Become a Freelance Writer: Separating Fact From Fiction

Updated on February 26, 2018
Natalie Frank profile image

Natalie Frank (Taye Carrol), a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, publishes on multiple topics in health, behavioral science, and other fields.

Freelance writing is quickly becoming a popular career choice for those who want to work outside a traditional office and traditional hours. Different people freelance for different reasons and have a variety of goals in mind. Sometimes, a person may decide that the freedom they gain freelancing outweighs the income they make. They don’t want a boss looking over their shoulder all the time telling them what to do, nor do they want to have to fear for their job being at the mercy of managers. They may not make as much as they did at a traditional 9 to 5 job but they are willing to trade whatever amount they lose to feel that they can make the decisions about their own livelihood. For others, freelance writing is a way to leave the limits of a 9 to 5 job behind along with minimal pay raises that only occur at most once a year so they can reap all the benefits of their efforts and determine what direction to take to realize the greatest reward.

You have probably seen a lot of posts and articles out there about how freelance writing is a great career. And easy, to boot. The articles suggest all you need to do is sign up with an agency, look on job boards, hook up with bidding sites and the next thing you know, the money is rolling in. You may have read how you don’t need to work full time or put more that a few hours in a day to become financially secure and even have extra income to take vacations with, buy a new home or car and just enjoy your wonderful new life.

While freelance writing can be a great job, like everything else, it depends on whether it is a good match for you as well as how much you are willing to put into it. It sounds amazing, the ability to work anywhere at any time, make your own schedule, charge whatever you want and have time left over to do whatever you want. Yet sometimes things sound great because we aren’t doing them - as they say, the grass is always greener. There are several things to consider before deciding to quit your day job and jump into freelance writing. The first thing to clarify is what freelance writing actually encompasses.

What is a Freelance Writer?

A freelance writer is someone who gets paid to produce all types of text and copy. Generally, this type of writer works at home although sometimes clients prefer they work in their office. Freelancers usually set their own schedule and work to a deadline so as long as they have the assignment completed by the deadline when and how long they work is up to them. This is ideal for those who work best during non-traditional hours such as late at night or early in the morning.

The writing you do as a freelancer may be for a different client every day or you may have set clients who want the same writer for longterm work. I have several clients that I have kept for over ten years. Usually, to keep yourself afloat, you’ll need to constantly be looking for new clients since as a consultant you won’t likely have a regular clientele at least not at first. This is an important point because if you choose to be a freelance writer you will probably be required to market yourself and possibly your clients as well. The most successful freelance writers combine artistic wordsmiths, marketer-advertisers, and business owners into a single individual. Your success at marketing your brand can be influenced by the way in which you refer to yourself.

The Labels We Use Influence Others Perceptions of Us

When I first began to market myself as an editor (despite having done the job of one for years), I was self-conscious and tended to downplay what I could do. I felt that I wasn’t employed by a high power publisher, the criteria for using the title “editor” in my mind, and so I should be clear about this. I stuck the term “freelancer” in front and, in an attempt to make my skills seem broader so as to land more jobs, I added “writer.”

There is an Over-Abundance of Freelancers

What I didn’t realized then was just how many people plug themselves as “freelance writers.” According to the The Freelance Writer's Handbook, (2015), there are more than 50,000 people who call themselves freelance writers in the U.S. alone. Another 30,000 call themselves freelance editors of one type or another. There are no estimates for how many people go by both terms but you can bet it is quite a few as well. In fact, everywhere you look nowadays, it seems there’s a freelance writer or editor (or both). Whenever someone makes small talk with me in a coffee shop or on the subway and asks what I do, there’s always someone who will jump into the conversation announcing they are also a writer or they are trying to become one.

A Business Like Any Other

What all this means is that there is plenty of competition out there and you must make sure to establish the right perception in clients minds in order for them to take you seriously and not jump to the next “freelancer” who they can get cheap. A large number of people who call themselves freelancers don’t think of their services as a business because they work from their home or the nearest cafe, and they operate solo instead of being part of a larger organization. .But the truth is they are operating a business, even if it is a small one and like any business, they should expect to be paid what their services are worth. Changing the title they use to describe themselves often helps both in terms of competition as well as how you see yourself.

Labels Affect How We See Ourselves and How Others See Us

When you call yourself a freelancer it effects your own perceptions of yourself as well as the customers. It fails to make you or the customer believe that you are a professional who knows what you are doing and who doesn’t put up with being taken for granted or not being treated as an equal. This leads to a power differential with the client in charge, which is not the best situation, especially if you are freelancing to give yourself more freedom. You want clients to view you as part of a strategic, advantageous partnership not a low-cost temporary and easily replaceable line-item. Otherwise, you have put yourself back into a situation which may be much like the one from which you have just freed yourself.

