Are You a Writer?
The very first step is to honestly assess your writing skills. The good news is you don’t have to be the next Hemingway to make money as a writer. In fact, having plowed through my share of Hemingway as an English major, it’s better if you aren’t the next Hemingway. But to be an effective writer, several things are required:
Grammar: Sentence structure, punctuation, and spelling should be near perfect. Mistakes are inevitable. Karen over at MSN’s Smart Money blog finds errors in my writing all the time. Of course, she is a first-class editor and finding errors in my copy is probably not all that challenging. The key is to have a solid grasp of the language.
If you need a refresher course, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation actually makes learning punctuation fun. You can also view the articles you write in Microsoft Word, which will highlight most of the errors.
Research: The ability to get answers to questions is key. You should be comfortable using the Internet. None of us knows all the answers; we just need to know where to find them.
Critical Thinking: Being able to think through an issue and write about it in a clear, concise manner is a must. This comes with practice. The starting point is to read articles from writers who have mastered this skill and practice, practice, practice.
How to Get Your First Client
If you believe writing is for you, the next step is to decide what topics you want to write about. If you are looking for work, you’re probably willing to write about anything. But it’s really important to define your area of expertise. Not only does it help focus your research and writing, but it also helps focus your marketing.
Assuming you have no published articles, the next step should be to get your work showcased on top blogs and websites in your niche. Once you have some published articles on top sites, you can use your published work as a reference. Publishing articles on top sites will also give you instant credibility. So how do you get your content published on the top sites? Write for free.
Contact websites and blogs in your chosen niche and offer to submit a few articles for their consideration at no charge. I’d keep the e-mail short and sweet:
I noticed that from time to time you publish articles submitted by other writers. Would you consider publishing one of my articles? As a freelance writer, I normally charge for my written product, but I’m contacting a few of the top personal finance sites and offering to write a free article to gain more exposure to my work. I could send you two articles to consider by the end of the week.
You’ll find that some bloggers never, ever publish content written by others. But most bloggers will publish guest posts, and some even hire writers to produce content on a regular basis. If your writing is solid, you’ll find plenty of bloggers who would love to publish your content–it gives them a day off!
Once you have a few articles published, you can begin contacting blogs and websites for paid work. And this is where relationships really matter. Go back to the blogs that published your free content, and let them know what you are doing. They may not want to hire you, but bloggers talk to one another. If they don’t need the help, they likely know other bloggers who do.
How to Write an Article for a Blogger
Bloggers are a busy lot. I’m writing this article at 5 AM before I go to work. Last night I worked until 11 on my blog. The point is that if we hire another writer to help us out, we want that person to make our lives easier, not harder. Receiving a poorly written article that needs heavy editing just makes life more difficult. So triple check your work before sending it to your client.
With that said, here are a few things to consider as you begin writing your first few articles:
First Impressions: First impressions are the most important. Do not send a poorly written article to a blogger. Have a friend review the article if need be, but whatever you do, make sure the writing is solid.
Get to Know the Blog: Spend a few minutes reading through the archives of the blog you are writing for. Think about the topics they like to write about, and consider their writing style. While your writing style will of course be unique, you want to produce an article that is consistent with the overall theme and style of the blog.
Link Back to the Blog: In your article, link to articles on the blog you are writing for that are relevant to the topic at hand. This is not only helpful to the reader by giving them easy access to related content, it’s helpful for SEO purposes. (See below if you don’t know what SEO is). If you don’t know how to link to another page on the Internet, then you need to learn a little html (see below).
Link to other Authoritative Cites: Where appropriate, add links in your article to other authoritative sites. While the blog owner may or may not keep the links in the article, it’s much easier for a blogger to remove a link than to spend time researching and adding links. Remember, you want to make life easier for the blogger, not harder.
One good resource that can help you write compelling copy is Copyblogger. The site is run by Brian Clark, who is highly regarded when it comes to creating online content.
How Much Can You Make
Now let’s talk money. In my experience, freelance writers charge anywhere from about $5 an article on the low end to $50 an article on the high end. The price depends on the topic, their experience, the length of the article, and the quality of their writing. I’d say $10 to $20 is common. To get an idea of how much writers can make and how much they charge, spend some time on Elance.
