Last Update September 30th, 2014
Without paid content writing I would have had to get a real job years ago. My couch based, pants-off office set up would be replaced with a suit and a cubicle. For-get-it!
Looking back I realize that content creation has been a part of my business almost from the beginning. Not always in the same format, mind you, but in one way or another.
- I’ve been asked to be a regular writer on ViperChill (I know, right) and other big blogs;
- In 2009 I was offered almost $150,000 to produce content for an SEO firm (it didn’t work out and I’ll tell you why later);
- I ghost write premium content for clients from anywhere between $150 and $400 an article;
- I’ve managed small teams of micro-content producers;
- And so on…
I feel really funny about bullet pointing my “achievements” but I wanted to give you an idea about the type of work I’m focusing on in this post.
Copywriting and content writing hasn’t made me rich or anything like that but it has provided some pretty handy supplementary income over the years.
I thought it would be a useful thing to write about for people wanting to move away from a desk job and forge their own way. Throughout all of that typing and client relations I’ve learned a few things that I’m happy to pass on.
Oh, and I’ll explain why this is only the penultimate guide at the end.
So, let’s get started.
How do I find content writing jobs?
First of all, it’s important to make sure that you become a better writer every day. Not everyone is cut out to charge for their writing.
Once you’ve got that sorted out there are two broad approaches to getting content creation work.
You’ll find that you can have good results using one or the other but the best set up is when you combine the two in a comprehensive strategy. I’m going to talk about both approaches in detail and then give you some tips on bringing it all together.
1. Landing jobs from your own self-branded blog
The absolute best way to develop a career as a content writer is to start a blog that you then use a showcase for your copywriting abilities.
The idea is simple. You write a blog and people visit that blog. Some of those visitors might want to hire you for your writing services or, more likely, you will be able to use that blog as a sort of resume when you are negotiating with other clients.
For example, if there was a content writing job that I really wanted to bid on I could email them saying something like:
G’day [Hiring Dude].
I’m pretty keen to get on board with the content writing job for [company name]. Sounds like a really cool gig!
I’ve had a fair bit of success with this type of writing on my main site BlogTyrant.com. I’ve attached a few articles down below to give you an idea of my tone and style.
Please let me know if you’re interested and when I’d be able to start.
Look forward to hearing from you.
Rather than sending over your resume or CV you are providing a real life example of content creation and it’s power. This is especially useful if you have an active blog with lots of comments or social media love.
So how do you set your blog up to make the most out of this situation?
- Don’t skimp on the appearance/branding
As strange as it sounds, you’ll find that potential employers will make snap decisions about a writer based on how their resume (or blog) looks. If they’ve got 50 applications to go through you want to make sure yours appears professional at the outset. Make sure you have a nice clean theme with no distractions and the emphasis on your content. You’ll want a tight brand with your own self hosted blog so people know that your business is a serious one.
- Have a clear call to action
Make sure you let people know what you do by having a neatly designed button that shows people where to find out more about your services. A tab in your menu is good but a branded advertisement is better.
- Develop a separate landing page
It is important to devote an entire page to your copywriting services where you go over your experience, why you enjoy it and, most importantly, why people should hire you. Make sure you include some tangible benefits.
- Include testimonials
This really is a very important point because people hate going first. Show your potential clients/employers that they are not the first people to hire you.
- Overcome obstacles at friction points
A big part of selling a service is overcoming people’s objections and one of the best ways to do this is to understand where your blog’s friction points are. For example, people usually get somewhat doubtful when they go to fill out a contact form or purchase a package with Paypal. It’s here that you might want to provide a relevant testimonial or paragraph to help them overcome the fear associated with that transaction.
- Get your face on it
Something I am going to write about very soon is the increase in opportunities that have come my way since I unmasked on ViperChill. For services like copywriting or content creation where you might have a long term relationship with one client you’ll want to make sure they feel like they can get to know you. Professional photo, blue shirt.