The words we use communicate the message we impart based on both surface understanding as well as at a level below the surface. We’re often sloppy when we speak with others and once we establish a certain perception it is often impossible to go back and alter that perception. The way others see us starts the instant we introduce ourselves. If we are careless about what we say then or communicate the underlying message that we don’t take what we do seriously that speaks volumes to a potential client. What they say is true: You only have one chance to make a first impression. Make sure it’s the impression you want to make. Describe yourself as the skilled professional you are and you ,as well as others, will view you that way.

Pricing: The Most Important Influence on Your Business Satisfaction

One of the big dilemmas you face when of starting your career as a consultant is figuring out how much to charge – and convincing potential clients you’re worth that amount.

Do you start at $15/hour? $25/hour? $50/hour? Where do you look to set your price and do you build in special rates for different situations, large or lengthy assignments, return customers or first time customers? Are there different ways of calculating your the price for your services and if so, which is the best to use? What if you overprice your services and the client balks? Do you have to charge what seems to be the going average for similar services and if not how far above that average can you realistically go? How do you convince clients that the price you are charging is fair? Can you negotiate your price or is it best to set one price for all your clients and raise it across the board when you decide to increase prices? How do you decide the time is right to raise your prices and how do you inform clients of this?

The Importance of Pricing Your Services Correctly

Determining how much you will charge for your services is one of the most important decisions you can make. It underscores not only how well you can support yourself but also how happy you are with your business and what kind of relationship you have with your clients. If you feel that your services are under-priced and the client just wants to pay you as little as possible for your time and effort you will come to dislike your work and resent the client.

Getting your fee structure down before pitching to clients is important as it can be hard to correct this after you have started working. Clients are reluctant to change the agreed upon price even for subsequent jobs that are negotiated from scratch. Keep in mind that once you set a price for a client, if you want to keep them and want them to use your services exclusively you will often need to have your price remain the same.

That’s not to say you can’t charge more for new clients but if you are getting multiple clients from a single source, and they compare notes learning that you are charging some more than others you may lose all of them.

Focus on Value

When considering the value of your services, consider how skilled you are at listening to what the client wants, asking the appropriate follow up questions to clarify their goals for the assignment and then creating a product that perfectly matches what they want. When you are able to do this without the need to revise the product after delivering it to the client the client will often be willing to pay more than if they need to ask for changes to satisfy what they feel they explained at the beginning. Obviously, quality also goes into a client’s evaluation of the value you are providing them.

In addition to how well you are able to deliver what is asked for the first time and quality, a client will define value based on two other things:

  • They will think the fee is great if the value the believe they are receiving is higher than the price they are paying

  • They will think you are overcharging if the price they are paying is higher than the value they believe they are receiving.

Balancing the price/value equation can take time. If you are charging more than market value for your services you need to ensure what you are providing is better than the average services others provide. So when considering how much to charge, you need to determine how your services stack up compared to others doing similar work.

While everyone wants to make as much money as possible you need to charge what is appropriate for the value of your services. After all, if the client thinks your price is too high, they can go to the internet and easily find others who provide the service you do for a price they find more acceptable. You will never get anywhere by standing on principle convinced your price is fair if you never have any clients. There are several ways to determine how much you will charge for your services, some of which are more likely to limit client objection or resistance to your fees.

Keep Your Excitement from Fading

Unfortunately, the excitement that often goes along with starting your new consulting business can fade quickly. When it does so, the reason is usually related to finances. Late payments, stubborn clients who resist paying the amount agreed upon, arguing over payment terms, and the need the spend time on tasks related to money collection are just a few of the issues that you may run into. Added to that is the reality that your expenses remain fixed or increase while your income as a consultant will fluctuate. The best way to limit this significant source of stress is to set your fees as appropriately as possible the first time.


The best thing you can do as a new freelance writer is be committed to continue learning. Whether it’s advice on writing, business issues, pitching stories, or collecting payment, it’s important to keep developing your skills. Research relevant topics and find others who are successful at the type of writing you want to do and learn from them. Learning what strategies others used that were beneficial at establishing a writing business as well as learning what strategies were not helpful will keep you from reinventing the wheel.

