The New Freelance Writer’s Quick-and-Simple Guide to Getting Started

Carol Tice


Are you hoping to jump into the world of freelance writing? If so, welcome aboard.

Prepared for life without a boss? I hope so.

Spoiler alert: It rocks.

I’ve gotten a lot of email recently along the lines of, “I’m just getting started, where’s the guide for that?”

Freelancing is a complicated business, no? There are so many types of writing work you could do.

How do you know where to start?

Below is my guide to figuring out your easiest entry point. It’s in the form of a series of questions you need to ask yourself:

What topics interest me?

Some writers have a passion for ecological justice, while others love to write about celebrities, fly-fishing, or politics. Start by identifying your interest areas.

Don’t limit yourself to one — try to list at least a half-dozen.

What do I know about?

In addition to topics you like, what do you know something about, even if just from life experience?

For instance, did you nurse a relative through cancer and learn about healthcare, rehab, and hospitals?

Or maybe you used to work in a bank, so you know a bit about financial services.

If you’re a new college grad, you’re familiar with college life — loans, housing, first jobs, saving money.

The old adage “write about what you know” is never more true than when you first start out. It’s the easiest way to convince a client that you’re the writer for the job.

What types of writing do I like to do?

There are many types of paid writing, including articles, blog posts, web pages, brochures, case studies, and a host of other business marketing materials.

It’ll help your search to narrow it down to a specific writing type or two to start. When you get direct mail marketing in your mailbox, if you find yourself thinking, “Heck, I could write this better,” marketing work could be a great area for you to investigate.

What sort of writing pays well?

Now that you know what sort of thing you want to write and what you like to write about, it’s time to discover who would pay you for this type and topic of writing.

Do a little research and you’ll quickly learn writing poetry and personal essays are tough to earn in. Novels are a moonshot, not something that will pay your bills — at least not reliably or soon.

Articles, blog posts, newsletters, web pages, case studies, white papers, annual reports, business plans, government contract bids, marketing materials of all kinds…these things pay.

Smaller publications and companies usually have less pay to offer, larger ones have more. Expect that you’ll start with a few small ones, and then be able to start trying to move up.

Where am I?

While freelance is a global business in the 21st Century, it will often be easiest to find your first clients close to home. If you live in even a moderate-sized city, this will work.

If you’re in a tiny town, you may need to do more aggressive marketing to look for clients outside your area. I personally got on a ferry and went into downtown Seattle to find better prospects. If you need to travel a little — do it.

In any decent-sized town, you can find businesses by checking out your local chamber of commerce, search on Manta for local companies, or grab a Book of Lists — your library may have a copy.

How can I find entry markets?

The easiest way to find good first clients is in the network of people and organizations you already know:

  • Your friends and family
  • The publications you read
  • The nonprofits where you donate or volunteer
  • The locally-owned businesses you patronize
  • The government agencies that oversee issues of interest to you

By using your network, you should be able to find legitimate clients — established publications or businesses that sell a real product or service. Remember, the Internet is full of scams, so research websites carefully before signing up to write for online sites.

Learn about how to market your writing, and choose a few methods that appeal to you.

Save yourself a lot of heartache and starvation and avoid the content mills. If you use bid sites online, be very selective about what you bid on and what gigs you take. Know that many Craigslist ads are flat-out scams. Beware.

What should I charge?

This is a tricky one. If you have no experience, your easiest road is to offer to do several small projects free to get a few samples and create a starter portfolio. Keep those projects small and make sure you get a testimonial if the client liked your work.

Once you’ve got those, you should be asking for money. To find out how much, try asking the client what their budget is, or their regular article fee, if it’s a magazine. Try to get them to tell you the rate.

If that doesn’t work, reach out to your network of fellow writers (you are joining at least one writer networking and support group, right?) and ask around. Consult The Writer’s Market‘s What to Charge guide, or Chris Marlow’s survey of copywriting rates.

Bottom line: Pick a price. Next time, bid more. Lather, rinse, repeat until you’re earning a decent wage — shoot for at least $50 an hour.

What if I’m scared?

Buck up. Everybody started somewhere. If you want to do this, you’ll need to overcome your fears and put yourself out there. Practicing pitching a friend if you have to.

Do I need a contract?

Yes, you do. Don’t ever start writing without one. Otherwise, the client has no obligation to pay you. Ever.

What’s your best advice?


Also…when you’re first starting out, keep it simple and don’t get overwhelmed. There are a lot of options in the freelance world…don’t try to explore them all at once.

Use the question list above to pick out a few likely first moves. Then try them out.

If you don’t get a response, move on to your next best bet.

Writers want to hear that there’s one easy, simple, magical, best way to quickly launch their careers, but in fact every writer is different. It’s trial and error. So get out there and start trying.

Are you just starting out, or have you already started freelancing? Leave a comment and tell us how you got started, or your plan to get going.

