UPDATED FOR 2020
I earn my full-time income without a job or a boss by freelancing, and the specific route I chose was freelance writing. Now, that may not be the same route you decide to go and that’s fine – you may hate writing and there are many other ways to go.
This post will help you regardless of the route you choose.
It contains useful advice that can be applied to ANY online business – I’m simply using my experience of freelance writing as a real-world example that has made me thousands of dollars.
Can I REALLY learn how to make money freelancing online?
You’re probably asking yourself that question right now if you’re just about to get started freelance writing, and the answer is a definite yes – you can learn how to earn money freelance writing like I do.
I started with no clients, no income and no real idea of what I was doing, to be honest.
Fast forward today and I’ve educated myself, invested time and effort in my business and I work with some top clients making $1,000’s every month. In fact, I’ve earned as much as $18,268.20 for just over 5 week’s work.
And, here’s a snapshot of typical earnings from just one freelance site I’m using right now.
I quickly took the above snapshot today to give you a feel for what a typical week looks like for me on Upwork. It’s only Tuesday – I still have the rest of the week to go (see Work in progress).
This is just part of my income, some of my biggest clients are “direct” and don’t go through job sites.
Okay, the first screenshot was an exceptional contract and I’m not suggesting you’ll make that kind of income right away. But, I’m showing it to you to make a serious point – freelancing is real, it works and the rewards can be substantial.
My vision for you
When I set out to write this guide, my vision was to help you hit the ground running by covering the basics you need to know if you want to become a successful freelancer.
I wanted to make it complete, yet as concise as possible. I wanted to make it the most helpful single piece of information about how to make money freelancing you’ll find online.
However, by its very nature, it’s a post that will never be complete.
I’ll need to update it from time to time as new ideas and information come to light.
So, if you feel something needs to be added or amended to benefit our community, drop me a line. Your input might just help someone struggling to earn money freelance writing and get them the breakthrough they need to realize their dream.
Freelancer vs entrepreneur
Everyone will have some idea of what is meant by freelancing and being a freelancer. Here’s a useful one-sentence definition:
A freelancer is self-employed and usually a “solopreneur” who solves problems by delivering in-demand services.
A decent enough description, but I’d go one step further.
You see, I understand what you really want is “a business that earns you the income you need to live life on your terms” – AKA financial freedom.
So, let’s not get hung up on definitions.
Let’s cover some basics and get you started.
You need a freelancing roadmap
There are some essential basics you need to take on board as you get started on your own freelancing journey – let’s call it your FREELANCING ROADMAP.
Many are questions I wish I’d had the answers to when I decided to learn how to make money freelancing online – the road that led me to become a full-time freelance writer.
It’s important to understand the information I share with you here is based on my own real-world freelancing experience. It’s NOT theory spouted by someone who has never made any money or seen any success freelancing (I see that all too often).
Based on my own experience, I reveal:
- The background to what’s really happening in freelancing and why you should seriously consider if it’s for you.
- Why armed with the right information and help, you can earn money freelance writing, easily replace your job and create a serious full-time income.
- The essential, actionable information you need to understand and what’s required to become a freelancer.
- A basic framework on which to model your freelancing business.
- How to avoid the mistakes you’ll make if you simply take a “trial and error” approach to freelancing (like turning in poor work).
FYF is a community committed to delivering solid, actionable freelancing guidance. If you’ve read this far, good.
Consider yourself part of our community.
Why climbing the corporate ladder is history
Freelancing is changing the way we work rapidly and beyond all recognition.
Technology and the internet mean you no longer need to be confined to a traditional 9-5 job. More and more workers are rejecting the 9-5 grind of a traditional job, staying with a single employer for years and selling their soul on the corporate ladder for meaningless promotions and a couple of weeks’ vacation each year.
Millions have taken to freelancing for the chance to work independently, set their own schedules and choose the work they do, escaping a boss they hate in the process. Others earn money freelance writing to subsidize a pension or other fixed income.
How big is the freelancing pie? Very big.
If we take just one example, Upwork.com has 3.6 million clients (people looking for freelancers) and they have 9 million freelancers in 180 countries worldwide. And that’s just one platform!
The gig economy is booming right now with no signs of slowing up any time soon.
It’s clear. Whatever your reason for considering freelancing, the opportunity to make your living on your own terms has never been greater.
Get started freelance writing – the key to success
A great way to approach freelancing is to think of yourself as a problem solver.
Your potential client has a problem and your job is to convince them you can solve it for them quickly and without hassles.
