Have you ever wondered if there’s a one-stop website somewhere where you’ll find all the freelance writing jobs for beginners? Sadly, such a place doesn’t exist – but this article will teach you all you need to know.
I’m writing this freelance writing jobs for beginners guide as a direct response to the number of emails on the subject I’ve received from people who’ve signed up to the site. (If you’d like to sign up and request information on any specific freelancing subject, you just need to provide your email address on the right).
Based on all the queries I’ve received recently, a lot of people want to get into freelance writing. With that in mind, I’m going to start with a really honest statement – it’s an extremely competitive marketplace.
There is a tremendous amount of work out there but there are also a huge number of writers – of all skill levels – applying to do it.
People hold a lot of strong opinions on the subject of freelance writing, especially when it comes to how much writers should get paid. I’m no exception to this, so beware that that will inevitably come across in this article!
Let’s start with a simple truth. A lot of freelance writing jobs for beginners pay terrible money.
There are some people online who write about this subject (and you won’t have to look hard to find them), who spend their time lamenting this fact, whining about it, and telling novice writers that they should turn down low rates and always hold out for more.
In many ways I strongly disagree.
For every cheapskate client looking to pay an insulting $20 for 1000 words of content, there’s a queue of “writers” willing to take on the work. Often these are unskilled writers with English as a second language who are going to write terrible content. However, it’s naive and unrealistic to ignore this “underworld” of people turning out crap content for crap money. There’s a whole industry around it, which includes the dreaded “content mills” which I talk more about shortly.
What this means is that many businesses, especially startups, try to source writers for these ridiculously low rates because they see other people offering them. These businesses quickly realise that they will only get bad writing for such little money, but this still results in a constant flow of companies looking for writers but offering ridiculously low rates.
Much of this low-paid work ends up online freelancing job boards like UpWork and PeoplePerHour. This, in turn, leads some of the people in a position to provide this kind of advice to treat the job boards themselves as the devil incarnate, advising people seeking freelance writing jobs for beginners to avoid them completely.
And, once again, I strongly disagree.
Everybody has to start somewhere. And plenty of the emails that have hit my inbox recently have been from aspiring writers who don’t yet have any published work to show to potential clients. Until they build up a portfolio, they won’t get any writing work at all, let alone any well-paid writing work.
I firmly believe that new freelance writers have to pay their dues, and if that means doing some good quality work for poor money, for the sake of building up a portfolio, then that’s what you must do.
Once you start to build up clients, contacts and clips, you can then start increasing your rates. You can pitch to clients directly to cut out the job boards, specialise in specific topics, and earn real money as a freelance writer. But anyone who tells you that you can skip the “paying your dues” part, especially if they say you can do so by handing over money for them to help you, is talking rubbish.
The Makings of a Good Writer
To help you find out whether you have the makings of a good writer, here’s a quick list of skills and attributes that clients look for:
– Native English writing ability. (This may come across as harsh, but I’ve recruited a LOT of writers and I’ve yet to meet anyone with English as a second language where it’s not apparent that that is the case). Of course, you can also be native in any other language you plan to write in.
– Examples of published work RELEVANT to the writing job being advertised. (You may have a huge portfolio of technical writing clips, but it won’t help you land that travel writing gig).
– Specialist knowledge in a relevant topic. (For example, I do a lot of writing work on computing and IT security as I have knowledge and qualifications in this area).
– Good technical skill. (This is because writers who can optimise images for the web, upload content to WordPress, and do basic SEO work on their articles are often far more useful to clients than those who simply submit their copy on a Word document).
– A high level of professionalism and customer service. (Being a good writer and a good freelancer don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Have a look at this article to help you work out whether you really provide the kind of service customers want).
– Knowledge and experience of working in adherence to a style guide like the Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Style Guide. (Thankfully this is something you can study in your own time).
– A keen interest in the subject and site you’re applying to work for. (A great many writers fire off “boilerplate” applications for every writing job they see, so the writers who take the time to understand what clients are looking for always stand out).
Now’s probably a good time to look back through the list and be honest with yourself about how many of the above points you can readily tick off. If you struggle to tick many of them, that doesn’t mean you can’t become a freelance writer! It just means you have more work to do before it’s a realistic possibility.
If you do fall short on any of the items listed above, there’s a great writing course here that’s very well-reviewed and inexpensive. Also, check out my computer fundamentals for freelancers article to ensure you’re ready in terms of technology.
Where to find freelance writing jobs for beginners?
Content mills get a LOT of bad press, and much of it is justified. Generally, you’re turning out the kind of bulk content that makes the internet worse, and getting paid dreadful money for the privilege.
So, with that in mind, am I seriously about to suggest you sign up to one of these places?
The answer to that question is “sort of!” especially if you have absolutely no experience of professional writing work. There are a few reasons for this:
- It gets you off the starting blocks and earning some money (even if we’re talking “sub western minimum wage” money in some cases).
- It will give you experience of working with (often incredibly fussy) editors, and with working to a style guide.
- It will get you used to the technical side of freelance writing, in terms of managing documents, uploading content etc.
Now, before the self-appointed “freelancing police” attack me for daring to do anything other than condemning content mills, I’m not for a moment suggesting that anyone hangs around these places for long. Content mills don’t usually even allow you to put a name to your own work, so they’re no good for building up a portfolio. But even if you disagree that they have a place in this industry, they still exist.
There are also a couple of unexpected good things that can sometimes happen when you’re working for content mills that aren’t widely publicised. They can only happen if you build up a good reputation and start to “shine” in the eyes of the editors.
