So you want to become a freelance writer, work from home, and make enough money to live a comfortable life.
That’s not so hard to do if you follow the right steps.
Today I want to show you how I went from being broken without a clear idea what to do with my professional life to travel the world and get paid to write articles.
All of this in a short period of 6 months — without having to work for any marketplace like Upwork or having any substantial writing experience.
Let’s get started.
This isn’t a guide filled with affiliate links to sell you hosting and other shit you don’t need. This is my personal experienced summarized so you can copy it and, hopefully, succeed like I have. There’s no hidden agenda in here.
How to Become a Freelance Writer
- Step #1: Find Your Purpose
- Step #2: Define Your Niche
- Step #3: Create Your Site and Portfolio
- Step #4: Find Sites to Guest Post
- Step #5: Pitch
- Step #6: Write the Article (and Send It)
- Step #7: Start Pitching Companies and Get Your First Client
- Step #8: Build a Traffic-Generating Hub
- Are You Ready to Become a Freelance Writer?
Step #1: Find Your Purpose
Behind every step you take, from just starting out to making six figures a year writing, you need to have a clear purpose.
Here’s the thing:
All the tasks you’ll have to do to become a freelance writer — all the tasks you’ll see throughout this guide — will take a lot of effort.
You will fail and you will face challenges.
The only thing that will keep you from keeping your day job (the one that’s not fulfilling you) is your purpose.Your purpose is the engine that drives your writing career forward.Click To Tweet
Gary Keller, author of The ONE Thing, explains this idea clearly in the following graphic:
Before you can get anything meaningful done — what people call “productive” — you need to know why you want to do it.
How I Found My Purpose
In my case, I discovered why I wanted to become a freelance writer after I applied to a job posting.
The reality is that I was desperate to get a job. I needed a way to get out of my house and travel the world. But it had to be a remote job, otherwise it wouldn’t work.
I went to WeWorkRemotely and found a job listing for a content writer. It seemed like something I could do, so I applied.
As I filled in the boxes with my name, experience, and portfolio, I faced a key question that would change my career forever. The question asked:
I started explaining how writing was my biggest passion. I said I loved to express myself, teach to people, and craft narratives with my words.
As I explained why I liked writing and why I wanted to do it for them, I discovered something:
I could actually make a living writing.
It’s an obvious statement, but one that changed my professional life.
Before that, I defined myself as an SEO freelancer, a growth marketer, and a digital marketing consultant, but never as a writer.
Having explained why I liked writing I realized that’s was my thing.
All the other skills were nice, but they never felt right. Writing, in contrast, felt amazing.
If I loved writing, why couldn’t I dedicate my time to do that?
That inconspicuous exercise helped me find my purpose. It was so easy and simple that seems like it can’t work. But it did for me, and it will surely do for you.
Exercise #1: Discover Your Purpose
The process of discovering your purpose is as hard as you want to make it.
I have always believed you don’t necessarily discover your purpose like you find an address in Google Maps. Rather, it’s a slow, progressive process, in which you get closer to what feels right little by little.
In my case, I realized I wanted to be a writer after I answered the question “Why are you interested in this position?” Once I had answered that question, it was a matter of putting all my energies into realizing that purpose.
Before continuing reading this article, answer the following questions:
- Why do you like writing?
- What makes writing so enjoyable?
- What piece of content that you have written makes you the proudest of yourself? Why?
- Do you see yourself writing every day for the next 5 years? If so, what makes you think you can keep up that pace?
- What makes your writing unique?
Open your favorite note-taking app, and write those answers. Write as much as possible, without stopping to think about your answers. You want to use free association to find what your subconscious thinks about this.
Should You Be Afraid of Writing?
There’s a lot of BS around being a writer making pennies a day. Some say that it’s hard to make money writing. Others complain about the amount of work they’ve got to put up to make a reasonable wage.
The idea that writers have a hard time making a living is simply not true.
Here’s what you need to know:
If you suck at writing or at marketing yourself, you’ll starve. Otherwise, you won’t.
Yup, it’s that simple.
There’s no “fear of writing,” only fear of failure.
As long as you provide a valuable service to a company (i.e., your clients), you’ll be fine.
Most importantly, learn to market yourself, drive leads to your services, and sell them (something I will briefly explain later), and you can make a great living writing.
Step #2: Define Your Niche
When it comes to marketing, I have a simple philosophy:
Niche and win.
I know it’s too early to start thinking about your marketing, but this isn’t related to your plan of promoting your business. It’s more subtle.
The niche you define will make or break your future. Choose a bad niche — or worse yet, become a generalist — and you’ll have a hard time finding clients who want to pay for your services.
Find one that’s specific and profitable, and guess what? You’ll have great clients coming your way willing to pay you good money.
I often see writers are afraid of finding a vertical (an industry, a niche) for various reasons. But this lack of confidence of defining their niche — the ambiguity of their specialization — is what kills their business from the get-go.
