As someone who has been earning money freelance writing and traveling the world for the past several years, I often get asked how to become a content writer or freelancer writer. I finally decided to write my own guide on how to make money freelance writing online so that you, too, can live abroad full-time or become a digital nomad and travel the world, all while earning a decent income.
But before we dive right in, you should know that this article will teach you how to become a content writer – a form of freelance writing. This article won’t teach you how to pitch to travel magazines for becoming a freelance travel writer or to work as an in-house writer for some firm or business. My guide will walk you through the exact process I used to make online content writing my full-time (well, more like part-time) job – aka how I am able to sustain myself while traveling and living abroad.
If you want to learn how to become a successful content writer online, meaning writing well-research, SEO-optimized articles for other bloggers, businesses, people, etc, then read on!
Here’s how to become a freelance content writer and make money for traveling!
How to Become a Content Writer & Earn Money to Travel
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Types of Freelance Writing – Which Is Right for You?
There are several types of freelance writing you can do: freelance travel writing, creative writing, ghostwriting, freelance social media content writing, journalism, copywriting, and more!
In general, though, when someone says they are a freelance writer what comes to mind is article/blog writing or copy/content writing. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on freelance blog writing and content writing.
Now you may be wondering, what the heck are the differences between some of these terms – like copywriting vs. content writing. I love to refer back to this quote whenever I need a refresher,
“Remember that copywriting is content, but content isn’t necessarily copywriting. Where content writing is informative and creative and meant to be shared, copywriting is direct and focused on a sales-generating end-game.” SmartBugMedia
Depending on what type of freelancing you do will change everything. How you approach your job, how you write, how you do your research, and even how you get paid.
For example, freelance travel writers will pitch cool and unique travel content ideas to popular travel brands, websites, magazines, even tourism boards. If approved, they get sent off to X destination to write up X, Y, Z, per the terms and conditions. How much freelance travel writers get paid can vary depending on who they work with. Freelance travel writing contracts may include a fixed budget (price per word count) for the finished written piece and may include comped activities, hotels, and flights.
I wouldn’t say I am an established freelance travel writer, because that title is reserved for real travel writers like Tim Neville who is a frequent contributor for the New York Times, National Geographic, and a correspondent for Outside magazine. Travel is essentially his, and other freelance travel writers, full-time job. My freelance writing work isn’t all freelance travel writing, although I have dabbled in writing content for about travel. As in, I’ve written for several affiliate blogs that are in the travel industry – this would still be classed as content writing.
With online freelance writing, travel doesn’t have to be your job, but it can allow you to afford a lifestyle of travel. That’s what I love about it. You can also do various types of online freelance writing – social media content, copywriting, ghostwriting, creative writing, etc. All of these vary in length, style, and approach, but ultimately they can all be done from your laptop (and a wifi connection) anywhere in the world.
So when deciding to become a freelance writer, make sure you know what type of freelance writing you want to do. That will help you know where to look and how to apply for jobs that are in alignment with your skills (or desired skills – because you can learn and improve upon skills you don’t have yet!).
Where to Find Freelance Content Writing Jobs
There are several places online where you can apply for freelance writing jobs online, such as:
I personally use and highly recommend getting started freelance writing on Upwork. This is the platform I use for both my freelance work and for finding freelancers whenever I need to outsource. It is one of the best freelance writing platforms in terms of finding both interesting and well-paid jobs.
Feel free to browse through the other above-mentioned sites, but I want to focus on Upwork since that is what I have been using since 2017 to find writing jobs online. It is also the biggest freelancer platform in the world, and many freelancers (and clients/agencies) prefer it to its competitors because many highly-skilled professionals use Upwork.
As such, Upwork has become highly competitive to get accepted into as a new freelancer. Nowadays, during the application process, you need to showcase that you have in-demand skills and lots of value to add to the platform. That said, don’t apply without really laying out all of your skills (even if they are not fully developed yet, let’s say). Essentially, don’t leave any stone unturned. The more valuable your application, the more likely you will get accepted as a freelancer.
If and when you are accepted as a freelancer, Upwork applies a commission fee to every job you work on.
The Upwork fees work like this:
- 20% fee on fixed-price jobs until you reach a total of $500 in billings with the same client
- 10% fee on fixed-price jobs between $500.01 – $10,000 in billings with the same client
- 5% fee on fixed-price jobs over $10,000.01 with the same client
- 10% fee on all hourly contracts
- “Bonus” payments also get a service fee, which from my understanding is a sliding fee mirroring that of your current fee structure with your client.
