Wondering how to make money as a freelance writer? Well, buckle up, because everyone loves the part of the hero’s journey where our protagonist accepts the “call to adventure” and “crosses the threshold” from “the ordinary world” into “the extraordinary world.”
It’s engaging. It’s hopeful. It pushes the plot forward.
But we can’t forget about the challenges and struggles that come next.
For new freelance writers:
You may have started off with a couple of great freelance writing clients, but now you have to turn your passion into a sustainable writing business.
How to make money freelance writing
So, what’s the skill that enables a terrific content marketer and copywriter to offer premium services?
Before you click away, disappointed that I brought up something as practical and boring as time management, hear me out. My intent is not to poop on your party as you learn how to become a freelance writer.
In fact, it’s the exact opposite.
When our freelance-writer hero accept calls to adventure to cross over into the extraordinary world, they still need to be equipped with the real-world abilities that make their service business possible.
And part of that transformation involves balancing client work with their own marketing and marketing education.
Time management is the core of your strong business and content strategy, because how you spend your time directly affects the:
- Health of your business
- Types of clients you attract
- Value you have to offer those clients
You don’t quickly learn how to make money as a freelance writer and then get to sit back and eat bonbons while clients who pay competitive rates flock to you.
The challenges and struggles of the hero’s journey exist for a reason: They help you, your business, and your marketing story grow.
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How to be a freelance writer and make money
But here’s an often overlooked scary thought that might happen on your way to earning money freelance writing:
What if your content marketing actually works? What if you get all of the clients you want? Will you be able to handle them?
Every service provider needs to answer those questions honestly because there is often a disconnect between what we say we want and the actions we take.
Fear of success can prevent us from crafting the bold, strategic plans that will truly teach us how to make money as a freelance writer.
Without realizing it, self-doubt causes us to make weak and safe moves that limit our potential — because we’re unsure if we’re capable of building relationships with prospects and managing a full roster of clients.
The path to make money freelance writing
Self-doubt will arise in any business journey, but if you prepare for the healthy, sustainable relationships you want to have with clients, you’ll be one step closer to attracting and winning over prospects with marketing ethics and confidence.
Check out these 15 service business essentials, so that you’ll feel nothing but proud when your content marketing dreams come true.
1. Get serious
Before you offer services, you’re used to operating as a non-business person. You likely perform favors for others — whether it’s reviewing a friend’s resume or sharing their content on social media.
Once you start offering services to make a living online, part of you becomes your “business self.”
It’s the foundation for the rest of these pointers about how to make money as a freelance writer.
While in your personal life “wanting” to do something might be a reason to do it, in your business life, you need to consider favors or discounts with care.
Your service is a business now, not a hobby.
2. Treat your business like … a business
Successful freelance writers establish the healthy boundaries all businesses (and especially service businesses) need.
Working extremely long hours every day of the week might seem exciting at first, but it always leads to burnout.
And when you’re burned out, you only have scraps of energy to offer new clients who might want to work with you at that time. You may even be so absent-minded that you forget to invoice your existing clients on time, which can be a strain on your cash flow.
To avoid those unfortunate scenarios, schedule your work and leisure hours. Creative people know the uncanny benefits of spending time away from work.
3. List goals
To reinforce your new business-centric mindset, list out your professional goals in a document you keep handy near your workspace.
A digital file on your computer desktop works well because you can easily add to it over time. The items in the list will ideally help both you and your clients.
They’ll be especially useful when you’re faced with a tough decision or you’re procrastinating on improving a skill, such as article pitching.
You’ll already have clear intentions for the services you offer, so the choice you make should always help you reach one or more of those goals related to your online business ideas.
You might have to say “no” sometimes.
4. Protect your time
Service providers often work at all hours throughout the day and night, and give the excuse “that’s just my lifestyle.” (Been there, done that, wasn’t worth the indigestion.)
Skip that path to burnout and don’t reinvent the wheel just because you have the freedom to make your own schedule.
You can have a creative work life and borrow wisdom from tried-and-true practices, like designated office hours.
Give yourself time for:
- Work responsibilities
- Personal responsibilities
- Meals and breaks
Like your list of goals, here you need to have clear priorities and agree to activities only if they realistically fit into the schedule for your work time or the schedule for your personal time.
5. Market to the right prospects to make money as a freelance writer
A part of your work time needs to be dedicated to marketing your own business.
One of the reasons why freelancers often experience the “feast or famine” cycle is because they overbook themselves with client work and don’t have time to market themselves.
If you only spend time serving current clients, when you finish those projects you won’t always have new prospects on the horizon.
It might seem scary to turn down extra work because you need to set aside time for your own marketing, but it’s an important step in learning how to make money as a freelance writer and building a long-term healthy business.
