I sat down to write this as a general guide to help people better understand their opportunities as freelance writers, but as I sit and watch the world react to yet another round of extra-judicial killings of Black people, I realized why exactly some of us might miss out on the fact that these opportunities exist.
Our time, and our emotions, are stolen, leaving us endlessly focused on topics that impact our very existence and as a result, with reduced emotional room to explore and understand the opportunities out there for us. I hope that this resource will help you get some of that time back, and give you more chances to explore all of your career options as a writer.
What if I told you there was a hidden world of opportunity in freelance writing?
What if I told you that world generally paid better and was less dramatic than what you already know?
What if I told you that just about anybody can step into it?
The Writing Career Conundrum
Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and their ilk aside, most words you read…somebody was probably paid to write them.
I want you to try a little exercise for the rest of the day…I want you to make note of everything you read — recipes, product inserts, instruction manuals at your job, posters at the doctor’s office, text books, billboards, and even product descriptions on Amazon. All of these represent opportunity or insight into the world of paid writing.
That world might seem huge at first, but it’s really only the beginning. Businesses, hospitals, museums, lawn maintenance companies, and herbal supplement startups all talk to each other and they generally do it with writing. While a lot of their writing is done in-house by employed writers, a huge portion of it can, should, or could be done by freelancers.
I know because that’s the kind of writing I do.
When I first started working as a freelance writer, people would ask who I worked for and I could never name a company they’d heard of — my clients don’t exist to most of the world, but they, their business challenges, and yes, their money, are as real as anybody else’s.
Your Career and This List
I don’t want to talk too much about my writing work though, because this resource is about the multiple opportunities you have as a writer, and really, yours might look nothing like mine. This is why I want to cover a few of the opportunities you have to assemble your writing career.
Quick note…I say “assemble” because I’m going to be honest with you. A few types of writing simply don’t offer the opportunity to build a livable income across a lifetime. I know of a freelance poet who writes for gossip blogs on the side. I write only for businesses. Some people write only on social justice and are happy with a part-time income. Being a freelance writer means figuring out what works for you, and this guide is a good place to start, so let’s go!
If you see anything you’d like to add, or that needs more input, just leave it in the comments. This is a community knowledge-sharing resource, and the more voices here, the better.
This is the type of writing most people think when they hear “freelance writer”. Unfortunately, in the world of new media, it’s become largely dominated by low and unpaid assignments, a fact that gets a little obscured by bylines and exposure.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t opportunity here, but building a full-time sustainable income, especially focusing on one subject, will likely be VERY challenging since the institution is dying and the powers-that-be don’t seem super interested in adapting in any way that directly benefits content creators. (I strongly encourage you to consider one of the options below if you’re interested in generating sustainable income from your writing.)
Primary contact person: Editors, assistant editors
Earning potential: Low to moderate
Education/Experience: Degrees in journalism and communications rule here, but with the growth of modern media (especially online) those requirements are shifting for some platforms.
Examples: The Root, New York Times, Forbes, Ebony
This category is very broad, and that’s because basically anybody, from individuals to global corporations, can have a blog. Any of those could mean a chance at paid writing.
Bloggers generally have a specific skill in informal, brief, communication and those skills can translate to a lot of different areas. Keep your eyes open for websites in fields that you have education and interest in.
Primary contact person: Site owners, CEOs, marketing directors and executives, content marketing agencies, general marketing agencies
Earning potential: Low to high, depending on who you’re writing for. Payment can range from $25 to hundreds per post
Education/Experience: A history in the world of blogging is helpful here and a background in journalism can be helpful, but isn’t a necessity by any means.
Examples: Pretty much any site that has a link that says “blog”.
These days, it’s probably best to focus more on content marketing resources than pure blogging tips. Blogs today (the ones that have the resources to pay writers at least) are generally integrated into larger efforts and you need to at least understand where your work falls in within the bigger picture. My personal favorites are Copyblogger, and Skyword’s Content Standard.
Aside from the ridiculously rare screenwriting gigs, this is where you’ll see writers making the most money…There’s a LOT of opportunity here!