I want you to think about what you’re good at, what you like, but most importantly, what you can write about for years.
If you want to make a living writing as a freelancer, you’ll have to be willing to write like an expert every single day. The niche you choose will have to fit that requirement, otherwise you’ll have a hard time sustaining your work.
Here’s what I want you to know: when it comes to your career, specialization always beats ambiguity (i.e., being a generic writer).
- The more specialized you are, the more you know.
- The more you know, the more valuable you can be for a company.
- The more valuable you are, the more you are worth.
- Thus, the more money you can make.
The process of finding your niche is similar to your purpose; you don’t just pick it like a pair of shoes, but you slowly get closer to what you like. It will take some testing and experimentation to find your favorite niche, but once you do it, your career will become much easier.
The right niche often lays in the crossroads between your interests, your knowledge, and your experience.
In my case, I’m experienced in marketing and entrepreneurship. I also have experience in SEO, PPC, analytics, and copywriting. For that reason, specializing in writing about these topics was a no-brainer for me.
Also, I have started many businesses — ecommerce, dropshipping, FBA, media sites — and worked for many more — SaaS, agencies — so I knew entrepreneurship and business were good industries for me. While they are still too broad, they helped me find the right sites to pitch (which you will see later) and start my career.
Let’s see how you can find your own niche right now.
Exercise #2: Find Your Niche
Open your note app as you did in exercise #1 and repeat the process of writing down the answers to the following questions:
- What did you study in college?
- What jobs have you held? What did you learn from them that you can teach to someone else?
- What skills make you the proudest?
- What awards or achievements have you gotten?
- What topics do you love reading about?
- What are your favorite hobbies?
Take a look at your answers. What patterns do you find? Are there any crossovers in them?
For example, if you studied biology in college and have worked at several Pharma companies, then your best bet will be something related to health, biology, chemistry, and the like.
If you have studied philosophy and have always worked as an academic, then you’ll have a hard time making a living writing about that topic. But if you also like sports and you have played in a football team for all your life, then the latter industry will be the best place to start.
Step #3: Create Your Site and Portfolio
There’s no reason for me to start this step by explaining to you why you need to have a site. That’s soooo 2009.
In 2019, you need to have a site, even if it’s simple.
The people with whom you’ll work want to see your work. Your site is the place where they’ll find everything about you: who you are, what you believe in, what you like writing about, and more.
Your site is like a business card, but better.
Before I show you how to create a simple site, let me make an important clarification.
Aim for Good Enough, Not Perfection
As soon as you open your site, you’ll be tempted to install an expensive theme or even hire a web designer to help you create the “perfect” site.
Don’t do that.
Your site needs to be good enough so your visitors (i.e., your potential clients) see your content. It doesn’t have to be beautiful; as long as your content is readable and the look is modern (which includes minimalism), you’ll be fine.
As a rule of thumb, if you spend more than $100 in your website development, you’re overspending.
Later I’ll show you the cost breakdown of opening your site. For the time being, just remember my rule of thumb so you get started soon and save some dollars.
Now that we’ve covered this point, let’s jump right into the next exercise.
There are no affiliate links below.
Exercise #3: Create Your Site
There are three critical elements you need to have in place to launch your site:
- A domain
- A hosting
- A web design
To get started with the domain, go to GoDaddy, put your site name (I’ll explain more about that later), and get a .com TLD.
Before we got with the exact steps to take, let’s quickly go over the topic of your site’s name.
The name you pick for your site could follow one of two options:
- Your name (e.g., Ivan Kreimer)
- A creative name (e.g., Content Fiesta)
Whatever the option you choose, when you’re just getting started, keep this simple. Eventually, you can redirect everything to a new name site, which isn’t that big of a deal.
It’s so easy to get bogged down on the perfect name for your site, something that ends up becoming an excuse for not starting your freelance writing career.
Don’t let that happen to you. Just pick a name and keep going.
Let’s say your site was called “Marketing for Geniuses.”
(I know, the name it’s not that good, but whatever.)
You’d go to GoDaddy and put marketingforgeniuses.com.
Voilá! The name is available, so you’d have to click the “Add to Cart” button and buy it.
Then, it’s time to get the hosting.
If you search online, you’ll see so many contradictory articles about the best hosting. One will claim Bluehost is the best (I tried them, they’re OK), while another will say that one is horrible and Hostgator is the best. The same with any other hosting company you can think of.
The truth is all of those “honest” reviewers want to make money from the hosting company that pays the best affiliate commissions. They care little about you.
I’ve used three hosting companies:
- I started with Bluehost and it’s good enough if you plan to have little traffic.
- Then, I used Mediatemple and they were even better, both in features, customer quality, and more. Use them if you want to have multiple sites or if you plan to drive considerable traffic to it.
- Now, I’m using Flywheel and they’re even better. They give you a free SSL (i.e., encrypted domain), a good amount of traffic volume, free cloning, great customer service, and much more. I love them and they’re quite cheap — their plans start at $15 and go up from there depending on your traffic volume. I’d go with them as they make everything really easy.
