How to Become a Freelance Writer and Earn $4,000 a Month

get started as a freelance writer

Like most aspiring writers I started my entrepreneurial career as a small-time blogger and worked my way up to being a professional writer and financial expert. I’ve since leveraged that into a business that brings in more money than my accounting day job used to.

If you’re thinking of diving into the freelance writing space, or have recently started down that path, this is without a doubt a viable way to make a full-time living.

Since learning how to become a freelance writer, I’ve reached quite a few milestones. I paid off all my consumer debt in May 2012, then quit my day job exactly one year later, in May 2013. Starting a freelance writing career allowed me to follow my dream of being self-employed, make more money than I did at my day job, and have control over my own schedule.

Even if you’re not thinking of quitting your job to launch a full-time freelance business, and just looking to make extra money for a financial goal (like traveling more, or paying off debt), becoming a freelance writer will give you the flexibility and income you want. Truth be told, that’s exactly how I got started — as a way to supplement my income.

If you want to stop working towards someone else’s dream and gain the freedom to make money on your terms, I truly believe that becoming a freelance writer will help you achieve this.

Go from $0 to $4,000 a month

In less than six months Gina Horkey went from being a financial advisor, to launching her freelance writing business, to now being the breadwinner of her family of four. She was able to quit her full-time financial job in December 2014, after diving into the world of freelancing during the summer of last year.

(Full disclosure: Gina is one of my coaching clients so I helped her during this entire time, but she did the work and I simply encouraged and guided her.)

Learning how to become a freelance writer is simple, but you have to know where to start and be willing to take that first step. As someone who brings in over $4,000 a month from freelance writing to support her family, Gina knows how intimidating the beginning stages can be.

But the best way to learn anything new is to glean from someone else’s experience. It will cut down your learning curve and help you avoid costly mistakes. “Good enough is better than waiting for everything to be perfect,” says Gina.

“If you’re a perfectionist like I used to be, you’ll be tempted to wait to respond to that job ad, or launch your website until everything’s perfect,” explains Gina. “Perfect is a fallacy, and you need to learn to adopt the mindset of good enough and know that you’ll continue to make changes and improvements as you go (and as you learn!).”

Get started for less than $200

Another reason I strongly encourage you to consider a career as a freelance writer is because you don’t have to invest a lot of money in the beginning. In fact, for less than $200 Gina was able to purchase a website domain name and even invest a little bit of money into a blogging course.

Purchasing a course is a great way to get started. I thrive on a step-by-step approach and am always short on time (i.e. I’d rather pay to repeat someone else’s process than take hours of Google research to figure it out on my own),” says Gina.

“Here are my exact expenses from May and June 2014, before I made a cent from writing:”

  • $95 total for my URL (www.horkeyhandbook.com) and a year’s worth of hosting services
  • $49 to take a blogging course
  • $7 for a used Yahoo! Style Guide
  • $20 for my first month’s job board subscription

Total: $171

My own expenses were actually a bit lower because I didn’t take any courses or subscribe to a job board in the beginning. However, I WISH I had because it would have drastically cut down on my time learning about the freelance writing world — plus I could have avoided unnecessary mistakes.

How to become a freelance writer

Now that we’ve simplified what it means to become a freelance writer, and proven that it hardly takes any money to get started, here’s exactly what to do to start making money.

1. Take the first step

If starting a website from scratch seems too daunting, no problem. You can still create “a few solid samples and start putting yourself out there,” says Gina. “There are other (free) ways to build a portfolio.” So don’t let that initial step trip you up, the point is to get started so you can start making money!

As a newbie freelance writer your currency will be time so be liberal with it and keep hustling. “In short, decide what to write about, gather samples, figure out how you want to display your portfolio, source jobs to pitch, and pitch like mad until you land some work,” encourages Gina.

Gina is spot on with this advice! I live by the Minimum Viable Product idea that forces you to get something out there even if it’s barely functioning. You will continue to grow, learn, and upgrade your writing, so don’t get stumped by perfection.

freelance writer quote

2. Launch your portfolio (and write for free)

As Gina’s mentioned (and I wholeheartedly agree), you absolutely must have a writing portfolio to showcase your work and close deals with prospective clients. We actually both started our writing careers by writing for The Huffington Post (and I know several other freelancers who have had success with this as well).

You don’t get paid for your time, but you do get access to exposure, some traffic, and the ability to say that you’re a Huffington Post blogger which aids your reputation — especially if you’re just starting out.

How did Gina get started writing for The Huffington Post? “I responded to a job ad. They had me write a sample, they liked it and then I was granted permission to write as often or as little as I wanted,” shares Gina.

“They review every post before it’s published. I shoot for posting monthly. It hasn’t brought me much “exposure” (i.e. traffic), but the name is instantly recognizable and I think my using it as a sample in my pitch has helped me to land a lot of jobs. So, it’s worth it!”

