How to Make Over $500 a Month as a Freelance Writer

freelance1A couple years back I was in a crappy retail job. I was making $8+ an hour at a bookstore. The work wasn’t terrible, but not pleasant either. I had a long commute and bitchy customers to deal with.

I needed a way out.

I decided I had enough. I wasn’t making much money anyway at the store and wanted to experiment with making money online. After deliberating the different ways of making money online, I ended up diving into the freelance writing industry.

Within a few months of freelance writing I was making $15 an hour, twice as much as my retail job. What’s not to love?

I’ve experimented with a number of ways of making money online. In the last two and a half years of doing so freelance writing has been the most successful for me by far. It’s also been the most straightforward.

It’s something anyone can do—even for just above-average, or even mediocre, writers.

There isn’t any investment needed and you can make a decent amount of money in a short period of time.

Interested?

Let’s get started then.

(This is a 3300 word post. Please read it carefully, as it contains a lot of detailed information).

Part 1: Introduction to Freelance Writing

What is Freelance Writing?

When searching for information online, you’ve probably come across some ‘article mills’—websites that have a ton of generic information like LiveStrong or About.com. These articles don’t magically appear, nor do they have just a handful of writers on staff. What they do is hire guys like me to pump out these articles to grow their brand.

Writing articles on websites is just one aspect of freelance writing. There can be a demand for e-books, sales letters, white papers, email newsletters, site descriptions and more. Anything written can be outsourced.

While people like myself prefer to write our own articles, some people just don’t have the time, nor are they skilled authors. So they outsource it to people like me. And as the number of websites and online businesses grow, there is going to be a higher demand for freelance writing.

Benefits of Freelance Writing

There are a ton of benefits to working as a freelance writer.

  • Fast Payment: Unlike many other ways of making money online, with freelancing you can make money in just a week’s time. There is no time spent worrying about building traffic or marketing a digital product. Just follow directions, submit your work and wait for your payment to come through (6-9 days through UpWork or 1-2 days via PayPal).
  • Easiness: Freelance writing is pretty easy. If you’re an above-average writer with good discipline and time management you’ll do just fine. Moreover, you can totally lack creativity with these projects as oftentimes you’re just churning out generic, boring content—at least in the beginning.
  • Remote Work: The idea of working from home or anywhere in the world seems farfetched to some, but it’s part of the game for freelance writing.
  • Low-Risk/Low-Investment: It costs nothing to start a profile or submit bids for jobs.

Part 2: Getting Your First Gig

While I was familiar with freelance writing I initially didn’t want to get involved with it. I wanted to make money working for me and me alone. I decided that someday I would, but in the meantime I would take up freelance writing.

I went to UpWork (then called oDesk) and set up my profile. I applied for a few jobs, and was finally given my first contract for $5. My job was to write about my ‘strangest sexual experience’—an odd, but memorable first job.

There are a lot of jobs on UpWork that requires the poster to hire a number of people. A lot of times they’re looking for people to write fake reviews, and things of that nature. I presume this was one such scenario.

Either way, this is a good way to break in to freelance writing.

Here is where I diverge with some other people on how to break into the industry. Some say that you should immediately apply for the high(er) paying jobs, and skip the low paying ones. I tend to disagree.

Taking the lower paying jobs allows you to accomplish a few things:

  • Getting good feedback,
  • Learning the ropes of UpWork (or similar sites), dealing with clients, managing your time etc.
  • You’re more likely to get these jobs.

After you take a handful of these jobs and get a couple of good reviews, you can start to work your way up the ladder.

Where to Find Clients (And Why I Recommend UpWork for Beginners).

The best place to find clients when starting out is through a job board. These are websites where clients come to look for freelancers.

They’ll post a job, lay out a description, a price range and other details. They’ll usually ask you to submit a cover letter and answer a couple of questions.

Quite honestly, this is a client-dominated industry. They set the rates and they set the rules. There are plenty of freelancers out there willing to do this job for a fraction of what you’re asking, so keep this in mind when applying.

You’ll also notice that these jobs may get dozens of applications. That’s just how it works. You won’t likely get every job you apply for, or even a reply, but the more you build up your reputation the more likely you are to have a success rate.

It sounds like a bit of a Catch-22 doesn’t it? But it’s why I suggest starting small to build experience and earn a positive reputation.

In the future, what I would recommend is starting your own website. Drive traffic there through writing your own content and word of mouth. From there you can set your own rates and not have to worry about competition (More on that later).

Writing a Cover letter

One of the most annoying aspects of freelance writing is writing cover letters—at least for me. Reason being is that you’re spending time writing, but not getting paid for it! Moreover, you’re really just ‘trying out’ for the position and showing if you’re worthy.

This is an important aspect to keep in mind though. You’re trying out. You must prove yourself to the client that you’re capable of doing the best job.

This means understanding what the client is looking for:

  • Demonstrate your knowledge of the subject they want you to write about.
  • Tailor every cover letter for the specific project.
  • Show, don’t tell, about what you’ve written in the past that is similar to this project (Hint: This is where having a blog comes in).
  • Ask questions or give suggestions about their project.
  • Give them a time hook (e.g. I will have this article(s) done in less than 48 hours).

