How To Become a Freelance Writer With No Experience

Are you considering leaving your 9-to-5 job behind and becoming a freelance writer?

The challenge is to get your foot in the door.

Since you don’t have any references, most people won’t hire you.

Yet without projects, you can’t get any references.

It’s a conundrum.

Learn how to become a freelance writer with no experience, how to get the most out of platforms like Fiverr and Upwork, and when it’s time to move on to direct clients.

What Are Your Options?

There are three places where you can find work, even if you have no prior experience as a freelance writer (ranked from easiest to most difficult):

  1. Contents mills like Textbroker, Verblio, or Writer’s Access
  2. Freelancer platforms like Fiverr and Upwork
  3. Job boards like ProBlogger

1. Content Mills

I define a contents mill as a broker between you and your client. Your client doesn’t choose you to write the article, the broker does.

Also, you are getting paid standardized rates.

If you are just starting out, you will be put in the lowest category. You will work for peanuts, like 2 cents per word. After a while, you will be moved up to the middle tier and get paid a little bit more. Eventually, after a certain number of successful projects, you get to the top tier, with the best pay.

I advise you to completely skip content mills. They are a terrible business model for you, the writer. Even if you make it to the top category, the pay is still low. It’s a fraction of what you could make working for large agencies, not to mention direct clients.

The whole point of becoming self-employed is that you can set your own prices. Content mills don’t allow you to do that. They have an inbuilt ceiling.

2. Freelancer Platforms

The best place to get started as a writer with no prior experience is a freelancer platform like Fiverr or Upwork. That’s for three reasons.

First, since there are so many clients on these platforms, you are more likely to find somebody willing to take a chance with you.

Second, these platforms are highly competitive in terms of pricing. If you are willing to go lower than everybody else, this will get you projects, guaranteed.

Third, unlike content mills, freelancer platforms allow you to set your own prices. If you put in the work, you can become one of the few well-paid top providers.

I would still advise you to move on from freelancer platforms as soon as possible.

While it can be a nice challenge to become a big player in a particular ecosystem, it’s still limiting. You can make more money outside a platform.

Also, you don’t own your network. You are prohibited to contact clients outside the platform.

Finally, what if the platform decides to kick you out, for whatever reason? Now all the work you invested was for nothing. Overnight, your business model has ceased to exist.

However, platforms are great for getting references fast. That is what we will use them for — as a means to an end.

3. Job Boards

The third and most advanced option is a job board like ProBlogger. Here, companies advertise their projects which you can then apply for.

Unlike a content mill, there is no fixed pricing. You can negotiate freely.

And unlike Fiverr or Upwork, you can contact clients outside of the platform. Also, as a freelancer, there is no commission to pay.

The downside is that it’s more difficult to find work on a job board. Companies usually want to see references.

But it’s not impossible. Some businesses might take a chance with you, especially if you communicate well, have a well-suited background, and are willing to work for less.

If that is you, you can skip platforms altogether and directly start with job boards. Get a few projects under your belt, and soon you will have reoccurring work from clients that hired you before. This will save you a lot of time, as you now have to spend less time applying.

How To Make It on a Platform

If you want to start on a platform like Fiver or Upwork — the recommended option for most new writers — the first step is to create a profile. But just any profile. Your profile must be better than most other profiles out there.

Here is why.

Most people competing for freelance writing jobs are hobbyists, not professionals. They write on the side while raising kids, paying their way through college, or supplementing their retirement income.

And it shows. Half of these people will upload an image from their last Cancun vacation as their profile pic. Their copy will consist of three sentences, with four typos. They will tell you how they “always loved writing,” and how they are now chasing their dream of becoming a travel blogger.

This doesn’t create trust with your customers. These are businesspeople. They don’t care about your personal dreams — they care about money. They want to be sure investing in you will be worth it for them.

The only time you can get away with a subpar self-presentation is when you are targeting low-level players. You’ll get plenty of work from life coaches, affiliate marketers, and small e-commerce stores.

But they will pay you pennies. You will have to work 60-hour weeks to make a living from such clients. On top of that, they will be disorganized, demanding, and expecting freebies. It’s not worth it.

Take a few days and put an outstanding profile together. Down the road, it will pay off many times over.

