Online freelance writing is a great way to earn additional or full-time income as a writer, and you don’t even need to leave your home to do it. There are countless opportunities out there, you can work as little or as much as you want and you can make in excess of £100,000 a year.
You don’t need to be a great writer. You just need to work hard, remain professional and be willing to test yourself. There are also a few things you need to know before you begin.
- What is Freelance Writing?
- What Are Freelancing Platforms?
- What Do You Need to Get Started?
- What Will it Cost Me?
- What Can I Earn?
- Getting Started on Upwork
- Setting up Your Profile
- Finding Jobs
- Staying Employed
- Long-Term Clients and Long Term Success
- Alternative Income Streams
Simply put, a freelance writer is someone who writes for money but isn’t tied to a single organisation. A freelance writer offers his or her services to anyone who needs a job done, getting paid for that job and then moving onto the next one. It is often said that freelancers are their own boss and that no one dictates what they do. This is true, to an extent. But freelancers actually have many different bosses. And they need to meet deadlines and to work to specifications just like any other employee.
A freelancer writer can be tasked with completing a number of jobs. The most common job is simple content writing. There are billions of websites out there and they all need content. A freelance writer is often the one tasked with creating that content.
Other jobs include:
- Novel Writing: Personal memoirs, fiction/non-fiction for publishers.
- Script Writing: Everything from TV pilots and film scripts, to commercials and animations.
- Marketing: Press releases, brand stories, slogans.
- Academic Writing: Essays, academic non-fiction.
- Technical Writing: Instruction manuals, guides and how-to’s.
- Legal Writing: Terms and Conditions. Privacy Policies.
- Editing/Proofreading: Correcting all of the above.
- Critiquing: Providing advice on personal projects (novels, short stories).
- Consulting: Providing guidance on publishing, writing, SEO and more.
When it comes to the concept of “Online Freelancing”, it all revolves around something known as a “freelancing platform”. This is essentially service that acts as a bridge between the client and the freelancer. These sites include Upwork, Guru and Freelancer, but not all should be judged equally as many are a waste of time.
You can use a freelancing platform to showcase your abilities like you would on a CV, and you can also use them to find and complete jobs. Clients post job availabilities, writers apply to these, and the clients interview them. All of this is done through the platform, as is the interview itself. And when the writer is hired, the platform continues to act as an intermediary.
If the freelancer and client agree a fee of $100, then the client must pay that $100 upfront. The platform will then hold that money in an Escrow account, sitting on it until the job is finished. Upon release, the platform takes a small cut and the writer gets the rest.
There is very little you need to get started as an online writer (apart from talent that is!). Basically you need:
- Computer: You don’t need anything flash. If it connects to the internet, it’s good enough.
- Word Processor: Clients will expect to receive work in .Doc form. However, most word processors can convert, so you don’t need MS Word. There are free alternatives out there.
- Planner: When the jobs roll in, it’s easy to lose track. So, make sure you stay organized.
- Bank Account/PayPal: You will need a bank account for Upwork to pay you, and a PayPal account to pay them.
- Skype: Many clients will want to connect with you via Skype or over the phone.
You’re also going to need to sign up to Upwork. There are other freelancing platforms out there, but this is the biggest, the best and it’s where most of the work is.
Upwork uses a system of ‘Connects’, which you need to apply for jobs. You get a batch of these for free every month, but if you want more you’ll have to pay. The more you charge, the harder it will be to find work and the more Connects you will use.
You use between 1 and 3 Connects to apply for a job and you get 60 for free. This means you can apply for between 20 and 60 jobs a month, after which you’ll need to pay $1 for each extra Connect. Upwork also takes a cut of your earnings (from each client) based on the following sliding scale.
- First $500: 20%
- $500 to $10,000: 10%
- Over $10,000: 5%
This may sound like a lot. But they put you in contact with the client, they ensure the working relationship is safe and they act as a mediator if there is an issue. This is a small price to pay.
