Starting Out

How Do I Get Started As A Non-Native English Freelancer?

In the course of my career as a freelance web content writer, I’ve come across a lot of aspiring non-native English freelancers seeking to break into freelancing and possibly make a living from it.

They all have the same questions:

How Do I Get Started As A Non-Native English Freelancer?

Every aspiring non-native or ESL freelancer wants to know how to be successful in the field.

How do I make money as a freelancer?

How do I break even?

Where do I start from?

How do I find paying clients online?

Some others complain about the measly pay they get which leads to burnout.

Every aspiring non-native or ESL freelancer wants to know how to be successful in the field.

In this article, I will try as much as I can to answer these questions and possibly set you on the road to success as a non-native freelancer.

Who is a Non-Native English Writer?

ESL is an acronym for English as a Second Language.

A Non-native writer is someone whose first or native language is not English.

You may have been taught using the English language all your life but that does not make you a native speaker.

You are a non-native English writer if you are not a native of, or born and educated in an English-speaking country.

These countries are not without their dialectical differences but all the same, they are native English speakers.

Finding success as a non-native English speaker, writing in English for an English audience shouldn’t be an uphill task, it requires skill, resilience, commitment, and dedication.

This doesn’t mean you will not encounter challenges on your way to becoming successful, you most certainly will.

Some likely challenges are:

  • Job specifications. Some freelance jobs specifically require native English writers or writers who live in specific regions. Don’t feel bad, this has nothing to do with you. It may be a result of the hiring agency’s policies, past experiences with non-native writers, or challenges with time zones that affect deadlines. Don’t be deterred, for every one job which does not require your services, there are a thousand out there who do, concentrate on finding those.
  • Rates.  What you are paid for your freelance work depends on your subject matter expertise, the quality of your work, the client, and where and how you find the jobs. For example, content mills offer lower pay for more work and sometimes are not particular about the quality of your work. In rare cases, you may be offered lower pay because you are living in non-native English-speaking countries where the client feels your standard of living is lower.

If you are not comfortable with the rates, walk away.

It may bother you when you are good and someone is offering you low pay because of your geographical location but do not let it discourage you.

Walk away from such potential clients, no matter how badly you need the pay.

This is because such offers end up draining your energy and zeal. If you continue rolling out high-quality work for low pay, you will get burned out and eventually stop freelancing.

The best way to beat being offered poor rates is to be stellar at your craft, know your worth, and stick with it.

Low-quality work will always attract low pay, high-quality work will also attract high pay. It’s tit for tat.

How Do You Get Started As a Non-Native Freelancer?

1. Learn the Craft from the Basics

To be a good and well-paid freelancer, you need to know your skill well.

You need to master how to write in English, for an English audience if you’re a writer or be great at design if you want to be a freelance artist.

Learn grammar, punctuations, writing styles, exclamations, idioms, and so forth.

There is a difference between American and British English.

You have to know the difference and tailor your writing to suit your audience. Resources abound online that can help you learn, like the Grammarly blog.

Learn the different types of web content writing and their specifications if you want to be a content writer.

You cannot write poetry like prose, nor can you do academic writing, blog style. You have to learn the difference and apply it accordingly

There is no end to learning as a freelancer, you keep on learning even when you have a good command of the English language.

Start from the basics, practice, and strive to be better.

What are Easy Ways You Can Learn to Write in English?

  • Through interaction with native speakers. Interacting with native speakers allows you to learn how they speak, write and use words, and tenses. Even if you live in a country where you cannot have physical interactions with native speakers, you can do so by listening to them speak on social media, on TV/podcasts, and reading books written by natives. Study their writing styles and consult the dictionary for difficult words.
  • You learn by reading every day. Read good articles, not only in your niche. Doing this will broaden your scope and teach you how to write different content such as blog posts, editorials, op-eds, articles, devotionals, etc. Reading exposes you to new words and furnishes you with writing ideas, making writing easier.
  • Writing every day, consistently. You can’t be a writer without writing, right? Get into the habit of writing every day. Set a daily writing target, say, to write several words daily and gradually increase it. Initially, writing every day might be a drag, but consistency will do it for you. Set a time and place for work every day and show up. I copied and stuck up quotes by popular writers on the wall to encourage myself to show up. I read of an individual who committed to paying his friend $1,000 if he didn’t show up to write on Saturdays. The fear of losing a thousand dollars was enough to keep him at his desk. Find a way to challenge yourself to read and write daily.

What if you don’t know what to write or don’t feel like writing?

Just write.

Gary Halbert in one of his letters mentioned this trick which I have applied over time and it has always worked for me.

Sit down at your writing table and type.

Write with a pen on paper.

Do anything that will get your brain functioning and in no time, you will find yourself writing.

2. Get Mentorship

A mentor is someone you love and respect, whom you look up to and try to emulate, someone who inspires you to action, and more often than not, someone who is in the same field as you.

They may mentor you from afar (by following them online, getting on their email lists, buying their courses, and listening to their podcasts) or closely through one-on-one or group coaching.

Don’t just get a coach, but a paid coach.

This is because you’ll be more committed if you pay.

You’d not want to lose the money spent which will motivate you to learn and abide by the coaches’ teaching.

A coach kind of holds your hands and takes you through proven paths to success in your field, making the journey to success easier and shorter.

