"Master Dayton" might be humorous, (I mean if Ph.Ds are called "Doctors," shouldn't MFAs be called "Masters?") but in all seriousness I have made a living freelance writing and after several years I have tons of information I want to share to help out my fellow writers, regardless of age, experience, goals, situation, or background. This blog isn't pretty-but it will help if real freelance writing information is what you want.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Make a Living as a Freelance Writer: How to Get Started from Scratch

How to make money writing online as a full time freelance writer

Freelance writing: a lucrative job offering great freedom, or a slave wage job with long thankless hours for chicken scratch? Well when you're looking to make a living as a freelance writer, especially with an emphasis of making a living as a freelance writer online, you're likely to have both. Being a full time freelance writer has great benefits, and I wouldn't trade it for a 9 to 5 office job ever, but there are lean times, too. So this brings me back to the e-mail I received (and sorry for the delay on this post – a hectic December of which I'll go into further later), which was basically along the lines of: 'I've been laid off, I only have a couple months of unemployment, help me!'

So instead of making an e-book to sell (besides, making a living as a freelance writer online is way too broad for one e-book), I'm going to write this post to answer the question of how to become a freelance writer. I made a full time living as a freelance writer for two years and change before getting a remote working assignment writing for a company, a dream job which has now come to an end as I was also laid off in the end of November.

This was the first time I've ever lost a job, and the "punch in the gut" feeling is one I'll never forget. So I'm back to freelance writing, and for anyone else in the same situation, I hope this post really helps teach you how to become a freelance writer, and to avoid many of the mistakes that I made when I was just starting out as a beginning writer.

So before I begin giving tips for becoming a full time freelance writer, there are several conditions and parameters that need to be addressed.

1) There are many different ways to make a living as a freelance writer, and many different routes to take. I'm not saying this is the best way or only way, it's the way I would start from nothing all over again considering my experiences writing and personal lessons learned.

2) This isn't the exact way I'm going back to writing full time now – but this post is for true beginners who might not understand the web or writing business the way I do now

3) This plan is aimed at people who are unemployed, or disabled, and want a side or full time income, though this could also work for work at home moms, college students, or anyone who wants to make a living writing online

4) This plan also assumes that sometimes it's more important to scrounge enough dollars together to pay rent than to always "work for high hourly wage."

With those out of the way, let's get on to making a living as a freelance writer, starting from scratch and I'm going to assume you need to get some income coming in relatively quickly, and that you have a limited budget. I'm also going to focus almost exclusively on writing online for money as opposed to print.

Starting an Online Freelance Writing Career from Scratch

On a limited budget, especially if you've just been laid off or are living off Social Security disability, knowing where you don't have to pay for a membership, but can still make some pretty decent money writing, is very important. There are several great places where writers can sign up for free and make money writing online.

#1 Constant Content: Constant Content is one of my favorite places to write online. CC is a place where you can write articles and set your own prices, offering different prices for usage rights, unique rights, and full rights. Full rights articles sell the most, and you can charge the most for them, but once a full rights article is sold, you never get to use that article again, so make sure you set your prices high enough. For 500 words, the lowest area I'd set full rights prices is between $27-37. If in doubt, set the price $15 higher than you think it's worth, and you can always check the "best offer" button.

If your article is about a highly specialized area or highly technical, then charge even more. For Constant Content, your articles need to be very high quality, completely free of grammar errors, repetition, etc. This site has tougher editorial standards, but that's what allows them to sell articles at much higher prices than most other sites. The other thing is that even though CC will sell articles' usage rights, meaning you can re-sell those articles, they will not accept articles previously published online. So only submit original articles.

To learn more about how to make money with Constant Content, take a look at my complete Constant Content review, which I wrote earlier on this blog.

#2 Ehow: Update: Ehow no longer has a writing program, although you can still write for Demand Studios on a pay per article basis.

Ehow is a great place to write, in part because it's one of the best places I know for online writers to build a passive or residual income. Ehow is really worth a look, especially to individuals who know how to write great "how to" articles, or to writers who like structure. Ehow designs itself so you make step by step articles, add some links, and your pay is based off advertising revenue that your articles generate. Some people are making literally over $1,000 a month in residual income from eHow – which means they're making over 12k a year for articles that they wrote once and never had to touch again.

Based on many different people talking, making several hundred dollars a month in passive income is pretty common, but it takes time to build up. In other words, if you write 100 good articles in a month, you probably won't see $100 your first month, but in a couple months your articles might very well be making that type of money, and continue to make that every month for infinity. This is more of a long term place to write, and these also need to be original articles, but because of the unique step by step style, it's very easy to write and rewrite articles to use at ehow and other places.