The first is that you get yourself identified as a high-quality writer and start being directly offered better-paying work. This can happen within the normal boundaries of how the mill works (by moving up to the top “level” of writers, for example). You may also end up getting contacted personally with an offer of better work. There are also other less mainstream content mills out there where writers get signed up via referral and recommendation rather than a public application process.
If either of the above possibilities sounds unrealistic, let me assure you that both things have happened to me personally, and to my wife. There’s even a “secret” content mill (of sorts!) that pays enough money for us to still dip into it on rare occasions when we have a bit of spare time.
So, in summary: Yes, it’s true that content mills are generally depressing places to work where you’re turning out dull content for rubbish money. But does that mean novice writers should completely turn their noses up at them? I believe not.
Freelance Job Boards
Freelance job boards like Upwork and PeoplePerHour divide opinion almost as much as content mills.
Yes, they’re packed full of “bottom feeder” clients who want the earth but only wish to pay peanuts for it; Yes, there are scams you have to avoid; And, yes, the boards charge fees and commissions that are high and feel unjust.
But, I’m sticking my neck out once again and saying you shouldn’t necessarily avoid the freelancing boards. They’re the places where thousands of companies post thousands of new job requirements every day – and a great many are suitable freelance writing jobs for beginners.
Some of the people posting these jobs work for “fly by night” start-ups. Some of them are (let’s be honest) utter morons with no clue what quality work is worth. But there are diamonds in that rough that are well worth finding. As ever, it’s a case of putting the legwork in and paying your dues.
While we now have enough “private” clients to avoid the likes of Upwork nowadays, my wife and I both still have profiles on the site. I say the following things not to brag, but to provide a counter-argument to all the people who loudly proclaim that these sites are scams and not worth your time:
- Both of us charge a minimum of $50 per hour for anything we do on the site, and have done for several years.
- We have both earned in excess of $50,000 on Upwork.
- Both of us have met contacts on Upwork who’ve turned into long-term “real world” clients, complete with “in the flesh” meetings, international travel and company parties!
It’s for these reasons that I think it’s somehow both naive and arrogant to assume you can work in the world of freelance writing as a novice, without at least dipping your toe in the water of the freelance job board shark tank. If nothing else, by not doing so, you’re not gaining any experience of the place where many aspiring writers push themselves off the starting blocks.
Just to be clear: I’m not suggesting you try to build a long-term freelance writing career exclusively with Upwork clients (although some people do). In an ideal world you want a rich and varied client list, consisting of lots of household name companies who contact you personally with their requirements. But this is an article on freelance writing jobs for beginners. We all have to start somewhere!
Other Place to Find Freelance Writing Jobs for Beginners
Once you have some clips and work examples under your belt, you can head out into the “real world” to find writing work. If you specialise in a particular niche, you can even be bold and head straight to LinkedIn and directly pitch companies who may be interested in your work. It’s well worth noting that past business contacts are often good people to offer your services to also.
Here are a few more places to look:
- ProBlogger Jobs does attract a few scammers and cheapskates, but the fact that people have to pay to advertise there shakes out most of them.
- We have a list of other more obscure places to find writing work here.
- Traditional job sites like Indeed usually have lots of freelance writing jobs for experienced writers.
MORE RESOURCES: Take a look at the 30 Best Websites for Freelancers
Freelance Writing Jobs for Beginners: Some Tips
I’m going to end this article with some tips and trade secrets, based on what I’ve learned both as a freelance writer, and as someone who regularly recruits them:
- People who read job ads properly, reply in perfect English, and send sample clips that are truly relevant are actually quite rare. If you do these things every time you will find work and you will be able to charge a fair rate for it.
- Most of the startups who head onto Upwork offering crap money for writing quickly learn that they have to pay for quality. As such, it’s not always a good idea to completely ignore them. Today’s startup could be tomorrow’s thriving business.
- It’s well worth setting up an online portfolio somewhere like Contently. You can see one of mine here. This makes it very easy to quickly show potential clients a sample of your work.
- If you’re a writer starting from scratch and you don’t at some point find yourself doing some utterly hateful work for “hardly worth it” money, you’re probably not trying hard enough.
- Content mills can occasionally turn into a nice little earner. If you get a run of articles that happen to fit your exact expertise, meaning you can turn them out quickly, you could find yourself making quite a tidy sum. This has happened to me in the past, and is another reason why I don’t advise novices to dismiss such content mills out of hand.
As I said at the start, there are some really strong opinions in the world of freelance writing, and I know for a FACT that plenty of people will disagree with mine. But I would say this: I’m giving out this advice without an ulterior motive. I’m not trying to sell you a book I’ve written on the subject, or attempting to persuade you to sign up to a membership service or writing bootcamp.
I went from having no writing experience just under a decade ago to turning away work now – but many of the people who are asking me about getting into writing now have no experience at all. They are therefore not really in a position to start pitching to companies directly asking for 50 cents per word!
I’ve shared my experiences and opinions as candidly as possible. By all means, value someone else’s opinion on the subject over mine, but before doing so, please confirm the following two things:
- You’re not ignoring my advice because it means you don’t have to “pay your dues.”
- You’re not doing it because somebody’s convinced you there’s a shortcut to a lucrative freelance writing career – but only if you pay THEM some money!
UPDATE: Since writing this article, I’ve been asked for LOADS more information on freelance writing. You may want to check out this article, where I go step by step through how I got started as a freelance writer.
Good luck with your writing endeavours, and please ask all the questions you want, either by email or in the comments.