The 3 Steps To Setting up Your Profile

There are three steps to creating the perfect profile:

  1. Getting professional pictures taken
  2. Writing excellent copy
  3. Offering competitive prices

Let’s look at these in detail.

Step 1: Get Professional Pictures Taken

You must get professional pictures taken. Snapping a selfie with your iPhone won’t do the trick. Invest $50 to $100 and get a good photographer. Dress appropriately. Business casual is okay, your favorite football jersey is not.

This might seem like overkill, but it’s well worth it. Nothing signals, “I am a professional” like good visuals. Also, you will use these pictures again and again, for example on your website.

Step 2: Write Excellent Copy

Pay attention to the copy on your profile. If you offer copywriting but cannot sell yourself, clients won’t take you seriously.

Here are a few pointers.

Don’t self-obsess. Clients don’t care about your BA in English Literature or how you dream of writing a screenplay. Personality is not what you’re selling — effective copy is.

Focus on results. Explain to your clients how your copy will improve their conversion rate, i.e., how you will turn more website visitors into buying customers.

Likewise, if you’re selling content writing, you must explain how you will increase the organic search traffic to their website.

Keep it simple. Write as if you were talking to a third-grader. Short sentences and short paragraphs. Main clauses instead of subclauses. Lots of subheadings.

Commercial writing is not academic writing. It’s not about showing off how smart you are. It’s about making things as easy as possible for the reader.

With publishing online, this is even more important. We don’t actually read websites, we scan them. Make your profile description (and all of your writing) easy to scan.

Last but not least, double-check for typos. Nothing is more embarrassing than your 200-word profile containing 10 typos.

Step 3: Offer Competitive Prices

“How to become a freelance writer with no prior experience” ultimately comes down to one lever — price.

Even with the best profile, established providers will have an edge over you. They have references. To clients, that feels reassuring.

To level the playing field, you must underbid everybody. You might not be able to reassure your client, but you can appeal to their greed. Everybody likes a deal.

Go as low as you need to. I suggest starting at 20% less than the average rate. If that doesn’t get you there, go 30%. Keep going until you have a steady flow of projects coming in.

Also, team up with “exploiters” if you must.

“Exploiters” are usually smaller agencies that know perfectly well how new writers struggle to find jobs. Niche-site owners and affiliate marketers also fall into this category. The pay will be terrible but they will give you work, lots of it.

Understand, this is not forever. The sole point of this exercise is to gather references. As soon as you have those, you will move on.

Ask About References Beforehand

So, you set up the perfect profile, and, lo and behold — you got your first client.

But before you get busy, ask about references. Remember, we are not doing this for the money, but for building social proof. There is no point in taking on a project for which you cannot get a reference.

When you negotiate for references, you must ask your client two questions:

  1. “Can I mention the work I did for you to other clients, e.g., by providing a link to the article?”
  2. “Will you provide a short testimonial, stating how satisfied you are with the work I did for you?”

Let’s look at what that entails.

“Can I mention the work?”

You will be surprised how often you cannot mention the work you did, especially if you are doing content writing.

Content writing is really a type of ghostwriting. For example, you might be posing as an employee giving advice on the company blog. Naturally, neither that employee nor the company wants you to reveal yourself as the author.

One way to circumvent that is to still use that reference, but only send it to future clients directly, in a private email. If you signed an NDA, that is still a breach. In reality, many content writers do it anyway and get away with it.

To cover all the bases, you can put all the links to the articles you wrote in a “View only” Google Docs document. Then you send your prospective client this file but delete it once you are done talking to them.

Here is another workaround. Agree with your client to publish one or two posts under your real name, acting as a guest blogger on their company blog. Now you can mention these articles in your portfolio.

With copywriting, the case is more straightforward. Companies are usually not worried about the world knowing that their sales copy was written by a professional.

But even here, make sure to check first, especially if you are working for personal brands (coaches, speakers, etc.). Since they usually address their client in the first person, they might be more reluctant for you to reveal yourself. The same strategies I mentioned above apply.

“Will you provide a testimonial?”

Getting permission to link to the work you did is one thing. But you also want a personal testimonial by the client, stating what a great job you did. This will help with scoring future clients.

With platforms like Fiverr and Upwork, testimonials happen automatically. Clients are encouraged to give public feedback, and you can then use that feedback for other channels like your website.

