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How to make side income as a freelance writer: An insider's guide for beginners

How to make side income as a freelance writer: An insider's guide for beginners

Freelance writing can be a lucrative and fulfilling career path, either as a side hustle or a full-time job. And a lot of people agree — a recent survey found that 82% of all freelancers in the U.S. are writers.

While this may be a desirable path that many want to take, there’s not a clear roadmap for how to get started in the first place. And once you do get started, a million more paths and decisions come up that you might not have even planned for.

I’m in my fifth year of full-time freelancing and only now do I feel like I finally know what I’m doing.

If you want to pursue writing, either as a side hustle or an eventual full-time career, here’s exactly how I got started and the steps you can follow.

What exactly is freelance writing, anyway?

Freelance writing is an umbrella term for a wide range of writing services that are done by someone who’s self-employed. This means that you write independently, usually for multiple clients. When I tell people I’m a freelance writer they either think I’m

A) a journalist (not too far off)

B) writing a book (maybe someday)

C) that “freelancing” is actually code for unemployed (this couldn’t be further from the truth)

In reality, I’m a content marketing writer for B2B and SaaS companies. This means that I write long-form marketing content like blog posts or ebooks that tech companies use to educate or inform their customers. Glamorous, right?

If what I just described is making you rethink becoming a freelance writer because it’s not at all what you had in mind, don’t worry — there are plenty more avenues to pursue if you want to make a career out of writing. Here are some common services people offer as a freelance writer:

  • Copywriting
  • Journalism
  • Grant writing
  • Technical writing
  • Fiction writing
  • Blog writing
  • SEO writing
  • Ghostwriting

Can you become a freelancer writer without any experience?

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re already an active writer, either at your 9-5 or as a hobby. Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, you have more writing experience than you think you do. In the words of one of my favorite writers and marketers, Anne Handley, everybody writes.

You don’t have to go to journalism school or have an MBA in creative writing in order to become a freelance writer. You probably write every day without even realizing it: in your emails, texts, Instagram captions, your child’s PTA newsletter…the list goes on.

Some writing professions require more hands-on experience than others, like technical writing or grant writing. But if you want to write fiction or become a copywriter, the best way to break into those niches is to simply get started. Just remember, your writing may not be great as you’re getting started.

"You don’t have to go to journalism school or have an MBA in creative writing in order to become a freelance writer. You probably write every day without even realizing it."

In fact, you’ll probably look back at your early writing samples and cringe (I actively avoid reading my years-old articles for this reason). But that’s okay! Like most things, writing becomes more natural the more you practice.

A note about AI: With the rise of AI writing tools, it’s inevitable to experiment with them at some point. But I would not suggest relying on them to write for you if you’re just getting started and definitely advise against using them to secure client work. Most clients use AI checkers, so it’ll be obvious if you’re delivering work that you didn’t write yourself.

How I became a freelance writer: 5 steps to follow

Now that we’ve covered the basics, here are the steps I took to get started with freelance writing and eventually turn it from a side hustle into my full-time career.

Step 1: Explore different writing services

Hot take: I don’t think you need a niche — at least not when you’re getting started. There are a lot of resources out there that suggest you need to find a niche or a specialty as a freelancer in order to succeed. Doing so can help you reach your ideal clients, become an expert in your field, and command higher rates. While that all may be true when you’re a few years into freelancing, if you’re new to freelance writing, you might not have a clue what exactly you want to do yet.

"...getting experience in a wide range of writing helped me figure out what I like, what I’m good at, and what types of clients I’m interested in working with."

When I first started writing on the side of my agency job, I dabbled in a little bit of everything. I wrote small business features for a local magazine, crafted website copy for a jewelry designer, wrote countless social media captions for a variety of brands, and even ran my own personal blog. Don’t get me wrong — at the time, I felt all over the place. But getting experience in a wide range of writing helped me figure out what I like, what I’m good at, and what types of clients I’m interested in working with.

Maybe you’re going into freelancing knowing exactly what type of writing you want to do. That’s great! You’re one step ahead. But if you’re unsure, don’t sweat it. You can hone in on a niche after you’ve had a chance to explore or even change niches at any point.

Step 2: Put together a portfolio

Pretty soon into the process of securing freelance writing work, you’ll realize one of the first things potential clients will want to see is writing samples. Your work examples give clients a sense of your writing style and whether or not you’d be a good fit for them.

While you could send over individual links everytime you’re talking to a potential new client, it’s easier and more professional to have a writing portfolio you can send their way. When I’m talking to a potential new client — whether over email or DM — I like to tailor my writing samples to the company or industry. I’ll include a few of my best and most relevant pieces, followed by a link to my full portfolio if they want to see more. This helps them focus on the pieces that are relevant to them, but also gives them the opportunity to read more work if they’re interested.

There are plenty of free and paid tools you can use to create a personal website where you can display your writing samples.

Here are a few writing-focused portfolio sites:

Clippings.me: A free online portfolio maker for journalists and bloggers.

Authory: A self-updating portfolio that aggregates anything you’ve written online.

