How Therapists can Start a Side Hustle in Freelance Writing

What is it about therapists and side hustles? Maybe it’s just a case of me not being as familiar with other professions as I am with occupational therapy, but I feel like I don’t see as many nurses moonlighting as Lyft drivers. Maybe it’s a reflection of how much student loan debt our profession tends to collect compared to entry-level salaries. Or maybe it’s just that therapists as a whole tend to be driven, goal-oriented individuals. Or maybe it’s therapists experiencing burnout and starting to plot ways to leave the field entirely.

Regardless of your reasons, if you’re reading this it’s likely that you’re looking for a way to use your OT, PT, or SLP degree to make some extra cash in a way that isn’t just loading yourself down with another PRN job. While I still work full time as a travel therapist (and enjoy it!), I have also found success with leveraging my OT knowledge to get paid for various forms of writing. When I tell people this, they usually have a ton of questions – for most people, it’s hard to even conceptualize how to get started with something like this. And while I don’t necessarily think there is a “right” or “traditional” way to initiate this, I’m happy to share what worked for me and see if you can apply it to your own life. 

If you’re strapped for time, here’s a quick list of how to get started by using the same strategies I did. If you want more specific details on how I approached each step, keep reading!

  1. Create a profile on a freelance website such as Upwork.com
  2. Build a reputation on the website by taking quick-n-easy writing projects so that you can net some positive reviews
  3. Find topics in your niche by searching for things like “physical therapy” or “aac devices”
  4. Maintain a relationship with clients found on Upwork as you build a portfolio
  5. Consider branching out to other websites such as Teachers Pay Teachers
  6. Maintain an online presence by adding your writing biz to your LinkedIn Profile as well as promoting your public writing on social media such as Instagram and Facebook
  7. Include freelance writing on your resume
  8. Consider starting your own website to have a home base for your posts and funnel more clients to you
  9. Consider reaching out directly to clients when you see areas of need

Okay, ready for the long version?

I have always loved writing. The first career I can remember seriously wanting to pursue was being an author. In fourth grade, I handwrote a 50+ page short story about a family of mice being terrorized by a cat. And I still feel a little guilty for disappointing my high school English teacher by opting for an OT degree as opposed to one in writing. My point in sharing all of this with you is to both to express how passionate I am about writing and to highlight how much practice I’ve already put into learning the general mechanics of writing like grammar, spelling, and syntax. And while I don’t think either of these qualities are absolutely necessary to be successful with this endeavor, I do think they both really help. Writing is one of those things that can sound easy in concept, but sitting down and actually doing it is a different story. I still struggle with procrastination and initiation, and the passion is what carries me through when I’m experiencing writer’s block. And having the basic mechanics down, at least for finished work, is absolutely integral in looking professional to clients. However, assistive technology is getting better every day, and there are a lot of tools to help you if spelling isn’t your forte. Even I use the Grammarly plugin to double-check my work as I’m writing. Having a good proofreader is also worth its weight in gold. My only other piece of advice here is don’t reserve this level of detail for just your finished projects. Several clients have reached out to me after seeing my posts on social media, and I’m not sure if that would have happened had my posts been rife with spelling errors. 

While I spent most of grad school making practice exams for my classmates, I never really planned to make writing a significant part of my work once I became an OT. It wasn’t until I had a particularly independent Level II student that I really considered writing in a serious way. I needed something to fill my time so I wasn’t sitting there and breathing down her neck, but I also wanted to remain close-by and available for supervision when needed. So I started doing a little research on different freelance writing websites and settled on Upwork.com.

My Upwork profile

My first projects on Upwork weren’t related to OT or even especially high-paying. But this website relies on a rating system, so I took a few easy contracts to get some reviews quickly. After that, I devoted some time to fleshing out my profile and making a case for why I was qualified, using both my personal background with writing and my professional experience with documentation, letters of medical necessity, and other ways I used my writing skills as an OT.

Upwork relies heavily on a review system

From there, I made time to regularly search the website for “occupational therapy” and other related terms like “autism,” “ADHD,” etc. I also branched out a little at this point and found some contracts related to my other interests, like board games. After about 2 months of this, I had found four clients who had projects that were specifically related to occupational therapy. I’m happy to report that I’m still in touch with two of those clients today, almost 3 years later. The projects ranged from things like writing study guides or other practice test material, to blogs about OT, to social media management, to CEU courses. In this timeframe, I also made sure to save all of my projects to my Google Drive so that I could have an easily accessible portfolio to share with potential clients.

My Google Drive, organized by client

Once I had built up a portfolio, I started including my freelance writing business in both my LinkedIn Profile and my resume. At this point, I didn’t feel the need to form an LLC or any other official legal structure. Instead, I operated as a “sole proprietorship,” which requires no extra paperwork or anything of that flavor – you just report the extra income on your personal taxes. For most situations, this is how I would recommend starting out until the business becomes a more significant part of your income and time.

The long version of my resume

As time went on, my business slowly grew. I started to get more referrals from previous clients, or from people who reached out via LinkedIn or other social media. I also devoted time to increasing my social media presence in general, including linking to published writing (like blogs) on my Instagram when appropriate. I also started posting materials I was already creating for my regular OT work to Teachers Pay Teachers. Eventually, I also decided to make a website that I could use as another way for clients to find me, as well as to have a space where I could write blogs that didn’t fit in with any of my current clients’ websites. I struggled with what to call this website since I also wanted to use it for writing about travel, board games, and all of my other myriad interests, so I finally decided on the unifying factor – my name. 

My Teachers Pay Teachers store

Which brings us to where I’m at today. At this point, I have more freelance work than I can devote my full energy to, so some of my non-monetized, personal projects are taking a backseat. When my current travel therapy contract is up, I plan to take a little time off so that I can devote more time to this sort of work. I’m also considering forming an LLC as well as digging deeper into topics I don’t have as much familiarity with like SEO. While this type of work isn’t my main source of income by any means, it has been something I’ve been able to do while also working a full-time job, and it’s grown every year. Through both travel therapy and this freelance work, I’ve found I really thrive on working for myself, and I’m really excited to see what the future holds.

Does this sound like something that might be a good fit for you? Do you have more questions? Please feel free to connect with me on my Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn to stay in touch.

Need more in-depth guidance? I also offer consulting and mentorship to therapists looking to dip their toes into this work, including personal coaching by phone or video, answering questions, reviewing business profiles + resumes, and offering feedback on writing projects. 

2 thoughts on “How Therapists can Start a Side Hustle in Freelance Writing”

    1. Cumba! So good to hear from you. I appreciate it!

      PS – I still have the little business card that you gave me that says “Everything is deeply okay.” I look at it every day!

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