Were you that odd one out in your high school English class who genuinely loved writing essays? Or perhaps you’re just someone who loves a good game of wordplay?
If you want to utilize your passion for powerful speech in a way that earns you both money and additional free time, then the freelance writing path might just be for you.
The best part is that you only need two things to start: a laptop, and a great deal of ambition.
Whether it’s from a sandy beach or the patio of a European hostel, this is a career that can lead you to places that you never imagined.
But, how exactly can you get there? Well, using this comprehensive guide, of course!
Without further ado, let's look at all you need to know to get started on your journey to become a successful digital nomad and freelance writer.
What is a Freelance Content Writer?
Despite having two years of freelance writing under my belt, I still have those who ask me the age-old question: “What is it that you do, exactly?”
The truth is, despite what one might think, freelance writing is just as it sounds. On a freelance, contractual basis, I write for clients.
Freelance writing is a fantastic option for those who are done with the drabness of our corporate, 9-5 working culture. The freelance writing market is bustling now more than ever, and there is seemingly a new opportunity around every corner.
What you write depends on two things: how you write, and what you enjoy writing about. Some are dedicated blog and article writers, while others stick exclusively to social media ghostwriting. Here are just a few examples of the most popular kinds of freelance writing:
- Technical Writing
- Social Media Writing
- SEO (Search Engine Optimized) Writing
This is just the tip of the iceberg, though, and is not an exhaustive list of the multitude of freelance writing options available to you.
Content Writers vs. Copywriters
There is an important distinction to be made between freelance copywriters and freelance content writers. Before you begin your journey, you should ask yourself what kind of writing better aligns with your skills, schedule, and specific talents.
To boil down the difference in a simple manner, think of it like this:
- Copywriters: Write with the express purpose of selling a product, service, or idea.
- Content Writers: Write to inform, entertain, or educate.
There are naturally other differences, too. For instance, a content writer is more likely to be responsible for long-form content such as articles or blog posts. Copywriters, though, might be tasked with shorter content like advertising slogans or social media posts.
That isn’t to say that these two forms of writing don’t intersect, however. As a freelancer, you might have clients that desire some combination of the two types of writing. It’s up to you to fully understand your strengths, and tailor your services to match them.
What Do Freelance Content Writers Do?
Freelance writing might be freeing in a lot of ways, but it’s important to remember that it’s a one-man (or in my case, one-woman) show. You’re not only responsible for actually writing the requested content, but you also need to be in charge of a few other key things.
- Client Acquisition
- Administrative Tasks (answering emails, conducting discovery calls, etc.)
- Creating Contracts and Invoices
- Developing A Strong Personal Brand
So, while the job might seem simple, it’s important to remember that it’s still exactly that: A job. Despite what some might say, freelance writing is not a passive, entirely simple lifestyle.
What it is, though, is rewarding. It’s rewarding to be the one to decide when to end those long discovery calls, to be the one to cash in that invoice, and to be the one to draw up that contract.
There might be a mountain of menial tasks that you need to get through before you can call it a day, but the good news is that when that day ends, it’s on your terms.
Why Become A Freelance Content Writer?
At least in my experience, every freelance writer has had a unique path leading them to where they are. Some had terrible corporate experiences that led them to the freelancing market, while others (like myself) began freelancing as a short-term “side hustle” that quickly turned into their primary stream of income.
But, regardless of how we’ve found ourselves in this position, there are a few commonalities that have kept us wanting more.
My personal favorite part of freelance writing is the DIY schedule. I was never really a morning person, so the ability to create my hours and set my timelines for projects was incredibly compelling. (For reference, I’m writing this at 10 pm on a Wednesday.)
Another splendid benefit is that you can be as busy as you’d like at any given time. Tight on cash? Spend some time landing some more clients. Planning a dedicated break for yourself? Do so whenever you please! The choice of how much or how little you’d like to work is in your hands.
But, many love freelance writing for one particular reason: Versatility. I, for one, can get dreadfully bored when conducting the same business over and over again. I like fresh topics, as that’s the only way I can conjure fresh ideas. So, by having some clients with one-and-done contracts, I can easily move on to the next without hitting any of those terrible writer’s block walls that come with repetitiveness.
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What Skills Do I Need To Become A Freelance Content Writer?
Naturally, there’s the obvious- to become a freelance writer, you need to be a quality writer in the first place. If you have a background in creative writing, technical writing, marketing, or journalism, these all contain great skill sets. If you don’t have experience in these fields, though, don't worry!
