Decided you want to become a freelance writer, but have no idea where to start?
We’ve been there. We started freelance writing back in 2017 without any experience or qualifications. Yet just three years later, we’ve built two standalone freelance writing businesses–each making six-figures a year.
Want to know how we did it?
In this guide, we’ll share the step-by-step guide we used to become a freelance writer without any experience or qualifications.
Discover this guide:
- What does a freelancer writer do?
- Do you need any qualifications to be a freelance writer?
- How to start a freelance writing business
- When should I quit my full-time job to become a freelancer?
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What does a freelance writer do?
Before we get started: do you know what freelance writing really is?
A freelance writer is someone a company hires to write content for them. The “content” can take many forms–from simple blog posts, right the way through to advertising copy and websites.
But as someone doing this for other companies, not all of your time will be spent writing.
Freelance writers have other jobs in their daily schedule. After all, they’re officially running a business; not just writing content all day long. That includes other tasks like:
- Communicating with clients
- Sending (and chasing) invoices
- Researching content
- Pitching prospective clients
It’s worth spending some time to decide whether those other tasks are worth doing to take on freelance writing jobs online. You can’t be a successful one without doing those things.
If not, and you just want to write, you could get a full-time job as a writer, or learn how to start a blog. Those alternative jobs mean you still get to write–but you don’t need to do the other stuff that comes with being a freelancer or business owner.
Do you need qualifications to be a freelance writer?
Unlike many other industries, the bar to start freelance writing is very low. You don’t need any formal qualifications to become a successful freelance writer–take it from us!
We both started freelance writing three years ago without any qualifications. Now, after investing time into building our writing skill, networking, and mastering the financial side of freelancing, we write for some of the best software companies in the world.
Bottom line? You can use the tips we mentioned in this guide, and become a freelance writer, without any experience or qualifications.
How to start a freelance writing business
Have you decided that freelance writing is the right career for you?
That’s awesome! It’s a great way to make extra money doing the thing you love, and choose the clients (and topics) you write about.
Here’s how new freelance writers can get started:
- Build the right skill set
- Choose the type of writing you want to do
- Decide on a niche
- Build a website
- Create some writing samples
- Build a writing portfolio
- Get active on social media
- Find your first freelance client
- Set-up a new bank account
- Find an invoicing tool
- Build relationships and network
1. Check you have the right skill set
It’s all well and good to say that you want to become a freelance writer without any experience or qualifications. But, you do need a particular skill set to make money doing it.
The most important skill is writing. There’s no beating around the bush here: you need to be a good writer, or at least have some solid writing skills, to become a successful freelance writer.
(If you don’t have them already, start to become a better writer by taking writing courses, practicing for fictional clients, and getting feedback from other people.)
But there are some other skills you’ll need to be successful with freelance writing:
- Strong communication skills
- The ability to prioritize
- Subject matter expertise
- The ability to write about complex topics in an easy to understand way
Checking each of those five skills off your checklist puts you in good standing to deliver content your client wants on time, every time. (That’s the secret to making a good living as a freelance writer.)
2. Decide what type of writer you want to be
You’ve got the skills needed to become a freelance writer. Next up, you’ll need to decide what kind of writer you want to be–and which type of content you enjoy writing the most.
(After all, it needs to be something you’re passionate about and enjoy doing, since you’ll be doing it all day, every day.)
Some popular options include:
- Freelance bloggers: You’ll write blog posts and SEO articles for a company’s website. This type of work usually follows the same structure: a heading, an introduction, a few subsections, and a conclusion. Think listicles, tutorials, and case studies.
- Freelance copywriters: You’ll write copy that helps a business achieve more aggressive sales goals. That might be advertisements, emails, or copy for their website. There’s a strong demand for writers to bring business results with their copy.
- Freelance ghostwriters: You can write any type of content, but you won’t be credited for the work. You won’t get the byline that other freelance writers get when their work is published–but that means you can get paid more for doing it.
Regardless of whether you want to offer freelance blogging services or simple copywriting, it’s key to understand how your role plays a bigger part in your client’s company.
Do you help them get more organic traffic? More sales? More followers on Twitter?
