Most freelance writing gigs fall into these 5 buckets. Here's what you need to know to get higher-paying jobs and what you can expect to earn.
Are you looking for ways to get more money out of freelance writing?
You're not alone. We talk to a lot of writers at different levels of experience. Whether you've only just started doing some research on becoming a freelance writer, or have been at it a while and feel stuck in a rut, the feeling of "where are the good jobs?" is extremely common.
So why is this the case?
Two main reasons.
One, payouts in freelancing don't really follow any form of comprehensible logic we're aware of.
Some employers go by cost-per-word (CPW), some by unit, (i.e. $100 for one blog post), or other payout schemes that are less on the up-and-up.
This leads writers, especially those earlier in their careers, to have a pretty poor sense of what their time and talent is actually worth.
Two, a lot of writers we've talked to aren't always sure what they're qualified to do, or what kinds of skills they need for specific projects.
Some writers definitely have that rugged "how hard can it be?" approach to life. But there are a lot of writers who pass up jobs they could actually probably get just because they feel unqualified.
That's why I wanted to put together this article.
As a former freelance writer, editor, and ultimately, director of a content agency, I have a pretty good sense of:
- the size of the freelance writing industry,
- what employers are actually looking for in a writer,
- what's common in terms of pay, and,
- the skills required to get the good-paying gigs.
One of ProWriter's goals is to create more transparency into the often opaque and confusing freelance writer market.
In that spirit, this article is designed to help writers like you understand the most common types of writing gigs available, the skills required to get them, and how much money you can expect to make.
Let's dive in!
No. 1 Content Mills
"Content mill" is a slang term used by freelancers to describe platforms, agencies, or publishers that push out a lot of low-depth content.
Some hallmarks of a content mill content include:
- Minimal research required
- News aggregation
- Emphasis on "clickbait"
- Limited editorial support
- Volume (lots of articles per day)
- Listicles meant to "trend"
- Short "SEO" pages
- Low pay
What to expect: Pay at content mills
At a content mill, you can expect between $0.03 CPW and $0.05 CPW. Depending on length, you can expect about $10-$20 per article.
Some employers pay out traffic bonuses for articles that get a lot of pageviews. But be very wary of being paid based on traffic numbers alone.
Base pay per article or per word plus a traffic incentive might be a good deal for some entry-level writers. I once wrote an article for a popular entertainment website that trended, and my bonus paid my rent that month.
Note that a lot of content mill work is not bylined; this means it has limited strategic value to a freelance writer, since it's not easy to build a portfolio on ghostwritten content. When employers like me get applications with portfolios full of ghostwritten content, it usually sends up a red flag.
A lot of more experienced freelance writers knock content mill work since it tends to be low-pay, low-quality, and demanding. It's definitely more entry-level work that you want to try and grow out of over time, especially as you learn more skills and pick up more experience.
What to know: Content mill skills
As far as skills needed for content mill work, they are pretty minimal. Employers might place emphasis on keeping readers "hooked," and writing good headlines.
But honestly, any entry-level writer should be able secure this kind of work.
Be warned that content mill work can encourage bad writing habits (e.g., writing quickly to earn as much money as possible, sloppy research).
Most new writers start with content mill work to build up their portfolios. There's no shame in that. But look for bylined opportunities and make sure those bad habits don't follow you to higher-paying work.
No. 2 Blogging
Once you've reached the level of paid blogger, you've officially graduated.
You're not quite in the captain's lounge of freelancers yet, but you're in a class of serious professionals with real skills that businesses are looking for. Congrats!
Blogging is probably the widest field within freelance writing.
It has, by far, the most opportunities available, tons of topic and niche diversity, decent pay rates, and a very doable learning curve. Unlike content mill work, many of the skills bloggers develop translate into other kinds of freelance writing.
For these reasons, blogging is a well that professional freelancers often draw from throughout their careers between large projects.
In blogging, your primary clients will be businesses. Their goal is to publish content that is competitive in Google Search results (also called SERP), promote their brand on social media, or showcase their thought leadership within their industry.
