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How to Build a Freelance Writing Business From (Almost) Nothing

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How to Build a Freelance Writing Business for Almost Nothing - AllFreelanceWriting.com

Whether you’re a new freelance writer or you’re still deciding whether or not to launch a freelance writing business, the costs are something you’ll need to consider.

Fortunately, becoming a freelance writer doesn’t have to be expensive. You can do it for under $100 up front. And you can certainly launch with even less than that.

Let’s look at some of the costs involved in building a freelance writing business, where you can save some money if that’s a concern, and what you probably shouldn’t skimp on.

Common Costs to Build a Freelance Writing Business

Before looking at how you can minimize the expense of starting a freelance business, it’s important to understand the most common costs you’ll come across.

Here are some expenses you might face as you build a freelance writing business:

  • Membership fees or service fees for freelance marketplaces
  • Fees to accept payments online
  • Monthly business banking fees
  • Domain name registrations
  • Web hosting expenses
  • Web design or development
  • Email marketing services
  • Mailbox services or a PO box

These are far from the only expenses you might incur.

For example, you might opt to advertise or use paid products and services to help you market your business beyond what’s listed here. But these make up a common starting place.

Ways to Save Money When Building Your Freelance Writing Business

Now let’s look at how you can save money by cutting out some of the common freelance writing expenses we just looked at.

  • Skip the marketplaces.
  • Find a free business checking account.
  • Start with a shared hosting account.
  • Wait on the email list.
  • Use a free web template initially.

Why are these expenses a good place to save money? Let’s look at them each in greater depth.

Skip Freelance Marketplaces

I’ve made it no secret over the years that I don’t care for freelance marketplaces.

They create a race-to-the-bottom mentality while enabling people to exploit freelance writers.

These services generally lock you into an inappropriate non-compete agreement of sorts (forcing you to perpetually work with a client you found there exclusively through their platform so they can keep taking a cut even from future gigs you negotiate for yourself).

Some freelance marketplaces even help “clients” cross lines that make their status of client vs employer questionable (such as giving them tools that essentially amount to spyware so they can monitor your activities on your own business computer).

While I understand the appeal when new freelancers don’t understand some of these issues, I could never in good conscience recommend that any freelance writer sign up for these services or pay them so much as a cent.

If there’s one thing I know for certain it’s this:

You can do better.

If saving money is important to you, this is a good place to start.

Focus on finding clients yourself, not only using job boards, but also putting together a pitch list and reaching out to prospects while you start building the professional platform that will bring more clients to you over time.

Find a Free Business Checking Account

You’ll definitely want a business checking account to keep business finances separate from personal ones. But when you launch a new freelance writing business, you aren’t likely to have any extraordinary banking needs.

You’ll mostly need somewhere to deposit checks (for clients not paying through a payment processor like PayPal), and you’ll want an account you can use to pay for business expenses.

In many cases, a free business checking account will be perfectly adequate.

You can get free business checking accounts through local banks and credit unions. Or you can look into online banking options if you do most of your banking virtually anyway.

Personally, I have an account with a local bank, but I also maintain a business account online with BlueVine for a specific area of my business. I don’t use the account heavily, but I also haven’t had any problems with them.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links that help support All Freelance Writing. Read my No-BS Affiliate Promotion Policy for more information.


Save Money with a Shared Hosting Account

There are significant benefits to using a VPS (virtual private server) or dedicated server to host your freelance writer website.

You’ll have greater resources. You’ll have more control over security and other server settings. And you won’t have to worry about other people on your server introducing exploits that can compromise your site.

That said, these are overkill for most new freelance writers.

Save yourself some money and go with a shared hosting account instead.

What is shared hosting?

When you get a shared hosting account, you’re sharing that server’s resources with many other customers of the hosting company. This could be several hundred users. It can be over a thousand.

Because you’re sharing these resources, it’s much cheaper than a VPS or dedicated server.

That said, make sure you know what you’re paying for. Shared hosting services often advertise “unlimited” resources – like sites you can launch or storage space.

Here’s the thing about those “unlimited” hosting deals. They’re never actually unlimited. You’ll find the terms spell out limits for other resources such as CPU usage, RAM, or inodes.

It’s impossible to run unlimited websites – especially database-driven websites – with these other limitations.

However, if you’re only planning to launch a freelance writer website to promote your services, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever press against these limits. If it remains your only website, you’ll probably be fine staying with shared hosting for years.

Wait a While to Build an Email List

While email lists can be important when selling something at scale (like a book), email marketing isn’t necessary for freelance writers.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t build an email list. But it does mean email marketing doesn’t need to be a priority when you’re just starting out.

This is especially true because you won’t always have a firm grasp on who your target market is immediately.

The market you choose might not work out. Or you could find that a related (or even entirely different) market has a greater interest in your services or a greater ability to pay for them.

If you’re looking to cut costs when starting your freelance business, this is something you won’t miss early on. And you can always choose an email marketing service after early projects pay off.

