If you’ve ever looked at a freelance job board, you’ve probably come across this sentence dozens of times:
“Native English speakers only.”
The fact is, if English isn’t your first language, finding work as a freelance writer can be much harder. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Take it from me – I’ve been working as a freelance writer in English for over five years now, and it’s not my first language.
In this article, we’ll talk about why employers prefer native English speakers. Then we’ll go over how you can compete even if you’re not one of them. Let’s get to it!
Why Employers Prefer Native English Speakers
This one is easy to understand if you’ve ever posted a job ad in English on a freelancing platform. It almost doesn’t matter what type of ad you post, you’ll still get dozens of applications in broken English.
If you’re in the market for a freelance writer, you’re not going to want to hire someone without a great command of the language.
That leads us to the popular sentence I mentioned before:
“Native English speakers only.”
I’ve decided not to apply to a lot of jobs because they included that sentence in their ads, even though I was more than qualified, just to avoid an awkward conversation.
Over time, though, I’ve come to see that ‘clause’ as something of a red flag. It’s often accompanied by low per-word rates, odd working hours, terrible management, and more.
Once you start focusing on jobs with higher requirements and better payment terms, you’ll notice they stop asking where you’re from or what your native language is. As long as you can get the job done well, that’s all that matters.
Can You Make a Living as a Freelance Writer if English Isn’t Your First Language?
The short answer is yes. You can be a full-time freelance writer without being a native English speaker if:
- You have a great command of English.
- You’re willing to look for work in your native language.
A lot of people forget there’s also a market for freelance writing in other languages. Sure, it may not pay as well, but it’s an option if your English isn’t up to par.
That last part is important because, in my experience, a lot of people wildly overestimate just how fluent they are in other languages.
To put it another way, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been studying a language for years – if you can’t write a coherent article that reads well, you’re not ready for this type of work.
Don’t be discouraged, though – if you’re not there yet, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. Plenty of native English speakers can’t write to save their lives and they make more basic mistakes than you’d imagine.
Those guys couldn’t find work as a freelance writers either, even though they have the advantage of being born in the right countries.
If you want to write in English and get paid for it, you need to make an honest assessment of your skill level. Start a blog, publish some articles on Medium, write a short story – whatever it takes. Just write something and then find someone with a good command of English (or hire an editor!) who can give you a reality check.
Once you’re confident in your language skills, you can get to the work we all have to go through to find our first gigs. That means setting up a portfolio, putting some work out there, and sending your first pitches until you land a client.
Do Non-Native English Speakers Get Paid Less?
In my experience, there are a lot of writing mills and fly-by-night agencies that will basically hire anyone with a pulse. If you can string together a sentence in broken English, they’ll hire you and pay you a cent or two per word.
A lot of new freelancers get sucked into that type of work because they don’t know any better, and I was one of those people.
I used to live in the country with the highest inflation on the planet by a long margin, so getting paid even a cent or two per word didn’t sound like such a bad deal.
It took me a while until I realized I could do better, but a lot of freelancers never make it past that point. They get burned out and they start to think it’s impossible to find freelance writing work that pays well.
When it comes to increasing your rates, the single best thing you can do is start looking for clients in the right places. That means:
- Checking out dedicated freelance writing job boards
- Joining freelance writing groups and networking with other people in your situation
- Looking for agencies that pay decent per word rates
Once you stop paying attention to bottom-of-the-barrel offers for freelance writing work, you’ll notice most people don’t care what your native language is.
For me, it’s a topic that’s hardly come up in years. Usually, employers care more about where I’m living, because working remotely means you’re in different time zones. Even then, as long as you’re timely about answering emails or don’t mind hopping on a call now and then, no one is going to hold where you’re working from against you.
If they do, it’s time to start looking for better jobs.
If you’re not a native English speaker, a lot of freelancing platforms won’t even give you the time of day. Some of them will not even let you sign up if you live outside the United States, which limits your options somewhat.
The key word there is somewhat. Sure, you’re going to miss out on a lot of freelancing platforms, but there’s still work out there if your English is excellent.
If you want to make a living as a freelance writer, pitching clients directly is the way to go about it. In most cases, those types of clients won’t even ask where you’re from, as long as you’ve got a great portfolio and submit an excellent pitch.
Have you had a difficult time finding freelance writing work as a non-native English speaker? Share your experience with us in the comments section below!