Solid Gold: So You Want To Freelance

23 Nov

One of the questions I get asked all the time is how to get started as a freelance writer. I make no secret that I earn my living not by writing delicious sex scenes and witty dialogue, but by such glorious things as SEO articles, white papers, press releases, and product descriptions. It’s not always pretty, and it’s not always fun, but this makes me a professional, paid writer. Which, if you ask me, is the next best thing to being a professional, paid author. 

 Because the sad truth is, even with all the revolutions in self-publishing, ebook publishing, and traditional publishing these days, making money as a fiction writer is hard work. It takes time, perseverance, and time. And perseverance. And time.

Amidst all this perseverating and waiting, a girl’s still gotta eat. So if you’ve ever wondered how to get started with all this freelance writing stuff, here’s the path I took.

Note: I’ve been doing this for about four years now. The first year was rather lean; the year after that only slightly less so. It took me awhile to build up a stable client list, so pretty please don’t read this and immediately quit your day job.

Where to Find the Jobs

FIRST RULE OF THUMB: Do not follow any of those links that say you can earn a gazillion dollars as a freelance writer. You can’t. If, like me, you work super hard and land a few big clients, you can earn several thousand. Which, I’m told, is substantially less than a gazillion.

SECOND RULE OF THUMB: You are going to compete for writing jobs no matter where you look. So have writing samples, a website (if you can), a non-cutesy-or-romancey email address, and a resume handy at all times.

I started on Guru, which is a bidding website for freelancers of all shapes and sizes. To use it, you sign up, pay a fee, create a profile, and start placing bids for jobs that have been listed by companies (also of all shapes and sizes). Some of the jobs on here are perfectly legit and worth your time; others are not. Learn to weed. Also, until you’ve built up some feedback on the site, expect to have to work twice as hard to convince companies they want to hire you. You also have to give a percentage of all your earnings to that noble organization, so price accordingly.

(I no longer use Guru, but 80 percent of my current clients either originated there or are referrals from clients who originated there.)

(Oh, and remember that bit about referrals. I’ll come back to it.)

There are other job bidding sites, most notably Elance. I’ve never used that one, so I can’t give you my personal experience, but I understand it’s fairly similar to Guru.

Another place to bookmark is Freelance Writing Jobs. In the old days, they used to scour Craigslist, picking out the four or five writing jobs that weren’t a front for prostitution and posting them for all twenty million writers online to apply for. I believe they still do a little of this, though they are also approached by clients who specifically want them to advertise their positions. Competition here is stiff, people, but the jobs tend to be really good ones.

THIRD RULE OF THUMB: Make friends with people who matter. Now, here’s the real trick to freelance writing, if you ask me. Like any business, it’s who you know that really matters—and in this case, you want to know other freelance writers and SEO development companies. Why? Thank you for asking.

Established freelance writers (Like me! Hi there! How are you?) are good because we typically have lots of clients already in place. Sometimes, these clients are quiet for a long time and don’t need any work done. Other times, they come out like it’s some sort of zombie apocalypse and it makes sense for everyone to run the streets rather than stay sensibly (and anticlimactically) at home. This can sometimes cause established freelance writers (like me!) to need help getting it all done in time. When that happens, we turn to other writers we know and trust. Let me tell you, I have a handful of freelance writer friends like this, and we are often shifting our work around on each others’ shoulders. For a price. It’s good stuff.

SEO companies are great, too, especially if you can learn enough about writing SEO (search engine optimization) to really know what you’re doing. Most of the SEO companies I work for are incredible at what they do—which is graphic design, web programming, and marketing their services. What they aren’t always so good at is writing. Sometimes, they can’t string two words together unless they’re Lorem and Ipsum. Other times (and I think this is usually the case), they’d just prefer not to have to do it themselves. This is where I come in. There are several SEO companies out there who advertise having a writer on staff to handle all the content needs. That’s me. I offer the companies a great deal (since they’re doing all the work as far as client communication and marketing go), and they go ahead and package and mark up my services. It’s win-win all around, and I find that working with them is one of my favorite things to do. We have a good relationship and a solid system, and they almost always come back for more.

