Seen the word “freelance writer” hovering around the internet…but not really sure what it means?
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.
But don’t be confused.
In this step by step guide, we’ll share everything you want to know about freelance writing. That includes:
- What freelance writing is
- What a freelance writer does
- Benefits (and disadvantages) of being a freelance writer
- 5 common types of freelance writing
- Who hires freelance writers
- Whether freelance writers are self-employed
- The skills and qualifications you need
- How much money freelance writers make
- How hard it is to become a freelance writer
- How freelancers find writing work
Ready? Let’s get to it.
What is freelance writing?
Before we dive in with the details, let’s take a look at what “freelance writing” actually means. Here’s a simple definition:
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.
The pay schedule for freelance writers can vary. Generally, they have one of three payment structures when writing for clients:
- 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 $0.10. This can go as high as $0.75+ for experienced, in-demand freelance writers.
- Per hour: Some clients want to hire freelance writers on an hourly basis (as in, “we’ll hire you for 4 hours a week”). We generally avoid hourly billing because it can be a pain to manage. It sets the expectation that a client hires you for your time, not the quality of content you’re creating for them. Nonetheless, some freelance writers agree on this pricing structure with their clients.
- Per project: Our favorite! Per project pricing is what the name suggests: the writer gives the client a rate for a project they want to complete–be that a series of emails, a blog post, or a website rewrite. The client pays that rate regardless of the word count, or the time it takes you to write it. It’s much easier to manage this way.
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):
- Find new clients
- Taking calls with clients
- Interviewing people for quotes
- Making edits and revisions to their content
- Sending invoices (and chasing payments)
The benefits of freelance writing
Freelance writing sounds like a great career choice, right? Here are some of the biggest benefits.
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
Ask a freelance writer why they quit their job to become a freelancer, and “flexibility” will be high up on their list!
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.
Clients pay freelancers for the end product. That means their job is completely flexible; they can choose to take the day off and make-up that time at 11pm, if they want to.
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.)
So long as the work is done on-time and of good quality, the client doesn’t care when (or what time of day) you did it.
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.
For context: when I quit my job as a copywriter, I was earning less than £20k a year. Now, three years into freelance writing full-time, I’m over the six-figure mark.
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.
The downsides of freelance writing
Just like any other job, becoming a freelance writer does have its downsides.
It takes time
Freelance writing isn’t a “get rich quick” or passive income scheme. Becoming an in-demand writer, one that gets paid top rates for their work, 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.
By being aware of these common issues, you can make a plan that succeeds in spite of them. There are many digital marketing and networking tools that you can use, for a small fee, for your business.
Peak Freelance offers a wide range of freelance writing tools and support, including email templates, writing handbooks, a private Slack community, expert advice from companies like Shopify and Help Scout, and more.
5 common types of freelance writers
Now we know what freelance writing is, let’s take a look at the types of content you might be asked to write for your clients.
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.
Word counts for blog posts can vary dramatically. Some freelance writers write just 500 words per article; others can do up to 4,000 words.
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.
(Some clients also hire freelance blog writers to write guest posts for them. If that’s the case, and you get credit for it when published, you could get your work featured on great publications…whilst getting paid for it!)
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:
- Websites (including home, service, and landing pages)
- Social media copy
- Job ads
- Press releases
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.
Email copywriters are tasked with drafting emails for a variety of use cases, like:
- Welcoming new subscribers to the mailing list
- Announcing a client’s new product, feature, or service offering
- Nurturing new leads from a website or ad
- Getting new sign-ups for an event
- Thanking customers for a recent purchase or sign-up
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.
Freelance editors don’t always choose the topics or stories a business writes about, but you’ll still need to understand story arcs, content writing guidelines, grammar, and a lot more before promoting yourself as a professional.
Their job can involve:
- Proofreading emails
- Turning a client’s rough draft into a polished blog post
- Reviewing short stories for publication
- Checking website copy for marketing teams
- Editing onboarding sequences for product teams
Every department–no matter what industry you’re in–needs an editor to make sure a writer’s work is clear and communicates their voice before sharing it with the public.