- Develop bloody good content
The most important thing here is to realize that this blog is an advertisement for your services as well as a potential source of other future incomes. This means you need to treat with a lot of importance. Only put your best stuff on it. Guest post so that people find it. Demonstrate your expertise as a premium content writer by writing worthy words that would wow even William Wordsworth. That’s alliteration.
- Be on Skype
As I mentioned in my post about Skype it is a great idea to have your Skype details as a primary point of contact. A lot of old-school employers love to talk on the phone and it can be advantageous for you if you’re available on the phone and your competitor isn’t.
As I mentioned, this can work on it’s own but it also forms a solid basis for you to go out and start applying at some of the many content writer hiring sites out there. And that leads us to the second approach.
2. Landing jobs by building profiles and bidding
The second approach is usually one you take when you can’t afford to set up your own blog or aren’t ready to show it off to your potential clients. What we are doing here is going around to various copywriting and content creation circles and websites and developing profiles and personas (legitimate ones) so that we can bid on interesting jobs.
I should say at the outset here that bidding for content work is not something that is “below” a quality blogger. This site has many high quality bloggers as readers and I imagine many of you are wondering why the heck we’d bid to work on some other site. The answer is twofold: connections and income.
Some of these jobs can land you with clients that give you ongoing work for years. This then allows you to hire other people while you focus on your own projects. There are also some really cool jobs like the one below where you ghost write a book.
So how do we go about making this method work for us?
- Make a list of good and bad content sites
Okay so the first thing you need to do is find out where the work is. There are sites out there that are amazing for getting high paying content work and there are sites out there that will land you with the crappiest jobs you’ve ever seen. You need to know the difference. I’ve made a list of good resources at the end of this post for you to check out.
- Focus on one or two sites
If you spread yourself too thin on these sites you won’t end up getting enough feedback or positive “scores” to help you advance to the better work. It can take a little bit of time to develop the on-site trust that some employers need and as such you’ll want to focus your efforts. A lot of these sites don’t allow off-site communication and as such you’ll be restricted with what you can show in your “resume”.
- Be comprehensive with your profile
Your site/forum profile is a bit like your website – it needs to be professional. The more details and information you can provide (nothing too personal or private!) the more likely you are to win bids because you look trustworthy.
- Be attentive when bidding
I have posted jobs on sites like Vworker.com (now a different site) quite a few times now and it always surprises me how often people copy and paste their bidding responses. For example, I’d often get bid where people talk about completing your “website design” in a timely manner when, in fact, I was asking for content writers! Pay attention and try to address any obvious concerns that the employer has. For example, if someone has said that they live in Australia they might be indicating that they are worried about timezone differences and you, therefore, might want to assure them that you can be awake late if they need it.
- Know the value of a profile history
If you’ve ever spent time on a site like eBay you’ll realize that one bad review can literally end your entire business. If it’s a perceived high risk transaction a bad review will scare everyone away. It is really important to take care of your own profile’s history as well as remember to study the histories of your potential employers. Try to always end transactions or disputes politely and carefully as you really don’t want them to down vote you.
- Understand the house rules
A lot of these sites have quirky rules that are designed to protect the people posting the jobs. It is important that you have a solid understanding of how they work because one silly mistake can see you get banned – a real shame if it is an aged account. For example, saying something like “I’ll email you the details” might be against the rules if they don’t want off-site contact.
- Study the successful bidders
As in any business environment it pays to study the competition. Sometimes these sites will show you the top workers which allows you to go and see how they are bidding and what they are doing differently. Do they have great reviews or are they a conglomerate of writers working under one name? Find out and see if you can learn from it.
Over time this bidding will become easier and easier and the people that you’ve worked for previously will contact you for future jobs. The need to bid will decrease and you will, hopefully, land some pretty consistent clients.
How much should I charge?
Over the years I’ve come to realize that quoting for work is a real art form in and of itself. Deciding what to charge clients can be really tricky and often depends on a lot of factors that you might never have thought relevant:
- Where did the client find you?
