I think I first realised I’d ‘made it’ as a writer when I was sitting in a cafe in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, about to get on a boat to head up the Tuichi River into the heart of the Amazon. I was sitting around a table with half a dozen other travellers and the conversation turned to some of the places I’d visited in the past few years.
After I’d gone through an extensive list of destinations, one young lady looked at me in puzzlement and asked “What are you, independently wealthy or something?” I had to stop for a moment and let that sink in, because until that moment I’d never really considered how my lifestyle must look to others. When I told her I was a writer, she stared at me in disbelief. Most people think writers are like artists – always starving.
I became a professional freelance copywriter in 2013 after deciding I needed a more reliable source of income and a more flexible lifestyle. I have an expensive habit to support: I like to explore the world’s remotest and most pristine rivers.
In the beginning, after a brief and unfruitful flirtation with content mills, I decided to ditch writing-as-a-commodity websites entirely and aggressively go after my own clients. That was the single best thing I ever did for my writing career.
Within 6 months, I went from zero clients to earning $7000 per month – and I haven’t looked back since. My profits from writing have steadily grown to the point where I can travel whenever I want, to wherever I want, for as long as I want. Sometimes I write while I travel and sometimes I leave the laptop at home.
So how can you earn enough as a freelance writer to pay for limitless global adventures? Here are my top 3 tips:
1. Go where the money is
Many highly-paid copywriting jobs aren’t advertised – you have to seek them out yourself. Create a writer website to display your fees, services and portfolio. Join Linkedin (a great source of writing prospects). I attracted my first three long-term clients through Linkedin and one of them provided me with over $35,000 worth of work.
According to Forbes, the four most profitable industries in the US are health technology, finance, technology services and electronic technology. If you can write well about health, wealth or tech, you’ll never be short of high-paying clients. Relationships, dating and parenting are also niches providing steady writing work.
I tend to target medium-to-large sized companies rather than small businesses because I know they’ll have more work to offer and bigger budgets. They’re more used to working with freelancers so they don’t need to be ‘trained’, which saves time. In my experience, larger companies are also more likely to become longer-term clients – the best kind.
2. Write the right stuff
Churning out $10 blog posts for your local pet shop isn’t going to cut it if you want to become a globe-trotting freelancer. Instead, focus on the types of writing that pay the best – annual business reports, white papers, landing pages, case studies, brochures and direct response copywriting can be quite lucrative.
As a writer, you can create B2C (business to customer) or B2B (business to business) copy. While B2C writing can be a solid earner (I’ve made tens of thousands crafting insurance articles, for example), the real money is in B2B copy. B2B e-commerce alone is expected to generate $6.7 trillion dollars in gross merchandise value by 2020 – making it twice as big as the entire B2C market ($3.2 trillion). Just by itself, the pharmaceutical industry is predicted to make up 20% of all sales coming from online sources by the year 2020.
A good B2B copywriter can enhance the reputation of a business, make it more competitive, improve its profits and make its marketing processes more cost-efficient. When you can do all that, you get paid well.
3. Be a systematic and proactive self-marketer
This is where many new writers fall down. Succeeding as a freelance writer is as much about self-promotion as writing ability. An average writer who knows how to find and keep quality clients will make much more money than a brilliant writer who can’t (or won’t) market themselves.
I use several prospecting methods to obtain clients. In my early days, I even tried cold calling, which worked better than I thought it would. I use free online lists to drill down to my target markets: trade show exhibitor lists, ‘fastest-growing companies’ lists, trade publication lists and more.
Once I’ve decided on a likely prospect, I use one of three methods to contact them: a phone call (if they’re local), a snail mail letter or a cold email. I don’t limit my search for writing clients to my own city, state or country – I write for English-speaking clients all over the world.
My snail mail writer pitch (info kit) normally includes a letter of introduction, a printed copy of at least one article that relates to that client’s industry, a brief list of relevant previous clients, a page that lists my fees, some glowing testimonials and perhaps a rundown of the types of writing I can offer them. I invite them to visit my website and ask them to contact me to discuss their writing needs.
I’ve nabbed plenty of high-paying writing clients through cold emailing. My technique is simple. I tell them I’m a freelance copywriter and then let them know I’ve taken the time to learn a bit about their website, blog, business, magazine or whatever. If there’s something they’ve produced or an idea they’ve conveyed that I like, I’ll mention it and tell them why.
Then I jump straight into explaining why I’m writing to them. Sometimes, this will be a simple pitch for work, asking if they have a current or anticipated need for freelance writing support. Often, I like to go further and come up with 2-5 ideas for content I could create for them. If it’s a website, I might suggest a revamped blog. Or if their product descriptions are a bit mundane, I’ll offer to rewrite them. If there’s no FAQs page, I’ll suggest creating one. If their approach to press release writing is all wrong, I’ll explain how I can improve it for them.
Next, I hit them with my credentials. I like to envision the email recipient sitting in their office asking themselves “Yes, but why should I hire you?” Then I work on providing a convincing answer to that question. If I have a previous article or writing sample that might help sway them, I’ll include a link.
I finish off with something like “Let me know if these ideas are of interest to you. If you would like to discuss your writing needs, I look forward to your reply.”
I always make sure my name, email address and a link to my writer website (including fees and portfolio) are at the bottom of the email. Then I proofread the whole email twice, send it off into cyberspace and cross my fingers.
The key with cold emails is to present your services as highly valuable (you’re providing them with an opportunity, not begging for work). Make these emails more than just a brief letter of introduction – give them some thoughtful ideas and a sense of your skill set, too.
Getting the client to hire you is just the beginning, of course – then you have to do amazing work for them so they’ll give you a great referral and want to use you in the future.
I’ve just had my most lucrative twelve months ever as a freelancer while only working two-thirds of the year. The rest of the time I played digital nomad in Cordoba, Argentina, drive all over Tasmania, enjoyed summer in Spain, Portugal and Italy, tracked tapirs in the Amazon and snorkelled with manta rays on the Great Barrier Reef.
For me, freelance copywriting is an ideal ‘means-to-an-end’ profession. It has certainly changed my life – I only wish I’d started earlier!