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Being successful as a freelance writer requires strong writing, grammar and editorial skills, a passion for research and the soul of an entrepreneur. While you may entertain notions of whiling away your days sitting in cozy coffee shops with your laptop, the reality of running your own business will be much less romantic. In addition to writing, you’ll spend your days sending queries to editors, searching for potential clients and marketing your work.
Equipment and Office Space
The financial investment to start a freelance writing business is minimal. You’ll need a computer with word processing software and a printer. A dictionary, thesaurus and collection of style guides are indispensable writing tools. Purchase these in print form or get online subscriptions. Personal preference dictates your office space. Some writers must have a desk set up in a quiet room to work effectively. Others prefer to work on a laptop at various locations: public libraries, cafes, parks or their own living room couch. You might rent a small office space if you'll be meeting with clients or just want a more professional atmosphere.
Business License and Organization
The U.S. Small Business Administration states that, "Virtually every business needs some form of license or permit to operate legally." Each state has slightly different procedures, but in most you'll be required to register with your state's business license office. Your county or city will issue you the appropriate business license. Carol Topp, an accountant and writer, suggests that most freelance writers organize their businesses as sole proprietorships, also known as DBA (Doing Business As). This type of business organization is simple to form; most writers will be able to complete the paperwork without using an attorney. Certain expenses for your business, such as office supplies, Internet service, equipment and office rent are deducted from your gross income using the Schedule C that accompanies a standard 1040 form. If you operate your business from your home, you can deduct a percentage of your rent or mortgage as an operating expense.
The corporate sector hires writers to create annual reports, newsletters and blogs as well as marketing pieces such as sales letters, website content and product descriptions. Magazines specializing in hundreds of subjects accept articles from freelance writers, as do local newspapers. You might write and self-publish books on your topic of expertise, or create your own blog or website that generates revenue. Offer e-books or subscriptions to an informative course on your blog or website, or sell space to companies that pay you every time a visitor clicks on their ad. Find writing gigs by sending out queries to editors or business owners. Your query letter will briefly introduce yourself and pitch a story idea or writing concept. When you start your freelance writing business, you’ll need to send out many query letters to land a client or get approval to submit an article to a publication.
The fees for writing work vary widely. Website content can pay as little as a $5 flat fee for a 400-word article and as much as $2 per word for company blog posts. Magazine articles pay 50 cents to $2 per word. Work such as annual reports or instruction manuals for companies is often quoted per project. Kelly James-Enger, author of "Writer for Hire," suggests that you discuss rates with clients before you begin writing. Negotiate your rate, either per word or per project, and a time frame for payment. Draw up a contract that clearly states the work to be completed and the payment details. Create an invoice as agreed with the client and keep track of payments. When payment arrives, put some aside to pay taxes. You'll be responsible for state, federal and self-employment tax. The IRS asks sole proprietors to pay estimated taxes quarterly.
Maintain a professional demeanor and take deadlines seriously. Communicate with clients to determine their needs and produce quality writing. Thank clients for their business and ask for referrals. A freelance writing business can feel isolated, especially if you’re working from a home office. James-Enger emphasizes the importance of relationship-building. She recommends developing relationships with other freelance writers. Not only will you make new friendships, you’ll find that writers refer each other to potential clients. Get involved with writing groups. You'll find connections locally, and also online via social media sites such as LinkedIn, Google Plus and Facebook.
- Entrepreneur Business Idea Center: Freelance Writer
- 2015 Writer’s Market: Should Your Writing Business be an LLC?; Carol Topp
- Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success; Kelly James-Enger
- Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service: 2013 Instructions for Schedule C
- U.S. Small Business Administration: State Licenses and Permits
- Internal Revenue Service: Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center
- 2015 Writer’s Market Deluxe Edition
- Writer's Digest
Cate Rushton has been a freelance writer since 1999, specializing in wildlife and outdoor activities. Her published works also cover relationships, gardening and travel on various websites. Rushton holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Utah.