If you’ve found this article, I presume you are looking to jump head-first into the content writing world. But you don’t know how and where to start. You have lots of questions like “What’s it like to be a content writer?” and “What about the income?”
No worries, all your queries will be answered right away. I am a content writer myself, and I have been through the same path as you. What did I find and how can it help you? Let’s find out…
I had a typical 9 to 5 job, slugging it day-in and day-out. It was a pretty comfortable job, but the passion was just not there. So I needed a break, and I was desperate to find out other ways to earn money.
I read quite a few articles on going freelance, but I did not possess any of the skills needed for the coding and design jobs. While browsing some freelance writing sites on the internet, I found out some freelance writing jobs for beginners. I was in a similar place as you are; full of questions and suspicion.
“Is freelance writing even legitimate?” “Can I really earn money by writing content?” “What if those jobs are bogus?” These are just some of the questions I kept asking myself.
There were instances where I read that people were able to earn $5000 per month just by doing part-time writing jobs! I was befuddled and apparently thought this was some click-bait. I did not believe freelance writing could be a lucrative career in any way.
I took the plunge anyway, despite resistance and reluctance from my friends and family. I had absolutely no idea where to begin. I did not even have any qualifications in journalism or professional writing experience.
But it just felt right. My gut instinct worked. Now, I am almost a couch potato, laptop in front of me, writing various articles and enjoying my life. Was it worth it? Yes, of course. Were there problems? Yes, of course. I even thought about quitting a lot of times and checked out other ways of income like software testing.
Still, I had my patience and perseverance to thank for helping me stay afloat. More than that, it helped me survive and get to where I am today. So, if a person like me who did not even know the ABCs of content writing can make it through, surely you can give it a try, right?
Let’s see how you can get started.
Start your freelance writing engine!
Planning. We all hate it, but we can not make do without it. Before jumping on the content writing bandwagon as ‘just another source of income’, you need to clear your head and prepare yourself for the journey ahead.
You see, freelance writing can be as easy or as hard as you want it to be. You do not have to have fancy qualifications to get started. So how to become a freelance writer without a degree? Now, this may sound cliché and ‘papa-don’t-preach,’ but bear with me.
You need an innate passion for writing and be fluent in your language of preference.
Sounds familiar? Let me explain. If you want to make content writing your career, then you need to want to write.
If you like playing with words and creating tantalizing sentences, then you’ll have no problems in making your way through. However, writing on rubbish topics with garbled flow of ideas will get you nowhere. This is why your language skills are so important. The fluency refers to thinking of ideas and jotting them down (or type) in a legible format.
The second thing you need is a determination to power through. As with every career, the best way to keep moving forward and being able to succeed is to be focused on the goal. If it’s too hard for you, you should look in some other field to find freelance opportunities.
Learning by example – How to land your first gig
When I sat with my laptop with Google opened in Chrome, I was anxious to get my first job as quickly as I could. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind in such a situation? Asking questions to google. So I did.
Here were my first two questions:“how to get your first writing job” and “how to start a freelance writing career with no experience”. Quite natural, isn’t it? I was trying to read articles which had mentions of any freelance writer website in their bodies.
However, Google bombarded me with ad-sponsored content and highly optimized useless sites on the front page. I had to travel the deep waters and click on the second page, then third and so on…where the most useful information often gets thrown away.
But I persisted and scanned through all the articles to create a list. That’s right, planning is necessary. If you are a happy-go-lucky person with a care-free attitude towards work, then your success will be happy-go-lucky as well. And your money will bear the same care-free attitude towards you. Frightening thought that is.
Once I had my list, I went through the websites one by one, while being careful enough to read reviews and what other writers were saying about those websites. Sometimes websites are not legit, especially when it comes to paying you for your hard work. Beware and avoid these websites at all costs. Then I narrowed down to a few select choices and started off.
Freelance marketplaces vs Content mills
Some websites make it easy to just sign up and apply for your first gig with a proposal. These are called freelance marketplaces. Basically, you compete with other freelancers by making your proposal as attractive as your rate and please the client to land your job. Examples include Freelancer, Truelancer, PeoplePerHour, Upwork, and others.
Others have stricter requirements. These are your typical ‘content mills’. Sounds new, doesn’t it? I found out about it while reading an article just like this! You won’t recognize these content mills immediately, because no sane person would advertise a business as a ‘mill’. When you dig deep enough, you’ll hear names like TextBroker, CrowdContent, Scripted, etc.
