Are You A Freelance Writer in Malaysia? Here’s The Business Side of It
Being a freelance writer in Malaysia was not something I planned. Yet, somehow, here I am, making ends meet with nothing more than my laptop, internet access, and some brainpower.
This isn’t an article about how to write well (refer to The Beginner’s Guide to Writing Good Articles (for Power, Profit and Pleasure) for that), but I do want to talk about the business side of it: the income and expenses side, the business setup and accounting and all that. After searching online, I realised there aren’t many resources for Malaysian freelance writers.
So I made one. If you are a freelance writer in Malaysia, either doing it as full-time work or as a side income, here are some finance-related information about incomes and expenses that you should know about. I’ve divided the article into 5 sections:
- Part 1: How much can you make as a freelance writer in Malaysia (including how to set your rates)
- Part 2: Where to find clients
- Part 3: What you need to start working as a freelance writer
- Part 4: Business setup and accounting, and
- Part 5: How my freelance writing journey looked like
Part 1: How much can you make as a freelance writer in Malaysia?
Honestly, your income will be somewhat tied to how financially strapped you are when you first start out. If you are in need of fast cash, you will tend to accept lower-paying jobs. I’ve seen content mills paying as low as $1 per article!
If you can afford to wait it out while you look and apply for other jobs, chances are you’ll come across better-paying clients.
How much do Malaysian freelance writers charge for an article?
I asked around in the Malaysian Writers Facebook page to get an idea of typical payment. They said that they earn:
- Person A – RM250-RM850 per article (between 600-1700 words)
- Person B – USD5 per 400 words via Fiverr
- Person C – RM50 upwards
- Person D – RM1000 per magazine article
- Person E – RM1 per word for magazine article (looking for 2000 words)
As you can see, the range is quite wide. This is why I said your income is somewhat tied to your financial situation. As you get more established, you might increase your rates.
The good thing about freelance writing as a career is that you’re not limited to Malaysian employers. I’ve completed jobs just via emails before – the clients didn’t care about my nationality or timezone, just my ability to complete the work well and on time. I get paid in USD, too.
How much should YOU charge?
I wrote an entire article about this: check out the 5 Methods to Figure Out How Much to Charge Clients article
Part 2: Where freelance writer in Malaysia can find paying clients
You can find jobs from these three places
#1 – Freelancing platforms
Personally, I started with Upwork (other similar websites: Freelancer, Fiverr (note: referral link). These websites connect freelancers with potential clients.
Note: It’s very easy to get discouraged by the competition – an article-writing job might attract hundreds of USD1 bids from freelancers (many from India, Philippines). Apply with your usual rates anyway, and make sure you focus on the quality of work you can deliver. One writer earns USD100+ per hour from Upwork – find her tips here.
#2 – Writing job boards
They’re easy enough to google, so go ahead and find one (like the freelance writer resources in this page). Companies pay a fee to post an advert, give details about the work, and invite writers to apply. Send them an email containing an introduction about yourself, samples of your work, and how you can help them.
For the love of God DO NOT send them emails like ‘Hi I’m interested in this job’ with no examples or introduction – that’s amateurish and will probably get you zero replies!
#3 – Networking and Outreach
This is how I get most of my clients. Some of them found me on this website, some found me on chatting groups, some by word of mouth. Network around and keep telling people you do freelance writing. A pleasant personality helps. You don’t have to be an extroverted social butterfly – networking online counts, too.
For more tips and tricks, read Make A Living Writing. It’s a great resource for everything related to making money as a freelance writer. Read also my guide – How to Get Clients: A Guide for Malaysian Freelancers.
Note: Some clients may bully you into late, or even no payment. Here are my tips to get great clients who pay & treat me well
Part 3: What do freelance writers need to start?
You can be a freelance writer in Malaysia with just the basics (see basic expenses below), although it’s recommended to invest a bit more in professionalism (see professional expenses below). In addition, you need to know the business and accounting side of it, because you ARE running a business.
- Laptop + internet access
- Phone + phone plan
- A comfortable space where you can write without interruptions
- Notebook and stationery
- Dining, transportation and meeting cost for face-to-face interviews or events
- Website hosting for your online writer portfolio
- Website template + extra paid plugins
- Proofreading software
- Writing and SEO tools
- Access to further literature
- Online graphic design services
- Stock photography (if you can’t find royalty-free ones)
- Registered company
- Paid help, if any
Part 4: Business setup, accounting and freelance invoice template
Setting up a company
After you’ve done 3 or so jobs and decided to continue freelance writing work, I highly recommend you to set up a company. You can register as sole proprietorship (RM60 registration cost – easiest to start with this) or Limited Liability Partnership (RM500+ registration cost).
Aside from looking professional to potential clients and increasing the likelihood of them hiring you, the great thing about setting up a company is you can claim some expenses as business expenses, thus reducing your payable tax amount.
Some of the things you can claim are:
- Office expense (hardware, software, furniture, ect for work)
- Telecommunications for work purposes
- Toll/parking/petrol for work purposes
- Vehicle maintenance
- Gifts to clients, meals & entertainment for clients (max 50%, apparently)
- Utilities (also max 50%, as far as I know)
This page has a list of other things you may be able to claim as business expenses, as a freelance writer in Malaysia.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a tax agent. I have engaged the services of an accountant and gotten advice from tax professionals, but this is based on my specific situation which may be different to yours. Please engage the services of an accountant in your own tax payment.
Having a registered business is also quite handy for receiving government grants and help, where available. As of time of writing, I received ~RM6500 from Geran Khas Prihatin, the government cash assistance for small businesses in Malaysia (applications are currently closed but follow my social media for updates).
