freelance content writer, and following these should prepare you for success! 

As in any career, you should expect the first period to include many ups and downs. Learn to be comfortable with client rejections, but once you land a client, make it go a long way by giving it your best, even if it's not the highest paying job.

Every article you publish will be another brick to cement your long-term freelance writing career. Handle it with care, and soon you should be on your path to freedom, flexibility, and hopefully, a six-figure income! 

P.S.
This article was co-written with Wordtune. Wordtune didn’t write the whole piece. Instead, it contributed ideas, suggested rephrasing alternatives, maintained consistency in tone, and of course - made the process much more fun for the writer.

Ready to learn more?

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
9 Steps to Avoid Plagiarism as a Student (Including Using AI)

9 Steps to Avoid Plagiarism as a Student (Including Using AI)

Learn how to avoid plagiarism in your writing by using AI, adopting a citation system, taking notes, and a few other useful methods.

6 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block That Work

6 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block That Work

Writer's block should be handled methodically. Here are the most effective ways to get unblocked.

9 Steps to Avoid Plagiarism as a Student (Including Using AI)

9 Steps to Avoid Plagiarism as a Student (Including Using AI)

Learn how to avoid plagiarism in your writing by using AI, adopting a citation system, taking notes, and a few other useful methods.

6 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block That Work

6 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block That Work

Writer's block should be handled methodically. Here are the most effective ways to get unblocked.

 12 Writing Tasks You Can Crush Using Wordtune

12 Writing Tasks You Can Crush Using Wordtune

Wondering how to use Wordtune to improve your writing? Check out these 12 simple yet actionable use cases.