FOURTH RULE OF THUMB (does this phrase even mean anything any more?): Those lovely little referrals I mentioned before are your bread and butter. That’s because people who need freelance writers know other people who need freelance writers.

That’s pretty much it.

Do a good job and never hesitate to mention that you love referrals. I’ve got a pair of clients in D.C. who are brothers (and who have two totally different companies), and they are hilarious. They recommend me to everyone they know, and never fail to bestow highly floral and lavish praise. One of them even asked me to marry him. (Though I think he just wanted a discount.)
Oh, and There’s Other Stuff, Too

While I would say, without a doubt, that getting the clients is the hardest part of freelancing, the rest of the whole work-for-yourself stuff is pretty tricky, too. I try to limit my freelance hours to 20/week, but if I’m not careful, I can spend an extra 10 or so handling administrative tasks.

I’ve also learned the hard way how to price my services, the importance of having clients sign a contract, and how to handle invoicing and billing and (sad, sad face) what to do when a client won’t pay up. I do my own taxes and keep my business license current and have multiple payment options set up. I offer occasional discounts and promotions and create proposals and learn new techniques in web writing. Sometimes (okay, a lot of times), I write about things that are so boring they make my eyeballs bleed mind-numbing tears of sadness.

Basically it’s, you know, work.

But it’s also a lot of fun, and most of my clients have been with me for years. I know their kids’ names and they send me boxes of grapefruit at Christmas. Some of them also follow me on Twitter, which means they know all about my romance writing and regularly read my (often inappropriate) tweets.

So…That’s My Story

There you go. That’s what I did. I did that. I do that.

There are many different ways to get started freelancing, and there are certainly other areas to explore than those listed above. I do about 95 percent ghostwritten web content, but there are possibilities in print writing and in getting an actual byline, if that’s more your thing. You can also look into writing mills and PLR, though I am opposed to both on moral grounds, so I try to steer clear.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me in the comments section, or, if you’d like to remain mysterious, you can email me at tamaramorganwrites (at) gmail (dot) com. I’m also on Twitter more than I should be at @Tamara_Morgan. I will do my best to share the information I have, but please be aware that I don’t know everything. (There, husband. It’s in writing.)

Happy writing!

Added by Bria: Tamara has sold! Love is a Battlefield a really fun contemp (I may be partial, because I adore Tamara, but I’ve read it and you haven’t so trust me) comes out on Valentine’s Day! Check her site out HERE.

11 Responses to “Solid Gold: So You Want To Freelance”

  1. jessiebincr November 23, 2011 at 11:05 am #

    Hi! I have been following you for a little while but haven’t commented…I know, bad girl. Anyway, great posting. I, too, am a freelance writer (ghostwriter and web content) and editor. I started out at, which is like Guru, but you don’t have to pay to set up an account. It’s the biggest such site on the web…but I wouldn’t necessarily endorse it. Yes, there are tons of jobs, and it’s where I met the majority of my current clients, but it’s also where maaaaany other writers of…ahem…lesser quality, often from…ahem…other countries will work for MUCH less than a US, UK or Aussie writer, because they can live on $1.50 per 500 word article, apparently. Not I, even though I actually live in Costa Rica, which is a bit less expensive as far as cost of living than the US, last time I checked. I am from the US, we just relocated here several years ago, for various reasons. I have recently raised my rates, and my clients, who are pretty good people, have tagged along. I haven’t lost anyone yet.

