How to Be a Freelance Writer (Without Leveraging Your Experience or Contacts)

Everywhere you look, you keep reading about people that break into freelance writing by using their professional background or leveraging their corporate contacts.

Most of these stories are from writers with a business, IT or real estate background.

These niches are highly profitable, but what if you don’t have that same background?

How to Be a Freelance Writer (Without Leveraging Your Experience or Contacts)

What if you’re a secretary? An artist?

A stay-at-home mom who’s been out of the workforce for several years? Is it still possible to make a living from writing without using your background?

The answer:

YES! Of course.

I know writers that were forensic scientists turned freelance writer and now write in the entertainment niche. It is entirely possible to start freelance writing with virtually no contacts, no past experience or no knowledge about a niche.

That’s exactly how I broke into freelance writing.

I Didn’t Land ANY Jobs With My Previous Experience

Before I was a B2B professional writer, my core background was (and still is) in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). I worked with children with autism by doing behavioral learning strategies to help them speak, play, dress, socialize and more.

So, of course, when I started researching how to become a freelance writer, I naturally gravitated towards wanting to write about education, and in particular, ABA.

I was able to score a guest post in this niche, which helped me prove my credibility when I sent my pitches to ABA agencies.

Screen_Shot_2016-09-18_at_4_38_52_PM

I was fairly new when I reached out to these agencies. But, as luck would have it, I either didn’t hear back from them, or they said they weren’t focus on building their blog.

At the time, I wasn’t knowledgeable about how businesses can use a blog to bring in more local businesses, so I left it at that.

I had no luck either with finding jobs in the parenting niche and any health writing jobs I saw where low paying (around $.05/word).

Freelance writing wasn’t working for me.

I couldn’t find any good paying writing gigs in the special education, parenting or natural health industries.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. Those are totally viable niches. I have been approached by a parenting blog and a health site that pay extremely well, so it isn’t unheard of.

This is just my story of how I was struggling to use my experience and background to help me find a freelance writing gig.

So, how did I turn this around and become a sought-after freelance writer within two years?

When I look back and think about what I did to get to this point in my freelance writing profession, I know that the four fundamental steps I took helped me reach this status – without leveraging any past experience or contacts that I had.

If you are in the same place, then these steps can help you become a freelance writer – that can actually pay the bills.

1. Discover Your Niche

Okay.

I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times. Find your niche.

Find any niche.

Find five niches.

What’s the answer?

Personally and truthfully all you need is around 2-3 niches to start off.

You can draw from experience or draw from your passion and hobbies. Maybe you’re a knitter and it’s something you know a lot about.

Well, you can get paid to write about knitting.

knitty

Or, maybe you rode horses when you were little. Even better.

horses

Whatever your passion or hobby is, I’m sure you can find that it’s something you can write for and get paid in.

When discovering your niches, make sure you do your due diligence and research the market to see if it’s a viable niche.

Look to see if there is also room for growth. In other words, how high can you raise your rate in this industry before hitting the ceiling?

2. Market Your Niche as a Profitable Niche

You might have a hard time turning your niche into a profitable niche WITHOUT any experience or expert knowledge. So, how do you do this?

You have to corner your market in this industry and well, practice makes perfect. You have to write in this topic, read content in this topic, start practicing in this niche and learn as much as you can about it.

Some beginner steps include:

  • Creating stellar samples in this niche – Get some blog posts or PDF’s or Google share docs to show to prospective clients.
  • Create backup samples (of other less profitable niches, but that can help you build your portfolio) – Remember those two other niches you decided to discover? Make some backup samples in those topics. This is so  you can pitch to those industries, in case your main industry or niche isn’t profitable or you’re having a hard time finding work in that niche.
  • Create a writer website that speaks to your ideal client (can do this on a budget at first) – Do you have a website that speaks 0f your freelance writing services? I suggest you start a blog for your business and start marketing your freelance writing services right away. This shows prospective clients that your writing isn’t a hobby – it’s a profession.
  • Start guest posting – I am all for guest posting for free. You know why? Because it’s the best way to get your portfolio up and you never know, that free guest post can turn into a paid writing gig.