When businesses regularly publish good content, they attract more customers. Simple as that.
Business blogging is a wide field. Big brands like Apple and Disney have their own blogs, and local businesses in your own backyard have them as well.
Because of this, most writers will "niche down," or pick a couple of industries to focus on. The narrower you can focus your niche(s), the better money you can make (as long as there's demand for content in that niche).
What to expect: Pay for bloggers
As far as pay, don't accept less than $0.10 CPW for this kind of work. Most writers will charge more than this (up to $1.00 per word) but that will be tough to justify when you're starting out. You also may end up settling for lower CPWs if you secure blogging work through an agency, since they are doing the client acquisition and management part of the relationship.
Becoming an authoritative writer in a particular niche, or exploiting a popular/growing niche where there isn't much competition can help you sweeten the pot.
You may want to scope out a project cost or a contract with businesses if you expect to be doing recurring work for them, instead of calculating by CPW.
For instance, if you're doing keyword research, topic ideation, and content strategy, that's something you should charge extra for.
What to know: Blogging skills
Content mill skills will serve you very poorly in blogging. Good blogging takes time, careful research, and thoughtful organization to be successful.
You should know the best practices of SEO, particularly in the context of writing, and what a writer is responsible for.
Beyond that, you should be good at writing creative titles optimized for search, web formatting (e.g., using headings, readability), and make sure you're always up-to-date on best practices in blogging.
Like we've mentioned, blogging techniques are valuable and crossover to other forms of writing. It's a real skill set that can be built on as you grow in your career.
No. 3 Copywriting
Now you're looking at writing like a professional! Writers at the copywriter level of skill are elites within the industry, and charge accordingly.
A copywriter is like a blogger who gets a booster shot of human psychology, persuasion, and sales technique.
You'll still use all of the skills you learned as a blogger. But don't assume that being a good blogger makes you a good copywriter automatically.
Copywriting requires more finesse and a real understanding of what drives people to take action through content.
We're not talking about clickbait, here — those content mill skills will not carry over well to copywriting.
Copywriting is a craft. The principles of copywriting are those defined, honed, and practiced by the likes of the legendary David Ogilvy, or modern gurus like Joanna Wiebe.
Copywriting is about conversion — it's about using your skills as a writer to drive a reader to take an action. In Ogilvy's time, that action was something like, "buy this expensive car." In Weibe's context, it's "click on this page, fill out this form, become a sales lead for this business."
Copywriting vs blogging
Let's compare and contrast copywriting with blogging.
Blogging contributes to the overall brand recognition of a business, and drives sales over time. Someone might have Googled a question about a problem they were having, found one of many blog posts you wrote for your client, read it, and then become a sale for your client months later.
It's difficult to establish a connection between one blog post and a sale. But the more high-quality content a business publishes, the more sales increase over time.
It's not as ambiguous with copywriting. Copywriting is as close to the "sale" as it gets.
You'll be writing landing pages, ad copy, advertorials, and other content assets that are designed to make a reader take an action, often called a "call to action" or CTA (e.g., click a button, fill out a form with your name and email).
Success or failure is measured by a click-through rate (CTR) of some kind (i.e., how many people who clicked on your page and then completed the CTA instead of leaving).
If one blog post doesn't rank on Google, it's not that big of a deal. But if a sales page doesn't convert users, it's a failure. The writer might not be solely responsible for that failure (the web page design might not be user friendly, or maybe the product is just not interesting), but the onus is definitely more on you to do a good job.
What to expect: Pay for copywriters
Because you're close to the sale, you can make a lot more money. Whoever is hiring you is likely expecting to make thousands of dollars in sales from your asset over time, so you can easily charge a substantial fee.
If you're just starting out and a client is willing to pay you a few hundred bucks for 1,000 words, it might be worth taking the gig to get some experience. But once you get the hang of things and can boast a strong CTR rate with new clients, you can charge $1,000, even $2,000+ per asset, easily.
