Writing nonfiction may require a little less imagination than writing fiction. But if you want to become a full-time freelance writer, you may still find yourself making it up as you go along. Fortunately, there are some tried and true strategies that can help you launch a successful freelance writing business. Here are my top three pieces of advice for nonfiction writers who want to make real money.
#1 Don’t Chase Bylines—Pursue High Paying Clients
High profile publications may seem glamorous, but well-paid opportunities for newspaper and magazine writers are scarce. Editors often have hundreds of freelancers at their disposal. Many of these eager writers are happy to create content for very low pay or for the promise of “exposure” in a well-respected venue. Even established journalists and editorial writers are being asked to write for free these days. Steep competition creates an environment that makes it tough to break into the business without doing a lot of uncompensated work.
In contrast, most business owners know few freelance writers. When they find a good writer, they share that prized contact with their peers. Much of your writing for such clients will be unattributed. However, being paid well and treated with respect brings a different kind of satisfaction. Successful small- to mid-sized companies, business-to-business (B2B) firms, and larger marketing firms are often excellent clients. You can target these prospects in a number of ways:
- Through online networking on sites like LinkedIn
- At local events such as Chamber of Commerce meetings
- Via email, sales letters, or cold calling (if you have good sales skills)
- With your own website and blog, promoted heavily on social media platforms
- On freelance bidding sites (look for first time buyers who haven’t been jaded by working with low cost providers)
#2 Don’t Write Yourself into a Corner
Have you heard that the secret to freelance success is finding a very narrow niche and sticking to it? That’s not necessarily so. You need to be willing to evolve as a nonfiction writer if you want to stay relevant. Content that’s in demand right now may no longer command a premium price in the future. As a recent example, former public relations writers have found that the going rate for a press release has dropped by hundreds of dollars in the past few years. My advice is to expand your range of writing services while focusing on a narrower cross-section of high-paying clients.
Some freelancers claim that you must advertise yourself as a specialist in a particular type of content if you want to charge top dollar prices. However, the real secret to making excellent money without working yourself to death is getting consistent, well-paying repeat and referral business. You don’t have to charge $300 per hour when almost all your working hours are billable. You can charge a respectable but affordable rate for nonfiction writing in the business world and make a good living. Even high profile freelancers who brag about making six figures a year admit they still spend 50% of their time marketing to try to win projects or find clients who actually need their services. Your business doesn’t have to operate that way. When you are a versatile writer who can take on a broad range of projects for your business clients and their peers, you can scale back your marketing efforts and focus on performing paid work.
#3 Be a Truly Creative Professional
Even though your work is nonfiction, you still have to get creative if you want to make a name for yourself as a top notch freelance provider. Your business clients need a writer who can:
- Come up with a new spin on an old topic (sometimes over and over for years on end)
- Make connections that aren’t apparent to others (this is the secret to “thought leadership”)
- Uncover audiences your client hadn’t thought to target (so they can expand their business by selling to a new demographic)
Besides reliability and good communication, creativity is one of the traits your clients will mention most often when they recommend you to others.
Finally, you should understand that clients often need a business or marketing advisor as much as they need a writer. Even companies with millions in annual revenue may just be dipping their toes into the world of online marketing. They have no idea what they are doing. If you can at least point them in the right direction, you make your writing services more valuable. Build a strong professional network. That way, you can refer clients to other freelance experts as needed and establish yourself as a trusted collaborator in the process. When clients rely on you to help their company succeed, you’ll always have plenty of work.
What steps are you taking to market your nonfiction writing skills to high paying clients? Share your tips in the comments.
About the Author
Daisy McCarty is a self-educated writer and co-founder of Freelance Text, a professional services firm that specializes in web content creation. Since transitioning out of a seven year career in Corporate Procurement in 2008, Daisy has been using her negotiating skills to navigate to the higher levels of the online writing industry. Today, she mentors informally at Professional Freelancers Network, and offers formal one-on-one consulting services to freelancers who are ready to increase their income.
Her latest book is Make Freelancing REALLY Pay: Communication and Negotiation Strategies That Take You to the Top.
