From Side Hustle To Full-Time Freelance Writing in 5 Simple Moves


dreamstime_xs_14118606Starting 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.

Good Morning,

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,

Gina Horkey

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.

Getting paid

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.




  1. Nicholas Godwin

    First I want to say THANKS Gina… it’s like you’ve been on my radar way too frequently these days. Apart from reading your own blog I enjoyed your article on Tom Ewer’s blog a few days ago. Thanks for all the loads of value you’ve been spreading around everywhere.

    And yes, Darren Rowse’s ProBlogger started my Freelance writing career and I was fortunate to have hit a great deal with my first job there. I was hired by Jamie Cheng’s Blueprint Entrepreneur Mag, a digital publication that needed an interviewer for their periodic issues. I applied and got accepted for a handsome $200 USD per person I interviewed for them. And it’s been nice since then… having written for a, at the moment I also work with an online Petroleum publication and some local publications in Nigeria. I’m still developing my trade and learning the ropes, but I’ve safely been able to pay my bills and take care of my basic needs from freelance writing. So I’m grateful.

    Thanks for posting. The fifth point REALLY resonates with me. GIVE IT YOUR ALL… GIVE IT YOUR ALL… GIVE IT YOUR ALL.


    • Gina Horkey

      Nicholas, it sounds like you’ve been hustling and giving it your all! Nice work and thanks for reading me in all those various places:-)

  2. Elizabeth Manneh

    Thanks for this great post Gina. I found your advice very helpful, although i’m not sure i have the drive to get up at 4:45 am! I’ve been working content mills for about three years, but I’ve decided 2015 is the year to make the move to an independent freelancer.

    I’ve also found Tom’s Paid To Blog job board useful and I’ve landed my first two clients through it. My aim this year is to have reached a liveable income by the end of this year.

    • Gina Horkey

      Elizabeth, that’s great that you’re starting to transition your business from content mills to private clients. I’m happy to say that since I took my writing business full-time, I don’t even have to set an alarm anymore;-) My 2 toddlers wake us up everyday and I rarely sleep past 6, but it sure beats 4:45!

  3. Gina Horkey

    Hi Jessica! You’ve definitely got a lot on your plate. But you’ve also definitely got the drive. Although there are diamonds in the rough on Elance and Odesk, there are probably much better opportunities out there for you. Good luck as you continue to build your freelance writing career (and your degree in motherhood;-).

  4. Jessica B Woods

    Wow…4:45…I wish I had your determination! I just have one toddler at home (and two older kids in school), and I find it impossible to get everything done.

    I fell into writing online when I stumbled across the content mills. I’m trying my best to move away from them and find better private clients. I was led to believe that places like Elance and Odesk were the best places to find clients, but I’ve learned that’s not necessarily true. Most of my money earned last year was from mills, but I still managed to earn nearly what I did as a part-time bank teller before I started working for myself.

    I also do internet marketing, to some extent, and have self-published two children’s books and some non-fiction. I have the ambition, but not the energy or time. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how draining being a mother of a teenager, tween and a toddler can be, lol!

    I really enjoyed your article, and look forward reading more posts from you and the other bloggers on here. Great site!


  1. Getting started as a freelancer - […] In a posting for the Make a Living Writing blog, freelance writer Gina Harkey offered five tips for getting…

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