These sites will include you as a writer in their ‘pool’, and you get projects assigned to you by project managers. So, there is no bidding here. However, you need to pass some language tests in most cases, before you are approved as a trusted writer.
All these websites work in their own unique ways and may have different payment modes, but the basis remains same. You work from your comfort zone, and you get paid.
Upskilling yourself –before you take your first gig!
You need to be able to put your ideas in writing which is targeted toward specific audiences. And that, my dear friend, requires skill.
So where do you get this skill? Do you need to be born with it or can you develop it? The answer is the latter. Well, you can start writing right away just by thinking out loud and putting your thoughts down on paper. But with nobody to judge your content, you won’t be able to progress.
The alternative is to take up online tutoring. There are many courses available online, paid and otherwise, to help you do just that.
Online content writing courses
You can find lots of great tutorials online on YouTube as well as blogs. And most of them are free as well. You just need to search for them. If you don’t prefer to invest your time in searching, then you can check out Udemy. It offers great tutorials, tests and mentors to guide you through your journey.
Here are some of the best courses I found (so you don’t have to!):
Advanced Copywriting Strategies for Online Sales (https://www.udemy.com/copywriting-courses/)
Content writing is most widely used for converting leads into sales, or potential buyers. And this is where your cash-cow exists. Your articles may be great, but if they do not convert customers into buying your clients’ products, then they are useless.
This course will teach you about advanced strategies which can convert your content into a sales-generating power-house. It contains very effective methods like influencing readers and getting them to sell themselves, scare tactics and the ‘Hollywood Method’.
Copywriting secrets – How to write copy that sells (https://www.udemy.com/copywriting-secrets/)
When you are ready to move from the basics and want to concentrate on the B2B marketplace, this is the course for you. Most courses offer advice on writing great articles with call-to-action steps for converting leads. This course is a little different because it will teach you things like composing case studies, press releases and white papers.
These things are highly coveted in the business world at the corporate level. And you know that they control the largest portion of the pie. If you want a slice out of that, take this course and start writing compelling articles for corporate clients. Not only will you earn more, but you’ll be spending less time for that.
This course is a step-up from the beginner courses, so if you do not know the basics of copywriting, I suggest you look at other courses as well.
Ninja Writing: The Four Levels Of Writing Mastery (https://www.udemy.com/ninja-writing-the-four-levels-of-writing-mastery/)
This is more of a critical course than anything, as you learn the intricacies of writing as an overall exercise. It delves into the nuances of copywriting effectively right down to the very basic level. It teaches you things like proper choice and usage of words, construction of sentences and paragraphs and flow of your initial concept.
At a higher level, it has helpful advice like the ideal construction the entire article, avoiding fluff as well as overcoming the writer’s block. It helps you plan your entire article from a higher angle, and work your way right down to its elemental level.
This makes it a very attractive course, because these things are not discussed at all, or are mentioned at a superficial level in similar courses out there.
Writing With Impact: Writing That Persuades (https://www.udemy.com/writing-for-business/)
This is an advanced course which focusses on writing for business. It is built on the central idea of using psychology in your quest for persuasion. It is a detail-oriented course, which means you should know about copywriting at a basic level and should be able to write articles by yourself.
As far as B2B writing is concerned, the content is spot-on. This course will teach you how to write professional reports, sales pitches, and advertisements, along with emails and blogs.
However, it does entail using techniques like sparse humor to keep engagement levels high. It also teaches you to remain focused on the point rather than dilly-dallying about it.
Take this course to advance your basic copywriting skills and work on an emotional level. It will let you work on even higher-level assignments and earn more than most of your competition.
Which course should I choose?
It might seem overwhelming to you when you have so many courses to choose from. The best way to go about it is to start with some basic level courses which will introduce you to creative writing. You can get your feet wet and know what works for most clients in this category. This is actually how you can get in and start earning at the basic level.
Do not jump in the B2B category just yet. It will be more than you can chew. Even one negative feedback can put you off at this point.
When you have enough positive feedback from about 40-50 clients, you’ll be ready to move on to the advanced courses. The ones mentioned above are your targets. The important thing to do before settling on a choice is to read the course contents thoroughly. Then check out the reviews of that course and the cost.
Udemy conducts sales quite often; so you might be lucky and get a course at a lower cost.