You must also be able to deliver on your promise of course.
If you get this right, you’ll get work.
If you can make yourself indispensable to your clients, you’ll get lots of work. I know of freelancers who have become such a key part of their client’s business that they’ve had their rates increased without even asking for it!
What’s in it for the client?
When you get started freelance writing, it’s easy to underestimate your value to potential clients, but there are several benefits they get out of the arrangement:
- The opportunity to access an affordable alternative to a full-time employee.
- They can cherry pick the skills they need.
- Deal with a responsive, highly skilled specialist for a fixed cost.
And clients are prepared to pay well for the services of a competent freelancer. How well? Personally, I’ve earned up to $150 per hour. Others have earned more, $200, $300 per hour, and yes even $500 per hour in some cases!
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s start planning your own freelancing journey.
Understand your comfort zone, but don’t make excuses
Everyone has a different appetite for, or aversion to, risk.
Very few freelancers study how to make money freelancing online and become successful immediately. It takes time to organize your freelancing business, reach out to clients and land work. How long? That’s not an easy question to answer as the time taken to build a job replacing income varies for everyone.
That said, a reasonable rule of thumb would be to allow 3-6 months to get established and start seeing a steady income stream. Some people do it as quickly as their first month.
Important: It’s a bad idea to quit your job and dive into freelancing expecting to make quick money. It can happen, but a better approach is to make sure you have 3-6 months of funds available to cover your expenses as you build your freelancing business.
So, work out your budgets and make sure you don’t run out of cash before you’ve mastered how to make money freelancing online. If that means you need to continue working for a while and build your business around your job, then that’s the way to go. Many successful freelancers have done just that.
Equally important: If you’ve just found your first excuse not to get started freelance writing, then I suggest you walk away now. Really. Your journey to financial freedom through freelancing will not be without its challenges. If you’re the type of person who…
- Is lazy and not prepared to put in the effort.
- Looks for excuses and someone else to blame at every turn.
- Wants a silver bullet to make a quick buck.
…then freelancing is not for you. You need to want it enough to make it happen.
And that brings us nicely to mindset.
Earn money freelance writing by getting your head right
There are a couple of important things to say about mindset.
As a freelancer, you’ll have no boss telling you what to do. You’ll be making all the decisions including who you work with, when you work, how long you work, how you manage your time etc.
In simple terms, you’ll need to manage and motivate yourself.
One of the first things you’ll want to work out is when you do your best work. Some freelancers like to work early in the morning while others are night owls. If you need to hold down a job while you get started, you’ll need to work around that as well.
Really important mindset tip
Whilst learning how to make money freelancing online, you’ll probably take on any work that comes along. This isn’t a problem while you’re finding your feet, gaining experience and building a portfolio and testimonials (more on that later).
But, whatever you do don’t get trapped in a long-term cycle of low paying jobs; a classic mistake made by many freelancers.
Even if you start by writing 800-word articles on a subject you have zero interest in for $25 (I did) you should be firmly focused on:
- Finding higher paying work.
- Working your way up the client value chain by solving customer problems, becoming part of your customer’s team and making yourself indispensable.
- Putting your prices up (regularly in the early stages).
You need to stay focused on ultimately getting paid what you’re worth, even if you start out at a lower rate. People often ask what’s the secret to getting paid up to $150/ hr.
I’ll reveal the answer right now – ask for it!
That comment is not as facetious as it might seem at first glance. If you’re afraid to ask for a higher rate, don’t expect your customer or prospect to offer it. You’re in the driving seat with your freelancing career, never forget that.
Which reminds me …
Don’t swap one boss for another
Being in control of your own destiny and the opportunity to earn money freelance writing is available to everyone. The harder (or smarter) you’re prepared to work while you master how to make money freelancing online, the more money you’ll earn.
To make the most of that freedom it’s important to remember that it’s YOUR business and YOU make the decisions.
You don’t need to work for unreasonable clients who treat you as if you’re a lowly paid employee.
My best advice – fire them!
Don’t become anyone’s doormat and definitely don’t swap one boss for another.
The truth about a website, portfolio and testimonials
It’s possible to get started freelance writing without a website, portfolio or testimonials. That’s exactly what I did when I started out.
I started on Upwork and concentrated on writing the very best proposal I could to try and land the gig. You’d be surprised just how bad some of the cover letters freelancers send on Upwork are, as I discovered when I started posting jobs there. It’s clear the applicant has not even read the details of the job posting more times than not.