© 2018 Natalie Frank


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    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 5 days ago from Chicago, IL

      Janisa - unfortunately the sites with low competition that pay decently are a thing of the past. You could try Textbroker but they don't have the work they used to either and they pay very little based on your level. To get the best rate you have to be a professional journalist. HP though you won't make much and it will likely take you a while to be earning regularly is one of the best sites around to establish a presence online, and you can always refer potential clients to your work here so it can help you get other jobs especially if you quickly establish yourself in a sought after niche. Start a blog and post regularly then monetize it. I use Blogger which is free but if you are tech savvy you could use other sites as well that might give you additional features. See who you know that has a blog that you can guest post on then view blogs you are interested in and offer to write a post. This will all build up your presence and give you material to use as examples of what you can write. Join groups on Facebook, other social media groups and online and in person organizations for writing - many are free and participate regularly. Ask for advice and weigh in often - a number of these have forums that list freelance jobs. I'm putting together an article now with online groups that are good for writers to join which will hopefully be finished in the next day or so. Good luck in all your future endeavors. Thanks for stopping by. I hope this helps.

    • JanisaChatte profile image

      Janisa 5 days ago from Earth

      I really liked your article. As a beginning freelance writer I was also under the false assumption that it's enough to just create an account on some freelance site and work will begin rolling in... only it didn't

      Do you have some suggestions of where to begin? Maybe some sites with fairly low competition?

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 2 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

      Thanks for the comment Flourishanyway. You make a good point about writers not having an accurate perception of the quality of their writing and so not knowing what to charge. I think that points to the importance of getting feedback on your work and constantly seeling educational opportunities to learn new skills and further hone your craft. Thanks for stopping by.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 weeks ago from USA

      Many writers don't have an accurate perception of the quality of their work so they set out to charge too little or too much. You definitely need to know the value that you bring to the table before considering pricing. I like the emphasis on self-presentation in your article, as how we perceive and label ourselves definitely impacts how others will see us.

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 3 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

      You are welcome, Dora. Thanks for stopping by.

    • CaribTales profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      "Sound great because we aren’t doing them" make me laugh. "Keep developing your skills" is serious advice. Thanks for this revelation on freelancing.

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 3 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

      Glad it was helpful, Lambservant. While it takes work, with perseverance a freelance career can be achieved. Good luck.

    • profile image

      Lambservant 3 weeks ago

      I'm very interested in starting a freelance career but know very little on how to go about it so this was very helpful.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing the useful information, Natalie. Freelance writers have a lot to learn. Articles like this are good to read.

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 3 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

      Thanks for the comment Kathy - Though there is competition, this is true of anything you do career-wise. If you offer consistently high quality services at a price that is not above what the market is set at, you will manage to outpace much of your competition. To this end, I think any additional training you can obtain, as long as it gives you additional practical skills and can be used as a credential to further establish your mastery, is valuable. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 3 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

      Venkatachari M - I am sorry you stopped freelancing. There are other options besides some of the content farms that pay next to nothing for work. Unfortunately, the reason they stay in business is that many people look to have quality content produced as cheaply as possible, and many writers think this is the best they can do and at least it is consistent earnings. This often translates to 1 cent a word or less, which is more akin to slave labor. All you need is a few clients willing to pay a reasonable rate to establish yourself and then regularly scheduling time in your work week to approach new potential clients to slowly build a business. Don't give up! I hope to produce more articles will information about how to find your first client and subsequent clients as well as other types of best practices for freelance writers. Keep the faith!

    • KatWin profile image

      Kathy Burton 3 weeks ago from Florida

      Interesting article. At the local university, they offer a certificate in editing and publishing. I was thinking to take because it would help in my own writing as well as offering services to others. I still may take the course despite the competition.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 3 weeks ago from Hyderabad, India

      I did freelancing when I started writing 5 years ago. They paid per word and it was very low to carry on. One client offered good remuneration around 8 to 10 dollars per 500 words. But, they left their work or site and it came to an end. So, I had to leave the freelancing career after one year itself.

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 3 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

      Glad it worked out for you, Bill! Thanks for stopping by and for commenting.

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 3 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

      Thanks for weighing in Heidi - great info!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I did almost everything wrong six years ago when I started my freelance career, but somehow it all worked out. :) The luck of the ignorant! lol

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 4 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Good overview of the freelance writing biz!

      Since I offer my editing services on Fiverr, I charge by the word, not the hour. This is a popular pricing strategy that clients like since they can easily figure out what things will cost. Hourly rates often scare people. How many hours will that take? What if I can't pay the total?

      One thing that can also help freelancers is coming up with package pricing. For freelancers who are good and fast, this can be a profitable pricing structure. As well, clients like having a set price. The biggest issue is clearly defining the scope of the work to be done, and requiring additional fees for anything over that which the client requests or needs.

      And, yes, it's a constant learning process! :)