This post is written specifically for freelance writers and people making their living by selling their services online, and it’s something I’ve been meaning for publish for several years now. It includes my observations and recommendations on how to advance in the field.
Let me start with a disclaimer: I’m not a freelancer and have never been one. But I’ve spent more than a decade on the other side, hiring hundreds, if not thousands, of freelancers over the years. Often I encountered very smart and intelligent people who were selling themselves short, and I mean really short! With a little work to upgrade their skills, and by better marketing their services they could be earning 5-10 times more for the same amount of work, enjoying their work more, and working with more professional and respectful clients who value the quality of work, reliability, and professionalism above all.
How can you become successful as a freelancer and make a good living, despite the hundreds of thousands of people willing to do the same jobs for far less? Read on to get my personal advice, this is based on my own experience, as well as the experience of many friends, colleagues, and partners dealing with the same issues and noticing the same pitfalls freelancers fall into. This mostly applies to freelance writers, or whose looking to build a career or at least substantial supplemental income from it. But the same principles also apply to web designers, programmers, consulting specialists and any other freelance specialists.
There is no shortcut here – if you want to be a high paid writer you have to better than most. But do not despair, you do not need to publish best-seller books, or write highly cited articles for top magazines. You just have to be good. Read more, write more, train and improve your writing skills:
- Learn how to proofread properly, never submit articles to clients that are not well proofread and may contain any grammatical mistakes. Use tools like Grammarly, or just the default spell checkers in MS word, or WordPress plugins.
- Learn how to research topics well and structure your longer articles better
- Learn how to use WordPress properly to publish good looking, well-formatted articles, along with pictures and affiliate links as per client’s request.
- Disregard the common advice of learning about SEO or trying to include as many as possible related keywords in your articles. Simply focus on the readers and make your articles useful and interesting for the readers.
- Be very reliable. As an employer few things are worse than dealing with a freelancer who is constantly putting off your work, misses deadlines, makes new promises and then fails to deliver on time. By trying to always follow through on your deadlines and being realistic with planning your workload you’ll instantly have an edge over the vast majority of other such service providers.
Pick Your Niche
Once you’ve gotten better it’s time to pick a niche to specialize on. To be able to ask and get paid high rates, you have to be perceived as an expert in your field by your employers. Pick a topic you are interested in and that is wide enough and has high commercial appeal and specialize on it, learn more about it, write exclusively on that topic and try to get your articles on the topic published in respectable websites. Some suggestions:
- bitcoin, blockchain, and cryptocurrency. This is a very high paying and rapidly expanding niche, the employers have substantial budgets, and no one wants to hire an amateur who clearly doesn’t understand how it works and is just rewriting other articles.
- gambling, casino, online betting, One of the most commercially viable topics. Gambling companies spend obscene amounts of money on quality content and backlinks.
- sexual health. Another timeless topic with plenty of clients with deep pockets.
- technology. It’s a vast area with very high competition among other writers, so best to specialize in a certain aspect only, e.g. clean tech, or video games.
- sales copy. writing sales copy is different, it requires a familiarity with your audience, a more adaptive style and a good understanding of the basic marketing and sales principles. However, master this and you can charge hundreds and even thousands of dollars per article (an incredibly long one, however)
There are many more topics you can pick, preferably it should be something that you have an interest in, and know a bit about.
Become a Published Expert
A published expert is simply someone who can show that she has been published multiple of times in respectable media publications on the topic.
The best way to establish yourself as an expert in the field is by setting up your own small site on the topic, publishing several articles and then publishing your guest posts in different websites that accept them, with the author bio and a link back to your website. With some effort, you can also create profiles and have articles published in popular magazines like HuffingtonPost. Additionally aim to establish a social presence, update your social profiles and share relevant links on the topic, as well as your own.
It’s vitally important to have published articles on a topic that you can show to potential clients. When choosing a freelancer for a project I would always prefer someone who can link directly to articles published online in her name, especially ones that have been widely shared on social media and commented on, rather than someone who can only send me pdf or doc files with his past works to evaluate quality, or doesn’t have any articles on the topic, but offers a discount instead.
Establish Yourself on Freelance Sites
The easiest way to get clients these days is through freelance sites. However to be able to attract quality employers and apply for higher paying projects you’ll need to establish some reputation by successfully completing a few projects first.