While we’re on the subject of applying for jobs on Upwork, don’t EVER send a stock, cut and paste cover letter – that will virtually guarantee you kill off any chance you have of landing a job.
But, if you want to graduate to the more highly paid jobs, a decent website with a portfolio and social proof (in the form of customer testimonials) is pretty much essential.
Start building your website early.
Whether you build it yourself or get someone to do it for you, a decent website should be near the top of your priority list.
Note: It doesn’t have to be overkill right at the start. The basics you need are a homepage that clearly states what you offer, an about page that tells your story, a contact page, testimonials, and your portfolio. I would highly suggest starting a blog as well.
Raise your prices as soon as possible (another mindset thing)
Stay focused on expanding and improving your client base as your experience and confidence grow. As you grow, take your existing clients with you AKA raise your prices. If they appreciate your work (make sure they do) and the value you bring to their business, they’ll grow with you.
If they absolutely won’t or can’t financially, consider replacing them with more lucrative work. After all, why would you continue to work for $30/hour when you could be earning $75/hour or more? Makes no sense, right?
I’m not suggesting you treat clients as a disposable commodity, far from it, but you make money online freelance writing and you can only work so many hours a day, week or month.
You absolutely need to maximize your return for the work you do.
You’re building a real business
Freelancing is a real business and one capable of providing you with a substantial income if you take it seriously, and taking it seriously means setting goals. It’s important you know where you’re at and where you’re going.
Using the SMART system is a good way to set goals.
Specific – make sure what you’re planning to achieve is clearly stated.
Measurable – you have a way to determine if you’ve achieved your goal or not.
Attainable – don’t set unrealistic goals.
Relevant – set goals that directly enhance your business.
Time-based – daily, weekly, monthly
An example of a bad goal:
I will increase my turnover by getting new clients.
An example of a good goal:
By the 30th of this month, I will secure another regular client who will pay me a retainer of at least $1,000 per month.
What kind of work can you do as a freelancer?
There’s so much talk about niche selection, I could write a book on that one subject alone. As this guide on how to make money online freelance writing is, by necessity, fairly high level, here are the basics.
- The niche(s) you choose should be in high demand.
- Your niche(s) should be lucrative i.e. if you want to get paid well, your customers must have the resources to afford you. Think lawyers, doctors, technology, banking and finance, and large companies.
- Your niche(s) should have the potential for repeat business.
Here are some examples of freelancing categories taken directly from Upwork.com, the largest freelancing network on the planet:
- Web, Mobile & Software Dev
- IT & Networking
- Data Science & Analytics
- Engineering & Architecture
- Design & Creative
- Admin Support
- Customer Service
- Sales & Marketing
- Accounting & Consulting
Within each of these categories, there are many subcategories. If we take writing, as just one example, it breaks down into:
- Academic Writing & Research
- Article & Blog Writing
- Creative Writing
- Editing & Proofreading
- Grant Writing
- Resumes & Cover Letters
- Technical Writing
- Web Content
- Other – Writing
As you can see, there are multiple niches to choose from.
While we’re on the subject, here’s some good advice about Upwork…
Don’t believe the Upwork hype!
When you get started freelance writing you’ll likely see a lot of freelancers, particularly writers, dismissing Upwork as a lowly paid content mill/ sweatshop where clients want to pay as little as possible for as much as possible.
Now, while I totally agree there are plenty of low ballers on Upwork, there are some magnificent jobs to be had as well.
I’ve personally picked up clients that have paid me $1,000’s and given me regular work. And, that’s exactly what you want. One client I sourced from Upwork pays me a monthly retainer of $3,000 like clockwork and is an absolute joy to work with.
Sift through the dirt and you’ll find the diamonds!
Here’s some proof of what you can earn on Upwork (I also have “direct” clients that I work with and invoice directly without going through job sites):
How to build your Upwork profile the right way
When it comes to your Upwork profile, there’s a right way and a wrong way to put it together.
My Upwork profile has helped me earn many $1,000’s on Upwork, and I’ve landed jobs that pay $125 /hr and even $3,000 monthly retainers.
Get this right, and you stand a good chance of landing work on the Upwork platform – PROVIDED you have the other pieces of the Upwork puzzle in place as well.
It’s not that difficult, and if you take it in stages – you can be succeeding on Upwork where others are failing miserably.
