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5 Secrets to Becoming a Successful Freelance Writer

By Margaret Manning July 14, 2014 Managing Money

When you think about being a freelance writer, what images come to mind? Do you imagine yourself, sitting on a beach, the sun setting behind your laptop as you put the final touches on an article for a client 4000 miles away?

In many ways, freelance writing sounds like the ultimate part-time job for people approaching, or already enjoying, retirement. It’s flexible, in demand and easy to get started with. Unfortunately, these very factors also make freelance writing highly competitive.

Being a successful freelance writer requires more than excellent writing skills. It requires you to excel at a number of skills that have nothing – and everything – to do with writing. Here are 5 secrets to becoming a successful freelance writer.

Make Writing a Part of Your Daily Schedule

Being a freelancer is frustrating, especially at the beginning. You will respond to multiple project requests for every one that you win. You will write on topics that you don’t particularly care about. You will encounter unreasonable clients. Is it any wonder that so many freelance writers quit in the first month?

Under such conditions, it is essential to focus on the things that you can control. For example, many of the most successful freelancer writers that I know set time aside every day to write, even if they don’t have any projects. This has both practical and psychological benefits.

On a practical level, writing and publishing your own content helps you to improve your skills, develop your reputation and build a portfolio.

The psychological benefits are even more significant. While not universally true, writers tend to be a sensitive group. We take rejection personally and many of us find it difficult to get started once we’ve stopped. Writing is an active process. When we are moving forward, we have less time to listen to our doubts and our fears.

So, no matter what you do, keep writing, even if it is just for yourself.

Build a Reputation in a Niche

One of the biggest mistakes that freelance writers make is trying to be everything to everyone. There are several problems with this approach. First, if you don’t have a particular interest in a project, how are you going to compete on anything but price? Second, if you don’t build your reputation in a niche, how will your work attract clients?

Some of the most successful freelance writers are passionate subject matter experts, who also do contract work – for a price.

What are you passionate about? Do you love to travel? If so, is there a specific type of travel that you can specialize in? Do you have unusual professional experience or skills? Are you passionate about a particular hobby?

Once you have decided on a niche, don’t wait for anyone’s permission to get started. By all means, bid on the projects that interest you. But, more importantly, start building your reputation through your own work. Start a blog. Write guest posts. Show the world what makes you unique.

Writing is About Words, but, Business is About People

Being a successful freelance writer isn’t just about the quality of your words. Why? Because, behind every project is a person. The most successful freelancers I know invest time getting to know their clients as individuals.

Take the time to get to know your clients. Offer to spend 15 minutes on Skype to understand more about their business objectives so that you can better meet their needs. This approach has several benefits. First, your writing will improve as you understand what to focus on. Second, if your clients know you personally, your ratings will improve and you will get more repeat work. Third, and perhaps most important, you will be in a position to recommend new, higher-value, work based on your understanding of their business.

The best writers that I work with for Sixty and Me are a constant source of new suggestions. As a business owner, I rarely see their ideas as pushy or self-serving. Even if I decide not to follow through on a specific recommendation, our relationship is strengthened.

Develop Complementary Skills

Companies will pay a premium for writers that understand SEO (search engine optimization), research and WordPress management. I know several freelance writers who started out making $30 an article who now make thousands of dollars a month managing their client’s blogs. In many cases, the amount of writing is the same. The difference is that you are able to manage several tasks at the same time.

In other words, companies are willing to pay you more for the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you will take care of everything, from deciding what to write, to optimizing the articles with keywords, to selecting images and posting the content.

All of this sounds more complicated than it actually is. Article SEO is mostly about choosing what to say, based on what people search for. Learning how to post articles to a blog takes a few hours, but, it’s nothing that you can’t handle.

The good news is that there are plenty of resources available to help you get started with SEO and blog management. For example, Moz has an excellent free beginner’s guide to SEO and has a series of WordPress videos, which are available as a part of its subscription.

Be Proactive. Be Bold.

Finally, I would offer a few simple words of advice. Don’t sit there and wait for projects to come to you. They won’t. By all means, create a profile on Elance and a few other sites. But, remember that making a significant income from freelance writing requires a proactive approach.

It requires you to make your own writing a priority. It asks you to look inside yourself and write about your passions. It compels you to look for the person behind each project. It requires you to see writing as just one of a set of complementary skills.

So, don’t wait to get started. Write your first article today. Be proactive. Be bold. The rest will take care of itself.

Have you already started your side business as a freelance writer? What has your experience been? What tips can you share with the other members of our community? Please add your thoughts in the comments below and share this article if you liked it.


Do you want to know how to make money with your writing? Then, this episode of the Sixty and Me Show is for you! In this episode, I speak with Ben Gran, a successful freelance writer, about how to start a writing business while still working or considering retirement.

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The Author

Margaret Manning is the founder of Sixty and Me. She is an entrepreneur, author and speaker. Margaret is passionate about building dynamic and engaged communities that improve lives and change perceptions. Margaret can be contacted at

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