Consider Using a Free Website Template (with Some Caveats)

No matter how you choose to build your website or what content management system (like WordPress) you choose to use, you’ll need a website design.

It’s not necessary to pay a designer to build something custom for your freelance writing business, though that’s always an option later when you have more money coming in and a better idea of the brand you’re looking to build.

Instead, you can use a template. There are plenty of premium templates available if you need more functionality. I'm a big fan of GeneratePress and use it to build most of my WordPress sites for example.

For most new freelance writers, starting with a free template is a viable option because you’ll largely set up a text-based site rather than having complicated features.

Just be careful if you go this route. Find free templates from trusted sources (like the official WordPress theme repository) to avoid downloading malicious files.

Also pay attention to any licensing rules attached to a free theme or template.

For example, many require you to keep a link in your site’s footer. If these aren’t nofollow links, you could be pulled into a link scheme Google frowns upon. And some designers still place sponsored links in their theme, which would also be a problem.

You don’t want to commit to any sitewide links, especially if they’re unrelated to your site.

A more professional approach is to link to the template’s designer in a credit area on your About page or something along those lines.

Freelance Writing Business Expenses You Don’t Want to Skimp On

While there are plenty of ways you can cut costs when launching your freelance writing career, trying to skimp in certain areas could cause headaches down the road.

Here are some areas where you should be prepared to spend money:

  • Pay for your own hosting.
  • Register your own domain name.
  • Be prepared to accept online payments.
  • Protect your privacy with a PO Box (or mailbox service).

Let’s explore why these areas are so important to tackle properly early on.

Pay for Your Own Hosting

If there’s one promotional tool I recommend every new freelance writer have, it’s a professional website.

Those professional websites require hosting. A host is a company that keeps your website’s files and databases on its servers so it can be accessed by the public.

You can find free hosts if you use a hosted service (like WordPress.com, not to be confused with the self-hosted WordPress.org).

This isn’t somewhere you should look to cut costs though, at least not too much.

Yes, you can save by starting with shared hosting like we explored previously. But going the free hosting route could cost you later.

That’s because you lack necessary control over free hosting. For example, a free host might prevent you from using a design you like or a plugin with features you want on your site.

More important, it can be difficult to move away from a free host later.

You can move your files and database, or import your content to a self-hosted platform later. But it isn’t always easy, depending on which free hosting service you use.

Even if you can move your site to a self-hosted solution later, the bigger problem is that you risk losing all links to your site and any search engine rankings. In other words, years of marketing your business can go down the drain if you build that business on a free hosting platform.

If you’re looking to save money, stick with a shared hosting account and self-host your professional website that way.

The hosting company I currently recommend is KnownHost. I’ve been using them for years and have never had a problem with them. And support has been great in the rare instance I’ve needed to contact them. That said, I’ve never used their shared hosting accounts which are relatively new, so I can’t vouch for those directly.

Register a Domain Name

Along similar lines, when you use a free hosting service, your site will often be hosted on a subdomain (think “yoursite.blogspot.com”).

Not only does this make you look unprofessional, but it also goes back to the issue of control.

If you don’t control your domain name, you don’t fully control your brand. And worse, you’ll have no way to redirect your old content (which again includes any links or search engine rankings you’ve built) to a new self-hosted site later.

My recommendation is to always register your domain name with a different company than you host your website with. This way there’s no risk of your domain being “held hostage” if you later choose to change hosts. (This doesn’t happen as much anymore, but it used to be common and can still happen.)

I highly recommend NameSilo as a domain registrar. You get free privacy protection, and they don’t jack up rates on you for renewals.

Accept Online Payments

In this day and age, insisting on receiving all payments via check will cost you clients.

That means a payment processor or payment services company of some sort is a must.

You won’t necessarily have any up-front fees to worry about when you use a service like PayPal. But you should be prepared for any transaction fees or other service fees you might be charged.

Review your payment processor’s terms early to estimate what your fees will be for typical projects you plan to take on. Then keep those fees in mind when you calculate your freelance writing rates so your net income still reaches whatever goal you set for yourself.

Protect Your Privacy with a PO Box (or Mailbox Service)

When we work as freelancers, our names are usually publicly attached to our work. And I can tell you from experience, its worth protecting your privacy.

If you don’t want clients and prospects showing up at your door, or dealing with creepy “I know where you live” messages when you’ve ticked someone off (this happened to me a few times early in my career), get a private mailing address. This is especially true if you decide to do any email marketing which requires your mailing address in each email.

If you’re living in the U.S., you can use a PO box. Or you can use a mailbox service company that will give you a more traditional street address.

Bonus tip: Either plan to use privacy protection services with any domain name you register, or set up this private address before registering your domain name. This way you never put your real address into public WHOIS databases.

You can start a freelance writing business with almost no up-front expenses. It doesn’t matter if you’re a student, someone looking to launch a side business, or you hope to make freelance writing a full-time career. There’s no reason concerns over costs should hold you back. You can start with what you have, and you can always build from there.

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