Check out this case study from Careful Cents writer, Cat who explains her exact process for becoming a Huffington Post blogger.

3. Set a regular schedule

I was naive in the beginning of my self-employed career and thought that my schedule would magically work itself out. WRONG! As a workaholic, I never set boundaries and ended up working all hours of the day and night. Even so much as I drove myself into insomnia (and still struggle with this now).

“I would commit to a set schedule for my side hustle and stick to it — i.e. I’m prone to working too much and the whole reason I started writing and changed careers was to spend more time with my family,” says Gina.

“I knew that I would need to do the opposite to ramp up my business enough of being able to take it full-time, but I think I stressed myself out more than I needed to by thinking I had to work all of the time. I’m still a bit guilty of this!”

4. Track your income

Obviously one of the main steps to being a successful freelance writer is to track your income. Not just because it’s smart, or that it will help you during tax season, but because it will continue to motivate you to learn, grow, and increase your prices. All of this allows you to make more money!

In the beginning you won’t make much, but as your skills increase, and more clients inquire about your offerings, you’ll start to earn more. You don’t need anything fancy to track your income, and something as simple as a spreadsheet will work.

Since the beginning, Gina has tracked all of her income and expenses so she stays accountable to herself and continues hustling to make a full-time income to support her family.

profit-loss sheet from Gina
Gina Horkey tracks her income as a freelance writer and shows how she went from $0 to bringing in over $4,000 a month.

5. Find a mentor or coach

Not all mentor relationships require you to spend money to glean from their experiences. Sometimes their blog will be full of ideas, tips and tricks for you to learn from for free. On the flip side, a simple product will outline their methods and strategies, which can be life-changing as far as results.

Find someone whose story inspires you and find out if they offer coaching, mentoring, or products you can purchase. “I purchased a course and then hired Carrie as my mentor,” explains Gina.

“The course taught me what I needed to know to immerse myself in the world of freelance writing and get my business up and running. Working with a mentor has been huge! I’ve shortened my learning curve immensely and don’t feel like I’m alone trying to figure out this whole new world/career.”

Gina’s been a full-time freelance writer for just over 8 months, and I’ve been doing this for almost 4 years. So yeah, asking for help and investing in products or courses can dramatically reduce the time it takes to go from $0 – $4,000 a month. #justsayin

Get started with your freelance writing career

There are very few budget-friendly resources available for getting started as a newbie freelance writer, which is why Gina created, 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success.

She shares in-depth lessons with actionable advice to help kickstart your writing career. I don’t currently offer any products for writers who are in the beginning stages, which is why I wanted to get my hands on this ecourse for YOU.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I got my start in the online business world as a freelance writer and it’s something I will always be doing.

Thanks so much for doing this interview, Gina! I’ll let her wrap up this post: “I thrive on a step-by-step approach and am always short on time (i.e. I’d rather pay to repeat someone else’s process than take hours of Google research to figure it out on my own).”

The lessons and information Gina shares in her 30 day freelance writing ecourse are invaluable for getting started as a freelance writer! 

Got questions for myself or Gina? Leave a comment and we’ll answer it.

 

[Some of these links are affiliate links, which means I’ll earn a small commission at no cost to you! However, the opinions here are my own and I only share products I personally use.]
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19 comments

  1. Wow, that’s really impressive, Gina! Definitely took me a lot longer than that ~ about 6 months full-time to make enough to support myself. I think part of that is my energy levels ~ I can’t work super long hours, and I’m a relatively slow writer. I write about 25-30 pieces per month. I know exactly what you mean about feeling guilty for not working all the time, though! But our health is more important 🙂

    I’m curious about 2 things, if you don’t mind my asking.

    Firstly, what’s your workload like now? Do you still work a lot of hours?

    Secondly, I’d love to know about your marketing strategy. How do you usually get new clients? Referrals/word of mouth? Or do you use other tactics?

    Congrats on your successes 🙂

    • Gina Horkey says:

      Thanks KerriLynn!

      I don’t time track, but I work M-F (and sometimes a little on Saturday) between 8-5 usually, with an hour break or so for lunch. We do stuff as a family sometimes during the week though, like Weds. when we took the kids to open gymnastics:-)

      As far as where I get clients, I still pitch via job boards and am starting to get more referrals. I’ve recently started attending some in-person networking events too!

    • Carrie says:

      I’m a slow writer too, KeriLynn! I counted my pieces last month and came in at 21 articles (not including the 2-3 I wrote for my own blog). It’s not about the quantity it’s about the quality of the pieces, so don’t let the amount get you down. The way I supplement my freelance writing income is by branching out into vertical services (like editing, or content management). This also challenges me to work on different types of projects so I don’t get bored or uninspired by the same work all the time.

