How To Launch & Get Paid for Your Freelance Writing Career

Anyone can be a freelance writer. You don’t need any experience or degree.

So, you want to dive into freelance writing?

I get a lot of emails and DMs (on Instagram) from people asking me how to successfully start a career in freelance writing.

With the fact that there are tons of wrong advice out there ranging from excuses like the need for formal training to owning a website or blog, I thought to share my experience and sales strategies on this platform!

Here’s one thing though! If you think that you can’t begin a career in freelance writing as a result of no experience; well, it’s about damn time someone told you that: IT IS POSSIBLE! 

My Story

It’s been almost four years since I became a freelance writer.

When I first learned how to become a freelance writer, I made the mistake of thinking that I needed a blog or website. I also thought that the only way to get gigs was to sign up on freelancing sites such as Upwork, Fiverr, Guru, etc. 

Content mills provide cheap content jobs and they usually batch orders. Their goal is to get a lot of content for cheap. After a series of unsuccessful attempts to sign up on these platforms, I gave up.

Then, I switched to scouting for gigs on Nairaland. Most of them paid peanuts. Three years down the line earning little to nothing, I realized that this wasn’t for me!

I was worth more than that! I felt like giving up!

But, I didn’t. I re-grouped and started afresh. I signed up for training, pitched for freelance writing jobs; and gradually began to land high-paying clients. The rest, they say, is history!

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If you want that for yourself, here are the steps on how to become a freelance writer you need to get started.

1. Research About Freelance Writing

When I first started, I did a lot of research. I found other freelance writers, read their blogs and learning as much as I could about this business.

While I had some clues about how to write blog posts, I didn’t know the kinds of jobs for freelance writers.

2. Become Familiar With the Writing Skills and Tools Required

While I’ve mentioned that you can start a career in freelance writing with absolutely no experience, you can increase the odds of success by learning a few skills and tools.

Some skills you should definitely have for freelance writing include:

> Organizational Skills

Having a system in place for your projects is key to growing your business. You don’t want to make a mistake or forget to do something.

I use my calendar to keep track of events, Evernote or my phone’s memo to jot down ideas and a list of things I want to do.

> Writing Skills

Writing for an online audience is different than writing in your diary or texting a friend. Know how to captivate readers with your blog topic and introduction.

You need to be able to create insightful, entertaining and educating posts.

> Confidence

Putting yourself out there and trying to land writing gigs is tough. You’ll get rejected, turned down or you may have a client walk all over you.

To become a successful freelance writer, you need to be confident and overcome your fear of pitching (I can’t begin to count how many clients I’ve landed via cold-pitching!) 

> Graphics & Design skills

There is no excuse for ugly photos, therefore this skill is very important to have. My favorite image editing app is Canva.

> Proofreading

While I offer proofreading services as well, it doesn’t hurt to use Grammarly or Hemingway app to give that document a final polish before it gets sent to your client.

3. Practice Writing

While you don’t have to be the best writer to become successful, you need to be able to write sentences and get your message across.

Improving your writing will not only help you become a better writer, but it will also help you market your freelance writing business because it makes you more credible as a professional writer.

4. Create a Portfolio of Your Work

Most job ads you’ll apply for will ask to see your work. They want to see samples of published work. If you’re new, you won’t have any published work – unless you already have a blog.

So, how do you show prospects you can actually write? Besides starting a blog, you can create samples.

Draft up a few pieces and either upload them as a Google Doc or publish them on Medium, LinkedIn or Quora.

Another alternative is to guest post. Search for blogs or websites in the niche you’d like to write about and pitch your blog idea to them.

Don’t think it’s possible? What do you think I’m doing here? Guest posting on She Leads Africa, of course!

5. Start Pitching to clients

Now it’s time to actively search for freelance writing jobs. But where do you go and how do you do it?

Go check out job sites like NG Careers, Jobberman, MyJobMag, etc for content writing positions.

When you find a job you are interested in the important thing to remember is to be one of the first few to apply and make sure your pitch stands out.

Are there other ways to find freelance writing jobs? Yes, there are tons of ways!

6. Hustle Queen!

Being a freelancer means you gotta hustle for work. But, this doesn’t mean you ALWAYS have to hustle. The goal is for clients to come to you.

However, when you’re new in the business, you have to get your name out there. 

Get on social media and network.  Guest posting not only to builds your portfolio but attracts potential clients as well.

7. Stay Learning!

The best thing you can do as a new freelance writer is to continue to learn. Whether it’s writing tips, business tips or pitching tips, hone your skills by learning from those who have done it before.

Are you interested in freelance writing? Connect with me on Instagram via my business page TheCopyWritingChick.