The source of the client will play a role in how much you can charge. For example, if the client comes to you because they like your style you will be able to charge more than if you are bidding on a job with 100 other people.
- What is your experience?
Do you have experience writing these types of articles in this type of niche? Do you think you can cover the amount of words needed in the timeframe? Is your writing as good as they need? It is important to be honest with your levels of experience. The last thing you want is to do the work and then be asked for a refund because the quality wasn’t good enough.
- What is your self-worth (hourly rate)?
Something it took me a long time to understand was that my own perceived hourly rate played a big role in how much clients wanted to pay me. When I started valuing my services a lot higher I found that clients were happy to meet the cost because they knew that I was going to come to the table with something on time and high quality.
- What type of work is it?
If someone is hiring you to write short “filler” articles for strange SEO purposes they aren’t going to pay you anywhere near as much as a blog/website trying to develop quality content for their readers. Different jobs deserve different pay rates.
There is a wonderful saying that I heard once that really changed the way I go about client-type work. It goes something like this:
[pinit] or Tweet this quote.
I am a big believer in looking after your clients and making sure that the reputation you build for yourself is one of quality and care. Something a lot of workers fail to realize is that your articles/designs/etc can really help a person to grow their business. If you’ve helped them reach their success they will always take you along with them.
Charging per word vs charging per article
Once you get into the nether regions of the content creation world you will realize that, broadly speaking, there are two ways of charging for work – on a per word basis and on a per article basis.
Each has it’s own advantages and disadvantages:
Per word basis
This allows you to often earn a little bit more as it is rare you can finish an article in exactly 500 words, for example. You’ll often need to go to 530 or 540 to finish it off nicely. The downside is you’ll need to be able to hit those word count quotas if that is what you’ve quoted for.
Per article basis
Gives you more free-reign in terms of how much you need to write (some topics only have so much information!) but can be a catch 22 if you are continually going over the quoted word limit.
The best starting point is to figure out how many words you can comfortably type in an hour while remembering that you will often need to research things as you go. Then you just work backwards to see what you’ll need to earn per word to make it worth your while.
Let’s say you can mange 1000 words per hour and you want to make $50 an hour. That means you’ll need to make $0.05 per word.
The task then is finding the type of client/job that is willing to work within your needs.
Planning your time and knowing your production limits
One of the first obstacles that you’ll inevitably face as a content writer is the time management demon. This guy will constantly be looking over your shoulder, breathing down your neck and sapping you of much needed sleep.
So what can you do about it?
Well, the first thing is that you really need to know your limits. As budding enterprenuers we tend to just go hard and fast – late nights, lots of coffee, feeding off the stress – until we just burn out and fade away. It’s a really good idea to know your limits early on.
One way to do this is to go by the motto of “under promise, over deliver”. This is both a method of pleasing your client with high quality work and managing your time effectively. The idea is to take on an amount of work that you can handle, smash it before the deadline and then ask them for more work. The result is that you’re never running late.
The art of research
Something that a lot of content writers don’t factor into their quoting is the fact that you usually need to spend a bit of time researching your topics.
It’s quite important to figure out your own ways of researching and creating articles without copying or plagiarising anything. Find out how long you’ll need per topic and make sure your consider that when you are negotiating your rate of pay.
It’s also really important to set limits on what you’ll write about for both ethical and mind-numbingly-boring reasons. For example, I would never write about gambling or anything illegal because I don’t think it’s ethical and I would never write about electronics because it just bored me to death.
Turning down that $150,000 job
At the start of the post I mentioned that I had to turn down a content job worth over $150,000 for a few months worth of writing. The problem really was about my production limits.
I was quite good at quoting for and winning the business but then outsourcing the writing, editing it and delivering it all on time proved to be too much for the team and me. We weren’t hitting the deadlines and after a few days we had to pull out.
This was a wonderful lesson in team and time management, however, and a really inspiring example of how much work is out there if you are ready for it.
Getting better gigs
One of the really important things to learn early on about copywriting and content production is that you really have to decide whether you are about quality writing or quantity writing. Distinguishing between these two things will help you narrow-in on the better gigs.
