My writing career began when I published my first short story aged 18. I then spent years trying to make it as an author, before finally getting there aged 27. In the years that followed I used my status as a published author to rise to the top of sites like Upwork, and I used my status as a freelancer to publish a book on freelancing (The Online Writer’s Companion) and to launch my own media and SEO company.
My journey was somewhat unique, but the destination is attainable to all of us. If you can write and you’re prepared to make a living out of it, then there’s no reason why you can’t pick up a 6-figure salary from doing so. Just take a look at these tips to help you do just that.
1. Work Hard
I just celebrated my 33rd birthday. It’s not a particularly noteworthy milestone, but it’s an important one nonetheless as it was the first day I’ve had off work in 1 years. I’m a workaholic and I enjoy what I do, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but that mindset is also essential for you to succeed as a freelancer.
Even if you’re the best writer in the world, you won’t get noticed on freelancing platforms like Upwork where there are thousands of other writers competing for the same jobs. You need to set yourself apart and the best way to do that is to be prepared to work hard and to devote every single day of your week to doing so.
The average cycle of an Upwork client begins with them thinking they can get a job done cheaply, hiring multiple cheap freelancers who all miss deadlines and otherwise let them down, and then eventually bumping up the budget to hire someone capable. If you’re at the end of that chain then you’ll have a client for life and if every client who hires you will always return to you when they need work, then you can stop wasting hours every day searching for jobs.
In my first year on what was then oDesk and Elance, I would spend 1 to 3 hours a day applying for jobs. After that, I just didn’t need to do it anymore. These days, whenever the work dries up, which is rare, another big contract from an old client lands on my lap.
The more you work and the more available you are, the more clients you will get and the less time you will need to spend looking for work. After all, when you’re searching for jobs you’re basically doing unpaid work, and once you stop then it’s all paid work from that moment on.
And don’t worry about giving up your social life because while you do need to make yourself available everyday, you don’t need to work all day. Unless, that is, you…
2. Do Other Things
The man reason I work all day everyday is because I’ve always tried to do as much as possible. I spent 10 years as a penniless aspiring author. I had nothing. So when I finally got something, I made a commitment to never return to nothing and to do everything I could to avoid it.
One of the ways I’ve done this is to use what I have learned as a freelancer to progress into other areas. For instance, I had no idea how to do SEO when I started, but I learned that most SEO was just about good writing, and I used that to start accepting SEO writing jobs.
After a few months, I was able to get a better understanding of what good SEO meant, and after 2 years I established my own SEO company. I basically got paid to learn and then used that knowledge to grow.
It’s the same with grant and business plan writing. You can make 10 times more writing grants and business plans, but rather than wasting time learning it for free, just take on a job with a long deadline and then use that to learn as you work.
Always be willing to ask questions. Some of my biggest clients are webmasters who specialize in SEO and hired me to help with content writing. After seeing how successful they were, and learning that they were really nice people, I began asking questions. One of them helped me to setup my own content site, another has regular conversations about SEO and has agreed to co-author a book about SEO with me.
You will write for successful businesses, webmasters, publishers and more, so always be prepared to ask and learn and you’ll be able to expand into those fields yourself.
3. Write Fast
I know what you’re thinking, what kind of tip is that? If you can’t write fast, you can’t find fast. Simple as that, right?
Well, not really. I recently tutored a friend of mine into becoming a freelance writer. I gave her subjects for two articles and told her to write them. She was getting a good rate, one that should have worked out at around $40 an hour, but after spending a long time asking questions, double-checking with me, doing research and then poring over her work, she ended up making $5 an hour.
This is hugely important, because as a writer you get paid per word, not per hour, so the faster you write the more you can earn. If you’re starting out you will need to work for between $0.02 and $0.05 per word. If you can do 1,000 words in 30 minutes, which is the goal, then that’s still $40 to $100 an hour. Even if you’re a little slower and take an hour for each 1k word piece, you’re earning between $20 and $50 per hour.
Everything gets easier in time and you’ll learn to write quicker, but there are a few simple things you can do:
1. Take basic information from the client and go with it. Most clients don’t know the specifics of every article. If they did, they’d write it themselves. By repeatedly asking them you’re wasting your time and theirs. If it’s well written and makes sense based on the initial info they gave you, then you’ve done all that is asked of you.
2. Research as you write. Most of the content I write is based on information I’ve already learned. I wing most of it, but when I encounter something that needs to be double-checked, I’m only a simple Google search away. It should only take a few minutes to fact check, and you only need a few well written articles on the subject to serve as your research. Don’t spend hours poring over textbooks, never watch videos (it’s easy to skim an article in seconds, but not videos) and use your current knowledge as best you can. That knowledge bank will increase with each article, so it gets easier.
3. If your grammar or spelling isn’t great, don’t rely on one word processor, especially if it’s Word or Pages. Run it through Grammarly. Or if you don’t want to pay for subscriptions, use Google Docs to spell check and then check your grammar using the Yoast function on WordPress (any site you have access to is fine as you only need to create a draft and then delete).
4. Edit as you write. Check each paragraph after you write it and then do a proofread of the whole article upon completion. You don’t need dozens of proofs and edits.
4. Don’t Limit Yourself
I am a big believer that you should limit yourself to one platform in the beginning. In fact, these days I only work on Upwork, because I despise Freelancer, Guru doesn’t have much work going and Fiverr doesn’t work well for writers. But that doesn’t mean you should limit yourself in all areas.
Create a website that advertises your services and accepts payment. Create a Facebook page that does the same and make sure you have LinkedIn setup as well. I have had a few people contact me through LinkedIn even though I only ever used it to setup a basic account and barely login. Some of these contacted me after reading my book, but most contacted me after seeing my profile on Upwork.
There are clients out there who use Upwork to browse profiles but have no interest in signing up and using it themselves. They do a lot of research, find someone who is prefect for the role, and then look for them on social media. And for some reason, most of these are really good clients.
I get several job invites a day directly on Upwork and I literally can’t remember the last time I actually accepted one of them. Yet of all the people to have headhunted me on social media, I think I only rejected 2 of them.
You don’t necessarily need to spend money on Facebook Ads to advertise yourself, nor do you need to get your site SEO ready to put yourself out there. It’s all about creating a front that shows you are a legitimate person with actual credentials and to give searchers on Upwork a way to contact you should they not have an account on the platform.