6. Be friendly, not friends
That non-business side of you will keep popping up if you’re not stern with it.
You can have friendly, professional relationships with your clients without crossing over into “friend territory.”
I’m not saying that a friendship with one of your clients can’t or won’t develop organically over time.
But a “I’m friends with all my clients!” attitude does not establish boundaries that enable you to take care of your business, your clients, your actual friends, and yourself.
7. Give a simple, straightforward first impression
A lot of well-intentioned solutions turn off prospects because they’re overly complicated.
When you explain your offer in a simple way, it demonstrates that you’re results-oriented.
As a side effect, “simple” tends to — not always, but tends to — attract people who value no-nonsense transactions.
If your business style is unorganized or complex, you’re more likely to attract chaotic or dramatic personalities.
8. Provide a terms of service
A terms of service agreement can help keep you in the “friendly, but not friends” zone.
On the surface, it’s a boring business document, but you can actually use your creativity to establish a set of guidelines that allow great working relationships to flourish.
Instead of making your terms of service dry, demonstrate what it’s like to work with you and how the client can contribute to the relationship in a productive way.
You can answer frequently asked questions and outline your customer service procedures.
For example, you don’t have to return emails or calls within minutes. In fact, if you set yourself up to operate like that, you’re likely to get stressed out and resent work (See #3 above).
So, your terms of service can state your business hours and when clients can expect to hear back from you.
9. Establish a payment policy and schedule to earn money freelance writing
A payment policy and schedule is an extension of your terms of service.
Without one, you don’t have rules for getting paid other than “when the client gets around to it,” which is no good for your cash flow.
Many writers who get paid per project ask for half upfront.
- If the project went as planned, the writer will invoice the remainder when they finish.
- If the project didn’t go as planned because the client needed more work than they originally requested, the writer will invoice the remainder when they finish, along with fees for the additional work.
For example, when I worked as a freelance editor, drafts that prospects sent me dictated the price quotes I gave them, so my payment policy had a penalty if a client needed to send me an updated draft to edit after they already paid me.
It not only discouraged clients from making mistakes when sending me their documents, it put a clear procedure in place if a client changed their needs once I already began working on their project.
10. Have go-to plans for common issues
As you’ve likely noticed by now, learning how to make money as a freelance writer involves expecting the unexpected. But even when you take preventative measures, some clients may innocently cause problems.
I say “innocently” because they might be completely unaware that they are asking too much (or whatever the aggravation is), without any ill intentions.
If the client is not out-of-line, assume a “get back on track” mentality before you get too frustrated.
Anticipate common issues that will throw you off balance, so even if you get a little frazzled at first, you’ll know how to proceed.
Your go-to plan could be as simple as referring to the part of your terms of service that states the protocol for what the client wants.
Regard your terms of service and payment policy as “living documents” you can always update for future clients, if you think of additional business standards.
11. Label and archive your emails
Everyone is going to have different systems for staying organized, but one thing we all have in common is email.
My inbox stays manageable without a fancy or strict system. I mostly use two features in Gmail: labels and archive.
If you don’t use Gmail, there are probably equivalents in the interface you use.
The idea is to have different labels for each client, so you can easily find all of your correspondence.
The archive function will take an email out of your inbox once you decide you don’t need it there anymore. And since you’ve assigned a label to each email, the email will remain under that label in your sidebar.
12. Continue learning
Another part of your work time should be dedicated to your own marketing education.
To stand out as a well-qualified content marketer in the sea of freelance writers, you have to offer something special.
Staying on top of both the expertise clients need and smart marketing trends helps you present your services as the only reasonable choice.
By now you’ve probably noticed that I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned time management above.
Freelance writers with strict work schedules and fierce discipline are the ones ahead of the curve.
13. Get to know your topic better every day
This is a branch of your marketing education.
While you might aim to work your way through premium online courses like the ones in Copyblogger Academy, there are other ways you can learn every day.
You can create your own free marketing curriculum by narrowing down the top publications in your niche and studying them as if they were paid products.
14. Practice like an artist
Your communication skills enable you to be an intelligent marketer.
When you continually sharpen your writing and editing on your own creative endeavors — such as publishing your own killer blog post ideas, teaching your own online training materials, or learning how to create digital products — you increase your value as a service provider.
Prospective clients like to see the quality of the projects professional writers produce independently.
15. Focus on serving, rather than second-guessing
If you find yourself second-guessing your capabilities, put that energy into new or better ways to serve your clients.
The productivity will distract you from self-doubt and make you feel accomplished.
Learn how to make money as a freelance writer … in Copyblogger Academy!
