6 Tips for Running a Successful Freelance Writing Business

Yes, you can earn money writing – but you need to know how to run a successful freelance writing business. Use these tips to increase your chances of business success…

“I hear people say they’re going to write. I ask, when? They give me vague statements,” says Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. “Indefinite plans get dubious results. When we’re concrete about our writing time, it alleviates that thin constant feeling of anxiety that writers have – we’re barbecuing hot dogs, riding a bike, sailing out in the bay, shopping for shoes, even helping a sick friend, but somewhere nervously at the periphery of our perception we know we belong somewhere else – at our desk!”

Building a thriving writing career means setting solid goals — not just making vague plans to pitch query letters to magazine editors. Learn from professional freelance writers like Moira Allen, who wrote Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer.

And, here are six tips for building your writing business…

“Take the time to do more than what is expected,” writes Tumblemoose in the comments section below. “Submit your work a week before deadline. Be a real person. You will be miles ahead of nearly any competition. It’s also a little karma in the bank for any minor transgressions that you may make.”

How to Run a Successful Freelance Writing Business

Organizing your article ideas is one of the best ways to be a professional writer. Read How to Make an Editorial Calendar for Writers.

1. Think in terms of career, not hopes and dreams

When I first started freelance writing (I’m The Adventurous Writer), my husband Bruce kept talking about my “writing career.” That freaked me out at first, but then I began to think about my writing that way…as a career, not just a dream, goal, or way to pay the bills. Thinking of myself as an entrepreneur with a business to run changed how I organize my workday, what I focus on, and what types of assignments I accept.

2. Keep detailed, up-to-date records of query letters, invoices, magazine payments, receipts, etc

I’ve learned to keep track of everything I do! This includes recording when I pitch book query letters or article ideas (explained in Tracking Your Article Pitches and Submissions), when I invoice editors (described in A Freelance Writer’s Invoice for Magazines, Plus Invoicing Tips), when and if I was paid, how I created a button for my WordPress blogs, and where I found all types of info. This tip for building a successful writing career is key to running an organized, successful freelance writing business.

3. Think about outsourcing in the future

“Build systems so you’re not constantly reinventing the wheel,” says Sue, on my How to Successfully Change Careers article. “If there’s a task you expect to have to do more than once, document how you do it. Ultimately you may be able to outsource it – and by having the documentation done, it’s a lot easier to train someone to help you.”

One of the smartest tips for running a freelance writing business is to build successful habits – and stick to them.

4. Forget the muse

When I attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, I heard a successful published author (I think it was Bob Mayer) say that he can’t afford writer’s block and he can’t afford to wait for the muse. He’s got bills to pay, kids to feed, and a wife to take care of – he doesn’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. To build a successful writing career, you need to be strategic, disciplined, and focused about your book and article ideas.

5. Balance your long and short-term writing goals

“Successful entrepreneurs are those who are able to maintain a dual focus on short-term goals and long-term vision,” writes Terri Lonier in “Quit Your Day Job?” — a chapter in The Portable Writer’s Conference: Your Guide to Getting Published. “They keep their sights on what’s at the end of the road, all the while dealing with the day-to-day details in front of them.”

My long-term writing vision is to become a published author; my short-term goal is to write three sample chapters for a publisher, at their recent request (and boy, am I procrastinating!).

6. Make life easy for editors and publishers (your clients)

“The key quality [of a successful writer] is being reliable,” writes Lonier. “This means turning assignments in on time, with no factual or spelling errors. Be as helpful as you can. Track down or offer ideas on accompanying visuals. Give suggestions on how an article might be expanded or slanted to fit their readers’ interests, Send in materials clearly marked, all at one time, so editors don’t have to scramble to locate all the pieces of your work.”

Running a successful freelance writing business or career isn’t about daydreaming about writing, talking about writing, or wishing you were a writer. It’s much more boring than that! Writing success comes from setting small, achievable goals and working every single day to achieve those goals.

For more tips, read How to Start Freelance Writing at 40 – and Make Money.


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12 thoughts on “6 Tips for Running a Successful Freelance Writing Business”

  1. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comment — I agree that taking writing jobs at home increases your success! But, I find that I work harder and longer with my “flexible” time as a freelance writer. I don’t take advantage of my freedom — because I love writing too much!

  2. Taking writing jobs at home seriously as a career can bring you success and good income. As a freelancer, you enjoy the benefit of having time flexibility. Thanks.

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comment! It took me awhile to realize that freelancing is a business, and I’m an entrepreneur….and if I want to succeed, I have to be as professional and businesslike as possible.

    How did I learn that? By making lots of mistakes.

  4. Very good blog post that covers an important part of the freelance writing career. Too often new writers don’t understand that they have to look at a freelancing as a business first if they want to get the most out of what they do.

  5. Keep up the good work! I higly recommend to work as a online freelancer if you want to make some money and you have to enjoy writing.

  6. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hi Nestor, thanks for your comment — I agree that focusing on both short and long term goals is important when you’re building a writing career.

    I personally like #5….forget about the muse!
    .-= Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen´s last blog post ..Writing for Online Magazines – How to Find Work on the Web =-.

  7. I can relate a lot to Natalie Goldberg! I always feel as if I should be getting back to work. Also I never looked at business the way that is described in #4. Focus on both short term and long term. Good food for thought.


    .-= Nestor Hayden´s last blog post ..The Pay Cap Jobs from Home removes =-.

  8. emily@help desk customer satisfaction

    The word ‘freelance’, in the online world, basically refers to the selling of creative writing related services to any company or web site willing to pay. There is a whole industry thriving on the art of creative copy writing. The companies offer challenging copy writing assignments that are also very lucrative. Internet technology has made it possible for businesses of every cadre to bank on a global presence via instant remote access. Freelance writing jobs are designed to enable the business websites to benefit from regularly updated content, without the in-house team having to bother about the requirement.
    .-= emily@help desk customer satisfaction´s last blog post ..Remote IT Support Services – The Key To Growing Your Business! =-.

  9. I’m going to have to read your related articles for tip #2 on keeping records. But for tip #5 on not waiting for the muse – I’ve found this so helpful. There was a time when I would wait to be inspired before writing. Now I just sit down regardless of how I feel, and sure enough, the page gets filled – sometimes with better writing than if I had waited for the muse.

    One other suggestion for new writers: set a goal to query so many magazines a week or to write so many articles/blog posts a week. I find I’m good with goals and deadlines when I set them. Otherwise the notion of writing an article sometime soon, becomes sometime later.
    .-= Gini Grey´s last blog post ..Boundaries =-.

  10. Interesting about #5. Point well-taken. The romantic notion of writing is nice to curl up with on a cold, winter night, but reality tells a different story.

  11. Hi Laurie,

    I just love #6. It is so very important and in my opinion if you add just this one tip to your writing, you are destined to be a success.

    Take the time to do more than what is expected. Submit your work a week before deadline. Be a real person. You will be miles ahead of nearly any competition. It’s also a little karma in the bank for any minor transgressions that you may make.

    .-= Tumblemoose´s last blog post ..Why You Need a “Google Friend Connect” Gadget for Your WordPress Blog =-.

  12. Re: #6. I tell my journalism students that if they write to the assigned topic, to the word count and on deadline, they’ll already be in the top 20% of freelancers.

    Nice piece, Laurie!
    .-= Sarah B. Hood´s last blog post ..Ceili Cottage in Leslieville for Sunday Roast =-.