How to Get Paid to Blog for Companies: The No-Gimmick Strategy for Serious Writers

NoGimmicks

You can make a living as a paid blogger (spoiler alert: but maybe not in the way that you think)

Believe it or not, making money as a blogger is probably easier now than it ever was.

As I mentioned in my last post, where I told you how to take charge of your pathetic freelance writing career, regular monthly blogging contracts are how I make my baseline income.

I’m very, very happy to share with you how I do this. But first, let’s be very clear about what kind of work we’re talking about here and what kind of work we’re not talking about.

It’s time for some tough love from one writer to another.

We are not talking about you pursuing your dreams of creative writing while companies and/or your adoring public send you money every month for the pleasure of reading the words that you’ve strung together in only the way that you can. (Patrons of the arts can be hard to come by in the digital world, yo.)

Rather, what we’re talking about is you showing up like a grown-up professional person, learning someone’s business, and then creating content for them in a way that solves their business needs.

What we’re talking about is you becoming a business person.

But I don’t have business skills!

I know, I know. You’re a writer. You’re creative. You’re not a business type. You just want to write and get paid for your talent. Is that too much to ask?

Well for right now, yes, it probably is for most of you. Because no one wants to pay you to wax poetic about your morning meditation — that is, unless doing so can accomplish a business objective.

And therein lies a big key to what we’re going to talk about: Finding the intersection between what you already know about/are passionate about and what someone will pay you to write about.

How to match your skills to business needs

The 30,000-foot view is this: You pick something you’re interested in and then find someone to pay you to blog about it.

So let’s go back to that morning meditation for a sec. If that’s something that really interests you and you’re spending a lot of time thinking about it, I’d tell you to go find a yoga studio that needs a blogger.

Interested in holistic health? Find a healthfood store or a company that sells herbal remedies.

Interested in beer? Blog for a company that sells home-brew supplies.

Easy enough equation, right?

Now let’s drill down a little bit …

Did you do your homework from last week? That is, you were supposed to make a list of all the seemingly worthless knowledge you have and every industry you’ve ever worked in.

If you haven’t already made your list, make it now. Here are some things you should include:

  • Every industry you’ve ever worked in
  • Any topic you consistently google just for the fun of it
  • Any volunteer work you do/have ever done
  • Any sort of business that you feel you understand well, because you patronize it, grew up around it, or follow it for another reason

This is your starting point. Pick an industry associated with something on your list and start checking out websites. Notice which businesses have really great blogs, which ones have horrible blogs, which fall somewhere in between … and which don’t have any blogs.

Spend some time determining what separates the good from the bad.

Which ones are more fun to read? Which ones are a chore?

Which blogs seem more likely to build trust with current and potential customers?

Which blogs seem to have a personality behind them?

The upshot is this: That list is full of a number of opportunities that you could pursue.

However … I must caution you before you start pounding the cyber pavement too much.

Not every opportunity is a good opportunity

Once I realized that companies would pay me to blog, I saw opportunity everywhere: from the coffee shop down the street to any business owner I’d interviewed for stories or rubbed elbows with in the past year.

However, it’s really important to remember that all clients are not created equal. You want to build your client list with a certain amount of precision. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with a roster of clients that are going to waste your time and drive you nuts.

So how can you narrow your focus and decide who to approach?

Go back to your list and ask yourself if you have any specialized knowledge about any of the industries listed there. Because while you could probably write about any category on the list, you’re going to make a whole lot more money if you have something to offer that other writers don’t have.

What this looks like

As one example, I was the editor-in-chief of an employment law newsletter for 10 years. Blogging for an employment law firm makes a lot of sense for me. I’m already intimately familiar with employment law so I’m able to fill a need that other writers just walking in off the street might not be able to meet. I’m valuable to my client because I can come up with story ideas, do research, and write blog posts with very little input from their side. Basically, I’m saving them a ton of time that they can then use to work on their core business.

But I don’t just blog for them. I also blog about technology and higher education — both fields that I’ve written about in other capacities over the past few years. The knowledge base that I’ve built up means that I can ask for more money than a writer who isn’t familiar with those fields because I’m bringing more value to the table.

