Freelance article writers: from side hustle to career

When you come across words online, in print, or delivered straight to your ears via voiceover—they all have something in common. Crafted with intent, they were designed to inform, entertain, persuade, intrigue, or even sell you something. And the freelance writers who composed those words, including the author of this very writing article, got paid for them.

Think about that. If you are a VoiceBunny talent with both free time and writing chops—maybe you have overhauled or written a few scripts—why not do yourself and your bank account a favor, and check out freelance writing at WritingBunny? Start by asking some key questions.

As Socrates said, “Know thyself.”

Are you creative? Do you like problem-solving? Will you keep working until you find the right words? Freelance writers are tenacious.

Are you a good writer? You do not have to be a great one, especially when you are starting out. You do need to know to string a sentence together. You should know basic grammar, like when to deploy “its” over “it’s.”

Are you dependable? Copywriting clients and content writing services rely on freelance writers who get things done when they say they will. Do you sweat the details? Magazines and (some) websites employ fact-checkers, but you are the ultimate fact-checker. Can you write to a specified word count?

Do you like finding the answers to questions, especially questions you dream up on your own?

Can you take feedback? Do you strive to improve? Do you like spending a lot of time alone?

Can you hustle? Successful freelancing means going after what you want. Article writers take risks. Sure, you will get turned down. It comes with the territory. Can you brush off rejection and do better the next time?

If you answered “yes,” to most or all of these questions, you probably have what it takes to turn writing articles into a well-paid side hustle that could become a freelance writing career.

But how do you get started?

Read the best writing on the web—where a lot of content is created and consumed. Be omnivorous. Scour magazines, for the articles and the ads. Be critical. Pay attention to what feels fresh, and what feels overdone; avoid the latter in your own writing. Your radar should be always scanning. Bestselling self-help books are written clearly, with a single-minded focus. They are worth studying.

WritingBunny emails a weekly roundup of all the articles that have been written. Look over the client brief first (scroll to the bottom), then study the finished article, as well as any revision notes from the client. Would you have approached the article differently? If you like certain article writers’ style, read everything they have written.

Joining a professional organization for article writers, like the International Association of Business Communicators may be helpful. Writing is at heart a lonely profession. It’s you and your computer, for hours on end. Get out and meet other freelance writers. Maybe one of those article writers will mentor you and steer you away from bad content writing services. Remember to pay it forward for the karma.

So how do you get those first copywriting clients?

It’s not too difficult to find your first copywriting clients, but it’s crucial that you do your best work that can potentially garner you more. Many freelance writers begin by volunteering to write a newsletter article or a piece for a local magazine. Use these assignments as a learning experience, but don’t do too many freebies. Your goal is to become a professional freelance writer, and professional freelance writers get paid.

Similarly, when you patronize a business, if you notice their web content or written materials are sub-par, offer to revise them. Rewriting is easier than creating new content and the pay tends to be great. Article writers have their radar scanning for opportunities.

WritingBunny is a fantastic platform to start freelance writing for fun and profit because there the clients come curated. Each project comes with a thorough brief as to the type of article, tone, length, keywords, and more. This is invaluable information. The editors are standing by to answer any questions as well. They want their article writers to succeed.

There are other content writing services out there, some good, some bad, and some that are the worst. You will want to avoid content writing services that pay their writers poorly or where there is cutthroat price competition. You want a company that treats its talent like the professionals they are, that gives constructive criticism and has a fair pay structure.

LinkedIn’s Profinder program is another place for clients to find you, but it comes with a price tag, currently $59.99 per month. ProFinder sends client briefs to your email inbox, but then you’re on your own as far as pitching and pricing go. Assignments may range from writing blog posts, creating web content, to editing someone’s 200K-word sci-fi novel. You can get very good gigs, but don’t spread yourself too thin among content writing services, especially if you are paying for the privilege of being discovered.

Happy Clients Equal Happy Freelance Writers

Never take on a copywriting project you are not right for, no matter how much money is dangled before you. You will regret it. If you know you can research the topic, or you can consult an expert, that’s another story. The piece may take more time than you estimated, though, and for freelance writers, time is most definitely money.

