If you know how to structure a contract, how long it takes for them to approve isn’t a problem, Susie. You might want to check out my Freelance Business Bootcamp ebook up on the books tab here on the blog — it goes into a lot of detail on that.
What is Freelance Writing? The Ultimate Guide
You’re not the only one. The definition of freelance writing can vary dramatically depending on who you’re talking to. Freelance writers can do tons of different jobs, find work differently, and work with different clients.
Freelance writing is the act of getting paid to write, without being on a company’s official payroll. Freelance writers can work with several companies at once on a self-employer or subcontractor basis.
Per word: The writer and client agree on a set rate per word for an article. Freelance writers being hired to write blog posts, for example, usually start with a per-word rate of
What does a freelance writer do?
Wondering what a freelance writer does in their day-to-day role? It depends on the type of content you’re writing. But as a general guide, here’s what a freelance writer does (alongside the obvious one–writing content):
You can choose who to work with
The beauty of freelancing is that you’re in complete control of who you do (and don’t) work with. It’s unlike a standard, 9-to-5 job where you’re forced to work for one employer, and you don’t get to choose your co-workers.
Whilst freelance writers don’t have co-workers as such, they’re in complete control of who they work with. They can choose to turn down clients who don’t have a budget to pay them, or they just aren’t interested in writing for. That’s not possible with a full-time job.
Your routine is flexible
Since a freelance writer is in complete control of who they work for, their routine is flexible. Clients don’t pay them to sit at their desk from 9am till 5pm, with half an hour for dinner, every day of the working week.
It’s why freelance writing is a superb career choice for tons of people–especially those who drop the kids off at school, and want to be able to attend midday appointments without that awkward conversation with your boss. (Let’s face it: having to explain to your boss why you need the morning off for a doctor’s appointment is awkward.)
You can make lots of money
We all want to earn more money, right? Article writing is a superb way to do that. The entire industry is very lucrative: get in with the ideal clients, and you can out-earn what you would in your day job by a long shot.
But it’s worth remembering that not all of the money you make as a freelance writer is take-home pay. You’ll need to fork out for expenses (like a computer), tax, and insurance. Either way, there’s still a good chance you can beat what you were earning in a full-time job by becoming a freelance writer.
.10. This can go as high as
The downsides of freelance writing
It takes time
Not only that, but it’s easy for new freelance writers to fall into the trap of thinking their new freelance writing job will only consist of writing. Reality is: you’ll spend time doing other admin tasks–like finding new work, creating a freelance website, and dealing with accounting. All of those things eat into your schedule, but you don’t get paid to do them.
It can be unpredictable
Even if you’re on top of your freelance writing career from day one, finding reliable work can be tough. It can be difficult to reach your audience as a freelancer, especially when you have a small marketing budget. And it doesn’t help that you’re up against freelance content mills like Upwork and Freelancer.com.
Similarly, freelancers can fall into the feast and famine mindset. If you’re working job-to-job without any contracts or monthly agreements in place, you don’t always know where your next paycheck is coming from.
.75+ for experienced, in-demand freelance writers.
5 common types of freelance writers
1. Freelance blog writers
This is arguably the most popular example of freelance writing. Freelance content writers can offer blog writing services to their clients. They’re usually given a topic to write about, and asked to return a draft.
The biggest advantage of writing this type of content, though, is that it’s consistent. Companies want regular content posted to their blog. They can use freelance bloggers to do that–which means you’ll get consistent income, and ongoing work, if you sign contracts with clients who want X blog posts each month.
2. Freelance copywriters
In the freelance writing world, there are copywriters who focus on creating written copy for a client. This type of work is varied. You might see yourself doing these types of copywriting on a daily basis:
3. Freelance email copywriters
Companies make millions through their email. It’s a huge channel for them to engage with potential customers, and convince them to buy their products. That’s why freelance email copywriters are in high demand.
4. Freelance editors
Not every freelance writing job has to involve writing a piece from scratch! You can make a living as a freelance writer by editing other people’s content. It’s a great way for clients with lower budgets to polish the drafts they’ve created themselves.
5. Freelance ghostwriters
It’s a type of writer usually hired by industry experts, or people who want to position themselves as experts in their own industry. They use freelance ghostwriters to create content they’d be proud to add their name to–like whitepapers, eBooks, or long-form blog posts.
The biggest downside of being a freelance ghostwriter is the obvious one: you don’t get public credit for your work. It’s rare that you’ll be able to reference that work in your writing portfolio, and you won’t get a link to your website when the piece was published. Your name won’t appear anywhere.
Wondering what the benefit is of being a freelance ghostwriter? The first is that it’s usually higher paid than other types of freelance writing gigs. You don’t get the benefit of having your name attached to the work. Clients will pay a higher fee to compensate writers for that.
Plus, ghostwriting is a service most used by authoritative, influential people who just don’t have the time (or skill) to write their own content. That means freelance ghostwriters can work with great business leaders who actually have budget.
How Freelance Writing Works
Freelance writers typically work for a company or individual on a contractual basis. These contractual positions don’t necessarily need to have a formal contract in place (although that’s probably in your best interest as a writer). Occasionally, you may be able to land a large contract with one client—writing a marketing campaign full-time for three months for one company, for instance. More often, though, freelancers will work with many clients or publications at once.
