All You Need To Know About Freelance Writing Online

When i first started to work from home, my initial goal was to freelance write for magazines. After a few failed queries to parenting magazines, I gave up. Even as my writing and credibility improved, breaking into the major magazines has been a challenge. On the other hand, writing for online markets is much easier. Plus they publish quicker and pay sooner.

Freelance writing online is different than traditional freelance writing. Many of these differences make online freelance writing ideal, including:

  1. Shorter article lengths, usually 300 to 800 words with 400 to 600 being the most common.
  2. Faster publishing time (days as opposed to months).
  3. Lots of need because most websites that pay for writing want new content daily.
  4. Faster payment, usually through PayPal or direct deposit.
  5. Easier for new writers to break in.

Of course, there are a few drawbacks:

  1. In general, the pay is lower for online markets, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a decent income.
  2. To make a living, it helps to be able to write fast. Sticking with topics you know in-depth improves writing speed. I’ve written more articles related to belly fat than I care to admit (over 600!).
  3. Like many online ventures, the market is getting saturated, so there are greater expectations for quality, and it’s increasingly more difficult to break into decent paying markets.
  4. Depending on who you write for, online clips may not be accepted for traditional freelance writing jobs. As a result, online writing may not provide a stepping stone to print media.

What Online Markets Pay

image for freelance writing and money

Pay for online markets varies. If you want to write regularly for a specific company or content mill, you’ll be paid anywhere from $15 to $30 per piece. Some media sites pay up to $1 per word or $50 to $300 per piece, but usually you have pitch your idea and have it accepted. This is a great way to freelance, but it means writing a query and finding a resource who wants the article.

There are many opportunities to write for less, but I’d avoid those options, as it would be difficult to make a living writing for less than $15 an article.

You should also consider the time it takes to write your articles. I can write two how to fitness articles an hour. Those articles are 400 words, for which I’m paid $30 a piece or $60 per hour. Another place might pay $100 for an 800-word article, but if it has more hoops to jump through to get it written, such as in-depth research or interviews, it might take 4 hours to write, which equates to $25 per hour.

Most online writing jobs are done on a freelance or contract basis. That means the company does not take taxes or other fees from your paycheck. You’ll be responsible for paying quarterly taxes (if your tax liability is more than $1000 a year). This makes some would-be writers nervous. However, if you save a portion (i.e. 15 to 20%) of your pay for taxes, it’s not hard. Plus, working as a freelancer, you only have to pay the tax man quarterly as opposed to monthly, as in a traditional job. Finally, as a freelancer, you can deduct expenses needed to manage your writing career, such as home office, Internet access and more. You can learn more at the IRS online.

Skills Required for Online Freelance Writing

freelance writing skills photo

It goes without saying that you should be able to string words together in a coherent fashion, but writing online is different from others forms of writing. Here are skills you should have to successfully write online:

  • Write conversationally. Online writing, in most cases, is less formal than other forms of writing. You don’t want to write exactly how you talk, but it still should have a vibe of being personal, like a conversation. Some markets will ask you to write in a specific voice. For example, LIVESTRONG has a straightforward voice, but Top5.com likes a little snark and controversy.
  • Write succinctly. The advantage of online writing is that most articles are 400 to 600 words. The disadvantage is that sometimes it’s too few words to get your idea across. Learning to edit your writing down to the basics of the topic will save you time and rewrites from an editor. That is not to say your writing should be sparse. Instead, you need to keep your writing energetic and snappy, using only 400 to 600 words. The best way to do this is avoid passive voice and use strong, active verbs.
  • Use headlines, bullets, lists, etc. Pages full of the same type of text is a turnoff for readers. As a result, most websites offer articles and other content that is broken up into sections, bullet points and lists. An advantage of this type of writing is that it makes your pieces easy to organize.
  • Knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO). Even though Google’s last algorithm change impacted the SEO efforts of website owners, search engines still use keywords to index and rank websites. SEO is often confusing and overwhelming, but the basics are to use the words and phrases readers would use to find the article. If you’re writing about belly fat, then the words used in the title, headlines, and article should be related to belly fat, such as belly fat, losing fat, losing weight, love handles, etc.
  • Familiarity with The Chicago Manual of Style and AP Style rules of writing. Many sites ask that you write using the rules of The Chicago Manual of Style or Associated Press Style (AP). Each has slightly different ways of handling writing rules. You’re not likely to remember every rule of each method, but fortunately, you can find the rules online.

Education/Experience

Many writing jobs don’t require any specialized education, training, or experience. However, if you have education or experience, it might provide opportunities not available to general writers. For example, LIVESTRONG pays a little more because it requires writers to have a background in health, fitness, or nutrition.

Sometimes life experience is enough to earn a writing job in a specific topic area. For example, About.com hires guides to write on tons of topics, including gaming, boating, soap operas, and cake decorating. While the company likes to have experts, often that status is earned through experience, not through education.

A Day in the Life of an Online Freelance Writer

the life of freelance writers

There is no typical day for the online writer, but I thought I’d share some possible scenarios.

Writer 1: Writer one is a stay-at-home mom wanting to supplement her income. To afford to stay home, she has learned to live on nearly nothing. She supplements her income by making $800 per month writing for an Internet portal on affording to be a stay at- home mom.

Writer 2: Writer two works eight hours a day, sometimes more, cranking out ten $25 articles a day for a content mill earning $5000 per month.

Writer 3: Writer three wants to be a full-time writer, but can’t leave his day job yet. He earns $200 to $500 a month pitching to and writing content for a variety of online media.

Writer 4: Writer four makes most of her income copywriting for online businesses because it pays the bills. She pitches to and writes content for online media with the dream of focusing on article writing in the future.