Sales letters, landing pages, email campaigns, direct response letters (mail and online), webinars…businesses make heavy use of these techniques, and if you can get good at them and prove your results, you’ll be in high demand. There’s an art to sales writing, both in the writing itself and understanding your goals, but anybody can learn it with some practice.
Primary contacts: Business owners, startup founders, marketing executives, business development personnel
Earning potential: Moderate to very high depending on the size of the client you’re working with
Education/Experience: I’ve heard of people with a sixth-grade education earning well in this straight-forward type of writing. It’s not uncommon to find writers with education ranging from high-school to PhDs though.
Naturally, there are a LOT of resources in this field and it can be hard to sort through them, so my suggestion is to start free and cheap. Don’t go investing thousands, hundreds, (or even tens) of dollars until you take advantage of some of the less expensive options out there. Here are four simple and free posts to get you going. When you are ready to pay a bit more, here’s a great course from AWAI and here’s a review of it (you should at least be a free member by now btw.)
From what I’ve seen, this is where some of the most reliable money in writing is.
Businesses in every industry are trying to connect with people online, and anyone who’s comfortable relating to online audiences can adapt their skills to business needs — all it takes is a willingness to understand an industry and business needs.
Writing here includes case studies, whitepapers, blogs, product reviews and descriptions, buyers’ guides, news articles, website copy, newsletters, and internal communications. Print copy includes conference materials, brochures, flyers, and sales writing.
Primary contact person: CEOs, marketing directors, content marketing directors, marketing agencies, trade journal editors (here’s a list of pubs)
Earning potential: Moderate to high — Businesses that sell to other businesses (B2B) will generally pay more than businesses that sell to consumers (B2C).
Education: Experience and education in your field can go a long way in convincing your clients that you understand their work, and a journalism degree can be beneficial, but no particular degree is needed.
The best way to get started is to subscribe to newsletters, blogs, and other free content, read, and try to imitate. Also check out Contently, Skyword’s Content Standard, Copyblogger, and Content Marketing Institute.
This seems to be a writing niche that Black people already have a pretty strong foot-hold in. If you check bidding sites, there’s a steady stream of requests for this type of writing, so building expertise, a reputation, and a full-time income here looks probable, especially if you can prove results and specialize in a niche. Skill-wise, according to Auntee Rik, it requires a research + following instructions as well as “upgraded scholarship essay skills.”
Side note: Experienced, successful grant writers looking to build new income streams likely have potential here in building their own courses, blog presences, e-books, and educational platforms too.
Primary contact: Non-profit organizations, for-profit businesses seeking government grants, individuals including artists, health professionals, and researchers.
Earning potential: Unsure, open to input
Education/Experience: Degrees in English, Journalism, Communications or Marketing can be helpful here, but aren’t required.
Examples: RFPs and Grant Proposals
Ghostwriting is essentially serving as the voice of someone else. It can be done for books, blogs, speeches, even social media. You don’t get the glory of a byline, but the pay is usually better.
Gaining a reputation is tricky since most clients don’t want people to know you exist, but there are many opportunities, especially in an age where so many executives and online personalities want to build thought leadership presences.
Primary contact: Marketing directors, individuals
Earning potential: Moderate to high
Education/Experience: A degree here isn’t required, but can be helpful if you specialize in a certain area. The ability to capture a subject’s voice is extremely important and to some, this comes naturally, but is also something that can be developed.
Examples: Books, songs, and social media presences
You’ll find a lot of potential in this writing niche, especially if you have a technical, medical, or scientific background.
While technical writing used to be mostly about hefty print manuals, technical writers are now creating blogs, whitepapers, and are even involved with more serious social media presences. Pharmaceutical and manufacturing industries have a particular need here, and anyone familiar with coding/programming languages and strong communication skills will likely find opportunity.
Who hires: Software publishers, scientific institutions, engineering companies, editorial consultancies (more info here)
Earning potential: Moderate to high
Education/Experience: You’ll find most technical and scientific writers with degrees and/or experience in their field of specialization.
Examples: End-user documentation, product manuals, reviews and reports, and more from Udemy.
Don’t just wander back out into the world of freelance writing on your own though — sign up to build your career with our community and try out a free month at the BlackFreelance Academy or at the very least, start receiving our free newsletter. Freelancing is a marathon and we all need support.