How to make more money freelance writing from home
Freelance writing is one of the most accessible ways to make a side income or even a full-time salary while staying at home. However, many new freelance writers get discouraged with low pay or difficulty finding work. If you want to make more money freelance writing, we’ll teach you how to avoid common pitfalls and improve your income potential.
Use the best freelance writing platform
Most freelance writers start out at content mills to get their feet wet. Textbroker is probably the largest and most famous example of a content mill. In general, content mills pay new writers very low rates. The real money is made by hand-picked writers belonging to managed writer pools for large clients, usually by invitation. As you might imagine, the lower ranks are choked with writers, and the higher ranks have long waiting lists. That means you are out of luck getting anything but peanuts writing for most content mills.
Constant Content has a unique freelance model. While clients can commission articles, the main marketplace involves writers posting pre-written articles for sale. You can write about whatever you want, set a price, and list it in the marketplace for sale. Rates are much higher, but keep in mind that some articles may never sell. If you write two 1000-word articles and only manage to sell one of them for $40, your real writing rate is 2 cents a word, not 4 cents.
For most, Upwork will provide the best balance of convenience and good pay. To make the most money, you should start your own independent freelance writing business, but you then have to deal payment processors, advertising to clients, and other issues. Upwork takes care of the administrative side and the hurdle of bringing clients and writers into the same room. However, most freelance writers are not making the best use of Upwork to maximize their income. The key to make more money freelance writing is to become very good at getting the right jobs. We’ll target much of our advice for Upwork, but the principles should still apply elsewhere.
How to land the best freelance writing jobs over and over again
Once you start, you won’t immediately be able to land the best freelance writing jobs. You should, however, have a plan to progress to 1) better paying jobs and 2) easier to find jobs. Too many freelance writers ignore the second part. In the freelance writing business, time is money, and at the early stages, finding a job can take more time than actual writing. If you spend 9 hours looking for a job, land a $20 assignment that takes 1 hour, do the math. You’ve actually only earned $2 an hour. Have a plan of attack to land your first jobs and then make it easier to land your next job.
Getting your first freelance jobs
Setting up your writer’s profile
On most freelance writing platforms that are not content mills, you have the chance to set up a personal writer’s profile. This is super important, so spend a lot of time perfecting the profile. Your profile is a potential client’s first impression of you. Even if you have zero experience and no portfolio, think of your profile itself as already a mini-portfolio of sorts.
Make sure to list your interests, expertise, and keywords in your profile. Later on, you will want to receive jobs by invitation. That is, clients should ask you if you will work with them, not the other way around. Clients will find you based on your keywords and expertise. You never know what will be important. For example, you might mention that you are a dog lover and have three pets. A client for a pet company might find you through a keyword search. Be sure to stay professional with anything you write in your profile, though.
Finding a good first client
Platforms like Upwork show clients your past ratings and work history. If you have no track record, it’s going to be difficult finding a job at first. Some clients will take a risk with a first-time freelance writer, but you should also consider the flip side. Working for a brand new client with no track record also has risks. If they are unreasonable, refuse to pay after a large amount of work, or unfairly leave negative feedback, this will hurt your chances to obtain future jobs. Unfortunately, in case of disputes, companies usually side with clients as they are the ones providing payments. Take these steps to avoid potential problems:
- Make sure all conversations and job terms are in writing. Upwork logs all internal messages using their platform. Be wary if a brand new client asks to talk to you outside the platform messaging system.
- Don’t start any work without an official two-sided agreement. On Upwork, this involves formal offering and accepting of a contract.
- For brand new clients with no past history, do not take on large projects. Start with a small assignment. You don’t want to start a 20,000 ebook assignment, only to discover your client is problematic and holding you hostage so that you do not get a negative review. Worse, they can disappear without paying you, and you’ve just lost 20 hours of work. At least for a short assignment, the potential losses are limited.