You can read Daisy’s blog and get more great freelancing advice at http://makefreelancingpay.com. Connect with Daisy on Twitter or Facebook.
Photo courtesy of ddpavumba | freedigitalphotos.net
Julie Luek says
Great tips– I’ve peeked into this world a bit but admit to feeling some trepidation into pursuing it full-time. When I look through the ads for this kind of work, I often feel incredibly ignorant, not knowing about the topics or markets they want writers to pursue. Some of them seem so specialized. Perhaps I should get your book. 🙂 Thank you!
Daisy McCarty says
Hi, Julie! It’s a good idea to start with what you know, but look around for ways to connect that information to high-paying markets. I started writing HR content for consulting firms (I worked as an HR coordinator for a while, which gave me an “in”). Then, I transitioned to writing about HR software and then to emerging technologies like cloud, mobile, big data, etc. These B2B clients have proven to be very lucrative. So, if there’s anything remotely business related that you can start writing about (and researching to learn more about), that’s where you might begin.
I understand your hesitation about diving in to a freelance career. I freelanced part-time for a year while still working my 9-5 job. That gave me a lot more confidence to go full-time when I was ready. You might try something similar so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
Best of luck to you!
KIGOZI ALEX says
In fact your revelation is an eye opener to some of us who are groping in dark trying to find paying clients.Thank you,Daisy.
Nina Amir says
Glad you see it that way!
Daisy Mccarty says
Thanks, Kigozi! Here’s to a 2014 filled with well-paid work!
Alicea Jones says
Your post on turning non-fiction writing into well-paying projects is awesome. I really appreciate your perspective: focusing on high-return gigs instead of bylines. Like actors, writers generally have to accept minor roles (free or low-paying gigs) in order to build up experience and street cred. But unlike major stars, there comes a time when being paid well for quality writing is more important (especially for those of us who make our living from the craft) than seeing your name in lights or in bold letters adjacent to your lead paragraph.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and expertise Daisy.
Daisy Mccarty says
Hi, Alicea. I think it helped that the choice to freelance was more about the freedom than the fame for me. I have a passion for communication, but never had any particular desire to be a famous writer. Being able to pick my clients and decide how much to charge meant more than becoming a household name:)
The nice thing about targeting well-paying clients first is that you can stick to your guns if you are offered a shot at a high profile project later on. You aren’t desperate for money or recognition, which puts you in a better position to negotiate for a fair rate.
I’m still working and looking into ways to build a freelance writing career before I quit. Your article is very informative, but my question is, where do I find clients in the healthcare field, which is my area of expertise? These companies seem to have their own in-house staff.
Daisy McCarty says
Hi, Angela, lots of physicians with private practices are happy to hire freelancers directly. I have done business with a gastroenterologist, a fertility expert, a dermatologist, a couple of plastic surgeons, a major east coast hospital, and a couple of cosmetic dentists that way. Even if they have a marketing, SEO, or web development firm on retainer, they are often unhappy with the quality of the writing provided by those firms and want something better.
Also, web marketing firms will hire me to write content for their healthcare clients because of my experience and my ability to work well with busy physicians who have meticulous standards for their web content. It’s a pain point that I’m ideally positioned to address.
You can approach the marketing firms, the physicians themselves, or both to find an “in”. I found my way into the referral network through Elance and Guru originally, but that’s hit or miss depending on what projects are posted (and you have to vet clients carefully to find those that are willing to pay well).
Can you tell me a little more about the types of companies you’ve been approaching and what type of healthcare content you write?
I love freelancing. Not only is it great bread and butter money, but it’s encouraging to see something you wrote in print in a relatively quick turn-around time. I would encourage any writer to consider freelance writing as well. Great article with very useful tips and encouragement.
Nina Amir says
Thanks, Amanda! I enjoy freelancing as well, and journalism is how I got my start as a writer.
Daisy McCarty says
Yes, Amanda, it is pretty good for your self-esteem to see a piece of content you wrote getting lots of traffic – even if it’s just an article or a web page you wrote for a client. I wrote for five years for other people before writing a book under my own name. It really helped me feel ready, not to mention giving me enough income to take some time off to focus on my own book.