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Phumeza Langa: I’m a serial opportunity sharer, I cannot help myself

People have powerful stories to share and @phumezamzai encounters them as a freelance writer Click To Tweet

Phumeza Langa is a communications consultant and freelance writer from Jo’burg with a passion for uplifting women through her work and life. By day, she is a part of the marketing and communications team at ADT Security, and evenings are for exploring her true passion; writing!

Phumeza’s writing is witty, vulnerable and relatable and always carries within it a feminist element of empowerment. SLA contributor Anelisa Nokoyo had a chance to interview this budding star to find out what makes her tick and what her future plans are.

Tell us about yourself, who is Phumeza?

Phumeza is an only child, born and raised in Johannesburg. I am a social introvert –I read that phrase somewhere, I quite like it. Currently, I’m a lapsing gym-goer (I hate admitting that); a bookworm and I binge watch series in the early hours of some weekend mornings.

I am married to a wonderful man, we’re making a life for ourselves as East Randers whilst enjoying as many sho’t left travels as possible.

What inspired your foray into the communications industry?

I literally stumbled into the communications industry. I was in my Matric year and I had no real idea what I wanted to do after high school. So I went to the guidance counsellor at the time and based on her observations and what she knew of me, she suggested Public Relations.

Fast forward a few years, I graduated from the University of Johannesburg and started working in PR agencies. When I was younger I had ideas of being a correspondent, similar to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. I was fascinated by her work, but more so because she was in conflict zones and reporting on the other side of the war stories we hardly ever hear about –the people’s stories- and ensuring that us, the viewers are aware and know what’s happening in the world.

Being a writer allows me to do that as well in my own way, and it has been amazing thus far! I get goosebumps every single time I listen to the interview recordings I’ve done already –people have such powerful stories and lessons to share.

You speak a lot about empowering and connecting women through your work. Tell us, how do you go about realising your vision every day?

A lot of the time it’s really just trying to connect one woman to another one, whether it’s through knowing one woman who can assist another with a project; partner up with for a venture or even if I can help someone with a contact number or email.

I’m a serial opportunity sharer, I cannot help myself. If I know you’re into something, you’re pursuing a passion or thinking of a venture, if I hear or read about something that is related to that, then I will share the information with you and applaud you when I see you rock it good!

The other times it’s through my writing and the profiling of women from various backgrounds who are making a positive impact in not only their lives but in the lives of the people around them –whether it’s with their family or their community– through an initiative or business. It is only in recent years that we’re hearing and seeing more positive stories of women doing their very best in what they have chosen to do. I love that! I know there are so many more of these women out there, we all know them and we need to uplift them and one another.

Mrs South Africa finalists
Phumeza Langa with Mrs South Africa finalists

What are some of the challenges that have appeared as obstacles in your journey thus far?

The one that I have recently started working through is being unable to pursue a course that I had been accepted to do this year. I was unsuccessful in securing a scholarship through some of the places I had applied to. This left me devastated, it wasn’t easy emailing the institution to let them know that I could not take up my spot.

I had to acknowledge that I did well in being accepted in the first place –something I didn’t think I would. It would have been the start of a completely different direction of what I’m doing now at work, but it was in line with what I want to be doing more of in the long term.

I’m starting to see the whole experience as a lesson in believing in myself more. I’m having those honest conversations with myself to figure out why I didn’t even trust in myself to hold my own. It is an uncomfortable conversation but very necessary, because what we believe of ourselves and our abilities can limit us and what we are capable of achieving in our lives. Yes, the path I thought I would be taking isn’t quite open to me in the manner in which I thought it would but it does not stop me from moving forward and doing what I had set out to do.

What we believe of our abilities can limit us and what we achieve - Phumeza Langa Click To Tweet

There will always be obstacles that need to be overcome, it’s always a matter of reminding myself that I have to carry on. There is more beyond that moment of hardship -like the good things in life that are to be treasured.

When did you discover your love for writing and what are your future plans as a writer?

My writing started in high school but it was only after my first published piece in 2003 that I really took it seriously. I am that girl who still tries to write letters as often as possible: paper, pen and envelope –everything!

When I was at UJ, I jumped at the opportunity to be the Bunting Road campus editor for the UJ Observer and reported to the editor at Kingsway campus. I knew very little about copy-editing and getting a team of writers together to work on our submissions but it was such an unforgettable experience. Those weekly morning editorial meetings in the PR Department’s boardroom were awesome!