5. Freelance ghostwriters
A freelance ghostwriter is someone who writes the copy, but doesn’t get credit for it.
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.
Who hires freelance writers?
“Clients” hire freelance writers for a bunch of different things. But what does that “client” look like? And who really pays freelance writers?
The short answer is: any type of business.
Businesses need content to find new customers, build awareness of their product in their industry, and communicate with people outside their organization. That means any type of business–be that start-ups and small businesses, or multi-million dollar brands–hire freelance writers.
Small businesses hire freelance writers because they don’t have the in-house skills, or time, to write content themselves. Freelance writers are a superb way for them to get top-notch content, without committing to hiring a full-time employee to do it for them.
On the other hand, huge businesses use freelance writers to scale. It’s more cost-effective for them to hire writers as and when they need them, rather than have 100+ experienced writers on payroll.
They’ll typically have an in-house content team consisting of editors, content marketers, and strategists. But they’ll use freelance writers to get first drafts.
Is a freelance writer self-employed?
Since clients hire freelance writers that aren’t on their official payroll, you can be both!
Usually, people start freelance writing as a self-employed person. The clients they’re being hired by don’t give the writer any benefits–like pension contributions and insurance. You’ll need to register as self-employed when you become a freelance writer; all of those things will come out of your own pocket.
As a self-employed writer, you’ll also need to submit tax returns. You can get an accountant to help with this if that’s not your strong suit.
Once you get to a certain level, it’s more cost-effective to register your freelancing job as a business: a LTD company in the UK, or LLC in the US. That does come with its own advantages and disadvantages, though. The bookkeeping is more complex; you may need to register for VAT; and filing your tax returns is harder.
(We only registered as official business owners once we started to earn more than $80k through our freelance writing businesses.)
But when you’re first starting out, the self-employment route is easiest. You can dip your toe in the water with being a freelancer, and see whether it’s a career you want to run with, before making the next step.
What skills do I need to become a freelance writer?
Freelance writing is hard. The only way to get better is by practice, but there are also some core skill sets freelancers need to have to make your work more effective and show clients better results.
- Good communication to understand what a client wants…and then deliver it
- Organization skills that help you manage multiple clients and projects at once–and never miss a deadline
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to help a client’s content rank in search engines
- Storytelling to make content more interesting to read
- Content marketing to understand how your content slots in with a client’s overall content marketing strategy
- Research to pull the best statistics, examples, and data in your content
- Writing for the web (and ditch college-style essays to write in a format people want to read)
- Subject matter expertise in the industry you’re writing about, such as personal finance, B2B, software, technology, or healthcare (to name a few). This will determine your freelance writing niche.
There are various ways to develop these skills. The first (and most obvious) is by doing the work. The more you work with clients, the more you understand the type of writing they want.
But there are also other ways to build your freelance writing skills, such as:
- Taking online writing courses
- Following blogs in your industry
- Starting your own blog
- Experimenting with your rate of revelation
- Reading books about your topic
- Studying how other writers write
- Joining a freelance writing community
Do I need qualifications to become a freelance writer?
No! We both started our freelance writing careers without any formal qualifications.
Elise Dopson, a freelance writer for SaaS companies, for example, started blogging at the age of 12. She went on to get a full-time job in an SEO agency to learn the ins and outs of running a business.
She then quit her job at the age of 17 to become a freelance writer–without any type of marketing qualification. Two years later, she had her first six-figure year, working with clients like HubSpot, Databox, and CoSchedule.
Similarly, Michael Keenan, a freelance SaaS writer, started ghostwriting online for $20 per article. He landed a job at an agency writing local SEO content (which only lasted 4 months), before going full-time freelance. In under three years, he started earning a 6-figure freelance writing salary, writing for brands like Shopify, ManyChat, and Segment–all without any formal training or qualifications.
Clients who hire freelance writers just want confidence that they can write. So long as you can demonstrate that (with writing samples), there’s a strong chance that you can make a living for yourself by becoming a freelance writer.
How much money do freelance writers make?
