HOW I BECAME A FREELANCE WRITER
Though I’ve always been a writer, I never thought I’d “be a writer.”
I wrote stories when I was little, was on my high-school newspaper staff, and never had difficulty completing papers. When I was in college, I leaned toward marketing and PR before deciding to travel the world with seasonal jobs. I often kept travel blogs for my friends and family, but never thought about earning money with freelance writing.
Then, when I was teaching English in South Korea, an English-language newspaper called The Jeju Weekly put out a call for new writers. I decided to send an email.
It was a great first gig: I had the freedom to write about many different topics, and often traveled around the island reviewing cafes and attractions.
A few months later, I decided to start blogging regularly. I dreamt of earning $100 a month to support my travel addiction; to pay for a week’s worth of backpacker meals. Working full time as a remote freelance writer, however, never entered my brain as a possibility.
After returning from South Korea, I landed a content marketing gig with a woman named Alexis Grant. I helped edit and write content for her courses and scheduled social media posts for her clients.
Soon, I began blogging for them, too, and got clips at websites like Brazen Careerist and The Penny Hoarder. I also started approaching my own content marketing clients, for whom I wrote newsletters, blog posts, and web copy. A few years in, I was supporting myself with a mix of social media marketing and blogging.
Then one day, Lifehacker republished a blog post I had written for one of my clients. I was thrilled to see my name on that site — and I wanted more.
So I started pitching journalistic stories. My pitches were terrible, and I rarely heard back, but I eventually landed a piece at Mashable Travel. It was exhilarating.
About four years into my writing journey, Alexis invited to become the senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. It was a fabulous opportunity, and I truly enjoyed my time working there, and at another startup called Student Loan Hero.
But I missed the freedom of freelancing. So in January 2018, I dove back into freelancing full time. I slowly rebuilt my stable of freelance writing clients; now I earn double what I did at my staff jobs, mostly from content writing. I still manage to do some journalistic writing, too, and my stories have appeared in outlets like the New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post, Playboy, and the Los Angeles Times.
Being a freelance writer has changed my life. It has given me an outlet for my creativity and an unimaginable level of freedom. It’s allowed me to live in several different countries (I’m currently on a yearlong round-the-world trip!), attend all my friends’ weddings (without having to ask for time off), and be by my family’s side during difficult times. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Now that you know my story, I hope you feel like you can place a little bit of trust in me. I’m not some random blogger who threw up a shoddy guide with fluffy and opaque advice; I know how to become a freelance writer because I did it.
That said, my way is far from the only way. This career is unique and twisty and wonderful, and it requires two things in equal measure: hard work and luck.
While I’m sure you’ll carve your own path — that’s the beauty of it, after all — this guide combines seven years of experience and dozens of conversations with other freelance writers. If you actually want to become a freelance writer online, I think it’ll provide an excellent, step-by-step framework for getting started.
HOW TO BECOME A FREELANCE WRITER
If you’re wondering things like…
- How do I become a freelance writer with no experience?
- How do I get my first freelance writing job?
- How can I make money as a freelance writer?
You’re in the right place. Here’s how to become a freelance writer in seven in-depth steps.
This post contains affiliate links.
Table of Contents
- Choose your niche and strategy
- Become a better writer
- Establish an online presence
- Get organized
- Build your writing portfolio
- Start making money as a freelance writer
1. CHOOSE YOUR NICHE AND STRATEGY
Freelance writing is a broad term. I know freelance writers who make all their money working for corporate clients, writing web copy and white papers, and others who make all their money in journalism, publishing long-form features for magazines.
Which path will you take? And how can you make money as a freelance writer?
Understand content marketing vs. journalism
Content marketing is when you write for a business — let’s use Maxwells Chocolates (the apostrophe-free candy and ice cream store where I scooped in high school) as an example. If Maxwells were your content marketing client, you might write blog posts for its website, marketing copy for its brochures, or content for its monthly newsletter. Maxwells would pay you.
