4 Key Lessons from an Awesome Freelance Writing Success Story

4 Key Lessons from an Awesome Freelance Writing Success Story

If you had told me two years ago that I would be making a full-time living from freelance blogging, earning in excess of ten times per hour what I earned in my job, I would have laughed you out of town.

And yet that is what has happened: in less than two short years, I have built a successful freelance blogging business that affords me all of the autonomy and flexibility I have craved in the past. I landed my first job in September 2011 and haven’t looked back since; in that time my equivalent hourly rate has increased from $15 to $150.

What I find most surprising about my journey to date is that I haven’t done anything particularly special. I wouldn’t consider myself anything more than a “good” writer and I have no professional writing qualifications, nor did I have any freelancing experience prior to landing my first client.

As I look back over the past two short years, I can spot key elements that acted as enablers and catalysts for my success, and those are the things I want to discuss today.

Lesson No. 1: freelance blogging is lucrative

The first job I landed was a blogging role for WPMU.org. Although the rate wasn’t great from a freelancer’s perspective, it was as much as I earned per hour in my job. That in itself was reason enough to encourage me to quit–I figured if I worked six to eight hours per day at this rate, I could remain afloat.

That point of view was colored by my understanding that freelance blogging just wasn’t that lucrative. I was subscribed to a few freelance writing blogs at the time and all I read was that in order to make real money I would have to move into writing for trade publications, “real” businesses and so on.

I am thankful for remaining ignorant of that advice. I once looked up in awe at these writers earning in excess of $100 per hour, all the time being told that it just wouldn’t be possible as a freelance writer. But as my rate steadily crept up, I began to realize that blogging offers as much as many other forms of writing. (Click to tweet this idea.In March 2013 I broke through the $100 per hour barrier and I haven’t looked back since.

Here’s the reality: you can earn a lot more per word through other mediums of freelance writing when compared to blogging. But how much you earn per word does not necessarily dictate how much you earn per hour (which is the real measure of your earning potential). What would you rather do: get paid 15 cents per word to write on a topic you know everything about and have no need to research, or get paid $1 per word writing a complex technical document involving interviews and case studies? You may find that the first option actually makes you more money.

So when it comes to freelance blogging, keep an open mind. You can make good money.

Lesson No. 2: you must have a blog

My foray into the world of freelance blogging was an act of desperation.

I had been failing consistently in my efforts to make money online for about six months and I was willing to try anything. I submitted a handful of pitches via the Pro Blogger Job Board with little hope of achieve anything. I didn’t even have any samples — I supplied links to my own blog posts in lieu of a “true” demonstration of my blogging abilities.

And yet that did the trick. If I had to guess as to why, my assumption would be that my first client could see that I was a capable writer running a small yet moderately successful blog. The logical conclusion from those two factors is that I might be a worthwhile freelance blogger.

Let’s be honest — I wasn’t applying for a position at The Times. It was modest pay for modest work; the client wasn’t expecting to land someone with journalistic qualifications and masses of experience. My point is this: the mere act of me having a blog was enough for me to land the job. That may be all you need to get you on your way.

Furthermore, as your freelance business develops, having a blog becomes no less important. It will act as the hub from which prospective clients will arrive (either organically or from your bylines across the web). The quality of your blog and the makeup of your Hire Me / Services page will go a long way in determining whether prospective clients take that next step of reaching out to you.

If you want to become a successful freelance blogger then you should create a successful blog. It doesn’t have to be the next Mashable (when I landed my first job my blog was attracting just forty visitors per day), but a successful blog is practical evidence of your abilities.

Lesson No. 3: successful pitching comes down to just two things

Ultimately, if you want to land a role, you need to do two things right:

  1. Your pitch

  2. Your samples

If you nail your pitch and supply awesome samples, you’ll get the job. If you don’t get the job then you got one of those elements wrong. That’s the simple equation.

Of course, it is not quite that simple. For example, the effectiveness of your pitch can be limited by a lack of experience and you may not have the kind of samples that best showcase your abilities yet.

Having said that, there is nothing truly complicated about landing freelance blogging work. If you are willing to assess your pitches and samples objectively then you will probably be able to spot where you went wrong. Your job then is to figure out how to rectify that issue for next time.

If you’d like to learn more about developing great pitches then check this post from my blog: Get Paid to Write (in 3 Steps).

Lesson No. 4: you must offer the complete package

I believe that my success as a freelance blogger is as much down to my “professional skills” as it is due to my ability as a writer. By “professional skills,” I mean everything else that accounts for your value to a client:

  1. Complementary skills such as social media marketing, SEO, etc.

  2. The ability to think creatively

  3. Organizational skills such as working to deadlines and replying to emails promptly

  4. The ability to negotiate effectively with clients

  5. General professionalism

These days I hire freelance writers myself, and I would much rather have a good writer with excellent professional skills than a great writer with good professional skills. A great writer who doesn’t submit their work on deadline or takes three days to reply to an email is going to a pain in my backside.

So if you feel that your writing skills are not yet up to scratch, ensure that you make up for your perceived shortcomings by offering much more than just your writing chops. Offer the complete package.

What lessons have you learned?

Above are the most important lessons I have learned in nearly two years of freelance blogging. It’s been quite a journey so far and I have no doubt that there will be plenty more bumps and surprises in the future.