This phase as a freelance writer is all about getting your author bio out there to the masses.

With guest posts, writing on your blog, sharing your content on social media and syndicating your posts on HuffPo, Medium and LinkedIn Pulse you’re trying to build your portfolio and reach a big audience that will hire you for your writing.

 

3. Learn Your Niche

You know after writing in the digital marketing niche for a while, I wanted to try my hand in a new industry. I was learning about how writing in the WordPress space can be profitable. I heard about freelance writers commanding $.15/word or more in this niche.

This was appealing to me and I wanted to see if I could also do the same. Now, even though I have a WordPress blog and I manage several other WordPress blogs, I wasn’t that involved in the backend of it all.

So, the first thing I did was learn about plugins, features, themes and more in the WordPress space. I visited websites that catered to WordPress content, watched YouTube videos about setting up a WordPress blog and played around on my site.

I absorbed as much information as I could in this new industry. Instead of landing a guest post in this niche, I was fortunate – at that time – to pitch some of my current clients WordPress type posts.

I also reached out to Tom Ewer of WordCandy to work with him. Over time I was able to grow my portfolio in this brand new niche in which I really had no experience in.

wordpress

4. Pitch the Right Way

There is a process to pitching.

One of the problems I see in a new freelance writer’s pitch is that it comes off as either generic or from a company and not from one person.

Every day I get pitches for guest posts or for other things like website design and most of these pitches come off as fake and generic. It’s just a template they use. I read the first sentence and chuck in the trash. I have no time to invest in these types of pitches.

And you know what? Prospective clients don’t either.

So, look at your pitch and see if it reads like a cookie cutter pitch. Add some personality and make it memorable.

memorable

Then, stop looking for freelance writing jobs on Upwork or Guru.

Start looking at quality job boards that will give you the most bang for your buck. If you’re strapped for cash I recommenced using these free job boards:

If you want to cut down your competition, try Contena. Psst… use elna10 and get a 10% discount on any option. Or 10% off each payment if you choose the payment route. AND if you pay in full you receive a 20% discount PLUS your coupon will stack on top of that!

contena-pro

What’s great about this job board is that you can customize your search and only look at gigs in your niche. For me, this is a big time saver.

Finally, track your pitches. Open a Google Sheet and keep track of each pitch your sent. This can help you keep track which ads responded and which ones hired you.

It’s Possible to Be a Successful Freelance Writer Without Any Corporate Background

I’m proof that a stay at home mom with a background in learning theory and behaviorism is now writing for OptinMonster, Blogging Wizard and now Huffington Post.

You don’t need a degree in journalism or even any degree to be a profitable freelance writer. You also don’t need any expert knowledge in a particular industry or have a corporate background to get started.

You also don’t need to rely on your contacts or family members. I never did (heck, most of my family and mommy friends have no clue what I’m doing and that’s my choice to keep it from them).

All you need is the desire to make a living from writing, some decent writing skills and the hunger to learn how to do it right.

Over to you – are you ready?

If you’re ready to really earn a living from writing, you can get your step-by-step profitable freelance writing blueprint by joining Write Your Way to Your First $1k. It walks you through the exact action steps you need to take to land clients, tweak your website to increase conversions and get paid to write.

Hi I'm Elna and I'm a freelance writer and mom blogger. I help people just like you become a profitable freelance writer. Within 6 months of starting my freelance writing business from scratch I was able to earn a full-time living as a part-time freelance writer while taking care of my twin toddlers. Check out my free email course Get Paid to Write Online and learn the steps you need to take to be a freelance writer.

