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How to make money as a freelance writer

You can earn a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars per month working as a freelance writer. It starts with your first 3 paying clients.

Ramit Sethi

You can earn a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars per month working as a freelance writer.

Several of my students — like Karan, April, and Felicia, have made very successful careers as freelance writers (some as a side gig in addition to their 9-5 job).

How?

Think of all the written materials even a tiny company puts out.

Imagine a software company with 5 employees. Their annual report doesn’t write itself. They need a blog to keep up with the content marketing war. The sales team sends out sales letters and brochures to prospects.

The prospects want white papers, case studies. Not to mention technical papers for the actual software.

Someone has to write it all — and the truth is, most people and businesses don’t know how to do it. And they don’t want to learn.

Do you know how much they’re willing to pay for someone to just do it for them?

That’s where you can help. There are thousands of people looking for freelance writers every day.

In this post, I’ll show you how to get your first 3 writing clients.

First, let’s talk about what you need to become a freelance writer.

Do you have the credentials to become a freelance writer?

Only two types of people will ask you: “What are your credentials?”

Person 1: Someone who’s skeptical of your abilities, so they ask this as a prelude to condescendingly laughing at you.

Person 2: YOU DO IT TO YOURSELF! How many times have you talked yourself out of applying for an opportunity because you didn’t have the right experience or credentials?

If you believe experience and credentials are the only ways to land a freelance writing job, you’re missing out on the entire world of people who are simply sidestepping you.

I know. I’ve helped thousands of people land freelance jobs that paid them more, gave them more responsibility and flexibility, and even showed them what they wanted to do with their lives.

The truth is, we don’t need magical credentials to get ahead. Yes, experience matters, and in some jobs (like surgeon), credentials really matter.

But we all know people who defer their goals until they have “all their ducks in a row” — maybe $100K of grad school, maybe some worthless certification, maybe some mysterious person they hope will appear in their lives and declare them “great” — only to find out that nobody really cares.

The truth is: We don’t need to wait for years, praying and hoping for our boss to grace us with “success.” I’ll show you the exact, step-by-step process to do it NOW.

Your first goal: Get 3 writing clients

Don’t start a blog.

Don’t start “social media marketing.”

Don’t start SEO.

Complex marketing strategies like SEO, blogging, and viral marketing appear both easy and discreet, when in reality they’re often an excuse for you to avoid the hard work of finding actual people who will pay you for your services. Do you know how long “SEO” takes to work?

Stop building complex marketing strategies for clients you don’t have. Your first goal is to get 3 clients. Do you really need a blog to do that?

And notice I said 3 clients, not just 1 — that could be a fluke. Get 3. Once you have 3 clients, you’ve proven that you have a reliable base of people who’ll pay you for your services. You can test service offerings and prices on them. And now you can start with more complex marketing strategies.

Remember: Skip all the fanciness and get 3 people to pay you first.

Getting your first client is a 2-step process that I call Locate and Communicate.

Step 1: Locate freelancing clients

Who is your exact client, and where do they go to look for a solution to their problems?  Where are people already looking for solutions to problems and how can you make a match between them and your service?

Identify very specific leads in your very specific target market and figure out where they go to look for a solution to their needs.

Here’s how you find them:

First step is to niche down your market. Do not try to find every business that might need writing services — reports, copywriting, websites, emails, etc. NICHE IT DOWN. By location, size, revenue, type of business, and so many more options. (This is something we explore in my premium course Earn1k.)

Next, find out where they go to find writers. Get in their heads.

Research your audience. Email a few people. Take them out to lunch.

Could you pitch one potential client each morning? You probably could if you created an email template. How about 10 over the weekend, playing with different headlines/offers so you can see which ones work better?

It doesn’t have to take a long time, and it doesn’t have to be agonizing…which brings us to step 2.

Step 2: Communicate with your clients

Email will be your most important communication tool for pitching clients. I get pitched via email all the time by freelance writers. The problem is, these emails are usually way too long and have no clear point.