On the other hand, journalism involves writing articles and news stories for online or print publications, like the New York Times or Eater. The outlet pays you — and due to journalism ethics, you shouldn’t write about any organizations or people with whom you have relationships. That includes your clients and your family.
Let’s say you’re writing a story about ice cream parlors for Eater, and you want to include Maxwells in the list. You must tell your Eater editor that Maxwells is your client. They may decide you have to omit Maxwells or add a statement disclosing your relationship.
As the lines between content marketing and journalism have become blurrier, it’s vital for new writers to understand this distinction. If you ever get an email from a company interested in paying you to include them in a journalistic story, explain that’s a conflict of interest. You’re happy to hear what the company’s up to (maybe it’ll give you an idea for a story), or you’re happy to write content for its site for pay — but you cannot do both.
Determine your strategy
When you’re becoming a freelance writer, you should take some time to think about whether you want to pursue journalism or content marketing. While content marketing generally pays better, journalism offers more prestige.
The good news is you don’t have to choose one or the other. You can try both approaches, and you can change up the balance along the way. The important thing is to keep the two pots separate at all times.
Personally, about 80% of my income comes from content marketing: from writing blog posts and web copy for business clients (mostly in the finance space). The rest comes from pitching journalistic stories to magazines and other publications. Though I’ve found that’s the easiest way to make a high income, I often wish I had more time for the journalistic stories.
Choose your freelance writing niche
You should also think about what niche you’d like to specialize in. You don’t need to choose just one, and you don’t need to stick to it forever, but contemplating your interests can give you some direction when you’re starting out.
I happened to land in the personal finance space, and it’s been a wonderful spot for me. I recommend focusing on at least one freelance writing niche that requires specialized knowledge — tech, healthcare, etc. — because that will help you stand out and earn more money.
Once you’ve discovered some freelance writing niches that interest you, follow journalists who specialize in them. Read books and articles, and listen to podcasts, to hone your expertise. When you come across an expert who might make for a solid source, jot their contact info down in a doc. Sign up for press releases and newsletters from movers and shakers in the industry.
2. BECOME A BETTER WRITER
While it might sound obvious, it’s surprising how many people want to become freelance writers before they’ve refined their writing skills.
No matter how good of a writer you believe you are, there is always room to improve. Here are a few strategies:
- Read books: If you don’t have a library card, get one. Reading is free and fun, and most libraries allow you to check out books on your Kindle, so you don’t even have to leave your couch. You can also sign up for a free trial of Kindle Unlimited, which gets you a huge range of books for $9.99 per month (including the Lonely Planets, for you traveling writers). I keep running lists of books I’ve read and want to read in Goodreads.
- Devour articles: Sign up for the email newsletters of outlets at which you’d like to get published, so you can get a feel for what they’re interested in. If there’s a writer whose stories you like, follow them on social media or see if they have a newsletter. As you’re browsing, add articles to Pocket for later reading.
- Listen to podcasts: There are several podcasts, including Longform and Writers’ Rough Drafts, that interview writers to learn about their process. I also love listening to story-driven podcasts like Serial and Radiolab to see how they organize their narratives, and interview-driven podcasts like Death Sex Money and Fresh Air to learn interviewing techniques.
- Take courses: Writers.com has a slew of excellent courses in all types of writing techniques, and my friend Kristin Wong offers a course called Come Write With Us.
3. ESTABLISH AN ONLINE PRESENCE
Though it’s possible to be a freelance writer without a website, I imagine it would be more difficult. I also think having a website makes you feel official, which will make your pitches and marketing more official, too.
Your website doesn’t need to be fancy; it simply needs to cover your background, your services, and your contact info. It can all be on one page, if you want — just make sure it’s mobile-responsive.
Since I’ve always used WordPress and think it’s a super user-friendly platform, I’ll focus on that for this section.
Purchase your domain name
I recommend using your first and last name, or some variation thereof, because you’ll always have your name — but you might not always be a writer.
That way, if you decide to switch to public speaking down the road, you won’t have a website called “Snazzy Writing Services.” When your site — your “brand” to use marketing speak — is your name, you’ll be able to update the content and keep all of your backlinks.
