Starting out as a freelance writer can be tough. It can take a long time to start earning a good living.
But you don’t have to starve while you’re waiting for your freelance writing career to take off. I built my business while I was still working a day job.
I got to “retire” from it at the end of 2014, so I could do full-time freelance writing.
After nearly 10 years as a financial adviser, I’d found myself growing more and more unhappy.
First, I tried to change that by taking a certification program and working to become a stronger contributor at my office. But dedicating myself to my job didn’t make me fall back in love with my career. In fact, it did the exact opposite.
It was time to look at alternatives.
Writing has always been my passion. My research showed me it’s a viable way to earn a living. So I began learning how to become a freelance writer.
Here are the five things that helped me to go from zero to full-time freelance writer:
1. Write for free and get good samples
I was fortunate to snag an unpaid writing opportunity for the Huffington Post early on.
I found an online job listing, applied, and wrote a trial article. They liked it, and I can now post as little or as much as I’d like.
Writing for free isn’t always the right choice, but it enabled me to build samples for my portfolio and hone my craft — and this gig gave me confidence to apply for paying gigs.
2. Connect with the right people
One of the best things I did was find a mentor and meet some key people. This helped me learn the business faster and kept me accountable to my goals.
I connected with my mentor by cold emailing her after I ran across her work. She exposed me to the inner workings of her business, let me contribute to her site, and also introduced me to potential clients. I really lucked out!
3. Set income goals
Instead of focusing on how much money I had in the bank, I figured out how much I needed to make to support my family. This helped me easily determine if this career choice could support my family — before I got too far in and quit my full-time job.
My initial goal was to replace my full-time salary. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m increasing my income every month. In January, I broke the $5,000 barrier, and my stretch goal is to end the year at $10,000/month.
Setting income goals was a great motivator for me. I’ve been publishing income reports on my blog because I want to be transparent with my efforts. Posting publicly ensures I work harder, so I can be proud of my efforts and results.
4. Perfect your pitching
My pitch progression is something of an art.
I’ve gone through dozens of revisions over the last six months, and those revisions have helped me land better and better gigs.
My first pitch letter was a little light. It had no links to my work and very little detail.
I would love to throw my hat into the ring for this freelance writing position.
I’m a regular Huffington Post contributor and currently am writing copy for a major WordPress blog.
I’m confident that I would be a great addition to your team. Please let me know what else I can provide you with,
Now, I let potential clients see my portfolio and client testimonials — and describe how the work I’ve done is a fit for what they are asking for. It’s a work in progress, but it’s getting me new clients.
5. Give it your all
My husband is a stay-at-home dad, and I’m the breadwinner. So switching my career was a big deal.
I hustled by getting up at 4:45 a.m. to write. I hired a babysitter on the weekend when I needed to catch up.
And I pitched and pitched and pitched. I checked job boards daily and replied to two or three postings I was a good fit for.
I’m happy to say that I found my research was right — freelance writing is a viable career.
My very first paid gig was writing WordPress theme descriptions as a subcontractor to another writer. I’m still working with him, but I’ve also been writing blog posts for sites such as Kitchology, Silver Ash Campers, Personal Income, and more.
As far as rates go, my minimum fee for a blog post is $50, but I’ve been paid as much as $400 per article. The majority fall somewhere in the middle.
I went from setting up my website in May to earning over $4,000 for the month of November. Not too shabby for less than six months in the business.
How did you get your start? Tell us in the comments below.
Gina Horkey is a writer with a background in personal finance. She’s passionate about designing a flexible lifestyle for her young family, and plans to be writing and traveling the U.S. in an RV in June 2015.