SEO means Search Engine Optimization. It’s what search engines use for ranking web pages. The higher ranked pages get displayed on the first page, at the top, in descending manner. It is a race in reality, with all your clients clamoring to get their web pages as high up the rank as possible.
There are things like keywords, keyword density, ideal sentence and paragraph lengths, meta-descriptions, tags, etc. which you should know about if you wish to bag some higher paying contracts.
So it’s imperative that you learn what SEO is and how you can modify your content to incorporate it. You do not have to be an expert and know the underlying technology, but just enough to know how it works should be fine.
Once you have graduated the academy, you will be armed with the knowledge to take on the freelance content writing world. But you need ammunition too, which comes from your portfolio! To attract prospective clients, you need to show that you have written some thought-provoking articles.
The best part? It’s easy. And the hard part? Getting stuck in procrastination! So shed that rug of laziness and start typing!
Get some sample articles written to show off what you can do with words. To create the most effective portfolio, you need to write three kinds of articles.
short form (500-1000 words),
long form (1500-3000 words)
skyscraper content (4000-10000 words or more).
This shows that you can tackle assignments of any length effectively. Be sure to have them checked by a professional writer and revise accordingly because high accuracy in grammar and zero-tolerance for spelling mistakes is what writers and clients swear by.
If you feel like volunteering, you can just post guest blogs in the niche you want to specialize in. It carries more weight because you get a byline. What’s a byline? It means that you get credit for your articles! Based on the number of people who visit that page and read your article, you can boast of enhanced credentials while pitching for your next client.
And this is just a start.
You’re thinking cheap tricks and advertisements, right? Well, you are right, but only partially. As a general rule, the word marketing means reaching out to your customers. It is extremely important that you reach out to your customers than waiting for them to come and find you.
Here’s a little story. There was a diamond shop in a wealthy commercial area, right next to a sand vendor. The owner of that diamond store had some of the best diamonds on sale. His brilliance was unmatched, and the cuts were perfect. But the owner just sat there, hoping that some rich passers-by would be attracted by all the shine and reflections. It was a pretty packaging all right, but he rarely had anyone check in.
The sand vendor, however, had lots of custom. He kept many different kinds of sand. And the shop also had items made of quartz and decorative silica. The owner was quite outgoing and used to meet with many people from the construction industry. He made a lot of connections with masonry shops, brick and mortar makers, along with suppliers of cement.
The shop also had many sales for the décor, and he frequently held promotion events for the decor to attract as many people to his shop as possible. This kept his shop busy even in times when the sand was not in demand.
After a few months, the diamond vendor closed shop, while the sand vendor was expanding his business elsewhere. Without marketing, even the best diamonds worth a lot of doubloons didn’t get sold. With marketing, however, even something as worthless as sand was getting more business than ever.
So, what’s the moral of the story? No matter how brilliant your writing is, it won’t get you money unless you reach out and find out customers who want to buy it.
How you achieve, that is an entirely different matter, which is sometimes tricky if you are not aware of the nuances or its potential in the business sense. However, there are some ways you can get started with no experience and without spending a dime.
And the best way to do that is networking. It can get you new contacts and introductions with the possibility of private assignments, which have better prospects for negotiation. Remember, if you want to achieve the success you have visualized, you need to reach out and sell your skills.
There are many ways to market yourself. Word of mouth is your best bet if you like traditional methods, but it is quite limited in terms of geography. With the power of the internet, you can reach virtually anyone on the surface of this earth. So how do you do that? Check it out:
This is the best platform for advertising your writing skills. It is a platform for professionals to connect with each other and discover potential employment opportunities. You can search for freelance writing jobs and start applying right away.
However, you should construct a proper, professional looking profile, complete with a corporate photograph to let your employers know that you are serious. Your skills and expertise need to be up to date and relevant for employers to find you quickly.
If you manage to get a few endorsements from your contacts, all the better. Endorsements are a great way of showing client appreciation and feedback. They also instill confidence in your future clients and increase the chances of them hiring you.
LinkedIn has now evolved enough to allow you to present your portfolio and include links to your work elsewhere. Be sure to include your best samples, so that companies can find your past work immediately. Usually, LinkedIn supports common file formats which can be shown in your profile too, so you don’t have to link to some off-site content.
