How To Earn Money As A Freelance Writer

by Mike Holman

Jay recently asked me about getting started as a freelance writer.  Kind of ironic since he is now part of the paid staff here at 4P.  While I’ve never done freelancing myself, I have hired quite a few of them so I have a pretty good idea what is involved.

There isn’t any one obvious path to become a successful freelance writer.  Here are some of the things that I would try:

Current expertise

Try to identify what type of writing you would like to do (or are willing to do).  Can you do research on topics you aren’t familiar with and then write about them?  Are you an expert in anything?

Freelance sites

There are a number of freelance sites where you can go and bid on projects.  Elance.com and oDesk.com are two example.  I haven’t used oDesk myself but I know others who were happy with it.  I have used Elance quite extensively and it is pretty good.

In order to get started you have to register and then start looking through the various job offerings and make bids to get the contract.

Those sites are worth checking out.  If nothing else you can see what types of jobs are being offered in the areas you are interested in and what kind of $$ they are offering.  It doesn’t hurt to sign up and try to get a small job or two.  You have to start somewhere.

Copy writing companies

Textbrokers.com and ReliableWriters.com are two examples of copy writing companies.  These companies hire writers so they would be a possibility for a job.  The money would be a bit less than doing it on your own but of course they would probably have more work for you.  This might be a tough gig to get for a new, inexperienced writer.

Blogs

In the personal finance blogosphere there are quite a few blogs which hire writers for various reasons. I do this quite extensively.  If you are going to apply for a position then you should try to get a few posts written so that you can show the blogger what kind of product you will be delivering.

The two main blog options are:

1) Regular writer.  A lot of bloggers get tired of writing a certain number of days per week but still want the same amount of new content.  Sometimes they will hire someone to “be their own voice” for 1 or 2 days a week.  Mr. Cheap and I have had this exact arrangement since I bought him out in the fall of 2008 and I’ve just hired Jay (ironically enough) to a similar arrangement for one day per week.

2)  Specific paid content.  In this format a blogger will do the research to determine what type of content is likely to make some money and then will order it from either a freelance writer or a copy writing service.  The main difference between this option and option #1 (regular writer) is that the blogger will completely determine the topic, length, style etc of the post. This type of post will often require some research.

Once you have gotten some work experience at the suggested areas then I would try to break into the corporate world to get higher paying jobs.  Things like technical documentation etc pay a lot higher than a weekly gig at a two-bit blog like Four Pillars.

Do you have any other suggestions for someone looking to break into freelance writing?  Writing course? Other ideas?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 AnnieA

Have a look at Write Jobs at:

http://www.writejobs.com/

and they have a list of freelance positions.

2 Mike

Thanks Annie – that site looks good.

3 Plan B Economics

Curious – any thoughts on how freelance writers should protect themselves?

4 Mike

Plan B – what do mean?

5 Andrew Hallam

I’ve seen some amazing stuff in the blog world, which I’ll admit, is quite new to me.

I wonder if traditional freelance writers have married their expertise to the blog/online concept, and whether money can be made selling articles to blogs.

A friend of mine who blogs for the National Post and used to be the editor of a major Finance magazine has suggested that the big news companies still haven’t figured out how to sell online work. But, in my humble opinion, I think the bloggers I’ve seen in this community appear to be ahead of the curve.

As a traditional freelance writer, I think I’m far behind, but hoping to make the bridge one day–instead of becoming extinct.

Cheers,
Andrew

6 Uisgea

I imagine that Plan B is referring to copyright protection.

I’m not a lawyer (and I don’t play one on TV), but I do teach writing, and one thing that I always bring up is the thorny issue of copyright and plagiarism.

Any time you create a piece of writing, you are automatically the sole owner of the copyright (you’re the only one with the right to copy it). Some people think you have to go through the Patent Office or something, but that’s not the case. As long as it’s original, the copyright is all yours–until, that is, you get lucky and sell that right to somebody else.

Including something like “(c) Plan B 2010″ really isn’t a whole lot more than stating the obvious but it can function to prevent some people from ripping you off–it sends the signal that you’re on the lookout for thieves. A copyright statement isn’t a guarantee that you’ll never get plagiarized but it can’t hurt.

Your best bet, in my opinion, is to allow–or even encourage–others to reproduce your work, as long as they give you credit. That way your good name and good work get circulated. You might not profit from it directly or immediately, but it beats the heck out of trying to sue people for copyright infringement (which pretty much always costs the plaintiff a heck of a lot more than he ever sees in return).

If somebody does rip you off, take it as a compliment and turn the other cheek–unless they get really rich from it, in which case you do have a good legal leg to stand on.

The happy news is that the Internet makes it easier than ever to prove plagiarism. A knowledgeable librarian (especially one at a college or university) can do it in nothing flat and it probably won’t cost you a plugged nickel.

Just my two cents.

7 Squawkfox

I do a bit of freelancing for blogs. The bigger sites all have contracts. Everyone gets protection. :)

My biggest tip for becoming a successful blog freelancer is to start your own blog and build a portfolio.

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