If you love writing, it can be intimidating to start freelance writing with no experience, but it’s entirely possible to build a successful career from scratch. In fact, many of today’s top freelance writers started with little to no experience (including me) and were able to build their skills and reputation “on the job.” It just takes hard work, dedication, and following the right advice.
After nine years of building my own career as a freelance writer and helping countless others do the same, here’s what I suggest you do to get started.
Can I Become a Freelance Writer With No Experience?
You don’t need any writing or freelancing experience to start your career as a freelance writer. However, in order to stand out from a sea of people trying to offer writing services, you’ll need to take some time to prove that you have command over the English language and that you’re capable of delivering quality content. The best way to do that is to create a portfolio of writing samples (more on that later).
Additionally, you can take advantage of online resources, like free courses and workshops, which will help you get off to a strong start. Writing courses can help improve your writing skills and expose you to new ideas and techniques, like the fundamentals of search engine optimization. With that said, don’t feel pressured to create a big long checklist before you start freelancing. The quickest way to find success is to start moving forward.
Can I Become a Writer Without a Degree?
Having a college degree can make you more marketable to potential clients. Some clients may prefer to work with writers who have a college degree, especially if they are looking for writers with specialized knowledge in a particular field, like healthcare.
That being said, there are many successful freelance writers who do not have any degree at all, in any field. What matters most in freelance writing is your ability to produce high-quality content and to market yourself effectively to potential clients. Whether or not you have a college degree, you can still build a successful freelance writing career if you are dedicated, skilled, and persistent.
On the off chance that you’re applying for freelance or contract positions and you’re running into a wall because clients are looking for a writer with a college degree, don’t fear! You can pursue free training and certifications instead from schools like Harvard via a site like EdX. Here at the Society of Writers, we routinely suggest new writers take a course like Digital Marketing Strategy from the University of Edinburgh because it teaches valuable info and it’ll look great on your resume or LinkedIn profile.
How to Start Freelancing With No Experience
So, you’re looking to hop into freelance writing and you have no prior experience with freelancing or professional writing. Here are the 7 things we suggest you do first to get you off to a strong start.
1. Complete a Few Practice Projects
When you’re starting from square one, writing samples serve as tangible evidence of your skills and abilities. Clients will usually want to see examples of your previous work to gauge your ability to research a topic and create a comprehensive, detailed piece of content. So, to secure your first client (or get accepted into a major writing platform), you’ll need to pick a handful topics and spend time creating a fantastic sample for each one.
Now, this is when you’re going to have to make a decision about the type of freelance writer you want to be. What do you want to create? Some common options include:
- Articles / Blog Posts
- White Papers
- LinkedIn posts
- Video scripts
You can definitely write multiple types of content, but you also need to think about the subject matter or “niche” you want to specialize in. For instance, you can ghostwrite thought leadership pieces for executives or you can create long-form blog posts on technical topics for software companies. Niching down is the fastest way to maximize your earnings and connect with quality clients who value your work. With that said, it can be tough to start niching down when you have no prior experience in professional writing.
So, as you go forward with creating these writing samples, approach them as practice projects. This means doing your research and think about who you would be writing for, the goal your client might be trying to achieve, and the other skills that may be helpful. For instance, you’re creating sample articles, your client might value SEO or they might want to see a call-to-action at the end to advertise their services.
Basically, use this opportunity to both produce great writing samples for your portfolio and to discover the various niches and formats you could work with and learn about the clients that come along with those areas of expertise. If you do, you’ll give yourself a solid foundation for building a lucrative career that aligns with your interests and passions.
2. Create Your Digital Presence
Your personal brand encompasses the way that you present yourself to the world. It’s the combination of your personality, values, and unique knowledge that makes you stand out from the crowd. As a freelancer, cultivating your personal brand from the start will help you develop a strong and consistent voice across various platforms that ultimately attracts the type of companies or clients you want to work with. So, how do you do it?
Your top priorities for kickstarting your freelance writing career should include:
- Set up your LinkedIn profile
- Get a website
- Put your portfolio online
- Start a blog
It can be overwhelming, but if you take it step-by-step, you can have a bare bones digital presence set up by the end of the day. We have a long list of recommended tools to help you build your website yourself (without hiring a web designer) and we even have a portfolio template that you can plug your writing samples into, so no excuses!
3. Apply for Some Platforms and Agencies
I stand by the claim that the fastest way to start earning money as a freelance writer is to join a few platforms or agencies. You are never going to get rich with these sites, but if you need to earn money right away and you don’t have weeks or months to cultivate relationships and send pitches, I think registering and applying for a handful of platforms is a smart third step.
The reason why you’ll ideally want to wait to apply until step three is because most agencies and platforms will ask for your portfolio (at the very least) and many will ask for a link to your website, LinkedIn profile, etc. So, give yourself the best possible chance of getting accepted by setting those things up first.