During my time working in agency, I started with gadget reviews, learning about technology and writing about it. Over time it’s evolved to lifestyle, education and profile pieces. There is a blog in the mix too, which I admit needs more of my attention. I am loving what my focus areas are now in my writing, in time I would like to do more technical pieces to flex my writing muscles and broaden my knowledge. I have so much to learn about my craft, that really excites me and there is more to explore with it.

I have so much to learn about my craft, that really excites me @phumezamzai Click To Tweet

Abigail Arunga: Freelance writing is sustainable, everyone needs writers

abigail arunga

Abigail Arunga quit her job for more sleep and less money as a freelance writer Click To Tweet

Abigail Arunga used to be the Digital Editor for before she subscribed to the ideal of happiness at work and quit her job for more sleep and less money. Before that and other subsequent mutinies, she worked as a contributor for several local Kenyan magazines such as Home and Living East Africa, DRUM and Saturday Magazine (Nation).

Now, Abigail is a 28-year-old (yeah, she can’t believe it either) writer, blogger, scriptwriter and committed lover of sleep. She is the author of Akello and a side of raunch, both (only slightly) sensual poetry collections, is trying to avoid questions about when the next volume is coming. 

Abigail was also a scriptwriter for the award-winning soap opera “Lies that Bind” and continues to write for TV with shows such as “How to Find A Husband” and “Majaribu”. She began her writing career as an intern for Storymoja Publishers and is a 2011 honours graduate of USIU (don’t forget that. She thinks it is very important, mostly because she was surprised). Oh, and duh, she’s a feminist –who isn’t?

Here, Abigail shares her expert advice on surviving the struggle of being a freelance writer.

Did you always set out to be a freelance writer?

That was not the plan! Employment was kind of the plan. Until I got employed and realized I was not only a terrible employee, but I also hated having to be employed. Not because of the sweet salary, but because I hated having to answer to something outside of myself —no matter how nice that something was to me.

Small decisions, by the way, like not being able to stay home on my period, or having to ask to not come to work? It felt like a cage.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Wake up at about 10 or 11 am, noon or 1 pm if I have been working past 3 am. I will get up, work on my social media for about an hour or two, then get up and have breakfast (brunch!), watch something, read something, probably leave the house —if not, I will start working.

If I leave and come back, probably late, from whatever —an event I am covering, a film I am reviewing, whatever it is— then I will start working when I get home. If I have eaten out, I’ll start immediately —if not, I’ll cook.

Then TV, then sleep. The only thing that is constant though, in that list, is what time I wake up, hehe.

To be a successful freelance writer you have to be willing to do the work required Click To Tweet

Some of Abigail's self-published books
Some of Abigail’s self-published books

What will you say to people who say one can’t make money as a freelance writer?

I haven’t lived at home for five years, so that’s a lie. You just have to be willing to do the large amount of work required to sustain yourself and have a hard-line stance on when people pay you  —because self-motivation and chasing cheques are probably the hardest parts.


Can you talk about rates? How did you go about setting rates for your work?

Rates depend, for me, on who is buying. Every time. I have my constant contracts that I have been working for about four years —those don’t change much. Friends shouldn’t get different rates, I know, but they do.

Everyone else? My minimum is about 5 bob a word. Or I charge per piece of work —for example, per script, as opposed to the number of words. For my television scripts, I ask for about KES15000 per script. Which I am told is below industry rate…hmmm…new year, new rates?

The reason why sometimes rates are so fluid with me is, honestly, sometimes, you are broke as hell and have to take what you get. Then you get on a little bit, and you’re like no, I deserve more! Which is all fine and dandy, until you hit a patch and you go back to cheap. Especially at the beginning of a freelance career.

It can be very hard to not only know your worth but stick to your guns. I would say start with what you want and stick to what you want, without having to go back –and with a backup plan. Savings, or Mshwari, hehe. If your work is good, they will pay. If they don’t, you will get better, or pivot. You will do what you have to do.

Abigail Arunga: At the beginning of a freelance career, it can be very hard to know your worth Click To Tweet

Would you say freelance writing is a sustainable career choice?

Of course. Especially if you are thinking out of the box. You do realize that everything needs writers? All businesses need stuff written. They need newsletters. Copy for brochures. Memos.

Who writes this stuff? Articles. Magazines. Menus…everything. So sometimes they have in-house writers. Many don’t. Figure out what you want to write and write. Write hard. It is sustainable because everyone needs writers.

What should anyone looking to become a freelance writer know before embarking on this path?

Ask for half of the money before you do any work for anyone. People are not nice in this town —in this world.

Don’t feel bad if the jobs take a while to get there —they’ll get there. Just keep going. You want to be a writer? Then write.

Ready to share expert advice on your industry based on your experience? Tell us about it here.