Despite what the naysayers say, Facebook is also an excellent platform for networking. If you plot your interests appropriately, you can get some amazing freelance writing jobs right in your feed. You just need to tweak your settings page. This is a much better option than getting cat memes and non-essential stories in the news feed.
You can also improve the feed by following some professional writers and pages about content writing to make it more relevant and business-oriented.
But that’s not the only thing Facebook can do for you. Facebook groups are a great way to expand your network and find hidden opportunities. Besides, you can discuss various writing styles and learn a lot of tips and tricks which are not visible right away in blogs and articles. People are friendly enough to offer advice if you ask properly, so don’t be shy.
A few notable mentions are:
Content Writers (https://www.facebook.com/groups/webcontentwriter/?ref=br_rs) with 18K members;
Freelance SEO/Content Writing Services (https://www.facebook.com/groups/freelanceseoguru/?ref=br_rs) with 28K members;
Content Writers Needed (https://www.facebook.com/groups/593646384053757/?ref=br_rs) with about 43k members;
Some groups are open to the public, while some are closed, and you have to apply there. There’s no shame in applying, however. The requirements for most are not very stringent, so the more you try, the more success you’ll get.
I know, I know. How the hell are you supposed to show off your amazing articles with limited characters on twitter? Well, you don’t have to. But you can use it to follow other writers and keep yourself updated with content writing stuff.
But it does not have to be all about following other people. You can advertise your blogs and articles over there by pasting links. It’s as easy as that! Remember that you should get your stuff read by as many people as possible. And there is no limit to the number of tools or resources to achieve that, Twitter included.
Online Job Boards and Niche Websites
Finding hidden opportunities are not limited to Facebook Groups. There are numerous forums and discussion boards which also have specialized jobs and highly lucrative opportunities. Usually, these websites have stricter requirements, because they are looking for the best of the best. You can get in if you meet their requirements.
A few websites like Freelance Writers Den (https://freelancewritersden.com) even have a waiting list, where your writing skills are scrutinized and have a membership fee. But the wealth of information and immediate access to a large network of fellow writers and clients is well worth the money spent. Invest a million, and earn two.
Then there are websites like likeProBlogger (https://problogger.com), BloggingPro (https://www.bloggingpro.com/jobs) and freelancewritinggigs (https://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/freelance-writing-job-ads) which host very active boards with some of the best paying freelance writing jobs. You may find blogging jobs for beginners here.
Websites like Craigslist (https://www.craigslist.org/about/sites) can also get you some leads in your local areas, but it might be riddled with scams for the most part and does not let you out of the filter bubble as much.
These are similar to content mills and writing marketplaces, except that there is no Escrow protection for the money. Your best bet is to find regular, niche clients and keep these options for the ‘famine’ times when the inflow of work is a bit on the lower side. Your personalized efforts can get you better odds at success if you have a great online presence yourself!
Build an online presence
Not just with your portfolio. It has to be a professional blog. There are many platforms online which allow you to conduct your own, personal blog. Some are free, like Tumblr or Medium. It is a great start for you, and the only thing you have to invest is your time.
Account setup is pretty easy and you will be able to start blogging within a matter of minutes. The great thing about these platforms is that everything other than writing the blog itself is being taken care of. You do not have to be a programmer or a technician and learn how things work.
The downside is that you don’t really have much control over how things look…graphically. If there are videos or images associated with your blog, then you get a predetermined set of controls and placement which can be tedious to modify.
If you need more control over your content, you can build a blogging website yourself. It gives you the opportunity to express yourself and get a free critique from people who read your articles. If you truly have the superhuman writing powers, you will see people following your content, posting nice comments (barring spam) and an increase in the number of retweets, shares, and likes.
When you have decided to earn money by writing content, you are essentially in a business. And you should treat your website with the same seriousness and devotion as you do in a business. So how do you do that?
Proven strategies to build an online presence
Have a professional presence. Build your own brand. It does not have to be a legal entity. Your own name would be okay. Just don’t be too pompous about it.
Buy an appropriate domain name, and buy some affordable hosting. This is crucial because it showcases your potential to be professional and serious about your brand. It’s not completely necessary though.
If you can not afford either, you can go for the basic blogger websites mentioned above and pay some minimal amount to get some dedicated space with your name.
Create a landing page with a welcome message describing who you are and what you do. Make it as attractive as possible. This is where your writing skills will help you most. Charity begins at home!
Have your personal blog hosted on this website and link or display all your articles on this website.