With that in mind, if you have been freelancing for a while then I’d love to know what lessons you have learned from your experiences to date. Alternatively, if you have any questions about the lessons I have covered, please do not hesitate to share them with us.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

Filed Under: Freelancing
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31 comments

  • Thanks mucho for this advice. I read quite a bit on other blogs about how lucrative freelance writing is and how everyone is quitting their day job, but only a handful provide actionable, tangible tips. THANK YOU!

  • What a helpful article! You mention the Pro Blogger Job Board – do you think that’s the best place to look for freelance blogging work? Or could you recommend some other good sources? I’d love to get some freelance blogging going this fall; I’ve had my own blog for eight months and it’s time to expand!

  • Earnestine says:

    I have read your book. I am still not sure if I have enough blog posts to start the freelance writing gig yet. Your experience makes it seems as if it is just a jump high and see what you reach kind of thing, but I am not sure if that is true for me. I guess I am asking, “How will I know when I am ready?”

    • Steve Rice says:

      Earnestine,

      I would encourage you to put yourself out there…this is a lesson that I learned recently. A consultant I had built an online relationship with through blogging decided to write her first novel. She wanted to hire someone to write the promotional copy for the novel as well as the cover copy (since she’s self-publishing). She hired me since we had built credibility with each other. Honestly, it was one of my first paid writing gigs. It was a small job, but it boosted my confidence.

      I didn’t know I was “ready” until I actually did it. Then, I was surprised because I did a pretty kick-butt job at it. Client was SO pleased, and I was super excited to have proved to myself that I could do it. You can do this…just go for it.

  • Neil says:

    Very encouraging advice, Tom. Will give it serious thought especially since I had a blog – once. It was my first try and it wasn’t until I had abandoned it out of frustration that I realized WordPress was a horrible choice for a newbie. I spent more time trying to figure how the dad-blamed thing worked than in writing. I still haven’t figured it out, so my advice to others new to the game is that when considering a blog, choose one you can understand. That’s what I will be doing.

  • Hi Tom,

    It has been a while since I commented on any of your posts but I do follow them regularly.

    8 months into my freelance writing career, I can fully relate with what you’re saying. I can safely say that starting a blog was the best decision I made after I decided to go freelance.

    One thing I would add, to your already strong argument about having a blog, is that your blog is not only your most potent marketing tool but it also helps you know more about yourself as a writer. The confidence you get from positive responses on your blog helps you stay motivated and interact with prospective clients with much more authority.

    I am sure I would have given up on my freelance writing career had I not started blogging for myself.

    And of course Tom Ewer has been a big inspiration in keeping things simple and following the basics.

  • Tom

    I remember you once said in one of Carol Tice’s webinars that, when it comes to freelance blogging, fortune favours the brave.

    Those words really resonated with me, so maybe that point would’ve made a great Lesson No. 5.

  • Alex Sheehan says:

    Lesson number 4 is so so uber important, and I’m so glad you included it on this list! I recently was recruiting writers for one of my projects, and some of them would take a week to respond to my simple, straightforward emails. I couldn’t even read their samples without a bias because I was already annoyed with their lack of professionalism. These lessons are great!

  • Sher says:

    I appreciate this post so much. I’m going to read it again, just to be sure it sinks in. 🙂

  • Good, helpful info. I just started a blog and hadn’t thought of blogging for money. Definitely something to consider.

  • Sofie says:

    I follow Tom’s Leavingworkbehind as well and am a fan!
    I already have a blog and am now getting into freelance writing.
    I do think I’ll make a second website, though, because the one I have now is purely travel related and I don’t want to limit my freelance writing purely to travel writing (although I wouldn’t mind writing only about travel:-)).

  • Juuhi says:

    I like all the tips shared and the story too. This is true. Working online has more value in terms of money. 🙂

  • Nidhi says:

    Hi Tom!

    Thanks a bunch for this post. It’s been 6 months since I have started freelancing as a content writer in India. To be honest, I haven’t ventured into any kind of marketing. Just my LinkedIn profile is getting me a steady stream of clients (touch wood). Being at an early stage, I am charging clients on a per word basis as Indian markets don’t pay that well. And they also do not pay in time. Inspite of the project cost being decent, the milestone wise payment comes in way beyond the set deadlines. So the per month incoming money is very less.

    I want to break into the global market. I did apply to many jobs on upwork and freelancer, but the proposal ain’t getting picked up. My website is in process and would be live in a month.

    I just need some suggestions from you on 1) how should I iron out these bottlenecks. 2) How frequently should I revise the rates?

    Thanks.

    Nidhi

  • Tony Pitwood says:

    Great post, Tom – just starting, but I have bookmarked it (for the near future!!)
    Off to sign up for your newsletter!

  • Thank you Tom for your advice. I started a “Tips on Writing” blog on my website to promote my books. I never realised I could actually make money from blogging. I’m going to give it a go!

    Alison Brodie

  • James Brasic says:

    Valuable suggestions!

  • Thomson Anthony says:

    Thank you for such elaborate, easy-to-read tips. It gives a true springboard for blogging to earn!

  • Thank you so much for this article. I love seeing sucess stories from different writers – this encourages me to not give up on freelancing. Thanks again!

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