#3 Associated Content: Associated Content is another free place where writers can write and get paid. Up front payments in my experience generally range from $3-$6 an article, which isn't much at all, but when used in conjunction with CC and eHow, this can be an excellent website that not only gives you some up front payments for writing (along with actual name exposure for your writing that can lead to other writing jobs – I've made some good money via PayPal through jobs I landed because of an Associated Content article) but also allows for passive income through a pay per view (PPV) bonus. This starts at a bonus $1.50 per 1,000 page views for your articles, and as your all time views climbs, you can get up to $2.00 per 1,000 page views. It doesn't sound like much, but I make about $40/month on PPV, so that's $480 a year for articles I already wrote, and early on I did EVERYTHING wrong in writing articles that will keep getting traffic over time.

Used in conjunction with eHow and Constant Content, Associated Content can be a very valuable part of your online freelance writing portfolio.

These three places are good places for online freelance writers to get their start, and even more important for some, these are all free websites where writers get paid for their work. Another place worth mentioning is www.oDesk.com. This is an auction based site where employers put up jobs and allow writers to bid on providing the service. oDesk is a poor man's version of Guru or Elance, and if you are truly starting from nothing or worse, it might be a good place to get some work and some decent income into your checking account quickly.

That said, don't expect any high paying jobs from this site, and in my experience it is definitely worth the extra time, effort, and money to build your reputation at Elance or Guru. Which brings us to an interesting point here. After Constant Content, Associated Content, and eHow, there are several paid sites like Guru and Elance, which pay a lot more but require paid memberships, and then there is the Internet Marketing branch of writing, which also often crosses writing.

For right now, I'm going to make the Internet Marketing a topic for another time, but there is a lot more money in this than there is in writing, and the writing skills can really give you and edge if you're a quick learner with the marketing. Squidoo is an example of a place where you can make money by building websites, and if it's in the top 80,000 you get money based on a "tier" system, you can also get money through affiliate sales. Squidoo is a place I really enjoy, and if you get into Adsense and monetizing blogs, then it's definitely a place you should be, but it is probably 75% Internet Marketing and Affiliate work, and 25% writing.

It's also not an extremely fast way to make money online. That's why I mention it as something that's great for looking into the future, and for diversifying your streams of income. You never want all your income coming from only one source, because then if you lose that main source of income, you lose all your income instead of just one small part.

Guru and Elance are the two best online places to write for money. Both require membership fees, but the reason for this is to make sure the best writers are hooked up with the best employers. The minimum amount anyone can make from Guru is $25 a job, while the minimum for Elance is $50. Both auction websites give out tons of good or high paying work, and it is definitely possible to make a full time living off one of these sites alone. Guru allows you to buy a monthly, quarterly, or yearly subscription. I always buy a yearly because it gives you the best deal, and because I know from experience you can make a full time living off of Guru – and I've never been rated above #49 among their top providers. I would say that easily the top 100 providers make a full time income writing for Guru, and it would surprise me if that number was closer to three or four hundred.

Elance only allows a monthly subscription, and while the ceiling for how much you can make is even higher for Elance than it is for Guru. There are some individuals who make six figures writing only for Elance. I would also say that Guru is a little easier to get started with than Elance is, but for people who are serious about becoming full time online freelance writers I would strongly recommend building your reputation on both websites.

A year long subscription to Guru is in the $250 range, and Elance is $10 a month for individuals, or $20 a month for businesses as of this writing. If you can afford this, then you should work to really build a sparkling reputation on both sites, and it will take time. Look early on for lower paying jobs or jobs that specifically say they are open for beginning writers, just to get those early credentials to build off of. Once you begin building your reputation, your work load starts growing exponentially, and that even takes into consideration that you'll start charging a lot more as you get more work.

My first months at Guru, and I was working off a dial up Internet on a piece mail computer and this was three years ago when there wasn't nearly as much work on Guru as there is now, my income went as follows: Jan $50, Feb $200, Mar $650, Apr $1180, May $1675, Jun $1,899. There is far more work now, and I'm convinced that good writers who can write a decent query and who target lower paying jobs early on to build their reputation can climb the monthly income far more quickly.

