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

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Like most aspiring writers I became a freelance writer on the side of my day job. Then I worked my way up to being a business blogger and financial expert.

This allowed me to transition my side hustle 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 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. Now I make more money than I did at my day job, and have control over my own schedule.

If you’re thinking of quitting your job to launch a full-time freelance business try freelancing on the side first. This will allow you to make extra money and have more financial stability.

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. Now, she’s the breadwinner of her family of four. She was able to quit her full-time financial job in December 2014.

(Full disclosure: Gina was 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.)

Gina HorkeyLearning 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.

“Perfection 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!).”

CLICK HERE TO BECOME A FREELANCE WRITER

Get started for less than $175

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. She then invested 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 her exact expenses from May and June 2014, before she made a cent from writing:

  • $95 total for my URL (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. On top of it, I could have avoided unnecessary mistakes.

Related: A checklist for building a writing business with no experience.

How to become a freelance writer

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

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 big media outlets (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 I explain my 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!”

Related: How to create a flexible work-at-home schedule as a freelancer.

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. It will help motivate you to learn, grow, and increase your prices.

And 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 coach,” 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

CLICK HERE TO BECOME A FREELANCE WRITER

Become a freelance writer in 30 days

There are very few budget-friendly resources available for getting started as a newbie freelance writer. Over the past couple years she’s helped 1,500+ other individuals become successful freelance writers.

This is why Gina created the 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success course!

She shares in-depth lessons with actionable advice to help kickstart your writing career. I don’t currently offer any products for writers, which is why I’m so excited to get my hands on this course 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 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success course are invaluable for how to become a freelance writer! 

How to start freelance writing in 30 days or less

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

38 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!

  6. Rachel says:

    Tracking your income sounds like a great idea to track your progress as a freelancer. While I have yet to dive into freelancing, I definitely want to give it a shot in my spare time. Thank you for sharing your tips.

  7. Anthony Rodriguez says:

    This was very enlightening. I used to write a bit back in school and got caught up in work and life but would love to dedicate myself to writing. Y’alls story is very inspiring. I’d there any other small tips you could give an aspiring writer of poetry and short stories?

  8. Dalesia Parker says:

    Hey! This was actually helpful. I’m a college student and I’m honestly looking for extra money and hopefully enough eventually to sustain myself on my own. I want to get started as soon as I can but I’ve got so many questions. As a college student my funds are very close to none despite the job I have.
    So, my questions are:
    1)How does freelance work? Is it a blog where you can write whatever you want or is it a guidelined writing where you choose one thing and only write about that?
    2)When does the work truly come in? (as i said I’m trying to make a way for myself. I don’t want to have to ask for help from anyone anymore. It kinda tears me down. I’m really full of pride.)
    3) Is it possible to be tutored by either one of you guys to just be given helpful tidbits and guidance along the way?

    Sincerely,
    A lover of writing

  9. Gonzalo says:

    Hi, I just wanted to thank you for this article. I’ve been writing for more than a year now, poetry, dialogs, little stories and such, my native language is spanish, I write in spanish and just a little bit (or sometimes) in english. Anyway, I’m working in a couple of projects “books”, I’m really close to print the first one of them, all by myself since editorials do not reply to me. The thing is that I feel I need to do something else with my writing, I’ve been thinking lots of ideas and how to make art with letters, I can’t seem to find my way I just know I need something else. But I’ve been thinking in making some sort of blog (again), but this time with reviews or music or something like that… Anyway, I just felt like telling my story, that’s all, haha, good bye!

  10. Karin Bauer says:

    Thanks for the helpful information! I’m looking for freelance writing as a supplemental income since I cannot quit my day job. I tried textbroker and hirewriters, but those are like “sweatshops” with all the aggravating research for the low pay. I’ve also tried Freelancer.com but those are full of scams. If there are any suggestions for freelance writing sites that have better pay, I’d love to hear them!

  11. Will Kane says:

    Inspiring article! I’m a graduate from Centenary University in NJ with a BA in Theater Arts. I’m interested in pursuing freelance writing as a career, but I have no desire to limit myself to theater for places to use my writing skills. To demonstrate my writing skills, I once was interested in working in group homes as a career, and, in fact, got a professional job sending only one job application, because I was able to write a very high-quality cover letter, and this letter only took me an hour to write. It, however, wasn’t the job I thought it would be, and had to leave after two weeks.
    I just wanted to know if freelance writing can be a career where you use your writing skills everywhere (i.e. one can help people write cover letters for job applications, write news articles, and do technical writing all in one person’s job) or if you have to have a specific area for which to do freelance writing. I’m a bit skeptical about starting a business, as I have no experience reaching out to clients for anything and know nothing about running a business. I would greatly appreciate any help you guys can give me!

  12. Harsha says:

    Wow! Worth reading & encouraging !!

    I really wanted to get in to freelance writing, but I am not exactly sure where to start with. I found many of my queries answered in your writing,

    FYI – I am from India, would you be able to assist me for my initial phase?

    Thank You 🙂

  13. Annette says:

    This is an inspirational guide. I stumbled onto this as I was researching for job ideas. After 3 decades of technical duties in engineering, I am now considering technical writing as a freelancer. To freelance, do I need a business license before establishing a domain/website? Thank you. Annette

    • Carrie says:

      Getting started with freelance writing does not require a business license. You can set up a domain and website under your personal name and start earning money as a sole-proprietor. 🙂

  14. Sydney says:

    Hello! I love this article! It has plenty of tips! I do have a few questions however:

    First of all, would you recommend this path for someone who is still very young? I’m only nineteen years old, and going into my second year of college. Being a freelance writer sounds exciting but I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew.

    Second, if it is a good idea, where should I begin to make it work with my busy college schedule? I tend to get distracted and want to feel confident about being able to focus on this and school at the same time.

    Thanks for the tips!

  15. Hi,
    Great article. I am considering signing up for this course — I am a writer (with an MFA) and have a small portfolio (mostly unpaid work and a few paid pieces). I want to make a ‘go’ at this in terms of a career and am wondering if my niches (yoga, holistic wellness, memoir, and, astrology) are areas that would potentially earn me money? I think there’s a lot of need for tech and marketing writers, but I’m not sure about the areas I listed (well, especially Astrology -Lol but I added it because I do love to write about it and recently posted an Astrology piece in Elephant Journal). Thank you!

  16. Borhunuddin says:

    Inspiring article! I’m a graduate from Centenary University in NJ with a BA in Theater Arts. I’m interested in pursuing freelance writing as a career, but I have no desire to limit myself to theater for places to use my writing skills.I just wanted to know if freelance writing can be a career where you use your writing skills everywhere (i.e. one can help people write cover letters for job applications, write news articles, and do technical writing all in one person’s job) or if you have to have a specific area for which to do freelance writing. I’m a bit skeptical about starting a business, as I have no experience reaching out to clients for anything and know nothing about running a business. I would greatly appreciate any help you guys can give me!

  17. Amber Jump says:

    Does age matter? What is the minimal age a person can be to start becoming a Freelance Writer/Blogger? I am 16 and interested in becoming one ASAP.

  18. V Kap says:

    Very nice article @Carrie. Came across this article while googling, as I’m having thoughts of getting into freelance writing for past few months. Honestly! I wasn’t expecting a jump from 0 to 4000$ in six months in this job but an initial struggle (possibly 1 year) in terms of finances. I am a scientific researcher and usually write scientific papers but also articles (mainly conference reports and others). I have a very creative bent of mind and would like to know, if there is scope for a person like me in the world of freelance writing? Thanks

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