      I usually work between 9am – 4pm every day with a few evenings full of work. Saturday afternoons are usually when I do work-related projects too, so it comes in around 35 hours a week for me. Unlike Gina, I don’t use job boards at all (and never have). I prefer to spend my time networking, so I get good word-of-mouth recommendations, and optimizing my HIRE ME page for good SEO results. Hope both of these answers have helped! 🙂

      • Thanks, Carrie! Yeah, I started keeping track of pieces per month this year and I’ve been averaging about 25.

        It really helps that I’ve started specializing more and branching out into more business & commercial writing (press releases, case studies, etc.) besides just blogging, plus consulting on content strategy. I’d like to get more into editing, too, but I’m not actively pursuing it yet.

        My hours are very uneven – I usually get started around 9 am, but my ending times are all over the place. Sometimes I call it a day by noon, sometimes I work till 7 or 8pm (though not often!!). I try to never work weekends unless I absolutely have to – I’ve probably only worked a Saturday 2-3 times in the past year 🙂

        I used to use job boards, but it’s mostly all word-of-mouth now, though I’m trying to work on my SEO as well. Always on the lookout for new marketing tactics, though!

        I appreciate you sharing all this ~ it’s always great to see how other freelancers are running things 🙂

  2. Beth says:

    I’m not a writer, and don’t have much experience and have never been paid to write. I’ve been told I’m a good at writing and pretty adept at copywriting-type work by my writer friends – I have an art blog and in my pre-baby days, worked as an art director at an ad agency. Anyway, this may be a dumb question, but does this article and your book apply to people like me? I have a toddler at home and do some freelance design and would like to add writing to my services.

    • Gina Horkey says:

      Hi Beth! For sure it does. It’s geared towards newbie freelance writers (or those that want to seriously consider it) and many of the strategies can be used to build any type of online business. Hope that helps!

    • Carrie says:

      Great question, Beth! Gina’s book definitely applies to your situation because she too started out with a full-time job and a mom of two kids. So her lessons provide tips for not just aspiring writers, but moms and busy individuals who are trying to balance everything. I think it would be really helpful for getting started with freelance design and writing services!

  3. Kayla says:

    I still don’t make $4K/month, but I have gotten up to around $1.5K since I started last July. My limiting factor right now is time as I already work a FT job and another PT job in addition to my freelancing. Great article!

    • Gina Horkey says:

      Thanks Kayla!

      I did the same last year as I juggled writing on the side of my FT job. I was fortunate that only worked a 4-day workweek, so I could write “FT” on Fridays…is that an option for you?

      Keep plugging away and if it’s your goal to take your business FT, I know a coach (hint, Carrie!) that has a proven track record of helping others (me) do the same;-). Good luck girl!

  4. Great story, but what I’m not clear about is the how behind landing clients. I understand gaining exposure,but ultimately, where were your clients coming from in such a short period of time? A network you built/had already built? Or did you respond to ads for freelance work? I sincerely appreciate your insight.

    • Carrie says:

      This is a great question, Jessica. I’ll let Gina jump in if she wants to share her answer, but I’ll go ahead and share my (4+ years of writing) experience. Basically I focused on building my own network through free work, that I parlayed into my first paid writing gigs. Then I asked those clients for recommendations or testimonials which I used to pitch future clients. Most of it was done on a one-on-one basis so it took a lot of time in the beginning. Now my network seeks me out on a regular basis, and I have regular referrals coming in (through my Hire Me page) so I don’t have to seek any clients out.

      Gina covers this in her course, but she’s been able to build her business through job boards (like Tom Ewer’s Paid to Blog Jobs) and a service that I offer called, Client Connection. Regular job boards are a good place to start, but they can be time consuming as well. I hope that helps! Basically you start building your portfolio and then leverage it by actively pitching clients and seeking out new work.

  5. Hi! Loved this article. It’s inspiring. My question is, should we be investing in writing courses to enhance our writing skills? My background is biz/marketing but my passion is writing. Should I take writing or journalism courses through colleges? Do I need to know AP Style to get writing gigs via job boards? How does one make sure they’re constantly improving their own writing technique? Thanks!

    • Carrie says:

      These are all awesome questions, Michelle! First off, don’t use job boards to find writing gigs. They force you to compete for pennies while taking on jobs you’d never originally apply for. Instead, use other sites like Contently.com, Craigslist, Twitter, Facebook groups, LinkedIn jobs and the like, to find work.

      Next, I DO recommend taking classes and courses to better your skills. Many editors do require that you know the different styles of writing as well as being up-to-date on the blogging style of things. I’m always improving my writing skills by working with awesome editors, taking courses and having a daily writing practice.

      I hope that helps!

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