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Could you turn your writing side hustle into an actual job? Yes, you can. Read on to learn how…
I wrote my first national magazine piece as a 27-year-old. They paid me so much I could have bought a car in cash the next day. Of course, it would have been a used car. But still.
Then I landed a job at a daily newspaper with security, health care and a gang of loveable nuts and laid my freelance writing career to rest… Until 12 years later, when I walked away from the newspaper business.
These days, I’m not strictly speaking a freelance writer. I mostly teach and coach. But my “vibe” is still freelance. Rather than receiving a monthly cheque from a single employer, I get small or moderate amounts of money from a large number of people. I get no benefits. My success depends on hard work and my ability to sell my services. And I love it.
Many people worry they can’t make enough money as freelance writers. While this is clearly true for some, the opportunity to make a decent living exists. But the pay range is so broad, “it’s barely useful” according to the site clippings.me:
- Payscale reports a pay range of $10.31 to $53.79 per hour for freelance writers.
- ZipRecruiter has an even broader range: $5.29 to $193.03 per hour.
Actually, the real issue, according to clippings.me boils down to experience. Here are the numbers they quote:
Among beginners, defined as those with zero to three years of experience:
- 25.7% earned $1 to $20 per hour
- Only 4.3% earned more than $100 per hour
- The most common pay range was $21-$40 per hour (32.1%)
At the intermediate level (3 to 7 years of experience):
- 6.1% earned $20 per hour or less
- 19.1% earned more than $100 per hour
- The most common pay range was $41-$60 per hour (26.1%)
Among professionals (7 to 15 years of experience):
- Just 1% were still earning $20 per hour or less
- The percentage of $100+ per hour earners stayed about the same at 19.2%
- The most common pay range was $81-$100 per hour (31.7%).
And by expert level (15+ years of experience):
- 1.5% were earning $20 per hour or less
- The most common pay range was $100+ per hour (40.8%).
The freelance life isn’t for everyone but if you think it might be for you, here are seven ways to turn your writing side hustle into a job:
1-Start freelancing while you still have a regular job
Don’t put yourself in a financial jam. Instead, start your writing side hustle while you’re still receiving a regular pay cheque. Develop a client list before cutting ties to your employer. You can do the interviewing during lunch hours, after work or evenings. You can write during evenings and weekends. Regard your writing side hustle as an experiment. Do you like this type of work enough to do it full time? And can you create a list of clients before you lose the safety net of your regular employer? This is especially important if you have a mortgage or a family to support. Or, you know, if you like to eat.
2-Find a niche
Understand that having a niche will mean saying ‘no’ to some potential clients. That may make you feel nervous and unsettled. But people with a niche make more money and can often multi-purpose their work (for example: do one interview that you can use in two stories for different clients.)
Some of the more lucrative niche topics are: technology, finance and investing, health and wellness, business and entrepreneurship, travel and tourism, fashion and beauty.
Some of the more lucrative niche genres are: white papers, sales or landing pages, case studies and sales emails.
3-Build a portfolio
To make yourself appealing to potential clients, you need to show them your wares. For people with a writing side hustle, this means having an appealing portfolio of clips in your niche area. I know, I know, this sounds like a chicken and egg situation – which comes first, the clips or the portfolio? And how do you get the first without the second?
Here’s where you need to get a little cagey: Consider doing some writing for free, perhaps for a volunteer organization within your niche. Or start your own blog or Substack. Or post to a site like Medium.
4-Don’t work for cheapskates
Once you have your portfolio in good shape, however, don’t nickel and dime yourself. Steer clear of content mills and sites like Fiverr and Upwork. They pay peanuts and once you have your clips, you want to be able to earn steak or organic cauliflower. Look for clients paying a minimum of $.50/word and get yourself to $1 to $2/word as quickly as possible. Try to avoid being paid by the hour. Work like website or annual report writing lends itself to “project pricing.” As you become faster with your side writing hustle, you’re better off reaping the benefit of your own efficiencies by not being paid by the hour.
5-Learn how to pitch
As a freelance writer, you’re going to need to learn how to sell. For magazines or blogs, this means reading the publication and coming up with story ideas that fit within their established world view and haven’t been done recently. Don’t pitch fitness articles to writing websites (as so many people do to me!) And, in fact, don’t waste your time pitching to anyone, like me, who doesn’t accept pitches, at all. Never send a generic pitch — meaning the same pitch to more than one outlet. It won’t work and it will be a waste of your time.
Your pitch should be short (1 page) and to the point, describing your idea, explaining why it works for XYZ publication and briefly outlining your own experience. Make sure the pitch includes the number of words you’re proposing writing (e.g. a 500-word post on tostadas) and make sure the number of words matches a length commonly used by the publishing outlet.
6-Get comfortable cold calling
To make more reliable money, consider doing some corporate writing. Many companies have in-house employee publications that require writing. Could they use some freelance help? Or perhaps they have a new product being released or a major event coming up. If their communications team is already over-booked, they may welcome some extra help.
I know, cold calling feels creepy. I’m an introvert and it always pained me to have to do it. But as someone who has sat on the other side of the desk (occasionally needing freelancers), I know how much I welcomed those calls when I actually required help. Don’t let your shyness get in the way of your success.
7-Always be marketing
The question, “how can I find new clients?” should be at the back of your mind, all the time. Give yourself the goal of making X new contacts a week (pick an X that’s reasonable for you.) Start a blog. Join some organizations. Network at events. Do some volunteer work. Polish your social media presence on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and promotes your writing abilities.
It is possible to make money as a full time freelance writer. And here’s the surprising thing: Your writing ability is the least important skill you have. Far more important are: determination, organization and resiliency. Use those strengths, and you’ll be able to succeed.
Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
Do you have a writing side hustle? Have you ever tried to turn it into a job? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by June 30/23 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!