Earlier, we touched on the fact that freelance writing is lucrative, and you can make a lot of money by taking freelance writing jobs online.
But how much do they actually earn? And how do they make money writing?
The short answer is: it all depends on the type of content you’re writing, and how many freelance jobs you take on each month. Let’s use blog posts as an example.
As a new freelance writer, you can expect to earn between $100-$150 for a blog post. If each spent you 5 hours to write from start to finish, and you took on 4 blog posts per week, that’d be around $1,600 and $2,400 per month.
Experienced freelance writers can demand higher rates, especially if they make a name for themselves in a particular industry. Those top-level writers can earn over $1,000 for a blog post–hence why it’s possible to make six figures as a freelance writer.
How hard is it to be a freelance writer?
Unfortunately, freelance writing has got a reputation for being a “get rich quick” scheme. Budding writers try to find clients on the side of their day-job, only to realize that it takes a lot of time (and effort!) to become a freelance writer that can charge top-end rates.
We’re not going to sit and say that becoming a freelance writer is easy. Because it’s not. You have to deal with finances and accounting software, clients and deadlines, even marketing yourself is tough. It takes time, skill, and writing experience to make a comfortable living from it.
That being said, you do have two huge things on your side.
First, the barrier to entry for beginner freelance writers is very low. You don’t need experience to become a freelance writer. You can get your first few jobs and learn on the go (like we both did.)
The second: the gig economy is in full swing. Companies are waking up to the fact they don’t need full-time employees to sit in their office and write for them. Remote work is on the rise–and so is the number of companies hiring freelance writers. It makes for an excellent part-time hustle, too.
As a general rule, though, we don’t recommend quitting your day job instantly to start freelance writing.
We both started picking up writing gigs on the side of our jobs. That way, we built a small (but secure) network of potential writing clients who’d hire us when we became full-time freelance writers.
How do writers find freelance work?
Unlike a full-time employee, freelancers have to go out and find their own work. They often have multiple clients at the same time. But if they don’t go out and find writing work, they won’t make any income.
So, how do freelancers find online writing gigs? Here are five common places:
- Content mills: Freelance marketplaces like Upwork (formerly Elance), Craigslist, and Fiverr are often the go-to places for newbies who want to start freelance writing. But, they’re a race to the bottom. Clients using those sites rarely have the budgets you’ll need to make serious money as a freelance writer. We recommend avoiding them.
- Freelance writing job boards: Websites like Peak Freelance Jobs, Problogger and Contena have job boards specifically for freelance writers. There are some rubbish, low-paying ones on there, so it can take some time to find hidden gems. But, it’s a great way to get your first few freelance clients.
- Pitching: A common way for writers to find freelance gigs is to pitch companies they want to write for. You can do a cold pitch (where the person has never spoken to you before), or a warm pitch (sent after a few interactions with the person.) We don’t agree with cold pitching. Warm pitching takes a little more time, but has much better results.
- Social media: Clients often look for freelance writers on social media sites like Twitter and LinkedIn. Set-up a profile there and make it obvious you’re looking for freelance work. It’s a good way to get clients coming to you, rather than having to pitch them.
- Referrals: If previous clients liked working with you, there’s a good chance they’ll pass your name on when asked if they have recommendations for good freelance writers. Referrals are the easiest clients to close because the client already trusts you’ll do a good job. (This is how successful writers get most of their leads.)
Is freelance writing a good career?
Have you read this post and realised that you have the skills to become a freelance writer, but wondering whether it’s worth trying?
Our answer is simple: yes!
We’ve built multi-six-figure businesses just through freelance writing. And we created Peak Freelance to help you do the same.
Peak Freelance is the ultimate membership community for freelancers. We’ll teach you every tip, strategy, and technique we used to start (and grow) our freelance writing careers.
Your membership includes access to our high-paying clients who hire other writers regularly, along with the email templates we use to deal with clients, find work, and network.
And, the icing on the cake: you’ll also get access to a private group of writers just like you, who’re trying to become successful freelance writers–newbies and seasoned experts, included.
Sound good? Come join us.