Whatever the hosting you choose, don’t spend more than 1 hour thinking over this. When you have a low budget, all hosting companies look alike, so there’s no point on spending hours going over this decision when you have much larger problems lying ahead.
Once you have opened your hosting account, redirect your domain’s CNAME to your hosting (check your hosting’s directions on how to do it) and install WordPress to it.
If the hosting is good, you should be able to install it with one click and in a few minutes. All the companies mentioned above let you do that, so as any respectable hosting company.
After you’re over that, install a theme. As I said before, don’t spend a lot of money on this.
I’ve used the paid Studiopress themes before, and they’re beautiful and easy to use. The only caveat is that you first need to buy their framework, Genesis, and then buy the site.
While most themes (including the framework) cost between $99 and $129, they’re worth the investment.
You can also use Themeforest, where you can find themes for not more than $80, but you will get very distracted fast with all the options available, so I don’t recommend this option. Also, their themes rarely offer great customer service, so if you have a problem, you’re on your own.
The installation of your theme shouldn’t take you more than 1 minute. After you’ve downloaded the theme’s .zip, you need to go to your WordPress dashboard (which you access to by going to yourdomain.com/wp-admin), go to Themes, click on “Add New.”
Once in there, click on “Upload” and add the .zip file.
After you do that, WordPress will take care of the rest. You can play around with your theme’s settings and design all you want, but following the previously mentioned minimalist philosophy to launching your freelancing career: keep it simple. Don’t get distracted with this, or you’ll go down the “I want to install all the plugins to make my site look great” rabbit hole that only leads to a lot of headaches.
To summarize your expenses so far:
- Domain: $12 for a .com
- Hosting: Between $4 and $15 per month
- Theme: Between $60 and $130
- Total: Between $76 and $157
Quite cheap, eh? 😃
After you’ve set up your site, that’s just the beginning. Now you need to develop the three key pages to make it look like a real site. Those pages are:
- A homepage
- An about page
- A contact page
When you’re getting started, the home page should be your blog page. To do that, go to Settings > Reading. Then, under “Your homepage displays,” make sure you have “Your latest posts” selected.
After you’re done with that, create your about page. To do that, go to Pages > Add New.
The about page is one of the most important and underrated parts of your site. It’s the place where you tell your visitors what your site and company is all about. It’s an opportunity to connect.
Take a look at my own about page:
While you can’t see that in this image, I start with a headline that says “Want content that drives traffic? You have come to the right place.” This already connects with the reader, who’s probably wondering who I am and what I’m all about.
Then, I start by creating some rapport with the reader, as you can see in the image above. I follow up with my value proposition, which is one sentence long for increased impact.
I close by adding some social proof at the end. The about pages continues later, but by then I have connected with my audience, I have explained my value proposition, and I have validated myself.
What all great about pages have in common is that they allow the visitor to learn more about you, connect with you, and become convinced you’re the #1 expert in the topic.
The most important aspect of your contact page should be that it be made for your leads.
That means, your contact form must include the following fields:
- Interest (random contact or business)
Take a look at my own contact page:
It’s super simple and minimalistic, and that’s why I like it. The best part is that I save using a plugin, which slows down my site.
With this, you’re done! You have a basic site set up and ready to go.
After the site, your portfolio is the other key part that you need to have in place to launch your freelance writing business.
While your site can work as a portfolio, there’s one company that lets you set up one in minutes, showcasing all the great content you’ve published: Contently.
Your clients will want to see a shortlist of sites where you’ve published and topics you’ve written. Your portfolio will do exactly that.
Here’s how you can do it.
Exercise #4: Create Your Portfolio
Start by going to Contently and click on “Freelance with Contently.”
Then, open an account adding all your personal info — the usual suspects, like name and email — and verify your email address.
Then, add all the posts you’ve published under your name (except the ones in your site), like in my portfolio.
After you’re done, you should have at least 5 posts in there to show your potential customers. If you have no posts — or not enough — yet, the next step will show you how to do that.
Step #4: Find Sites to Guest Post
If you want to charge $400 per article or more, you need to show proof of your skills. Your potential customers will want to know how you express yourself, what you can write about, and your writing style.
The best way to show your skills and, at the same time, have people see your content is through guest posting.
The time and energy you spend crafting a high-quality piece for another site for free has a long-term return, but it’s worth doing it.
There are four benefits I’ve found on guest posting:
- You practice your skills, develop your writing style, and get real-life experience writing for another site
- You get to develop social proof from the site who lets you publish in their site, which can be critical when talking to new clients
- You get links from high-authority sites, which helps you rank your site higher for keywords related to your services (that is, free scalable traffic!)
- You get people to read your content, which as I said before, include potential new clients
In my experience, guest posting was the most important aspect that helped launch my freelancing career.
After I had decided I wanted to become a freelance writer, I created a list of +50 high-authority high-traffic sites that allowed for guest contributions.