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20 Comments

Can I be a content writer if I’m an academic writer? I am not very familiar with technology, mostly social media, like setting up blogs or get writing gigs. I can always learn but things seem too overwhelming for my tiny brain to comprehend. I’m 25 years old, I live in India and have no clue what my purpose is? I just floating, one day to the next one. I write because I don’t know anything else to do. Your blog has cleared somethings for me. So, thank you for that anchor. I might not ever become a real writer but at least, this post shone some light (if there’s any for me). Thank you…Reply to Shree
Hi Shree! Yes, you can be a content writer for sure. This is a big umbrella term for online writing for businesses. So instead of calling yourself a freelance writer you can say you’re a content writer in the food industry for example. Good luck learning more about freelance writing!Reply to Elna
So I have a confession. I’m a gaming blogger these days because it’s something I do when not writing for clients. I have no corporate experience but that hasn’t stopped me from reaching out to people. It’s a viable niche if you look deeply enough. I actually sent a pitch to Logitech (a huge computer hardware company) because they make gaming gear. The marketing guy hasn’t replied to my pitch yet but he’s looked at it, my LinkedIn profile, and my website. The biggest thing I agree with in your post here, Elna, is to personalize your pitch as much as possible. Make sure it’s worth their time and include why you’re reaching out to them so they can save time.Reply to Lizzie
Hey Lizzie! Great tips for sure! That’s great you used your hobby to pitch to relevant clients! Good luck!Reply to Elna
Hi, Elna! I really liked your post. It summarizes everything you need to get started freelance writing. I will be using as a reference (and all those helpful links to more of your blog posts!) as I keep working on building my own freelance business.Reply to Noemi
Thanks so much! Glad you found it useful!Reply to Elna
Good post, Elna! The part where I suck most is the outreaching thing. Even I find it hard for outreaching to gain whitehat links. For freelancers, Contena is a great place to go. Most of the premium freelancers community is great to join and worth the investment. I once joined FreelanceWritersDen, it was very helpful to get some network. Before this you got the niche factor right! Cheers, Akshay~Reply to Akshay
Hey Akshay, That’s great! Glad you like Contena and Carol’s board!Reply to Elna
Hello Elna! I really loved this post. I’m now more than convinced that I can do just fine as a freelance writer. Keep writing more amazing posts!Reply to Debbie
Hey Debbie! That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. You CAN do this 🙂 You don’t need to have some corporate background to make a living as a freelance writer. I have high-paying gigs without using my background or contacts! It’s totally possible.Reply to Elna
Hey, Elna! I just love your blog posts, they’re always so informative. This answers many questions I’ve been having about pinpointing my niche. Thanks!Reply to Aisha
Hey Aisha! Thanks so much. So happy you found my blog and are enjoying these posts. 🙂Reply to Elna
Such a useful post! Thanks, Elna! You’re an inspiration.Reply to Alma
Hi Alma! Thanks so much! Glad you found some tips and inspiration.Reply to Elna
Great post Elna! It’s always good to start with what we know and by you sharing how you got started, validates that. 🙂 Thanks for sharing the four steps to become a freelance writer! Have a great week hun! CoriReply to Cori
Hey Cori! Thanks so much. Glad you liked the post 🙂Reply to Elna
Elna, the big question I have from reading this is something from your introduction: How do we find agencies? GaryReply to Gary
Hi Gary, The best way is to cold pitch. Go to Manta to find companies, join FB groups and Follow companies on Twitter. You can also go to LinkedIn Jobs to find companies too.Reply to Elna
I have a question! Freelancer writers always tell you to pick your niche. So I chose graphic design (which I teach), technology (I’m interested in it but have no work experience) and publishing (I’m a published fiction writer). How do incorporate those on my site and in my portfolio? Should I have 3 examples for each? I worry it looks unfocused if I apply for a job writing about digital marketing when my guest posts are all for authors!Reply to LJ
Hi LJ, I would separate your fiction writing from your freelance writing. Online content jobs are nonfiction, but that doesn’t mean you can’t self-publish your work in the future. I know Alicia Rades is a freelance writer and an author and she has two sites for her passions. As for your other niches, I would focus on technology as your main niche. Write a blog post or guest post in that niche. You can also create samples in graphic design in Tuts for example. Good luck!Reply to Elna