However, there are two problems.

First, some clients mention the platform in their testimonials. They might say, “This is the best gig on Fiverr I have ever bought!” If you put that statement on your website, it will look out of context. Also, it will paint you as a low-level provider; Fiverr and Upwork have that connotation.

The other problem is that client reviews are often not detailed. Most clients won’t bother to describe the exact work you did and what results you produced. Such reviews won’t do much.

Therefore, suggest writing a testimonial for your client. You can make sure it looks exactly how it should, while also saving your client time.

Obviously, do not mention the platform. You want to be able to use these reviews on your future website.

Be specific. Each review should read differently than the last one. Talk about what exactly you did. Mix up the tone.

Most importantly, tell the reader how you helped your previous client to make money. That’s what a new client wants to know — is this investment going to pay dividends?

As a copywriter, you might say, “Since I started working with Niels, we have seen an 11% conversion increase on our sales pages” (provided that’s true).

As a content writer, you might say, “The 22 blog articles Niels wrote for us last year now bring in 10,000 new website visitors each month.”

These kinds of testimonials will get you results.


You should always overdeliver both in terms of value and service.

That means when other writers spend 5 hours writing an article, you will spend 10. You will do more research, write a better structure, and polish it to perfection.

You will also let somebody else review your article before you submit it. They will notice all the little flaws you missed.

It is in your own best interest to do that.

If you consistently overdeliver, you will get better reviews and consequently better projects. Platforms will also up your status. For example, on Fiverr, you will get promoted to “Top Rated Seller.” This will make it easier for you to find clients and charge more, as you now come pre-vetted.

Most importantly, the outstanding articles you write now will be the future references you can link to on your website. These samples will make or break your future direct client business. No amount of self-marketing can make up for bad quality.

Be equally diligent about your service. Accommodate the client. Be easy to reach. Check back with them if something is unclear. Revise the article until it’s exactly what they want.

Last but not least, charm them. Be friendly. Complement them on things they are doing well, like their stylish website design. Have a laugh sometimes.

Many freelancers lack basic people skills; that’s why they became remote workers. If you can befriend your clients, you will have an advantage over most of your competitors.

Move On to Agency Work

Once you have enough references and testimonials, it’s time to move on. There is simply more money to be made outside of entry-level platforms like Fiverr and Upwork.

This means shifting your focus to less regulated job boards like ProBlogger and the like.

Many of the clients advertising here will be agencies and you will end up working for them.

That’s a good thing.

Agencies have a constant need for fresh content, as they have multiple clients. When you get with one of these agencies, you probably won’t ever be out of work again.

It will also save you a tremendous amount of time. On platforms, there is a lot of fluctuation. That means every project requires you to study a new content brief, do customer research, adapt a new tone, etc.

With agencies, you mostly work for the same couple of clients. Once you have gotten the hang of what they want, that really speeds up the production process. I remember recurring projects which took me six hours in the beginning that I could later bang out in three hours.

Finally, large agencies tend to pay well. $0.10–$0.25 per word is realistic. If your hourly output is 250 words, and you write for four hours a day, you are looking at a decent chunk of money. It is now that you can turn writing into your profession.

To get with these well-paying agencies, though, you must present yourself in the best possible light. For that, you will need a website.

Create a Professional Website

Many new writers have the wrong idea about websites. They think that a website will get them leads from Google.

That is not going to happen that early in the game. Google doesn’t trust your brand-new website. Plus, you don’t have much interesting content to rank for yet.

So, realistically, no one is going to find you when they search for “copywriter.”

What your website really does is function as a virtual business card.

Agencies, before they hire you, will research you. If they see that you — unlike most freelance writers — have a professional website, you’ll be way ahead of the competition. It will make you look like you actually care about your job.

Ideally, you would want to set up your website on WordPress. It is the best content management system (CMS) out there.

WordPress has a bit of a learning curve, though. Also, most freelance writers are technically challenged (including myself).

That is why I recommend you skip WordPress initially. Use a drag-and-drop builder like Squarespace to save yourself time. You can still switch to WordPress later.