So yes, that means it pays to enter into long-term contracts with the same client! I JUST went over the $10,000.01 mark with one of my clients from this past year and I’m now making 15% more than I used to, which is huge! I also increased my rates in the new year, but I’ll talk more about how to price yourself in the sections below.
Upwork’s commission fees are about the same as every other platform – so it’s just something you have to swallow and get over. Yes, it really sucks to fork over 20% of your earnings to Upwork, but at the same time, finding work with Upwork is extremely easy and they take care of everything for you, plus they are there to settle any disputes, fix tech issues, provide tax docs, etc. So it’s understandable to charge so much, but still quite stingy of them in my opinion!
I think Upwork is still the best for finding interesting long-term jobs that pay well, which leads me to…
What Freelance Writing Jobs Can You Do?
On places like Upwork, you can find hundreds of different types of writing jobs you can apply for.
But be careful, you don’t want to do just “any” writing job. Ideally, pick a topic that actually interests you or that you already have some expertise or knowledge about. That way, you will produce your best writing.
Producing high-quality content is what will lead to 5-star feedback which is what can help you land bigger, higher-paying gigs and contracts.
Here are some of the writing niches that I have actually seen posted on Upwork before:
- Digital Marketing
- and MORE!
Trust me when I say that there are tons and tons of opportunities to land content writing jobs on Upwork.
I currently write for a digital marketing blog, vegan blog, outdoor blog, and I do social media (Instagram) written content on the side for one client who sends work my way whenever they need it. Am I an expert in each one of those things? Not necessarily. But those topics interest me and I enjoy learning more about them which is what allows me to produce my best work.
Upwork Job Posting Example
To take it a step further, I wanted to screenshot a job listing that recently was posted on Upwork (at my time of writing) to show you what an Upwork job posting may look like in your home feed. Please note that this is just a sampling of thousands of types of writing jobs.
I will breakdown what you see in the screenshot below so you get a feel for what it’s like to “browse” through jobs AND know how to spot good jobs vs. bad jobs.
Title & Details: Right away, we understand that this job is to write content for a coffee blog. The estimated budget is posted at $30 fixed-price, which means, if you take a quick look in the description, that it’s their proposed pay rate of $30 per 1,000 words. This is common, but don’t always assume that the “Est. Budget:” accurately reflects the pay. Always double-check in the description. Sometimes you can negotiate a little, especially if you have extra skills you are bringing to the table.
Pay Rate: Is $30 for 1,000 words on Upwork good? Eh, it depends on your skills, experience, and how fast you can get the job done. If you are new to the scene, then I’d jump on it since $30 for 1,000 words is a good starting pay (I started out doing less!). But over time, once you gain enough experience and skill, don’t be afraid to ask for $40, then $50, then $60, then $70 or more per 1,000 words!
Job Description: Always read the full job description before applying. From this description, we can understand that the client wants a content writer, who knows how to write blog-style articles (i.e. how-to’s, comparisons, reviews, long-form guides, etc), and who has a deep understanding of coffee (and can write many words about it). The client is willing to give you a set outline to follow, which makes things easier, but you still will need to do ample research to make the content have sustenance.
Verbiage: It’s clear from their wording, such as the use of “LSI-keywords” that the client expects the writer to have a good understanding of SEO. Whenever you apply for content writing jobs like this, for other blogs, you will typically be required to know basic SEO in order to write and format a high-quality article.
Tags: In each job description, there are associated tags or skills. Above are listed “Blog Writing, Writing, Article Writing, Content Writing, and SEO Writing” which give further indication that you should have experienced in both article/blog writing and SEO. You can click on these tags to explore more related jobs looking for the same skills.
Proposals: This section indicates how competitive the job listing currently is. When I took this screenshot, the listing had only been live for 8 minutes (visible at the top), so it makes sense that there are “Less than 5” proposals. Sometimes, if the job listing is older (more than 24-48 hours), then you will have less chance of landing the gig since there may already be 30-50 proposals.
Payment Verified + Client Profile: Lastly, you want to apply to jobs that have a little blue checkmark indicating that their payment has been verified. This is just a way for you to filter through potentially spammy or untrustworthy clients. You can see that the client is based in Germany and has spent over $1,000 USD so far in outsourcing freelancers on the platform with a client feedback rating of around 4.2 stars (indicating if they are nice to work for or not).
How to Become a Skilled Content Writer Online & Make Money
If you are finding that you are applying to many jobs and getting zero gigs, it might be time to strengthen your skillset.
