This is a guest post I specifically requested from Sharon Hurley Hall so that she could share her experience and knowledge with all of my readers who aspire to make a living from writing.
I’ve been teaching people about writing for about 11 years, offline at first, then, for the past 6 years, online through my writer mentoring blog. And there’s one consistent message that I’ve given throughout that time: getting paid to write (or getting paid to blog) is about more than just the writing. There are a lot of other factors that determine whether you get writing and blogging gigs and how successful you are, and you can stack the odds in your favour.
Develop Writing Skills
Let’s get the question of writing skills out of the way first, though. You may already be a great writer or you may have some way to go. I believe that anyone who is willing to put in the time to learn writing and self-editing skills can write competently. (Exquisitely is a different matter.) I’ve got the experience of teaching hundreds of journalism students to back up that belief. Find examples of good writing, learn the building blocks of the type of writing you want to do, discover how to structure articles, write appealing headlines and bring writing to life, and you stand a fair chance of doing well on paid writing gigs. But, since there are tens of thousands of writers worldwide, you need more …
Build A Professional Platform
One of the best pieces of advice I got was to get a website to showcase my writing. It’s a piece of advice I’ve passed on often over the years. A domain name doesn’t cost much, and there are plenty of options online for creating a free website mapped to that domain. Trust me, it will be the best $10 (or less) you ever spent. Make sure your site says who you are. (If you have the money, spring for a professionally crafted about page). Ensure that it lists your skills, provides a portfolio, states rates (if you want) and has an easy way for potential clients to contact you. My very first professional writer website started with four pages. It was basic, but it had enough info to win me some clients. You need clients if you are going to get paid to write. If you’re targeting offline clients, then get yourself a business card from Vistaprint or somewhere similar.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is important for two reasons. First, it will help potential clients to find your writer platform. Second, it’s a service you can offer to clients to help improve traffic to their business. Let me be clear: I don’t mean keyword stuffing and spammy link building. I’m talking about including helpful terms in your content. Think of SEO as Match.com for writers and clients – it brings them together by using common terms. Learn where to place your keyword phrases for maximum effect and use research tools like the Google Keyword tool to identify relevant keywords. SEO could be a whole post on its own, but check out this knol by Aaron Wall for the basics. And if you want to build links, remember that it’s about building trust first.
Market and Promote Your Writing
When you start out as a new writer or blogger, only your family and friends know you’re there. No-one else, and it’s up to you to change that. That’s where marketing and promotion come in. There are dozens of ways you can promote yourself, both online and offline, but here’s what’s worked for me:
- Social media – when I started freelancing, this wasn’t even on the radar, but I now consider it an essential part of running my writing business. The people I interact with on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are friends, a supportive community and professional contacts all rolled into one. We share writing and blogging opportunities with each other, help answer technical questions and provide listening ears for triumphs and tribulations. My key tip for using social media to make your presence felt is: be present. Don’t be afraid to communicate and share – that’s what makes it social. Some of my contacts have brought me work, but that wasn’t how it started.
- Referrals & Testimonials - be obsessive about collecting feedback for your work and promote that feedback on your site and wherever it will do you most good. I have a testimonials tag on my professional blog and that’s linked in the navigation menu. When clients visit my site, they can see the last 7 pieces of feedback I got from clients. That does more to sell my writing services than anything else. I also encourage clients to pass my name on to others, which has brought me lots of new business over the years.
Choose Opportunities Wisely
When you’ve done all this, and have clients banging on the door, the final step is to be selective about what you do. Work out how much money you need to earn (make sure to keep track of it as it comes in) and which areas you feel comfortable writing about. The freelance writing community disagrees about how writers should get into writing. Some believe that you have to take low paid jobs and work your way up; others that you start as you mean to go on. I’ve done both and getting paid more is definitely better. But – and it’s a big but – if you have no experience, no one will pay you big money unless you can show you have the necessary writing skills. That’s where a professional platform and good marketing really pay off, bringing us full circle.
Over To You
I could talk about this all day, but I’ll stop here and ask you: what are your questions about getting paid to write and blog. Ask me in the comments; I promise to answer.
Sharon Hurley Hall has almost 25 years of experience writing professionally – as a journalist, an academic writer, a blogger, a ghost writer and an online copy writer. She is the author of a Kindle ebook titled Getting Started in Blogging and has been running Get Paid To Write Online since 2005 to help other writers improve and build sustainable and successful writing careers. You can also find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.