I can’t vouch for every platform on the web, but I gained extensive experience with Draft.co (previously ContentFly), Scripted, and CopyPress in my early career. Expect to earn 5 cents to 10 cents per word in the best case. Again, you’re not going to get rich, but it’s a viable way to start claiming projects and earning money within a week if you get accepted.
Some other platforms I’ve heard good things about include nDash, Contra, and CrowdContent, but I don’t know how much you can expect to earn.
4. Set Goals for Growth
Setting goals is important for you because it provides a clear sense of direction and purpose. Goals give you something to work towards, something to strive for, and something to achieve. Having clear goals also helps you to stay motivated and accountable.
Depending on your needs, financially and otherwise, it’s a good idea to set a few different goals that line up:
- Weekly and monthly income goals
- Number of paying projects you’d like to complete
- Number of clients you’d like to sign on
To help you set strong goals, follow the SMART framework, which means setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals. For instance, say you want to earn $50,000 in revenue this year. Your SMART goal would look like this:
Specific: I will earn $50,000 in revenue from my freelance business in the next 12 months.
Measurable: I will track my revenue on a monthly basis using a spreadsheet with a monthly target of $4,150.
Achievable: Based on the amount I plan to charge for my work and the amount of time I can devote to writing, I believe that earning $50,000 in revenue is achievable within the next 12 months.
Relevant: Achieving this revenue goal will enable me to cover my business expenses, pay myself a salary, and reinvest in my career for future growth.
Time-bound: I will achieve this goal within the next 12 months, starting on the first of the month.
5. Share As You Go
Thought leadership refers to your ability to establish yourself as an expert and authority in your field. By sharing your unique insights, experiences, and perspectives, you can become a trusted source of information and inspiration for others in your industry. As a freelancer, that’s very powerful stuff. The question is, where do you start?
Posting content on LinkedIn as a freelance writer will help you showcase your knowledge and experience to attract new clients, build your professional network, and discover opportunities to grow. You should also consider sharing your insights on your website and blog, which is a great way to start driving organic traffic, too.
Some freelance writers start email newsletters as well and they create content that would be of interest to their potential clients. For instance, if you wanted to write content for dentists, you could create a newsletter covering marketing techniques, local SEO, and news that’s pertinent to the owner of a dental practice.
6. Secure Your Own Clients
Remember how I said you’ll never get rich from a go-between writing platform or agency? If you really want to be in control of your time and earnings, you need to secure your own clients. One of the oldest ways to do that is through cold pitching.
Cold pitching means proactively reaching out to potential clients in order to secure new projects. This means identifying individuals or companies that may be a good fit for your services, and then crafting a personalized pitch to introduce yourself and your skills. Many freelance writers cold pitch via LinkedIn messages and others use various techniques to find a lead’s email (or phone number) and they get in touch with them that way.
Of course, it’s important to note that cold pitching and outreach can be time-consuming and requires a significant amount of effort and research. You’ll need to do your homework on potential clients, identify their pain points, and tailor your pitch to their specific needs and interests. It can be a very powerful skill, but I’ve always been a much bigger fan of “warm pitching.”
Warm pitching means reaching out to individuals or companies who have shown some level of interest in your services or have an existing connection with you. For instance, contacting a potential client that regularly interacts with your content on LinkedIn would be a warm pitch. Likewise, pitching your services to someone actively seeking your services (like a company that’s posted a job on Upwork) is another example of a warm pitch.
You can also get leads and clients to come to you by having a contact form on your website, which is a type of “passive acquisition” that pays off very well.
While on this topic, remember that securing your own clients might come with higher pay and more control, but it also means more work. In addition to pitching, selling, and signing contracts, you’ll also need to come up with your own project management tools and systems to stay organized. The Society of Writers has a list of great free and cheap tools if you’re looking for recommendations.
7. Continue Upskilling
The world of writing is constantly evolving with new technologies and platforms emerging all the time. By upskilling, you can stay up-to-date with the latest trends and tools in the industry, which can help you to remain competitive and relevant in an ever-changing landscape. It can also help you become an increasingly valuable partner to your clients.
By learning skills like SEO, social media management, and content planning, you can position yourself as a more versatile and valuable freelancer, and you might find that you have passions that go beyond writing. Surrounding yourself with the best in the industry can help you find opportunities to continuously make yourself a better writer and secure bigger opportunities.
Kickstart Your Writing Career
The Society of Writers is a mentoring community that gives freelance writers access to range of resources, templates, workshops, and work opportunities. Plus, we provide transparency into how successful freelance writers actually find clients, close deals, and earn more from their services.
In addition, the Society of Writers offers mentoring and coaching to help you navigate the challenges of freelance writing and build a successful career. You’ll even have the opportunity to work with experienced writers and editors who can provide guidance, feedback, and support as you develop your skills and build your portfolio.
So, if you are serious about building a successful career, come claim your invitation to the Society of Writers.