5 Tips for Making Good Money as a Freelance Writer

By Ellen Berry

The marketplace is full of opportunities for writers. There are always new messages that need to be communicated or old messages that need to be communicated in a new way. There are always people and businesses who need help looking good through the use of good writing. When economic times are challenging, the need to spread the word about products, services, and causes increases exponentially.

The following are 10 lessons I learned in the 12 or more years I've been doing work as a writer (in some capacity or another):
  1. Know your options - When I dreamed of being a writer in college, I had no idea there were so many options available to me. Certainly I read about careers in marketing, communications, journalism, and technical writing, but I didn't realize that I could be successful and happy doing them. Were I to do it over again, I would have shadowed people at work, taken more practical application classes rather than theory, and participated in internships as often as possible to get a real-world sense of writing as a commodity. Among the many areas that writing is used in business, I've made good money:
    • Helping people organize and write content for their websites
    • Working with trainers to create training manuals
    • Writing guides and FAQs for using products and websites
    • Interviewing clients to figure out what they want and then communicating it to the technical team (requirements gathering)
    • Doing research and then summarizing results in reports
    • Creating copy for brochures, flyers, ads and marketing letters
    • Writing articles designed to attract readers and links to websites
    • Scripting multimedia pieces and voice-overs
    • Writing surveys, interviewing subjects, and summarizing survey results
    • Optimizing website content for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
    • Tracking pertinent news items and summarizing them in original stories for websites
    • Writing policies in ways people can easily understand and creating posters to motivate them to follow policies (awareness)
    • Analyzing how processes happen and documenting them (business analysis)
    • Writing reviews of movies, products, TV shows, books, stores, new businesses, conferences, travel destinations, hotels, restaurants, etc.
    • Creating PowerPoint presentations and writing speeches and sales pitches
    • Freelancing as a journalist for local papers, online ezines and reference guides
    • Writing press releases
    • Editing and proofreading
    • Creating resumes, cover letters and portfolio websites
    • Writing and editing grant applications
  2. Think of yourself as a writer - Although I did a lot of writing for my work, I didn't think of myself as a writer. People came to me with writing projects, but I thought of myself as someone in marketing or training or business analysis or web development. I was hesitant to box myself in by calling myself a writer - I was worried that I would limit my earning potential - or access to team-based projects that created something bigger than writing by myself ever could. But eventually my employers, colleagues. and clients started referring to me as a writer, and introducing me to other people as a writer. I took the hint, and it opened up many more opportunities to do what I love doing. I have since narrowed the scope of what I do even further by becoming a subject matter expert in areas that are particularly interesting to me, which makes it easier to find writing jobs (since there are fewer people who can write at the same level of detail or use the same skills).
  3. Become a quick study - Along with creativity, knowledge of how to write in a journalistic style, knowledge of AP Style and Chicago Manual of Style, and a keen editorial eye, analytical skills have been important in helping me make more money.When an employer or client comes to me with a writing project, their primary concern is my knowledge of the topic - they don't want to waste time or money for writing that seems superficial or uninformed. So I've learned how to start a project by asking the right questions, finding the answers, and analyzing the results. As an example, if I was hired to write about forestry (something of which I have little familiarity), I would adopt the role of an overachieving teaching student by taking introductory courses in forestry in order to be able to turn around and teach the material. I'd learn as much as I could as fast as possible, and then regurgitate it in a way that made sense to me, a new learner.

    Developing an analytical mind takes time and focus (a college education helps tremendously), but is essential for many different kinds of professional writing - especially technical writing and business analysis.
  4. Grow your skillset - There are core competencies for professional writers that can greatly enhance earning potential and employability. Many colleges and universities offer major courses of study in these fields:
    • Information design is the science behind how information is organized and displayed in order to make it the most accessible for the spectrum of readers. (The importance of information design was widely discussed after it was revealed that the White House received repeated warnings in executive briefings about a potential terrorist attack prior to 9/11, but the warnings were missed because they were buried far down in reports that were dense with text.)
    • Search engine optimization (SEO) is the science of using keywords, key phrases, content organization, links, and other Web elements to make websites more visible to search engines. Without well-done SEO, people who search the Web may have difficulty finding a website that has the content for which they're searching - or it may be far down on a list of results.
    • Technical writing is used to write software manuals, help and FAQ guides in software and on websites, and diagrams or flow charts to depict processes. But many employers and clients don't know that's what technical writing is, and they will post jobs and search for job candidates using the term "technical writing" even though what they're really looking for is copywriting or instructional writing. For jobs that are truly technical writing, a common requirement is knowledge of industry-standard software for technical writing and help or FAQ generation.
    • Instructional design is the science of writing instructional material so that it is easily learned and retained by different levels and groups of learners, and guidance for instructors in order to teach material consistently and efficiently.
  5. Promote your personal brand - To find employers and clients, it takes a combination of push and pull - not only hunting down jobs, but communicating your availability, capability, and uniqueness as a writer. You may be an outstanding writer, but if people aren't aware of what you can do, they may overlook you. It's important to define what you do early on, and put a brand to it - an identity that communicates what you do and how it is unique in the marketplace. Consider your brand - your reputation - whenever you publish anything online (even if you're just updating your Facebook status).Something I wish I had done early on was to consider myself in business for myself, even when working for others. I would have taken on the role of being self-employed and created a company name (it's easy and affordable to become a sole proprietor) so that I could receive tax benefits, but mostly because that identity helps me take myself seriously and feel in control of my career.
About the author

Ellen Berry is a member of BrainTrack's writing team. She writes articles about a number of education and career topics, and has contributed content to BrainTrack's Career Planning Guide.

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