You will immediately position yourself into the upper-tier of freelancers by adhering to these rules.

I also want to highlight the point of showing off your work. I mentioned in my post on the benefits of blogging that having a blog is akin to having a portfolio. I got a number of projects and made most of my money as a freelancer because of this blog.

How?

Because a couple clients who I worked with long-term were targeting ‘Men’s Interests’ (i.e. sex, dating, fitness). Having a blog with relevant content was an easy way to set myself apart from Sanjay from Calcutta.

Part 3: Logistics and Planning

I know what some of you might have thought after reading the title:

Why $500 a Month? Can’t I Make More?

You can make as much or as little money as you want as a freelance writer. I chose $500 a month because that’s what I roughly made in the last year. And this was balanced with work, school, blogging and other extracurricular activities. I spent about 5-15 hours a week, depending on my free time, on freelancing.

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(This was taken 8 months ago. Notice the $5000 for 12 months, which comes out to $450 a month or so. That also only includes money paid through UpWork, not PayPal.)

However, maybe you’re looking to quit your job and make a full-time living as a freelance writer. That’s totally possible! You just have to figure out how much you need to make.

A fantastic resource for this is the Product Pricing Calculator over at Kopywriting Course from Neville Medhora (Hope I spelled his name right…)

Use the calculator to enter the amount of money you want to make per month or per year. It will break down those earnings by the different income stream such as a membership site, product etc.

Let’s use the example of $500 per month for freelance writing.

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(Ignore the 100,000 and 12 months).

You’ll notice that to make $500 a month you only need to earn $17 a day! That sounds a lot more manageable doesn’t it?

From here, you have to figure out how to earn that $17 a day.

Let’s say as a freelance writer you want to charge $0.04 per word—a reasonable rate that can be achieved in a few months’ time. To earn $17 per day at that writing rate you would need to write 425 words per day. (This article is 3300 words for reference). 425 words is quite doable in an hour’s time.

If you want to break this down per week, you’re looking at around 3000 words per week. You could spend more time on weekends doing this, say 1000 words each on Saturday and Sunday, following it up with a mere 200 words each during the week.

Finding the perfect formula is up to you. Well, it’s also up to the client who may set a deadline on the work, so that’s something to keep in mind as well.

If you’re working or going to school full-time, then you need to make sure you’re not going to get stressed out writing. Don’t take on work knowing that meeting the deadline isn’t an absolute possibility for you.

Making More Money

An extra $17 a day doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up. It will go a long way in saving up money or paying off debt. That said there’s no reason you have to create a ceiling for yourself.

The two ways to make more money are simple:

  1. Work more hours or take on a higher workload, and/or
  2. Increase your rates.

Doing the former is up to you and depends on your schedule.

The latter requires a little more detail.

Setting Your Rates

At the beginning, you’re probably going to get more ‘fixed rate’ jobs. These jobs have a set rate by the client, as that’s what they’re willing to pay.

In the future, you can just use these rates as a guideline. In fact, many clients underbid, by trying to compete on pricing.

NEVER compete on pricing!

If you compete on pricing you’ll get nowhere. Instead, try and get as much out of the client as you can, if you find their initial rate too low.

Over time, you’ll start to have a fixed rate in your head that you don’t want to go below (e.g. $0.04 per word). You should only apply to jobs willing to pay this much.

The other type of jobs are ‘Hourly’ jobs. It’s simple: You set your rate, your client agrees, and when you do the work on UpWork you’ll turn on a timer which tracks time and periodically takes screenshots of your work.

There are pros and cons to hourly and fixed rates. I preferred to do both, as I prioritized the clients and projects over the payment type.

Raising Rates

Raising rates is a must. In fact, if you’re not going to raise rate you might as well get a retail job, as at least that’s steady work. With freelancing, you can easily make double (or triple) what you’d make at a retail job so long as you raise your rates.

Increasing your rates doesn’t necessarily mean doing ‘better’ or more technical work. A lot of the times it’s just what the client offers, or what you decide to charge.

For example, I wrote a dozen or so articles for a growing start-up. Like other start-ups, I suspect they were overflowing with money from venture capitalists, and had a lot of money to blow. They paid me $0.10 a word, when I would’ve gladly taken less than half of that. That’s just the amount they offered and I was pleased to take it.

One of the things you must keep in mind is that you can’t be timid and shy when it comes to raising rates. Treat writing like a business because it is a business.

Eventually, you’ll hit a wall. There’s only so much a client can pay for a generic freelance article. What you’ll need to do from here is find a new skill like copywriting, and leverage that for more income.

Planning Your Time

As previously mentioned, you’re going to want to figure out how much time you can dedicate to writing. I’m a huge advocate of meticulously planning your days so you get as much done as possible.

This is also important for communication purposes. If you tell a client you’ll have a project done it 3 days, but you realize you’re swamped with other work, that’s going to hurt your reputation and could cost you a client.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew, especially at first. When you have long-term clients you’ll have a little more leeway.

