Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, more and more Filipinos are jumping into (or have been forced into) freelancing. Some of the most popular roles to go into are offering virtual assistant services, social media management, and content and copywriting.
As someone who has been freelance writing for a while (10 years to be exact!), I’ve had my fair share of wows and aw’s. Thought I’d write a freelance writer starter guide that includes how to start, how to price, and how to find clients, as well as best practices and insights you can use if you’re a budding freelancer.
Since I’m a freelance writer for hire, most of my recommendations would benefit copywriters and content writers, but you can definitely still gain a lot of valuable insights applicable to other freelancing opportunities.
- How to start as a freelance writer
- How to price my freelance writing services
- Where to find freelance writing clients
- Tools to use as a freelance writer
- 12 biggest mistakes new freelancers make and how to avoid them
How to start as a freelance writer?
Starting as a freelance writer, or any freelancer, in fact, isn’t as easy as it sounds. I personally often see success stories online about how some freelancers are earning 6-digits monthly, but the story of how they got to that income is often simplified. Other times, words can’t really fully articulate the amount of effort you need to exert to get there.
Building your writing portfolio
One of the most important things to start with if you plan to venture into freelance writing is building a strong writing portfolio. Just like your resume when applying to jobs, your portfolio is the initial basis of any company to determine if you fit the profile of the writer they’re looking for.
What is a writing portfolio?
A writing portfolio contains the best of your recent written works. It demonstrates your writing skill in your chosen niche as well as in other topics you’ve written for. It’s also an excellent way to showcase your roster of current and previous clients.
A writing portfolio is essential for freelance writers:
- To show your writing skills and style
- To exhibit expertise in a topic or industry
- To demonstrate your familiarity with different types of writing formats
- To show off the companies you’ve written for
- To document past works for future improvements
- To build and establish an online presence
If you decide to take a shot in freelance writing, then one of the first steps you should do is to consolidate your writing samples. If you’re not sure where to start, I’ve dissected the process into actionable bite-sized steps that you can follow to create the best writing portfolio as an aspiring freelance writer.
- Decide what niche you want to get paid for
A writing portfolio is all about your best work, but a prospect typically wouldn’t hire you unless you have written sample works for the niche they need. Think about it this way, would a client in the construction business employ a writer who has written mainly about fashion and styling over someone who has written about real estate and building materials?
The best freelance writing niche to write about is the niche that you know best. Having a specific niche may limit your freelance writing opportunities, but you can continually expand it later. The key to being a freelance writer is not to dilute your niche with so much variety that you may look like you only know only a little bit about different topics. That’s why from writing about basically anything, I niche down to focus freelance writing relevant to my professional experience—digital marketing, social media, and technology (SaaS).
If you aim for a specific niche, you can position yourself as knowledgeable and expert in the topic—not just someone who can piece together cohesive and fluent sentences.
- Write or select the pieces you want to showcase as a writing sample
Choosing sample works for your portfolio is easier if you have a lot to choose from. But when you are starting out as a freelance writer, deciding what content to put in your writing portfolio can be difficult. One thing to know is that your writing portfolio doesn’t need only to include previous works.
If you don’t have many sample works yet, you can write samples specifically for your writing portfolio. Doing this gives you more flexibility for the premise of your writing. In addition, you can create instructions to showcase your expertise in a given topic without the limitations and guidelines that clients set.
- Include essential details in your writing portfolio
The best portfolios are focused and targeted — meaning they represent the writer’s brand and writing specialties. The works you’ll include should also be recent and relevant, ideally no older than two years.
Each content in your writing portfolio should also include context or background. Remember that this portfolio is a file that you won’t be able to present, so it should explain itself.
- Project details — Concisely explain the story behind your work. For example, share a short brief to help them understand what it is and why you wrote it the way you did. If you share work for previous clients on your writing portfolio, make sure that you have explicit permission to avoid legal implications.
- Industry and writing format – Industry and writing format give distinction to the samples that you make so employers can assess your ability to write what their business needs.
- Title of your work – The title gives a reader an idea of what the piece is about, so including the identification of the work informs a client of the content they can expect from a specific piece.
- Actual content presented well – Don’t simply dump a wall of text on your portfolio. Instead, use font sizes, typographical emphasis (i.e., Bold, italicized, etc.), and images to break the monotony of words.