As a freelance writer on Upwork, you can expect to earn a maximum of $100 an hour for contracts paid by the hour (consultants and grant writers can earn more). However, many contracts are paid on a fixed price and if you work quickly, this can increase to $300 an hour. The ceiling limit is $0.10 per word, but that’s what the best of the best charge. If you have a basic writing ability, your target should be $0.03 per word. If you’re good but inexperienced, go for $0.05.
In any case, you should always look to begin low and then increase as you go on. Base your price on the competition, not on your speed. If you’re a mediocre writer but you’re also very slow, that doesn’t mean you should charge 3x the going rate just to make a decent hourly wage. It means you need to speed up!
Don’t worry though. You will get quicker and everything will get easier as you progress.
There are many freelancing platforms out there, but none come close to Upwork. It’s bigger (which means more projects), it’s easier to use and there are more benefits for both the client and the freelancer. It has its flaws, but it used to have many more and they are steadily being ironed out.
There are millions of clients on Upwork posting hundreds of jobs every single day. Of course, there are also millions of freelancers competing for the same job as you. Any given project will have in excess of 20 applications and some have over 100. But with a good profile, a good work ethic, some proven credentials and a little talent, you can go a long way.
The ability to work hard counts for a lot on this site. If you can regularly meet deadlines, always hit targets and respond to client messages within 24 hours, then you’re already performing a step above most of the other freelancers on the site.
The first thing you need to do is setup your profile. Use a picture that shows your face, and make sure it’s professional. Create a profile description of between 2 and 4 paragraphs and make sure it’s flawless. You will be expected to edit your own work, so any mistakes here will put a client off.
You’ll want to fill every section of the profile, but need to focus more on some than others. For your working history, omit anything that is irrelevant (whether it’s a GCSE in geography or a managerial role at McDonalds) and focus purely on creative endeavors. Spice things up, be vague, but tell the truth. If you have self-published an eBook, written an article for a print magazine and achieved a degree, then your experience can include:
- Published Author
- Worked for a major national news outlet
- Achieved a degree in my chosen field
It doesn’t matter if that book failed, that magazine “article” was actually a reader’s letter and that degree was in Sports Science. What matters is that you have something that catches the eye.
Your portfolio needs to be visual. You’ll be prompted to upload documents and writing samples, but no one pays attention to these. In fact, if a client wants to read a sample they will expect you to send them one during the interview.
Instead, post images that represent your work. They can be covers of books, comics or anthologies you wrote/edited, stills of videos that you scripted; marketing posters you helped to compose; and even screenshots of websites you wrote for.
You should also include a single document of your best written work. Use samples from fiction, non-fiction, scripts, website content and marketing. Paste them all into a single document and use headers to describe each of them (for example, “a marketing piece written for a leading UK beverage company”). Most clients assume that writers can only write in certain genres or niches. This way you can prove otherwise.
In this industry you live and die on your previous success. Your references might not count for much in an office job, but as a freelancer they are what separates those who scrape by on minimum wage from those who earn a six-figure salary. In the beginning, a single piece of bad feedback could end you, so you need to make sure you only work with clients who have a track record of leaving good feedback.
Using the options on the left of the Upwork search, narrow the results down to include the following:
- Experience Level: Expert—At “Intermediate”, clients will expect to pay no more than $20 an hour; at “Entry Level” you’ll be lucky if you make $5.
- Client History: 10+ Hires—Nine out of ten clients posting a job for the first time will disappear before hiring anyone. And even if they remain, they don’t have enough of a history for you to trust them.
- Client Info: Payment Verified—Only those with a track record of paying freelancers will be shown.
- Budget Price: $100 to $100k—This helps to weed out the clients who expect the earth for $0.50 an hour.
Once you find a job that suits, you need to check the feedback of each client before you apply. The trick is not to look at the feedback that others have left them, but at the feedback that they have left others. You don’t care if freelancers think they are a little slow, incomprehensible or annoying, just that they have a tendency to leave 5-star feedback.
