How I Built My Freelance Writing Career from Scratch

By Victoria Womersley

For years I worked in a regular 9 – 5 job, dreaming of becoming a writer. Eventually, I signed up to a creative writing correspondence course and wrote in the evenings, working my way through the practical assignments – learning all about the different types of non-fiction markets, styles and opportunities.

Throughout that time, I had some success with articles and letters being printed in magazines, however, it was never big enough to warrant me quitting the security of my job.

With the arrival of my first child, my partner was made redundant from his position and began freelancing as an archaeological illustrator. After nine months of paid maternity leave I chose to return to work part-time to help provide some stability of income for our family.

Around the same time, I responded to an ad for volunteer writers and began writing for a charity’s blog about maternal health, equality and social justice issues and carried on submitting the occasional piece to magazines and newspapers on my own and as my correspondence course instructed.

It wasn’t until three years later when my second child was born and I opted for voluntary redundancy that the opportunity to move away from the 9 – 5 grind seemed feasible. We needed to move to a bigger house to accommodate our growing family, and as I didn’t have a job to return to after my maternity leave ended, we decided to move somewhere for lifestyle rather than work – North Devon in England. Around this time I was offered the Volunteer Editorial role with the charity blog and began editing contributor’s works, along with occasionally writing posts.

As the end of my paid maternity leave drew closer, I began to feel the pressure to return to work. I really didn’t want to go back to a typical office type of job, be it full or part time. I wanted to make the leap into the world of freelancing writing and wasn’t sure of how to go about it despite the correspondence course preparation.

Initially, I tried finding work on freelancing platforms like Elance (which has now become Upwork) with limited success – my income was sporadic at best. I ‘won’ some difficult jobs and some pretty low paid work that had me earning around £5 per hour (sometimes less). I took them on despite the awful pay just to build my account profile and positive feedback. I also took on a few jobs for free from friends to build my portfolio and had a few articles accepted by the local papers, but although they accepted work, they didn’t pay freelancers. Competition was tough and I could see that these platforms were simply taking me closer to the situation of needing to find a ‘proper job’.

What I really wanted was a regular income writing about topics that mattered to me with clients whose businesses or causes I believed in. I wanted to be able to work on a brief given to me by the client – just as my partner did with his illustration work – rather than complete hours of market research on magazines, brainstorm topic ideas that might published and then send countless pitches trying to get paid for the time I’d already taken so I could write the piece I had in mind. But everything I’d learned in the non-fiction modules of the creative writing course told me that that was the life of a freelance writer.

Then it came to me – just like any other business out there selling a product or service, I needed to get in touch with the people I wanted to make my customers, to let them know what I did and why it would make a difference to their cause or business. I had to reach out and stop waiting for the perfect client to appear on freelancing platforms, or the editor that would love my article and offer a regular writing gig.

I decided to take a chance and write to local charities and businesses in my area. I grabbed the local phone book and took down the details of EVERY charitable organisation, web design company and marketing agency in my area. I researched those I had listed on the internet, noting what their websites were like (if they had one), who the business or organisation head was, and their contact details. If I couldn’t find what I needed on the internet I called them to ask for the information. I spent around ten minutes on each prospect and put basic details into a spreadsheet so I could track communications.

I bartered some content work for business cards with my brother in Australia and had him send me 250 cards with my contact details on one side and the writing services I could provide on the other. While I waited for these to arrive I thought about what made me unique, what I could bring to those businesses and organizations and how I would like to work with them if I did get a positive response. I created two prospecting templates – one for businesses and one for charitable organizations. I decided to send these out by post along with my business card, rather than an email as I wanted my pitch to be noticed and not get lost in someone’s junk mail.

I recorded the date these letters were sent on a spreadsheet and followed up with each of the organizations who’d not responded to my letter two weeks after posting. Most of calls went something like this:

Me: ‘Hi, my names Victoria, I was wondering if I could speak with x about the letter I sent two weeks ago as I haven’t yet heard back.’

Receptionist: ‘Sure, may I ask who is calling?’

Me: ‘Yes, it’s Victoria.’

Receptionist: ‘I’ll just put you through.’

Client: ‘Hello, X speaking.’

Me: ‘Hi X, I’m just calling to follow up on the letter I sent you on x date. I’ve not heard from you and I was wondering if you received my letter and if so, what you thought about using my writing services.’

I received some great feedback from the calls which I used to refine future prospecting letters and expand my prospecting.

