5 Tips for Starting a Freelance Writing Business and Paying Down Debt

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  • I paid off $60,000 of student loans nine years early in part by freelance writing on the side.
  • I recommend a writing side hustle to anyone who’s trying to get out of debt.
  • Focus on content types rather than niches, learn the basics of SEO, and be reliable.

On December 31, 2020, I paid off the last of my $60,000 in student loans nine years ahead of schedule. It was no small feat and it took a lot of sacrificing to make it happen, including moving to South Korea to teach English.

But my Korean teaching job has paid me less than $30,000 per year. And while it’s been enough to live on, it wasn’t nearly enough to help me pay down my debts. 

To supplement my income, I started freelance writing in 2014. Since then, I’ve learned a lot and made literally thousands of dollars I otherwise wouldn’t have had. Thanks to freelancing, I’m debt-free and have traveled the world.

I have five tips for anyone thinking about starting a freelance writing side hustle to get out of debt. 

1. Don’t worry about industry niches; focus on content types

When you start wading into the world that is freelance writing, you’ll hear a lot about “niching down” — or choosing specific industries to write for. The biggest reason for this is because, according to “everyone,” you’ll make more money by catering to certain businesses as a topic or industry expert rather than trying to appeal to anyone and everyone.

Personally, I think this is terrible advice for new freelancers. While it’s technically true that you can make more money by choosing a niche or two, I think it’s more important to be open to a wide array of industries. Instead, focus on learning how to write different types of content well.

There’s more than one way to make money writing: You might become a technical writer, a business blog writer, a case study writer, a copywriter, or something else. By writing different kinds of material for a variety of industries, you might learn you really enjoy (or hate!) something more than you expected. 

2. Learn the basics of SEO ASAP

SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” This is a fancy term for what Google does to discover and “rank” all the stuff on the internet so that when you type something into the search bar, the results you get relate directly to your query. 

No matter what kind of content you’re writing — and especially if you’re writing anything that will live solely online — SEO will come into play at some stage.

You don’t need to be an expert, but you’d be wise to have a good understanding of the bare basics, like long- and short-tail keywords and best practices for writing internet content that’s well optimized. 

3. Connect with other writers and communities of freelancers

I wish I had spent more time early on connecting with other freelance writers and online entrepreneurs, such as virtual assistants. 

When you’re new to entrepreneurship, things can be lonely. (And make no mistake, as a freelance writer, you’re an entrepreneur!) Often, your circle of friends and family don’t really “get” what you do as a freelancer. Making friends who are going through similar experiences or who have been where you are is invaluable. 

Facebook and LinkedIn are great places to join communities of other writers and online workers. You can ask questions, get advice, and learn about job opportunities, as well as connect with other like-minded people who “get it.” And you’ll have a great resource for referrals, too.

4. Keep an open dialogue with your clients

Spoiler alert: You’re not going to be perfect every time you send something to a client! It’s important that you don’t take things personally if you’re asked to make edits to your work. In fact, you should expect to make changes.

If you really want to make a name for yourself, ask for feedback often. Even if you feel like you’re knocking things out of the park and you aren’t asked to make many edits, showing your clients you’re open to their honest opinions will go a long way.

If you think clients are pleased, don’t be afraid to ask for testimonials and referrals. This is the best way to build your business. If your clients are happy, they’ll be more than willing to recommend your writing services to someone in their network. 

5. Be the most reliable you’ve ever been

Over the years, I’ve worked with dozens of clients and made friends with other online entrepreneurs. I’ve also been both the freelance writer and the editor hiring them. 

And no matter what kind of position I’m in — either the freelancer or the boss — one common complaint always comes up: It’s hard to find good, reliable help online. 

I hear this all the time from my clients and other friends and I’ve experienced it myself with other freelancers I’ve hired. If you want to be invaluable to your clients, you simply need to be reliable. You don’t have to necessarily even be the most talented writer. Your clients will appreciate your consistency and promptness above all else.



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