Do what you can to keep your average rating high and be prepared to give a refund if you receive poor feedback (a refund will delete the feedback).
Freelancing will open a lot of doors. It will introduce you to publishers, publicists, web-masters and business owners. If you stay connected to all of these, using social media to keep them close, then a simple job could lead to something massive. Work will dry up on occasion, but the good thing is that this rarely happens once you have an established profile. Until you get to that point, here’s what you can do to keep the work coming:
- Ask: If a client promised more work that they didn’t deliver on, just ask them about it. If a client who gave you a lot of work in the past suddenly stops messaging you, email them. I like to give them a friendly nudge in the form of a catch-up message, following it up with a simple, “If you need anything done, you know where to find me”. You’d be surprised at how often this works.
- Focus on one Site: It seems counterintuitive, but if you focus on one platform you’ll have more work. The effort you put into a single platform shows, and this is what prospective clients want to see. If it isn’t working, don’t go elsewhere, just double your efforts where you are.
- Keep Applying: It doesn’t matter how many projects you have right now, you should always find time to send more proposals, apply for more jobs and sit through more interviews. You might be busy now, but soon you will meet those deadlines and collect your money, and then you’ll realize you have nothing else to do.
- Get Rated: Do what you can to become a part of the Top Rated and Pro programs on Upwork. These will boost your invites significantly and in most cases, you just need a few good marks on your profile to join.
- Lower Your Rates: If you’re struggling to find work, reduce your rates slightly to get the ball rolling again. It’s better for work at a reduced rate than not to work at all. You can always kick that project to the curb when a better one comes along (just make sure you finish it first).
Not only will a good client continue to provide, but they will introduce you to other clients and open many doors.
Whether you work on a platform like Upwork, or you do all of the legwork yourself, keep the following in mind:
- Always go out of your way for a client you respect. Never take liberties and apologize profusely if you make a mistake.
- Always be prepared to strike a deal. Offer cheaper rates for bulk jobs in the hope they will increase your workload.
- If you haven’t heard anything for a few weeks, send a message to enquire if they have anything available. In a competitive marketplace, freelancers can be forgotten.
- Give them advice. You’re the expert here, so if you notice an area of their site that could be improved or added to, tell them. They will appreciate it and you’ll get more work.
The work isn’t always going to be there. It’s important to keep trying, because it’ll get easier. But there are also other ways you can make money. So, if you have the time but you don’t have the jobs, and if you’ve done all you can in terms of applying and being interviewed, you can try some of the following:
- Write For Us: More and more web-masters are turning to sites like Upwork to source content, but there are still sites that wait for the content to come to them. These sites typically pay well, and if you Google the phrase “Write for Us”, you shouldn’t have an issue finding them.
- Websites/Blogs: If you don’t know anything about SEO now, you will after a few months. You can use this knowledge to establish your own content websites and earn ad income on the side.
- Flipping Sites: Flippa is basically eBay for websites. You can buy and sell all kinds of blogs, high-profile domains and established online businesses. You can buy poor-quality sites, rewrite the content, do some more and sell them on. It’s just like Homes Under The Hammer—if you have the capital and you can cut costs by doing the work yourself, you’ll turn a profit.
- Contribute: Contributors to sites like Huff Post do not get paid. However, they are allowed to write what they want (within reason) which gives them an opportunity to embed links in their articles. There are countless clients on Upwork seeking freelancers who can get a single link in a Huff Post If you’re a contributor to this site, you can get anywhere from $200 to $500 for that link, and you only need to write a short article in order to post it. Forbes pays even more and works in much the same way.
The Online Writer’s Companion: A Complete Guide to Earning Your Living as a Freelancer by P.J Aitken is out now (Skyhorse Publishing), priced £14.99 in paperback. Visit FreelanceWithUs.co.uk