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.
In the spring of 2020, 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 up to $1000 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 this list of technical blogging opportunities I helped curate on GitHub.
I wrote for several of these when I was just getting started because most allow you to write technical tutorials on any topic you already know. While the pay is pretty good, you’ll need to have a few ideas to pitch them first, which is why you should…
2. Learn to pitch
At my company (Draft.dev), we give writers a list of possible topics every two weeks and let them request the ones they want, but most blogs don’t do that. 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, 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. Every time you finish a job for a new client who likes your work, ask them for referrals or a testimonial. Put these up with a sampling of your work on your website.
Building a portfolio takes years, but mine has 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.
When I was freelancing, I tracked the number of hours it took me to create each post, the amount I got paid, and how much I enjoyed writing the post. I got pretty good at doing more of the work I enjoyed and less of the work I didn’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’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. Writing is a great way to increase your influence, and I’ve gotten job inquiries simply as a result of being published.
To be a successful freelance technical blogger, 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.
If freelance technical blogging sounds interesting to you, follow me on Twitter for more tips or apply to write for Draft.dev. We work with writers at all skill levels who are reliable and receptive to feedback.