Let’s get something straight from the very same start: You neither need formal education nor prior formal experience to start a career in freelance content writing.
We ask the question of how to start content writing with no experience way too often than we should. And sometimes that feels like justifying our procrastination with it. Again: you can be clueless and successful in the same year if you focus on the right things, build your writing skills, and stay on top of the game.
Photo by Super Snapper on Unsplash
In reality, you have to excel in all your efforts to achieve greatness, but it’s okay to be mediocre on your way there. We’ve all been. But if you lose consistency and motivation, your goal will be much more difficult to reach.
In fact, many successful content writers have paved their own paths without any traditional credentials. What matters most is a strong passion for writing and the essential skills needed to excel in this field. If you’ve always dreamt of pursuing a freelance copywriting career, don’t let your lack of formal experience hold you back.
Start by kicking in the nuts some of the old-fashioned constraints and obstacles in the way of the writers: motivation and procrastination (some call it writer’s block).
Think about it like this: if you make writing a profession you will have to write regardless if you are motivated or not. Clients will not give you enough space and time to dwell over your “writer’s block” for weeks. It’s harsh but it’s true. After all, who is 100% of the time motivated at work? I emphasize this because motivation and inspiration is the first thing used as argument, to justify our procrastination. Putting effort into learning how to unconditionally write can be your competitive advantage. Use that.
Talking about competition, what’s good about writing is it never dies. Never did, and it never will. There are plenty of opportunities for everyone and a lot of the modern-day SEO, advertising, outreach, or whatnot, depend on a good written word. No efficiency, your clients lose.
Do I Need a Client To Be a Content Writer? 🔗
No, you can be using content writing as a form of self-expression, blogging, or other form of writing that is not professionally labeled. If you want to continue doing this, you don’t need a client.
But, assuming your intentions to become an established freelance content writer are serious, your primary focus and goal as a newbie in the niche should be landing a client. It’s important to get in the loop of your first rejections, job, feedback, disappointment, and everything that brings. That will set you on the ground in a few ways.
First, if it works out well, it will be great fuel for you. Money will be one less concern and you can spend more time on things that matter. And that is searching for clients and focusing on improvement.
But usually, it’s not like that the first time. It’s quite messy. And when it turns messy, you need to stay on top of it, try to solve the problems, try to listen to the feedback, and then act on it. Of course, assuming the client is not a notorious prick who wants to bully you. Where you grow is the pain zone. And pain often comes from the disappointments you will have the first time. Stay there. Fix it and the next time you will be 10 steps ahead with your next client.
How do I start freelance content writing with no experience? 🔗
Here is a precise answer to that question: you start freelance copywriting with no experience by:
- leveling up your skills and educating yourself big-time
- creating a portfolio of cringe and facepalms
- shamelessly and proactively putting yourself in the way of potential clients
- observing, noting, and creating swap files.
- tirelessly writing, rewriting, editing, and perfecting.
Let’s see what each of these items looks like in practice.
Level Up Your Skills by Educating Yourself Big-time 🔗
A successful content writer must possess solid writing skills. You cannot just go freestyle and hope for things to improve by themself. If someone tells you the opposite, most probably they’ve never worked as writers. ChatGPT will provide you neither with the needed quality of the content, nor skills to be an efficient and hirable copywriter.
Just as a brief side note here, I am not advocating against gen AI when it comes to writing. There is a way and space where it can be used to speed up your process. Read more about it here. I am saying that generated content is still missing the soul that the personal touch of a human needs to provide. You generate it and publish it—you lose. You generate a draft and edit 100s times—might help.
Having good writing skills means being able to express yourself in a way that is clear, concise, and precise. To be able to read something and think “this can be said much simpler”, or provide help or feedback if someone asks you to. Before focusing on writing a good sales page, focus on establishing a style, finding your voice, and perfecting the simplification of your written form.
This is where you need to write as an exercise. Start with blog posts, fiction stories, summaries of events, books, or essays. Alternate between the roles of a writer and a reader. Do this a lot.