Choose your domain name. Below, I’ll tell you how to get a domain name for free — but if you don’t want to go that route, I recommend Namecheap because it has lower prices than the competition.
Register for hosting
The next step is picking a hosting provider for your website. I use and love Siteground, whose beginner package costs $3.95 per month.
Alternatively, I’ve heard other writers rave about Bluehost. They’re offering my readers a 50% discount, meaning you could get a beginner plan for $2.95 to $4.95 per month. When you sign up for a hosting package, they’ll also throw in a domain name for free!
Install WordPress and a theme
Once you’ve purchased your domain name and hosting service, you’ll need to install WordPress. Since there are a million tutorials — and since your web host will be able to help — I won’t get into that here.
You’ll also need to choose a theme for your website. WordPress themes offer an easy way to make your website look modern and professional, without having to use any code or pay for the services of a developer. While there are lots of free themes out there, I think it’s worth paying for the aesthetics and customer service of a premium theme. (This is your internet home, after all!)
Create the content for your writer website
Don’t go too crazy here. All you really need right now is a high-quality (preferably professional) photo, plus the following sections or pages:
Whether you choose to include all of these as sections on a single page, or as separate pages visited by a top menu, it doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t have to be perfect right now; I am constantly tweaking my website. The most important thing is to get it up, and done, so you can start sharing it everywhere.
Set aside an afternoon to finish all of your website stuff — to set up the domain, hosting, and WordPress, and to create a few pages. Then grab a cocktail; the hard part is done!
Once you have a few happy clients, request recommendations on LinkedIn. Then ask if you can copy their recommendations over to your site. These testimonials will add valuable social proof for prospective editors and clients.
Start a blog
Now that you’ve got a website, use your blog to show off your writing chops.
If you want to focus on content marketing for orthopedic surgeons, for example, write a few posts about how orthopedic surgeons can get more customers by blogging. Or, if you’re planning to pitch travel stories, write about your latest trip.
Not only will this give you practice writing, it’ll also give a platform on which to demonstrate your talent.
Create a content calendar for your new blog. Start with one blog post per month.
Revamp your social profiles
When people talk about freelance writing, they mean freelance writing online. No one is mailing back-and-forth paper manuscripts, and few clients are asking for resumes. So, in addition to your website, your social media profiles are key to selling your services.
In my humble opinion, the two most important platforms for beginning freelance writers are Twitter and LinkedIn. The former will help with journalism, as that’s where all the editors and writers hang out, and the latter will help you land content clients.
Update your profiles — and your email signature! — to say you’re a freelance writer specializing in [insert niche here]. Make sure your photo is consistent and professional across the platforms, too.
Order business cards
Although this isn’t a necessary step, I felt much more ready to proclaim I was a writer once I had business cards.
Plus, I kept them on me at all times, and frequently handed them out at networking events (and when I was tipsy at the bar, which I think reallyyyy propelled my biz).
Bar networking aside, having a business card exudes professionalism — and you want to exude that, right? While my current (and gorgeous!) business cards are from Moo.com, I started out with super affordable cards from Vistaprint.
4. GET ORGANIZED
One of the most cliched pieces of freelance writing advice is: “If you want your business to be successful, you need to treat it like a business.”
So in this section, you’ll learn to set up your freelance writing business like a real biz — and not something you do in your mom’s basement.
Apply for an EIN
Sure, hackers probably already have your Social Security number, street address, favorite color, and so on.
But you can make it a little harder for thieves to steal your identity by registering for an Employer Identification Number, which you can put on your W9s in lieu of your SSN.
Unlike anything else you’ll ever do with the government, it’s free — and shockingly easy.
Apply for an EIN.
Do you need an LLC? In my layman’s opinion, not yet. I worked for seven years as a sole proprietor before becoming an LLC. Although it does provide some legal protections, I’ve been told you won’t really see tax benefits until you’re earning at least $40,000 per year. My advice: Make sure you enjoy this whole freelance writing thing before you spend the time and money on incorporating.
