How I Built My Freelance Writing Business

Building my freelance writing business

I often get contacted by other freelance writers asking me how I went about building up my career as an iGaming writer. They want to know how I find steady clients, how I got started, and what I did to be able to raise my rates to what they are today. These questions are always hard to answer, as the truth of the matter is that I feel I didn’t do anything to make all of this happen. I just went where the road took me and didn’t make many conscious decisions about most of it. But, to try to answer some of the questions, I’ll explain how it all happened.

So I was thinking that perhaps I could just work a bit, like freelance or something. I found Upwork and signed up.

So, it all started back in 2016. I had quit my job at LeoVegas, and I honestly wasn’t looking to work at all. I’d been working full-time since I was 16, and it was time to take a break. I tend to go a bit all-in whenever I have a job since I tend to be a bit of a workaholic. Limiting working hours is nothing I’ve ever been good at, and that’s also how I’ve met the infamous “wall” on a couple of occasions throughout my life. Burnout is real! Anyway, so the plan was to not work and just enjoy life for a bit. Read all the books I never had time to read, check out what Netflix had added to their portfolio during the last couple of years, and do some crafts. I love knitting, crocheting, and stuff like that. So that was all good and well, and I did as little as possible for about three months. By the end of that, I was bored out of my mind. So I was thinking that perhaps I could just work a bit, like freelance or something. I found Upwork and signed up. I thought translations might be something I could do. After all, I’m fluent in English and Swedish and native in Norwegian, and I had also done translations as a part of a previous job. 

It took me 3 days or something until the first client contacted me for a simple translation. I made $5 and considering this job took me all of 10 minutes to complete, I was happy. Mainly I just wanted something to do, and what I earned wasn’t really that important. After that, I did some other small quick translation jobs, and I was thinking that it would be great if I could make €500 a month or something. I didn’t really think making any more would be realistic. 

One day, perhaps a month after I registered on Upwork, a new client contacted me. He said he didn’t need any translations, but he was wondering if I could write, as he saw I had worked at an online casino, and he needed some casino reviews and other content for an affiliate site. I first said no, that I had no idea about how to write from scratch, so I didn’t think that would be a good idea. But, he didn’t give up that easily, so eventually, I agreed to try it. Once I tried it I realized that I liked writing, and it was much more fun than translating. And, before I knew it several other clients contacted me asking if I could write for them as well. So I did. 

This was also back in 2016 or the beginning of 2017, and I was the only Norwegian writer on the platform specialized in the iGaming industry.

The way Upwork works is that clients that need something done post a job, and then freelancers can apply for the jobs, bidding whatever price they want to get the job done. Alternatively, clients can also invite specific freelancers to apply, kinda like head-hunting. So I applied for some jobs, and it only took me 3 months on the platform until I was fully booked. This was also back in 2016 or the beginning of 2017, and I was the only Norwegian writer on the platform specialized in the iGaming industry. So I had all the work I could ever need, and then I started raising my rates, and also swapping out the “not-so-good” clients with better ones. Payment per word is basically the norm when it comes to writing, but some clients also prefer paying per hour. When I started out as a freelance translator and writer my first hourly job paid $16. Within two months I had raised it to $20, a month after I was at $25, and since I still got more job offers than I could handle, I just raised it to $45. I think that was when I had been freelancing for 6 months. This point was also the last time I ever applied for a job where the client hadn’t invited me specifically to apply for their job post. Before the year was over I was at $60 per hour, but that didn’t stop clients from requesting me to work with them. In year two I was at $90 per hour, and I still had more work than I could handle. I actually had to start cutting down on my client list at this point as it was simply too much. After that, it stabilized a bit, and my hourly went to $110 and then $125 over the next years. I didn’t need more clients, I didn’t want more clients, and I only took on new ones when I was contacted about a project that actually seemed interesting. 

For a long time, I found it really weird and quite unbelievable that clients would actually pay my rates. It wasn’t like I was an experienced writer, and, in my opinion, writing about online casinos and gambling isn’t exactly difficult. In general, casinos aren’t looking for poetry for their landing pages or guides and neither do casino affiliates. To me, writing this kind of content is almost like working with customer support: explaining to players how something at online casinos works. Why so many casinos and affiliates were paying me what they did I only found out after I started to also manage other writers and translators for some clients. This whole thing I made a separate blog post about a while back, so I won’t get into that now. You can read it here: Thoughts About “iGaming & Casino Writers”

Starting to think of yourself as a business offering a service instead of letting clients make all the decisions about how you should work is what most freelancers I know struggle with.