Contently: Contently can be used both as a portfolio and as a channel for freelance opportunities. When you register with Contently, you’re essentially joining their database of freelancers that can be recommended for client projects.

No matter which tool or portfolio builder you go with, your portfolio should showcase your best work. If you’re new to freelancing, use relevant examples from your past work experiences. You can also create mock projects if you really don’t have any previous samples. For example, if there’s a certain industry or topic you want to write for, write articles on Medium or Substack to get your work out there and prove that you can write and publish relevant and timely pieces.

Step 3: Tailor your pitch

When I first started freelancing in 2016, I was only a year out of college. I didn’t have many connections and I didn’t have a ton of past work experience to lean on. All that to say, I had to get creative when pitching myself to potential clients.

I relied on freelance job boards and good old-fashioned cold emailing to find clients. When pitching myself, I didn’t just copy and paste a standard elevator pitch and hope that sealed the deal. Instead, I tailored my pitch to the position and the company. And, as I mentioned earlier, I also included specific writing samples that were relevant to the position or industry.

If you go the cold emailing route to get clients, try to avoid pitching a generic company email. It’s worth it to do some digging to find a contact and increase your chances of getting a response. Poke around LinkedIn and you’re bound to find the name of somebody at the company to reach out to. And if you can’t find their email, I’ve found that a quick DM works, too.

Step 4: Determine your rate

Figuring out your rate is by far the trickiest part of freelancing. You don’t want to undercharge, but you also don’t want to price yourself out of the market and scare away clients.

For freelance writing, there are a couple of ways you can structure your pricing. A common approach is charging by word. This works well for projects where you have an idea of a word-count range before you get started, like a 1,000-word article or a 5,000-word e-book.

You can also charge by project. This would be a flat fee for the piece of content, whether that’s copywriting for a new website or writing a grant for a nonprofit. For writing, it usually doesn’t make sense to charge hourly. You could be a really fast writer and end up getting paid less than the project is worth simply because you’re fast.

For freelance writing, there are a couple of ways you can structure your pricing. A common approach is charging by word. This works well for projects where you have an idea of a word-count range before you get started, like a 1,000-word article or a 5,000-word e-book.

How you set your freelance rates is completely up to you. Like your niche, pricing is something that evolves as you get more experience. My rate has changed significantly over the years. When I was getting started, I let my clients determine the rate because I was unsure what I should be charging. After I had a few projects under my belt, I used each new project as a new baseline rate so my rate steadily increased until I landed on a price that felt right.

Step 5: Promote yourself

There’s no denying it: self-promotion is awkward!

But as a solo freelancer, you don’t have a marketing team to promote your services for you. You are the marketing team. As cringey as it feels, talking about your work is the only way to get out there and in front of potential clients when you’re getting started.

There are subtle ways to promote your work without feeling like you’re shouting “HIRE ME” all over social media. When you’re getting started, think of self-promotion as simply letting your network know what you’re up to. Share a quick update on LinkedIn saying that you’re available for freelance writing projects and include a link to your portfolio so people have an idea of the type of work you do. You can also share your recent work on a regular basis as a reminder of the type of writing you do and the industry expertise you have.

Even when it feels like you’re shouting into the abyss, trust me when I say there are always people paying attention. I received three client inquiries from this tweet — and none of the people who reached out had interacted with it or even followed me.


I’ve learned a lot in my seven years of freelancing (four of which have been full-time), but my biggest lesson has been to just go for it. There’s only so much planning and prepping and researching you can do before it’s time to dive in.

Further resources


  • The Freelance Content Marketing Writer: For anyone interested in content marketing or tech writing — specifically the business side of it — writer Jennifer Goforth Gregory wrote the book on it. I read this book as I was considering focusing on this niche and it helped me understand exactly how to find clients, how to pitch myself, and how much to charge. In addition to the book, Jennifer runs a Facebook Group of the same name where you can get advice from fellow content marketing writers.
  • Everybody Writes: I briefly mentioned this book earlier, but it’s so essential to writers that I have to mention it again. Whether you want to write long-form content, newsletters, or website copy, this book has a ton of tips to boost your writing and storytelling skills.

Newsletters/Writing Opportunities


  • Freelancing Females: Freelancing Females is a massive community for freelancing women that offers a job board, a podcast, an active Facebook Group, and a freelancer directory to help you get in front of clients — perfect if you’re just getting started!
  • Peak Freelance: Peak Freelance is a global membership community for freelance writers. The community offers workshops, courses, templates, and a Slack group to help you take your writing business to the next level.
  • Copy Posse: Founded by copywriter Alex Catonni, the Copy Posse is a community for copywriters who want to grow their businesses.
  • Superpath: Superpath is a community for content marketing leaders. If you’re interested in taking your freelance writing business to the next level in content or strategy consulting, you can learn a lot from the conversations that take place in Superpath’s Slack group.

Whether you want to pursue writing as a side hustle or a full-time career, getting hands-on experience is the only way to learn what type of writing you want to pursue, who you want to work with, and what your rates should be. Getting started is the hardest part — the rest is in your hands!