Living abroad is much easier – and more fun – if you have a good job you can do from anywhere. Bonus points for plenty of flexibility so you can explore wherever you’re living this month or year. And of course, it should be enjoyable most of the time too. That’s why I became a freelance writer when I decided to travel and live abroad full-time – and I love it. There’s a reason it’s one of the most popular digital nomad jobs.
But of course, love alone isn’t enough to pay the bills unless you have a trust fund (and I don’t). So I had to figure out how exactly to make money as a freelance writer – enough to pay rent, buy food, and live a generally enjoyable life too. It’s taken quite a lot of trial and error, but here’s how I’ve made it work, and some tips for how you can do the same. It might inspire you to do the same!
The Kinds of Writing I Do
When people ask me what I do for work, I proudly announce, “I’m a Writer.” I’m pretty sure they can hear the capital W when I say it, since I’m so happy to do something I love and excel at to work while traveling.
But that’s not really the whole story – there are a million kinds of writers out there. I write lots of things just for fun and for myself, like this blog, personal essays, and maybe a book or two (someday!). These are fun, but it’s hard to earn enough to live on that way if you’re not a highly established writer.
That’s why for earning digital nomad income, I stick to two more lucrative forms of writing: content writing and copywriting.
Content writing is creating written content for businesses that use it to inform, educate, and bring in visitors to their websites. Mostly content writing takes the form of blog posts, but sometimes it also includes white papers, case studies, or ebooks.
These blog posts can be on a whole range of topics – from B2B SaaS sales to catalytic heaters for oil production sites to podcast advertising to organic baby food. (Seriously, these are all things I’ve written about in the last two months.) My clients give me a topic, some content guidance, and sometimes SEO keywords to include, and I’m off!
Blog posts tend to be between 500-2500 words, and I charge by the word for almost all my clients, except for one that has me on a retainer. I’m a fast writer since I’ve been writing professionally for 14 years, so they pay for that experience and not just the time it takes me to complete the task.
Some blog posts I do are ghostwritten (I write them, and they’re published under someone else’s name), and I charge more for those. That’s because bylines (where the article appears under your name) are super valuable down the line for building your writing portfolio and getting more clients. It’s especially important if you have a content niche – mine is HR and employee culture because of my corporate communications background – because similar clients will find you through posts you’ve written.
If you want to try content writing: I highly suggest learning a lot about SEO (search engine optimization). Most content writing clients create their blog strategy with SEO in mind to bring in search engine visitors to their site, so knowing how to write for SEO is really valuable and allows you to charge more and provide more value to clients.
Copywriting is more challenging, but I like a challenge! It’s writing to make someone take an action or make a purchase. Copywriting is about knowing what makes people want to take a certain action – it’s a fun blend of psychology and writing.
If you’ve watched Mad Men, this is pretty much what Peggy Olsen does all day, though I do it for online marketing and ads and while wearing yoga pants and drinking tea, not whiskey.
Copywriting for digital marketing, which is what I do, means that I write content for the main pages of business websites that help drive a desired action, whether that’s booking a consultation, buying a product, or downloading a piece of content. I also do some copywriting for email marketing campaigns, the occasional Facebook ad, and at the end of some blog posts that are designed to make a sale.
While copywriting is harder than just straight content writing, it can also be MUCH more lucrative. That’s because copywriting can significantly increase purchases and sales results when it’s done really well, so businesses are willing to pay much more for this kind of writing.
If you want to try copywriting: There are a million copywriting courses out there promising to make anyone into a successful copywriter if you just pay several hundred dollars. First of all, not everyone will make a good copywriter and that’s ok! Second, you don’t need to pay that if you have writing skills. Just pick up a few of the most popular books (Donald Miller’s Building a Storybrand, Robert Cialdini’s Influence, and Joseph Sugarman’s Adweek Copywriting Handbook, to start) and get practicing.
How I Find Clients
Now onto the more challenging part of the freelance writing life – how to find clients. And not just any clients, but good ones! Because to be sure, there are plenty of bad ones out there, but the good ones do exist and make your life a lot easier.
As a freelancer, I don’t work for just one company, so I don’t have a job in the typical sense or an employer. I just have clients – a varying amount at any one time. And they all have different needs and different frequencies of how often we work together. That means I don’t get any employer benefits like health insurance or a 401k, but I am also the complete boss of my own time!
You can find full-time, remote content writing and copywriting jobs for sure. If you’re looking for a more traditional career while being a digital nomad, those can be good options. It’s just not for me, but it might be for you. You can find those jobs wherever people find jobs these days – Linkedin, Indeed, etc.
Digital Marketing Agency
This was how I got my start in almost everything I do now – content writing, copywriting, and becoming a digital nomad! I started as a freelance writer for a digital marketing agency in the US and learned all about the kinds of writing I do now. I wasn’t an employee, but I did have a bit more structure and they dealt with all the clients for me so I could just focus on writing.
