While it’s certainly not easy, you can make money online as a freelance writer. It has become a popular way to try to make a bit of extra cash and some have even turned their writing into a full-time career.

How much you make depends on the time and effort you put into it. These days, it may seem as though every college student and stay at home mom is writing online. However, making a consistent amount of money from writing isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. At least, it’s not if you want to truly be successful at it. I

t takes skill, dedication and hard work. Here are 10 steps you can take to become a successful freelance writer.

1. Start with Small Writing Jobs

You aren’t going to write the Great American Novel right out of the gate. Writing a number of smaller pieces is a good way to learn the business and sharpen your skills. There are a number of opportunities online that will get you started with small pieces of a few hundred words. You won’t make a fortune at it, but it will give you valuable experience.

2. Write for a Number of Sites

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Every site has its ups and downs and it’s good to have a backup when one source is short on work. An Internet search for “get paid to write online” will produce a bevy of opportunities. Read through the reviews and look at other writers’ experiences and opinions to find a couple of sites you would like to work for. Survey Spencer lists a few popular freelance sites to add to your list.

3. Learn to Follow Instructions

Most clients are looking for content for a specific purpose. Whether it is a blog post, landing page, article or press release, they have a certain style and format in mind. Make sure to look carefully at the instructions provided to make sure you hit the appropriate tone and style. Unfortunately, the instructions are sometimes vague. In those cases, contact the client for guidance when you are not clear on what is required. This will save a lot of time spent on rewrites and revisions.

4. Write What You Know

To begin with, writing about topics you are familiar with will be simpler than researching and writing in completely new areas. By focusing solely on the writing, you will have the opportunity to work on your phrasing, grammar and style, instead of worrying whether you have all the facts and details exactly right. About.com offers writers well-paid positiong to write about things that they’re passtionate about.

5. Learn to Do Research

In order to find enough work, you will eventually need to start writing about areas you know little about. Being able to quickly research a topic and build a base of knowledge from which to write is a valuable skill. This doesn’t mean that you can take an existing piece of work, scramble the words a little and throw them back onto the page. Researching means gather information and then presenting it in a way that is hopefully new and fresh.

6. Learn to Edit Yourself

One of the challenges to writing is expressing thoughts that are clear and understandable to others. This is where editors are a huge help to writers. Having someone who can read your work and give feedback on parts that are either unclear or need more explanation is an invaluable asset. As an online writer, though, you are often working alone. The first time that someone else reads your work is when you present it to the client. That is why it is very important to step back, read through the piece you have written and look for ways to improve it.

7. Build a Portfolio

Since you aren’t meeting prospective clients face to face, the only thing they will have to judge you on is your previous work .Having a portfolio of your writing can demonstrate your capabilities. If you are able to write in a number of different styles, it would be good to showcase that ability. Having a research article, a blog post, a press release and any other style you may be skilled at available to look at will allow them to judge your style versus their needs. Just be sure you use new samples or something you still have permission to display.

8. Become a Reader

Reading is a dying art in our society, and it shows in the quality of writing that is out there. Writers, however, have to be readers. You need to do research, read instructions and look at other styles for ideas and inspirations. The only way to become a good blog post writer is to read a bunch of blog posts. This will help you to see what is effective and what doesn’t work. It will also familiarize you with the style, tone and voice that work best. This is true in any niche or style of writing. The best writers are voracious readers.

9. Study Grammar

There is nothing more jarring when you are reading than to run into a grammatical error. Everyone will make these mistakes from time to time, but the obvious errors are a sign of poor or careless writing. Run on sentences, bad sentence construction and punctuation errors not only reduce the quality of your work, they will often cause clients to reject the work, which means you aren’t going to get paid for it.

10. Write

Finally, although it seems self evident, the only way to be a successful online writer is to sit down and write. It takes discipline to sit down for hours and produce valuable content, especially since most online writers work from home where distractions abound. Some strategies are to set goals, like a specific number of words or articles or a specific number of hours. Find what works for you and then work that plan and you might become a successful online writer.

Article written by pro freelance writer Jennifer Webb.