Separating the good and bad clients

Once you have an idea of what industry you’d like to target, go back and check out the websites associated with that industry a little more. You can save yourself a lot of time pitching clients if you’re strategic about who you want to work with.

Here’s what I do: I look for the company that’s already blogging, but is doing a poor job of it. Usually that means they’re not posting regularly, what they’re posting is poorly written, or the content is too high- or low-level for their potential client base.

If I see that, I can surmise a few things:

1. They understand the value of blogging enough to have given it a try, so I’m not going to have to sell them on why blogging is important

2. They’ve probably already figured out that blogging is more work than they thought it would be, so they may be frustrated enough to consider farming it out

Avoid these companies at all costs

Never, ever, ever pitch a company that has never attempted blogging. Even if they understand the value of blogging, they’re likely to be so far behind on the technology curve that they’re going to ask you to do all kinds of things you shouldn’t be doing. Next thing you know, you’ll be re-writing their entire website and trying to hunt down designers and programmers to fix all the other little issues they don’t like about their site. You’re there to write, not to be the website handyman.

I also avoid big companies because I assume they have writers in-house or that I won’t be able to get to the right decisionmaker. Pitching can be time consuming, so I want to focus my energies where I’m more likely to see a payoff sooner.

Yes, you have homework

It may be a snow day here in the greater Philly area, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have homework, suckas. (And you have to do it because I wrote this with two elementary school kids vying for my attention — you kind of owe me now.)

Your assignment: Take the PAYlance Pledge if you haven’t already done so! Then, dig into your list and start researching companies you’d like to blog for. Next week we’re going to talk about how to approach these companies so they’ll not only meet with you, but they’ll see your value.

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See you next week!

How to Take Charge of Your Pathetic Freelance Writing Career

The secret to making a predictable monthly income as a freelance writer

Writers are an interesting breed. Most of us are one-half idealistic dope and one-half pragmatic cynic.

When we get into this freelance writing thing we know it’s going to be work. Yet many of us still manage to kid ourselves into thinking how romantic and lovely it will be. We’ll work at our little desks in our quiet homes – no distractions but the smell of coffee steaming in our writerly coffee mugs, and little blue Disney birds chirping at us from outside the window. Ah, won’t life be grand?

Coffee mug

My writerly coffee mug. I call him Edgar Allen Joe.

Somehow we don’t quite envision the terror that will keep us awake all night while we worry about where our next gig is going to come from. We don’t imagine how bloodshot our eyes will be the next morning, or how we’ll want to wring the necks of the happy chirpy little birds outside the window because what are they so cheerful about anyway?

And then there’s the realization that it’s all on you. No one gives a crap if you succeed or fail. There are no guaranteed raises. No tenure. No benefits and no cost-of-living increases.

Clinging to the dream can be hard.

There is a better way

Bleak enough for you? It was certainly bleak enough for me during the years that having sixty cents in my bank account at the end of the month felt like a win.

However, it turns out that there’s a way to do this whole freelance thing without all the drama and tragedy and the murdering of imaginary cartoon birds.

This week is the week that I’m going to tell you my strategy for surviving and thriving as a PAYlance writer. (Did you take the PAYlance Pledge yet? You better get on that before you read on …)

And I have to be honest here: Once I share my seemingly simple strategy, you’re going to be all <facepalm> that you didn’t think of it yourself — because it’s actually not all that groundbreaking.

However, the key to success is in the execution. Little details can make or break your earning potential and significantly impact your peace-to-stress ratio.

How I make money as a freelance writer

I make money in two ways:

  1. Contracts with regular monthly clients to provide X services for Y dollars. This provides a predictable monthly income and a predictable monthly workflow. This is what I think of as my “baseline” work. The real beauty of this model: I have ongoing, regular work, so I’m spending less time trying to nab clients and more time earning money.
  1. Individual projects with new and recurring clients. Keeping my baseline work to set a number of hours frees me up to take advantage of interesting and lucrative projects that come my way. (That’s right – I don’t go looking for these and yes, I’ll show you how to do this.)

So you might want to know why I don’t just fill up my dance card with baseline work and coast from there. That’s certainly an option and you can use my “PAYlance” strategy to do that if that’s your bag.

As for me, I know myself well enough to admit that I need a certain amount of novelty in my work. The baseline stuff is fine and good, but I also crave work that challenges me and feeds my intellectual curiosity. Plus, to be honest, the project stuff can pay really, really well.

