As a freelance writer, I get a lot of questions. Over the years, I’ve noticed recurring themes to these questions. People may not always phrase them in exactly the same way, but they boil down to the same basic questions.
Most of the time, people asking these questions are interested in becoming freelancers. They’ve thought about, but aren’t sure how on earth to overcome the fear of going from steady income at a 9-5 to the unknown life of a freelancer, or they’re looking for more flexibility because of kids, health, or other lifestyle concerns.
I know that when I was first starting out, I had these same questions. If this describes you, you probably have many other questions, too. I know I did. Getting the answers to these questions is a good start on calming the fires of fear so you can begin and get freelancing!
Here, starting with the most frequently asked, are the top 3 questions people ask me about freelance writing.
#1 – How do you get started freelance writing?
This question can also sound like “How did you learn to freelance?” and “Where did you get your first clients?” and “Do you use freelance job boards?”
To get started freelance writing, you must first figure out how many hours you want to spend doing the work. Is this a side gig? Do you want to move to full time? You should also think about how much money you need to make freelancing in order to make it appealing and viable.
Once you know how much time you have to devote, you must think about the type of freelance writing you want to do. This can change over time as your freelance business grows, but in the beginning it’s helpful to choose something and stick to it as you build your client base.
It helps to have a background in the field you’re hoping to freelance in, but it’s unnecessary. For example, I’ve done quite a bit of medical writing even though my background is not in medicine. If you’re not sure, consider the type of freelance writing you don’t want to do. For example, I have a freelance friend who does not do any email writing. I have another who won’t touch medical writing.
Finally, you need to have writing samples. Without these, your chances of getting hired are slim to none. If you’ve written in your day job (and those pieces can be shared), use those to start your writing portfolio.
If you don’t work or if writing isn’t a part of your job, or if the writing you did was internal only, create spec or sample pieces you can share. Label any of these as “spec” so it doesn’t look like you’re trying to misrepresent your experience.
Choose a few different types of freelance writing to showcase. For example, you may write a sample blog post, ad copy, email copy, and a landing page. Or you may focus on only one area if you’re certain that’s what you want to write.
Once you know how much time you have to devote, the kinds of freelance writing you want to pursue, and your samples ready to go, it’s time to find clients.
There are thousands of blog posts, articles, and online job boards with information about finding clients. From experience, I recommend starting with people you know. Reach out to your LinkedIn connections, friends from school, past co-workers and tell them you’ve started freelance writing. I’ve found these land you the best jobs with the deepest potential for fostering long-term relationships.
I also recommend looking on job boards like Indeed, Monster, and Glassdoor for freelance requests. Other reliable sources include ProBlogger and Outsourcely. Don’t expect to apply and get hired the first time. Even with years of experience, I’ve found that for every 10-15 posts I respond to, I’ll get one hit.
I do NOT recommend sites that charge you to see job listings or that take a portion of your earnings. While you may find a client on one of these boards, chances are you’ll end up underpaid because you’re competing with people willing to work for pennies. I know some freelancers enjoy these sites, and I’ve had some success working for clients from them. But overall, my experience has been that finding jobs outside of these boards is far more rewarding and reliable.
#2 – How do you know what to charge?
This question can also look like “Do you have set rates or do you just wing it when charging people?” and “Isn’t it hard to figure out what to bill for different projects?”
Figuring out what to charge is difficult! It can also be niche and location dependent. I live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area. But not all my clients are local. I have clients in Texas, Wyoming, New York City, and everywhere in between.
To make things more complicated, I do different kinds of freelance writing: blog posts, articles, white papers, case studies, user manuals, sales enablement documents… the list goes on. I charge different rates depending on the project and the industry. For example, some tech writing I do requires not only research but an ability to learn a lot of new material quickly. It demands higher rates than a marketing blog post or email.
Despite all of this, figuring out what to charge comes down to answering two questions: How much money do you need to make to freelance? and How much will clients reasonably pay?
To answer the first, think about what you need to make per hour to keep doing the work. You also need to think about how long it will take you to write. And remember: clients won’t pay for your inexperience, so you may have to charge less in the beginning because it will take you longer to complete the projects.
Until you freelance writing, it’s hard to know how long projects will take. Even after you’ve been freelancing for years, it’s still hard to know how long some projects will take because there are too many unknowns.
It also takes longer than you think to produce quality content. On average, for an experienced freelancer, a 1000-word blog post takes between 3.5-4.5 hours. A 2000-word blog post takes closer to 6 hours. Inexperienced writers should expect it will take twice as long.
I recommend you come up with a minimum dollar-per-hour you’re willing to accept, and work from there. There are many resources you can find to help you figure this out. Here are a few:
- How to Calculate Your Freelance Hourly Rate
- How To Calculate Your Freelance Rate Once And For All
- How Much Should I Charge? 4 Ways To Calculate Your Freelance Rates
- How To Calculate Your Freelance Hourly Rate
Note: Some clients may ask your price-per-word, others will want you to charge them by the project. Others will want a per-hour rate, but will want you to tell them exactly how long the project will take… which can be impossible.
Confused? Me, too. I detest price-per-word, and while I like project-based fees they can be challenging to calculate. I’ve been burned in the past when I didn’t include a clause in the contract for major changes in the project’s direction.
I recommend using a resource like the Editorial Rates guide from the Editorial Freelancers Association until you get your feet under you. Click here to check it out.
In the beginning, plan to take a few lower-paying jobs to get some clients and experience. This will help you gauge how long different freelance work takes and what you want to earn to keep doing it.