BAD EMAIL:

Subject: to the real ramit [Subject line is too vague]

Ramit (please forward to him, if VA reading),

I’m impressed, I’ve scanned your blog from 2004 to now, left a few comments and felt the need to contact you for networking, an offer, and advice. This should take you about 4 minutes to read, I hope you can. [Good compliments, but 4 minutes is way too long]

Background: I’m influenced by Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin, Leo Babauta, Rocky Balboa, and Steve Jobs. Effective efficiency meets ideas, the power of less, will power and innovation.

Status: Working 40 hours a week until I can escape via passive or easily managed income. I am IT support for an all Apple global consulting firm. I run [Company], a well oiled machine of an IT support, web development, and internet consulting company (just me and my VAs). I run [Website] – a chronicling of the stages of becoming self actualized to the fact that life isn’t how people tell you it is, and you can design it otherwise. I just bumped up my pretax savings to 11% of my earned income. I am unrelentingly in pursuit of the break that will come and free me to live out my dreams of supporting people and their technology, training in Crossfit, learning Spanish, and giving to youth without worrying about money. [Too long=I’m starting to lose interest]

My need is to learn from you (not your typical money wisdom), and your need is that you or someone you know could use me like a cup of coffee on a Monday morning. [This is where most busy people make the decision not to read on]

I’ve seen enough cases now, yours included of people vice gripping life and making it their own. I’ve always been service oriented in the quiet leader type way, and I’ve made smart no risk decisions, I’m 25 and will no longer take the slow road. I’m primed for a break, and will be unrelenting until it comes. I’d like to include you in that because I think you’re smart, on your way up, and accessible. Please review me below, I hope you can make use of me before I realize my full potential and be swept up in that.

Although I can be wordy, I’m not a magician with words, I’ll lay my most powerful qualities/experiences out in bullet points. I hope you see them as I do, as ammunition.

  • will power like no other (never lost a “bet you can’t stay…”)
  • technical savant (no technology too frustrating or complex)
  • people person (communication is a strength, met several C level execs, Sony for instance)
  • action oriented, all plans suck without implementation. simple plans plus action work.
  • business man. started and sold several businesses
  • founder of [Company]
  • i save 11% of what i make, split to an IRA and emergency fund. i make very little.
  • building a backup information product and breaking the ice of online marketing
  • traveled the world while being a digital worker
  • self starter, will succeed and see the positive regardless of situation
  • educated, technical, fast and i think before i act

Would you let me help you or someone you know with these skills? If yes, please connect with me.

Honestly, the guy sounds like a nice guy who wants to offer his services. I think. I’m not really sure.

But instead of getting in my head and suggesting how he could help me specifically, he just listed a series of vague skills that were all over the board.

And the call-to-action is…for me to “connect” with him? I responded, as I usually do to vague emails, with a 1-sentence: “So what would you like to do for/with me?” He sent another rambling email, so at that point I simply shrugged and moved on with my life.

GOOD EMAIL:

Subject line: I want to work for you for free [Best subject line I’ve ever received]

Hey Ramit,

Love your site, especially the articles about automation and personal entrepreneurship. It’s because of you that I have multiple ING Direct accounts for my savings goals, a Roth IRA, automatic contributions, and asset allocation all set up. [Good buttering me up]

I’m a writer for [Company], a site that gets around 50 million hits per month. I used to do freelance work exclusively, and I’m preparing to make the switch back to doing freelance work ~30 hours / week while I travel and study in China. [He’s in my head: I’m always looking for talented writers and he’s clearly one of them]

In order to start getting myself back out there, I’d love to have the chance to do some work for you, completely gratis. If you like my work and have some paid projects for me down the road, that’d be great of course, but I’d be happy just for the opportunity to network and receive a little advice. I’m sure you have a project or two in the back of your head that you haven’t had time to produce yourself yet; let me do it for you! [I LOVE IT!! As a matter of fact, yes I DO have some side projects I’ve been wanting to do]

You can give me a call at ###, or find me on Google Talk under this address. You can also check out some samples of my work here: [website]

Thank you!