Pre-planning is as important as revision. You can word map or you can outline, preferably both. Jot down everything that comes to mind before you start writing. Then, come up with a creative and engaging way to deliver what the client desires. Some of that message will be straightforward, and some inferred. For example, if your client runs a home remodeling business, your job is to make that client sound knowledgeable and trustworthy—even if the client did not ask you to do that.

Give your clients content that is better than they could have imagined. If it’s a WritingBunny client, check out previous articles that client commissioned. You will see the preferred tone and style. Deliver your article on time or early, never late. If you can, provide suggestions for future content, and tell why you’re the right person to write it.

Don’t fall into the trap of writing mostly for one client. If you lose that business, you could risk your mortgage or rent money. Consider content writing services to pick up the slack.

Remember, as a WritingBunny pro, their editorial and technical support team is always on call to help you. You can rely on them to have your back. If despite your best efforts, your work is rejected, the most important thing is to understand why it did not meet the client’s needs. If you can learn from the experience, you can do better the next time.

Setting Your Pay Rates

On WritingBunny, you set your pay rates, depending on the projected article’s length. When you are beginning, it’s wise to set your rates below average, but not too far below. You want to see most of the available copywriting projects. If you are free to write, keep the WritingBunny tab open on your computer to get the first crack at a project. When you have 5-8 completed projects with good ratings, go ahead and raise those rates.

If you are working for a magazine, you may be offered a flat fee for your piece or a price per word. It’s unlikely you will be able to negotiate a higher rate. With a private client, try to agree on a price per hour rather than a flat fee. It is hard to know how much of a time-suck a new project can be.

All Eyes on You—Build a Writing Portfolio

Another tried-and-true method of securing new clients is by having something worthwhile to show off: writing samples of your best articles. Build a writing portfolio to showcase your creative work. It sells you as a writer.

You should house your writing in one place, like a personal website or blog. Many writers also use online services like Contently, Quietly, and Clippings.Me. Make sure you keep these sites updated with your best work, no more than 10-20 pieces. If you write on a variety of topics, subdivide your writing portfolio. Make sure your writing samples are current and your very best work. Think quality over quantity when you build a writing portfolio. Wherever you choose to house your work, make sure the website is mobile-friendly.

The profile page is the place for you to talk about yourself.  At a minimum, you will want your name, a tagline, and a short paragraph or two about what you write and why. A tagline is how you brand yourself: “Science Writing for Non-Geeks,” for instance. You want to come off as polished, professional, and friendly because no one wants to hire a sourpuss.

WritingBunny will automatically build a writing portfolio for you as you complete each assignment. Link to it when you pitch potential clients. Remember to update your profile regularly. Make sure your social media posts and your email signature—virtually everything you do on-line—drives traffic to your writing portfolio.

To query or not to query

Once you have managed to build a writing portfolio, begin querying to land assignments. A query is a pitch to an editor for an article. Study the website or several issues in-depth. (Successful article writers get a go-ahead on about one in 10 queries, so do not let rejection discourage you!)

Many editors ask you to write the piece “on spec,” if they have not worked with you before. On spec means you are paid on acceptance, publication, or even months afterward, but never up front. Many magazines do pay well, so querying can be a good investment of your time. Remember, to land an assignment, build a writing portfolio.

Managing your money

As a freelancer, you will undoubtedly have lean months, balanced by big paydays. Having an emergency fund to tap into during lean times is essential. With WritingBunny, your pay shows up 30 days after your piece is accepted by the editor, even if the client ultimately rejects it. Yes, you did read that right—it’s what sets WritingBunny apart from many other content writing services. Your balance transfers to your bank account via PayPal. Since PayPal takes a fee (2.9% + 30 cents per transaction in the U.S.), it’s best to transfer in at least one-hundred dollar chunks.