Freelance writing success


  1. Dawn

    This article is very helpful. I recently left a teaching career, and I’m currently working 25 hrs/week to bring in some money while I try to launch a freelance writing career. This is something I have dreamed of my entire life, so now that I’m middle-aged, I feel like it’s finally time to stop dreaming and start doing. While I know it will take some time, it is very important that I earn a decent amount, as we are raising 3 children. I have a couple of questions…I have virtually NO social networking experience and do not have a website. Is it important to establish these prior to starting to write? If so, which social networking avenues do you recommend starting with? Also, I saw in the article that you recommend setting a goal of earning at least $50/hr. Is that still a valid goal? I noticed that the article is a couple of years old, so I was just curious about whether that has changed or if that is still a good starting point (of course I know this depends of several factors – experience, type of writing, etc.). One more question…since I am currently working and raising children, my time will be limited until I can earn enough to quit my job. What is the minimum time commitment per week you would recommend to get started? Thank you so much for your site & freelance writer’s den. I plan to spend a lot of time there in the near future!)

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Dawn — A writer website is really a ‘must’ for presenting yourself professionally…but don’t wait to start writing and trying to find clients. That’s always first. My ebook Step by Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success takes you through how to get going quickly.

      Whether you need to know social media depends on what types of writing you plan to do. If you’re blogging, for instance, they’re important.

      Yes, $50 an hour is still a good bottom rate — we see writers getting initial gigs at $35-$50 an hour, and from there you should try to move up rapidly.

      I don’t know about a minimum time commitment…this will just go slower if you devote less time to it. But I’d recommend you check out my friend Linda’s ebook Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race, which is great for tips on productivity and making the transition to full-time freelance (yes, I do affiliate sell it! It’s great.)

  2. sharon kumar K

    Hi guys.I’d like to ask a question.I’m a student and I want to do parttime I live in India is there any scope for freelance writing.if there please guide me how to start.hope it would help.

    • Carol Tice

      Sharon, looks like you’ll probably need to begin by working on your English literacy, if you’re looking to earn in English.

      I’m not a specialist in what freelance writing markets there are in India in your native language, but that might be the best place to begin.

  3. Julieta

    This article is so helpful! I’ve been researching for information on the process of getting started but working backwards because I’ve just landed my first gig.

    Something I’m having trouble finding is specifically on navigating the deal and how handle sending drafts. I’ve read that you don’t send a file in a usable format until the final payment has been made but don’t know what file type to send it in while I go through drafts and revisions. Any thoughts?

    • Carol Tice

      Ask your client what format they want it in, Julieta.

      For info on negotiating and contracts, check out my Freelance Business Bootcamp e-book: — we give contract samples and go clause by clause and discuss all the basics you need to know.

  4. Ahmad Rasheed

    After Hearing 50$ per hour, its quite reasonable, it would be great if you provide any list of Freelance companies hiring people to write articles with hourly prices or like that…thanks

  5. Drew


    I find myself in forums like this from time to time and after reading down the page, there is always that surge of optimism at the thought of being free, free of jerk bosses, free of the angst associated with feeling like life is wasting away and free from the confines of unsatisfying 9-5 job. But then…a week, two weeks have gone by and I realize that writing jobs I’ve applied for are NOT interested and more often than not, I receive zero feedback. Flash forward, I’m back at my awful, mundane job and the hope writing to live seems to fade away more and more as the years go by. My name is Drew, I’m thirty years old and I have been in the food service industry since I was a teenager. I have a degree but recently decided to, sadly, finally join the “family” business of welding because, frankly, it pays better. I’m asking for help, inspiration or input. I maintain the dream of loving what I do but circumstances are making it seem impossible.

    • Rob S

      Hey Drew, I can relate to your predicament. I felt like you for most of my working life. In my case, I thought I was being realistic not pursuing writing as a career. To a degree, I think I was, but I also held myself back by imagining I had to have a journalism degree to even get published. Then, at the age of about 45, I pitched an article to a surfing magazine. I thought, “I’m not a name writer, so they’ll just hand it over to one of their writers.” I got the gig and a bunch of others for the same magazine. It was the start I needed, but I still didn’t pursue it full time until all my other options ran out. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m now earning decent money writing. The only advice I can offer is to not give up. Keep working, but keep your eyes open for opportunities. I started my new career at the age of 60. If I’d had more confidence, I probably could have started at 30. In fact, a guy I knew finished his first book at 35 and ended up working for the New Yorker on the strength of that. Meanwhile, I was still telling myself “I need a degree.”

    • Drew

      Thank you, Rob. It means a great deal to me to have the insight of a peer in regards to this business of juxtaposition between the practical and the seemingly lofty career paths. It’s been a mostly private struggle for me and there is relief in the simple act of writing to you now because you understand it. I appreciate your encouragement. I will go at this thing from a different angle to see what’s to be found. Again, thank you.

    • Carol Tice

      Great advice from Rob there.

      Mine is — stop “applying to writing jobs.” Online job ads are mostly a dead end, and reading those ads will make you think there isn’t a living in this. You need to learn how to prospect, find good freelance clients, and market to them.

      Check out my ebooks tab for a ton of affordable help in that department — even have a book in presale right now that’s currently $1.99 that probably would be useful to you.

    • Drew

      Hello Carol,

      I can afford $1.99 and I will make that purchase. I just want to say that I think you must be one of the genuine, salt of the earth yet angelic people because after reading all the posts and replies here today because I have searched the web for fifteen years and never found a spot so comfortable with advice passing so freely and readily. Thanks for your time and I look forward to posting in the future much happier news than my first post.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for making my day, Drew — my readers are the best, aren’t they?

      I think that’s a big factor in why people join my Freelance Writers Den community, too — it’s just such a relief to find forums where everyone is dead-serious about their writing career, and are willing to share their experience.

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