Elance is a marketplace for freelancers and those looking to hire freelance help. There is an entire section for freelance writers, and it shows their lifetime earnings for work obtained through the Elance marketplace. Some of the numbers are impressive! As you scroll through the ads for writers, you’ll see that many charge in the $15 to $20 per hour range. I think most bloggers prefer to pay by the article, but either approach is fine.
When you are starting out, you want work. Prove that you are a solid, dependable writer, and the money will follow. To that end, I’d start out in the $5 to $10 per article range, with a plan to increase your prices as the work permits.
Taking Your Freelance Writing to the Next Level
You’ll quickly learn that writing online content is about a lot more than just the printed word. If you really want to become invaluable to blog and website owners, there are a few skills you need to acquire. While you don’t need to have a handle on these right from the start, if you are serious about freelance writing, you’ll want to start learning these skills now. Here they are–
WordPress: Most blogs and many websites today run on software called WordPress. While it is very easy to use, like most things, there is a learning curve. If you start writing regularly for a blog, it will be much easier on the blog owner if you can input your articles directly into WordPress. The absolute best way to learn WordPress is to start your own blog. Even if nobody reads it at first, it gives you an opportunity to learn how to use WordPress. You can check out my step-by-step tutorial on starting a blog if you’re considering this approach.
Some great online resources for WordPress include the official WordPress site and the WordPress Codex, which includes helpful how-to articles. While these are great resources, it’s sometimes difficult to get a complete picture of WordPress without reading a book. Two books to consider are A Step by Step WordPress Tutorial For Beginners and WordPress for Dummies. I’ve read WordPress for Dummies and found it very helpful.
SEO: Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short, is the science of improving the quantity and quality of traffic a site receives from search engines like Google and Bing. The amount of information (and misinformation) available on the Internet about SEO is mind-numbing. For purposes of freelance writing, however, here are a few key points:
- Article Titles: An article’s title is perhaps the single most important means to communicate to search engines the topic of an article. When you write for a blog, ask yourself who would find the article helpful and how they would search for the content through Google. This article’s title is “How to Make Full-time Money as Part-time Writer.” While the title could have been re-written a hundred different ways, the title does cover the topic of this post and includes language that people would likely search for if they are looking for ways to make some extra cash as a writer.
- Link’s: Links are the life-blood of SEO. Links help search engines figure out which pages on the Internet are more important than others, and what those pages are about. Links to a site are critical, as our internal links from one page of a site to another page on the same site. When you write articles for a blog, consider appropriate links to other pages of the site that relate to the topic at hand. As you may have noted above, I linked to a page on this site listing ways to earn extra income and to a page detailing how to start a blog.
- Anchor Text: When linking to an internal page on a site or to an external page, consider the text you put in the link. The text helps search engines figure out what the page you are linking to is all about.
There is of course a lot more to SEO than just the three points listed above. But for freelance writing, get these things right and you are off to a good start. There are tons of SEO blogs and websites you can visit for more information. I wouldn’t make this a priority when you are first starting out, but at some point it is worth checking out SEOMoz and SEOBook.
HTML: HTML is the code that defines how text and images appear (and to some extent behave) on a website. We use html to boldface text or add a link. Adding html to your article so that your client doesn’t have to is a big help. It’s not complicated, and there are plenty of good html resources and tutorials on the web. You’ll find two good ones here and here.
Turning Writing into a Business
Depending on your goals and ambition, you may want to turn a part-time writing gig into a full-fledged business. There are plenty of freelance writers that market their services online and hire contract writers to do much of the work. You’ll find many of them advertising on Elance with links to the websites they’ve developed to market their services. You may or may not want to move in this direction, but it’s always nice to know what the possibilities are.
If you’ve already embarked down the path of freelance writing, do you have any tips to offer those considering this line of work?
Finally, if you want to find employers who have an urgent need for writers Click Here!
This article was featured on The Carnival of Personal Finance #242 hosted on CashMoneyLife.