Today I was digging through my content archives, and I found some old articles that triggered a lot of memories from my early days as a freelancer. See, I didn’t start off charging $500 bucks a post. I wrote a lot of content for free and I even joined a (*cringe*) content mill — the now defunct Examiner.com.
Oh boy. If I had a time machine, I’d go back a few years and tell my past self to stop undervaluing my work and start taking steps towards a more profitable freelance writing business.
But time travel isn’t a thing yet, so I thought I’d just share those lessons with you. Here are some of the things I learned in the process of increasing my freelance writing income.
1. Go out there and find clients
You won’t land good gigs on content mill websites. Freelance platforms such Upwork might send decent clients your way. But top tier clients — those who are willing and able to shell out good money for your services — aren’t on these sites.
I handle content marketing and strategy for a few companies. In this role, I’m tasked with hiring freelance writers as well as other contractors, so I’ve been on both sides of the freelance hiring and negotiation process.
Here’s what I can tell you about it: if I want something done cheap, then I’ll turn to a site like Upwork. But if I need something that’s well-written and insightful and I have a large budget to work with, then I’ll take the time searching for the right candidates.
I’ll peruse freelance sites to find the best fit. I’ll go through my inbox and find writers who have gotten in touch with me in the past. I’ll reach out to my industry contacts and ask for referrals. I might even search the web for amazing pieces of content and touch base with the authors who wrote them. One thing I won’t do is look for writers in content mills and freelancer platforms.
What does this mean for you? It means if you want to land top quality clients, you need to put yourself out there. You need to:
In short, don’t rely on a platform or low-quality content mill for gigs. Go out there and be more proactive about finding clients.
2. Don’t to be a generalist
When I first got into freelance writing, I decided I could write about anything — and I kind of did.
I wrote blog posts and landing page for a solar panel business, my wedding DJ hired me to update his website, and I my friend’s dad even paid me to update his website about — wait for it — chickens.
I don’t regret doing those jobs. But looking back, I realized that I would’ve been able to charge more if I had chosen to write about just a few topics that I was genuinely interested in.
If I had done that, I would’ve built an impressive portfolio much sooner, and it would’ve been way easier to charge higher rates. Because here’s the thing: people who specialize not only get paid more, but clients actually prefer industry specialists.
Anastasia Sidko, the Content Manager at SEMrush, told me:
“Between two freelancers with equally good writing skills I’d choose the one who has experience in creating texts on the topic that I need. It is especially important when it comes to technical or very specific texts — deeper knowledge of the subject would be a significant advantage for the writer.”
Molly Berry, the Community Manager at Skyword, said something similar in our interview:
“Identifying your niche is really important. Some people think it might be advantageous to call themselves generalists or say ‘I can write about anything’ or ‘I can research anything,’ but in the content marketing industry, we’re not looking for generalists. We’re looking for people who have specializations.”
Follow their advice and find your niche. You don’t have to be married to it, by the way. Just decide on something to focus on for now, and go from there.
Devoting my efforts to a few select industries and content types enabled me to hone my skills, become an expert in that space, and connect with a lot of great clients.
3. Not an expert yet? You don’t have to do all the work
Maybe you’ve already chosen a niche, but you don’t consider yourself an expert yet. Or perhaps you’re struggling to write an article because you don’t have the expertise or the experience in that field.
I’ve been there. When I first started writing about the retail industry, I was a little stumped because I had no experience in the space. As a consumer, I was fascinated with the industry, but I never held a job in retail.
So how did I come up with great retail-centric content?
One word: Research. Lots of it. I spent a ton of time on Google and on industry sites collecting stats, insights, and examples that I could use in my articles.
This method worked great, and it’s something I continue to do to this day. But it’s not the only way to produce expertly-written articles.
One other thing I did that helped me create great thought leadership posts (without actually being an official “expert” yet) is connecting with other thought leaders and influencers, and incorporating their insights into my content. I used a website called HARO (short for Help a Reporter Out) to find professionals that I can interview and quote in my articles.
Doing this resulted in great feedback and positive outcomes all around. I was able to produce insightful, high-value posts which made my clients happy, and the experts that I worked with were thrilled because being included in my articles meant more exposure for them.
Here’s the main takeaway here: you don’t have to be fully-fledged “expert” to write expertly-written content (and charge top rates). If you’re just starting out in an industry or niche, then find other experts to include in your articles.
Talk to them. Quote them. Learn from them.
Do this right, and you’ll produce high-value content, keep your clients happy and (hopefully) build a flourishing freelance writing career.
Be proactive with client hunting, choose a profitable niche, and produce expertly-written content. Do these things well (and do them consistently), and I guarantee that you’ll never become a “starving writer” ever again.
Now, I’d like to hear from you. What freelance writing lessons would you share with your past self if you were given the chance? Comment below and let me know!