As part of your self-education, a lot can be learned from the 1000s books that exist out there that will level up your writing skills. But pick only a few, otherwise you will never be able to choose whose advice to follow. Here are a few of them, that will help you achieve that:
- “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser
- “Everybody Writes” by Ann Handley
- “Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This” by Luke Sullivan
Read, bookmark, highlight. Read them as a manual.
Once you read these books, find and buy a writing course on Udemy/Coursera or such. Here are a few ideas to start with:
- Writing With Flair: How To Become An Exceptional Writer by Shani Raja
- Writing Tools & Hacks: Copywriting/Blogging/Content Writing by Tyler Speegle
- Good with Words: Writing and Editing Specialization (instructor: Patrick Barry)
Writing well does not mean knowing your grammar or writing without typos. It’s more about finding ways of expressing yourself in different circumstances and contexts. Client A might ask you to write a blog post for them. Client B a sales proposal email. Quite a different approach if you only master writing blog posts.
As with the movies where one can learn a lot about different types of photography and acting, reading is the free opportunity we get when we want to improve our writing. Find blogs and online resources that you will regularly read and check out. Think about their style and voice, how they convey the message, and how they hook you to their story. Imitate good practices.
Overwhelm yourself with materials that take you from point A to B. Zoom in when you learn, and zoom out when you measure.
Creating a Portfolio of Cringe and Facepalms 🔗
Find a spot where you can publish some of your content. If you are technically clueless, find something that you can pay for. Don’t waste time trying to make things work. Use things that work like Medium, Word Press or Writings Blog.
Start a personal blog or contribute guest posts to established websites. This allows potential clients to evaluate your writing style and assess your ability to engage an audience.
A good marker of progress when it comes to writing is the level of cringe you have when you are reading some of your old content. The cringier it is, the further you’ve reached. Use that as a comparison reference of your progress. Create a portfolio that you will call your blog, website, or anything. Start publishing and reviewing the already published content regularly. This is your showcase, the place you will need to point your potential clients when you ask for a job from them.
If an article does feel odd after three months, edit it. Make it to match your current voice. Those small alterations in your writing voice that have been impacted by the progress you’ve made are what matters. Improve on those points. Keep your content alive and be prepared that the next time you revisit it, there will be a new round of facepalms over your face.
Shamelessly and Proactively Put Yourself In The Way of Potential Clients 🔗
Exposure is key to everything. But not everyone possesses the quality of not being shy to reach out or raise their hand when needed. Like me for example. I am still shy and nervous whenever I want to express myself in front of other people. But through the years I figured out, that sitting in the crowd and doing nothing, will not make you stand out from that crowd.
Give yourself a chance to be seen. There are hundreds of reasons why. In that regard, exposure is everything. You will overcome shyness by giving yourself a chance to be embarrassed.
This is important for two reasons. First, when we stand out from the crowd we create a persona that is different than the one the crowd is already familiar with. That will either shock them or make them curious. It’s a huge change. But if you want to start publishing you have to do that. Be present on social media, have a regularly updated blog, and so on. The second reason is even more important: you will have to start reaching out to clients in a careless way. Of course, not rude or impolite as that might do more harm than good, but definitely expose yourself to the potential out there. You do that by presenting your portfolio and exercising good copy for the communication you will have with your potential clients.
Next, write 10 templates of emails, DMs, PMs, and short messages that sound natural and authentic and that you will use to reach out to potential clients.
I hope by this point you are asking the question of where the hell will I find these people in the first place.
Great question. Well, there are a lot of opportunities. And clearly, they will become even more visible once you become an active member of a (or the) niche of choice. To start with explore websites that offer remote work positions. Websites like Remote-OK, Remote.co, WritingJobz, LinkedIn Jobs, etc. Just google for ‘remote jobs’ and explore as much as you can. Do not search for “content writing jobs” only as this might lower the circle of opportunities (not all jobs are listed on content writing-specific job boards).
💡 At the beginning avoid getting yourself involved in shady and not-clear-on-the-purpose Facebook Groups which in practice are just a poor attempt to establish a marketing channel of somebody else. They will just suck your energy and motivation and provide close to zero results in return.