In the same vein, I recommend that you start with a simple one-page layout. Make sure to include the following sections:

  • Header image
  • Services
  • Portfolio
  • Testimonials
  • Prices (optional)
  • About
  • Contact

Almost everything I said earlier about creating a profile also applies to creating a freelancer website:

  • Use professional images. Pay a photographer to take professional business pictures of you. Don’t use your iPhone.
  • Create excellent copy. If you cannot sell yourself, how are you supposed to sell your client’s product?
  • Focus on results. Explain to potential clients how you are going to make them money. Talk about conversion rates and driving traffic.

Pick a Type of Writing

A website forces you to make a decision about what kind of writer you want to be.

Your two basic choices are:

  1. Copywriting
  2. Content writing

What’s the Difference?

Copywriting is writing that sells. This includes:

  • Webpages describing products and services
  • Ad copy, e.g., for Google Ads or Facebooks Ads
  • Landing page copy
  • Sales emails
  • Print-out brochures

Content writing is explanatory. This includes:

  • Blog posts
  • E-books
  • Whitepapers
  • Checklists

Content writing is a top-of-the-funnel activity (TOFU). It is supposed to attract new customers during the early stages of your marketing sequence.

Copywriting is a bottom-of-the-funnel activity (BOFU). It is meant to convert customers during the later stages of your sequence.

How the Production Processes Differ

Copywriting tends to be short and concise. But you will spend more time refining each sentence, making it as convincing as possible.

Copywriting is also more concerned with psychological tactics like scarcity or social proof. This is to convert as many leads as possible into buyers.

In contrast, content writing tends to be longer. Think 1500–3000 words for a blog post.

Unlike copywriting, you will have to know a lot about your subject matter. That means more research beforehand.

Finally, content writing is more concerned with search engine optimization (SEO). The goal is to attract organic search traffic from Google.

Selling the 2 Types of Writing

Copywriting will be easier to sell.

That is because most companies think short-term. They are only concerned with the next sale. As a bottom-of-the-funnel activity, copywriting supports that mindset.

In comparison, content writing is a long-term approach to marketing. Done right, it can bring in massive amounts of traffic, establish your brand, and act as your key differentiator.

Unfortunately, few companies think long-term. That means content writing will be harder to sell.

The upside is that content writing tends to be a long-term gig. For an SEO strategy to take off, a company needs 4–16 posts per month for at least a year or two.

In comparison, copywriting work is more irregular. Once you have written the sales page or the sales email, they won’t need you for a while.

What Will You Choose?

What type of writing you focus on comes down to your individual preferences.

Are you fascinated with how people make decisions? Do you enjoy thinking about influence and persuasion? Does working with many different clients excite you? Then go with copywriting.

Or do you enjoy going deep and really exploring a topic? Are you fascinated with the intricacies of search engine optimization? Do you prefer working for the same few clients? Then content writing is for you.

Having said that, it is okay to play around with both for a while, before you make a decision.

The agency phase of your writing career is a good time to do that. Agencies like generalists — you’ll get plenty of opportunities to try both types of writing.

But you should make a decision eventually and let your website reflect that decision. The path to more income is specialization.

Get Real About Learning

A huge portion of “How to become a freelance writer with no prior experience” is about improving your craft. The better of a writer you are, the better you will get paid.

Understand that freelance writing differs from other types of writing you might have done before, like academic writing or fiction. It is a different beast, and you need to treat it as its own skill set.

The agency phase of your career is the ideal time to do that. Why? Because you will be working with professional editors.

These editors will meticulously analyze your writing, point out structural flaws and logical inconsistencies, admonish your tone, and find every last typo.

It can be excruciating at first, but it’s the best learning experience out there.

Think of your editor as your personal trainer — they are sculpting your writing. But unlike a personal trainer, you don’t have to pay your editor. You are getting paid — to become better at writing. It’s a great place to be in.

In addition to these paid practice sessions, you should also get some theoretical input.

If your thing is copywriting, study these classics:

  • Eugene Schwartz: Breakthrough Advertising
  • Dan Kennedy: The Ultimate Sales Letter
  • John Caples: Making Ads Sell
  • Victor Schwab: How to Write a Good Advertisement
  • Gary Halbert: The Boron Letters

If you are into content marketing, study these blogs:

With all of these resources, don’t just absorb the information — analyze how they are conducting their own writing. Pay attention to …

  • … how concise and readable the sentence structure is
  • … how the writer takes the reader’s point of view
  • … how storytelling is used to make the article more relatable
  • … how the author elicits emotions to spice up dry topics
  • … how calls to action are seeded without coming across as salesy

This is how you get good at freelance writing — by working with editors and by studying the best in the game.