- Link to the published version (if applicable) – If the work you are sharing is published with your byline, then link the original work to your portfolio to establish credibility. These guest posts are treated as a currency in the freelance writing world because if another company lets you publish content for them, it is easier to believe that you are a skilled writer.
Once you identified the content you want to include in your freelance writing portfolio, you have to make it easy for potential employers to navigate through it.
- By industry – Employers are likely to check sample work based on the nature of their business, such as Education, Technology, or Finance.
- By format type -Splitting your sample works this way can help clients easily see how skilled you are in a specific format type, especially if they are looking for something specific. For example, you can segregate pieces by newsletters, blog posts, landing pages, or social media copies.
- Choose where to host your writing portfolio
There are many different online and offline tools where you can host your writing portfolio.
- Offline files you send as an attachment – One of the most basic ways to showcase your writing samples is to save your written works and store them offline within your computer. Regardless of where you write your content in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Canva, or elsewhere, make sure to save it as a PDF file to maintain professionalism. Then, you can attach it like a regular document when pitching. However, keep in mind that many employers want to avoid downloading attachments as it is added work and may also pose security threats.
- Saved in cloud storage – Cloud storage allows you to protect data and files online and access them through the internet. Platforms such as Google Drive, OneDrive, and iCloud are cloud storages that can house your writing portfolio securely. In addition, using these platforms allows you to link directly to your work without requiring the viewer to download your file first.
- As a page on your personal website – An ideal way to showcase your writing portfolio is through your personal website because you have free reign in how you want to present your writing samples. You can use user-friendly platforms such as Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, and WordPress. Aside from your portfolio, this gives you a chance to expose the rest of your more informal works, such as your personal blog.
- Use online portfolio sites – Hosting your content samples in writing portfolio websites is another excellent no-fuss option. Many available sites offer this specifically for writers to use, such as Contently, Clippings.me, and Journo Portfolio. Each portfolio site has unique features that may work best for what you are looking for.
Best resources as a freelance writer
As a freelance writer, you would want to constantly upskill yourself and learn from other people in the industry to hone your craft. There are many available resources online even with just a quick Google search. Here’s some of my favorite places, excluding those that you can easily see already on the first few pages of Google.
- Freelance Writers Philippines Facebook Group – a community specific to freelance writers from the Philippines. Aside from the frequent job postings, many writers of different experiences are also happy to share their experiences and insights.
- r/Marketing on Reddit – a community created for marketing and advertising professionals from everywhere in the globe. It’s not a freelance writing-specific forum, but as a freelancer, marketing yourself is a huge chunk of what you’ll do. It’s a great place to read about what’s on trend and to see what other businesses are also trying to solve so you can better market yourselves to clients.
- r/FreelanceWriters on Reddit – a community made by freelance writers for freelance writers coming from different parts of the world. Several guides are available on this sub’s Wiki and you can also post questions that many other writers would be happy to answer.
- Paul Maplesden – Paul is a freelance writer with several years of experience under his belt. He’s an active, helpful moderator in r/FreelanceWriters which is how I found him. His website is his portfolio and he also has multiple helpful guides to help other freelance writers.
How to price my freelance writing services?
Many factors affect how you price your freelance writing, so you can expect rates to be all over the place. But truth be told, a writing rate is however low you as a writer is willing to earn money.
There are many types of freelance writing rates that you can set when writing. There is no one size fits all rule on the best of the best method as it may depend on how you like to work. Below are four of the most common ways you can charge for your freelance writing.
- By word
Freelance writing rates set by word match the amount of effort you made as it is. However, it can also be too finicky. Clients are likely to be more conscious about staying within a specific budget (and word count) instead of focusing on the objectives, while some writers may tend to add fluff to their writing to charge more.
- By hour
Some freelancers and clients prefer work charged by the hour. The former, because theoretically speaking, the longer they work, the higher they get paid. The latter is because charging by the hour is much more straightforward for any writing output, and clients can also easily use time-tracking software to find out if the freelancer is working efficiently.
- By project
Charging by the project doesn’t account for the time you spent working on any content. It simply means you won’t be punished by writing too fast or that a client won’t be penalized for the extra hours if your writing took more time than you thought. If you also prefer writing in different time blocks and not continuously, it’s also much easier to track.
