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5 Steps to Starting a Freelance Writing Side Hustle

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Knowing how to start a freelance writing business may seem simple at first glance. You like to write, you want to get paid for that writing — what more is there than that?

In truth, starting a freelance writing business is a bit more complicated, and if you are just getting started, you will have to do some prep work before you actually begin to accept gigs and get paid.

1. Figure Out What You are Good At

The first step to starting a freelance writing business — or any business really — is to take an extensive inventory of your strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Taking a look at your other passions aside from writing (you do like writing, don’t you?), as well as what you are actually good at will do more than help you pick a backup plan if writing doesn’t work out (joking). It will help you decide the most crucial part of your writing business — what will you write about?

We know, we know. You were hoping you could just dance around the idea of actually picking a topic and just write about everything, right? While you could do that, it will be easier to find clients if you pick a topic or two to specialize in. Becoming an expert in a subject area will help you stand out to clients who are looking for writers in your niche. And because you are just one fish in the vast sea of freelance writers, standing out is key.

But how do you pick a niche when there are so many to choose from? The first thing to do, is to forget about picking.

Wait, what?

Yes, you heard us right. While you will need to actually sit down and pick something eventually, at first it is best to start with a simple list. Don’t worry about picking right now. Before you get there, you will need to gather data.

Ask yourself: What are my hobbies? Besides writing, what do I excel at? What do I find interesting? What do I struggle with?

After you’ve answered these questions, group your answers into topics. These topics will provide a solid starting block for your next step.

2. Pick Your Niche

So you have a list … now what? Pick your niche? Not so fast. First, you will want to do some research.

You see, while every niche might be fascinating, every niche is not equally as marketable. Just because you are passionate about something doesn’t mean that it is the best thing for you to write about. You will also want to consider market value.

Doing a little research online should go a long way in helping you pick a niche that people will pay you to write about (because that’s the goal, isn’t it?). Start with a simple google search of your niche topic. How many results come up? What kind of sites are they? You can also try to search “niche” + blog, or “niche” + magazine. For example, if you are thinking about writing about pets, try searching “pet blog” or “pet magazine.” You can also google, “niche” + write for us, to track down any sites that may be looking for writers.

Next, check out online job boards. How many postings are within the niche you are researching? If the answer is “none,” you may want to think again about picking the topic as your niche unless your google search research was favorable.

Not sure what to look for? You want to find a niche that is fairly popular. You may find underwater basket weaving fascinating, but if no one is writing about it, no one will pay you to write about it either. On the other hand, you want to avoid niches that are already oversaturated. The more writers that are writing about a specific topic, the harder it will be for you to stand out.

Once you have picked a niche (or two), buckle-up. The real work is about to begin.

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3. Decide How Much to Charge

Deciding how much to charge is the eternal struggle of every freelancer. On one hand, you don’t want to scare potential clients away. On the other, you have bills to pay, successful businesses cost money to run, and you’d like to put food in your stomach every now and then. If your freelance writing business is a side hustle and not your main gig (which we highly recommend, at least at first), you have a bit more flexibility. But your time is still worth something. The trick is to figure out how much.

Most freelance writers charge per word, but you can also charge per project or by-the-hour. Things to consider when setting your prices include: How much experience do you have? What is your level of relevant education? How long does it take you to write a 1,000 word article?What is your level of expertise, both as a writer and in the topic you are writing about? How much would you like to make per hour? How much do you need to make?

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4. Get a Business License (and other legal tidbits)

Before you pick up clients and begin making money, you may need to get a business license. Laws differ by state (and even city), so you will need to find out the requirements where you live. Try calling the county clerk or your local chamber of commerce. If nothing else, they will be able to get you in touch with whoever handles business licenses in your area.

Most freelancers file as a sole proprietorship, but you can also file as a limited liability company or a partnership. There are pros and cons to each, so make sure you do your research before picking which is best for you. You will also need to register your business name — if you choose to file as a sole proprietor, this is just your legal name — and obtain a federal and state tax ID.

Don’t forget that you will still need to pay income taxes as well! Since taxes won’t be coming out of your paycheck each month, you will want to set aside a small amount every time you are paid for a project. Generally, it is recommended that you put aside 30% of your business’s income for taxes each year. If your freelance writing business is a side hustle, not your main gig, you will still need to pay taxes on any income you receive through it, so the 30% rule still applies.

5. Find Clients and Start Writing

So you’ve figured out all the details and you are ready to begin, but how exactly do you land your first gig? Finding clients can be hard (we’ve written more about it here [insert link]), but there are a few tricks you can use to pick up your first ones:

  1. Ask your family and friends. Do you know anyone with a business that might need a blog, or have connections?
  2. Reach out to local businesses. The worst they can say is no.
  3. Stalk job boards. Focus on listings within your niche. Apply, apply, apply.
  4. Try searching for blogs, businesses, and other sites who accept contributing writers in your niche.
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In the meantime, working on a personal blog or being an unpaid contributor at a site in your niche will give you the experience and writing samples you need when you finally get some bites.

Above all, don’t give up. Starting out on any entrepreneurial venture is difficult, and you can expect to experience some setbacks. But with a lot of hard work and persistence, you will be well on your way to success.

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