Below, I’ll detail a comprehensive list of the starter skills you’ll need to begin your freelance writing journey:
1. A Strong Passion For Your Work
The best part about being a freelance writer is the creative freedom that comes with it. You’ll have to negotiate specific terms with your clients, but when it comes to your niche, you’re in total control. For instance, if you’ve had an array of animals throughout your life, you might want to specialize in animal or pet care topics. If you’re a pop-culture fanatic, then you might want to find a niche in gaming or film. Certain niches pay better than others, but in the end, what will set you apart is a genuine desire to create pieces related to your topic of interest.
2. Excellent Research Skills
Though you’ll likely niche down at some point in time, your beginning stint as a freelance writer is going to be filled with an array of varying topics. This means that you’ll need to quickly make yourself an expert in several fields, and if you can’t find what you need online, you have to know how to source it yourself. This can be through interviews or surveys, depending on the breadth of information you’re seeking. In any case, you need to be a sharp researcher!
3. Ability to Meet Deadlines
While you don’t need to be a world-class super scheduler to be a freelance writer, you must be able to meet your self-set deadlines. If not, that’s a surefire way to build a bad reputation for yourself among clients. And, believe me, word can spread faster than wildfire. Besides, when you wait until the last minute, the work that you end up producing certainly won’t be your best. A good rule of thumb is to always give yourself more time than you might think you’d need.
4. Openness To Feedback (Yes, Even Negative Feedback)
No two clients are going to want the same output. Whether the changes that you need to make have to deal with tone of voice or general structure, chances are you’re going to go through a few drafts before they finally give you the go-ahead. Clients are paying you not just to create content, but to create their content. This means that, even if you know deep down that you’re right about a small change or rewording, they get the final say. It’s important to be humble and take the requests with grace.
5. Marketing And Networking Abilities
When you’re a freelancer, writer or otherwise, it’s basically like you’re running your own small business. This is especially true if you’re looking to freelance on a full-time basis. This means that, at the very least, you need enough business acumen to be able to market yourself and your services. This means being able to cold-pitch without getting cold feet and booking out dozens of Zoom meetings without fear of public speaking. You’re your best (and sometimes only) advocate, so make sure you’re able to do so successfully.
Best Resources for Aspiring Freelance Content Writers
Much like any other job, you’re going to need a lot of help when you’re just starting out. So, here are a few of the resources (both free and paid) that seriously aided me when I needed them most.
Teaching yourself isn’t a perfect science, and not all of these options might be right for you, but they are all excellent bets when looking for a jumping-off point.
- Freelance Writer’s Reddit: This subreddit is seriously one of the most helpful destinations for all things freelance writing. Whether you have questions about pitching or inquiries about your rates, this is the place to go to ask real freelancers for their tips and tricks.
- Practical Copywriting Course for Beginners: YouTuber Mike Nardi shares his tips for breaking into the copywriting industry. This is quite interesting, and contains a lot of comprehensive information!
- CatchAFire: If you’re looking to build your portfolio, consider taking on an unpaid (but highly rewarding) nonprofit project through this website!
- Copywriting For Beginners: How To Write Web Copy That Sells Without Being Cheesy by Jesse Forest: Learn how to write web copy competently even as someone who has never done so before.
- Being a Travel Blogger (Even When You're Not Traveling!) by Theresa Christine: This course is excellent for those who want to make money writing their own content instead of for clients, and is especially helpful for digital nomads!
- Content Writing Secrets: Build a Content Strategy for Connection and Growth by Lauren Lbik: If you’re interested in learning the ins and outs of content strategy, this is the course for you!
- Get Started With Upwork: UpWork is a well-known platform for beginner freelancers, making this course well worth the invaluable knowledge!
- The Strategy of Content Marketing: Before publishing content, it’s important to have a strong strategy. This course shows you precisely how to write things people will want to read!
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) With Squarespace: SEO knowledge is invaluable, and will put you far ahead of other beginner freelance writers. It’s difficult to learn entirely on your own, though, which makes this course so excellent!
How Do I Become A Digital Nomad As A Freelance Content Writer?
Step One: Get Your Foot In The Door
The first step to reaching a nomadic lifestyle as a freelance writer is to ensure that you have the skills and experience to fuel your pathway to success. Start small, perhaps by reaching out to local businesses or nonprofits, and build yourself a mid-sized portfolio of quality, reputable work.
Step Two: Show Off Your Stuff!
