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Being a freelance writer was not something I planned. Yet, somehow, here I am, making ends meet with nothing more than my laptop, internet access, and some brain power.
I won’t bore you with pros and cons of being a freelancer (yes, I do get to work in my pyjamas), but I do want to talk about the income and expenses side of it. I searched online, and there aren’t many resources for people like me. So I’m making one, and I want to share it with you.
So if you are a freelance writer in Malaysia, or if you want to become one (it makes great side income!), here is some finance-related information about incomes and expenses that you should know about.
Income – How much can you make as a freelance writer?
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 (we’re talking $1-10 per article here – this is not worth your time). If you can afford to wait it out, you’ll hit gold with better-paying clients. What’s a good amount? Check out how much these writers get paid (hint: hundreds of dollars per article).
You can freelance for local or international companies. For me, I prefer earning in USD, so I concentrate on international clients. This is probably one of the best perks of this job, especially now that the ringgit is low. It’s my silver lining every time I read about falling oil prices. I don’t want to disclose how much I actually make right now, but hey, a comfortable amount. Better than Ipoh salaries, that’s for sure.
I have not freelanced for Malaysian companies, but I did ask around in the Malaysian Writers Facebook page on 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
As you can see, the range of payment is quite wide. This is why I said your income is somewhat tied to your financial situation.
Where to find paying clients
Freelancing platforms. For me, personally, I started with Upwork (other similar websites: Freelancer). Clients post the work, and people bid on them with their price. While it encourages clients to expect extremely low prices (a lot of Indians, Philippines there who will work for a fraction of your fee), feel free to stand your ground, especially if you know the work that you do is worth a lot. To bid, state your price, provide good writing samples, answer the questions, and hope for the best. These are good options for newbies, to start writing for pay. In Fiverr (note: referral link), you can list your writing services, starting from USD5 (many people offer add-ons to earn more). EDIT: I no longer recommend Upwork due to their updated fee structure – they take 20% from the first $500 you earn from EVERY client. EDIT: You can also apply to be part of the HotCopy; writing team.
Writing job boards. They’re easy enough to google, so go ahead and find one (there are plenty). 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!
Networking. This is how I get most of my clients. The writing jobs here also tend to be the better paying ones. Some of my clients found me on this website (I even made a For Hire page), some found me on chatting groups, some by word of mouth. Network around and keep telling people you do freelance writing. It really helps to have a website so you can list your writing samples and give that.
Expenses – What do freelance writers spend on?
You can start becoming a freelance writer in Malaysia with just basic expenses, although its recommended to invest a bit more for professionalism. These are the expenses I personally spend on, other might use more/less.
- Laptop + internet access
- Phone + phone plan
- A comfortable space where you can write without interruptions
- Notebook and stationary
- Dining, transportation and meeting cost for face-to-face interviews or events
- Website hosting
- Website template + extra paid plugins
- Writing and SEO tools
- Access to further literature
- Online graphic design services
- Stock photography (if you can’t find royalty-free ones)
- Registered company (I registered myself under sole proprietorship)
- Paid help, if any
Recommendation from Mr Stingy: Register for Limited Liability Partnership instead – better than sole proprietorship. Registration costs RM521.20, read more about it here.
This page has a basic list of everything you can claim as business expenses if you want to make a living as a freelance writer. Some notable ones include rent, insurance, writing tools, website, and hardware (I need a printer!)
EDIT: This is a GREAT resource for bookkeeping!
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 brought me here to this stage, in the span of roughly a year. They are in chronological order.
- 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 samples. Sometimes the editors will reach out to you and make you part of their writing team. I’ve had this happen once.
- Created Ringgit Oh Ringgit. RoR was not meant to help me with my freelance writing career, but it did. If you have ~RM500-1000 to spare, I suggest you get at least 1 year of webhosting service. Having a website really shows professionalism. I went with BlueHost (note: referral link) because its recommended for WordPress platform. You can also use Tumblr or other free sites for this if you’re low on funds. Now I also earn a little bit of money from RoR (read here for blog monetisation for RoR). Side note: I can give free personal help and advice for people who want to create another personal finance website like this one 🙂
- Applied for as many writing jobs as I can. From the 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.
- Network like heck. Networking is just being consistent at telling everyone you meet that you do freelance writing. Obviously don’t be spammy. And keep a good character – no one wants to work with people who are not professional.
- At the same time, optimise everything that can be optimised. I created and automated social media (I have a Facebook page and Twitter). I made tweaks to increase user experience in RoR website, and create blog posts that help me reach more audiences. I read and try to implement marketing hacks. I’ve paid for advertising. I also paid for virtual assistance and paid for a better website layout.
- Increase rates regularly. At one point, I had way to 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) it can pass on some work to other writers, they might need it more than you; and (3) higher rates imply higher quality (which you WILL provide, you hear me?).
Again, I’m not saying you should follow these. You can probably skip or add a couple more steps.
- 11 things I learned about self-employment in Malaysia
- The Exact Steps I Use to Earn Money from Blogging
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!