I read that on average you stand a 1 in14 chance of being successful when you bid for a job. Now I don’t know where they arrive at that number, but how you approach potential customers is SO critical the number varies hugely (more on that in another lesson). My personal strike rate is way better than 1 in14.
Now I’ll show you how to put together your Upwork profile in a way that gives you the best chance of success.
Read on and let’s get started.
The BIG mistake
Your Upwork profile is not about you!
That may sound a little odd. Of course, it’s about you – it’s all about how great you are, your achievements, your education, your experience and why you’re better than the next candidate – right?
Yes and no.
Look, I’m not saying you won’t tell potential clients about yourself, of course you will, but you need to turn your thinking 180 degrees.
Waffling on about yourself will make you sound just like any other run of the mill applicant. You need to differentiate yourself in some way, you need to try to make a connection with the client.
Making the right connection with potential clients
When a potential client advertises a job on Upwork, they’ll likely get anywhere from 5 to 50 replies. What most freelancers don’t realize is they’ve blown their chances of getting hired right out of the gate.
Let’s start with what not to do:
One of the biggest mistakes I see being made is writing in a deferential tone (bowing down to the prospect). This is huge.
Think about it. You’re a businessman running your own business, as is your prospect. A business relationship should be built on mutual respect and calling a prospect “sir” (as I’ve seen many times), immediately puts you on a lower level.
You’re equal to your prospect, so use language that reflects this. Never beg for work 🙂
The second big mistake I see is immediately hitting your prospect with a long list of how great you are, your qualifications, why you’re the best thing since sliced bread and why they should hire you and no one else.
95%+ of freelancers do this and it’s wrong.
Your profile needs to make the right connection with a potential customer. You do this by talking about how you can help them and not by talking about yourself.
How do you make the right connection?
Okay, now we’ve covered what not to do, let’s get down to what is going to set your profile head and shoulders above the vast majority of your competition.
Focus on “YOU” the most important word in copywriting
- Your profile should be centered around the client, try to use the word “you” as often as possible, make them feel good and make them the center of attention.
- Make sure your profile is personal and friendly.
- Explain clearly everything you can do to help their business.
Empathy & Emotion
- Show you understand what the client wants and needs – try to get inside their head.
- Use the same words and phrases you think your client might use – try to talk their language.
- Your profile should target an emotional response from the client – does it make them feel confident about you? Does it trigger other emotions such as excitement, hope, relief. Does it connect?
- Does your profile capture the client’s interest and make them nod with agreement as they read it?
- Make sure it doesn’t contain anything that interrupts the flow or engenders a “No” thought in the client’s head.
Talk about benefits
- Ensure your potential client clearly understands the benefits he’ll enjoy by working with you.
- Try to answer the “what’s in it for me?” and “why should I care questions?”
- Can clients clearly see that by trusting you with their business they’ll get the result they want, on-time and without fuss.
- Make your first paragraph a single, attention-grabbing sentence.
- Your profile should contain short paragraphs and sentences with plenty of white space in between.
- Use bullet points rather than long, rambling sentences.
- Ideally, sentences should be no longer than two lines of normal text.
- Don’t use large chunks of text in your profile, it just makes it more difficult for the client to read and will interrupt the flow.
- Double-check your profile is not full of boring facts – ensure it’s not dry and uninteresting to read.
Call to action
- Have you told clients exactly what to do when they’ve finished reading your profile?
- Your profile should include keywords your client is likely searching for.
To be successful on Upwork, you need to be professional throughout, and you should start with your profile. Any mistakes here simply tell potential clients that you’re not thorough in your work, so why should they trust you with their business?
Read it over at THOROUGHLY (more than once) and check it for spelling and grammar errors.
Now, here’s a Ninja tip you’ll use throughout your entire freelancing career…
Word text to speech
Microsoft Word has an excellent text to speech function that I use to check all my freelancing work.
Here’s a video on YouTube that will get you off on the right foot.
Get the free version of Grammarly (search on Google).
Use it on all your work.
Summing it all up
There’s no doubt about it, if you approach freelancing in the right way, armed with the right mindset and solid guidance (this website), you can definitely make money online freelance writing. You can take it as far as you want and shoot for six figures a year if that’s what motivates you.
Freelancing is not a get rich quick scheme. If you’re prepared to put in the effort, build and refine your business over time and continually educate yourself so you can deliver outstanding results to clients, you’re on the right track.
And, when all said and done, isn’t it better to work your own hours, control you’re own future and never again have to suffer the daily commute to a workplace you hate?
I’ll leave you to answer that one…