Have you decided to become a freelance writer, but have no clue what you need to start? You’re either doing this as a side-hustle or want to test the waters without overspending. You wonder what’s really necessary and where you should spend your money.
Listed below are essential tools to get you started on your freelance writing journey. This is a live post that will be updated as I discover new things. Most of the programs are entirely free or have a free version. But some other things are really worth the initial investment if you’d like to make a profit. The good news is the upfront costs for freelance writing aren’t much and what money you do put in, will go far in making you look like a pro.
Here are the top recommendations to get you on your way.
This post contains some affiliate links. In no way does this influence my endorsement of products or services. Most of these recommendations are used by me every day!
1. Business Basics
Business Name Generator; Checker
Thinking of a business name can be so hard! When we’ve finally come up with something worthy, we get all excited, only to realize the domain name is taken. This is where a thesaurus comes in handy. You can find synonyms that will convey the same meaning or give you ideas for other business names. Anadea also has a business name generator that will provide you with you related concepts based on your keyword.
Once you think you’ve found your name, look on Knowem to see if the domain and social media usernames are available.
Also worth mentioning is that when I was figuring out my own business name, I read about some unscrupulous practices from GoDaddy. Apparently, people would do a domain check on their website, see that it was available for a reasonable price, and then return a day later only to realize that GoDaddy was now asking an absurd amount to buy that domain. I would use them with caution when trying to see if your domain name is available.
Google Voice (Business Phone Number)
Who wants to put their personal phone number all over the Internet? Google voice allows you to get a separate number that can forward calls to your phone. And you can change the settings so there is no announcement the person is calling a Google Voice subscriber.
Gmail (Email Client)
Who hasn’t heard of Gmail? It has over 1 billion active users. Using a Gmail account will give you access to all their other apps like google docs and google drive. You can also set up to have email from multiple accounts forwarded into a single Gmail account, or send email from another email address while logged into your main Google account. While logged into your personal Gmail account, you can send messages using your non-Google business email address, e.g., Lorraine@CraftyWriting.com
Gmail lets you save email templates, called “canned responses.” This is invaluable when sending cold pitches, guest blog pitches, or responding to job board ads. Of course, you’ll still have to tailor your email, but most of what you need will already be written.
Pocket (Bookmark Manager)
*Free; $4.00/mo or $44.99/ yr for premium
When you first begin, you’re learning so much and finding so much helpful advice that you want to save for later. It’s essential to have one specific place to put them all. Pocket is better than your web browser bookmark because it’s easier to find things and you can highlight what you read. Because they use a tagging system instead of a traditional folder system, you can have many tags for each article you save. Pocket also handles whatever types of media files you throw at it—from web pages and audio files, to PDFs and images. There’s a web browser extension, phone app, and desktop client.
Whether you should go for the paid version or not depends on your usage. The most significant difference between the free and paid version is the latter creates a permanent copy of what you save into Pocket. You never again have to worry about bookmarking something, only to open it months or years later and find it’s a dead link.
The free version saves an offline copy on your main page, but as soon as you archive it or log out of the app, Pocket will have to open the link to pull the information again.
Another benefit of the paid version is it allows you to search text inside articles, whereas the free version searches the title and URL only.
Pocket occasionally has discounts for their premium version so be sure to sign up for their email list to get notified.
2. Initial Setup
Bluehost (Website Hosting)
*$3.95/mo during promotional period
Once you’ve picked a name for your business, you have to decide if you’re going to have your website on a free or paid hosting site. With free hosting, you’ll have a third party domain name attached to it like craftywriting.wordpress.com.
If you want to show potential clients you’re a serious and committed writer, a paid website hosting service is the only way to go. The very last thing you want when starting your business is to look like a hobbyist.
Bluehost is commonly used and recommended for website hosting. They’ll give you a free domain name and provide exceptional service at a reasonable price.
WordPress (Website Design)
Your website platform is where you’ll create your website and make it look how you want. Hands-down the most recommended is WordPress. They run 30 percent of all sites, and most top bloggers use them. They’re the industry leader and are a trusted open source software. You can’t go wrong using them. If you host through Bluehost, it’s a 1-click installation to set up and link your WordPress site.
Note that WordPress.com is an entirely different site by the same owner. The .com site has ads, doesn’t allow plugins, and has many other limitations. Bluehost will connect you with WordPress.org, which is what you want.
Divi or Extra: WordPress Themes (Visual Website Designer)
*$89/year or $249 for lifetime
Unless you have some computer programming experience or have used WordPress to build a site in the past, prepare to spend countless hours, days, and even months trying to make your website look presentable. Even if you use a regular WordPress theme, it’s still a frustrating, time-consuming, and counter-intuitive process that will make you want to cry.
Enter Divi, a theme you can upload to your WordPress site that allows you to see the changes you make! Such an obvious concept that it’s inconceivable to me there aren’t more platforms that have perfected this by now. It’s easy to drag and drop sections, make font changes, add design elements, and do any other design or content changes you want to make on your site. The “Extra,” theme builds on Divi and adds extra modules geared towards those who want to be more connected with social media.
3. Business Management
Streak CRM (Project Management)
*free; $59/mo for professional plan
CRM stands for Client Relationship Management. What makes Streak different is it integrates directly into Gmail. Forget the days of needing to remember to copy over conversations and tasks from one platform to another, or sending emails to a specific address to keep track of client correspondences. Email threads already linked to a client will continue to get added to the client box. For other emails, 1 click adds in the new thread. You can also list phone conversations, schedule follow-up reminders, create tasks to get done, view documents, make notes, and much more!
