Freelance Writers Don’t Have to Be Broke — Here’s How to Make More Money

Freelance writing
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On a sunny afternoon last June, I stood in line at a buffet table at my friend’s wedding. Somewhere between the chicken marsala and the sautéed mushrooms, I struck up a conversation with another wedding guest. He asked me what I did for a living.

When I told him I had a freelance writing business, he replied, “Oh, so you don’t really need to work. I mean you can’t support yourself doing that, right?”

Like that other guest, many people have a mistaken belief that freelance writers don’t earn good money writing from home, but they are misinformed.

Smart freelance writers earn enough to pay their bills with plenty of cash left over to eat at great restaurants and take fun vacations. While it might not happen to you overnight, here’s how you can earn a ‘pretty penny’ as a freelance writer.

1. Specialize in a Niche

Put simply, a niche is an industry specialty like technology, travel, or finance.

And when you’re a specialist, clients will pay you a better rate for your subject expertise. It’s similar to paying more for a heart specialist than you would to see your GP.

Integrate technology writing into your niche and you can earn big bucks. And you don’t need to be a tech wiz!

I spoke with six-figure freelance Technology Content Marketing Writer, Jennifer Goforth Gregory who offered advice to new writers.

“Because technology is part of every industry, writers should look at their current niches and see how to add technology. Travel writers can write about hospitality technology; education writers about education technology.”

“Since you are writing for a non-technical audience, the most important skills you need are industry knowledge and the ability to ask technical experts the right questions.”

2. Skip the Content Mills and Bidding Sites

Content mills typically pay $5-$15 per article. If you write for them, you can end up earning less than minimum wage. These articles have to be written so quickly, they usually don’t make good portfolio samples.

Bidding sites are like eBay; customers shop for the lowest bidder. That might be okay for buying a second-hand watch but not for writing an original article.

3. Write a Killer LinkedIn Profile

With 433 million professionals registered on LinkedIn, this popular social networking site is a great resource. On LinkedIn you can connect with other professionals, join groups in your industry and make great contacts. But you need a good profile to make headway.

And here’s how to create one.

5 Actionable Tips to Make Your Profile Stand Out

  • Upload a good profile photo. If you can’t afford a professional headshot, use a photo with good natural lighting.
  • Put your specialties in your headline and be sure to add the word “freelance,” so clients searching for freelance writers can find you.
  • Take time to write a compelling summary that showcases your skills and industry expertise.
  • In the experience section, add links and images of work you are proud of.
  • Ask your former supervisors, clients, and co-workers for good recommendations praising your abilities.

4. Join Professional Groups on Social Media

Networking opportunities are infinite with social media! You can connect with editors and find writing gigs on Twitter and discover content writing work and ghostwriting jobs on Facebook groups.

But my favorite social media site to date is LinkedIn. After getting serious about my LinkedIn profile, the site has proved to be a fantastic inbound marketing tool.

Now clients contact me regularly on LinkedIn and when I check the analytics on my writer website, the majority of traffic comes from LinkedIn. So, work on that profile! LinkedIn is a great marketing resource to have in your arsenal.

A caveat: When connecting with editors and industry professionals on social media, it’s best to take the time to build relationships. Read their posts and add comments that add value to the topic they’re discussing.

Never ask them for a writing job at first introduction, unless, of course, they are advertising for a writer.

5. Get Out of the House and Attend Networking Events

We all love searching online for contacts in our PJs, but meeting people face-to-face is a great way to drum up business. I attended a boat show, since one of my niches is boating, and schmoozed with a few yacht companies.

After leaving my business card, (always leave one) one of the marketing managers contacted me two weeks later and offered me a well-paying gig, and I accepted.

I learn about boating networking opportunities on industry websites such as boating industry news. And that’s just one. You can find important news and events for your niche industries through Google alerts. Visit the site, type in your keywords and Google sends news right to your inbox.

You can also join networking groups on Meetup and business network chapters in your local area that hold regular industry events.

6. Pick Up the Phone

Does the idea of ‘cold calling’ send chills down your spine?

A way to ease the angst is to write up a 20-30 second script that you can practice before you call. Focus on how you can help your potential client. Be proud of your talents. You have valuable skills to offer.

The best time to make calls is between Tuesday and Fridays. This gives the content manager, marketing manager or business owner time to catch up, as Mondays are usually busy (so are the first couple of days after a holiday break). It’s not advisable to call editors on the phone due to their busy deadline schedules, but most editors post contributor guidelines with an email address on their websites about how to pitch story ideas.

7. Negotiate Rates

The Art of Negotiation

Want a better rate than the client is offering? You can get it. That’s because you have a say in what you earn! If your client likes your work samples, you can often negotiate a better pay rate.

I’ve negotiated rates up several times when I’ve felt the client’s offer was too low. I’ve even had clients say no and come back a week or two later and accept my rate.

If you’re new to the art of negotiation, here’s a helpful article “10 negotiation tips for writers” written by Forbes writer and Freelance Writer’s Den community owner, Carol Tice.

Remember, when you start viewing yourself as a business owner rather than a writer for hire you’ll communicate your value and earn what you’re worth.

Always Work with a Contract

No matter what you do, always work with an agreement! Sometimes your client will have one. But if they don’t, write up your own. This way you’ll have your terms in writing to refer to in the case you and your client have a misunderstanding.

Always require a deposit when working with a new client. I ask for a 50% deposit before I start work unless I’m familiar with the reputation of the client.

When I’m working with a new client, I write up a 90-day contract. A short-term contract provides the opportunity for you and your client to see if you enjoy working together. It will also enable you to revise your project rate if you discover you’re putting in more hours than you intended to on the project.

Emails, meetings, and revisions can be time-consuming, especially when there’s a large number of people involved in what you’re writing. If you didn’t anticipate this extra time, you can add it to your project rate later when you renew your agreement in 90 days.

8. Write More than Blog Posts

Blog posts are cool to write because they’re conversational. But there are other writing projects that can bring in good money: consumer magazines, trade magazines, ebooks and more.

Check out Freedom with Writing’s list of 67 magazines that pay writers $100 or more and websites that pay $200 per article.

Contrary to popular belief, you can make fantastic money as a freelance writer when you specialize in a niche, become a networking pro, and market to the right clients.

Follow these tips and soon you’ll be packing for that Hawaii vacation you’ve been dreaming about and sipping on coconuts through straws in the tropical sun.

Stacy Sare Cohen is a freelance content marketing writer. She’s worked for big brands and specializes in personal finance, travel and tourism, hospitality, real estate and tech.