Writer 5: Writer five writes for several online content outlets, cranking out several articles a day. Like writer two, writer five’s income is based on delivering as many articles for these resources as possible.

Essentially, you can mix and match writing resources to meet your needs. Content mills have a bad rap, but you get lots of practice writing and can earn decent income. You just have to avoid burnout while churning out several articles a day. Bloggers, online magazines, big companies, and many other online media hire content writers to keep their websites constantly updated with fresh news and information.

What Can You Write About?

While you can write about several topics, you won’t be able to write about all topics. Most online media sources will want you to show that you have knowledge along with writing skill before hiring you. For example, I can write for LIVESTRONG because I have an AFAA certification. I can write about parenting because I am a parent and I have a masters in social work. While you don’t necessarily need degrees and certifications, they can help. In this section, you’re going to inventory your education, training, experiences, interests, etc, for topics you can write about.

How To Write A Sample Article

Content mills, online portals, and many writing jobs require you to submit a sample, especially if you don’t have clips. Sometimes you’ll be given a topic to write about, while other times it’s your choice. I recommend having at least one sample article prepared for each topic area you want to write in. Here are tips to writing your sample article:

  1. Read the instructions given by the job source. You’ll be given guidelines such as word count, type of article (i.e., how-to), and other directions. Be sure to follow them.
  2. Start with an outline. Since online writing is short, to the point, and organized by lists, bullets, or section areas, I start by listing my main topic points. For example, if I wanted to write about helping an internationally adopted child adjust to her new home and country, I would make a list of the ideas I want to cover.
  3. Write your introduction and fill in the information for your topic areas.
  4. Read through your draft and fix errors and areas that don’t flow.
  5. Read your draft out loud and fix areas that don’t sound right.
  6. Put the article aside for awhile, at least thirty minutes.
  7. Edit the article, going word by word, punctuation mark by punctuation mark, to perfect it.
  8. If possible, ask someone else to read it. Not only will they find errors you missed, but they’ll be able to point out ideas that don’t make sense or flow well.
  9. Save the final draft in your word processing document.
  10. Copy and paste your final draft into a text editor (i.e., Notepad). Pasting a word processing document directly into an online form rarely goes well. Apostrophes and commas are usually recoded into gobbledygook, and formatting (i.e., indents) is lost. You can remove your word processor’s hidden coding by pasting the document into a text editor.
  11. Format your document in your text editor, justifying everything left, putting spaces between paragraphs.
  12. Save your final draft in .txt format. This is the version you’ll paste into an online application or in an email.

How To Write Your Bio

Queries and writing applications ask for a biography that shows your experience as a writer and/or knowledge of the topic. Often, this bio or a revised version is used when your article is posted online. The challenge of the bio is that you don’t have very many words to say how great you are. If you’re writing for a variety of publications, you’ll want different bios that best fit the topic area.

My suggestion is that you make a generic bio and then tweak it for each writing job you apply to or article you submit, based on the word count allowed and the tone and topic of the publication. To write your bio:

  1. Lead with your name and your expertise or brand statement.
  2. Mention only the most salient and relevant information related to your knowledge of the topic and/or writing experience. I mention I’m a social worker in two bios because I write parenting articles for those publications. I mention my education in the bios for serious, professional-oriented sites.
  3. Include a link to your website. If you don’t have a website, include a link to your LinkedIn, Google+ or other social media accounts (see below).

How To Use Social Media As A Freelancer

Lately, several of the writing jobs I’ve gotten included a requirement to share my work through my social networks. Most writers I know do this anyway, but some publications are vetting writers based on their social media presence. Because this is increasing in importance, I’m going to encourage you to create or beef up your social media involvement, starting with Google+.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t thrilled when Google+ came out because I didn’t want to have to learn yet another social media network. I’m still not thrilled with Google+, and I’m not very active there. You can’t automatically feed RSS or Twitter to Google+ like you can with other networks. If you change your header graphic to gigantic (which I did by accident), you can’t change it back to small. However, I’ve had three writing clients that required Google+ participation in order to write for them. Why? For a short time, Google had an authorship program, which would show photos of authors within search results on their articles. The idea was the photo would increase credibility of the listing and lead to more people reading the article. Google recently ended Google Authorship, but it will still show the author’s photo when search results refer to posts on the author’s Google+ page. Further, Google includes Google+ posts in search results. That means there is some benefit to sharing your published work on your Google+ page.

Along with submitting the usual information about you and your work, at Google+, you can list the sites you’re a contributor to through your profile.

I’m not qualified to go into detail about setting up and maximizing Google+, but here are some good books on the topic, including What the Plus! by Guy Kawasaki and Google+ for Dummies by Jesse Stay.

Facebook and Twitter are also a good bet when it comes to building a social media following. The good news is that you can set your Facebook account to pull your posts from Twitter, so you only need to share your articles on Twitter and they’ll automatically go to Facebook.

LinkedIn is a good option if your articles are career or business related, or targeted to professionals, or if you want to network to find more writing jobs. If you write crafts, recipes, and other articles that include photos, Pinterest is a good place to build a following.

Checklist for Freelance Writing Online

  • Fill in the education and experience worksheet to identify topic areas to write in.
  • Go through the topic ideas sheet to find more ideas to write about.
  • Make a list of your published clips, if you have them.
  • Identify five topic areas to focus on as you get started. Flesh out three title ideas from each topic area.
  • Write a sample article to use on your writing applications. Consider writing one for each topic area.
  • Write a bio.
  • Begin to work on and expand your social networks. If you’re not on Google+, sign up (it’s free) and complete your profile.
  • Check out some of the tools in the writer’s toolbox.

That is it for today. I’ll see you in the next article.