I’ll never forget how I used to feel at my old job.
Each morning, I’d trudge down the hallway and pass the spare bedroom that doubled as an occasional home office.
“Just imagine,” I’d think. “Imagine if, rather than heading downstairs, out of the door and into the car to drive to a job I increasingly despised, I’d instead turn left and enter that home office. Imagine if, rather than deal with the inner turmoil of team management and a future I had little control over, I could instead write all day. And get paid for it. On my terms.”
I’m now doing that and have been for the last five years. Writing is, largely, what I do for a living. It’s not the only source of income (diversification is vital), but it forms a significant part of it.
But I was wrong. It’s not some kind of nirvana – but I have worked out how to get paid for writing.
Let me explain.
Think very carefully if you want to be a copywriter
When I first started my writing business, it was on the basis of being a copywriter.
A little secret for you: I had zero experience in copywriting, bar writing the copy for a few web pages at my old job. I just loved writing, had blogged personally for some time and assumed those skills and desire to put digital pen to paper could be transferred to copywriting.
It turns out they can’t.
Copywriting is an incredible skill. It ranges from being able to craft a sentence to an entire 10,000-word website. At its heart, it’s about selling stuff with words, and the best copywriters are geniuses.
I’ve always admired Apple’s copywriting. When they launched one of their lightest laptops ever (the now discontinued, single-port MacBook), the product web page was headed:
Light. Years ahead.
That is brilliant copywriting. It encapsulates everything we need to know about the product in just three words.
Don’t get me wrong; if you want to get into copywriting and you understand exactly what it is (I didn’t, you see), it’ll be a fruitful, rewarding career choice.
If, like me, you just love writing, you’ll need to take a slightly different approach.
As you’ll discover, some of the writing work I get paid for has copywriting at its heart, but the bulk of what I do lies in creative writing. That’s where my passion and skill lies.
Why isn’t this list huge?
I’ve read some brilliant Medium articles recently about writing gigs that net a decent income (like this one from Karen Banes), but if you’re only just getting started, I think they can be a little overwhelming.
A big list of potential income sources helps when you begin to grow your business, but if you’re new to the writing game and just want something to begin planning towards, I reckon there are four areas on which to focus your attention.
How to get paid for writing – 4 methods
It’s taken me a while to reach the stage where I have a sustainable, growing income as a freelancer, but I’ve realised there are just four types of writing people actually give me money for.
I’ll tell you more about how I get this work in a future article, but in the meantime, here’s how I spend a lot of my week.
As previously noted, I’ve always loved blogging. I ran a personal blog for several years and at school I was always the one pushing the creation of a monthly magazine to which I could contribute my ‘column’. Bless.
Blogging is a form of content marketing, and it’s a massive topic in itself, but businesses know they need it in some form.
The good news if you’re a writer? Those same businesses don’t have the time to write blogs themselves. Therefore, they need your skills to start filling their website with relevant, engaging, targeted content.
I write blogs about so many different topics. They span industries including automotive, technology, hospitality and even home design, and the work is profitable.
Providing you find a business which values great content, or a marketing agency which knows the benefits of hiring in freelance talent for blogging, the words you write will net you a very decent return.
Put it this way: if you can smash out a 500-word blog in 40 minutes and earn £50, imagine extrapolating that out across a month.
2. Email marketing
Email marketing forms a significant part of my creative output each week. And yes, it is a form of copywriting.
It’s one of the toughest, too, but I have fallen in love with it.
Unlike a huge website copywriting project, email marketing is very narrow in scope and you obviously have far less words to play with.
This forces me to get creative and develop the best possible subject lines, headings and short paragraphs. And the best thing about email marketing is that you get awesome metrics from which you can learn, grow and iterate your approach.
Email marketing is also far easier to demonstrate your worth compared to blogging. The latter takes time to mature and produce results, while a great email campaign can offer your client bang for buck almost immediately, thus demonstrating exactly why they’re paying you for those words.
3. Personal branding (ghost writing)
I love ghost writing for people. By helping them write articles for their own blog or LinkedIn profile, I take a huge task off their hands and demonstrate value by raising their profile online.
This is an area of my business which is slowly growing at the moment, and I think it’s going to be rather prominent as time draws on. Therefore, it’s a trend that’s definitely worth jumping on if you enjoy writing for other people.
Ghost writing does of course mean you need to get into the heads of the people you’re impersonating, but that’s actually relatively easy. If you write well and in a conversational fashion, they’ll like what you do; you just need to ensure you add their thoughts, beliefs and frustrations into the mix rather than your own.
I’ve written a few eBooks from scratch.
Boy, was that a mistake.
You see, most eBooks are collections of old blogs, rejigged for that format. It’s the same approach taken by best-selling authors who are also newspaper columnists; more often than not, their book will simply be a collection of their best performing articles.
That’s how you get into the eBook game; simply build up a bunch of blogging titles for a client, and then suggest you collate some of them into an eBook when the time is right.
Content can be repurposed almost infinitely, which means you, as the person behind the initial words, raises their value to a company exponentially. This can result in long-term clients and a consistent stream of income.
How do I get these gigs?
When I first started my freelancing business, I reached out to as many local marketing agencies as I could and asked if I could provide remote writing support.
Some of those firms still use my services today, and they’re profitable partners (I don’t like calling them customers).
This stuff takes time. I’ll explain more about the marketing agency approach in a future article, but in the meantime, if writing is something you want to do full time, I recommend focusing on building skills in the four areas above.