How to Start a Freelance Business When You’re Broke

Are you a broke mom, frantically searching for legitimate ways to earn money online? Learn how to start a freelance writing business (and grow it) without any money to spare.

If you’re struggling financially today, I want you to know that I understand! I know how it feels to be so broke you can’t just “give up your daily latte” to save money to make a purchase you want.

And I know it can get better. You are not stuck in broke mode forever. You can pull yourself out. I’ve done it and so can you.

Freelance writing changed my life! Four years after starting, we became completely debt free and I officially replaced my teacher salary – without having to spend anything on daycare, or putting in 8 hours a day.

Being broke isn’t fun! When I left the classroom a few years ago, our income took a massive cut.

Well below the poverty line, we struggled to make ends meet. We slashed our expenses and watched ever penny. It was hard!

We knew something had to change, but I didn’t want to go back to teaching because day care for our large family would eat up my entire pay check. Literally.

Since working outside the home wasn’t a viable option, so I started looking into ways to earn money from home, praying that the Lord would help me avoid scams and find something legit.

And not long after, He answered!

Freelance Writing

I stumbled upon a post written by Gina Horkey, and learned that people were getting paid to write content for the web.

I’d been blogging for fun over on my Maggie’s Milk blog, so the wheels in my brain started turning. Could I really earn money writing online?

I started reading all the free material on freelancing that I could. After scouring the job boards, I sent my first pitch within a couple of days.

I got the gig!

It didn’t pay well (only $20), but that money made me realize that I could do this. I could help our household financially, without having to give up on homeschooling or put the kids in daycare.

That first gig back in 2015 was my first baby step into the world of freelance writing. And the money has been coming in ever since. And not just in $20 increments…

If you’re ready to work hard to improve your family’s situation, keep reading.

I dish out all the steps I took to launch my freelance business, without spending any of our household budget.

Are you ready? Let’s get started!

1. Decide to Act

Until you decide that it’s time to actually start your freelance business, no amount of reading, learning, or thinking will count.

You can take course after course and never actually earn any money if you don’t implement anything. You have to do something!

Make a proclamation that you are going to do this. Commit to spend time each day growing your business.

Because if you don’t decide to act, you’ll probably still be broke a few months down the road.

Action truly is key to getting this done. Stop planning. Don’t wait until you “know everything.” Actually do something.

2. Start Small

Do you know what I had for my business when I launched?

A cheap laptop computer, really slow satellite internet, and a freebie blog over on Blogger.

I didn’t have a dedicated freelance website, or money to start one.

Freelance writing courses were on my “someday” list, but I couldn’t afford to purchase any at the time. There was literally no money for that.

And it could have been the excuse I used to never get started. But I decided not to. I just started with what I had.

There is nothing wrong with starting small. 

You don’t need a lot to make it as a freelance writer. Too often, I hear excuses like these:

  • “I don’t have a website.”
  • “No one knows who I am.”
  • “I don’t know where to go to look for gigs.”

You know what? I didn’t either! My online presence (other than my freebie blog) was extremely limited. I didn’t even have a personal Facebook profile or other social media presence prior to launching!

And while perhaps my progress has been slower compared to others who started with more, I didn’t take time to stop and make comparisons.

I started small, with what I had, leveraging my skills.

So once you’ve decided to start a business, take stock of what you have. That’s all you need to get started.

No internet? Go someplace with Wi-Fi.

No computer? Our library has several, and I live in the middle of nowhere, so I’m pretty sure yours will too.

Stop making excuses and find a way to make it happen. It will be hard. But, it will get easier if you keep taking these steps.

3. Start Pitching & Build Your Portfolio

Remember how I said my first paid gig was for $20. That was for a 1200 word post.

Today, I charge at least $120 for the same length. Big difference.

But, when I was first starting I didn’t have the luxury of being picky. I needed money and samples.

So if you’re broke and just starting out, take what you can. Remember you won’t be at that rate forever!

Start getting your name out there, and pitch away!

No matter what you are being paid, always do your best work! Seriously, I don’t care if you’re getting less than a penny a word. If you agreed to write a post for a rate, do it to the very best of your ability.

Wondering where to pitch? Check out these ideas:

Craigslist – the “Gigs” section. Check the big cities (New York, LA, etc.)