Be consistent, use the same details in all freelance websites and social networks. It’s best to set up profiles in the top ones: Upwork, Freelancer and make sure to fill out your profiles as detailed as possible. Include samples, links to your published articles and own websites. Complete a few small projects to get at least 5-10 positive feedbacks and be sure to keep your ratings and completion rates at 100%
Once you have some positive feedbacks from a few satisfied clients it’s time to go find some bigger clients. Review projects carefully, try to go for the ones that have potential to become long term relationships where you would be to receive consistent work. Craft your proposals carefully to show the potential employers that you can satisfy their demands by showing similar projects that you’ve completed, and by spending more time to research their requirements and demonstrating a good understanding of their business needs.
Choose the Right Clients
When I was just starting out with my online business I had just one or two main websites to update and little budget for hiring writers. I was spending a substantial amount of time trying to find decent quality writers providing cheap services on a budget, I then edited, improved and even restructured articles before publishing. I kept updating those articles, later on, adding pictures and links and constantly trying to improve them to get more traffic.
Most webmasters and website owners hiring writers nowadays are in the same boat, looking to find the best trade-off between price and quality, while bootstrapping their online business. It’s not a bad place to be in, but this is not the kind of employers you want to deal with on a regular basis. they will negotiate, complain and demand more. I know I did.
Presently, as the business has grown and I manage many profitable websites, I hardly have enough time to keep an eye on individual sites, let alone review or edit individual articles. I’d much rather pay someone 10 times more to be confident that he understands my business, and knows what kind of content is required, and can work more autonomously, by either finding topics himself, or going by a list and researching, writing, editing, proofreading and publishing articles on my sites, along with links, and images. Also, perhaps even approving comments, replying, editing and updating old articles and generally managing the website’s content. It allows me to focus on other bigger projects and only check stats and send payments every so often.
This is also a much better deal for the freelancer, as he is getting paid a good amount, and knows that as long as he provides quality work he has a certain degree of employment security. Even if I sell the website he’s updating (which generally happens quite often, buying and selling established websites is my main business), I will recommend the new owner to continue the employment, and almost always the buyer will prefer to keep things as they were. Which in turn will allow the freelancer to get more ongoing work from his new client.
If you promise to complete an article by tomorrow, but deliver it a day later it may not seem like a big deal – everyone does it, after all. Overpromising and underdelivering has become the industry standard. Employers often expect it and plan accordingly. But it soon becomes a habit and 1 day delays turn into 2 weeks, and clients are no longer contacting you when they have a time sensitive project, but only when it’s something less important.
You may win a project if you promise to deliver it faster than you know you usually can, but you will lose the cleint if it’s not delivered on time. However, if you provide more reasonable and coservative estimates on your delivery time and deliver on time, or even faster, the clients will appreciate it, and it will help you stand out among all the other freelancers who are less punctual.
Being reliable, learning to provide reasonable estimates, and always trying to deliver on time will instantly make you better than 90% of other freelancers!
So, how much can you get paid for your writing? The range is quite wide. I’ve personally paid anywhere from as little as $0.25 per article for short news posts of semi-unique content to thousands of dollars for very long sales pages and ebooks. But typically the rates roughly divide into several main ranges:
- below $1 per 100 words – typically charged by non-native speakers, or beginning freelancers trying to get some quick feedbacks. Many intelligent freelancers fall into the common trap of lowering their rates to compete in the global market and end up here.
- from $1 to $2.5 per 100 words – for mid range decent quality content that has occasional typos, grammar errors, but overall covers the topic well.
- from $3 to $6 per 100 words – for high-quality content with perfect grammar, well researched and well structured
- over $10 per 100 words – for high-quality content written by experts in the field, with optimal structure, edited and published along with any extra links, pictures, and even social sharing.
Now, if you’re content with being in the first or second category on this list that’s fine, but then this post is not for you. However, if you’d like to move up to the last two categories I urge you to consider these suggestions very seriously and apply the lessons above to your freelance business.
There you have it, the unique perspective of an employer on how to be a successful freelancer writer. Hopefully, this article gives you a different perspective and a way to advance your writing career. Have any comments, remarks, disagreements? Feel free to comment below.
Excellent post Michael,
I like how you differentiate between the different levels of freelance writers. Cheers
Sometimes I see many writers saying they are good in just any topic. I want to also agree with you here on selecting a niche and sticking to it.
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