Two things:

  1. That was the best subject line I’ve ever received.
  2. It’s clear, concise and makes me a strong offer while highlighting his experience. I called him within 60 seconds of receiving this email.

Note that if you are looking for paying clients, you can often skip the work-for-free arrangement that I often urge by creating an incredibly niche offer. For example, if he had attended the last 5 video office hours I did and had heard me make an offhand comment about how I’ve been wanting to launch XXX project, his subject line could be: “I can help you launch XXX in 2 weeks.” This could then lay out why he’s good, what he would do, and it could lead directly to paid work.

When it comes to communicating with your prospects, I hear many people complain that they’ve tried to reach out with little success. The truth is they’re often reaching out in the wrong way. But by getting in your clients’ heads, you can fix that and write emails that engage and lead directly to paid work — no fancy marketing strategy needed.

Exact scripts to get your freelance writing business started

I put together my 5 best word-for-word scripts for locating and communicating with potential writing clients.

You can copy, paste, and modify these in just a few minutes to send to potential clients or other freelance writers.

Just enter your email below to receive the following scripts instantly:

  1. How to set up an informational interview.
  2. How to ask for recommendations for people to talk to.
  3. How to cold email a stranger for advice.
  4. How to write a pitch for a consulting gig or a job interview.
  5. How to reach out to others in your company to get to know them.

5 scripts every freelance writer can use

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10 Comments

 
  1. Rhonda

    Hi Ramit,

    Great article. I am a freelancer. I go through UpWorks, but currently do not write for clients. I am in a different arena. I grew up competing in writing contests. Though a bit rusty, I am bringing my old passion back to life.

    I would say you are correct in stating that getting clients is most important and why wait for your blog to be relevant to make money. However, one project I do for a tech startup client is a writer campaign. We scour Google looking for clients who have a blog or write for a site. Their own blog is priceless for us.

    The biggest hurdle is getting in contact with writers. We pitch emails and only about 5 % respond. On top of that I have huge lists of writers for who don’t always put out an email. We are busy and if you give us an email we are much more likely to pitch you for a write-up than if we have to use a contact form. And we pay. I would say writers need to have an email readily available. I know spam is an issue but, seriously we’ll contact writers for projecst.

    Secondly, we don’t state in our emails that we want to pay writers. We find some are offended at the idea of being paid, and others want to be paid. To not offend anyone we leave the pay offer out of the pitch. However, most of the time we expect to pay a writer anywhere from $100 to $300 for a write-up with a link back to the site.

    I kept seeing how many writers ignore us and how many miss opportunities. That is when I had the idea to write. I hope to be successful at it like yourself.

    Warmest Regards,
    Rhonda

  2. Steven

    Love this post. Especially this line: “Stop building complex marketing strategies for clients you don’t have. Your first goal is to get 3 clients. Do you really need a blog to do that?”

    It’s advice like this that keeps me focused on my side income. Granted, I too started a blog, but that not as a means to generate business. Keep grinding in the real world.

  3. Aria

    I started out as a freelance writer back in 2009 when guides like yours were nowhere to be found. Glad to see those who want to start now have so many resources to help them, as beginnings are indeed difficult.

  4. Sarah

    These are excellent tips – I especially like the advice to find 3 rather than just 1 paying client! The emails are super useful too – will definitely be passing this post on!
    Sarah – enrichmentality.com

  5. Colt Ledger

    Thanks for the information, I will suggest others to earn money through Freelancing http://quickbookstechsupportphone-number.com/

  6. Cavalier English

    Its a nice post.

  7. قطعات خودرو

    very good thank you
    i like this post

  8. Alejandro G. Agelvis

    Very nice article! here I’ll give you some tips to improve your writing skills! http://bit.ly/2lcKDDW

  9. Anthony Horovitz

    Excellent post! You have covered everything so well.

  10. Technology white paper 

    Thank you Ramit
    Especially liked the advice about communicate with your client.