Updated: Jan 16
So, you want to start a writing business.
There are probably dozens of ways to do this, from selling ebooks to monetizing a blog. I'll tell you about the path that has worked for me for more than six years: Selling writing as a service.
Beginning a writing service business can be difficult. You will sometimes be bored of the subject you've been paid to write about. Some clients will hate your words (and tell you so). You will live project to project, sometimes feeling far too busy, and other times wondering if you have enough work to stay solvent.
But if you can endure the difficult bits, starting a writing business is one of the most fulfilling careers in the world for creative types. You get to set your own schedule, work from home, solve creative problems for a living, and work with inspiring people and brands.
Most important: you get paid (sometimes great money) to put pen to paper. If that sounds like a career you'd love, here's how to start a writing business.
(You may also be interested in my article about how to become a freelance copywriter.)
1. Understand the most common writing services
Most people hate writing. It's a chore for them. And since almost every person must at least sometimes write, that means anyone who finds pleasure in writing is already in demand.
If you're going to begin a writing business, start by learning the most common forms of writing that people and organizations outsource:
Social media writing
Not all writing forms are created equal. Writing an A+ college essay requires different skills than writing an effective blog post. The best way to master any particular writing style is to read the work of people excelling in that niche. And then practice, practice, practice.
As you specialize in different forms of writing, you'll pick up certain skills (like brevity, simplicity, or more technical abilities like SEO). The good news is, you can learn as you go.
2. Tell everyone about your services
Your first writing clients will likely come from your network. You'll find them by telling everyone you know that you now offer writing services. Text friends. Post on social media. Announce your new business in the family Christmas card. No communication methods are off limits.
Yes, you may feel some imposter syndrome. No, that shouldn't stop you.
Didn't I tell you? Writing is a hard business. The good news is, you are capable of doing hard things. So, acknowledge that as a beginning writer, you may be an imposter. Then go tell your network about all the great writing services you offer (even if that makes you feel deeply uncomfortable).
3. Give your first clients a deal they can't refuse
You won't get rich on your first writing gig. (If you do, please tell me your secret.) My first paid project was $17 for an 800-word blog post.
It's okay to charge a low fee on your first few projects. The key is to not treat these assignments like low-paid work. This is your chance to overdeliver. Write the best blog post or website copy your friend has ever seen. Make them feel guilty for paying you so little.
Because these first projects aren't about the money. They're also not about impressing your friends. Your first paid writing projects are about building a great writing portfolio.
4. Showcase your work
As soon as your work goes live, create a portfolio. This is where future clients can see your past work to assess your skills.
Your portfolio can be a website, Google Doc, PDF, or freelance profile. It's any place where you can publicly show off your best writing samples. As you do more and even better work, you will gradually replace your worst samples with your new best.
Armed with a few portfolio pieces, you can raise your rates and find clients outside your network.
5. Find clients anywhere and everywhere
In my first year in business, I found clients on Craigslist, at events, on Upwork, through friends, in Facebook groups, on Thumbtack, and by contacting former colleagues. My point is: Writing clients are everywhere.
The best way to find clients in the beginning is to try a little bit of everything. You won't know your marketing strengths until you've tested many promotional tactics.
Join freelancer sites. Keep badgering your friends. Attend conferences and trade shows. Join online and offline communities. The key is to find what sticks. Test and invest.
6. Just pick a rate
A lot of beginning writers get stuck deciding their rates. My recommendation is to choose a rate quickly because you won't know if you're charging too much or too little until you begin pitching clients.
Just remember: You can always change your rates later, with the next pitch. There are a few ways to charge for your services. Most writers charge by the word or by the hour. I prefer charging a fixed fee by the project.
No matter how you charge, remember that as a pro writer (yes, I'm talking about you), your prices are subject to the whims of supply and demand. That's a fancy way of saying that the more people who want to hire you, the more you can charge for your writing services.
So, if you want to earn the big bucks, learn to generate more leads than you can handle.
7. Be professional
One unfortunate stereotype about freelancers is that they're unprofessional. They overpromise and underdeliver. They turn in work late (or not at all). Freelancers are often seen as employees between jobs who know nothing about professional services.
These stereotypes exist because they're often true. The good news is, you can use these negative stereotypes to your advantage. If you deliver good work, on time, and remain engaged beginning to end, you'll quickly stand out and get ample repeat business.
A little professionalism goes a long way in the writing services industry.
8. Build a reputation for quality
There's no shortage of bad content on the internet. No one wants to hire a subpar writer. But subpar writing is everywhere. That's why when companies work with a truly exceptional writer, they hold onto them forever.
If you love the craft of writing, and are willing to put in the work to consistently improve, you can set your work apart and develop a reputation for quality. There's no shortcut to becoming a great writer. It requires years of dedicated writing practice. But persistence pays dividends.
Businesses will pay good money for great writing. At the risk of sounding ostentatious, I earn a comfortable six figures profit writing and know other writers doing the same. It's not unrealistic to earn a good living from your words. But you will need to put in the work.
9. Play the long game
Successful writing careers aren't formed overnight. Even the best writers must pay their dues, working for low rates and unpleasant clients.
It's my experience that the best fruits of any writing business only begin to ripen after the second year. By then, you're working with better clients at higher rates. You're also more confident in your samples and abilities. Plus, by then you've developed the most important marketing tool in professional services: a reputation.
There's nothing magical about having two years under your belt. That's just when work starts getting more fun.
And the best part? Each year (mostly) gets a bit better after that. Your writing improves, your reputation expands, and more interesting projects find their way into your inbox.
Not to mention, your competition becomes irrelevant. The competition among low-paid, low-experienced writers is more fierce than among the most experienced and in-demand writers. That's because good writing is rare enough that truly great writers (who've put in the work to foster a strong reputation) seldom need to compete for projects. More businesses need great writing than there are great writers to fill that need.
In summary: if you want to enjoy the best that a writing business has to offer, master your craft and play the long game. Everything else will work itself out in time.
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