The Cost of Starting a Freelance Writing Business

Freelance writing has one of the lowest startup costs of any professional-level business, and still has a high ROI. You can start slow and small and work at another job while building your business, or jump all the way in as a full-time freelance writer. Before you make a decision though, it’s a good idea to know what it will cost. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Writing as a Profession

I am looking at freelance writing from the standpoint of a profession rather than a hobby. The costs are about the same regardless of the type of writing you do: whether it be sales-copy, technical documentation, website articles, etc.

Some of these prices will get you the first years’ worth (ex: domain name), while others only get you the first month (ex: hosting). You might already own some of these items (ex: computer), so I give the price as a range and include both possibilities. All items, such as computers, are the average item that would do for a startup.

Living Expenses

If this is your primary income, then you’ll need some money put back to live on until you start bringing in enough money to pay yourself. Every circumstance is different. One writer might start making a living wage within 3 months, the next within 6 month, the next within 1 year, and the next within 3 years.

Most of the books recommend having at least 6 month’s pay to live on. How much is that? This still depends on your circumstances. According to the Department of Numbers, the average household income from 2011-2013 was around $52,250.

inclome

If we take $52,250 as the average, and plan to have 6 month’s pay, then you’ll need $26,125 dollars to live on.

Of course that’s not the end of the story. You don’t have to quit your full-time job to start a freelance writing business. You can build this up slowly on the side and then let it become your primary income when it’s making enough. Many freelance writers have started this way. In this case you wouldn’t need any money to live on while you’re building your business. It just might take you longer to get it going since you have to work a full-time job as well as build your freelance writing business.

Total for Living Expenses = $0 – $26,125

Offline Office – Your Workshop

desk

Photo by Patricia Fortes. Used by permission from morguefile.com

Business cards

Depending on your marketing plan, you might not need business cards. If you want them, you can get a starter pack for around $25. So the price will range from $0-$25.

Desk and chair

You can get a decent desk with chair for around $125. Of course, you can just write from the couch. It could also be something you already own. This makes the investment cost from $0-$125.

Reference Material

It helps to have some books and magazines to learn the trade of writing and business. Assuming you start with two books in both topics at $15 per book, you’re looking at $60 for books. You can also learn this online by scouring the ‘net, so you’re cost could potentially be $0. For ease of use, I recommend the books.

Insurance

Disclaimer – this is not intended to be insurance advice. Links are not an endorsement. I’m just giving them for your own research.

Personal

If this is your primary source of income then we have to assume you don’t have another source for your insurance. Insurance for a family of four can run around $300 per month.

Business

Even if you work from home and no clients come to your place of business, you’ll still need some protection. I’ve heard stories of costly mistakes that companies charge back to the writer. For example, 10,000 brochures are printed before you realize that an important number is missing a decimal. The client can’t use these brochures now and they’ve already spent their budget. What happens next?

Business liability insurance will help protect you if the client charges this back to you. Liability insurance prices are all over the map. I’ve heard numbers from hundreds to thousands per year. The cheapest I’ve seen is $270 per year. I’ve also heard prices around $1500 per year.

Business license

This is different from one location to another. Mine was $15.

Computer

A decent laptop or even better desktop can run around $500. You can get by a little cheaper, but you can also spend a lot more. This will get you a good average system. Since computers are so commonplace, odds are good you already have what you need to get started.

Printer

A decent printer/copier/fax all-in-one can be had for $40. Of course you can go much higher than this, but this price range can get you started. This is another item that you probably already own.

Word Processor and Other Apps

There are lots of good choices for word processors. The standard for business is (arguably) Microsoft Word. Prices vary depending on the version and features you want and it’s available for PC and Mac. The average is around $80. You can also get Word as part of the more expensive Office. Since this is a home office and a small business, you can probably get by with the home edition. The downloadable home edition runs around $115. There are other options that are free. For example, LibreOffice is a free Office suite. And don’t forget Google Drive! You just want professional-level features with formats that your clients prefer.