- By page|
Setting freelance writing rates per page typically applies to long content such as books, manuals, or novels. This quickly creates a flat writing fee without the complexities of estimating how long you’ll need to work, limiting how many words you need to stick to, or predicting far ahead of the contents of the whole project to make an informed final price.
Regardless of which type of freelance writing rates you choose, some pros and cons will depend on how you work. The key is to make sure your rates fit your financial goals. For example, if you want to earn ₱30,000 per week with only 15 hours of work, you need to charge about ₱2,000 an hour. If you can write five 1000-word articles in 15 hours, you need to set at least ₱6,000 per article or ₱6 per word to earn that ₱30,000 per week.
As a freelance writer, you want to maximize the effort you put in for the money that you earn. If you charge too low, you’ll need to exert more effort to pitch and write more content to reach the amount you need. Unfortunately, even if you have an unlimited stream of clients, if they pay you peanuts, you won’t have unlimited time or the energy to give. If you want to earn ₱30,000 per week and charge ₱500 for a 1,000-word article, you’ll need to write 60 articles in one week, which is humanly impossible if you want to maintain quality and keep your sanity. But if you charge ₱5,000 for a 1,000-word article, you’ll only need to write 6 articles in one week, which is highly doable.
Are there standard freelance writing rates?
From the research that we have done across different platforms, many freelance writers in the Philippines agree that the minimum rate for writing is ₱1 per word (US$0.02 per word). A slightly lower rate than that (like ₱900 for a 1,000-word piece), is given a side-eye and is only acceptable for very long content or bulk work.
However, from our research with rates mostly from countries in the west, US$50 or ₱2,500 is seen as the minimum rate for a 500-word piece on a general topic. Niche topics are usually significantly higher as the industries are not as saturated with competition.
When coming up with your freelance writing writirates, the general rule is to account for the time you’ll research, do the actual writing, and address possible revisions. Otherwise, you’ll be doing more work than you are compensated.
Quick tip: Remember to put a clause on the maximum number of revisions and charges incurred for additional revisions so your clients are more aware of their demands and you can reduce back and forth. Include also a timeframe when these corrections will be accommodated, so clients don’t drag on projects for months when it could have completed in a week because “they don’t have time to check yet.”
Where to find freelance writing clients?
You would be competing with a lot of other writers regardless of your experience level. Upwork reports 55,000 registered writers on their site from the United States alone. All of these people have varying expertise and other skill sets that make them stand out. Aside from making sure that you are playing in the right field, knowing where to find clients would also be the key to becoming a freelance writer.
- Your personal blog or portfolio site – It’s expected that a platform where you publish content would showcase your interests, tonality, and writing style. If you regularly post content, potential clients will likely see them, especially if you are working on niche topics. I’ve gotten writing gig opportunities from this blog (which is also why I’m posting this post here).
- Guest posting – Guest posting is when you write for another website, typically with a byline and/or a link to your site. Many sites offer paid guest posting, while others use it to show their expertise in a specific topic to a new audience (and possibly potential clients). Doing this also helps your site gain new traffic and even boost your domain authority through backlinking.
- Freelance job listing websites – One of the most common places you can find work are freelance job posting websites such as Upwork, OnlineJobs.PH, and Fiverr. There are also writing-specific marketplaces as well such as ProBlogger, Freelance Writing Gigs, Freelance Writing, and many more with a quick Google search. A rather new, but promising one is also Contra. However, competition in these freelance marketplace websites is very high, especially if you do not have a specialized niche.
- Curated lists from web scrapers – Many websites also scrape the web to consolidate lists of writing gigs available online. Some of my favorite ones include Solid Gigs ($35/mo), Listiller (free, with paid option), and Write Jobs Plus ($3/mo).
- Community forums – One of the most underrated ways to get clients are community forums such as Reddit. Reddit has a subreddit for basically everything, which means subs specifically for finding writing gigs are kinda expected. Some of the most active ones include r/HireaWriter and r/forhire. On the other hand, you can also choose to lurk around relevant subs about your niche and find Redditors struggling with a problem wherein you can definitely approach them to offer your services when relevant. For example, since my expertise is within marketing, I’m in subs like r/Marketing and r/content_marketing. And when some users ask for help and I see myself being able to solve their problem, I reach out to them.