    Anyway, back to the freelancing bit. I agree with you wholeheartedly about the work. It’s often mind-numbing (bedbugs? Bunk beds? Auto insurance? Hair removal creams? I know FAR too much about them. I have also learned many other fascinating things that make me great companionship at cocktail parties, conversation-wise, if I were of the cocktail-party-attending type. Shrug. I’ve been doing it for a while and have some great clients; yeah, sometimes they disappear and then reappear suddenly with a ton of work, which is great sometimes. Others give me steady work, which is also great. I’ve been doing a lot of fiction and non-fiction ghostwriting and book editing lately, rather than SEO content. That is more fun, but it also eats away at more of my time to write my own fiction, which sucks rocks.

    I’ve been slowly building my network. Luckily, my husband is also a writer, which helps me crank out more work than I’d be capable of handling on my own. I love freelancing because it allows me to be with my kids more, and we can work anywhere we want. Feel free to add me to your contacts, if you like! Thanks again for the great piece, every part of it was applicable to my life, and the humor was much appreciated!

  2. Tamara Morgan November 23, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    Jessie –

    It sounds like our experiences have followed a familiar path all the way. I, too, am a master of useless trivia (and I’ve even commented on how my cocktail party chitchat is perfected…you know, if I were to be the “cocktail-party-attending type”). sounds pretty similar to Guru. I think the takeaway is simply that you have to weed the good clients from the bad. Any web-based marketing approach is going to require the same approach. The Internetz loves its crazy and its cheap. 🙂

  3. Alexia Reed November 23, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    Great post, Tamara. I’ve been waiting for this to come out to read. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your tips and experiences with us.

  4. Jenn Stark November 23, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    Thank you, Tamara! I’m going into my 3rd or 4th year now as a freelancer, but my route was more direct–I simply started doing freelance for the companies I used to work for as a marketer. There never seems to be an end to people who need “stuff” written. At this point, I’m turning more to fiction, but if I could offer any advice for those looking locally it would be to get involved with your chamber of commerce. I haven’t needed to build referrals this way, but small business owners who want to outsource writing often know other small business owners with the same need. A thought!

  5. Tamara Morgan November 23, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    Jenn –

    Local businesses are always something I’ve neglected, so thanks for the idea. I think small and local organizations are a great niche, since the work tends to be more rewarding (I mean, it’s a lot more uplifting to help a local family-owned candy shop write compelling web copy than it is to endlessly describe printer toner cartridges).

    After a few years, the tedium can really wear on a person. I think that’s why so many of us escape to fiction writing!

  6. Kat Cantrell November 23, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    This is a great post Tamara! I had absolutely no interest in doing freelance writing until I read this. I have a degree in English and I used to write training documents when I had an EDJ. So why not? You made it seem plausible.

    PS An interesting aside about voice. I followed the link in my google reader to this article so I didn’t know Bria wasn’t the author it until I read the first paragraph. Because I know Bria’s voice (and I know Bria) I realized immediately she hadn’t written it. Both of you have distinctive voices, btw. 🙂 That’s an awesome thing.

  7. Tamara Morgan November 23, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    Kat –

    Freelance writing is not only a plausible money-making route, but it’s been really great for my fiction writing career. The forced habits of sitting down to write, meeting deadlines, and organizing my time–even if I sometimes loathe them–are ones I will never take for granted.

    And thank you for the compliment! (I happen to adore Bria’s voice, too.) 🙂

  8. briaq November 23, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    Thanks so much Tamara! This was so informative. I haven’t seen anything so put together for the beginner – Thanks for sharing it with us!

  9. Tamara Morgan November 23, 2011 at 11:09 pm #

    Thanks for having me, Bria!

  10. jmariebooks November 24, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

    Great tips! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us, Tamara! Happy Thanksgiving! 🙂

  11. Stephanie R November 25, 2011 at 11:34 pm #

    I have a lit blog (grossly neglected since I started homeschooling my kids) and write articles for the Dallas Examiner (see parentheses above) but have been hoping to get in to the freelance writing market. Kat C. sent me the link to your article, which is great! Thanks so much for the good info!

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