Each type of copywriter will be reporting to an in-house content marketer, editor. Yey by understanding how your freelance writing services help them achieve their business goals, you can learn to create content to achieve them.
3. Decide on a freelance writing niche
A freelance writing niche defines the industry (and client) you want to work with.
Choosing a niche is key because clients want to know that the writers they’re hiring are experts in their field. Think about it: if you were hiring someone to fix a problem with your sink, would you be more likely to hire a general contractor or a plumbing specialist? It’d be the latter.
Clients think similarly. If they had the choice between a freelance writer who wrote about everything, and one who specialized in their industry, they’d pick the second option every day of the week.
The only problem? Choosing a freelance writing niche isn’t simple. You’ll be talking about that topic every day, and need to invest time into mastering it. It’s crucial to make sure you like writing about whatever you decide to niche in.
Here are a few questions to help find yours:
- What could you talk about all day without getting bored?
- What experience could you pull from to talk about a specific topic at length?
- What topics do your friends and family come to you for help/advice on?
You can niche in anything that comes to mind–from personal finance, to health, to software and technology.
Once you’ve found your topic, it’s also smart to think about the type of client you want to work with. We can break this down into three categories:
- Startups and small businesses: They might not have tons of budget available for freelance writers, but they can be easier to work with. It’s also easier to get your foot in the door with this type of client.
- Mid-size businesses: These businesses might have an in-house content marketing team, but need help scaling. You usually need some background experience (or at least some writing samples) to land this type of client.
- Huge, well-known businesses: Huge, million-dollar brands hire only the best freelance writers. If you can land them, they’re usually the highest-paying type of client.
4. Build a freelance writing website
By this stage, you know what type of writer you want to be, and the industry you’ll specialize in. Next, it’s time to put a website together that explains all of this–and helps prospective clients learn more about hiring you.
You can create a freelance writing website using tools like WordPress, Squarespace, or Webflow. Each is very low-cost, and has hundreds of free templates for you to turn your website into something that looks more professional than a personal blog.
At minimum, your freelance writing website should have:
- A domain that’s easy to spell (preferably your name)
- A homepage that explains who you are and what you do
- A contact form (or email address) for clients to contact you
Take a look Kieran Tie‘s website, for example:
You could also choose to have a blog on your freelance writing website. If so, write about topics your clients would be interested in. For example: if they’re in the healthcare industry, write about how pharmacies can use blog content to boost rankings for the keywords their audience is already searching for.
(This blogging step is optional, but helps with your own SEO–and could show-off to clients that you can write.)
5. Create some freelance writing samples
You can have a fancy website and a niche…but if clients don’t feel comfortable that they can pay you to write a top-notch piece of content, you’ll struggle to close them.
The good news is that your writing skill is easy to demonstrate. You can create a library of writing samples that show-off how great of a writer you are–and convince new clients to pay you to write similar stuff for them.
The easiest way to create a freelance writing sample is to make-up a fictional client that matches your niche.
For example, let’s say that you’re targeting small accounting software start-ups in the marketing industry. Think about that fictional client and what content they might want to have. (Remember: this should be the same type of content you decided to write earlier.)
You figure out that a client matching that criteria would want a blog post that guides their target customer through the process of opening a bank account. So, write it and publish it on your own blog, acting as if you’re the client.
It doesn’t matter that the content wasn’t written for a specific client, nor that you’re doing it without getting paid.
High-paying clients want high-quality content. You’ll need a library of writing samples that shows you’re the best freelancer for the job. It’ll boost their confidence in you–something they need before offering you a freelance writing job.
6. Build a writing portfolio
A writing portfolio is a collection of documents that shows proof of your achievements and freelance writing examples. It can live on your website, a slide deck, or a freelance portfolio site like Journo Portfolio or The Freelancer by Contently.
Portfolios are a great way to highlight the abilities you’d talk about on a resume or in an interview. They provide evidence of your relevant skills to help clients make a decision on whether to hire you or not.