Good clients will have a positive track record. They will be professional, responsive, and provide detailed instructions. On the last point, be careful of OCD clients who will make you revise your worth ten times, but you can usually weed them out on Upwork based on freelancer feedback scores.
Writing a cover letter
Once you find a good client and a job posting that matches your services, you will need to pitch the client. On Upwork, that involves sending a proposal containing a message, cover letter, and bid. For other cases, maybe you send an email. Regardless of how you deliver the pitch, your cover letter needs to meet some key requirements.
- Make sure to address the client directly if you know who it is. If you can see the client’s name and you reply with a “Dear Sir or Dear Hiring Manager” message, you are going to the bottom of the proposal pile. Why? You’ve demonstrated that you haven’t carefully read the job posting or put in the effort to show you are serious about the job. If you’re a rockstar freelancer with too many jobs to handle, that’s fine. But you’re trying to land your first job here.
- Personalize the content of your cover letter, not just the salutation. If the client wants a 1000-word article on how to train dogs, mention that you have read the topic and have ideas on how to proceed. Of course, you don’t need to spend an hour crafting a proposal that may get rejected, but do put in at least 1-2 minutes to show you understand the proposal and are not simply spamming replies to every job posting.
- Explain how your services will benefit the client. Realize that you are competing with other writers. Continuing with the dog article example, if you say that you are a dog lover and would be excited to write about dogs, that does nothing for the client. Why should a client care if you are excited? Instead, emphasize your experience training dogs in the past. Then, say that because you are passionate about dogs, you are certain you can deliver engaging content that resonates with other dog lovers. Expertise and understanding of the audience are benefits to the client. Your personal excitement is not.
You will have to also have to place a bid for the job. For example, perhaps the posting is for a 1000-word article. There will be a suggested bid of say $10. You could bid to write the article for $10. If you really want to get that first job, you could underbid based on your qualifications. Underbidding doesn’t mean simply bidding lower than the suggested rate, but could involve offering higher quality for a medium quality rate. Maybe you are a former professional journalist working from home now. You should be able to command much higher rates but might agree to an entry level rate for the first few articles.
After you land your first freelance writing assignment
Do an absolutely stellar job on your first freelance writing assignment. Overdeliver. Your only goal for your first few assignments is to get positive ratings on your profile and to develop a portfolio. Once you’ve gotten that out of the way, you can focus on trying to make more money freelance writing.
Before the job is closed, it is fine to request that your client leaves positive feedback. A message such as “Thanks, you were an excellent client and I will leave 5-star feedback. I would be happy to work again with you.” works well for this purpose. While you won’t necessarily want to work for lower rates in the future, some clients screen potential writers with an initial job. Leave an opening for future jobs, and don’t be shy if you require higher rates. Clients are people too, and if you tell them that you are not interested in working with them any more, they don’t know if it is because you hated the job or the rates are too low. Smart clients will happily pay competitive rates because they are able to generate a return on the work they assign.
Holy grail of freelance writing clients
Once you have some experience and a working portfolio, you want to focus on getting the holy grail of freelance writing clients: easy, high-paying, and repeat clients. Try to hit at least two of those characteristics, and if you get all three, you are set.
Working with repeat clients
Repeat clients save you time. If you develop a working relationship, you know what they want, and they know your working style. Clients do not want to waste time either re-training writers or taking a risk with new writers. Once you have a steady list of repeat clients, you can earn a full-time salary from freelance writing. In the extreme case, you could then quit whatever platform you are using and just work with clients directly. However, because no client lasts forever, unless you have a system for advertising to and acquiring new clients, staying plugged into the Upwork or other platform ecosystem has its advantages.
How do you find clients with repeat work? Sometimes clients will post jobs that explicitly state they want a long-term writer. Otherwise, you can also check the client’s history. Someone who has spent $10 on Upwork is less likely to have repeat work versus someone who has spent $10,000. In fact, most of the best jobs are never posted publicly but given through private invitations. You need to get on that invitation list, even if it means taking a lower pay for the very first assignment to prove your worth.