I carried on sending out around 3 prospecting letters a fortnight to charities, web designers, printing companies and marketing agencies as well as contacting the organizations I had already sent letters to, which included a local charity. I was put straight through to the Managing Director and invited for a meeting the following week to discuss my proposal.

At this meeting I clarified what I could do for them and my hourly rate. (A project fee wasn’t applicable for the o­ngoing work they wanted.)

The Managing Director took the details to the next trustee meeting and I was subsequently authorized a limit of £500 per month to manage their social media accounts, work through the content of their current website and re-write it for the new site, and also to write blog posts about their work and news articles for the local media. I logged my time working for them manually on a word document and invoiced them at the end of each month for my time, detailing the tasks I had carried out in the hours they were being invoiced for.

Shortly after this, I heard back from a web design agency I had contacted requesting a meeting with me. I met the owner to talk about what I could do for her and her clients. She was very eager to tell me about how successful she was and that I would find it impossible to find work with anyone other than her. She wanted a 20% cut of any work I did for her clients. Despite writing up a detailed proposal for her, no work was ever sent my way.

While working for the local charity, I carried on contacting web design agencies by post. When calling one agency to obtain details for my letter, I was asked to chat with the head designer over the phone about why I wanted to write to them. After explaining what I was doing, they asked me to email their Managing Director immediately as they had some content work they needed doing almost straight away. I did as requested and received my first job from them that week – crafting content for a sail making company’s location pages to improve the Google search ratings.

After that first job I received occasional content writing work from them every second month or so, usually to the value of around £150 – the web design agency asked me to bill their clients directly and never asked for a cut on the work I did through them – I was adding value to their business by supplying the content their clients needed but did not have the experience, expertise or time to do themselves.

I should note that although I work for an hourly rate with the charity, this is mainly due to the nature of the work they have me doing. I prefer to charge a flat project fee to most other clients, which I base on how many pages and what kinds of pages I am writing content for (Landing pages cost more than other web pages), or by how long I estimate a job will take me with a little bit of breathing space added for unexpected issues arising. I charge a lower rate for working with charitable organizations (£16p/h, and a higher rate for other work £20p/h)

Six months into my contract with the charity, I requested a meeting with the General Manager; I’d found I was spending more time on their account than what I was budgeted to. I explained to him what I had achieved for them over that time and that I needed to cover the additional time I was spending. He asked me how much extra I was working – about £100 – and immediately increased my budget to make up the difference.

After 1 year I was working a maximum of 16 hours a week writing, with two regular clients and additional occasional clients (through referrals) requesting one-off jobs, I was earning £800 per month – the same as my income as a 3-day office worker all those years ago after the birth of my first son. However, I didn’t have any commute costs (I work from a cupboard in our dining room!), child care costs were vastly reduced and I am able to flex my work time so it fits around my family life, allowing me to be the kind of parent I always wanted to be – present and able to enjoy time with my partner and children without the worry of income.

Victoria’s Prospecting Template:


Dear Contact Name,

Recently I came across (Business Name and where I discovered them) and wanted to make contact as I am interested in your business and the possibility of working with you. As a freelance writer who has recently moved here, I am looking to build my local client base and know that I could offer great value to your company and its members.

For the past 5 years I have worked with companies across the globe providing a variety of business writing; my most recent project being the (insert relevant high profile project here). In addition to this I am the Blog Editor for the International Women’s Initiative, writing myself and managing a group of volunteer writers and photographers to ensure content stays fresh, on theme and is renewed daily.

My background is in Communications and Customer Services within the charitable sector, and since finishing my contract with Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium (SUPC) I have refocused my efforts toward building my writing into a full-time occupation.

Today’s customers make most of their purchasing decisions online, often visiting a company’s website before ever walking through the door, so web sites, blogs and other social media are more important than ever. It is not enough these days to simply be the best at what you do, you need to let the world know this through the various social networks that we are all now familiar with. Better copy now translates to increased interest and sales for businesses and this is where I can help.

I specialize in providing the following types of business copy, and would like to offer these services to you:

  • Company materials for promotion/information or internal use
  • Web content and Blog posts
  • Social media support – tweets, LinkedIn profile management, blog editing, Facebook page management.

Enclosed is a copy of my resume and contact details, I would also be more than happy to provide examples of my work. I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Kind regards,

Victoria Womersley
Freelance Writer


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