If you are reading this and you are a Cubicle Cowboy or Pavement Pounder, I have some good news for you. And, if you have always dreamt of earning some money while exploring your passion for writing, I have some good news for you, too!
There is a light at the end of the tunnel!
There is a chance for you to do something different; to branch out into a whole new endeavor that nourishes your soul rather than crushes your spirit. I’m here to tell you that writing for money can give you freedom, excitement, intellectual stimulation, as well as some pretty handy cash.
Like anything, however, you need to have a game plan and the dedication, enthusiasm, and perseverance to stick it out until you gain traction. Oh, and just like anything else that’s worth doing, you’re going to need to work…really hard!
I am 18 months into my journey, and while my freelance writing business is still building (and I hope it grows to 10 times as big as it has already become), I have some tips for those starting out. Read on and save yourself the time, effort, and money I wish I had.
3 Tips for Newbie Freelance Writers
#1 — Take Calculated Risks with Your Writing
In the early days of your freelance writing business you need to be trying as many things as you possibly can. You need to be a little bit daring.
You need to be discovered; you need to be seen and your work needs to find its way into the hands, email inboxes, and news feeds that everyone receives nowadays.
When I started out, I had never even thought of blogging. My idea of pursuing a writing career was focused on writing eBooks. But, that was heavily influenced, I now see, by my love for eBooks. I have around a thousand eBooks in all different categories. I thought many people are like myself and are taking to this new format for written material. Though not necessarily wrong, it was perhaps a little too narrow minded.
Back then, I was working for a real estate business and trying to come up with new ways to find leads. I was heavily influenced by Frank J. Rumbauskas and his book Never Cold Call Again, which was a rallying cry to anyone who has worked in sales and have been beating their heads against a wall using a business technique that ran out of steam at about the same time as email surfaced as a new way to communicate in the 1990s.
Many assume Never Cold Call Again was simply a whine about the drudgery of having a phone welded to your ear for 8 hrs a day. It was never really about this; instead, Rumbauskas’ book was more about new technology being able help find prospects who were more likely interested in what you had to offer. This was precisely what I was looking for at the time!
The most obvious outgrowth of reading this book is the focus on the need to build an email list. In business, two sayings can sum up the strategic imperatives: ‘the riches are in the niches’ and ‘the money is in the list’.
As your writing career develops you’ll see exactly why this is so true.
So, how do you build an email list?
There I was, in a busy real estate office, with maximum pressure placed on me to come up with results using a now-defunct lead recruiting system. How could I transition to a point where interested parties were coming to me — showing their interest — rather than doing all the legwork myself?
This is where Rumbauskas had some very handy hints.
One idea that I thought had legs was about giving something away for free to encourage people to sign-up to your email list. This is known as a list magnet, since it attracts people to place themselves on your list. After searching around and signing up to quite a few lists myself (unless you want 64,929 unread emails clogging up your email inbox I don’t suggest you do this), I discovered that the ‘thing of value’ most commonly used to encourage people to sign-up was a downloadable eBook.
I took this idea to my bosses at the time. What do you think happened?
“No. We’re not supporting this. If you want to do this, you’ll have to do it yourself,” said my boss. There’s a lovely irony about this if you continue on and read to the end.
So, I would have to do this myself!
I learned everything I could about these new fandangled eBook thingys. I bought a Kindle…and a Kobo and read the eInk off everything I could. I found some software called the Ultimate Ebook Creator that helped me produce eBooks in the various eBook formats out there — and there are plenty, let me tell you!
Next step….write the darn thing!
Fortunately, I was studying a masters degree — in of all things Theology — at the time, and there was a lot of writing. The feedback on my academic writing was very encouraging. It gave me confidence I might actually have the basic skills needed to write this eBook.
That does it. I’ll do it. I’ll write the eBook myself.
Before I could write a lead magnet for my real estate role, what should happen? I got the flick; the ‘don’t come Monday’ routine. For of all reasons: not bringing in enough leads!
So, let me get this right. I am an expert in my field; a graduate from a business school. I tell you, based on research and observation, that your methodology sucks and went out with the dinosaurs. I recommend a course of action. You then ignore it and get a bad result. And you’re sacking me?!
“Yup! That’s right!!”
As Harry Wormwood, a character in the children’s movie Matilda, says, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
I had a little bit of time to myself for a few weeks. I thought I would explore a little further what was under the hood of this new software. I still needed some know-how on putting together an eBook. Then, of course, once I created one what would I do with it?
I had been reading lot of eBooks downloaded to my Kindle and Kobo eReaders. The thought occurred; ‘What if it were possible to write a book and sell it on Amazon?’
And, of course, you can write an eBook and sell it on Amazon — and Kobo too.
There are hundreds of eBooks on ‘how to write an eBook and sell it on Amazon’. Don’t believe me, head over to Amazon and check it out for yourself!
I learned a lot from the eBooks I read. However, none quite had the whole story. I needed to learn the whole process quickly, ideally in one go.
So, where would I be able to learn more?
Google to the rescue
As they say these days, ‘when in doubt, Google it’!
I thought, maybe a short course would be able to teach me not only how to produce eBooks but also how to write a little better. After all, writing an eBook is not necessarily the same as academic writing. I needed to learn how to write less formally, and in a way that held reader’s interest. Believe me, it is way harder than it looks!
I used the search terms course, writing, eBook, and university. Sometimes universities have a short-course that is only one semester. I could handle that. I didn’t necessarily want the huge expense, though. There had to be a better way!
