I slowly waded into freelance writing over the years — you can too

As far back as I can remember, becoming a writer was an ambition of mine. As a kid, I imagined I would grow up and become either a hairdresser, a lawyer or a writer. I tried hairdressing, never studied law, and today I make a reliable income from writing.

There are many different ways to earn a living as a writer. Below I’ll explain how I began generating an income from writing, as well as how I continue to evolve my writing and the ways I make a living. It’s been a long and winding path; my only regret is that I didn’t follow my writing dream sooner.

Getting Started

I love words. I love reading. This is probably a good foundation for making a living from writing. You’ll be spending a lot of time with both.

I didn’t go straight into writing from school. I followed the hairdresser dream first. It didn’t work out as planned. Turns out I’m allergic to pretty much all the chemicals found in a hairdressing salon. So, I spent a good while “collecting life experience.”

To get my writing career rolling, I took a writer’s course. If you’re considering the same, I’d recommend one that pushes you to get actual writing experience, pitching, prospecting, and doing your market research together with actual writing, and the research you’ll need to create a good piece of work. I chose a correspondence course I could fit around my working life because regular classes don’t work so well for me.

Whatever style of course you choose, the first step to earning a reasonable income from writing is laying the foundations to become a great writer. That means learning the basics, practicing them, and getting to a point where they’re embedded in the ends of your fingers.

Making the Leap From Learning to Doing

Once you’ve completed your initial learning phase, it’s time to put it into real-life practice, again and again. I love the process of market research, idea creation, pitching, writing, submitting, and seeing my name in print. It’s a little addictive.

To transition from being a writing student to a working writer, I picked up a volunteer blog role. I carried on with my 9-5 job and wrote in the evenings. This helped focus my ideas and build the beginnings of a portfolio.

By the time my second son came along, I was getting a little pissed at myself for my cowardly approach to becoming a writer. My partner had begun freelancing as an illustrator. I watched him turn his incredible talent in the fairly small niche of archaeological illustration into an income. I figured if he could do it, I could too. As the end of my maternity leave approached, I began looking into freelancing platforms instead of searching for another 9-5er.

Getting Paid

I set up a profile page on what was Elance at the time (Upwork today) and one or two other writer’s platforms. I pitched for jobs as a beginner and won one or two projects that paid peanuts.

I liked the idea of writing about anything I was asked to, and my writing course had prepared me for exactly that type of writing. I was still volunteering and wasn’t earning anywhere near enough to be seriously contributing to our family finances. If I wanted to be a paid writer and enjoy the freedom of a freelancing lifestyle while ensuring we didn’t starve, something needed to change.

That’s when I decided to branch out.

Pitching and Prospecting for Business-Related Content Writing

I kept my profiles live on the freelancing platforms, but I went back to the market research side of things I’d learned in my writing course. The only difference was that I started researching businesses as well as publications.

I created a list of businesses and organizations that I wanted to work with. Armed with that and some business cards, I put together pitching letters introducing myself and my writing skills. From this work, I landed two or three regular clients. One, a local charity, and the other, a website design company that needed a content writer for their clients.

With the two regular contracts, the freelancing platform, and traditional forms of writing — submitting articles to publications and being paid for them — I cobbled together the beginnings of a paid writing career. That was about seven years ago.

Continued Growth and Learning

Now that I’ve been freelancing for a while, I’ve built a good client base. I still prospect, I also get new clients from referrals, and I still pitch for well-paid, interesting jobs on freelancing platforms.

I occasionally write for online or print publications, but most of my work is creating content for small- to medium-sized businesses — blog writing, website content, sales emails, putting together marketing and content plans, and then implementing them. Sometimes I’m credited for my work, sometimes not. I don’t work for free unless it’s for a cause I care about or an exciting project that gels with my interests and doesn’t impinge on my paid work.

To continue growing a freelance writing business, it’s important to keep exploring new avenues for finding and winning clients. Social media can be helpful, and this is one place I’ve been exploring over the past six months or so (I’ll keep you posted). The basics remain the same though — research your market, research your prospect, pitch, and repeat.

It’s also important to keep improving your own skills. Each year I make sure I take at least one course for professional development. Sometimes it’s an online writing course, sometimes it’s about marketing or another aspect of running a business. This is important because everything you learn can feed into your writing and be used to generate an income. Whether that’s writing about what you learn or being able to offer clients a new service because you’ve upped your skills repertoire, it’ll help you to grow your writer’s income further.

The Three Main Areas That Generate My Income

The bulk of my income comes from three sources — commissioned work from clients (both ones I’ve hustled for and ones I’ve had referred to me), projects I win on freelancing platforms, and the occasional article I pitch to magazines. I guard against the feast/famine cycle that’s common to creative freelancers by regularly committing time to prospect and pitch — even when I’ve got enough work to keep me busy. Doing this means that my diary is rarely empty of paid work. That and my sturdy client base, make my income fairly consistent.

Late last year I decided it was time to add a few more income streams to the mix. Diversifying my income should increase my overall earnings, even out some of the troughs, and let me make more without working a whole lot more than I already do. I’m hoping that as these streams develop, I’ll still be earning when I take a break.

New Income Streams I’m Developing

One of these streams is writing for Medium. For years, I toyed with the idea of having my own blog. I even started one a few years back but shut it down after less than a year. The technical side of running a website was beyond my skills at the time, and these days I’d rather not have the expense and annoyance of keeping my own website up to date — I’m busy doing that for my clients instead.

Medium is the perfect middle ground for me. I commit to writing a minimum of one article a week for this platform and have done so since September last year. Sometimes I write more, never less.

My Medium income is slowly growing as I get to grips with the articles people like to read from me. At the moment, I won’t be writing any “how I made £1mil with one article on Medium” articles. But, my Medium income is steadily growing. I’m pretty sure if I cranked up the effort and published once per day or more, instead of once per week, it’d grow a lot faster. As it is, I’m happy with the steady growth and being able to focus during the week on my three primary areas for a reliable income.

Also. I’m using Medium to provide additional content for my second new income stream.

Email lists and generating an income from my audience has always intrigued and stumped me. So I have been looking into how to build my own list and taking steps in this direction while I figure out what I want to do with it. I’m not keen on the idea of teaching or creating a course, not sure what I’d write to create an eBook, and most of the other common income-generating things writers do with their websites and email subscribers don’t thrill me.

I want to keep writing about the things I love, sharing my work with interested people, and growing a loyal audience. I’m sure something will come up that will make sense with who I am and what I want to do for my subscribers as time rolls on.

In the meantime, affiliate marketing seems to be a logical step for generating an income from this. It’s very early days with this one, and I am learning new stuff all the time. However, while I build my subscriber list and ponder what I am going to create for them, sharing links to some of the products and services I already use seems a logical way to begin building that avenue into another form of income.

You Can Do It Too

Learn your craft first, practice daily, and keep on learning as you grow.

My reliable writer’s income comes from business clients, freelancing platforms, and the occasional magazine article. I’ve begun supplementing this with my writing for Medium. I’m building a group of subscribers who I send free links to my work, interesting articles I’ve come across, and a few affiliate links I’ve established. This does for now while I figure out what else I can create and give to this group of interested readers.

I ensure the future of my writing career by continuing with my professional development — honing skills I already have, building new ones, and keeping abreast of changes in my industry— SEO practices, changes to content writing, and marketing to name a few.

Although I wouldn’t say I’m rich, this brings in enough each month to contribute my fair share for raising two boys, paying bills on time, and putting some aside for savings. I’m also taking my family to Australia later this year, so I must be doing something right.