Accounting and invoice template
For simple, uncomplicated businesses, I recommend BlogJunkie’s Simple Accounting System for Freelancing Business guide, which includes freelance invoice templates and bookkeeping tips.
Part 5: How did I personally start freelance writing in Malaysia?
I’m not saying this is the correct way, and it’s probably not the most efficient way either, but this was how I established myself as a freelance writer, during the beginning and getting-the-hang-of-it stages:
I joined freelancing platforms. Was on Upwork for a few months. Cashed out ~USD500 for various work.
At the same time, I submitted articles to websites (non-paid). Submitted to Vulcan Post and The Financial Diet. I just wanted some work published online on high-authority sites, so I can use them as work samples – potential clients tend to be impressed with this.
Created Ringgit Oh Ringgit. I didn’t expect RoR to help my freelance writing career, but it did. If you have time (and money) to spare, I suggest you make a website to attract clients (instead of you chasing them). For info, see my The Exact Steps I Use to Earn Money from Blogging guide.
Applied for as many writing jobs as I can from the freelancing platforms and job boards I mentioned. I learn how to sell myself better from this step.
Accepted full-time remote work which allows for extra time to freelance. I like stability, so I like having a steady income stream. It helps to counter the times of the year when work is scarce.
If I were to do it again, I would take the How to Become a Freelance Writer (in 60 Days) course by Aisha of OutandBeyond.com; $45 (~RM200). The course includes:
- 110+ page ebook
- Pitching templates (I spent years learning this)
- SEO training (this is the moneymaker guys. Everyone can write but not everyone can optimise for search engine)
- writing opportunities,
- and more
Network like heck. Networking is just being consistent at telling everyone you meet that you do freelance writing (but obviously don’t be spammy).
Optimise everything that can be optimised. I created and automated social media (I have a Facebook page and Twitter), made tweaks to increase user experience on RoR website, and created blog posts that help me reach more audiences. In addition, I paid for advertising, virtual assistance and a better website theme, among others.
Increase rates regularly. At one point, I had way too much work and did not manage to deliver the same quality. Instead of getting less work (and earning less), I simply raised my rates.
This is good for 3 reasons:
- (1) it helps you to keep a reasonable workload without overworking yourself (burnout is a thing),
- (2) you can pass on some work to other writers, which helps them make money too, and
- (3) higher rates imply higher quality
Picking a niche (specialisation). In my experience, most people start off being a freelance writer, then later ‘niche down’ and select a specialisation. For example, you could call yourself:
- Freelance translator
- Freelance editor
- Freelance copywriter for websites
- Freelance proofreader
- Freelance resume-writer
- Freelance academic writer
- Freelance article writer
- Freelance social media copywriter
- Freelance script writer
- Freelance grant writer
- Freelance ghostwriter
- Freelance ebook writer
- Freelance whitepaper writer
- And more
A great way to command high rates is to niche down further and specialise in specific industries, like beauty, health, legal and so on. For example,
- English-Spanish translator specialising in medical industry
- Grant writers specialising in government proposals
- Speech writers for politicians
- Whitepaper writer specialising in crypto and blockchain industry
- You get the gist 🙂
The interesting thing is you can also transition into selling your own services. Personally, I niched down to personal finance, and later worked on my personal branding and focused on publishing content on this website ringgitohringgit.com.
Again, I’m not saying you should follow or expect these steps. These were just my personal experience when I first started out. Be efficient; learn from my mistakes 🙂
Shoutout to Zoe (professional article writer) and Jasveena (professional academic editor), two Malaysian freelance writers for providing helpful information on this page! Click their links to engage their services.
Are there any more useful information about being a freelance writer in Malaysia that we should know about? Comment, FB, or tweet me at @surayaror!
As always, please share if you find this useful!
May I know if rm25 per article of 300-1000 words in interior design blogging (both research-based and opinion-based) considered low?
Hey Fala. Yes that is way too low. Assuming it takes you 5 hours or half a day for research, writing, editing and proofreading, that’s just RM5 per hour.
What would be the average rate for that, for a non-experienced writer?
Sorry I missed this!
There’s no such thing as ‘average rates’. Sorry for being vague, but it really depends whether you get a client with high budget or a client with low budget.
Here’s some info about getting clients: http://ringgitohringgit.com/how-to-get-clients/
I also got problem when started as a freelancer. Thank you for this informative content!
You’re welcome and all the best!
Hi need some advice on what or how to charge for social media postings and brochures
I think you’ll like this ‘how to charge clients’ article of mine 🙂 http://ringgitohringgit.com/how-to-charge-clients/
All the best!
Generally, for business writing, the rate is around 50 sen a word. If you are lucky, can get 60 sen a word. For technical writing (e.g. medical, engineering), can be higher, like 70-80 sen a word. For company profiles, I usually charge RM200 per page (there’ll be around 300 words per page). It helps to find out early if the client already has a budget, and decide if this budget is acceptable.
Thanks for sharing your experience here, Hui Min!
Interesting. Very interesting. An eye-opener as well as a mind-opener too. Thanks Suraya.
Thanks Nadia for the kind words 🙂 All the best to you!
From your article, can I know what skills or certification you had prior to starting out as a writer? Do you think writing or copywriting requires a degree or even coding, graphic designing skills?
I’m a comms major, and studied up until Masters in Corporate Communications. The certs help, but you certainly don’t need it. You can also combine skills ie writer specialising in coding-related articles (that would make good money actually!)
I can recommend browsing through https://www.makealivingwriting.com/ – they have lots of resources for people who want to make a living from writing
Thanks, I enjoyed reading the article. I like how you break down the professional expense and treat it like a business. Essentially, that becomes your “product”.
Exactly, you worded that perfectly 🙂 P/s – cool website you have there!