It took me a few days to find the whole list, including the point of contact, their email address, and the potential topics to write, but it was worth it.
In three months, I had published in +10 sites, some of which drove my first clients, and some others which still got me a few top-notch links.
I probably spent ~50 hours on this — finding the sites, pitching, and writing the pieces — but the clients I got from those efforts brought me over $20,000 for the rest of the year.
If you make the math, I made $400 per hour of work.
That means, I worked “for free” upfront, but eventually, I recovered that time through long-term work with the clients I attracted.
I don’t love math, but when it works to my favor, it’s beautiful. 😎
Let’s take a look at what you need to do to start with your guest posting efforts.
To understand the following process in greater detail, I highly recommend you take a look at the in-depth guest blogging guide I wrote.
Exercise #5: Find Sites to Guest Post
Start by opening an Excel sheet or a Google Sheets file, and add the following columns to it:
- Name of site
- Name of contact
This sheet works like a CRM for guest blogging, in which you’ll track everything you do.
The first two columns are self-explanatory — the name of the site and URL, duh. The third one is where you’ll add the URL of the guidelines the site offers to guest writers, the name of the point of contact and their email, while the other five are where you track the steps you take.
You start by tracking your first contact (you can add a “one,” “two,” and so on, to this column to track the number of contacts you make), then their interest (if they say “no thanks” or “write for us”), and finally the writing of the piece itself.
The last two track after the site accepted your article and once they’ve published it.
All it’s simple and straightforward, the hardest part lays in finding the sites and pitching them (which you will see in the next step).
To find guest posting site, you can use any of the following footprints, changing the “keyword” for one related to your industry (e.g., if you write in the tech industry, you’d use a keyword such as “IT,” “tech,” “software,” and so on.)
- keyword + “add guest post”
- keyword + “become a contributor”
- keyword + “become a guest blogger”
- keyword + “become a guest writer”
- keyword + “become an author”
- keyword + “contribute to our site”
- keyword + “guest post by”
- keyword + “guest post guidelines”
- keyword + “now accepting guest posts”
- keyword + “submission guidelines”
- keyword + “this guest post is from”
- keyword + “this guest post was written”
- keyword + “this is a guest article”
- keyword + “this is a guest post by”
- keyword + “want to write for”
- keyword + “write for us”
- keyword + inurl:guest-posts
- keyword + inurl:write-for-us
I recommend you get at least 20 sites in your list, but ideally, you should aim at 50.
As you add each site to your list, you want to find their guidelines or, conversely, any case where they accepted a guest post.
If you find either a set of guest posting guidelines or a guest writer, still add them to your list.
Pro Tip: There will many cases in which a potential site won’t look like they accept guest posts, but if you ask, they do. As the saying goes, you won’t get hurt by asking, so ask away.
Also, after you got a few high-authority guest posts, it will be much easier to get accepted in sites that seem not to take guest posts.
Whether they have public guidelines or not, you still want to get a point of contact and his/her email address.
To find an email address, use Hunter.io or Norbert. With both tools, you add the name of the point of contact (most likely the blog manager) and the site’s name, and both tools give you a suggestion of the contact’s email address. This is how it’d look if you searched for my email at Foundr.
In some cases, the tools will give you the exact email of the point of contact (because they found them publicly on the site), while in some others they will give you a guess — some will have a higher likelihood than others of being the actual address.
If you aren’t sure, add a few variations, which you will test once you pitch the point of contact.
The whole guest posting research process shouldn’t take you more than 4 hours.
Once you are done with this list, it’s time to start with the pitching.
Step #5: Pitch
Pitching is more of an art than a science. You need to learn to pitch properly to be able to land your guest post opportunities.
Let me share with you some of the idiotic pitches I’ve gotten so you can see how you should not pitch other people:
I mean, come on. I have few posts on this site, I’ve never said I accept guest posts, and you send me this?! 🤦♂️
There have been worse cases, mind you:
I could go on and on with awful examples like these ones, but the point is the same: when you pitch, you need to look and act professionally.
To do that, you need to follow two simple rules:
- Be polite and respectful
- Offer something they care about — that is, be relevant
First, respect the point of contact (a blog or marketing manager) — she’s doing her job, so if you don’t waste her time you’ll be way above everyone else (as the previous examples showed you).
Next to respect, it’s the relevancy of your pitch. Read the guidelines and follow them by heart; there’s nothing as annoying as someone who doesn’t care about you.
What’s more, acknowledge the recipient by naming them and talking about them. As Dale Carnegie said, “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” It won’t take you more than a minute to figure it out, so do it.
Also, think about the topics the site publishes, the most successful ones (both link and shares-wise), and what the point of contact publicly likes.
Later I will show you how that looks like — for the time being, take these two rules into consideration. If you get rejected, it may be due to either a lack of respect (even if it’s unintended) or irrelevancy, so your pitch refinement will have to focus on those two aspects.
If you check the previous terrible examples, in no case they respected those rules.