Below are three tips that have allowed me to excel in my work and maintain a 100% Job Success bar with a Top-Rated Plus badge, both indicating that I produce high-quality work and clients can count on me for their projects. Earning such rewards is just a by-product of providing value to each one of your clients. You can quickly earn these titles to effectively land more “expert-style” jobs that pay more.
Tip #1: Send Personalized Applications
As someone who has outsourced on Upwork before, nothing gets on clients’ nerves more than when people apply to your job without really putting any thought into their application.
It’s very easy to spot generic cover letters and intros that have been mass copied-pasted. Instead, actually take the time to read the full job description and craft a witty, thoughtful, and relevant cover letter. Answer all required questions and tell them why they should hire you for the project. Go ahead and attach writing samples while you’re at it and get ahead of your competition.
Tip #2: Offer Incentives
One way to get better jobs is to offer better or faster results. For example, on competitive projects, you could offer to get the work done in less than 24 hours (if you actually have time to do that). Or you could offer 2-3x revisions for free. Or maybe a discounted “trial run” so they at least allow you to get your foot in the door.
Once you are able to get their attention, then hook them with your creative, flawless writing.
Tip #3: Craft Quality
How I write for other bloggers is how I would write for myself. I want the best article on the topic for my own blogs, so I do the same for them. I know that clients really can see this extra amount of attention and value I put into their articles. One of the ways to do this is to not write for the word count. Many clients will have a strict 1200-word limit, while others give you ranges (1500-2000).
Adapt to your client, but don’t make your article too flowery or stuffed with keywords just to reach the word limit. When you aim to add value, the word count becomes irrelevant. Again, the goal is not to simply reach the word count. What you say in between word 1 and word 1500 is what counts.
Can You Become a Freelance Writer with No Experience?
Absolutely yes, you can become a freelance writer with no experience because freelance writing is a skill that anyone can learn to do. Writing is rarely, perhaps never, a talent someone is born with. It is mostly learned.
That said, if you don’t know how to structure your content writing, then you can learn and improve.
The more you write and practice, the better you will get.
How I Started Freelance Writing & Traveling
When I started my freelance writing work online, I didn’t realize that I had desirable skills. I simply wanted to make money online when I got introduced to Upwork.
Years prior, I had dabbled in blogging online – I began journaling my time abroad and I also created an affiliate blog.
And thanks to both, I slowly learned how to write content for blogs that have the potential to rank in Google. I didn’t know everything about SEO when I started and I still don’t. As I said, content writing is mostly a learned skill, and the more you do it the more you can improve.
It was sometime while living in Bogotá, Colombia in 2017 that I began my Upwork journey. I started one-off projects here and there, seriously underselling myself, but used those 5-star reviews to gradually build my profile up.
I took some time away from Upwork, but a year or so later I came back to it when my bank account was in the red while I was living around Europe – in Lyon and Aix-en-Provence, France, in Groningen, the Netherlands, and in Brussels, Belgium.
That’s the thing, Upwork, or at least making money online, was always there for me as a safety net during my travels in case I needed emergency money.
Then one year, when I was living in Mexico, I began to write more frequently. I gained confidence in my ability to write quality content for my clients. So I increased my rates and clients had no problem with it. That’s when I began to realize that I could make a decent living from freelancing online.
However, I have never pursued it full-time since I also made some money from working part-time on my affiliate blogs as well.
Finally, after 3 years of toying with freelance writing online, I found 3x clients within the same month to write for. And they all just clicked. This happened right as the pandemic began and I had nothing to do but spend my time inside writing. So I decided I might as well write for a bit to save up so that whenever the quarantine lifted, I could resume my old schedule.
I am still with those clients after nearly one year. I also increased my rates slightly in the new year and since they have been with me so long and know my work, they were more than happy to accommodate my request. (I recommend increasing your rates about once every 6 months!).
What’s more, since I have been with them long-term, I have reduced commission fees down to 5% and 10%, rather than 20%.
By finding a balance between long-term clients and my own projects, I was able to spend less time “searching” for jobs and more time creating and earning more money for fewer hours.
Now I can earn a full-time income while writing only 10-12 hours per week (instead of working 40). How amazing is that?
So while I began traveling before I became a freelance writer, it was thanks to writing online that I could keep traveling and make it a sustainable lifestyle for me.
So, do you think becoming a freelance content writer is right for you? I think it is one of the best jobs in the world to have if you love writing and traveling because it allows you to do both.
I truly hope this guide helps you in your journey to earning money online from content writing (or any other type of freelance writing!). If ever you have any questions, feel free to reach out or share the love in the comments below.
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