Here’s why. If you write less skilled articles at a cheaper price you will need to get a large amount to make a decent income. But if you are mixing that writing with the production of quality premium articles you will find that you don’t have the resources or time to make either work properly.
If you are going to go down the “mass production” route I would suggest putting together a team of writers and some content editors in order to meet the demands of the bigger jobs. If you only have a small profit margin you need to learn how to scale it so that you get more and more work.
If this is something readers are interested in learning about I’d be happy to go deeper in another article or a podcast or something. I have a close friend in Australia who has made consistently high incomes by managing a medium sized content writing team and I’m sure he’d be happy to share his insights.
Using “fear” to solidify relationships
If you have been a student of marketing for any length of time you’ll know that fear is a really big motivator. I kind of hate talking about it though because it always seems really unethical. Lately, however, I’ve decided that it doesn’t have to be. Let me explain.
Using fear in marketing is unethical if you really aren’t helping. If your product or service is creating a perceived need instead of filling an actual need then you are on the borders of sleaziness. For example, if an insurance company drummed up fear about some new virus in order to sell a bunch of health insurance policies you’d automatically feel cheated.
If, on the other hand, your landing page talks about how you care about your clients and how it’s not worth the risk of finding dirt-cheap content writers who might steal, copy or scrape your content from other sites, I think that is okay. It is a genuine concern that you are pointing out and as long as you follow through on your promise of quality work you haven’t hurt anyone.
The internet is generally perceived as a very unsafe place. For that reason you should try and think about people’s fears when you pitch a service or are talking to clients. If you base some of your marketing around the fact that you understand their fears and actively try to avoid those “shady” elements in your business you will find that your relationships grow quite naturally.
Copywriting vs content writing
You might be wondering why I made this post about content writing instead of copywriting. Well, it’s both simple and complex at the same time. Let me try and explain.
I was hesitant to say that this stuff will help you become a copywriter because a copywriter needs a very specific set of skills – like Liam Neeson with less guns – whereas a content writer is more of a general title given to someone who writes articles.
You see, if you are pitching yourself as a copywriter you’d better make sure you’re pretty confident at your ability to craft adverts, landing pages and website copy that converts to an outcome or a sale. A content writer, on the other hand, might only be needed to write articles for keyword purposes or perhaps website content that is more informative that conversion based.
Of course, you can always let your future employer decide whether you are good enough to be a copywriter or a content writer but, personally, I thought this post would be safer titled around the latter even though it should all apply to both.
Some content writing resources
I wanted to put together a small list of resources for the budding content writers out there.
Probably my favorite place to find writers to work on small projects. A good place to start.
One of the biggest freelancer sites in the world. Lots of work to be found.
- ProBlogger Job Boards
Some fantastic people looking to hire quality bloggers and writers. Can make some decent part time income here.
- Digital Point Forums
Some dodgy stuff happens here but a lot of bigger firms also offer work here kind of on the sly. You won’t get good prices but if you’re struggling you might get a few cheaper gigs.
Check to see whether the articles you’ve bought (if you’re managing a team) are copied from anywhere else on the web.
The older stuff here is just such a wonderful resource for people who want to be better writers. I owe a lot to Brian’s writing.
- Chris Ducker
The main man when it comes to building a team of workers. Some amazing tips on his blog for how to get started if you want to build a team of writers.
Why is this only the penultimate guide?
Something I’ve been noticing a lot lately is that a big portion of us (myself included) love to read things but struggle to pull the trigger on a new project or idea. And every time I read an “Ultimate Guide to…” post I always get excited for about a week and then kind of fall back into my old ways.
So, what I really want to say is that the Ultimate Guide version of this post is you going out and trying it for yourself. This stuff has worked (or not worked) for me and my friends but it might be totally different for you. You won’t know until you go out and do it.
Would you ever consider doing any content writing work? Have you perhaps done some already? Leave a comment and let me know.
Top photo: © Bowie15