Luckily, there was a better way. The search returns indicated numerous courses from a website called Udemy. What was Udemy? Sounds like a strange name for some kind of university. I thought I would check it out.
After all, what harm could it do?
Fine tuned…by Udemy
Udemy is a large marketplace for online short-courses delivered by video streaming. In 2014, when I started this journey, Udemy had 7 million students. Impressive? Now they have almost 22 million and are still growing.
Back then, there were hundreds of courses on Udemy related to writing and creating eBooks. I tried a few and learned how to write eBooks and sell them on Amazon — the full process from generating and validating an idea, to writing the eBook, editing it, sourcing a book cover, and uploading it to Amazon to sell in the Kindle store..
I am very visual in my learning style; probably to a greater extent than I am able to learn through the written word alone. So, video learning on Udemy was a spectacularly good fit for me. And, I learned really fast!
I was ready to roll!
My first few eBooks were on sales. It was much easier writing a how-to book on an area that I knew like the back of my hand. The value equation was good too. The audience the eBook was aimed at would definitely benefit from reading it.
Making sure you have a desirable product is a key to writing eBooks. Putting out eBooks of little value will only be counterproductive. Plus, you need to put a lot of effort into creating and producing content. You want to do all you can to make it work.
My first eBook was a real labour of love. It was a mammoth effort; writing it, editing it, formatting it, converting it, and uploading it.
The whole process was exhausting but totally worthwhile. I gained some confidence I could do this. I also learned I could be better and I shouldn’t give up on learning to be better at every aspect of this craft.
I continued learning via Udemy. I took course after course on writing, copywriting, marketing — anything that could sharpen my skills and knowledge.
The eBook that Launched my Freelance Career
The great thing about learning on Udemy is that if you find a lecturer you click with, you can follow every course they create and learn an incredible amount with each video course you take.
I found a few Udemy lecturers whose teaching style just seemed to work better for me.
I was able to communicate with some of these lecturers off the Udemy platform. In fact, I helped one lecturer edit his new eBook on how to write better copy.
This lecturer posed a question to me:
How can I create more valuable courses for my students?
I suggested creating a Facebook group to facilitate communication and learning after students completed his course.
I don’t know if he was just foxing, or if he really didn’t know how to set-up a Facebook group. Whichever it was, he replied and said he didn’t know how do this, and asked how he could go about it.
Some of the best ideas we will ever have as writers come to us in the oddest and most unheralded ways. Yet, when they do come; when that spark of an idea comes to you, you just need to go with it sometimes.
I began to reply in an email. About 2 hours later, as I was still typing out my step-by-step process of how to create a Facebook group, I thought, ‘What the heck! I wonder if there would be anyone else that could benefit by this?’
Bingo! A topic for an eBook.
And thanks to this Udemy instructor and his unremarkable question, I now had 3000 words ‘in the can ’ for a new eBook.
To-date, this eBook has been my best seller yet. It has frequently been in the top 100 in its category; albeit a teeny, tiny category. Still, as a writer, you have to savour victories no matter how small they are.
Someone Discovered Me
The craziest developments can come from the strangest places. I still can’t quite fathom how it all happened. I am grateful, though, that it did happen because it launched my freelance career.
Someone, and I am still not entirely sure which someone, read the eBook.
Before long, and after some discussion, I had been offered a freelance writing gig. Later, this would expand to include digital marketing, copywriting, social media marketing, and a host of other things that I have always dreamed of working in.
It’s been some ride, I’ll tell you!
But, unless I took that first step; unless I took a risk with my writing, I would never have witnessed the opportunities that have kept coming since.
So, I urge you. Take some risks, and stretch yourself as a writer. Make yourself visible. When someone asks, ‘what do you do?’; tell them you’re a writer. Tell them how you help businesses create value that attracts customers.
#2 — Take Any Assignment You Can to Build Your Reputation
Some of the work I have done has not really been exclusively writing. To get to the writing part of the work I have won, I have often needed to do work that wasn’t really appealing or required a steep learning curve. I took on the work regardless, feeling the fear but doing it anyway.
In doing so, I have added more skills to my repertoire. I am more capable now than at any time in my past. Give me a task and I’ll find a way to get it done. I’ve stretched myself in ways I could never have imagined. I’ve found personal resources I never knew I had. I’ve grown so much in such a short period of time.
Along with expanding my skills, I have become known for getting the job done. As a result, I am receiving yet more work. Brick by brick, my freelance business is growing.
As you try to build your freelance business, try everything you can. Take on work that pushes your boundaries. You’ll not only find you have more to give but you will also discover it’s the best way to expand your business.
You will grow a heap too!
#3 — Get Your Business in Order
Freelance writing can be the greatest role you will ever have. It can give you freedom while engaging your creativity and pushing you to new heights as a writer. It is also a business!
As much as we would like to leave it to someone else, or just leave it to later, no one else is going to run our business. We have to.
That means doing all of the tasks regular businesspeople do. Quoting for work, sending invoices, following up to ensure you are paid, marketing your business, and selling your services. These are all skills you need to learn too!
You can’t afford to take your eye off the ball when it comes to the running of your business. Otherwise, your business can vanish in the blink of an eye.
With these 3 tips you are already way further ahead than I was when I started. Your only decision now is to…just do it!
Oh, and the beautiful irony I wrote about earlier….the same business that sacked me, hired me back to implement the very plans I had counseled them about all those years ago!