Open a business bank account and credit card
Although this isn’t absolutely necessary, I would recommend doing it sooner rather than later — because later, it’s hell to organize. (Not that I know from experience or anything…)
Your business bank account and credit card don’t even need to be official “business accounts”; what matters is that they are separate from your personal accounts.
For my business, I simply opened another personal checking account at Charles Schwab. I’m obsessed with this bank because it has great customer service, doesn’t charge ATM fees, and refunds other ATM fees. If you use this link, you’ll get $100 for signing up (I don’t get a referral fee, so view this as my gift to you!).
For my business credit card, I love the Chase Ink Business Preferred. Right now, it’s offering a whopping 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. That’s enough for a free flight almost anywhere in the world! It also earns 3X points per dollar spent on travel; shipping; internet, cable, and phone services; and advertising through social media sites and search engines. (If you wouldn’t normally spend that much money, or if you can’t use credit responsibly, do not get the card!)
Lastly, you should make sure you have a working PayPal account, as some vendors — mostly content marketing clients —will want to pay you through there.
Sign up for an accounting platform
Throughout the years, my accounting system has progressed from “um, what?” to Google spreadsheets, FreshBooks, and recently, Wave.
Remember all those website costs from above? You’ll want to track them carefully, because you can deduct them as business expenses, which will ultimately reduce your taxable income.
I love Wave because it’s free for unlimited clients and has a wealth of features, but there was a slight learning curve. When I used Freshbooks, I really appreciated it user friendliness and time-tracking capabilities. Take a look at both programs and see which one is a better fit for you.
Prepare to pay (a lot of) taxes
One of the downsides of being your own boss is you need to pay taxes four times a year. That’s because no one is taking taxes out of your paycheck, and the IRS doesn’t want to wait for your money until April 15.
The other downside? No one tells you how much to pay. You’ll need to calculate your “estimated taxes” yourself. Then you’ll need to pay them online at EFTPS on April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15 (for the prior year).
To make this process a little less painful, I recommend creating a special savings account (mine is called “Taxes Suck”) and setting up automatic withdrawals from your business bank account. Each week, for example, I transfer 30% of my projected income to Taxes Suck. Then, when it’s time to pay quarterlies, I don’t have to scramble to find the money; it’s already sitting there in my tax account.
If you’re just starting out as a freelance writer, your income is probably going to be all over the place — and it’ll be hard to rely on an automatic transfer. Instead, I recommend transferring 30% of every check into this special account.
Mark estimated tax deadlines in your calendar, along with a link to EFTPS. Create a savings account just for your taxes, and transfer money every time you get paid.
“30%?! Is that really how much I need to set aside for taxes?” Ah, yes. Welcome to the wonderful world of being a freelancer. When you had a job, your employer paid half of your Social Security (12.4%) and Medicare (2.9%) taxes. As a self-employed human, you pay both halves yourself, equating to 15.3% of your income. On top of that, you’ll pay your regular federal and state taxes. Of course, you’ll be able to deduct expenses, as well as claim some of your self-employment tax — but I put aside 30% to be safe.
Now that you’re organized with a shiny new website and EIN — or while you’re in the process of getting those things — it’s time to start telling the world about your freelance writing business.
Contact everyone you know
Ok, maybe not everyone you know — but damn close to it.
Send personalized messages to notify people you’re starting out as a freelance writer. Direct them to your new website, and explain you’re available to write website copy, newsletters, blog posts, whatever they need. Contact your former employers to see if they need help with any contract writing work. And share the news on your social media platforms, as you never know who has a small business and might need your services.
Draft three announcements that tell the world you’re its newest freelance writer: one for friends and family, one for former employers, and one for social media. Then yell it from a mountaintop.
Join freelance writer groups
Freelance writing can be a lonely road. To have a rewarding career (and not lose your mind), you’ll need to find people who understand what you’re going through day-in and day-out.
Here are a few places to find fellow freelance writers:
- Facebook: For starters, try The Freelance Content Marketing Writer and The Copywriter Club. Ask your friends which groups they’re in, too; you’re bound to find some helpful ones!