Streak is equally amazing at keeping track and managing those you’ve cold pitched, pitched a guest post, or applied to and heard back from on job boards. All you do is set up what’s called a “Pipeline.”
It’s also helpful at keeping track of all your writing projects! You can create another Pipeline with the various stages of the writing process and connect the writing project to your client. One look at your Pipeline and you know what you need to start writing, what still needs to be proofread or ran through Grammarly, and who still needs to pay you.
…And all this for free!! Streak does have a paid version, but it’s geared towards larger businesses. It doesn’t offer much for the solo freelance writer to justify paying the price.
Wave (Payments and Accounting)
*Fee: 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction.
Send invoices with your logo and make it easy for you to get paid by offering credit card payments. Wave Accounting also keeps track of who’s paid and who’s late, and how much you’ve made and spent. It can also automatically send an email for overdue invoices.
I love there are no monthly fees, only a credit card processing fee of 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. That way you pay just for what you use.
4. Online Presence
Social Media Profiles (Online Audience)
You don’t have to have an account with every type of social media out there. It would be exhausting to keep up with all of them. Instead, pick two and commit to those two. I’m a fan of LinkedIn and Twitter.
Gravatar (Social Presence)
Gravatar sets you up so that you can use 1 avatar, or online picture, for all forums you leave comments on. Leaving comments on relevant blog posts increases your online visibility and having 1 picture that people see in many places is great for branding.
Contently (Portfolio Service)
You can have a targeted portfolio on your website that showcases your best pieces, and then have a complete list of your work on Contently, a free portfolio website. Here’s what mine looks like.
Linkedin (Elevator Pitch)
Use Linkedin to get people interested in you. Create an intro that talks about what kind of writing you do, how you do it differently, and what results you’ve had.
For your work history, don’t bother posting your complete resume for each job. You’re looking to be a freelancer, not an employee, so don’t have an employee mentality. You’re providing your clients with a service. For example, have you ever asked your plumber for his cover letter and resume? Didn’t think so.
What you CAN do is write a short paragraph about your previous and current employment. Then when it comes to describing your freelance writing experience, you can be more detailed and create bullet points that highlight your uniqueness, places you’ve published, and an email address where prospects can contact you.
5. Writing and Editing Tools
Google Docs (Writing Platform)
Google Docs can be fantastic for writing content and having it accessible from anywhere, even with no internet connection. You can also use Google Docs’ formatting options to make your article WordPress ready. Share settings within Google Docs make it easy to share your writing with clients and editors, or collaboratively work on the document to make changes and suggestions in real-time.
Because the service automatically saves everything, you never have to worry about losing your work. And since it’s a “live” document, you don’t have to keep re-uploading into a file folder or system every time you make a change.
*Free; See here for their monthly, quarterly, and yearly pricing
Grammarly can be a lifesaver in helping to catch small spelling and grammar mistakes. Of course, it doesn’t replace a human, but it can find things you’ve overlooked. The free service is useful if you’re starting out, but the paid service can catch more advanced grammar mistakes and point out overused words in your writing. The paid version also has a plagiarism checker included, and you can view at a glance your article’s reading level.
Get on Grammarly’s email list and wait for a deal before signing up. They have up to 50% off their plans pretty frequently.
Hemingway App (Readability Check)
*Free; $19.99 for desktop app
Hemingway App is an excellent companion to Grammarly. The web version is free, but the desktop app will cost you $19.99. It doesn’t replace Grammarly in finding spelling and grammar mistakes, but it excels at making sure your writing is easy to read.
The paid version of Grammarly and Hemingway App both give your content a readability score, but Hemingway App points out complex sentences, simpler word alternatives, passive sentences, and adverb usage.
Unsplash (Free Images)
Every post or article you write should have a title image at the top. Not all photos are free to use. If you’re not looking to spend money, choose images that are Creative Commons Zero (CC0). Pictures under this license are free to use, modify, and distribute, even for commercial purposes. If you’re not sure what kind of a license an image has, then you’re better off not using it.
Besides Unsplash, there are plenty of free sites where you can get CC0 images for your posts and articles. Here are 3 others:
Canva (Image Editing)
*Free; $12.95/mo and $9.95/mo when paid yearly
After sourcing your images, this is what you need to make them look Pinterest worthy! With Canva you can add titles or designs to your pictures to make them more enticing read and share. There’s a free and paid version, but you can do most things you need with the free account.
6. Honorable Mentions
Although these 2 below aren’t absolutely essential when starting your business, they deserve an honorable mention and are worth it if you can afford to part with the cash:
Scrivener (Paid Writing Platform)
*One-time $45 fee for license
If you’re bootstrapping it, Google Docs is more than enough. But there are a significant number of writers who use Scrivener as their writing program of choice.
There’s a learning curve to it, but some useful features include the ability to quickly go back and forth between articles, save research for pending posts, jot down and see ideas or outlines right next to document, create labels to immediately see what kind of content it is (blog post, guest post, client piece, etc.). You can also organize content however you’d like, including by due date or internal deadline.
I usually write my articles in Scrivener first and then transfer them to Google Docs when I’m ready to submit to a client. Many freelance writers feel Scrivener’s value is much more than the $45 it costs for the Mac desktop app.
Paid Job Board
Again if you’re bootstrapping it, you can definitely use free job boards like Problogger to find writing gigs. Paid job boards aren’t a necessity, but if you’re having trouble landing work through the free ones, you might have better luck with a paid job board. They’re not worth spending large sums of money on, but paying the $5–7 per month most of them cost while you build up your client list would be money well spent.