We'd recommend staying off CPW and going per-project on this one, maybe with an hourly consulting component if the client expects you to revise and optimize the page over the course of a campaign.
What to know: Copywriting skills
The hard part about copywriting is that you need to up your writing skills by a significant factor.
In terms of craft, you're moving from the kiddie pool to an Olympic-sized model. You're going to need to do some research, read some books, attend some webinars, take some courses, all of it.
You need to know about human psychology, sales triggers, persuasive copywriting, and a heck of a lot more. Your blogging skills will help you get off to the right start, but don't expect to pick it up over time just by "trying it out."
You'll also want to up your networking game as well. These kinds of jobs aren't exactly posted on ProBlogger for just anyone to apply to.
To get started in this world, it might be a good idea to partner up with digital marketing agencies that hire freelancers for their campaigns.
If you take to copywriting, full-time positions are abundant. They also pay well at around $58,000 a year.
No. 3 Technical Writing
If you've spent some time searching for writing jobs, you've inevitably run into a dearth of "technical writing" gigs at jobs boards like Indeed.
But what are they, can you get them, and what do they pay?
We won't spend a whole lot of time on this one for now (we may update this post later with more information). But for the most part, these are highly, highly specialized writing jobs.
Not because they require some arcane writing skill you don't possess or can't learn; but because they usually require deep subject matter knowledge and expertise in highly-technical industries, like engineering.
It's not uncommon to see technical writing jobs requiring applicants to that have PhDs. Seriously.
However, as you develop your niches, it is worth keeping an eye on these gigs, especially if you are exploring more technical fields.
Your path in
Lots of businesses and organizations in fields like tech or medical will put out "white papers," which are basically long-form ebooks or presentations designed to educate industry peers about a new product or breakthrough.
White papers are not written for a general audience, not just anyone can write them. But you don't necessarily need a PhD to write one, either.
If you have industry knowledge above the public average, and could write a white paper that would be helpful to other knowledgeable non-experts like you (e.g. journalists, investors), then these are good gigs to keep an eye out for.
Because they come at a pretty penny. At the low, low end, a white paper might earn you $1,500 minimum. The truth is that most white papers pay out an average of $3,000-$4,500. At the higher end? $7,000 to $10,000.
But again, these jobs are rare and do require more experience and expertise on the part of the writer. As you grow in your career, keep an eye out for these gems.
No. 5 Marketing writing
One way professional freelance writers keep the bills paid as they bounce between bigger gigs is by providing marketing content to businesses, non-profits, publishers, and other organizations.
Side gigs writing a newsletter or social media content can pay between $15-$80 per hour depending on your experience level and what's involved.
If you're charting a career path toward copywriting, marketing writing is a good stepping stone. This kind of content will require a more conversion-oriented writer, but the pressure won't be as high as it is for a typical sales campaign.
It's rare to find gigs where you simply write the copy for social media or newsletters. These days, employers are looking for content creators who can do it all.
That means if you take on a part-time gig as a social media manager, an employer will likely want you to have skills in graphic asset creation (even if that just means you're a Canva pro) as well as some expectation of channel monitoring, or content strategy development.
The good news is, the more that's involved with social media management, the more you can charge. It's not a bad side gig for freelancers, and a lot of small businesses need this kind of help.
If you're just getting started as a freelance writer, you might be working a lot of content mill gigs to pay the bills. That's fine, but don't get stuck there. Most importantly, don't develop bad habits that you can't use in higher-paying work.
Some content mills are better than others, but for the most part, get your bylines, build your portfolio, spend your off-time learning new skills, and get out.
As you can see from the other freelance writing gigs we detailed below, if you start with blogging, you'll have more pathways into different kinds of higher-paying work. That's why ProWriter resources for new writers emphasize hard skills for bloggers. It really is the foundation for most forms of writing you'll end up pursuing.
ProWriter is developing a course that covers the hard skills today's bloggers need to master. The lessons will cover topics like titlecraft, formatting, and copywriting in more depth than any other resource on the web.
You can check out the course details and sign up to be notified as soon as the course is available here.