- Meetup: Depending on where you live, you might find some great support groups.
- American Society of Journalists and Authors / Online News Association / Society of Professional Journalists / Journalism and Women Symposium: These major journalism organizations can be a huge help, as can other specific organizations such as those for black, hispanic, Asian American, South Asian, Native American, and LGBTQ journos.
- 1 Million Cups / Creative Mornings: Weekly networking events that occur in cities across the world. A great place to meet fellow creatives (and prospective clients!).
- Study Hall: I’ve heard lots of praise for this media newsletter and “online support network,” which costs $11 per month.
You can even create your own mastermind with other aspiring writers you know. Hell, they don’t have to be aspiring — find some writers who are a few steps ahead of you, and meet once a month to talk shop. My writing mastermind is one of the best things I’ve done for my career.
Sign up for a few online writing groups. Then strive to find writers in your local community, as well — IRL meetups will keep you sane!
Stalk people and publications you admire
So you dream of someday seeing your name in SELF, Outside, or Bon Appetit? Well let me ask you: Are you signed up for its email list? Its social media accounts?
One of the best ways to get a pitch accepted is to know a publication really well. So make sure you’re following lots of different outlets. Not only will you see what they’re publishing — which could spark ideas — you’ll understand what they’re looking for. (I have a separate email for subscriptions so they don’t clog up my main inbox.)
Don’t limit your stalking to publications, either: It’s imperative to network with fellow writers, too. If you read a piece you like, share it on Twitter, then follow the writer. Even better, email them to offer some genuine praise. Keep doing that, and interacting, and eventually maybe you’ll build a relationship.
And don’t forget the editors! They’re all on Twitter. Long ago, Alexis Grant taught me to create a private “Notice Me” list of editors and other people you want to, well, notice you in the Twitterverse. Because all the important folks are in one handy list, you can easily interact with their tweets. While Twitter banter won’t necessarily get you an assignment, name recognition could get your email read — which is a feat in itself.
Make a list of target publications, and sign up for their newsletters and social media accounts. Create a “Notice Me” list on Twitter of editors at those publications. Get a free Buffer account to easily share compelling articles in your niche (and be sure to tag the authors!).
6. BUILD YOUR WRITING PORTFOLIO
The biggest question I hear from new freelance writers is: “How do I get my first freelance writing job?” Although it can be a challenge, it is not impossible. Most editors and businesses only care about two things: writing ability and reliability.
While shiny bylines may get you noticed more quickly, an excellent idea and good writing can still land you an assignment or gig.
Here are some ideas for how to gain those very first clips:
- Blog: Remember that blog you started a few steps back? Publish some posts. The best thing about blogging is there are no gatekeepers, so you don’t have to wait another second to get started. I’ve even heard some editors say they like blog posts because they know the writing is original and unedited.
- Publish on Medium and LinkedIn: If you want to get more exposure than blogging, but still don’t want to deal with pitching quite yet, publish a few articles on Medium or LinkedIn. You’ll be able to send those clips to an editor as an example of your unedited writing, too.
- Guest post: This strategy involves writing for other blogs for exposure and a backlink. Although I normally don’t advocate working for free, I think it can be smart for brand-new writers without any other clips. Check out this list of websites seeking guest posts; try to find blogs in your niche, so you can demonstrate your ability to write about those topics. Limit yourself to three free posts, however — after that, you should be getting paid for your work.
- Start small: When you’re getting your first clips, look for opportunities at smaller, lesser-known publications. If you have a killer idea that’s perfect for Sports Illustrated, go for it. You may get accepted. But you’re going to have a better shot with a local sports blog. Starting small will help you build up your confidence — and clips — before you pursue bigger bylines (and get more and more rejections).
- Ask your friends: Does your aunt own a bakery? Did your former colleague leave the company to start a B&B? Think about your network, and about who might need some freelance writing services. When you’re just starting out, it’s acceptable to write a few blog posts for free, so you have something to share with prospective clients and editors. But after that, remember your worth — and start charging!