Part 4: Building a Reputation

Creating a Stellar Profile

Here’s my profile on Upwork:

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A client will see a number of things when they visit your profile.

  • Your Job Success Rate: UpWork used to have ratings, now it’s a ‘Job Success’ score which takes into account feedback, timeliness, communication and other factors. Mine is 100%, but as long as you keep it above 95% you’ll be fine.
  • Your Portfolio: Take past projects that you’ve done and turned out well and add them to your profile for clients to see.
  • Hourly Rate: My rate is set at $27 as you can see. However, I haven’t gotten that rate yet. It’s more of an anchor to get clients to move their prices up for me. Plus, I haven’t had a new client in many months as I just keep my old clients. Nor do I that many hours—just 87 total as you can see. Setting a higher rate on your profile is always smart, because when applying for a job you can always adjust as needed.
  • Tests: There are a few tests you can take to make you a more appealing freelancer. These include grammar tests, English proficiency, and other specific tests like SEO or marketing knowledge.

Another aspect to keep in mind is how to position yourself compared to your competition. That is, should you target a niche or stay more generalized? That’s really up to you.

As I pointed out earlier, I did well in tackling the ‘Men’s Interest’ niche. However, I didn’t pigeonhole myself to that niche, I just exploited it when I needed to.

Retaining Clients

We’ve talked a bit about how to get clients in the first place, but what about keeping them around?

I don’t like to always have to be finding new clients and nor should you. With freelancing, you have the ability pick and choose who you work with, however, it is too time consuming to always find a new client.

Instead, you should seek to build relationships with clients to get long-term work. This guarantees steady work in a subject you are, or will become, familiar to.

Retaining clients is all about communication. It means you’re meeting deadlines, following exactly what clients are saying, and being intuitive about implicit details.

It also means being professional.

A year or so ago I had a mini meltdown with a client. He didn’t like my work so I ‘quit’. He wasn’t mad, just thrown off as to why a little criticism made me throw a temper-tantrum.

Freelancing has helped me take criticism and put the client first. That is what you must do. Remember, they’re paying you to do what they want.

If you want to do your own thing then start a blog and get rid of the comment section to insulate yourself from criticism. Good luck…

Promoting Your Own Brand

As previously mentioned, a good long term-strategy is to get off these job boards and make your own website. Draw in clients through referrals and content generation. The benefits to this are too great to ignore. Jamie McSloy has a good example. You can see he has a website full of content, but then offers copywriting services too.

It’s a lot more work, but it’s something I’d recommend. It’s what I was in the process of doing, but am now tentatively quitting the freelancing game, which I will get to briefly.

When it comes to promoting yourself, you have to go all out. Freelancing is a competitive world and no one is going to hold your hand or root for you as the underdog.

Part 5: The Future of Freelancing

Freelancing is the future—there is no doubt about that. As a freelance writer (and client) I’ve seen how convenient sites like UpWork are.

Clients don’t have to go through a long hiring or recruitment process. They don’t have to give out benefits and health insurance. They don’t have to worry about harassment at the office and dealing with HR bullshit.

They see a client that fits what they’re looking for and hire him or her. Then they can dispose of them when they need to without batting an eye.

And pricing of course is huge. People in the Philippines charge a fraction of what Westerners would do and sometimes may do comparable work. It’s a no-brainer.

It’s a cold and ugly world, but that’s business. And that’s how it should be honestly.

The longer you ignore this fact means that you’re more likely going to be out of a job in the long run. Just read ‘The End of Jobs ’ and ‘The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth’. These guys understand the drastic changes corporations are undergoing and why the little guy (i.e. YOU!) is going to get shafted.

Freelancing and remote work is the future. It benefits the corporations, but if you can get ahead of the game you’ll do just find.

Moreover, long-term you should think about how to become the client. That’s where the real money is.

And that’s where I’m going.

I’ve grown weary of writing for other people. Writing the same generic content over and over has me burned out.

Instead, I want to work on my own writing projects. Sure, I won’t make nearly as much money as I was freelancing, but long-term I think it will work in my favor.

I don’t want to discourage you from writing. In fact, I’m tempted to keep freelancing after writing this article because it seems like such a no-brainer!

Taking Action

Like most internet articles, few of you will become a freelance writer. It’s the truth. Not everyone is willing to make those changes and put in the work. To those who do, I strongly commend you.

It’s seriously a no-brainer for people who want to make more money remotely. Even writing this article I may consider getting back into the game. We’ll see…

But don’t wait!

Take action right now.

Go to UpWork, sign up, fill out your account and apply for your first job. You will be happy you did.

Further Reading/Resources

There’s too many resources to list. Here are a few that I had bookmarked or popped into my head:

  1. Make a Living Writing
  2. ODesk Cover Letters that Work from 30 Days to X
  3. How to Make $1000 per week on oDesk
  4. Pricing Calculator from Kopywriting Kourse
  5. How to Become a Copywriter from Kopywriting Kourse
  6. How to Quit Your Job & Make it Rain as a Full-Time Freelance Copywriter- Part One from Inbound.org
  7. Resources for Making Money Online