Homestead Income: The Wonderful, Chaotic, World of Freelance Writing

by Sawyer S

freelance writingWhether you’re looking for a full-time career or a side hustle to make ends meet, freelance writing can offer anyone with a unique voice and strong work ethic a flexible, diverse, and engaging way to make money. Being a freelance writer means making your own hours, choosing your own projects, and working from anywhere. It can provide creatives with more financial freedom and can help aspiring writers cultivate a portfolio and platform for their future careers. That being said, being a freelance writer isn’t easy, and getting started often proves more difficult than people realize.

I have been working as a freelance writer for over a year, and while I now find the job to be fulfilling and financially stable, I didn’t always. It took a lot of time and resilience for me to find my footing along the rocky road of freelancing, but now that I have, I can share some of the important lessons I learned and tricks I picked up along the way.

The first thing you have to consider before you even begin working as a freelancer is whether or not you’re going to use a platform. There exists a multitude of online forums which help connect freelancers with possible clients. There are free platforms, like Upwork and Blogmutt, and there are ones with membership fees like Contena.

These websites can be incredibly helpful for freelancers who are just starting out, and my not have any connections or experience. That being said, some of these platforms take a substantial cut of your earnings, and some make it near impossible to get jobs without paying for a premium account. Upwork, for instances, takes a hefty 20% of all your earnings, and BlogMutt’s free account option is really limited.

If none of those platforms sound appealing to you, maybe you need to carve your own path. While creating your own website can also be costly, and very time consuming, at least you have complete control and will get to keep 100% of the money you make. A few tips for starting your own website – make sure you know how to use social media (or hire someone who does), this will be your most effective outlet for reaching potential clients.

Also, ask around. Chances are you have friends who own business, or who are in need of some writing assistance. Let everyone know that you’ve become a freelance writer so that they think of you next time they need a new press-release, grant proposal, or are maybe just looking to spice up their LinkedIn bios.

Once you’ve decided how you’re going to approach freelancing, you have to learn how to promote yourself as a freelancer. Whether you chose to join a freelance platform, or want to create your own website, you’re profile/bio needs to be eye-catching and engaging. This is how potential employers are going to get to know you, so let them! Don’t suppress your personality for the sake of sounding professional.

Trust me, these employers have read thousands of professional sounding bios, and yours will not stand out. When you’re competing against the entire internet’s worth of freelancers, you have to take every chance you get to separate yourself from the herd. Don’t be afraid to start out your bio with a funny tagline, or your favorite quote – draw your reader in, and then outline your skills and experience.

Promoting yourself doesn’t end with your bio, however. You also need to know how to promote yourself when you’re applying for jobs – especially in the beginning. If you’re just starting out, chances are, you don’t have much of a portfolio to pull from when applying, which can be frustrating when every job you look at asks you to “send links to previously published work”. You’re going to run into that request a lot, but don’t let it discourage you. There are ways to get around it.

When applying for jobs for which you have no previous experience, you should start out by humbly admitting it. I have found that not only do employers respond well to honesty, but also lying and/or stretching the truth when it comes to getting freelance jobs can quickly land you in hot water. On most freelance platforms, there is a rating system, which is used by both freelancer and employer to evaluate each other after a job is complete. When you’re just starting out, one bad rating or comment can plague your entire profile, and make it very difficult to get any future jobs.

After you’ve admitted that you may be a bit underqualified for the job, you should always offer to send either inapplicable samples of your writing, that way they can at least gauge your raw talent, or, if you’re comfortable doing work for free, you can offer to send them a spec piece. A spec piece is something you write specifically for the project you’re applying to, but without any expectation of payment or compensation.

Unfortunately, not every employer is going to give you the benefit of the doubt. A lot of them will see that you don’t have any experience and immediately delete your application. It took me over a month to get hired for my first job, but once I did everything changed. With one good review and some well-needed experience on my resume, suddenly almost all my applications were being considered, and I was even sent unsolicited job offers!