Using the strategies above, write out a plan for how you’ll get three stories online in the next month.
7. START MAKING MONEY AS A FREELANCE WRITER
You’re finally ready to dive in and start selling your services! YAY!
Below, I’ll cover pitching publications (which applies to those of you interested in journalism) as well as approaching clients (for those of you who’d like to dabble in content marketing).
Organize your pitching strategy
Once you start pitching journalistic stories, it can quickly get overwhelming. Your stories, contacts, emails, and deadlines will get lost in a sea of emails and uncertainties like “Did I hear back from them?” The best defense is to get organized from the beginning.
Here are the four main tools I use:
- Trello: Where I track all of my ideas. I have one board that’s separated by topic, with a card for each story idea. Each story card has a checklist with the publications I’d like to pitch. If I get a rejection, I check that publication off so I know not to pitch that story there again. Since I sometimes have stories I’ll pitch on-and-off for years, this can be really helpful.
- Google Calendar: Where I track all of my deadlines. Once I get an assignment, I make a green event with the client/pub and title. While I used to keep all of my assignments in a list, this is eons better. I can quickly look at the monthly view and see when I’m booked up — and when I need to start pitching to pay my rent.
- Wave: Where I track all of my invoices. On the last day of the month, I look through my Google Calendar and send an invoice for each story I submitted during the prior month. I know other people who send invoices as they turn in stories, but it saves me time to do it all at once. (Though, of course, that means waiting longer for payment!) I like having all of my invoices in Wave, because I can easily see how much money I have outstanding, and because I never lose invoices. However you choose to do your billing, make sure you have a system — otherwise you’ll probably forget to bill somebody or neglect to track down a late payment.
- Google Docs: I have a massive doc called “All the Writing” (get your own copy here!) with tabs for the following:
- Calls for Pitches
- Editor Contacts
- Current and Prospective Clients
- Monthly Income
- Pitches Sent, with columns for outlet, subject, date of pitch, date of first follow-up, date of second follow-up, and result. I highlight them green for “yes,” yellow for “crickets,” and red for “no.” This makes it easy to see which pitches are outstanding, and which ones I need to follow up on.
Get your own copy of ALL THE WRITING here. Then set up your other organizational tools of choice.
Set your freelance rates
This is one of the most difficult steps for beginning freelance writers — actually, for any freelance writers. And I hate to tell you, but it never gets easier.
One thing to know: Rates often work differently for journalism and content marketing.
- Editors at publications almost always offer a rate when they accept your pitch. Unless the offer is extremely generous, I usually counter with a higher rate, and we meet somewhere in the middle. Most traditional publications — especially magazines — set their rates per-word. So they may offer you 25 cents a word: for an 800-word story, that’d be $200. Others may offer you a flat rate of, say, $250 for an 800-word story. It just depends on the outlet. To see some sample rates, check out Who Pays Writers or Contently’s Freelance Rates Database.
- Most content marketing clients, on the other hand, will ask you for your rates. Though you can try to get a ballpark budget from the client, it’s usually up to you to pitch the first number. (So pitch high!) It’s also up to you to determine how you’ll package your services. You can charge by the hour, word, or project — I usually recommend the latter.
So how do you actually figure out what to charge for freelance writing?
The best first step is to determine your target hourly rate. It’s probably going to be a lot higher than you think, because, as a freelancer, the majority of your hours aren’t billable.
Although no one’s paying you, you’re working when you’re pitching, organizing, invoicing, and researching. You also need to account for the fact that ~30% of your income goes to taxes, and that you don’t get any paid vacation or sick days.
Once you determine your hourly rate, don’t share it with clients, because they might balk when your hourly rate is double that of an employee. Instead, quote your rates per project. So if you want to earn $50 per hour, and you think a blog post will take you five hours (including researching, writing, and revisions), then quote $250. Since clients like knowing exactly how much something will cost, this approach is a win-win.
Determine your target hourly freelance writing rate. One helpful tool I’ve come across is YourRate.co. Although its tax rate is a little high, it should give you a decent ballpark figure.
