I have been working as a freelance writer for a number of years now, plying my trade on sites like Upwork and focusing entirely on online freelancing portals and projects. In that time I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t; I’ve figured out how to get the best jobs, how to find the best clients and when to back away from a project.
In the beginning I would take anything I could get, but these days I focus on the jobs that I know pay well, both because they have higher budgets on average and because they are easier and quicker.
1. Product Packaging
We’ve all heard the stories of big brand that spent millions on designing a new logo, only to end up with something that was incredibly basic and looks like it could have been thrown together by an intern in their lunch break. But as simple as they look, a lot of work goes into creating these things and the same applies to the product packaging and other promotional material, which is why writers of promotional copy can also earn a lot.
One of the very first freelancing jobs I got was writing for a tea company. I got that job because I asked to be paid in tea and they thought it was an amusing proposal (I wasn’t joking). It paid well (dollars, not darjeeling), it was fun and it was quick. It didn’t even feel like work at the time and that’s the beauty of these jobs. This was a small job for a small starter company, so the pay don’t come closer to what you will get at the big, established brands, but it was still a high paying job and ever since that first day I’ve also been quick to accept jobs like this. I’ve written for drinks companies and I’ve written for whiskey brands and chocolate makers. Some of these jobs have led to many bigger projects with clients who have turned into valuable employers, such as the guys at Soda Serve.
To get a job like this you need to be creative and you need to prove that, either by having an extensive portfolio or, in my case, by showing what you can do in the proposal. The higher end brands tend to look to marketing and writing companies to get this work done and unless you own those companies yourself then you’re not the one cashing in on the big bucks. But you can still earn a very respectable amount with the smaller companies.
2. Business Plans
In my early days I took every job I could get, regardless of type or subject. If I didn’t know what I was doing (which was often the case) I blagged it, knowing that by the end I would have a good idea and could take on more jobs like that. One of the two jobs I refused to tackle, however, was business plans.
Good writing plays a role here, but only a small part. It’s a different world and you’ll have to use your head and analytical skills a lot more. You will also need experience with this sort of thing. The average budget for this job is around $2,000, even though only a few thousand words are needed. No one is going to pay that sort of money unless you can prove to them that you have experience with this sort of project.
The reason it’s so important is because a good business plan can be used to get investments and grants. $2k spent here could equate to tens or hundreds of thousands in investment for the business, so they are happy to pay. If it fails, however, then it’s on you.
Grant writers help businesses to get government and charity grants to help them get started. Only a couple thousand words is needed to put a grant together, as well as a business plan, but the job also involves sending queries to agencies and getting funding in reply. Paying a qualified grant writer is a no-brainer for start-up businesses because while the best ones will charge upwards of $5,000, they will also promise to get at least 5x that money in funding.
This is not the sort of job you can blag, because if you take their money and fail to get them any funding then you’ll never get another project like it. If you succeed, on the other hand, then you’ve just earned yourself a career that regularly pays upwards of $500 an hour. You will struggle to find anything better than that as a freelance writer.
4. Technical Writing
This work is as boring as it comes, but if you can stay awake through the research and the writing then you will earn good money. Technical writing is usually devoid of creativity and moving from novel writing and copywriting to this can be a bit of a shock. But this is usually factored into the equation as far as the earnings go and you can earn in excess of $100 an hour on average if you have the qualifications, the portfolio to prove it and the clients.
5. Legal Writing
I have worked with a few legal companies in my time and have enjoyed every single one of them. These guys tend to have money and understand quality. They value professionalism and writers that can be punctual and if you can tick those boxes then you can make a fortune in this industry.
You will need to do a lot of research for some of the subjects, but most of these jobs involve writing simple blog posts, getting guest spots on legal sites, and even writing the bios of lawyers. They are more inclined to try and make things official, with employee contracts, NDAs and other paperwork. But they’re lawyers, it is to be expected.
More Jobs That Pay Well
There are jobs that don’t pay as much as you might think. If you had asked me which jobs paid the most before I started my career as a freelancer, I might have included novel writing. But after spending a few years as an online freelancer, I now know that that’s just not the case. The clients who list these jobs expect to pay very little, often just $0.01 a word, because their goal is to self-publish and make a few bucks, as opposed to selling big and getting a sizable advance.
There are exceptions, but even clients that go in with big budgets and the desire to have the best writing are tempted by the low bids and the inexperienced writers. And because they’re not editors, publishers or writers themselves, they can’t always tell good from bad and usually go with the lowest bidder.
I discussed more jobs that pay well, as well as ways that you can get them, in my book, The Online Writer’s Companion, published by Allworth Press. You can learn more about that on this page.