ProBlogger Job Board (free, and where I found my first gig!)

You can also create an account on a site like Hubstaff Talent and look for clients who may be a good fit.

Also, here’s a more in-depth post on how to find freelance writing gigs.

Worried about being scammed?

There are scams out there, hiding as legitimate freelance writing gigs. Most are very obvious. Others are more carefully constructed.

The good news? There are almost always red flags. I wrote a post warning you what to look for:

Read this: Red Flags for Freelance Writing Gigs

How to Write a Freelance Writing Pitch

The goal of a freelance writing pitch is to briefly explain why you’re the best person to create the content the company is looking for. You need to show that you’re knowledgeable about the content area, and able to write well.

Here is a sample pitch template you can use. You’ll notice it’s short. Hiring managers get tons of responses. Be kind to them by succinctly sharing the info they need and don’t bog them down with details.

Hi [insert the name of the editor – AN ACTUAL NAME (you may need to research],

Your ad/posting on [site where you learned about it] caught my eye. I’m a freelance writer who knows a lot about [topic/niche.]  I’m also [share two quick reasons you’d be a great fit, using the language/word choice from the ad].

To help you make your hiring decision, here’s a bit more information about myself:

  • [two bullet points sharing quick connections between your education/background/experience and the role]
  • [one connection to the company – i.e. a shared value or mission]
  • [Link to your portfolio]

Please let me know if you need any additional information. I’m looking forward to working with you.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

How to Build Your Freelance Writing Portfolio

When you’re just start your freelance writing business, you probably don’t have a lot of samples created that you can use to build a portfolio. That means sample writing must be high on your prioritized to-do list.

Here are three quick ideas for how to get published samples:

  • Write a guest post for a blogger in the niche you’re hoping to write for
  • Start a free blog (better than nothing and you can move later)
  • Write on Medium (or a similar platform)

Once you have live samples, you need to collect the links in a sharable format. If you don’t have a website of your own yet, you can:

  • Make a shareable Google Doc
  • Create a Pinterest board and save all of your posts to it (this means you’ll need to create a pinnable image for each post, but you can do that for free on Canva or something similar)
  • Build a portfolio on a platform like Contently

Right now, don’t worry about making your portfolio “perfect.” You want it sharable and you want each link to lead to a great piece of writing. That’s it.

You can (and should) update it later.

4. Reinvest in Your Business

Look, I know how tempting it is to go spend that money you just earned. You’re broke, and really could use the money on X,Y, or Z.

But you can’t.

At least, not right now.

First, you have to invest in your business. Otherwise you’ll be stuck writing $20 posts forever. And no one wants to be there.

So save all of your money (at first!)

When you’ve saved enough, take an entry-level course to learn even more. My first freelancing investment was 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success (aff. link).

The course helped me learn:

  • How to improve my pitch
  • Ways to leverage my past experience and education as a freelancer
  • Confidence in my ability
  • And loads more

I’ve never regretted investing in this course, and have easily made back WAY more than I spent.

But until you’re there, don’t give up on improving yourself.

Keep reading all the free material you can. Subscribe to helpful blogs and read about areas you’re struggling with.

Remember to implement what you’re learning too! Keep saving, and then you’ll be able to take a course.

The course I took gave me the confidence I needed to pitch more. I landed a higher paying job on Craigslist in the education niche, which was perfect with my teaching background.

I took that money, and bought my domain and hosting. This website was born in September of 2015, just a few months after starting my business.

It really does take some money to grow your business, but you don’t have to have that money all at once. So keep working on your savings and you will get there!

5. Slowly Scale Back on What You Save

Once I had more knowledge and a functioning website (it doesn’t have to be perfect!), it was time to start taking some of my business income and applying it to the household budget.

Being able to actually do something with this money was motivating.

When you’re saving everything to get your site up, or purchase a course, it’s really hard. The tangible benefit isn’t there to the same extent.

My first step back was to save 50% of my income for my business and pour 50% of it into the household budget.

After investing in a few more essentials, I reduced that percentage to 25%. But, I ended up spending the money I saved for taxes (oops!) so I’m back up to 35%.

Note: You really do need a budget for your business!