Alternatively, you could buy a course. There are certain benefits to that. Everything is neatly organized in one place. You have access to a community. You can ask questions.

However, it can also lead to inaction. “I have to work through the course first.” Also, a course can’t substitute for the detailed feedback that you get from editors. And I find that creating your own curriculum forces you to think for yourself.

Graduate to Direct Clients

Agencies come with their own set of challenges. Unrealistic deadlines. Bad briefings. Annoying content managers.

And while large agencies tend to pay well, there is a ceiling to what you can make. The agency wants its cut.

That is why you must find your own clients. Only when you work for clients directly can you charge high rates. This will allow you to work less, yet make more.

It’s important that you aim for the right type of client. One-person shows and small businesses are out. They don’t have the budget. What you are looking for is companies with 100+ employees.

But how do you attract these affluent clients? That’s where specialization comes in.

Choosing a Niche

By now, you should have an idea if you want to do copywriting or content writing.

But with direct clients, you need to go even more granular. The better you match with their business, the more likely you are to get hired. This is the big difference — agencies value generalists, while direct clients want specialists.

In the case of copywriting, it’s best to specialize in a certain medium. Examples are:

  • Sales pages
  • Landing pages
  • Google Ads / Facebook Ads / LinkedIn Ads
  • Email marketing
  • Brochures
  • Direct mail

Pick one of these, and become the go-to expert. Ignore the rest.

With content marketing, it’s about picking an industry. But not all industries are the same. As a rule of thumb — the more boring the industry, the more money you can earn. The more exciting the industry, the less money you will make.

Examples of high-paying industries include:

  • IT and tech
  • Engineering
  • Life science
  • Real estate
  • Sales/marketing

Low-paying industries include:

  • Parenting
  • Psychology
  • Health
  • Food
  • Travel

I am not saying you should skip over industries that interest you. But understand that you can only have two of three:

  1. Interesting work
  2. High income
  3. Work-life balance

So, if you are passionate about yoga and want to write about that, be prepared to either work for 10 hours a day or make relatively little money.

Once you have made your choice, adjust your website accordingly. Really hammer the point home — I am the expert for X.

You are now clear on what you are selling. You are ready to pitch to direct clients.

If you are a copywriter who specializes in sales pages, check for businesses that have crappy sales pages. Then contact them and tell them how you will fix it and why this will make them more money.

As a content writer, you should compile a list of all companies in your specific industry. Look for companies that don’t have a blog or that never post. Then contact them and tell them how you could drive thousands of new visitors to their website via in-depth content.

As I said, always make sure the client is of a certain size (100+ employees). The whole point of this exercise is to make more money than you did working for agencies. The size of your prospective client is key to that.

How To Leverage Your References

When you want to sell to a prospective client, your most powerful tool is your portfolio.

Clients are risk-averse. They want to see that you have done this before. Their thinking goes, “If you have pulled this off for company X, you can probably do it for me, too.”

Your portfolio must drive that point home.

Best practices include:

  • Tell a story. Never just send a link to an article you wrote. Describe what you did for the previous client. Mention specific facts. Point out challenges.
  • Use testimonials. Put them everywhere, not just on your website, but also in your sales emails and even at the end of your quote letter.
  • Name-drop. Mention the names of more successful competitors you have worked for. The client will think that by working with you, they will catch up.
  • Whet their appetite. Use metrics from past projects to get them excited. Talk about conversion rates, traffic growth, new backlinks, etc.
  • Include graphs. Visualize your numbers. Use graphs, pie diagrams, and the like to make your promises seem more real.

Once you have a group of high-quality direct clients, you have reached the pinnacle. For every hour you sit down to work, you should now be making $80–$150. Even just working three hours a day, you could live comfortably on that. And you could do so while traveling the world. It’s a nice life.

Or you could take things further. You could outsource the writing part to other freelancers, and focus on customer acquisition. Essentially, you become an agency, a business model that can be scaled indefinitely. But that is a topic for another article.

Leave a Comment