As a Bunny Inc. talent, you probably already know this, but it bears repeating: a freelance writing life has tax implications. You do not have one employer who deducts Medicare and Social Security from your bi-weekly pay. You have to pay those taxes with your annual IRS return. Freelance writers are independent contractors. You must set aside money to pay estimated taxes. You may need to pay for health insurance, and you will want to contribute to a retirement account.

Take all of these financial implications into consideration when you set your rates. Get in the habit of estimating how long it will take you to draft and polish an article. If the piece takes longer to write than you thought it would, or your pay was too low, you could be working for below minimum wage. With WritingBunny, you set the pay scale, so hopefully, that won’t happen. You will get better at estimating the time involved to write articles as you gain experience.

Managing your time, especially when you’re a beginner

Starting out, it’s best to take on one project at a time. You will gain confidence as you complete each assignment. Soon you will be ready to juggle two or three copywriting projects if you wish.

How do you gauge the right amount of projects to take on? For most writers, a mix of steady gigs—1-3 once a month articles—plus fillers of one-off projects is ideal. Make sure you build in downtime, whether it’s to pursue a passion project or to have family time.

Manage your time effectively by figuring out when you are most productive. Night owls should avoid drafting first thing in the morning. Early birds who work after dinner will fall asleep on their keyboards. If you have to pull all-nighters to meet your deadlines, something has to give. Avoid taking on work with competing deadlines. If you find yourself with no time to yourself, you’re either going to have to raise your rates or cut your client list. A client who pays late is the obvious one to let go.

If you can knock off the habit of procrastination, you will lessen your stress forever. Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin and Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy are two books that can help.

Turn freelance writing into a career

Never fear, the freelance writing life can be fantastic if you are self-disciplined and always do your best work for your clients. You can work wherever and whenever you want as long as you have a steady internet connection. Hello, Thailand!

Ready to try freelance writing? Here are a few more tips to smooth the path forward:

Ten tips for freelance article writers that smash it!

  1. To research a single topic, go to google.com. Here’s how to search the New York Times sitewide: type “site:nytimes.com justin trudeau”— it returns every article from newest to oldest written about the charming Canadian prime minister.
  2. The Grammarly free browser extension will catch most typos and grammatical mistakes in your writing. The free version is fine.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something about a project, or if an element isn’t clear. You don’t want to have to rewrite later, or worse, have your piece rejected because you did not clear up any confusion. Content writing services should be happy to answer questions. If not, that’s a red flag.
  4. Build a writing portfolio and drive traffic to it. The more eyeballs on your writing the better. If you ghostwrite a piece, you may not use it to build a writing portfolio. You can google a memorable phrase and check out the online reaction, though, but ignore those trolls. Also, you may elect not to include an overly political writing article when you build a writing portfolio unless that is your area of specialization.
  5. Read your article out loud before turning it in. This catches any clunkers. You should not stumble as you read, and your sentences and paragraphs should flow.
  6. Regularly take time to consider your copywriting clients and your workload. Do you have more work than you can realistically pull off? As a freelancer, you’re the boss. Let some clients go if you have to, or raise your rates.
  7. WritingBunny is a good place for freelance writers to start. The pay rates are fair and the editors will guide you each step of the way. Best of all, you are paid once your piece is quality-controlled by the editorial team—even if the client ultimately rejects it—something that is not common with other content writing services. It’s best to work for only one or two content writing services. Use a pseudonym if you wish.
  8. Keep good records for the Internal Revenue Service. Deduct everything you can: that mocha latte when you meet with your mentor; mileage to and from the library for research; magazine subscriptions; hosting fees for where you build a writing portfolio; what you spend on office supplies. It adds up.
  9. Smart article writers come to their work fresh. Ignore your inbox. Block social media. Stay off YouTube. Article writers make writing a habit, with structured office hours, even if your office is a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi.
  10. Don’t ever sit on your pencil.

Author: Laura Varon

Content creator, marketer, translator. I studied advertising because I wanted to know a little about everything and I am a translator because I want to know a lot about a lot. I co-write with WritingBunny.