They were all about their content, they didn’t even know my name, and they didn’t offer me anything I’d remotely care about.
Remember those rules, because you will have to respect them whatever pitch you ever send.
It took me a lot of time and effort to develop my pitching strategy, but after a lot of emails, here’s one of the results of my pitching efforts:
That client alone generated me over $5,000 in six months of work. Not a lot, but nothing to overlook either.
If you follow the advice I’m about to show you, you’re patient and consistent, you’ll be able to reap the same results.
Let’s get started.
The Hard Truth of Pitching
Before we get to the exercise, there’s a final hard cold truth you need to know about pitching:
You will get rejected.
Some will tell you they don’t like your writing idea, some will tell you they don’t accept guests (even though they technically do, but that’s for strategic partners), and some will ignore you.
The art of pitching is like salesmanship, rejection and success go hand-to-hand. You have to accept that.
Fortunately, the rejection will be easy to digest — you will get a polite email or you will be completely ignored. There will be no shouting involved. Still, you will get discouraged, but the more you keep pitching, the better you will get at it and the more progress you will make.
If you already have been published in high-authority sites already, you will have an easier time getting accepted in other high-authority sites. The opposite will be the case at first, so keep pitching and refining your message as you go.
Pro Tip: It’s best to pitch to a specific person responsible for the blog than a general contact page. If you have no option but the latter, go for it, but don’t expect great results from it.
Exercise #6: Pitch Your List of Sites
There are more pitching styles and structures than stars in the universe. Or something like that. 😅
I will share with you a few templates I’ve used before that you can use in your pitching.
Whatever the template you choose, remember this:
It’s not about the template, but the structure. The way you communicate your idea matters more than the actual content of it.
As I said before, if you are respectful and relevant, your pitch will be successful, regardless of the way you put it.
Without further ado, here are two of the pitches I’ve used to generate guest blogging opportunities for my site:
I hope you are doing great.
I’d just like to ask you a quick question. Would it be possible for me to publish an article on your blog? I just happen to have a few great ideas about X and Y, and I’d be honored to be able to share them on your blog.
I have already been published in other sites, like X, Y, and Z, among others. So let me know if you are interested in hearing what I have in mind.
Either way, keep up the good job!
I have been working on a blog post that I think will do great, and could potentially be a great fit for [YOUR SITE] blog. As an FYI, I have published articles in X and Y, so let me know if you are interested on this one.
The article is about [GIVE IDEA].
In this article I explain [EXPLAIN IDEA].
Would you mind if I send you the post for you to review?
You can tweak these pitches as you want, but the idea is the same: you have something useful to write about that the other person will use to generate traffic.
Step #6: Write the Article (and Send It)
Writing the article is the part where you show your expertise; it’s the part where you take all your research, ideas, and passion, bake them all together and make them real for anyone to see.
The article itself will depend on the topic you chose, your style, your audience, and much more.
I won’t dwell on the specifics of writing an article because that’d take an entirely new article. Instead, I’ll briefly mention some of the elements the most successful types of content have in common.
First and foremost, the best types of articles that work best are tutorials (also known as how-to’s or guides) for the simple reason you are teaching something. The value is on the lessons taught, the new capabilities your audience has after reading your piece.
Check, for example, this monster guide I wrote about starting a drop shipping business in a week.
The value is in the fact the reader can now take the exact steps I took to get started with his first business. I helped the reader go from zero to hero in a few thousand words. The value is immense and immediate.
What makes that piece special is that it’s based on my personal experience. That’s why I always recommend going a step further and adding a personal story — yours or otherwise.
There are many more writing techniques you can use in your piece, like using catchy intros, 3-step stories, and much more.
Another important part of any top article is length: as a bare minimum, aim at 2,000 words.
Multiple studies have proven that longer content ranks better because, more likely than not, you have more space to give value to your reader.
That’s not to say shorter pieces ever work, but the likelihood of making an impact in 500 words is much smaller than developing a longer piece.
Finally, whenever you write as a guest writer, you want to have two things in place before sending the piece:
- A bio
- A content upgrade
When you write in another site, you want to end up with the best impression possible. You already proved yourself with your content, now it’s time to close the loop with some final words about you.
Your bio is a summary of your identity. Often overlooked, the bio is the best place to finish your piece for the simple reason people will trust you by the time they finish your piece. They will want to learn more about you, which includes visiting your site, contacting you, and even signing up for your email list.
Take some time to write the bio and make it shine. Your bio will change over time, as you will refine it and improve it (especially after you get published in high-authority sites).
Here’s a bio of mine when I started guest posting:
Here’s another one after I got a few better sites and targeted a better keyword:
Finally, this is my current bio I use at Foundr (where I work):
Note that the bio is concise. I say what I do — freelance content writer — adding a link to my site to gain some SEO points. I also show some social proof of sites where I’ve been published.
On the other hand, I’ve sporadically added content upgrades around the piece. Most site owners allow that because you give extra value, even if you’re redirecting people to your site. When in doubt, ask first.
