Freelancing as a writer is one of the best open secrets of surviving on your own without a regular day job. Considering the fact that there are freelance writers everywhere coming out of the woodwork, the reference to secrets may appear odd at first. The vast majority of these writers get by on very little, though. The fact that anyone could jump in and make a full-time income without a steady gig with the New York Times or turning into a successful published novelist, tends to be not very well known.

Can you make money freelance writing? The answer is, you certainly can. Dozens of magazines, books and websites around try to teach people how this might be possible, and how such work replaces a day job for thousands of people. It isn’t actually hard to work yourself off to this level. Nevertheless, it does require commitment and dedication; something that tends to be in short supply.

I got started with SEO writing

I turned to freelance writing because I love writing, and like plenty of other people, I wanted out of the 9-to-5 grind. When I looked for ways that I could start making money immediately, it was writing for search engine optimization (SEO) that I found luck with. In the beginning, I found my assignments on bid-to-work sites like oDesk (now UpWork. All I found were bottom-of-the-barrel assignments, even if there was plenty of it. I took it all because it helped pay the bills. It makes for interesting reading why anyone even wanted bland, uninteresting, mass-produced articles.

Google and other major search engines today are extremely effective at telling good content apart from poor quality content. Back in 2010, though, Google wasn’t really focused on telling the difference, at all. There were plenty of fly-by-night Internet businesses back then that took full advantage of this state.

They had a simple trick that worked over and over. An Internet marketer would first start a website based on a popular search term on Google. Usually, the marketer would choose something like cheap dog food that had the potential to lead to a purchase. He would start an exact-match website called something like cheapdogfood.com, and then hire inexpensive writers like me for plenty of $10 articles based on the search term. They weren’t particular about quality, because Google couldn’t tell the difference. I would look for a little content on the subject anywhere on the Internet, get a few ideas, and hammer out 500 words in 30 minutes. These articles would then go on the website.

Google was so simple back then that when someone searched for cheap dog food, the search engine would right away think that this disposable website called cheapdogfood.com that was full of articles with the term cheap dog food had to be completely relevant. It would make the website number one on the results page, directing thousands of searchers to it. Some would click on the Google AdSense ads for dog food that showed on the website, and with each click, the Internet marketer who owned the website made a couple of dollars. It made these marketers tens of thousands each year. I made $100 a day hammering out 10 articles.

Of course, Google got wise to these tricks and shut them down with the now world-famous Panda algorithm update of 2011. The algorithm helped Google tell the difference between good content and low-quality content, and suddenly, it wasn’t so easy for these Internet businesses to trick Google AdSense into making them some advertising money. I was out of an easy freelancing job. While I was worried at first, I soon discovered that there was so much more that I could do.

Can you make money freelance writing and actually be successful?

While the term SEO writing used to be associated with cheap, unoriginal and mass-produced content, it’s all changed now. Today, it’s the exact opposite that works on Google. Today, Google is so smart at telling good content apart from bad that the term SEO writing has actually come to mean high-quality, original and creative content that consumers will love. Keywords are still crucial to such content; the content does need to satisfy the search engines’ quality algorithms, though.

To writers who are truly able to write well, the newly quality-aware Google is a major advantage. Since they have what Google wants, they can now charge far more for their services than writers who don’t write well.

You can charge at different tiers depending on how much effort you are willing to put into your work. Clients could ask for just-good-enough articles with grammatical language and little else, articles with both good language and couple good points to make, or truly original stuff. You could make anything from half a cent a word to 10 cents a word, and more.

It’s possible to find a place for yourself anywhere on the continuum. You could go for entry-level work on websites such as iWriter, mid-level work on websites such as Constant-Content or Ghost Bloggers or much higher level work on Demand’s StudioD. If you want to be truly successful, you could build out your own freelance business website and work hard on creating a name for yourself as an independent authority in your field who charges a dollar a word for his groundbreaking stories and opinions. You would be marketing yourself not as a writer, but as a talking head, a consultant, a pundit.

How do you go about establishing yourself?

To truly become successful as an authority, you need to truly know a field well enough that someone would pay you for your opinions. It could be any field, whether you are qualified to have opinions on it or not (qualifications and credentials help, though).

If you’ve just always really enjoyed fashion, and have read and thought about it for as long as you can remember, for example, and if you have a way with words in addition, you’ll probably be able to say something good about it that others would find interesting. You could probably pitch a novel idea a publication, and be accepted. There are all kinds of places, from small publications to established ones, that would welcome your opinion.

Where can you go and what do you do?

If you want to really get somewhere as a freelance writer, there are all kinds of ways to go. Whatever you do, though, you need to start right now building yourself up as a brand. It’s what I’ve always tried to do, and I’m certainly well along. Starting your own blog or website with your best writing on it is an excellent way to get started.

With your website backing you up, all you need to do is to find one small-time blog or other publication that will publish you, and parlay your success there into spots on bigger and bigger publications. You can start out by approaching businesses to write for their trade magazines, internal company magazines and newsletters, or approach local newspapers and tiny, but well-respected blogs and websites. You will soon be well on your way.

You have all kinds of ways to go

You can take your career in any one of a dozen different directions once you’re reasonably well-established as a freelance writer. Depending on what you love and are talented at, you could be a journalist, a copywriter, a blogger, a pundit, a copy editor, a film script writer or anything else. It all comes down to what kind of writing you find it easy to be original in. If you can see yourself doing this, there’s no way that you won’t make plenty of money.