If you’re using content marketing and copywriting to build your freelance writing business, you’ve probably already realized an unpleasant truth:
We live in a day and age when there is plenty of outstanding content to consume.
Your ideal customers and clients literally have multiple lifetimes worth of content to consume, right at their fingertips.
So it begs the question:
Why should an audience choose your great content over the competition?
That’s where having a broad understanding of digital marketing comes into play. So you know how to command attention and differentiate yourself enough that your audience chooses you.
The good news is that we’ve narrowed down this range of competence to three core areas we teach inside Copyblogger Academy.
It’s what we call the trifecta of core skills
Writers with a good understanding of these three skills end up with higher-quality clients who are happy to pay a premium. These clients are also more likely to give you ongoing work.
As a result, you’ll successfully learn how to make money as a freelance writer and boost your income substantially.
Without working more hours. Without scrambling to find new clients all of the time. And without stressing about where the money to pay next month’s bills will come from.
Business owners who implement these three core skills find that their businesses tend to grow more effortlessly. They attract bigger, higher-quality audiences who buy.
This makes growing and scaling your freelance writing business far easier.
Interested in mastering these three core skills?
Find out more about joining us inside Copyblogger Academy here.
Reader Comments (13)
Ryan Biddulph says
As for #1 Stefanie, I have found one of the easiest ways to make more money is to freely advertise your services then to only help folks who pay you first 😉 Meaning, give 100% of your attention and energy to clients, and 0% to non paying folks. This is a bit uncomfortable at first; guilt sets in. Worthiness issues. All that stuff. But with practice it gets easier to realize that it is only money, a means of exchange, causing the feelings.
I promote my products and services all day long and connect with folks who dig what I do, premium-wise, and keep boosting cash flow.
Stefanie Flaxman says
Great points, Ryan!
Sonia said something similar this week too:
“Your audience needs to both love you and want your product or service. They also need to be buyers.”
Jane Rucker says
Another great post! I really relate to this one. I’ve worked for myself for most of my life, first in manufacturing and now in writing services and consulting. Your checklist is spot on, in my opinion.
The clearer I make everything with my clients up front, the easier and smoother the process is every step of the way. When that inevitable snag or hitch happens, that transparency already set before them helps clear the air and the issue without anyone suffering in the process.
Thanks for sharing!
Stefanie Flaxman says
For sure. Sometimes the level of drama in a situation is directly related to how much you’ve prepared. That’s why gaining experience in your field is so important — it helps you prepare. 🙂
Hey, Stephanie –
I really appreciate the distinction you made between being friendly with your clients and being friends with them.
While I have some client relationships that have over time developed into real friendships, knowing where to draw that line is super important for those of us who struggle with drawing boundaries between our work and our personal life.
Thanks for sharing!
Stefanie Flaxman says
Once you start taking on clients, I think it’s natural for your work life and personal life to get blurred a bit — and the sooner a service provider recognizes the benefits of establishing boundaries, the better. 🙂
Lisa P Sicard says
Stefanie, excellent advice! I like the establish the terms of service, policy and payment terms beforehand. I try o set the expectations up as well. And I set them up lower than I anticipate so I can over deliver.
It’s so important today to set it right from the get go.
I believe #10 is so important today as things are changing rapidly in most fields. I’m in marketing and it’s changing every day now. You really have to be aware of these changes if you are helping others to increase their bottom lines.
Chris O'Brien says
Have a go to plan for common issue!!!
this totally separates the amateurs from the professionals.
I’ve freelanced for 10 years. Easily 99.99% of clients get into a project, and when they see the great work you’re doing, can’t help but ask for a little more.
One thing I’ve found that helps.
On your quote or agreement, after the final price. Add in a section for common optional extras. An extra page for X dollars, or more rewrites for X dollars.
I’ve found that being open about what is and isn’t included up front really helps out with those conversations towards the pointy end of the project.
Icy Sedgwick says
I’ve found that doing free work for friends often results in paid work for others thanks to word-of-mouth!
Stefanie Flaxman says
I think it always comes back to gauging whether or not your friend is the right fit for your services (if you’ll be able to provide value for where they’re at right now.) If they are, helping them out with free work can be win-win. 🙂
Amen! to getting the client to pay half up front, or at least a portion with part payments throught the project. I am working on implementing this. It means I get something to help with my cash – flow. It is especially useful if there are delays from the client side.
Tatiana Ivanova says
Thank you for the tips, Stefanie! I especially liked the idea to dedicate a significant part of your time to your own education.
Thanks for the great tips! Getting my first few clients felt so easy, but turning it into a sustainable business was definitely a struggle. It’s a lot of why I started calling myself a content marketer rather than just a freelance writer.
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