I’ve gotten a few dozen leads from these content upgrades, which at the beginning of your freelancing career can make a big dent in your business.
Exercise #7: Write Your Article
First and foremost, you need to have a tutorial-friendly topic. Whatever idea you had in mind, think about the best way to make it into a step-by-step tutorial.
Forget about the “reasons why” articles or listicles that provide shallow value (if any) and focus on the action steps of your topic.
For example, let’s say your topic was about using kept dieting (i.e., low to no carbs diet) for muscle building. While the idea is quite broad, let’s brainstorm a few actionable topics:
- How to Use a Keto Diet for Strength Building
- Keto Diet for Strength Building: A Step-by-Step Guide
- Keto Dieting for Weightlifting: The Complete Guide
Whatever the topic, use any of the following expressions in your title (especially when pitching), as it highlights the style of the article:
- Actionable Guide
- Complete Guide
- Definitive Guide
- How to
Make the first section of your guide a brief explanation of the subject. This first section works like a background check so the reader can know why the subject is important. This is the only case where you want to explain the reasons why the subject is important. Here’s a good example of a short, powerful intro from a Shopify blog post.
Then, move right away with the steps, detailing the exact actions the reader should take to get the final outcome of your piece.
To make your piece even more powerful, make sure to add most of the following elements:
- Links to other resources
All of these elements make your content even more real and specific, giving it the proof needed for your readers to believe you and take your advice seriously. Not to sound too arrogant, but all of my content pieces I ever publish contain most, if not all, of those elements. That’s how you become a professional freelance writer after all. 😎
After you’ve laid out all your steps, add a conclusion where you sum up everything taught. This is a way to give your readers some closure and
The magic of writing an article is a craft like any other which you develop it over time. Your first articles will be a bit harder, taking you many hours to develop.
As you write more articles, the easier this will become.
Exercise #8: Write Your Bio
The 100 words or so that make up your bio will make or break the early stages of your freelance writing career. Let’s take some time to hit it right in the nail.
To write a bio, I like to adapt Geoffrey Moore’s classic positioning statement in the following way.
NAME is a NICHE freelance writer who does SERVICE for AUDIENCE. NAME has PROOF.
The effectiveness of this statement lays in its simplicity. You put the niche in which you write, then you mention your service and the audience you serve. You finish with social proof, which could be anything.
Make your bio at least 100 words, but not more than 200 words long. If it’s more than 4 paragraphs-long, it’s too long.
Pro Tip: Pick one keyword to rank for related to your niche writing services and add a link to your site. This will boost your site’s SEO and drive targeted traffic.
You can replace some (if not all) of your social proof by adding a link to the landing page where you offer your content upgrade, like I did when I wrote the guide for A Better Lemonade Stand I showed before.
Exercise #9: Create Your Content Upgrade
I will be totally honest: creating a content upgrade is a PITA, but it’s worth doing it for the simple reason you’ll get more leads.
There are a few content upgrades you can create for your guest posts:
- Resource guide: This is a list of other resources you recommend; that is, links to other pages that complement your piece
- Summary of the article: If your piece is particularly long (like my writing techniques piece), you can use this one to help your readers take the essence of your piece without having to read everything
- Whole article in PDF: Similar to the previous one, this content upgrade what the name suggests, which is much simpler to make than all the other types in this list
- Extra tips: If you have the time and energies, you can give extra tips to entice your readers to download your content upgrade
To create your content upgrade, there are a few tools you can use:
I don’t recommend you design your content upgrade yourself, unless you’re a designer. You want to look professional, so get help from a professional tool (or a professional designer if that fancies you, regardless of the higher price you pay).
Step #7: Start Pitching Companies and Get Your First Client
So you got a few guest posts, now what? Do you just wait until companies come up to your ready to pay you for your writing services?
Not really. You may get a few high-quality leads — the higher the authority of the site in which you guest published, the better chances you have — but don’t count on it.
In my experience, I got my first top clients by guest posting alone, even though that wasn’t my plan.
Guest posting is a way to get your feet in the door — pitching is what will open the doors for you.
Your job in this step is to find companies with whom you’d like to work and pitch them your services — but not in that way.
Pitching is another name for selling. Therefore pitching your services requires you to position them as a way to overcome your prospect’s needs and problems.
In exercise #11 I will show you a template you can use to position your services. For now, I want you to memorize this important aspect of your pitch: pitching it’s all about your prospect.
Remember that, and you’ll get clients.
Before anything, you need to find the companies to pitch. The companies are going to be the best ones in your industry (or niche), regardless of whether they’re looking for a content writer.
Here’s how to get started.
Exercise #10: Find Companies to Pitch
Open an Excel sheet and add the following columns:
- Contact person
- Follow Up
This basic CRM, which is similar to the one shown in exercise #5, will help you organize your work and track your pitches.
