There’s never been a better time to get into freelance writing online. Hundreds of high-quality magazines exist online, and they snap up great writing. Thousands of large businesses need good websites and blogs filled, as well. As much opportunity as there is, though, it can be hard to get your foot in.

According to the Freelance Industry Report, approximately half of all freelance writers today make between $50 and $70 an hour; it’s comparable to the $80 an hour that physicians make, and the $35 that paramedics get. You do need to put in some hard work to arrive the level where you find yourself capable of commanding such prices, though.

When I first started out, I felt the kind of paralysis that so many others experience when they hope to enter the writing business — how are you supposed to know if a business that you cold call even wants anything written at the moment, leave alone written by you? Which magazines accepted material from writers who didn’t have a thick portfolio to point to? If I did decide to apply to them, what kind of resume did I need to send in?

There’s something you need to understand about applying

You don’t need a resume – resumes are simply not the way the freelance business works. All that magazines or websites want is a link to previously published content on a respectable looking website, content that is relevant to their trade. You also need to come up with a great idea for an article to pitch.

Scour the Internet for the names of publications that are known to accept freelance content (whopays.tumblr.com has plenty of leads), and plug away — write a few lines about your idea, offer a link to previously published content that you’re proud of, and send it out.

If the idea that you’ve pitched is good, you’ll usually hear back from someone. It can take time, though, as there are usually thousands of writers applying to these websites or magazines.

I’ve long learned to see sending out my applications as an actual job — a part-time one. I spend at least three hours each day doing nothing but identifying websites to target, sending out pitches, and working on other important ways to find prospects. I still do it, and it’s my number one idea to get hired — always keep trying.

A good content mill can keep you warm until your writing takes off

Thankfully, you won’t need to hustle for too long. If you work well the first couple of years on establishing yourself, your career should begin to become self-sustaining. You will see clients stick with you for years, you will receive referrals, and you will see your reputation bring in new clients.

Until this happens, though, you will usually need to write for a content mill at least part of the time. While the term certainly is a pejorative one, life writing for content mills isn’t as bad as it is made out to be — you get to make about $25 an hour (more if you write quickly); the demands of such writing tend to be simple, as well. Clients tend to have realistic standards for the quality achievable. It’s important to not settle into the content mill role, though. There’s so much more that’s possible when you aim higher.

You need to be available to those who are looking for you

While cold calling is an important part of any strategy to establish oneself in freelance writing online, finding work isn’t just about going after work; it’s also about being found. It’s important to pour your resources into setting up a great, credible website. Top freelance writers get cold-called by wealthy companies capable of paying a good wage all the time — these writers have quality websites that are indistinguishable from those of any large business; they also invest in search engine optimization, and in search engine advertising.

Professional networking has turned out to be the way anyone finds a job today, or has a job find them. It isn’t enough to simply show up on LinkedIn; you need to establish relationships with plenty of other professionals in the niche that you specialize in, participate in forum debates, and in general, work towards becoming an authority. Authorities often get asked to write.

There’s another way to stay visible. Think of the high-profile blogs and websites that the people in your industry visit a lot, and try hard to get your work on them, even if it’s for free. The more you stay visible in places where prospective clients go, the more likely they will be to hire you.

Do become better at what you do

When I started out freelancing as a writer, I had my years of preparation to bank on. Armed with the ideas and writing style that I had developed over the years, I had what it took to appear as fresh talent to potential hirers. Over time, though, I began to focus far more on marketing myself, and on landing gigs.

A couple of years later, though, I began to see that I hadn’t grown much as a writer, or as an observer of my field. I began to grow stale, and it showed in the way I rarely seemed to delight my clients.

It’s important to remember that you chose your field to write in because you were interested enough in it to immerse yourself in it. The willingness to keep working on your craft — reading, thinking about what you’ve read, having opinions and debating fellow experts — is what makes you valuable as a writer. Writers cannot florish in a vacuum.