Our mission here at WriteWorldwide is two-fold:
Firstly, to give the most valuable and relevant writing advice on the internet.
Secondly, to share our journey with you as we build our careers.
In a series of posts I’m going to show you the exact steps I took to launch my freelance writing career.
The best part is, these steps are so simple, they can be implemented by anybody who dreams of writing for a living. Specifically, you’ll learn:
- How the first money I earned from writing was through a content mill (and why I quickly moved on)
- How blogging about what I love brought me crucial contacts in my network with zero outreach.
- How I used my personal experience to build social proof with the one of the most visited sites on the Internet.
Want to find out how I did it?
Then let’s dive in to part 1 of how becoming a freelance writer changed my life.
Writing as a trade-off, rather than a trade
Like many freelance writers, my first experience of writing for money came from a content mill.
After spending my university years writing album and concert reviews for BBC Manchester in exchange for free CDs (remember those?) and getting my name on the guest list at many many gigs, my brain became hardwired to view writing as something that was merely bartered for.
It was an accepted social practice to trade my skill with words for something of perceived equal value – e.g. concert tickets, some grain, a cow – rather than to treat my talents as a highly needed and sought after craft by which I could make a living.
I was as guilty as the next man for perpetuating this damaging myth, and for a long time after my student days were over I continued to believe that making real money as a writer was simply not possible unless you could a) get lucky writing about wizards and wands or b) land a staff job at a newspaper as a journalist or editor.
Neither of these options were appealing or available to me, so, although I was good at writing and enjoyed it, I resigned myself to a life of unpaid reviews and ‘working on my novel’, which is a phrase every single writer in the universe uses to not only sound profound at social gatherings but also shield themselves from sunlight and reality.
And then one day, something changed.
A new term for a new time
I’m not going to lie to you: I do a lot of sitting around.
Granted, that’s mostly because I have to, due to having cerebral palsy and being a full-time wheelchair user.
But, I’m also a pretty laid-back kind of dude and can easily while away the hours watching the world go by and thinking about nothing in particular without too much trouble.
I use Facebook a lot, and over the years I’ve become convinced that although it is a huge time-sucking demon slowly turning us all into digital zombies, there’s also something to be said for the power of making the right connection there – or having something on your newsfeed catch your eye at exactly the right time.
That’s what happened to me one day when an old contact from my BBC days shared a link to his new website.
He was starting a digital content agency, and somewhere in his announcement I saw the word ‘copywriter’.
I’d heard the term before – probably from recently watching Mad Men – but I wasn’t exactly sure of the meaning.
I did a quick Google, and I was sold. Surely this was the sustainable career model I’d been looking for?!
People actually paid you to write stuff, and from what I’d seen it was a glamorous, confident, stylish Industry in which you could dress like Sinatra and drink hard liquor well before noon without judgement (thanks, Don Draper).
I eagerly messaged my contact and told him I was interested in learning more about becoming a copywriter – could he point me in the right direction?
I was thrilled when he replied and helpfully sent me a link.
He confessed he didn’t know too much about copywriting – or the site he was sending me to – but to me it looked like the bees knees.
You sign up, you write, you get paid. Perfect!
Little did I know, the experience wasn’t going to be quite that fulfilling…
Why content mills won’t pay your bills
On the face of it, this mysterious website looked to be exactly what I needed. I signed up, created an account, and went browsing through the available jobs.
I don’t recall all the specifics of my first and only assignment through the agency, but I’ll give you a quick rundown of why I cancelled my account shortly afterwards: there was a lot of research to do, over 1000 words to write, and the pay was very low (somewhere in the region of $15, which equates to roughly £7 or one sack of magic beans).
Additionally, it took a long time for the money to come through – over a month.
I realised soon enough that if I wanted to treat writing as a serious career option, this wasn’t the way to do it.
The benefits of blogging
One of the oldest pieces of advice for writers is to ‘write what you know’.
After my depressing experience being treated as completely dispensable by the content mill, the only thing I knew was I had to move on.
As I already had experience writing about music for the BBC, I decided to start my own music blog.
It seemed like a good way to keep my writing skills sharp (and keep my name on those guest lists).
One of the first things I did after launching my blog was to highlight it on my Facebook profile.
Soon after that, I got a Facebook message from a family friend telling me they had a contact they wanted to introduce me to – a contact who needed someone to blog for them.
After a couple of email exchanges and a Skype call I agreed to write a series of blogs for Accomable – who have recently merged with AirBnB – in exchange for a great testimonial which I still use on my website today.
I don’t really write about music much anymore as I’m concentrating on content and copywriting, but my old blog is still out there for the time being.
I don’t regret that blog though; if I hadn’t started it, and highlighted it on Facebook, I’d never have had the opportunity to write for Accomable and get some crucial social proof.
The point is that ‘write what you know’ did indirectly work for me – and it can help launch your freelance writing career too.
I hope you’ve enjoyed part one of how becoming a freelance writer changed my life. Next time in part two, I’ll be revealing:
- How reaching out to a Facebook friend resulted in another valuable client experience and a powerful testimonial for my website
- How some simple housekeeping on my Linkedin profile led me to an opportunity for ongoing freelance writing work almost immediately – and what I learned from the failure that opportunity turned into.