I’m not suggesting you work for pennies, but if your target rate is $50/hour, taking a few jobs that pay $25/hour when you first start isn’t bad. Don’t worry – as you get more confident, charging more will come.
Don’t forget question #2: How much will clients reasonably pay? Maybe you want to make $350/hour, but that may be difficult to find if you’re writing blog posts or articles.
My advice is to aim high when sending in a bid for work, but not so high you’re left in La-La Land all by yourself. Do the research, reach out to other freelancers and ask them what they charge, and stay reasonable. It works.
And again, don’t work for pennies to get a job. There are countless freelance jobs out there – you’re worth being paid fairly for the time you spend writing. Know your value and don’t be afraid to ask for it.
#3 – How do you stay focused working from home?
This question also comes in the form of “How do you organize your time as a freelancer?” and “Isn’t it hard to make yourself do the work?” and “How do you work from home when there are kids at home?”
We’re in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this question is no longer for freelancers alone. Countless American men and women are struggling to figure out how to stay focused on work while working at home.
But freelancers are unique in that we must actively seek work – it’s not handed to us by our bosses – and complete specific projects (or meet milestones) to get paid… unlike my husband, who gets the same amount paid every two weeks no matter if he finishes one project or three.
Therefore, an ability to stay focused, organized, and on track is a must if you hope to make the money in a reasonable amount of time. Otherwise, the blog post that should take you two hours to complete will take you four – even five! And clients expecting a post to cost $X won’t want to pay $2X.
I can’t tell you the secret for accomplishing this. There are as many ways to go about staying focused as there are freelancers. But I can tell you what works for me.
Step One: Organize Your Files and “Things”
I use a nomenclature system to ensure I don’t lose files and documents, and I create sub-files for different projects with the same client. I date everything. And tag each file with both my name and the client name in the notes or information section.
I keep my desk relatively tidy so I can find things. I don’t have to spend an hour searching for a new notebook or printer paper. I know where my post-its are and my highlighters. I have specific spaces for in-progress projects and research documents. You get the idea.
Step Two: Organize your Time
I’ve noticed that when I have trouble staying focused, it’s mostly because I feel overwhelmed, like I don’t have a enough time, like I can’t fit everything in.
Sometimes my overwhelm isn’t related to time, but after years of freelancing, I know that it usually boils down to this – even when it seems like it’s something else.
The solution is organizing your time.
Time management is a skill, and it’s one worth gaining if you want to succeed at freelancing. For me, it begins with having a realistic understanding of how long different tasks take. That’s why I use time tracking software or a stopwatch for nearly everything… until I’m confident I can predict how long different projects will take.
This is a must for projects that pay by the hour, but breaking it down into time for different aspects of the project helps you understand what takes the most time, where you can improve, and where you under- or overestimate yourself.
For example, I have a client for whom I write many blogs each year. These posts all require a little research before writing. They also require more editing because they contain technical terms and jargon along with math and other numbers.
When I first started working on these assignments, I tracked my time for each “stage” of the project separately. Research, writing, editing. But that’s not the end of the story.
From my time tracking work, I know it’s important to include “other” tasks related to any freelance project. Here, I tracked another 30 minutes to do all the administrative work that gets my post from my computer to the client.
When I told a freelancing friend about this, she hit herself on the forehead because she wasn’t accounting for the time formatting the template or the administrative work required to send the project off in its complete state.
In my case, not only does this mean I’d be leaving money on the table, but when I plan my day I’d underestimate how long the project takes to complete. This kind of mistake throws throw off my day, making it hard to stay focused on my work as I panic about fitting everything in.
One underestimation isn’t lethal, but I sometimes work on four different projects each day. If I underestimated each the same way, that’s 2 hours more work than I’d planned! Not good.
So to organize my time, I start with understanding my time. Once I have a strong handle on how long a project and its pieces take, I only track when I find I was way off base in my planning.
This practice of organizing my time helps me stay focused because I can break projects and tasks down into chunks and plan my day around them, working in times to go for a walk, talk to the kids, get people to appointments, make dinner, etc.
Step Three: Work Away from Distractions
I’ve learned the hard way that unless I’m physically away from the distractions in my life (four darling girls, husband, long-distance calls from mom, texts from my sister, the tempting novel on my nightstand) I will not focus.
Pre-COVID this was easier, as I could grab my noise-canceling headphones and head to a coffee shop. For me, getting outside the house works because I’m distracted by chores I feel I should be doing, books I’d rather be reading, and so on. Working away from the house at least a few times each week helped.
This was especially true when my girls were little and unable NOT to interrupt. With four of them, even if each only interrupted me once an hour, I lost the hour. If I wanted to make a living freelancing, I had to pick up and leave for a few hours each day. That, or work before or after they were awake (this works!).
Even though my girls should know better, they still interrupt me. All the time, now that they aren’t off to school because of COVID. And my husband works from home. He’s better about not interrupting, but we can still distract each other.
My solution is to move away from distractions anyway. In good weather, I sit in our backyard away from everyone else and away from the things in the house that distract me (usually housework or books).
In the colder weather, I sit in our garage. It’s not the loveliest setting, but that actually works as motivation to focus and finish my work and get out of the garage! This is also where I do my creative writing each day.
I sometimes work in our bedroom with the door locked. Other times I put up notes on the office door (including on the handle) saying, “Is it life-threatening? If not, please wait until I’m finished working.”
Noise-canceling headphones are a must for me, no matter where I work. If I can’t hear it, it can’t distract me. We have both Bose and Sony, and they work equally well.
There you have it! My answers to the top three freelancing questions I get regularly. I hope the answers are useful. Let me know!
And if you have other questions, drop me a line and I’ll do my best to answer.