The most I've ever made from one month on Guru was $2,500, and then I wrote a lot less because I was going to grad school and moving. My per hour income continued to climb, however, and if I was writing full time for Guru, I would expect to be able to make $30,000 a year or more. During that month, I also snagged two jobs that would net me $2,000 in future work, and eventually the remote location job that paid over $40,000 a year. There are often companies on both these sites who will hire impressive freelance writers full time, so there is a lot of opportunity.

As for the free freelance writing sites mentioned earlier, learning to reuse the same research and resell articles is critical to making a really good living as a freelance writer. For example, suppose you write an article for Constant Content and only offer usage rights. Once that article is on CC (and it's critical to know that CC does not allow their articles to be indexed by Google, since they are selling content to other websites), as long as only usage rights only are on sale, go ahead and sell it to Associated Content as original content since it hasn't been published anywhere, but only sell them non-exclusive rights. Pick up any up front payment they will offer ($3-5 usually), and you'll also enjoy the PPV bonus from those articles month after month as long as the website is around.

If the article you wrote as a freelancer is a how-to article, you can rewrite it and put it on eHow and further enjoy the benefits of passive income from article views! If you can write 3-5 articles a day, then at the end of the month you have 100 articles are more. If you received up front payment for all of them, then you have $3-500. Sell even 10 Constant Content articles (and that is a low amount if you have 100 posted) and you could be looking at anywhere from another $150-$300. Add in the page per view bonus and whatever you earned from eHow, it's not much, but it's possible to be close to a grand in your first month.

And when you're unemployed that's far better than zero. Writing income also grows exponentially. Suppose you make $1,000 your first month because of the work you do, then you do twice as much the next month. You probably won't make $2,000 in that insanely busy month. You'll make more. The freelance writing income continues to grow, and the larger a body of freelance writing work you do, the more it tends to build on itself.

Guru and Elance are nice because when you get a job, you are going to be paid, and at respectable rates for writers because the employers know the value of good writing and are often willing to pay very good money for it.

I would use all of these freelance writing sites, as they allow me to get my name out there, earn up front money, set up the beginnings of decent passive income from more than one source, and build my reputation on two websites that can help you build a full time writing income.

This has already been a very long post, and the basics of what you need to know have already been mentioned, so for a short aside: if you want to make a really good living online, especially if you are interested in writing for passive income, then look at Hubpages and Google Adsense.

Also: Avoid Craigslist and Helium.com like the plague. There are legitimate writing jobs on Craigslist, but there are also tons of scams. Helium.com might not be a scam, but it is a site to avoid. Read my complete Helium Writers Website Review to find out why Helium.com is a total rip off.

There are more ways to make money writing online, and I'll go into more later, but this post is how I would tell someone starting over to make a living writing online. And I STRONGLY recommend signing up for Elance and Guru if you can afford to take a few months to really establish yourself as an online writer.

Use all of these resources at your disposal, and follow the advice here, and you will be on your way to becoming a successful online freelance writer. There is always more advice and other ways to get there, but there's enough information here for you to start making a reasonable living easily in 6 months, if not far sooner. Now you have to do it. If you want to know all about passive income online and the long term, then take a look at this Keyword Academy Review I wrote as I truly believe in their program!

So good luck, feel free to ask for advice in the comments section, and happy writing until next time!


  1. Hi Master Dayton! I have been reading your blog for a little while and I'm finding it really valuable. I'm attempting to establish myself as a freelancer and I've had some success with part-time arrangements with companies, but I'm always looking for more opportunities on my own, with the hope of one day being totally self-employed.

    I've had mixed feelings and read mixed reviews about sites like elance/guru, but I'm so glad that they've served you well! I recently joined constant content via your link and sold my first 'usage only' article the other day! I will admit I was very skeptical, but I got that little message from PayPal today saying I got money for an article that took me minutes to write. Granted the amount was like, $5, but still. For usage rights only, it's a start, and it shows that it works!

    I'll definitely be continuing to read your blog. Thank you for putting so much thought and hard work into the posts and information you provide.

  2. Hi Lesley,

    Thanks for commenting. It really encourages me to know there are people reading and taking the advice. I'm still working on fully detailed Guru and Elance reviews, and I understand the "writers shouldn't bid down their work" point of view, but I've gotten plenty of great work from these sites that pays great, and I don't know where else you could get consistently good online work.

    The Constant Content payment changes were a great surprise. I was just short of the old $50 threshold by something like 17 cents, so I was really thrilled to hear they changed the new threshold to $5 a month. I think that was an etremely wise decision all the way around.

    Thanks for the kind words, and I hope you have a fantastic 2009 for your freelance writing career!