How to find high paying clients
In most cases, you do not find high paying clients, but they find you. Large corporations regularly use freelance services such as Upwork for sales copy or corporate brochures. They usually pay much higher rates for such commercial work. Established businesses do not want to risk having low quality work with some random freelancer. They want guaranteed quality and will pay for it. They don’t look for freelance writers so much as look for professional experts that are available for freelance work.
You need to establish yourself as an expert and professional. There are several ways to do this. Of course having a portfolio that includes other well-known businesses is one way to do this, but that’s a chicken-versus-egg kind of deal. You need professional credentials to gain further credentials. Here are some other methods to get you started.
- Start your own website and establish yourself as an expert in your field. If you want to just focus on writing, brand yourself as a writing service business, not a freelance writer looking around on Upwork. If you have particular area of interest, such as pets, start an authoritative website or blog on pets.
- Sell something related to your area of expertise. Once you start selling a product, you are not just a freelancer but a business. Businesses love to work with other businesses. You can self-publish a Kindle book on dog training for a low cost, for example. Or you can offer dog training classes in your local area, and thus become a professional dog trainer. Brainstorm other ideas. Build up your professional credentials to become more than just another writer.
- List a reasonable but premium hourly rate. If you are listing your rates as $5 per hour, no one is going to think you are a professional. On the flip side, don’t list something absurdly high without the credentials to back it up, as people will not take you seriously. You might miss out on other job opportunities if your hourly rate is too high as well. What you could do is indicate in your profile that you have flexible rates and are happy to work with smaller clients if the project interests you.
- Maintain a professional network using LinkedIn or other services. If you become an independent freelancer, your network will be your main method of getting new clients. Even if you use Upwork, make sure to take full advantage of other networking opportunities. You can even list your Upwork profile on your LinkedIn profile and vice versa.
- As a minor note, make sure to you your full name and a professional profile photo. The little bits of professionalism don’t necessarily get you a high paying job, but a little bit of unprofessionalism will certainly hinder you.
Make more money freelance writing with higher rates
Other than proving that you are a professional expert, how can you start charging higher rates?
Develop in-demand copywriting skills
Make sure you understand and anticipate your client’s needs. For example, are your clients hiring you for online search engine optimization (SEO)? Learn the basics of SEO writing, such as using keywords. Modern SEO writing has move beyond crude keyword stuffing and includes latent semantic indexing (LSI) or other natural language techniques. Still, knowing how to use header titles and to provide keyword variants remains useful. While content is king, optimizing for SEO remains important. Inform your clients of your SEO knowledge.
Learn to write money-making content
Aside from corporate and expert jobs, the type of writing that will earn you the most money is writing that is closest to the point of money making. Copywriters for landing pages command among the highest rates in the industry. What is a landing page? When you see an online advertisement about a magic pill that makes you lose fat in your sleep, do you know what happens when you click that link? You are taken to a page trying to sell magic fat loss pills.
If you are wondering who in their right mind buys magic fat loss pills, the truth is that many people do. Why else do you think marketers spend so much money on advertisements? But the reason the people buy these pills is because of the landing page sales copy. Imagine how difficult it is to write something that gets people to open up wallets for these pills. Such a writer is worth his weight in gold, and frankly he or she knows this.
While landing page copy is difficult to master, other types of writing are still reasonably close to the point of sales. For example, people reading product reviews are reasonably close to thinking about buying something, so if you can write very good product reviews, you could charge higher rates.
On the other hand, if someone wants to fill out a personal vanity project with nice informational articles, don’t expect the pay to be as high. Learning the art of copywriting, which aims to achieve some goal such as capturing a sale, is much more difficult than simply learning to write.
Improve your writing quality
It might seem obvious, but to charge higher rates, you should offer high quality writing. There are many existing resources for improving writing, so that’s not the focus of this article. Many writers think that because they were able to earn A’s on college essays, they are good enough writers. Writing for a client goes far beyond that. You need to match the desired tone and style. And if you need to write 1000 words, don’t stuff it with empty filler. That works for low-paying spam content, but clients can easily tell you are just trying to fill the word count.
