I want to start freelance writing online, but I don’t know how!
How can I get my first freelance writing job?
I can’t figure out how to break into freelance writing.
I get emails like this all the time. I get them from students who are in my 5-day free email course on how to be a freelance writer. I get them from women in my Facebook group. And I even get them from people who know me (gasp!) in real life and know what I do for a living.
The first question I ask people is, What do you want to write? Some people have a hard time answering that question. They like the idea of being a freelance writer, but they’ve never really given it much thought beyond that.
You Can’t Start Freelance Writing Online Without a Niche
The very first thing you should do, if you want to make a start freelance writing online and make a real living, is to choose a niche.
Niche is just a fancy word for specialty — the thing you write about. When I first started out as a freelance writer, I wrote about EVERYTHING. That was fun — but it wasn’t very profitable.
It was only after I’d been in business for about 6 or 7 years (I may be something of a slow learner) that I figured out what I needed to do in order to get paid MORE and work LESS.
I needed to find my niche and specialize.
When you have a niche, you have one area where you want to focus, and you write about that ONE thing. Then, you get to learn all the details of that topic. You know the players. You know the products that work — and the ones that don’t.
You spend LESS TIME doing work because you already KNOW a lot of the information you need — and you know who to ask when you need to learn something new.
You get PAID MORE, because you’re an expert in that area.
When you choose your freelance writing niche, you want to pick something you will enjoy writing about, something that will make you really happy — and pay you well. You want to pick a topic you can hone in on so that you build up experience and contacts.
That’s how you get to know the ins and outs of a topic, so that you can complete projects quickly and efficiently and earn more money.
Don’t Make Your Niche Too Narrow
Here’s where the confusion comes in: When you’re starting a blog or a business, you need to narrow your niche as much as possible so that you can attract the right people.
You’ve probably seen bloggers who say things like, “I blog about dogs and competitive skiing and cloth diapers,” and you’re like, Um… okay? How do those things fit together?
It’s hard to find people who are interested in all three of those things. Which means that there’s a very small audience who is interested in all of those areas.
That’s part of why the advice for bloggers, or for people starting a business, is to go as narrow as possible. To identify the exact person who needs that product or will read that blog.
So, for example, if you were starting a blog, you’d be better off going with a chihuahua focus, rather than a general “pets” or “dogs” focus, because when you hone in like that, you can create content that really resonates with chihuahua lovers. You’d choose vegan Indian cooking, rather than food, so that you could reach a very specific audience.
But when you’re trying to get hired to write articles, it’s going to be hard to find 250 chihuahua-focused businesses or vegan Indian sites to pitch yourself to. It’s not impossible, of course, but you’re definitely going to have your work cut out for you.
When you’re trying to start freelance writing online, you want to focus on the slightly broader topics of pets or food, and not narrow down all the way to chihuahuas or saag paneer — at first.
You could wind up writing articles on introducing your pet and your new baby and/or nine things to consider before you adopt a pet. You could build kid-friendly menu plans designed to showcase world cuisines and write about the difference between organic and regular fruits and vegetables.
You could work with companies that market to pet owners — or, you know, people who eat food — and help them create content that will attract and engage those people. You’re not writing the same thing over and over, but you’re using your experience and expertise in a specific area to bring more value to clients.
Over time, you will probably narrow your focus. You might decide that you most enjoy working with pet food companies or national restaurant chains or something more specific. But you start freelance writing with a slightly broader topic in mind: pets or food, and you narrow down later.
If you’re trying to break into business writing, you probably need to try a couple of different kinds of projects at first. You might write press releases and marketing materials and user manuals and other content, but you ultimately decide that you want to focus on annual reports for pharmaceutical companies.
This doesn’t happen overnight, but when you do build up experience in a specific area, you can charge premium prices and work very efficiently.
You Aren’t Stuck With Your Niche Forever
Sometimes, people have a hard time choosing a freelance writing niche because they worry they’ll be stuck writing about that one thing forever.
Guess what? When you’re a freelance writer, you’re the boss, and you get to make your own decisions! You can totally change your niche any time you want!
When I first started writing professionally, 8 million years ago, I had two little girls and I was pregnant with my third child. My niche at the time was pregnancy and parenting. I wrote SO MUCH about breastfeeding that I often felt like people were totally staring at my boobs every time I left the house.
I loved writing about what I was living — and I got PAID for it.
But over time, I got really tired of writing about what I was living. I mean, I was drenched in breast milk All. The. Time. I didn’t want to write about it, too!
I started reaching out to businesses that needed different kinds of writing. For a long time, I wrote a LOT of different kinds of things, as I’ve mentioned. But over time, I found that I really liked working with big companies to write interactive courses, long-form content (eBooks), and other corporate training materials.
I spent many years in that niche — and it’s a very profitable niche. (There’s a reason I teach a course called Writing for Money. I want to empower women to be able to use their passion to earn a great living.)
Today, my niche is helping entrepreneurs write courses. I chose this niche because I loved writing my own courses. I had so much fun writing them that I decided to turn writing courses into a business. I help other women entrepreneurs organize and write content for their courses, and I create the sales pages and email sequences that convince people to sign up. For me, this is so much fun that it doesn’t feel like work.
Your Path to Start Freelance Writing Online
Once you know what you want to write, it’s a lot easier to get started as a freelance writer. Think about it: when the goal is “be a freelance writer,” that’s too big to put on your to-do list. That’s not an actionable item.
But if you know that you want to write about pets or parenting or food or technology or whatever other niche you’ve decided on, it’s suddenly not quite so overwhelming. From there, you can start to think, I want to write articles about the challenges of parenting twins, or I want to write software user guides for mobile app developers or I want to write about planning healthy meals that your family will actually eat — and you have direction.
Once you get that clarity, it’s so much easier to figure out what you need to do to get from where you are now — staring at your laptop — to where you want to be: depositing that check into your account!
You start by searching out places that need the kind of writing you want to do. That might be businesses, magazines, websites, app developers. If you’ve read that kind of writing, where did you read it? Who wrote it? Now you know where to start your search.
And if you’re thinking, Okay, great, but I don’t have any experience, please don’t worry. The first time I got hired as a writer, I had exactly two qualifications:
- I spoke English.
- I knew how to use a computer.
I’m pretty sure that you can do both of those things, so you’re good to go. (I actually have a whole post about getting started in freelance writing without any experience!)
How Upwork Can Help You Start Freelance Writing Online
If you’ve ever heard me speak about freelance writing, then you know I’m a HUGE fan of Upwork. If you do a little searching, you’ll also find plenty of writers who say that Upwork is terrible.
Here are some of the reasons why some writers hate Upwork.
- Upwork takes a percent of the money you earn from your freelance writing jobs.
- Some clients who use Upwork are looking for fast, cheap work at low prices.
- If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could get scammed.
Here’s my take.
- Upwork gives me access to clients I wouldn’t otherwise meet. They take a percentage of money I wouldn’t have otherwise earned, so I still come out ahead.
- I don’t work with clients who aren’t willing to pay my rate. I charge $125/hour and I get paid that rate on Upwork.
- If you are smart and take the time to educate yourself, you will not get scammed on Upwork.
What I love about Upwork is that it really can help new writers start freelance writing online without building a website or investing any money.
Upwork doesn’t cost any money to use — you only pay a percentage of money you earn from clients — so you will always come out ahead. And once you choose a niche and specialize, you can charge higher rates, pay lower fees, and earn a real living.
What's stopping you, mama? Give me one good reason NOT to get started on your Upwork profile today?