6. Watch for Amazing Deals

I’ve learned the hard way that you really do have to invest in your business to keep growing. So now I’m always watching for amazing deals that align with my freelance writing goals.

I’ve subscribed to several “waiting lists” to be notified of any flash sales for courses I particularly want to take.

Pay attention to the amazing bundle deals that become available, and sign up to be notified. Then tuck some funds away so when they appear you can make the purchase guilt-free.

Watch for Black Friday sales. Often companies will have Anniversary sales as well.

If you find something you want, have patience and try to get it at the lowest price possible.

7. Make Time to Grow Your Freelance Writing Business

Wondering how you’ll make time to grow a freelance writing business from home? You’ll have to make it a priority.

And you need to do it as a team. Your family won’t understand why you’re suddenly spending more time on the computer unless you tell them. So get your family onboard!

8. Continue Pitching to Avoid Freelance Famine

Once you’ve landed a client or two, it can be easy to forget to pitch. After all, you’ve got more client work to keep you busy.

But, eventually that gig might dry up. Then you’ll be left without that income.

So make pitching a permanent part of your game plan, at least for the foreseeable future. Otherwise, you’ll be right back to where you started with no money.

Pitch even if you are busy. Not every pitch will land a client, but it will help you gain confidence. And some of them will give you work!

Freelance famine is a roller coaster cycle you don’t want to get started with!

There are so many ways to find time, even if it means getting a bit creative.

You can do a lot with a part-time freelance business, so don’t let a lack of 40 hours a week stop you8. Continue Pitching to Avoid Freelance Famine

Once you’ve landed a client or two, it can be easy to forget to pitch. After all, you’ve got more client work to keep you busy.

But, eventually that gig might dry up. Then you’ll be left without that income.

So make pitching a permanent part of your game plan, at least for the foreseeable future. Otherwise, you’ll be right back to where you started with no money.

Pitch even if you are busy. Not every pitch will land a client, but it will help you gain confidence. And some of them will give you work!

Freelance famine is a roller coaster cycle you don’t want to get started with!

9. Make Connections

Do you know where most of my leads come from now?

From other freelancers.

That’s part of the reason I love the mastermind group I was a part of for a couple of years. I’ve also gotten leads from different Facebook groups.

Take time to make connections and build genuine relationships. Give more than you take, and be willing to help others. You won’t regret it. Or at least, I haven’t!

Other freelancers are not your enemy! Learn all you can from them and help them out too. Be genuine and patient!

Here’s a post giving you ideas on how to network with others, even as a busy mom without much time.

10. Be Willing to Try Something New

I never planned on being a virtual assistant when I launched my freelance writing business.

But, the door opened and I walked through it. Now I have a couple of VA clients, and I personally love the variety!

I also didn’t plan on this website turning into a monetized blog. But, that just made sense as a logical step on my online business journey.

So as you’re working, don’t get so focused on what you’re doing that you completely miss a good opportunity. Say yes to new things when you can, because you never know where they’ll lead.

Don’t be afraid to pivot if it makes sense.

On the other hand, don’t get so focused on chasing the next “new thing” that you forget about what is currently working. There’s a balance. You’ll have to figure out what that looks like for you.

11. Don’t Give Up

Bootstrapping your freelance business is challenging. But, it’s also rewarding, and can help you move past broke.

Don’t give up when things get tough. You can do this!

Take time to think about your why. Why did you start a business in the first place? When you think about your why, it’s motivating.

Here’s more inspiration when you’re feeling like you’re ready to quit:

What to Do When You’re Ready to Quit Your Online Business

How to Start a Freelance Writing Business: Recap

Starting a freelance writing business doesn’t require a lot of capital. In fact, if you already have a computer and internet access, you can get started today.

Remember to save your money, and invest it back into yourself. Watch for deals so you can still save money while investing! 😀

Be willing to work for less at first, because you won’t be at that rate forever.

Find a community and get involved.

And when you’re ready to take an awesome course on freelance writing, I highly recommend Gina’s 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success!

By: Lisa Turner

Lisa Tanner loves helping busy moms find time to grow their own business. As a homeschooling mom to nine, she knows a thing or two about balancing diapers and deadlines.

Source: How to Start a Freelance Business When You’re Broke – Lisa Tanner Writing

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