After you’ve successfully completed a few writing assignments, and have padded your resume a bit, you can start being more discerning when it comes to applying and accepting jobs. The freelance writing world is notorious for being financially insecure, and as you will probably notice once you start looking for jobs, most clients pay astonishingly little. That’s why it’s imperative that you understand what kind of writer you are.

If you’re a quick creative writer who can pump out prose for hours on end then it might be worth it to you to get paid $300 for 30,000 words. But, if you’re a slower, more methodical writer, you should consider applying to long-form article jobs, possibly in the academic field. If you know how you write, and more importantly, know your worth, it will make sifting through the thousands of daily job proposals much easier.

Working as a freelance writer will be difficult, unstable, and frustrating at times, but you can rest assured, it will never be boring. There are countless job opportunities available for those willing to put in the effort, so stay committed and keep applying. Remember, even the most qualified writers once started out experience-less, portfolio-less, and begging for a chance. But they made it, and so can you.

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  1. I would be curious to know if the author free-lances as a side gig, or full-time, and what kind of time either ‘gig’ actually consumes. Getting paid by the word is fine, but I wonder what an equivalent hourly wage would look like? I know that sounds rather personal, but general ballpark figures would work.

  2. My beautiful bride has earned income from home (here in the Philippines) as an academic writer for many, many years. In her college days, she noticed that other students were purchasing papers at shops all around the schools she was attending. When asked one time, could you write this for me, she accepted and her long-term career began.
    Maria was blessed to have a very supportive family and she stayed in school, first earning a psychology degree. She continued simultaneously in two colleges across the street from one another. Maria earned a nursing degree at one college mornings and across the road, she earned a law degree afternoons. Today she is able to write on a wide array of topics. Some of her work was published in peer review journals by the folks that contracted with Maria to write for them.
    My bride now has the option to “cherry pick” her assignments. She can keep as occupied as she pleases. There are several busy seasons and when that work slows, she can do local assignments, albeit for less money than from her international clients. As mentioned in the article, there are platforms where you can pick up work. Look for academic writing sites, take their test and go for it! Sometimes, Maria will be approached when waiting for our kids to be dismissed from school and asked by staff who are advancing their degrees to write papers for them. It all adds up.
    Your speciality and experience is your ticket to this home-based career. With the addition of a few tools like Grammarly, a simple computer and internet connection. you are ready to work. If your client is British and you are American, tools such as Grammarly will help you adjust for the difference in how the language is used to satisfy your client’s needs. This is a wonderful profession that you may engage in from almost anywhere on the planet.

  3. Jack,

    I know that getting skilled writers to do your academic papers is a very common, even accepted practice, in Asia. Here in the States, getting caught having someone ghost write your academic stuff is a quick trip to the dean or provost and expulsion. My universities had no mercy on ghost written stuff.

    The problem is many academic ghost writers work in somewhat narrow fields and these papers will end up on the internet. At my universities (I have a bachelors and two masters), it was required that professors run all student papers through websites that scanned for plagiarism. We knew which sites were used, and we were encouraged to run our papers through ourselves prior to submission as accidental plagiarism was possible. I had to re-write sections of more than one paper because of accidental plagiarism or excessive quoting.

    Also, most professors are not stupid. They see a lot of stuff come through, and sometimes, things ring bells in their heads. Many writers have their own way of wording things and these stand out to experienced instructors.

    This is something that American freelance writers should keep in mind.

    • Zulu 3-6, All papers submitted to sites for the US (and many other countries) absolutely must be original works. There are multiple plagiarism checking tools that will be used both by the writing companies and the universities. The software is so accurate, even a string of three words from a previously publishes paper will trigger an alarm. It may well be totally a coincidence but the writer will be asked to do a revision on the paper before submission.

  4. I just sent out my first proposal as a freelance writer. Thank you for writing this article. It never occurred to me that I could get paid for writing. I quite enjoy writing and I am very good at it. My pitch was on whether disembodied pigs retain consciousness. (This is a perfect fit for the website I emailed. They are actually looking for folks to write for them.)