Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
“Ready to get out of the rat race? Want to be your own boss, set your own hours and make untold piles of cash? Running your own freelance writing business is your key to freedom. Just follow my secret strategy and you too can …”
Pitches like these are all over the internet. Some of these pitches promise an easy path that any freelancer can achieve. Others suggest that, if you just buy this course, you too will be making six figures within a month’s time.
You can probably guess what I think about courses like these. You may glean a nugget of wisdom or two, but the truth is that a freelance writing career is neither easy nor an automatic ticket to untold wealth.
Maybe you’re just getting started and don’t know how to find jobs. Or perhaps you’ve already had some success in your freelance writing career but have hit a dry spell. These are frustrating places to be.
Now, it’s true. Great freelance writers can make great money. This industry has been a blessing to thousands. It’s certainly changed my family’s financial trajectory.
But like anything worthwhile, it takes hard work. More than that, succeeding as a freelance writer takes a combination of skill, know-how, and effort, plus a healthy dose of tenacity.
Whether you’re new to freelance writing or you’re an experienced freelancer who has hit the inevitable dry spell, you’re here because you want to grow your business.
Below, I share with you eight real strategies for growing your freelance writing business. No promises of fame or glory; just real advice. Many of these have helped me turn freelance writing from a glorified distraction into a very significant second job in just two years’ time.
If you’re stuck, these strategies will help you find (and keep) clients and grow your business.
Hone Your Skills as a Freelance Writer
My first tip is perhaps the most obvious: keep honing your writing skills. You don’t have to have the technical precision of E.B. White or the narrative panache of J.K. Rowling to succeed as a content marketing writer. But you do need to deliver content that’s engaging and well-written.
If you’re turning in copy that’s vague, unclear, and riddled with misspellings, you’re not likely to have a lot of return clients.
You don’t have to be the best writer out there to succeed as a copywriter. But if you can deliver consistent, quality results—content that clients don’t have to work hard editing and vetting—you’ll stand out from the crowd.
Find Your Niche…
There are two basic ways to grow your income in a freelance writing career: raise your rates and increase your speed. Finding your niche (or niches) does both.
So how do you find your niche?
You can break down the entire world of content marketing into three personalized categories. First, there are things you simply aren’t qualified to write about. For example, I don’t have any business writing about accounting, economics, or hunting, to name a few. Could I churn out some fluff in those areas? I guess. But it wouldn’t be very good.
Second, there’s a murky middle category: stuff you can write about but that doesn’t play to your strengths. This category includes the stuff you can write with significant research all the way down to the easy content that just about anyone can write. (We’ll come back to this category in the next tip.)
Third, there are some content areas that are like second nature to you. These could revolve around your career field, your hobbies, your degree program, or even your favorite shows and movies (honest—I know a guy who gets paid good money to write about video games and movies).
Finding your niche means discovering which topics are in this “second nature” category for you— and pursuing them aggressively. Why is this worth doing? Because you can write faster and better in these categories. Eventually, you can command higher freelancing rates as a subject matter expert, too.
Writing better content faster and more easily for higher rates: that’s a win on all fronts. That’s the power of finding your niche.
… But Don’t Be Afraid to Diversify
Yes, this is a tiny bit contradictory, but my next tip is to be willing to diversify. Finding your niche and working exclusively in it is ideal, but most of us aren’t totally there yet.
New freelance writers may not know their niches yet. Some niches are seasonal. Some are being hit hard right now thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. And to be honest, some are just too obscure to generate a full-time job level income. I should know: one of mine is music. And it didn’t take me long to realize that there isn’t a ton of content marketing work surrounding music theory, music lessons, and instrument stores. I enjoy it when I get it, but there just isn’t much out there.
If your niches aren’t cutting it or you don’t know what they are yet, be willing to diversify. Jump into that “murky middle” and see what works. You’ll start to get a sense of what you can write well and what takes you a long time.
Over time, concentrate on what works well and move on from what doesn’t. You might just discover a new niche.
For me, tech writing was in this “murky middle” category at first. But I made a few discoveries. First, there is a ton of work in this area. Second, clients seemed to really like how I approached it. Today, I count certain types of tech writing as one of my niches.
Quality Over Quantity in Your Freelance Writing Business
Here’s a simple story problem: what’s the best way to make $50 as a freelance writer? 500 words at 10 cents per word, or 2500 words at 2 cents per word?
This isn’t a trick question. One is a healthy income. The other is an exhausting race to burnout.
To grow your income, you need to be able to command reasonable rates. To command those rates, you need to deliver quality work.
Focus on quality, not quantity. Once the quality is in place, you can turn your attention to growing quantity.
Off-Platform Advice for Your Freelance Writing Business
If you’re looking to build an independent freelance writing business outside of a platform like WriterAccess, good for you! Many of us who write here also maintain some private client business. Here are some quick tips for building your off-platform freelance writing business to bring in new clients.
Leverage Your Networks (Social and Otherwise)
If you want to succeed as a content marketer, people need to know that you’re doing this. Tactfully leverage your various networks. Don’t be afraid to tell your real-life acquaintances what you do—especially those who run businesses.
And use your social media accounts (especially your LinkedIn profile) to tell the world about your freelance business. This is a small step that can make a big difference.
The freelance writer world is an online, global one. That’s part of the beauty of it. Millions of people need content. 70.5 million new blog posts appear every month on WordPress sites alone, and 70% of all marketers are spending money on content marketing.
The content needs are out there. You just have to reach the people with the needs.
Find private writing clients regardless of location by searching job boards like Problogger. Upwork and Fiverr can be great options as well, especially if you’re just getting started.
The downside to the global nature of this industry is that you’re competing for potential clients with a global pool of talent as well. It can be tough to stand out, and clients are often inundated with more applications than they can handle. Keep applying, more than you think you should need to. You’ll get there.
…But Also Think Local
At the same time, don’t underestimate the power of a local (and sometimes in-person) connection. Local lawyers, doctors, and tech firms all need content marketing. Local marketing and web design groups may be looking for contract help for the content marketing or copywriting side of things, too.
Having any shared connection—even if it’s just geography—helps. If you can put a face and a handshake with your outreach efforts, even better. Reach these local professionals before they post on a job board and you may just cut out your global competition.
Maintain an Online Presence
Here’s an irony: what we do is largely about SEO, but many freelance business owners ignore SEO when it comes to their own businesses. You can stand out by doing better. Create and maintain an online presence. Regularly update it with new content. Position yourself as an in-demand expert, and include plenty of calls to action, inviting readers to contact you for a quote.
WriterAccess: A Great Client Source for Freelance Writers
If you’re looking to diversify your sources of work and you haven’t joined us yet, consider applying as a writer here at WriterAccess. Thousands of SMB and agency clients place their writing opportunities here, and WriterAccess is always looking for writers with the right skills to join the ranks. Apply today to keep growing your freelance writing business.
Joseph H has been getting paid to work with words since 2011, both as a freelancer and as a full-time employee at a publishing house. Over 800 projects in on WriterAccess, Joseph specializes in content areas such as consumer technology, digital software and services, B2B technology, digital marketing (inbound marketing, SEO, content marketing), real estate, home maintenance and repair, education, and music (including content for musical instrument stores and music studios). In all these areas and more, Joseph creates SEO and content marketing friendly content with a warm, approachable tone.