What these positions (often called gigs) do have in common is that they are project-based work. The assignment is for a piece (or batch of pieces) of writing that must be completed by a previously set time and an assignment that has a clearly set goal. Once the project is complete, the freelance operative either moves on to the next project in the queue or has to wait for their next assignment.
As a self-employed writer, you also have to become adept at running your business. That means tracking your work (whether in hours or on a project basis), billing clients, collecting payments, tracking expenses, and setting aside money to pay taxes.
Types of Freelance Writers
- Business writing: HR documents, company memos, training manuals, stories for trade publications, etc.
- Technical writing: Detailed instructions, operations manuals, user manuals, assembly instructions, etc.
- Academic writing: Articles, essays, or reports for academic journals, textbooks, or class materials
- Marketing and sales copywriting: Email campaigns, social media posts, product pages, sales sheets, ad scripts, etc.
- News writing: Articles for print or online, scripts for news broadcasts, feature stories for magazines, etc.
- Social commentary or op-ed writing: Essays, opinion pieces, analysis of social issues and trends
- Public relations writing: Press releases, speeches, public statements, etc.
- Writing for the websites: Blog articles, product pages, company about pages, etc.
- Ghostwriting: Writing for another person under their name (this can apply to many of the above types of writing)
If you like the digital landscape, you can become proficient at creating copy for websites because most web designers are not good writers. On the other hand, some freelancers focus solely on writing for magazines, anthologies, or newspapers, while others write grants and proposals for nonprofits.
Once you dive into the world of freelance writing, you’ll begin to get a good sense of your strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Knowing where your skills and interests intersect will enable you to target the jobs that best showcase your abilities and offer you the most opportunities.
I have a question: How do you get clients to pay you high rates, if you aren’t an expert on the topic? I was wondering about this, since I love your advice on how even beginners should charge higher rates, but how would you justify the high rates if you aren’t an expert on the topic? Like even if you pick a specific niche, if you don’t have a background in it, why would a client pay you a lot?
Like for an example, say I have excellent writing skills and clips, in a financial niche. Well, even if they love my writing, how would a client guarantee my research was a 100% on point? If I’m just googling, I could make a mistake and not find out the correct or updated information about finances or the laws…How could they guarantee that wouldn’t happen, if I’m not an expert?
Or for another example: Like if you research about SEO (which is for ranking webpages in Google so you can get lots of traffic, and the guidelines change frequently), you can find old articles very easily on how to do it. So, if I had never heard of it before, and found an article from 2012 and thought it was OK to reference…I would be giving them the wrong information!
Good pay doesn’t come from…’just Googling.’ People who come out of the content-mill world often don’t understand that better paying gigs usually involve interviewing and finding new information that isn’t already floating around the Internet. Often, a lot of interviewing.
For instance, I’m currently doing a $3,000 corporate research project. I have made over 100 interview requests on it so far, looking to find hopefully at least a half-dozen people willing to share their insights on an executive’s management style. Good pay comes from harder projects, that not every writer could execute on.
Yes it did, thanks! How long can interviews take, like from the first time contacting people (for things like magazine articles) to having the finished and ready to send to the editor version? Like how does that factor into your working hours?
I could tell you how long it takes ME, but that would have nothing to do with how long it will take YOU. You’ll find out how long it takes you…but doing it, and tracking your time. There really isn’t another way. And every interview and assignment will vary. As I say in the post, you’re looking for ‘this is the way it works’ answers, but there is no ONE way things work, in freelancing.
Those articles look like they’d be really useful, thanks! yes…the times would vary definitely, I just thought you may have a general range/estimate, like for just magazine articles, like local ones a newbie freelancer would do.
Among the topics I’ve earned large amounts writing about that I am NOT an expert in are surety bonds, insurance, lawsuits, franchising, home improvement topics like trends in shower-curtain styles, advanced washing machine technology, real estate…I could go on and on.
But what really makes the difference in charging more is knowing how to identify and successfully market yourself to better-paying clients — generally, bigger and more successful magazines and businesses.
Once you have a basic portfolio of first clips, you want to move in that direction as fast as you can — but few new writers have any idea what makes a good client. If you’re interested in how you identify those, check out my Get Great Clients e-book. 😉
Oh…I thought interviewing was mostly for magazine articles, although I do remember now people do them for case studies too! I had thought interviews were for only certain things. I was thinking more like, what if I was writing for a company on their blog?
Again, your expertise is WRITING. Writing in the tone and style they want. Weaving the information they want out there into a compelling story. That’s what you offer. You ask a lot of questions, and find out the info you need to put in their copy.
One last question, what do you think about freelancers working for content agencies? Like the agencies hire freelancers to produce content for their clients. They say the work can be really steady, and that they pay more than content mills.
Yes, agencies CAN be a source of steady work, usually at pretty low rates compared to what you can get prospecting and finding your own clients directly. There are good agencies, and there are sleazy ones. They’re not all the same, in how they operate, or pay. But yes, probably better than a content mill (unless that mill is ClearVoice or Contently, sometimes).
But…agencies tend to hire experienced writers, particularly with agency staff experience. Is that you? I personally applied to agency gigs over and over and never got anywhere, despite 12 years as a staff journalist and many awards. I didn’t have the right type of experience for them, I believe.
Or specialize in the forms of writing that are tedious or difficult for your client to do in-house, but for which they supply most or all of the data, such as white papers, case studies, and annual reports?