For today, we’re going to focus on the first part: getting regular monthly clients.

Companies will pay you to blog for them

Any company that has a blog is in the publishing industry, whether they know it or not. Many of them start blogs with the best of intentions, only to find that a blog is a hungry beast. It needs fed all the time.

Because companies don’t know they’re in the publishing industry, they don’t know that they need an editor-in-chief to run their blog. So they ask Sue in marketing to take care of it, but she doesn’t have the time. They hire Bob the IT guy’s son who just graduated from college. But, doh!  Son of Bob hasn’t yet developed any business acuity and the blog reeks of amateur hour – certainly not the image that any serious business wants to project.

After a flub or two, someone in the company starts to understand that blogs are a lotta work.

That’s where you come in.

Companies are desperate for good, dependable writers who will take the time to learn about their business goals and how to connect with their customers. If you can come in and solve a problem for them, they will not only think that you are as magical as an ice-dancing unicorn, but they will also pay you money.

How it looks

As with any goal, I think it’s important to begin with the end in mind. (I’m sure someone wise and famous probably said that first, but no one is paying me to write this particular post, so research be damned.)

Let’s take a look at how this plays out like from a boots-on-the-ground perspective.

For my regular blogging clients, I usually agree to a certain scope of work for the month. For example, I might do two blog posts and five social media posts every week. I may provide the copy to the company so they can post it, or I may post it for them.

From there, we agree to a certain dollar figure per month. There’s obviously a lot to say about setting prices, and I’m going to cover that in detail in a later post. But for now, just know that I have a sliding scale based on the complexity of the work and how long I think it will take me to do it.

Why having an hourly rate is a losing game

Here’s an important key: With the exception of one long-time established client, I do not charge by the hour.

Why is that? I assume that I’m going to get faster at any assignment over time. If I charge by the hour, I’d be penalizing myself for becoming more efficient. Why would I do that?

I also don’t charge by the word. That’s a recipe for content bloat and in the end, content that doesn’t deliver a real message isn’t serving anyone. Plus, I try not to work for companies that view writing as merely making sure they have enough words to fill a space.

How I get clients

By now, you’re probably thinking something like: “That’s all well and good, but I how do I nab these elusive contract clients?”

For me, it’s a mixed bag of referrals and pitching businesses that I think would be a good fit for my skill set.

If you don’t have a strong referral pipeline built up yet, don’t worry. In the next post I’m going to walk you through how to identify and approach the companies that need your services. (Sign up here to get blog posts delivered by email.)

And now for this week’s homework. Two parts:

  1. Take the PAYlance Pledge if you haven’t already done so. Yes, I’m serious. You need to start believing that your skill set is valuable before we move into the next phase or you’ll never make any real money.
  2. Start a list of all the seemingly useless knowledge you have but aren’t currently doing anything with. For example, maybe you started going to school for something but you switched majors. Maybe you’re really interested in wearable technology and are the person all your friends turn to for advice. List anything you find yourself googling on a regular basis (yes, even celebrity plastic surgery) and any industry you’ve ever worked in. You’ll need this list for the next post.

Have a great week!

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Freelance Shouldn’t Be Free. Take the PAYlance Pledge

Can you really make a living as a freelance writer?

Are you trying to get work as a freelance writer, only to continually run into ads that say things like this:

As Much Work as You Can Handle: The project involves profiles of 500 to 1000 words. Samples are based off of our work log, so accepted ones will be compensated. Each accepted sample will be paid for at a rate of $12 each.”

Oooh. As much barely compensated work as I can handle? Sign me up!

It took me about three and half seconds to find a ridiculous job ad to post here because there’s such a depressing wealth of material out there.

So where else can freelancers go to find paying jobs? There are some sites where freelancers can hawk their services, but that begs this question:

Are Elance and Odesk a scam?

If you create a profile on a site like Elance or Odesk, the idea is that work should just come to you. People always ask me if these sites are scams. I can’t say for sure, but even if they’re not, there are plenty of other reasons to hate them.