Before getting stressed about rates, remember they’re not set in stone. You can quote one rate to one client, and if you realize it’s too low, quote another rate to a different client. You can also raise your rates with current clients.
Decide where to pitch journalistic stories
With journalistic stories, you can have a great idea — but it’ll never get published unless you pitch the right outlet at the right time. When you’re struck with a story idea, record it in your Trello board along with publications that might like it. As you’re reading those publications, reflect on where your story would fit — and if there’s a way to add a news peg.
When you’re thinking about which outlets take freelance stories, look no further than this site: Where to Pitch. It has hundreds of publications, each organized by the topics they cover. I also recommend signing up for Sonia Weiser’s Opportunities of the Week newsletter ($3/month) and Pitchwhiz (free). Each of these platforms share “calls for pitches,” where editors tell you exactly what they’re looking for (the dream!). If you have a story that lines up with an editor’s request, it’s a great way to get your foot in the door.
As a beginning freelance writer, you should also look for local stories, using clips in local outlets to build up your experience. Or, if you can relate a local story to a larger trend, you can pitch national outlets, painting yourself as an on-the-ground expert.
Start a running list of article ideas. Type topics into Where to Pitch to generate ideas for potential outlets, and keep your eyes on calls for pitches.
Since there are so many articles out there about pitching, I’ll offer a few short tips, then link out to longer resources.
- Find the right editor or contact: Look at the masthead to see who you should be pitching. I also search Twitter for the publication’s name plus “editor” or use Hunter.io.
- Keep it short: Your pitch should start with a hook, then explain the gist of the story, then tell the editor “why now?” and “why you?” My pitches are usually less than 200 words. (For long-form features, I think you need longer pitches, but that’s not my wheelhouse.)
- Don’t pitch multiple editors: Some people may disagree with me, but I never pitch the same story to multiple editors at once. I would never want to have two editors say yes to the same story, and have to disappoint (and potentially burn a bridge with) one. The only exception is if a story is really timely; then you should pitch multiple editors, as long as you make that clear within your pitch.
- Follow up: Don’t assume an editor has seen your email. Follow up after two weeks, and then again after another week. After two follow-ups, I assume an editor isn’t interested and move on.
- Keep your head up: Pitching can be a disheartening process. I’ve been in the game for a while, and my acceptance percentage is only between 15 and 20 percent. If you get a lot of nos, keep going — you’ll eventually get a yes!
Here are some articles that offer pitching advice in more detail (I wrote or contributed to the first three):
- How to Pitch a Story: 9 Insider Tips for Contacting the Right Editor
- 6 Free Tools That Will Help Any Freelance Writer Get Better at Pitching
- The Art of the Pitch: How to Land Your First Bylines
- The Pitch from Nieman Storyboard
- The Freelance Writer’s Pitch Checklist
Write and send your first three pitches! Make sure to record them in your writing doc, so you know when to follow up.
Find content marketing clients
Looking for content writing work? The process is a bit different: You usually won’t be pitching stories, and will instead be pitching yourself.
Here are a few places I monitor for content marketing (and also journalistic) gigs:
Although you might get lucky with the platforms above, the best strategy is to approach potential clients directly. Think about which businesses might be a fit for your niche and expertise, or try Jennifer Goforth Gregory’s “Audience First” strategy. (She has a lot of great ideas in her $14.99 ebook — which you can also get free by signing up for a 30-day trial of Kindle Unlimited.)
Once you’ve got a list of potential clients, send out a million letters of introduction. You probably won’t have a high success rate, but even one gig can make it all worth it. (In the past, I’ve earned more than $20,000 from a single LOI.)
You can also approach local businesses that might be wary of hiring someone over the internet. If you show up in-person with a one-pager that describes your freelance writing services, they may hire you on the spot.
Sign up for newsletters that advertise content marketing jobs. Create a list of potential clients in your niche, then send out LOIs — maybe 10 a week when you’re trying to land your first clients.
You made it to the end — congratulations!
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