A reader of this fine blog recently asked me how to earn money writing articles for the intertubes. This post is a longer response to her question.
Want to get paid to write? It’s not as sexy as it sounds, but if you create decent content that people need, you can easily earn an extra $100 a month writing articles.
You don’t need an English degree. You don’t even need a GED. You only need a solid grasp of English grammar and the ability to create readable, informative, and original content written to internet-user preferences (lots of headings, short paragraphs, bullet points, and liberal use of bold fonts and white space).
Be ready to write articles about the following topics: health, finance, business, technology, real estate, etc.
You’ll never get rich doing this, but you can easily use your spare time to supplement your other income(s).
First, who is this for? Maybe you are
- an intelligent, decent-to-excellent writer and you’d like to earn a little money from your writing on the side.
- someone who wants/needs some extra coinage but doesn’t want the wage-shackles of a part-time job.
$100 is just enough to pay a bill or two, but the money is really a side benefit. The real win is this:
earning $100 in freelance/self-employment income is empowering,
especially if you’ve always relied on a steady employer for your income. For me, I think learning it’s possible to make $100 from your writing is more important than the $100 you actually earn (though the money is nice).
And if you’re smart, you can steadily increase this figure as you learn the trade, develop your skills, and build a base of regular clients.
Here’s an added bonus: You’re getting paid to become a better writer.
Nomadic lifestyle and long-term world travel people take note: this is location-independent work. Right now I’m at a Hong Kong coffee shop. Before I started this article, I finished a draft for my Australian employer. Today, my work will have paid for two curries, a bowl of noodles, and a cup of coffee. Nice.
Personally, I’m just getting started as a freelancer. My writing income is decidedly part-time (but now that I’m free from the Korean work camp, I intend to focus on building a local client base).
However, I do know a few people who make a living as freelance writers. They tend to be jacks/jackettes of all trades, writers of articles, blogs, ebooks, sales letters, etc. Very few of them rely on one source or client for their revenue. By necessity, they are/become skilled marketers and take an entrepreneurial attitude towards their work.
One of these freelance writers is Ali Luke, a fantabulous blogger and full-time freelance writer. Besides maintaining her site Aliventures, she has written staff pieces for Problogger, Dumb Little Man, PicktheBrain, and a slew of other sites.
I asked her about the first steps people can take to get started as an online freelance writer. She said,
“Compared with breaking into traditional print publication, getting paid to write online is straightforward and fast. Larger websites, blogs and online magazines are often looking for new writers — and a great way to build up a relationship with the editors of these sites is by offering guest posts.
Sure, you don’t get paid for a guest post, but you do have a chance to show off your writing skills. Most of the blogs I’ve written for are ones which had free guest posts from me very early on. The others found me via my work on other sites — so the more you can get your name out there (whether with free or paid work), the more likely you are to be headhunted!
I still remember the excitement of my first month writing online – I made $90, I think. It was the start of a whole freelancing career. And that was almost three years ago. Today, there are even more blogs and sites looking for writers. So why not give it a go?”
If you’d like to learn more about becoming a staff blogger, Ali developed the very affordable Staff Blogging Course.
I recently purchased this course and heartily recommend it. You’ll learn the basics of finding staff writing jobs, how to apply for jobs, getting paid, and producing your content. You’ll also receive sample emails, tracking templates, and some pretty useful post templates. The best part: if you sell even 1 post for $20, you’ll have earned your money back.
Now that I’ve dropped a couple affiliate links, let’s look at three more ways you can earn your first $100 writing articles. I’ve listed these methods by ease of entry and included my totally biased and subjective opinions on each.
1. Write for a content mill.
I’ve never done this, nor do I intend to, but plenty of people write for content mills. Places like Demand Studios, Associated Content, Helium, eHow, Suite101* and sites like them pay between $3 and $15-20 for a 500 word article. Sometimes, they offer providers a revenue-sharing program based on page views. You’ll usually receive a byline.
Many of these sites allow you to choose from a massive list of very specific headlines generated in response to search requests. For example, ‘How to Change Your Dog’s Diaper.’
This is actually kind of cool, as you can leverage what you already know to write an article quickly.
Another benefit is the consistency of the work. Unlike working for private clients, these companies are almost always buying content. Here’s why I personally don’t write for content mills:
- The pay sucks. That alone is enough to avoid them. Our goal is to make $100 per month….not over the next 10 years. You’re better off doing an unpaid guest post on a high-traffic site and using that to land bigger and better gigs. Or writing for yourself and building your own brand.
- The editorial process can be arbitrary. I’ve read many reports of people submitting excellent articles written to specification but having them rejected for no clear reason.
- The ad-sharing royalties based on page views sounds alluring, but the risk is too great for me. When you trade off the rights to your work for the promise of future performance payment, you’re basically crossing your fingers and hoping that the content company doesn’t go out of business, restructure, change its policy, or change owners. What happens to all those revenue sharing deals if a company shuts its doors?
These sites make sense if you’re able to bang out a clean and tight 500 word article in 30 minutes off the top of your head (read: no research) or you need a confidence-building exercise. I’ve read a few bloggers who are passionate defenders of the content mill model, but even they’ll admit it’s not for most people.
It’s up to you, really. Many content mill writers report that, once they learn the formatting requirements, streamline their writing process, and include plenty of SEO juice, they can earn a decent hourly average.
If you try a content mill and it doesn’t work for you, the worst that can happen is you’ll trade a few hours of your life for latte money. Plus, you’ll have some articles for your portfolio.
*If I was going to write for a content mill, I’d go with Suite101. I have a friend who is pretty happy with them, especially the editorial feedback. Based on a quick bit of research, they have a decent revenue-sharing program.