Upsell and offer additional services
Don’t be afraid to upsell your clients with additional services. Perhaps you are a good photographer and can also throw in some professional quality photos for $5. Or you could use this bonus to help you land the holy grail client in the first place. Maybe you are a social media expert and agree to also promote the content on your network for free. Think about what your client needs, and what you can offer that other writers cannot. It could be something as simple as a fast turnaround. You will provide articles within 1 day, while everyone else takes a week. Or for an extra 10% you will provide same day delivery! Think about how to market yourself beyond the writing.
Make more money by writing faster
The purpose of getting repeat clients was to save your time so that your effective hourly wage is higher. The other way to increase your hourly wage is to write faster. Many freelance writers who work full-time have a system in place to maximize their writing speed.
Deliver high-quality but don’t obsess over unnecessary details
You need to be careful about this point, as overdelivering and building a reputation for high quality work is important. However, if you are discussing points A, B, and C on a topic and are stuck on point C, perhaps you can replace it with point D if your client gave you the freedom to do so. If you are laboring over whether to use the American or British version of “labor” versus “labour”, don’t spend 10 minutes reading grammar blogs on the finer points of spelling. Write that you are “wrestling” with the issue, instead. Deliver high quality writing, but make smart choices.
Learn to touch type or…
If you want to be serious about writing, you should at least be able to touch type at a decent clip. Many beginning freelance writers are still pecking away with two fingers. Your physical writing speed is almost always slower than your speed of thought, once you have the research material in hand. Invest the time to touch type and improve your typing speed if you plan to make a career of freelance writing.
…Use voice dictation software
The secret ingredient to many prolific and profitable freelance writers is voice dictation. The fastest typist in the world cannot match someone with a decent rate of speech.
With voice dictation software, you can spit out your content (literally!) in much less time. Even if you need to go back and edit a few mistakes, you are saving an enormous amount of time. The more words you can write in the same amount of time, the more money you will make per hour. It’s simple math.
There’s only one voice dictation software worth buying on the market, and that is Dragon NaturallySpeaking (Amazon link). While newer versions are available for over a hundred dollars, Amazon still sells version 13 for about $30. Dragon NaturallySpeaking has been around and improving since 1997! Once you get used to voice dictation, you will wonder how you used to write without it.
Recently, there’s a free option if you use Google Docs. Google Docs now offers a voice dictation option. If you open the Google Docs app, under the Tools menu, you will see an option for Voice typing. This is free and easy to try out. It works fairly well, although Dragon’s software is much more accurate and smooth. Dragon NaturallySpeaking trains itself to each individual, so it can work quite well for anyone. Google Docs doesn’t have the same training algorithm, but it’s free.
For either case, you’ll want a decent quality headset. While many laptops and computers come with built-in microphones, the quality of audio pickup can be low, making the voice dictation even less accurate. We like to use a wireless headset so that we can pace around while talking. Pacing is a great complement to a standing desk for staying active while writing.
Look for topics you can write about with ease
Finally, it might seem obvious, but look for topics that match your expertise. For freelance writers, much of your time might actually be spent on researching a topic, and not just writing. If you don’t understand forex, don’t take on forex writing assignments or you may needlessly spend hours trying to learn the intricacies of global banks. Search for jobs where you are already an expert. Are you teacher? Maybe someone needs an article on education. If you are a parent, maybe you can easily handle baby product reviews. Be savvy in your job choices, and always consider the topic research difficulty.
Conclusions: how to make more money freelance writing
We looked at the three approaches to make more money freelance writing. First, develop your portfolio so that you can capture high-paying repeat clients. Second, develop and market skills in order to command higher rates. Third, write faster so that you can finish more jobs each day. With these tips in mind, you should be ready to approach the freelance writing market with a much higher chance of success. For more inspiration, read this story about a million-dollar freelancer.