After you’ve created the sheet, start adding all the companies you dream to work with. If you already have a few companies in your mind, add them right away. Forget about looking for the contact’s name, email, and position. For now, add all the companies you like.
If you need some help, you can do one of the following searches in Google:
- Best companies in [INDUSTRY]
- Best blogs in [INDUSTRY]
Add all the companies you find to your sheet, like you saw in the image above.
To find even more companies, and the right contact person, use LinkedIn search. Here’s what you need to do.
Go to LinkedIn and click on the search bar. Then, click on the “People” option.
Then, click on “All Filters.”
Under “Industries,” select the one you’re interested in writing for. Let’s say it was marketing.
You can also filter the countries you’d like to work for, or even the cities, if you’re interested in meeting the company personally.
If you want to take this research to the next level, buy the LinkedIn Premium account, which will let you search with much higher precision, including company size, revenue, and more.
That’s what I did in this step, and while the price isn’t cheap, it’s worth it.
Then, segment the results by the position of the potential contact person. Since you’re interested in writing, you want to focus on some of the following positions:
- Marketing manager
- Blog manager
- Content manager
- VP of marketing (for small companies)
- Director or Head of marketing
- Director or Head of content marketing
Scroll down in the filter section, and in the “Title” field, add a broad keyword like “marketing.”
Just like that, you’ve got a nice list of almost 1 million companies that are in your industry (marketing in this example) and specific names of people.
Add all the companies and names that you find to your list.
While the Google search helped you find companies, it didn’t help you find the point of contact. In that case, add the company name to LinkedIn and search for the positions mentioned before.
Using one of the companies found in the Google search, I searched for Oktopost. In their company page, I clicked on the “See all employees” button.
Finally, I searched for the marketing people in the company, which showed me 17 employees.
Most likely than not, you will not be sure the person to add to your list. In such case, add 2 to 3 people to your list.
To find the contact email, you need to follow the same exact steps show in exercise #5.
Once you’ve got the whole list done, you’d think it’s time to start pitching them. Or is it? 🤔
Actually, you need to do research your companies before you even write a single word of email. Here’s how you can do it.
Exercise #11: Research the Companies
Research is paramount to the success of your pitch. As I said before, relevancy is what makes companies respond to your outreach, so before you send one email, take a deep look at their company’s blog.
Your research should be focused on three aspects of the company:
- The amount of content published
- Their topics covered
- Their writers
To start, you want to make sure you’re reaching out to a company that has a blog and published often. While some may not publish but are hoping to get started (something your contact may help to ignite that idea), most often than not, companies that publish consistently hire writers.
Then, you want to focus on companies that cover topics you can write about. Not only that, but when you carry your outreach, you want to mention specifically your experience on the topic.
Finally, you want to check that the company works with freelance writers. This task is a brute-force type of work, because the best way to find out the companies who hire freelance writers is to open multiple blog posts and see if the writers work as freelancers.
Let’s take a look at the blog of Oktopost, the company shown in the example from our previous exercise.
First, I go to their blog, and then I opened a blog post.
I can see the author in there, but after reading it through, I can’t find any bio information about her. This is suspicious. 🤔
I checked her bio page, and what do I find? That she’s a content manager.
I checked more articles and all I see is the same: Oktopost’s employees.
That means it’s 90% likely the company doesn’t hire freelance writers. Does it hurt to ask? No, you never know. But at least you can customize your pitch in a way that when you approach the company, you already start acknowledging that fact. You will stand out from 99% of other writers, make the recipient happier, and your relationship will be strong from the start — regardless of whether they want to work with you or not.
If you check the blog of Campaign Monitor, a company for which I worked as a freelance writer, you can see why it’s easy to find out they hire people like me: most of the writers also are freelance writers.
Take a look at this woman, Andrea, who wrote a piece at their site:
After I searched for her name, I found that she’s a freelance writer.
The research will be the most time consuming, but highly critical to focus your time on companies that hire writers, and to make your pitch more relevant.
Now, let’s talk about the pitch itself.
Exercise #12: Pitch Companies
The process is the same as the one from step #5, but focused on having a call.
As I told you before, the pitch is all about positioning your services as a way to help your prospect, nothing else.
You don’t want to be selling your services right away. You want to open the doors to a conversation.
Your goal is to get on a call, nothing more.
Here are three email pitches I’ve used to generate new clients for my freelance writing business. It’s written in a template-like way so you can control-C control-V the crap out of it and use it to launch your writing career. Just be cool and adapt it to your style and the recipient (something I will explain in a second):
I’m reaching out because I wanted to congratulate you for the job you are doing at [COMPANY]. You have a wonderful blog full of great content.
Since you clearly get how content marketing works and how to get results from it, I’m sure you’d need more lead-gen content published to continue to generate leads.
About me: [VALUE PROPOSITION]. Some of my clients include X and Y, among others. [Note: You can skip this last part if you have no clients, or just add some of the sites you’ve guest posted on.]
Feel free to say no, but do you need any help with [GOAL]?
