How to Start Freelance Technical Blogging
I like writing. I lived with a bunch of English majors in college, so we geeked out on short stories and literature all the time. During my last year of college, I got a job doing technical documentation writing for a medical device company, and I briefly considered making a career as a technical writer.
As I got into startups and developing software, I sort of kept writing as a hobby but didn’t take it too seriously. Then a few years ago, I started to get offered paid writing gigs from companies to contribute to their blogs. When I had time, I would write about things that I was doing at work. It was fun, especially when PHP[Architect] Magazine published my first piece in print in 2017.
This summer, I found myself with a little extra time on my hands, so I decided to reach back out to some of the publications I had worked with in the past and start finding more opportunities to write for pay. Within a couple of weeks of emailing people in my network, I had six clients lined up.
How Much Does it Pay?
Most freelance writers have a tough time making much money, but technical writing is among the highest-paid segments of the industry. I’ve been paid anywhere between $200 and $700 per article depending on the topic, publication, and length. It usually works out to between $50 and $250 per hour (excluding administrative work and pitching). Obviously, that’s a big spread, so you’ll have to balance the kind of writing you want to do with your desire for income.
For example, you might get paid $500 for a long piece about something you’ve never used before. The upside to this kind of post is that you’ll learn a lot, but the downside is that your hourly rate isn’t great if it takes you 20 hours of work.
What Skills Do You Need to Have?
Technical bloggers are well-paid because they have to have specialized knowledge that can take years to acquire. Writing in-depth software engineering tutorials can require quite a bit of research - even if you are already familiar with the topic. I’ve been writing software for almost ten years now, and some articles take me 2-3 hours of research before I can even get started writing.
If you’re a new software developer or recent bootcamp graduate, you might have to start with introductory blog posts on the lower end of the pay scale. Once you get good at finding niches to pitch articles about, you are essentially getting paid to learn new things. It’s not a bad deal.
I’ve found that certain topics do tend to pay a little better than others, but as you might expect, they’re the ones that take longer to learn. For example, DevOps is a hot topic right now, but learning Docker, Kubernetes, Serverless, and all the tools involved in those technologies is quite an undertaking.
It’s also helpful to write for companies whose products you’re familiar with. For example, one of the first blogs to reach out to me was Codeship’s because we were using them at The Graide Network and my previous startup.
How Do You Get Started?
1. Start with blogs who are looking for contributors
I love making lists, so if you want to try technical writing, take a look at my list of freelance technical blogging opportunities.
Almost all of these opportunities pay writers to write for their blog. They’re a great place to start, but you’ll need to have a few ideas to pitch them first, which is why you should…
2. Learn to pitch
I quickly realized that very few blogs are going to give you a list of topics and let you start working on whichever ones you want. Most ask that you pitch them ideas that you’re interested in, and then they’ll decide which ones work for them.
I could write a whole blog post on what I’ve learned about pitching alone, but until then, know that it takes a bit of art, creativity, and technical knowledge.
3. Ask for referrals, reviews, and build a portfolio
If you want to start getting higher-paid writing gigs, you’ll need to have a portfolio and some references. I’m now asking some of my happy clients for referrals (which I’ll eventually include on my website), and putting a sampling of my past work on my portfolio page.
This portfolio has taken 7 years of work to build, but it’s already come in very useful when reaching out to new potential clients.
4. Start increasing your rate
Increasing your pay rate doesn’t just mean writing for publications that pay the most per post. Some posts are much easier to write than others.
So, I track the number of hours it takes me to create each post, the amount I get paid, and how much I enjoy writing that kind of post. I’m trying to do more of the work I enjoy and less of the work I don’t while maximizing my effective hourly rate.
Also, a publication’s posted rate is rarely the highest rate they’ll pay writers. Most offer a low rate to new writers but will increase your rate if you ask for it, and you’ve proven yourself to be reliable.
5. Find ways to decrease your research time
Try to double-down on topics you know so you can decrease your research time per post. For example, if you are writing a post about setting up a Laravel application, keep the app on your local machine for a future article about something related.
You can also pitch similar topics to different publications, but don’t reuse the same blog post. Your clients will not like that and it’s dishonest.
6. The pay lag
Finally, be aware that freelance writing isn’t necessarily quick money. Most publications pay you 30-60 days after you invoice them, but some pay after your post is published, which can be weeks or months later.
If you need money faster, you might be able to negotiate better payment terms with smaller clients, but big companies have established processes and may not bend them easily.
Should You Start Freelance Technical Blogging?
First, it’s not fast, easy money. If you have programming skills, it’s a lot easier to get paid well by working as an employee slinging code than finding enough clients to make a living freelance writing.
On the flip side, you’ll get paid to learn new concepts and help teach them to other people. I’ve gotten job inquiries, and other freelance writing offers simply as a result of being published on clients’ blogs.
You’ll need to be detail-oriented enough to write good content, but not so much that you can’t finish an article and get it in on time. Time management is crucial. When you’re freelance writing, you’ll set your own deadlines, but nobody is going to be standing over you asking when you’ll finish - you just won’t get paid until you do. Publishers prefer working with freelancers they can count on to get their work done on time and at a consistent quality.