If you want to start a writing business, you'll have to do a lot more than follow your muse. For starters, there's invoicing, bookkeeping, and marketing—lots of marketing—along with other regular business tasks, like keeping your website up to date with your latest articles.
You'll also have to build business relationships with your clients—and learn how to fire them if need be. You'll have to figure out how to balance your administrative tasks, like transcribing interviews and researching topics, with actual writing so you can meet your deadlines. And you'll have to determine what form you want your business to take.
What Types of Freelance Writers Are There?
Before you write a single word, you have to figure out what kind of writer you want to be. "There are basically three big buckets that most of the paid freelance writing is in," says Carol Tice, freelance writer, ghostwriter, and founder of the Make a Living Writing blog and Freelance Writers Den. "One is editorial writing for publications. Not personal essays or poetry or fiction but reported articles that you are not the subject of—your opinion is not the subject of it. You are talking to experts and people affected by the thing you're writing about and forming them into articles. Then, there is writing for businesses, informational stuff [like e-books, white papers, case studies, and blogs]. And then there's sales writing, like sales pages and marketing emails."
Next, you have to know what to write about. Pick a niche. It's best to be passionate about the subject because you're going to live with it all day, every day. "The best way is to build on some kind of expertise," says Amy Buttell, CEO of Lake Effect Creative. "I developed some expertise in investing and had been in an investment group, so I started writing about investments for the investment club magazine. That gave me a way to get some clips—work samples—and make some money. Then, it was easier for me to branch out and find other clients."
How Do I Find Clients?
It's difficult to find clients if you don't have any clips, but don't let that stop you. "I would create my own portfolio of work to show potential customers," says business book ghostwriter Derek Lewis. "Write up fictional website copy for a homepage or do a blog post. Clearly tell them it's fictional." Just have something to show. Your own website copy or up-to-date blog can also stand in for writing samples.
LinkedIn is an exceptional resource for finding clients. Carol Alexander, freelance home remodeling writer, says, "I go on LinkedIn, and I look up a company. Say I want to write in the construction SaaS field. I start looking for construction SaaS companies, send out connection requests, and just leave it at that. Sometimes they say, 'Oh, a freelance writer! Can you do this?' right off the bat. Sometimes they don't, and that's when you just start building relationships by commenting, liking, and tagging—not too frequently, just enough to keep you front of mind."
How Do I Get Paid?
How you get paid—and how much you get paid—is set in your writing agreement. You negotiate a market rate, and usually invoice the client with your terms clearly stated, e.g., net 15 days with a 1.5% late fee.
To determine the market rate, connect with writers in an online community and see what they're charging. You want to consider that, as a business, you are paying for your own medical and business insurance, as well as your own hardware and software. Everything. So, your rates will be higher than the hourly rate you'd receive if you were an employee. "You don't want to write a bunch of $10 articles for a content mill. Those are great places to be heavily exploited. Those platforms are for hobbyists," warns Tice. "Freelance pros are usually making $100 or more on the back end of project rates they're charging." That said, freelancers usually don't charge by the hour but by the project.
Do I Need a Business License or Do I Have to Incorporate?
Whether you need a business license depends upon your municipality. If you want a business bank account or want corporate work, you need to register your business name as a DBA or sole proprietor. If you want bigger corporate work or government work, you'll need to at least be an LLC, if not an S corp. or C corp., depending upon the company or state. And you may need a state or federal tax ID.
So, now that you know what to do pick a niche. Create some copy and a website, and get started as a freelancer.