Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.
Just getting started as a writer? Freelance writing jobs for beginners are out there, even if you have no paid experience. Every writer snagged her first gig. Which means you can, too.
Freelancers can be hired for all kinds of writing jobs. To get started, you simply need to find someone who is willing to let you write for them. But plenty of those folks don’t realize they need a writer. Instead, they need an end product.
Offer to provide it for them. Do that and you’ll accumulate samples fast. Then, one of three things will happen:
Best case scenario: all three happen. And you’re on your way.
Before we get to the best ways to get freelance writing jobs for beginners, you may think I’ll offer a quick tutorial for getting work on freelance writing sites like Fiverr or Upwork or Freelancer. And to be fair, plenty of freelance writers get a good start on job boards. But I’ve never used them.
“They’re a trap,” says Make A Living Writing’s Carol Tice, citing the ultra-low rates offered by content mills. “I generally don’t recommend you go there. If you’re looking to replace your day job with writing income, it’s statistically unlikely you’ll get there hanging around any of these places.” www.makealivingwriting.com
Here’s why. Every ad posted on a freelance writing site gets dozens of bids. That means you spend an inordinate amount of time bidding on gigs – time that you could spend marketing your writing to clients who never get solicited and who know they need help with content.
Your odds of getting work when you create your own marketing plan are astronomically higher than if you do what everyone else is doing. Often, you’ll be the only writer they are considering for a job because no one has reached out to them. Plus, you’ll get paid more.
If you’re a biz owner or solopreneur, you know this to be true. A writer approaches you and says, “I notice you could post on social media more [or fill in the blank with another writing task]. I’d like to help.” Even if the writer is new, you know she’s eager. You’d give her a shot, wouldn’t you?
There’s a handful simple, break-in freelance writing jobs for beginners. Put them on your radar. Then start reaching out to people who need writers.
But first, two important tips for getting started:
Start by writing what you know. The best place to start getting assignments is by seeking out freelance writing projects in one of your areas of expertise. These subjects are the most familiar to you. You have experience with them and you may even have related clips. You know what kind of background you need to generate the content. Writing about these topics gives you confidence. Subjects that are familiar to you require less research to get up to speed.
Start by writing what you’ve written. Quickest success landing freelance writing jobs for beginners comes from your experience. If you blog, then solicit blogging gigs. If you have created your own resume and resumes for friends, then you can get paid assignments to write resumes for others.
While taking my first writing course, I wrote an article about how I regularly shopped for Christmas gifts all year long, which saved me hundreds of dollars and eased stress each December. The article targeted busy moms. I conducted some extra research to bolster my argument with statistics and add credibility from other shoppers, but the topic was right up my alley. It was picked up by a parenting magazine and subsequently reprinted in several other family and lifestyle publications. All told, my bank account was several hundred dollars richer from writing this piece – and I had clips to prove it.
Contrast that to one of my first writing assignments for a copywriting course: a promotion letter for a nutritional supplement. I was utterly overwhelmed. I hadn’t taken a science class since high school and now, 25 years later, had to bone up on how proteins and molecules work before I could even begin to write about how the product was enticing to the reader.
Moral of the story? Personal experience articles are easier to write and easier to sell than articles outside your wheelhouse. If you offer first rights, you can sell reprint rights and make more money from writing just one article. Plus, a published article makes an impressive sample to show future clients.
How to get the gig: make a list of publications – online and print – that accept personal experience articles. (Writer’s Market and Christian Writer’s Market Guide are good places to start.) Pitch your article until it gets published.
Make a list of your favorite small businesses in your local area. Or, If you have experience as a chef (culinary arts) or in rappelling (adventure sports) or a degree in nutrition (personal wellness), then target online businesses in those niches, particularly those run by small teams or solopreneurs. Look at their websites and you’ll find the ones that desperately need decent content.
They need someone to write those pages. Someone like you. Websites are continually evolving, making web content one of the more ideal freelance writing jobs for beginners.
How to get the gig: “I’ve been a customer (follower) for a year. But I noticed you haven’t updated your website. I’m a writer and I’d like to help.” When you get the nod, spend a bit of time studying websites of the large players in those niches. Then write content that follows a similar format but do it for your local biz or niche favorite. Do a good job and the client may ask you to re-write the entire site and build a dozen new pages.
The same principle works with blogging. Online entrepreneurs, mom-and-pop businesses, and niche companies start a blog as a way to get more online exposure. But very few keep blogging – not because they don’t want to, but because they’re too busy running their business.
An abandoned blog isn’t a good look. It represents lack of planning and even decline. What if a writer who cares about this business comes alongside the owner and offers to help? But even if you have very little writing experience, you read blog posts all the time (like the one you're reading now.) Blogs are one of the more accessible freelance writing jobs for beginners because they're so familiar to us as consumers.