Once you have an array of work to display, you have to find a way to host this work. A fancy-looking Google Doc isn’t going to be enough to cut it, either. You have to find a hosting website to build up a proper portfolio. You don’t just have to display your work, either. This is also an opportunity to showcase to potential clients a bit about your personality and style, as well as explain in detail the specific service offerings available to them.
By the way, don’t stress out if you aren’t a tech whiz or don’t know how to code web pages. Check out these platforms that make portfolio hosting incredibly simple:
- JournoPortfolio: https://www.journoportfolio.com/
- Squarespace: https://www.squarespace.com/
- Wix: https://www.wix.com/
- Format: https://www.format.com/
- WebFlow: https://webflow.com/
Step Three: Ensure Your Income is Stable
You might be excited to pack up your bags and hit the road. However, before doing so, you have to ensure that you have the funding to live a successful nomadic life. This means searching for and securing at least two to three stable clients. Clients will come and go, as you’ll find, but if your services are lucrative and compelling enough, chances are they’ll be coming back for more.
If you don’t know where to start client-wise, try checking out freelance job boards like UpWork, Fiverr, ProBlogger, and Qwoted.
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Step Four: Choose an Initial Destination
As you begin your life as a digital nomad, don’t rush to cut ties and burn bridges. You want to make certain before you commit to it, that this is the kind of life for you.
Instead of immediately running off on a year-long venture, start small! Try taking a two-week journey somewhere that you’ve been dying to visit (believe me, you have plenty of options) and go from there.
Take some time outlining what your day-to-day will look like, how you’ll delegate your time while still enjoying the sights and adventure, and what you should bring alongside you on your journey.
Step Five: Taking It All In
It’s important to remember that, while thrilling, the lifestyle of a digital nomad is also quite hectic. There can be a lot to balance, especially when you throw the excitement of travel into the already complex world of freelance.
That being said, it is a rewarding trade-off. Embrace this lifestyle and the many possibilities that come with it.
Remember, in the end, that you’re living a life that is dynamic, adventurous, and all up to you.
What Are The Pros and Cons Of Being A Freelance Writer?
At this point, you’re probably doing quite a bit of reflection on what it takes to become a freelance writer. You know the steps that you have to take and the skills that you need to acquire, so all that’s left is figuring out if it’s the right lifestyle for you.
This is a tough choice, and it’s one that only you can make! So, to help you out, here’s a list of some of the most obvious benefits and drawbacks of becoming a freelance writer.
- A flexible schedule with hours that you self-determine.
- Work that feels fulfilling because you decide what exactly your “work” looks like.
- The ability to work from anywhere.
- The ability to work from home when you simply don’t want to go anywhere.
- The opportunity to have your voice cut through the noise.
- Income that is parallel to the amount of work you put in.
- The opportunity to collaborate with a variety of interesting, impactful clients and businesses.
- No guarantee that you’ll be able to find consistent work in the beginning.
- A bustling industry that has a plethora of competition.
- Difficulty standing out among so many other talented freelancers.
- Adjusting to a schedule that differs so greatly from your typical 9-5.
- The need to constantly learn and constantly upskill.
- A personal brand that you are fully responsible for maintaining.
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What is the Salary of a Freelance Content Writer?
Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty. How much do freelance writers take home as payment at the end of the day? Unfortunately, this isn’t a cut-and-dry answer.
Several factors go into the pay of a freelancer in general, and freelance writers aren’t immune to this variability. What any two writers make is never going to be identical, but there are figures that you can look at for reference.
According to current research by Glassdoor, the general pay range of yearly income for a freelance writer in the United States is $46K - $78K per year. In turn, this makes the average annual pay roughly $55,935.
Don’t let those numbers discourage you, however, as there are freelance writers who, with the help of personal content creation and digital products like courses and e-books, make well over six figures. That said, since you’re just starting, those numbers will likely be a good starting estimate.
It’s also important to keep in mind that some refer to freelance writing as a game of “feast and famine,” meaning that there will be portions of the year where the work available to you is seemingly endless, and there will be portions of the year where you’ll find your prospects to be lackluster.
This is why, above all else, you should never commit 100% of your time to a single client. You’re a freelancer for a reason, after all. Don’t do the job of a salaried employee, and make sure that your contracts and timelines are all up to par.
Are You Ready To Start Your Career As A Freelance Writer And Become A Digital Nomad?
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We'll see you there, Freaking Nomads!
About the Author: Sam Hindman
Sam Hindman is a Gen Z freelance content marketer based out of Pittsburgh, PA. When she's not busy writing (or planning her next vacation) you can find her spending time with her beloved cat Archie.
Check out her freelance writing website here:
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