- Social media – Another underrated way to get a freelancing client is through social media, especially LinkedIn. Though this requires a bit of a cold approach to secure deals. Looking for people in your target niche is quite easy on LinkedIn because people post their job titles. Next is all about sending them a messaging to introduce yourself and your services. Some Facebook Groups like Freelance Writers Philippines mentioned earlier is another channel to get writing gigs.
Tools to use as a freelance writer
In the world of freelance writing, employers look for works that are factual and flawless. It’s ironic if they will be the first ones to spot inconsistencies in the work and errors in your grammar. Writing tools prove to be highly beneficial in helping you keep your submissions perfect. The best writing tools make the writing process easier for both amateur and experienced writers alike.
Keep in mind that as a freelance writer, you can’t rely on tools to do all the work for you. They are there to aid you not to replace you. I’ve tried many tools and here are the ones that work for me as a freelance writer for hire with 10 years of experience.
Productivity and project management
- Toggl – Time tracking app to see how much time you allot for specific tasks. I use this specifically for tracking non-writing tasks like calls with clients as I charge a fixed rate for writing.
- Notion – Notion is a productivity and note-taking app that can blend all the necessities of project management and writing. I use it to take down notes for basically everything—from the pitches I’ve made and their status to blog posts on this website and my portfolio site, from links to research pieces, I can use for an article for a client I’m working on and even my cooking recipes. It’s minimalist and customizable but maximalist in use.
- Google Keyword Planner – As a digital media freelance writer, learning about SEO when writing is very essential. The free Google Keyword Planner lends itself so I can easily plan keywords to use whenever I write content for my clients.
- Neil Patel’s Ubersuggest – Another tool where the free version is amazing. Ubersuggest lets you plan keywords as well, but you can also check out how your client’s competitor’s websites are performing based on the content you also plan to write.
- Thruuu – Thruuu brings you an assessment of how your content will perform on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) by checking out what’s ranking on the specific keywords you are eyeing.
- Google Docs – Google Docs is a web-based app for note-taking. Most of my clients prefer Google Docs as it allows them to check the content and leave comments and suggestions without ever having to download an attachment via email.
- WordHippo – One of the most reliable tools to find synonyms and antonyms while writing. It’s easy to use.
- OneLook Thesaurus – A reverse dictionary that lets you find the word you’re looking for using its definition. This is perfect for times when you know there’s a specific word for it but you can’t seem to put it down.
- Headline Studio – Headline Studio is a comprehensive tool that assesses how your headlines will perform versus content that is already existing online. As everyone knows, a strong headline is essential to make readers want to keep reading.
Proofreading and editing
- Grammarly – A sleek platform known best for its proofreading capabilities. Personally, the free version is enough for my use case as I primarily use it to spot spelling errors or basic grammatical errors I may have missed.
- Wordtune – Of all the rephrasers, Wordtune is one of my favorites. When I feel like my sentences are starting to sound all the same, Wordtune is helpful to break off the monotony.
- Hemingway Editor – Hemingway App is a tool that lets you see how easy it is to read the content you wrote.
- Canva – I personally don’t offer graphic design despite knowing how to, but Canva is one of the most user-friendly websites you can use if this is an add-on you want to offer to clients.
- Microsoft Excel – I’m a bit old school so I prefer billing manually. Nothing like Microsoft Excel to keep my invoice structured and organized. There are, however, many invoicing tools available online if you prefer.
12 Biggest Mistakes New Freelancers Make and How to Avoid Them
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most common mistakes you’ll make as a new freelancer and how you can avoid them:
- Hustling only when business is slow – Freelancing is all about the hustle. Freelancers make the mistake of grinding work only when a project is over. The common misconception is that finishing a project before starting a new one should be practiced. Doing so may be accurate, but it doesn’t mean that all processes of freelance writing should halt. Personally, despite working on projects that fill up my bandwidth, looking for clients is still part of my regular routine.
- Taking any kind of work because it’s money – Freelance writing is one task. So is graphic design. Or social media strategy. And video editing. And many other functions that employers typically outsource. When you’re competing with many other writers, sometimes it becomes a battle of the lowest rates. Other times, you take on a job that you’re familiar with because “at least you’re earning,” even though it’s not writing. There’s nothing wrong with earning from your other skill sets; that is an advantage that sets you apart from other writers. But instead of marketing yourself as a “graphic designer who can write,” use it as a way to entice your prospects as a writer. For example, suppose you are asked to create a content upgrade (a bonus content that businesses offer in exchange for a reader’s email address). You can offer your graphic design service as an add-on so they won’t need to hire and talk to a separate designer.