2. Job Bid Sites
Odesk, Freelancer, Elance, are all job-bid sites. As a service provider, you set up a profile and bid on jobs posted by employers. If your bid is accepted then you have a job. Pretty simple…and awesome, if you know what you’re doing. Unfortunately, this is usually ghostwriting work, so you won’t receive a byline.
In my opinion, oDesk is the best job bid site for people seeking freelance writing work, so I’ll focus on this. I’ve used this site both to buy and sell services.
On bid sites, buyers set the prices, sometimes as low as $1/article. (These people are bottom feeders who will receive the scraped/spun/plagiarized content the deserve. Ignore them.) A majority of buyers offer about $4-5 per article. While low, this is an okay rate for someone outside the English-speaking Western market.
Remember that this is a global marketplace. You’re competing with highly educated Filipinos, Pakistanis, Indians, and others. They’ll work for wages that are sub-minimum wage in the West but decent-to-excellent by local standards.
How do you work for more than $5/article?
I’m sure I’ll take some heat for this, but here it is: if you were born in a Western, English-speaking country, use this as a selling point. You are a native English speaker. The buyers who want quality will almost always hire a native speaker, and they’re willing to pay a ‘premium’ price.
Being a native speaker of English is a selling point.
Why? You’ve used English all your life. Assuming you can actually write, your articles will sound more natural, and will be judged as higher quality than someone who speaks English as a second language.
(If you’re not a native speaker but still want to charge premium rates, you’ll need an excellent portfolio, top test scores, and of course perfect grammar.)
However, being fluent isn’t enough. Millions of Westerners can barely string together a sentence, so you’ll need to prove that you’re worth your rate. To do this, you’ll need to put together a portfolio and take a few tests.
Your portfolio should include at least two to four articles. Ideally, you’ll be able to link to several articles (with your byline). If you have no articles online, head over to a content mill, write a few 500 word articles, and use those in your a portfolio.
I landed the first job I bid on because I sent the buyer a link to this fine blog. He liked it, and I’m still working with him. (Thanks for the work, Ian!)
Definitely take as many tests as you can. First you’ll have to take a provider readiness test, but everyone takes this and it shows that you can follow instructions.
Start with the Basic English skills test, then the word usage and spelling tests. The higher your scores, the better a buyer will feel about using you, especially if you have no work history. (If your scores suck, you can choose to make them private and retake them in a month).
With the following in place, start bidding on jobs. You should aim for no less than $20 per 500 word article. With this, you only need to write 4 or 5 articles per month to reach the $100 mark.
3. Scour the classifieds and job boards.
Craigslist is the most popular classified ad / job board, but you can also find work on www.online-writing-jobs.com and the Problogger Job Board. For someone getting started writing articles for the intertubes, this may be the most difficult way to earn your first $100.
There are plenty of good gigs out there, but you’ll need some experience to land them.
I’ve pitched to plenty of employers on Craigslist with little luck. Most won’t respond because they’re flooded with applicants. Sometimes they’ll ask for a rate lower than the advertised rate. One guy asked me to ‘write for free to build an online reputation’ even though the posted price was $50/article. Even worse, his site was brand new, and a traffic estimator showed he had barely 10 hits per day.
I do recommend scouring the job boards because you’ll get an idea of the kind of articles buyers want. Send a few pitches if you want. You might even find a cool employer or three.
A word of caution: when working with individual employers, you have no guarantee of payment. You have to establish trust. Never agree to a big job without vetting your employer first. Do a few small jobs for them and see how well you work together.
Of these options, I believe that oDesk is the best for an entry-level content writer with no experience or track record (like guest posts or a blog). The oDesk system is straight-forward, there’s plenty of online support, and you’re guaranteed to be paid (as long as you finish your work contract). Payment tracking is automatic, which I believe makes it easier to hit your goal of earning $100 month writing articles.
Below you’ll find some general tips as well as an action plan for getting started on oDesk.
- Give each client your best work. Take your time and do multiple drafts. Give your first job your all and don’t worry about the hourly rate. It will suck. Consider it underpaid training.
- Leave your ego at the door. Follow the job description as closely as you can. You’re not writing about matters of the heart or the sound of wind rustling the lotus blossoms.
- In your initial bid, be clear that you’ll provide one-to-two rounds of revisions.
- Awlays proorfeed yorr wrok. Duh.
- Use a mind map to organize your thoughts & research. This will reduce your drafting time (and increase your real hourly rate).
- A note on taxes. I’m not a tax professional, but U.S. citizens only need to report self-employment income after they net $400 per year. If you fine readers would like more on the business side of writing articles, contact me and I’ll work on putting something together.
Action plan for Odesk
- Register for oDesk and fill in your basic profile. For your bio, make it clear that you are a native English speaker willing to write content articles.
- Take a few English usage tests on oDesk. Before you test, spend a couple hours reviewing grammar on Writing Forward (LINK). Don’t underestimate them.
- Put together your portfolio. If you don’t have a web presence, you’ll need to create a few articles. Consider creating guest posts or content mills. Set up a simple website in Tumblr, link to your posts, and call that a portfolio.
- Start bidding on jobs. If you receive a job, give yourself extra time to meet your deadline. After you finish, feed yourself chocolate in order to establish a behavioral reward system. (hehe).
Over to You
Have you earned any money as a freelance writer? If so, how? If you’ve used oDesk, what is your experience with it? Do you have any tips or warning for people just getting started? Drop a line in the do-follow comments and let me know (plus get a free backlink!).
Photo credit: jmrosenfeld