Create a contact form for entertaining any queries. You never know if a potential client contacts you personally via the contact form! Also, have a comment section for all your blog pages to get conversations going and increasing guest posts or followers.
You might even set up your website for allowing customers to place standardized or custom orders with an e-commerce suite integrated.
Last but not the least; have the website protected with decent security measures.
Sounds too complicated? Check out WordPress. It is a very easy to learn tool which can help you create your website with as little as drag-and-drop operations. No need to hire any developers or designers.
Now that you have all the basics covered, you need to focus on client interactions and monetization. You have everything in place, and you have reached potential clients, or perhaps found a job on one of the boards. What’s the next thing you do? Make contact and pitch your proposals!
The cold Pitching Process
Ideally, you proposal identifies the nature of the assignment and contains stuff about how you will do that job and make the client happy. Most of the times you will also find advice about including bonus points in your proposal. Bonus points are things you will do beyond the obvious call of duty, and they may set your proposal apart from the rest of the crowd.
However, there is no right or wrong pitch in my experience. You can write the most attractive pitch and submit the best samples you have which may even be relevant to the job at hand. But that does not mean the client will bend the laws of nature and pick you. There are many factors when a pitch does not get you a job. At this stage, it is a waste of time trying to find out the reason, despite what some self-proclaimed experts might suggest.
Another important thing to note is, that while this process has its uses, it might work against you when a sub-par writer makes a more attractive proposal than you. But it is a rare occurrence at best.
Does this mean you should be concerned? Not at all. The key is persistence. Keep pitching until you land one. A farmer plants millions of seeds to maximize the output instead of worrying about why one of them did not germinate. Keep this analogy in mind, and you will enhance your throughput too.
While sending out emails (also called cold-mailing) to potential clients, personalize it, and make sure it adds value to their business or solves one of their problems. Generic marketing emails get sent to trash, blocked or marked spam. Furthermore, make it easy for them to contact you by including a call to action element in your email.
Setting your rates
All these efforts should lead to one thing only – making money! Or did you forget that part?
Before you pitch to clients, you should decide how much money you want to get out of it. When you treat this as a business, it becomes strangely easy. Calculate your expenses by the day, week or month. You should make sure that you are making at least the amount of money to cover up those expenses. This is called your break-even point. For some time, you will be working at this rate if your first foray lands you in a content mill.
As you get specialized jobs and better clients, you can ramp up your charges and set a basic hourly rate to start with. Calculate how much you want to make above the break-even point, but be realistic about it.
One way to do that is to scope out the competition and check what other writers charge. You may even ask for advice in your groups or networks if that works for you.
When you pitch to clients, include this rate and start negotiating. Sometimes the client agrees right away, while at times it might be out of the client’s budget. At this point, the decision to move forward or to accept the lower rate depends entirely on you.
It’s not rocket science, but you won’t learn it overnight. It takes some time, but you will get used to it when you make a number of pitches.
When all is said and done, you will encounter rejections. Getting an article rejected, no response from clients or job boards, getting messages such as “????” from editors and “You can’t write” are all common things faced by even the most accomplished writers.
It will cause disappointment, anger, hate as well as sorrow. If you let these emotions fester in your mind, you won’t be able to write anything, which is one of the reasons leading to a ‘writer’s block’. There are ways to deal with that too, but it is best if you do not reach that point at all.
There are different ways in which you can deal with this problem. The most useful advice is to embrace the rejections and lower your expectations for a feedback. This is akin to developing a thick skin. It will take the frustration out of the equation and allow you to focus on moving on and making additional pitches.
However, when you do receive viable feedback about your work without any toxic comments, take it as a way to re-assess your writing style and advance your skills. Having this kind of positivity is sure to turn a sour situation into a salvageable one. You might even form a long-term association with the client in this way.
If you find it hard to keep up with negative feedback, check out this article:
It contains helpful information to help lift your spirit and shape your mind toward a positive path; one that is more receptive to feedback.
Remember that in a business, the customer is the king. You write what and how the client wants. And then you get paid, which is the entire point anyway.
Now you have (almost) everything you need to get started. Make use of this information and start your journey as a freelance content writer with confidence. If you follow the guidance in this article, your journey will be much smoother and with fewer hiccups than if you decide to go all out on your own.
As you have seen, you do not need any professional qualifications or writing experience to become a freelance content writer.