- Working on sketchy unpaid test pieces – Even if you have a stellar writing portfolio, clients wouldn’t just hire you off the bat. They usually want to see how well you’ll write about their business first. Sometimes, you’ll encounter clients who would be willing to pay for a test article at a reasonable rate, sometimes even the rate you asked for. But you’ll also find many who would make you write test articles about their company minus any form of payment.
Writing unpaid test articles is okay to do occasionally as long as you know the limits. If a client uses a personal email such as @gmail.com or the test article requires too much work, you should be slightly cautious about proceeding. Test articles, as the name implies, should only test how well you fit the requirements. A 300-word blog post is a test piece, but a 3000-word unpaid content should raise doubts.
- Sending generic pitches – A pitch is a sales presentation that explains your services to a prospect. It can be a cold email or a “bid” submission on job posting sites such as Upwork. It’s a way for you to get noticed and sell your services.
Clients want to see how well you’ll fit into their projects— your previous experience and familiarity with the subject will influence that. If you send a proposal that doesn’t communicate how well you match their needs, then they’ll go for someone who did.
- Pitching and not following up – A sale is not a sale unless you close a deal. When you send a pitch to a client, follow up on your application to check-in if you fit their current needs. Sometimes, your email gets buried down in their mailbox or they forgot that they opened it in the first place. Nudging a thread also shows that you are really interested in the freelance writing gig and may play well with your application.
- Not asking the right questions – New freelance writers make the mistake of asking only the very basics of questions and thinking they can wing it once they start. Not only does this waste valuable time, but it also makes the writing process much longer since the directions may not be clear enough.
- Keeping horrible clients – Employers can be selective with the freelancers they hire. Freelancers should also be particular with the employers they work with. No amount of money should be equivalent to dealing with clients who don’t respect you. Remember that they hired you only for your services and not your whole being.
- Exhibiting poor communication skills and work ethics – You will rely heavily on exchanging messages, emails, and feedback online especially if you have clients outside the country. A good working relationship with your employer and colleagues is just as important as the quality of articles you will deliver as a freelance writer.
Remember to submit your works on time, acknowledge messages and emails, communicate if there’s something you can’t do, and overall exhibit good work ethics. Don’t leave a client hanging, and keep communications prompt and consistent. Since your communication channel is limited, they won’t know what is going on in a project until you tell them.
- Writing with no set hours – Freelancers make the big mistake of not setting a fixed time when writing. Typically, the mindset of having flexible time and writing only when you want or when you’re in the mood is the perk of freelancing. But contrary to that belief, setting up fixed time blocks where you’ll write and doing so consistently will yield you better results as a freelancer. Setting up a regular time to be productive establishes discipline. It makes sure you create a line between work and relaxation.
- Undercharging or overcharging – Living in a third-world country, the typical go-to move of many freelance writers, both new and experienced, is dropping down prices to compete with the market. In theory, this is an effective strategy because employers would usually prefer minimizing costs. Many great writers charge low, and these are gems that employers would love to work with, or sometimes even exploit.
On the other hand, some freelance writers charge pretty steeply. While pricing high and having clients who are willing to pay is a great salute to your skills, you have to make sure that you deliver the quality you promised. Otherwise, you’re simply charging high for subpar work. Your pricing must be reasonable regardless if it’s on the lowest or highest scale of the spectrum.
- Avoiding the use of helpful tools and apps – Using productivity tools or writing tools as a freelance writer does not mean that you suck. Tools help you improve your writing. It makes sure that you perform due diligence before submitting work to a client. For the most part, it also makes the process easier. Flawless work is critical as a freelance writer because you are hired to do what you say you are an expert on.
- Showing a great portfolio but underdelivering – A freelance writing portfolio is one of the primary references to determine the skill set of a writer. It also sets the expectation of quality based on the samples that you have. If you have an outstanding portfolio, but your actual work does not align with its quality, you can guarantee that a client won’t be hiring you for repeat work.
This post turned out longer than expected, but hopefully you were able to gain insights on how to start your freelance writing journey. If you have any questions or want to work together, feel free to send me a message through my contact form or via email at email@example.com!