Agencies are great to work with if you are new, or don’t want to go out and find clients yourself. Also, if you pick the right agency, you’ll have wonderful colleagues who are a huge help when you’re learning or when things get sticky (I certainly do at ContentFirst.Marketing!).
The downside of working through an agency is that pay rates tend to be lower because of how they’re structured. But as a beginner digital nomad, it was a great learning experience well worth my time! You can find digital marketing agency openings all over – it’s a huge growth field right now so plenty of agencies are looking for freelancers.
I found the open position at my agency through the remote work directory on It’s a Travel O.D. – an incredible resource for aspiring digital nomads looking for jobs!
Having an updated and active Linkedin presence is totally necessary for any freelancer. Once I started getting bylines, I also started getting invites from companies who had similar blog content they needed writers for. Pretty cool!
I don’t do quite as much on Linkedin as I should, but it’s still important to stay active and engage on there so you’re found more often. Many of my writer friends find a lot of their clients on there, so my goal this year is to start working it more.
Upwork gets a lot of badmouthing from unhappy freelance writers who claim it’s not possible to find well-paid jobs with good clients on there – but I have found the opposite to be true. Upwork is a freelancing platform that helps connect anyone who is a freelancer with anyone who has a project. It’s not just for writers – you can find freelance projects in almost any field on there.
What makes Upwork different from many freelancing sites out there is that they have a lot of protections in place to help freelancers avoid getting scammed. For example, you don’t start work on a project until a client has put the payment for it into Upwork escrow, and if the client stops responding, your money is automatically released in two weeks. (Getting ghosted by a client sucks just as much as getting ghosted when you’re dating!) Plus, clients get reviewed too so you can spot the scammers or PITAs before you accept a job offer with them.
Also, it’s a really popular platform so there are writing jobs in every niche. You do need to take lower-paying jobs to get established and gain a few reviews, but there’s no need to take pennies for a job if you have experience in your field. Now I charge a whole bunch of money and have long-term relationships with really wonderful clients on there. In fact, Upwork now makes up the bulk of my freelancing income.
The fees and rules are well worth it to me – my Upwork clients are great and value what I do highly. It took me a few months to get established, but once that happened I started really pulling in good jobs at great rates. It’s well worth the time invested for me and many other writers.
Your network is a powerful way to get any kind of job or client, no matter your field! My retainer client actually came to me through a colleague at the corporate job I quit to travel the world – her husband was looking for a freelance writer for his new startup. She could vouch for my writing skills and high level of professionalism, and I knew I was getting a great client. Plus that one client has recommended me to another startup in their network, so the work keeps growing and growing!
It’s vital to put out the word that you’re freelancing and open to new opportunities – you never know who will recommend you for digital nomad jobs. You can do this on Linkedin, on Facebook, by carrier pigeon – just make sure your people know you’re ready for work if they need it.
Successful Freelance Writing Tips
So you want to be a freelance writing digital nomad? A successful one? Once you’ve managed to get those first few clients (yay!), here are my three best tips for keeping those and getting more. It’s all about your reputation.
1. Deliver on time, every time. I cannot tell you how many freelancers I used to work with in my corporate life who just could. not. deliver. anything. on. time. Sure, as a freelancer you don’t have a boss hanging over your shoulder asking about due dates, but you do have clients who are relying on you. And they will be very unhappy if the project you told them would take a week ends up taking a month for no discernible reason and with no advance notice.
Don’t do this! Seriously! I have had many clients sing my praises just because I deliver everything on time, always. It’s like striking gold in the freelance world, and it really should not be. Just commit to doing it and do it!
2. Set clear expectations. This will also help you deliver on time – tell clients exactly how long your turnaround time for a project is before you start, what you need to get started, and how much is included in your rate (revisions, image sourcing, etc.). Don’t try to overpromise to win a project or you will both be stressed out and disappointed.
I typically tell clients I need a week of turnaround time. I often deliver much faster than that, but sometimes it does take me a full week to get to a certain project depending on my workload. And then they’re just excited I’m meeting expectations, and I’m not stressed out about meeting my deadline.
3. Get really organized. If you’re thinking the freelance nomad life is all about a little leisurely writing and days spent on the beach, think again. I have a really regular writing schedule, starting every day at 8 am right now. No long lie-ins in the morning, but it does leave time for a leisurely afternoon coffee break at a cafe. And I have a super-organized calendar and weekly and daily to-do lists so I never forget a project deadline.
As a freelancer, you’re the boss – so you need to keep track of everything yourself. It can be a little overwhelming at first! I am highly organized by nature so I don’t mind this part of it, but it can be a bit stressful until you find a system that works for you. You can use project management tools like Trello or Asana or just a lil paper to-do list every day – whatever keeps you on track.
How to Work and Travel
Finding the right digital nomad job for you can seem tough at first, but being a freelance writer has been a fulfilling and successful choice for me. If you’re looking to make the leap yourself into this career, I hope this guide was helpful and you’re on your way to living and working abroad!
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