They are mostly those who have walked the walk with proven successful results.

A coach allays your fears, identifies and sorts out your shortcomings while drilling you to be the best.

Before you hire a coach, make up your mind to follow through with the coaching.

Do not abandon your coaching halfway if you must get results. Bear in mind that a successful coach does not make a great player, but a determined player makes a great coach.

Your determination to succeed makes a coach successful.

To enhance your chances of success with a coach, find one like you.

It makes it easier and you feel more comfortable if your coach is like you: a successful non-native writer or a native writer coach who has successfully coached non-native writers.

One who is familiar with your peculiarities. This is important because he/she understands the challenges you are facing, having been there before.

Working with such a person will help bring out the best in you easier and faster than someone who doesn’t understand your trials.

Ensure your coach has a proven track record of success.

It takes someone who has faced and overcome obstacles to become successful in a chosen field to make a successful coach. You wouldn’t visit a dentist for cardiovascular issues, would you?

3. Take Courses, On and Offline

There are courses out there that teach the craft.

Courses like Elna Cain’s Writeto1k is a great resource for aspiring and even existing writers.

Apart from the course itself, it offers lifetime support via an interactive and helpful community of writers in a Facebook group.

You could ask questions and get all the help you desire.

4. Be an Expert & Niche Down

Niching down is about specialization.

A niche is an area of writing you focus on or specialize in for greater effectiveness and expertise.

You can specialize by topic: Finance, Technology, Health, Digital Marketing, or by services such as blog posts, articles, White Paper, Case Studies; etc.

You can further niche down by narrowing down the chosen topic, for example, if your broad area of specialization is Health writing, you can narrow it down to Alternative Health, children’s health, men’s health, etc.

Being an expert makes you an authority in your field.

Due to concentrated research on a particular topic, you are filled up with industry knowledge and ideas which you can call up at any time.

It helps you write faster and better content.

Niching down makes it easier for clients to find you and enables you command higher rates.

It is better to be a master of one type of skill than attempt to offer all types of services available.

I started as a health content writer because I enjoyed health-related projects and was going through some health issues at the time.

This was one way through which I could research all my symptoms and also read up on most childhood illnesses, being a mom of toddlers.

I took to this niche because I found it interesting and easy to learn.

To find a niche, don’t base your decision on the perceived amount experts in the field are commanding, rather, answer the following questions.

What industry interests you or do you have a background in? Finance, Health, Digital marketing, travel, food, etc.?

What type of writing do you love? Storytelling, poetry, fiction, or non-fiction? Blog or copywriting?

What is your academic background? Family background?

Your interest should be your number one deciding factor.

It is not uncommon for freelancers to have more than one niche, especially in the beginning while trying to gain experience. It is ok.

As you go along, you get drawn to certain topics, you get more interested, and may just focus on them.

5. Work With an Editor

If you are not good at English, write what you can and pass it through an editor before submitting it to clients or putting it up on your website.

Badly written English is offensive to readers.

An editor will help spot and correct grammatical errors.

They will help brush, polish, and fine-tune your work and make it acceptable to your audience.

Choose an editor that is easy to work with, and who will not edit your work so much that you lose your voice and intent.

You may also use digital AI editing apps.

These editing tools correct grammar, suggest words, checks spellings, readability, and much more.

They offer free and premium packages, a must-have for every writer.

Although online editing tools may not utterly correct your work, they are better than nothing.

6. Be Consistent

This is important.

Consistency will beat expertise any day, any time.

A bad, consistent freelancer will soon enough become more successful than an inconsistent expert freelancer.

When you are just starting, odds are that you might get discouraged and burnt out.

The key to finding success is to hang in there and show up.

Write when it seems no one is reading. Update your website and social media profiles accordingly.

Keep pitching, one day, it will all fall into place.

7. Learn the Art of Sales

Yes, sales is an art!

Of what use are your writing skills when you don’t know how to sell them?

The essence of freelancing is to make money online and in this industry, no one comes to you when you are still green, you have to go to them.

You need to shed your wares in the marketplace and let people know about them and why they should buy from you.

To be successful, learn how to sell your craft. There are a lot of ways to do this, find what works for you and do it!

8. Start Local, Get Easy Wins

Do you know why this is important?

It’s because easy wins increase your confidence and improve your writing.

I started writing for local community papers, good ones with sound editors to build my confidence and gain a voice.

Easy wins give you the confidence to face the world and make yourself known.

You may not even have to compete for work internationally if you concentrate on, and conquer the local market.

9. Launch Out

When you have mastered the art and gone through great freelance writing courses such as Elna Cain’s Writeto1k, kill your fears and launch out.

Set up your website and practice all there is in the course.

Ekei Joy is a freelance Christian, health, and fitness writer for hire who specializes in creating in-depth content such as blog posts, articles, Emails/Newsletters to help grow client business.  With a background in Religious and Humanitarian Studies, she is passionate about curbing the effects of violent conflict on the girl child and other vulnerable populations. Find her on LinkedIn.

Leave a Reply


Great post Joy. I have been wondering why many freelance jobs require native speakers only or a specific location but I got the answers in your post. Thanks.Reply to Haleemah
Ekei Joy Okafor I’m glad you found answers here, Haleemah. Keep sending in those pitches, it gets better with time and effort.Reply to Ekei