Do you have a plan in place to increase the number of leads coming from your blog? According to CSO Insights, 68% of B2B companies still struggle with lead generation because they lack the necessary content to attract those leads.
If you want to pump on the heat and get more leads, would you be free for a short 15-minute call to discuss your goals at [COMPANY].
Just hit reply to this email and say “Let’s talk” and I’ll send over a couple of times where we can jump on a call to discuss this further.
I like the work you and your team are doing on [COMPANY] blog. There are many great articles in there – I especially liked [MENTION ARTICLE].
Have you ever considered writing about [RELATED TOPIC]?
If you need help developing this kind of content, I can help. [EXPLAIN VALUE PROPOSITION].
Here’s one I published a few days ago on [SITE]: [GUEST POST].
In case you are interested, we could have a quick 15-min call to discuss this further.
Let’s take a look at these points separately.
- First, I start by writing their personal name and company’s site. While it’s a minimum requirement, you’d not believe me the number of idiots who don’t take the time to add a name or company in their pitches. # Facepalm
- I immediately follow up by acknowledging their work and send them some good vibes. Adding the name of the author of the post is an extra which shows that you put time into writing this email.
- Then, I give out some value by sharing a possible content idea. Relevancy for the win.
- Later, I move on to my pitch, which fits the previous two paragraphs which showed that I understand the industry and care about them.
- I included a similar guest post to show authority and make my pitch even more powerful.
- Finally, I move to the call-to-action, which is a “quick 15-minutes call,” which constitutes a low-effort, specific offer the recipient can hardly resist.
I’ve used other templates as well, some of which give even more value and some that focus on my pitch, but this one is a basic, effective, and proven template that has worked over and over.
Before you send the email, make sure to put the time into crafting them and making them as valuable and relevant as possible. While it will be time-consuming, the ROI is there — the client from the example above made me over $6,000, all from that one email.
The ROI of the 15 minutes I spent researching them and writing the email is 33,233%. Yes, that’s 33 thousand percent.
Can I hear a “hell yeah”? 🙌
Step #8: Build a Traffic-Generating Hub
The pitching is an almost never-ending process which you improve, refine, and continue to use over time. But after a while, the effort won’t be worth your while, both time and money-wise.
The ideal is to have a constant stream of prospects coming your way. To do that, you need a traffic-generating hub — a marketing engine that drives traffic and leads consistently.
To that, you must have your own site. You can call it a company, a business, a side-hustle, a blog empire, or whatever it is you want to call it. The point in case is that you need to have your own personal hub.
Fueled by your content — whether that includes blog articles, podcasts, videos, or a mix of them — your hub it’s the place where you communicate with the world, showcase your style, and build a brand.
In step #3 you had created a blog where you’d place your content. This is where you take that blog and take it to the next level.
Pro Tip: Until you’ve got at least a half a dozen guest posts, I recommend you continue working on them before you focus on your own site. The hub should be a long-term goal to fulfill after you’ve become a professional freelance writer.
I put this step in here so you become aware of the importance of being strategic and thinking long-term. You don’t want to be another freelance writer that makes enough money to keep yourself above water.
If your goal is to use freelance writing as a side hustle, then this step is optional. But if you truly want to make a living off your writing, then you must build your hub.
The creation of your hub will take you many months, if not years, and a lot of hard, consistent work. You will need to learn about your readers, their needs and pains, and the best way to solve them through your content.
Explaining this final step would take me another separate article. Since we’re already way above the 7,000 words, I know you must be tired already, so let’s quickly see how you can build your hub.
Exercise #13: Build Your Traffic-Generating Hub
There are three main traffic-generating channels you can use to attract leads:
- Organic Channel: Google (i.e., SEO)
- Paid Channel: Facebook Ads, Google Adwords, display ads
- Social Channel: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Quota
There are multiple pros and cons with each of these channels.
- Organic can bring you tons of “free” targeted traffic, but takes at least six months to get any results, and the fact you depend on Google makes your system fickle (?) to the capricious moods of Google tentacles
- Paid is scalable and measurable, but can make you lose a lot of money if you don’t know what you’re doing. Also, the changes in the algorithms can destroy your campaigns easily
- Social can help you bring free, engaged traffic, but not too qualified to convert. Also, it takes a lot of time to grow and the organic reach is increasingly getting smaller
There’s no right or wrong channel to pick as it depends on your skills and resources. Play to your strengths — if you know a lot about SEO, start with that. If you like using Instagram live, then go with social. The same applies to the paid channel.
What’s important is that you master one before picking another one. Focus on one for at least a year to get the best results.
Here’s What You Need to Do Now
This guide taught you everything you’ve got to do to start your freelance writing career. Now it’s time to get started implementing these steps.
Becoming a freelance writer isn’t rocket science, you only need hard work, dedication, and a love for writing.
If you implement each of the exercises shown here, you will be able to reap the same benefits I’ve been able to get.
Download the checklist below and get started on your freelance writing path.
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