Another thing that helps in your pursuit of the first gig is networking and pairing with people who are already in the niche and to whom you can offer help, in return for a reference to some of their clients. In reality, content writers who are on-demand are quite selective about their clients. There is a big chance they will reject some of the requests for work that arrive at their address. Be kind and establish good relationships as the networking effect in that context is irreplaceable.
The pursuit of your first client is pretty much like a job hunt, or even better: fishing. Find a good spot, throw the bait, and wait. First focus on finding at least 3 leads that you can reach out to and once you are sure they need a (copy)writer, use some of the previously exercised templates to reach out to them. This is where you will need to play shamelessly. Don’t hesitate what they’ll say. You own your game, you are confident you can provide, what you need is just a chance. Send that message right away, and be sorry later.
You have to get in the way of these clients, otherwise, nobody will notice you.
Another important point here: don’t make it artificial. Be organic, and personalize the messages you will be sending. Avoid using suggestions from ChatGPT, they are very obvious these days.
Make the initial communication with a potential client, part of your writing portfolio. If you write a good copy and send it to a potential client, and if they respond with a request for further communication, you’re already a few steps ahead from where you were when you started this all. Kudos on that.
If on the other hand, they respond with a rejection, all good. Respond with a gratitude note on their time and leave space for potential work in the future. Send a link to the place where they can find you the easiest, and that can be your phone number, email, blog, or a calendar-scheduling link.
This is something you will experience more often than in the first case.
Observe, Take Notes, and Create Your Swap Files 🔗
Great things start to happen once you start learning from giants in the industry and see how they write. Take a moment of appreciation every time you find good advice and an example of how something can be written in a good or better way.
But appreciation is not enough. Highlighting and bookmarking help even more. By extracting an example from a book or article, you help your future self. You create a swap file of opportunities that you can simply use and rephrase once you need to do it. This knowledge doesn’t always come from books on writing. It can be a blog article on cooking but written in a way that you can notice its effectiveness. What is its title and subtitle? How does the narrative start, how does it climax or conclude?
These principles are applicable everywhere. Otherwise, the web would not have been overflooded with click baits like “Here is the reason how Joe Doe died in that crash accident” (oh my!), or “These are the favorite movies of Quentin Tarantino”.
It doesn’t mean that you should accumulate everything. There is a lot of trash out there. But if you become a bit more observant and selective, in the end, you might build that swap file that will be your third hand.
Writing, Rewriting, Editing: Tirelessly 🔗
You become a better baker by more baking. And just like with baking, you become a better writer by more writing. There is no shortcut or magic words when it comes to writing. The process is the shortcut. If you want to achieve higher goals, change what you do now. Give more, provide more, help more.
Write without any expectation you should give yourself fully in and expect zero rewards. The short-term goals do not count, but the long-term ones do. And your long-term goal is to become a great copywriter. Good is not enough. And there is a reason why. It’s because by doing this professionally, the quality of your work will be measured, reviewed, and compared. It’s not the same as when you’re writing your journal, this is something that should create more users, convert them to paying customers, make them hit that download button, etc. There is money involved. If you ever want to become great at writing, write without any expectation for an outcome.
Then rewrite it by editing, as long as it takes.
After a fair amount of failures, you will know what works best. Your failures are your A/B test. Create so much content that in the end, it won’t be important if it’s a failure or success. Use that wisely and take good advantage of the process.
How to proceed? 🔗
Pursuing a freelance copywriting career without formal experience is entirely possible if you possess the essential writing skills and a strong passion for the craft. A formal degree is not a prerequisite. What matters more is a strong portfolio and the ability to deliver exceptional content.
Joining a freelance writing agency might provide you with initial experience and support, whatever it is, you will need hands-on experience. That is what matters. Actively reach out to potential clients, network with seasoned writers, carve out your niche, and persistently seek growth opportunities to establish a thriving freelance copywriting career.
And of course, networking with other writers, especially industry influencers, can open up opportunities. Establishing a niche based on personal interests or skills can differentiate a writer in the market. Continuous focus on growth, head-down hard work in writing, and active pursuit of new opportunities are key to long-term success in the field.