How to get the gig: “I noticed your blog’s most recent post is 6 months (a year; 14 months; 3 years) old. I’ve got a special interest in [the topic/niche]. Would you like help getting that blog going again?” Get a list of topics the client would like to cover on the blog and get at it.
Nonprofit organizations, schools, places of worship, and charitable groups use their newsletter as a direct and consistent channel to speak to their audience. Online email marketing tools make it easy and cost-effective for these groups to send a newsletter with updates about projects, success stories, and events. Regular news builds goodwill. It’s an ideal way to soft sell.
But it takes time to put together exclusive content, behind-the-scenes looks, interviews with team members, or previews of upcoming projects. Nonprofit leaders are too busy carrying out their programs, meeting with donors, writing grant applications, finding low-cost office space, hiring staff, creating volunteer guidelines, and completing a zillion other tasks. Like blog posting, writing a newsletter is a long-term communication strategy that is delegated to the bottom of the priority list – although it’s a revenue generator. Nonprofit Source reports that organizations that send regular newsletters experience a 28% increase in donor retention compared to those that do not.
One of my first clips was a newsletter that I volunteered to create for a local athletic association. I used the experience to learn to write a central feature article and additional short articles announcing upcoming events. Together, with a newbie designer, we created a professional-looking layout. The project was win-win. The new nonprofit had its first newsletter. I had a gorgeous clip.
Here's how to get the gig: “I see you’re not putting out a regular newsletter but I bet it’s something you’d like to do. Am I right? Your readers need to hear about the great work you’re doing here. I can help.”
Email provider MailChimp reports that targeted email campaigns can result in a 760% increase in revenue. But how many times do you make an online purchase and never get a follow up offer from the vendor? Or worse, you never hear from the vendor again.
When it comes to automated email, small businesses, solopreneuers, and nonprofits may not know they are leaving money on the table. Perhaps they are not aware that automated email is available to them. Or they simply don’t have the time to write the series and load it into their email list manager. You can help them – and get a paying freelance job in the process.
How to get the gig: sign up for information on your prospects’ sites. Then watch and record what falls into your inbox. When it’s nothing – or poorly generated content – you have an opportunity to reach out and say, “Sending more emails means more sales for you. Can I help you create a series?” If you’re concerned about what to write, simply follow the email sequence models that you routinely receive as templates.
Is there a small newspaper in your local area? What about a community magazine? Plenty of community publications struggle to fill their pages, both in print and online.
Be forewarned that budgets are tight. You may get paid a pittance – if at all. But a byline in a local publication is better than a gig on a content mill, even if you write pro bono, because writing for an established publication has credibility.
Years ago, my local church paid off its mortgage. I wrote a 500-word article about the milestone and sent it to the county newspaper. The next week, the article was published – word-for word. I wasn’t paid a dime. But my confidence soared. Plus, I had a clip that showed I could tell a story while conveying news. And I couldn’t predict what happened next. A regional magazine approached me and asked me to write quarterly features. One free piece of content turned into steady work.
How to get the gig: freelance writing jobs for beginners are right in your backyard. Cover a local story and send it in to a publication. Or approach your local newspaper and ask if you can work as a stringer – a writer who reports on local news events, writes reviews, contributes to columns. Or study magazines in your community and pitch a story that’s slanted to their readership.
Bob Bly’s college degree is in engineering. His first job was as a junior staff writer with a defense contractor, where he helped produce industry content for its airport radar systems – press releases, brochures, slide presentations. Soon he moved on to a position as an advertising manager for a technical manufacturer. Fast forward a couple of years. By then Bob had taken courses in copywriting so when his employer wanted to transfer him, Bob decided to resign and go out on his own as a freelancer. But now he had some contacts and clips – and a good bit of know-how when it came to technical writing and business-to-business (B2B) writing. He leveraged that experience to get his first freelance writing projects.
How to get the gig: if your former employer (or an employer in a similar industry) has a blog, website, marketing materials, or social media presence, approach them. “I understand the business and I’d like to write for you. By using me as a freelancer, you could save money. Rather than pay a salary and benefits, you could hire me per project.”
What kinds of projects have you already written? Maybe you have several articles in your portfolio. Or perhaps you edited a newsletter at work or created a grant application for your daughter’s PTA. Maybe you’ve been a teacher or trainer and have written lessons or course outlines or teaching materials. Perhaps you have a blog. Or maybe you’re simply good at creating pithy social media posts.
“Yes, I’ve written articles. Yes, I’ve written cover letters. Yes, I’ve written resumes. Yes, I’ve created PowerPoint presentations.” The best freelance writing jobs for beginners are the kinds of project you’ve already produced, even in a different set of circumstances than those of your prospects.
The point? You have experience. Leverage it. Paying clients are out there who need your skills – the skills you have already started to build.
Start with what you know and what you’ve written already. And go from there.
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