On its homepage, Elance boasts that it has 386,500 writers. Let’s put that into perspective. Wembley Stadium holds a max capacity of 90,000 souls. So you actually have a better chance of being randomly picked from the crowd to dance onstage with Bono during a sold-out U2 concert than you do to get your profile seen on that site. (And in case you’re wondering who U2 is, here ya go). You might as well buy a lottery ticket.

Say it with me, peeps: F*ck that shit. (‘Scuze the profanity, but sometimes a “f*ck that shit” is called for.)

The high cost of unpaid work

No wonder so many writers are down in the dumps.

Continually coming up against absurd job ads or nearly insurmountable odds to make a few bucks — or in some cases, not even that — can take a toll.

The fact is, there are a lot of people who de-value writing. Since most people write all the time — emails, social media updates, etc — they argue that writing isn’t all that hard, so they shouldn’t have to pay out to get someone to fill some space on their website.

But listen, just because everyone can sing in the shower doesn’t mean everyone should cut an album. You and I know that there’s a difference between updating your Facebook page and writing a quality article that’s going to connect with readers.

There will probably always be those $12 job posts floating around out there. The key is to divorce yourself from that world entirely and start playing on a different level.

Why now is a great time to be a freelance writer

Most of the aspiring freelance writers I know fall into two groups:

  1. People who have professional writing backgrounds but can’t find/can’t land or don’t want a full-time job. Many of these people are scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to translate their considerable skill sets into paid work at a time when the traditional publishing industry is on life support and many businesses are only hiring writers at entry-level salaries.
  2. People who have never made their living as writers, but who write a LOT. These people have probably done unpaid work creating articles for various sites in exchange for “exposure.” They probably have their own blogs, which they may have tried to monetize through affiliate ads, sponsorships, or memberships. These people want to make the leap into serious PAID writing, but struggle to be taken seriously as anything more than hobby bloggers.

I have good news for both groups: You’re probably more employable than you think. You just need to know how to package your skills in a way that the right businesses will see your value (and let’s be clear: by “see your value” I mean “pay you money”).

Can we call it PAYlance instead?

Over the next buncha weeks, I’m going to post a new article every week showing you exactly how to get paid work. There’s a lot to say, so we’re going to take it all in bite-size chunks.

Since this is our intro week, I’m going to give you a deceptively simple homework assignment — however, it’s hugely powerful if you ever want to make a living as a freelance writer. (Can I just smack the idiot who coined the term freelance? Talk about a misnomer.)

You have to take to the PAYlance Pledge. And yes, I’m going to insist that you stand up and raise your right hand and say this out loud for the world to hear it.

The PAYlance Pledge:

I hereby promise that I will no longer de-value my time and my skills by applying for jobs that pay a lower hourly rate than that received by fast-food workers. I will not write in exchange for ‘exposure’ unless I have solid proof that the website is going to build my professional credibility in a way that will eventually lead to dollars in my pocket. From today on, I will honor my skills and my talent by only conducting business with people who see my worth.”

(Favor? I’d love to see this in action. Tweet me a pic of yourself taking the pledge @TrishSammer. Tag it #PAYlancepledge.)

Gettin’ down to the nitty gritty

Here are some topics we’re going to cover in the coming weeks:

  • How to best match your skill set to legit businesses that pay real money
  • Strategies for bringing in a consistent, predictable monthly income
  • How to identify the right (and wrong) companies to work for
  • How to figure out what to charge
  • How to network effectively (and in way that doesn’t involve tweeting at strangers until they notice you)
  • How to stop begging for work by building your referral pipeline so works come to you
  • How to wow your clients once you land them (and how to deal with the difficult ones)

Next week, we’re going to dive into something really meaty that you absolutely should not miss: The #1 way I make money blogging for businesses.

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Here’s to getting PAID for your work in 2015!

 

Monday is THE DAY You Start Getting Your Life Back

Who’s excited about Monday?

Me me me me!

Why am I so excited? Because I can’t wait to start sharing all my strategies for getting freelance writing work with you. It’s actually a little silly how excited I am about this. I love being my own boss, setting my own hours, saying yes to work that interests me and no to work that doesn’t … and I think you will, too.

So hey … if you haven’t already signed up for email updates to get the inside scoop from me every week, do it now. What are you waiting for anyway?

And tell your writer friends to sign up, too. Don’t worry, there’s enough work everyone. Promise.

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