Examples of writing work you put in your portfolio are:
- Past online writing jobs
- Writing samples
- Guest posts
- Your own blog
- Spec work
Here’s an example from Laura Bosco that shows what a great freelance writing portfolio can look like:
Outside of finding new clients, building a writing portfolio is a great way to keep track of your accomplishments. Having everything in one place can be useful for doing a yearly review for your business. Make sure to keep it up-to-date so you can send it off to prospective clients quickly and easily when job hunting.
7. Get active on social media
Once you’ve got your freelance writing portfolio sorted, think about how you can articulate the main story of your brand on social media.
Try to interact with people in your niche–like other freelancers, content managers, and interesting industry people—so people can relate and start building a relationship with you online.
Ways to get active on social media include:
- Commenting on potential clients posts: Want to work with a brand like Wix or Shopify? Follow people from their content team and start liking or commenting on the stuff they publish. It doesn’t matter whether you have 5 or 500 followers, they’ll start seeing your name pop up in their notifications.
- Sharing posts: If you see an interesting post on Twitter or LinkedIn, share it. Similar to commenting, it can build awareness with potential clients and get you on their radar.
- Chatting with fellow freelancers. As a freelance writer, networking is super important to your personal growth and business development. Find freelancer friends on your preferred channels (we find Twitter particularly helpful!), and start having discussions with them. You can comment with funny GIFs, send them a DM, or invite them to a Zoom chat to discuss ideas and have a coffee chat.
- Posting original content. Another way to get noticed on social media is by posting original content. It doesn’t always need to be an article on your Medium account or website. You can also share quick tips, infographics you find, or an interesting article you think followers with like.
No matter what channel you’re active on, an online presence shows potential clients you’re involved in your industry, and will most likely be the best freelancer to get their job done.
8. Find your first freelance client
Finding your first freelance writing gig is no easy task, but we’ve all been there before. Some content managers want to hire writers with a specific focus—like customer service or ecommerce software—and won’t take the chance on a new writer.
One place to hunt for freelance writing work is on job boards. A lot of these websites are free, and can help you start building your portfolio if you’re brand spankin’ new to freelance writing.
Some you can check out now are:
Many clients posting on job boards will ask for a portfolio. So, as mentioned before, you’ll want to keep yours fresh with recent examples and current contact information.
(Bear in mind that we don’t recommend content mills here. Relying on sites like Fiverr and Upwork for freelance writing gigs is a dangerous cycle. The vast majority of listings there are low-quality, and won’t help you get the clients you really want to be working with.)
Use your existing network
Whether you’ve just left your full-time job, or you’re building a new audience on social media, your network is a great place to find your first client.
For example, Steve Toth, founder of SEO Notebook, was once the full-time SEO Strategy Lead at FreshBooks. But he never really left the company, instead, he turned them into a client for his freelance consulting business, SEO That Ranks.
You can tap into your business network to build relationships and encourage people to book a discovery call with you. You could use the following tactics to let those people know you’re taking on freelance writing work:
- Sending personalized messages to your LinkedIn connections
- Emailing previous co-workers
- Tweeting about your freelance writing availability
Wondering why that headline isn’t “cold pitch”? After all, it is a tactic recommended by almost every freelance writer. But the truth is: we don’t agree with it.
Cold pitching happens when you contact someone out-of-the-blue and ask them to hire you. That person doesn’t have any idea about you, nor the work you do. You’d have to make an incredible first impression to convince them to hire you. How can they trust you’ll do a good job if they’ve no idea who you are?
A warm pitch, however, means you get on a potential client’s radar before asking them to hire you. It works by finding the content manager (or equivalent) at the company you want to write for, and:
- Responding to their tweets
- Sending a LinkedIn connection request
- Commenting on their existing blog posts
- Joining their brand’s community
…before you reach out with your pitch.
Each of these tactics mean your name starts to become familiar when it appears in their inbox. You’d be much more likely to open an email from someone you knew rather than a complete stranger, right? Never mind trust someone with your money to write a piece of content for your brand.
Your potential clients are no different.
9. Set-up a new bank account
Banking and bookkeeping are probably the last thing you’re thinking about when becoming a freelancer. But six-figure freelancers know the importance of creating a banking system to keep track of financial records and pay freelance business taxes.
You can do this by opening up a separate bank account to separate business transactions from personal ones.