Business plan

You can, and in my opinion should, write your business plan yourself. This is the kind of research and writing that freelance writers are going to be writing anyway. Writing it yourself helps you set your own goals for your business, helps you understand your business, and helps you make decisions and plans. For this reason, I’m not including it in the cost. Your cost will be time.

Advertising and Marketing

You can market your business with or without buying ads (both online and offline). Usually it’s best to start by doing legwork: hit the phones, send a million emails, post on social media, build your network, and make contacts, etc. Some like to visit tradeshows. I recommend spending more time than money at startup since you’ll have to build your network and make contacts anyway. Your cost will be time.

Total for Your Offline Workspace and Equipment = $585 – $2680

Online Office – Your Website

wordpress

You’ll need a website as your online home. From here you’ll show your work and give your potential clients a way to contact you. I recommend using WordPress. You can get a free website from WordPress.com, but it will have wordpress.com in the URL and it doesn’t look as professional as having your own website. The cost of having a website today is much cheaper than it has been in the past. Having your own site gives you much more flexibility and control, and it tells potential clients that you’re serious about your business.

You can pay a developer to do this for you, but it’s worth the time and effort to learn to use WordPress yourself because you’ll add your latest content to your site and you don’t want to pay someone half of what you received just to have a link of the article posted to your site. Learning the basics of WordPress is easy and you can learn it online for free. I recommend getting a free account at WordPress.com just to learn how it works. If you’re going to write online articles there’s a good chance you’ll need to learn WordPress anyway in order to upload content as a contributor to your client’s website.

If you build this yourself then you’re only looking at time. If you hire a developer, it can cost up to $15,000.

Here are the essentials for your website and potential costs:

Hosting

This can run around $15 per month for business-class plans.

Theme

elegant themes

Professional theme’s have a wide range of prices. You can get great-looking themes from Elegant Themes. The personal plan is $69 per year and you can download every theme they have. You can always start with a free theme and get a better theme later. Prices range from $0-$69.

Plugins

Most plugins are free. You might consider some premium plugins for backups, etc., but for starting out I would stick to the free plugins.

URL

A regular domain name will run just under $15 per year. Premium names can cost from hundreds to thousands. There are two trains of thought on choosing a domain name:

  1. Your name (or variation of your name)
  2. A catchy business name

Each has their own advantages. It comes down to what you want to do with your business. If you want to make something bigger than you that you’ll want to sell one day, then go with a business branded name. If you want to sell your services, then use your name.

Email

You’ll want a professional email address to go with your professional domain name. This can average $5 per month. Depending on your hosting plan it might already be included.

Logo and Graphics

You can either make it yourself in something like PowerPoint (you’ll need to know Office anyway), or you can draw your own (if you’re the artistic type), or you can use an online service, or hire a pro. There is a wide range of prices for logos. For example, you can get a simple logo that can be had from 99 designs starting at $299. Prices range from $0-$299.

Total for Your Online Existence without Developer = $30 – $403

Total for Your Online Existence with Developer = $30 – $15,403

Final Price

Total for Living Expenses = $0 – $26,125

Total for Your Offline Workspace and Equipment = $585 – $2680

Total for Your Online Existence if You Build it = $30 – $403

Total for Your Online Existence if a Developer Builds it = $30 – $15,403

Total without developer = $615 – $29,208

Total with developer = $615 – $44,208

Putting it all together the cost of starting a freelance writing business can range from as little as just over $600 to just under $45k depending on what you want and what you already have. That’s an amazing price to start a business that has the potential to hit the six-figure mark (but that’s a topic for another article).

Parting Thoughts

Starting a freelance writing business is one of the least expensive startups. Very little is required and the overhead is low. This is a business you can run from your bedroom. It’s one of the best businesses to start for anyone interested in writing or freelancing.

Now I’d like to hear from you! Did I leave something out? Has your experience been different? I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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Randy A Brown is a freelance tech writer specializing in WordPress and web apps. For information about hiring Randy to write technical articles for you please visit www.randyabrown.com.
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