I’m not saying that I didn’t put in any effort myself in paving the way to a successful freelance career, but I also have to be honest enough to admit that a lot of it was luck. If I hadn’t had a couple of years of experience working at an online casino I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. The base of knowledge about the industry that I got there is valuable, for sure, and made things easier for me. Then again, I have to say that I learned much more about the industry as a writer than I ever did while working at an online casino. So really, learning everything from scratch is doable, it will just take a bit longer. The most difficult part of freelancing, though, is the part about managing clients. Having some managing experience from other jobs made this easier for me, but getting out of the employee mindset is, I think, the most challenging part for many aspiring freelance writers. Starting to think of yourself as a business offering a service instead of letting clients make all the decisions about how you should work is what most freelancers I know struggle with. That and the self-discipline required to actually get work done…

Since I got my freelance career going I have also mentored quite some other writers to help them get started. I’ve never put any of the advice down on paper, so I thought I might do that now. Here are my top dos and don’ts that I wish I had known before I got started:

Dos:

  • Pick a niche and stick to it. No one wants to hire a jack of all trades. 
  • Clients want to hire freelancers with niche skills and knowledge. If you don’t have the knowledge – get it!
  • Only deliver content and articles you’re happy with. If you wouldn’t be comfortable putting your name on it then it’s not good enough. Every article you write should be good enough that you would have it in your portfolio to attract new clients.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t take on more work than you can comfortably handle. No one can write for 40 hours a week long-term. I would say aiming to write for 4 hours a day is reasonable. The rest of the time you can do admin stuff and also look for more or better clients. 
  • Don’t work cheap. You need to pay for your own laptop/computer, internet, AC, and whatever else you usually get for free when you’re employed. Also, you don’t get paid for vacation time, sick leave, and stuff like that, so you need to charge enough to also cover costs like that and all admin time that’s not billable hours.
  • Don’t work with just any client. Interview the client and see if he or she is a good fit for you. Bad matches will never turn out well in the long run. 

If you hire an electrician to come and fix something in your house, you wouldn’t tell them how to do it and how long it should take them, right? And you wouldn’t expect them to fix a whole bunch of extra things for free.

In addition to this, I find that having a standard for which clients you want to work with, and how you want to work, is extremely important. Some freelance colleagues have on occasion called me a “spoiled freelancer” since I have a quite extensive list of things I don’t do. Some of it is this:

I don’t work with clients that…

  1. …treat me like an employee. They’re not my boss, they’re a client buying the services offered by my business.
  2. …try to tell me when I should and shouldn’t work. I set my own schedule, and if they need a hard deadline I’m the one that will decide on that deadline. If not an ETA is all they’ll get. 
  3. …are price sensitive. If the final price tag on an article is anywhere on the top 3 list of priority, then it’s not the client for me.
  4. …tell me what to write and how to write it. Generally, I don’t even work with Content Briefs or other detailed instructions. If I do then that costs extra. 
  5. …scope creep. If they need something without a clear deliverable then they need to pay hourly for that and not a fixed price, and this includes meetings and time for just “picking my brain.”

To many new freelance writers, this might seem a bit much, and I often hear “my clients would never agree to this,” but I think that’s because they’re stuck in the employee mindset. If you hire an electrician to come and fix something in your house, you wouldn’t tell them how to do it and how long it should take them, right? And you wouldn’t expect them to fix a whole bunch of extra things for free. So the most valuable advice I think I can give, to any freelancer, is to stop thinking that “I write content for a client” but instead think that “my company offers content writing services.” Clients will never treat you like a business unless you treat yourself as a business owner. This came quite naturally to me, so I would actually say that this is what really launched my freelance writing career. Not the writing itself, not marketing or chasing clients, but simply offering a professional service and rely on word-of-mouth. If you provide a valuable service, clients will find you and pay what the service costs.

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