Some of the best bank accounts for self-employed and freelancers are:
- Lili bank account (U.S.): a bank designed specifically for freelancers with no account fees or minimum deposits.
- Azlo business checking (U.S.): a fee-free, online bank account for small businesses.
- BlueVine business banking (U.S.): a high-interest checking account for self-employed workers and freelancers.
- Starling Bank (U.K.): an online-only bank account for small business owners with custom “goals” that act as buckets to save money in.
- TransferWise (Global): it allows you to collect, send, and receive money in several currencies with great exchange rates–all under one account.
10. Find an invoicing tool
One of the most important things about freelance writing is getting paid for your work. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to go all-in with a new career, and find writing clients that you’re not getting paid to work for.
In the early days of freelance writing, we created PDF invoices to send to our clients. But these days, there are tons of invoicing tools for freelancers.
Some of them include every feature you’d ever need (great for if you want to keep continuity with your tools as you grow). Others have limited features, but more than enough to help you manage your accounts in the early days.
Here are some superb accounting tools for freelancers:
- Wave: send invoices where clients can pay you via debit/credit card with Wave’s Stripe integration.
- FreeAgent: send invoices, payment reminders, and see how much money you’re making on each freelance writing client.
- Freshbooks: manage expenses, invoices, reports, and time tracking in a simple and efficient way.
11. Start building relationships
Ever heard the phrase: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”?
The same concept applies to freelancing. The secret to getting long-term, high-paying clients is a relationship. Solid friendships with people in your niche means you’ll become the go-to person for the type of writing you do.
Marijana Kay, a successful freelance writer for B2B SaaS companies, mentioned that this relationship-building actually helped get her first freelance writing client.
She reached out to the organizer of a conference and asked whether he thought she needed qualifications to start writing. Marijana then went on to work for the conference, and wrote a blog post summarizing a talk from an agency owner speaking there.
As she mentioned in her relationship-building masterclass:
“I wrote about his masterclass and he saw it and literally emailed me and said, “Hey, thank you so much. That was amazing how you wrote about us. Do you want to give us your skills too?”
And that was pretty much it. It went from this person that I reached out to help me enter marketing, to a year and a half later, getting me to write about someone who then became my first actual client as I left my in-house job to go full-time freelance.”
You can build similar relationships with people (and sometimes land a job at the end of it) by making friends with other freelancers, content managers, and agency owners by:
- Engaging with them on social media
- Asking to be a guest on their podcast
- Guest posting (and staying in touch with the editor)
- Arranging coffee chats with them
Want more advice on networking as a freelance writer? Join Peak Freelance and get Marijana’s masterclass included in your monthly fee.
When should I quit my full-time job to become a freelancer?
Quitting your day job to start freelance writing is a dream of many writers. We’re not gonna lie: it was one of the best career moves we ever made. But it’s not as easy as you might expect to make a freelance writing salary that allows you to quit your job and write full-time.
Most freelancers start by using writing as a side hustle. They have clients on the side of their day job, using their salary as security–knowing that freelancers don’t get paid if they don’t have any clients to write for.
So, when’s the right time to quit?
There is no right answer, unfortunately. The optimal time to quit your job and become a full-time freelancer is whenever you feel ready.
But as a general rule, we recommend having six months worth of savings up your sleeve, and a handful of monthly contracts, before you leave your salary behind.
That way, you have enough money in the bank should the worst happen. You also massively reduce the chances of having absolutely no income if you’ve got clients already agreeing to a monthly retainer.
(If you find that your freelance writing work is taking off, but you still don’t want to quit your job completely, consider asking your boss if you can go part-time. That way, you still have the security of half a salary–and much more time to work for your freelance writing clients.)
Get support growing your freelance writing career
This step-by-step guide to becoming a freelance writer will help you build a website, find your first client, and make sure you get paid for your work.
Want some moral support along the way?
Peak Freelance is the membership community we wished we had back when we started freelance writing.
All members get access to:
- Interviews with some of the best writers, content managers, and business owners around
- A private, members-only Slack group to make friends with other freelance writers
- The best tips we’ve learned in our 6+ years combined experience as successful freelance writers
Want in? We’d love to support you as you start your new freelance writing career.