Writers sometimes forget that those who don't practice the craft daily find it exceptionally difficult to communicate in the written word, but if you are listening to this podcast episode, you already understand how to communicate in the written word.
Chances are, you know how to hit writing deadlines. You know how to research articles and how to publish them. So, rather than just doing it for someone else and letting them reap all of the rewards, and you get paid 5 cents or 10 cents per word, why not build something for yourself that can become much more valuable?
These days, here's what my writing day looks like. I usually get up and write an article for one of my content sites about a topic I'm interested in.
When I've written the article, I'll either edit it myself using some software like Grammarly or I'll give it over to another editor on the team who will fix any mistakes for me, then I'll publish it on the site. So I still feel like I'm writing regularly.
Then, I'll typically spend the afternoon assigning articles or researching articles that I want to brief to the freelance writers for the sites I run. This way, I can scale up content production for the site, but I can also continue to learn more about the topics in question because I'm researching them.
The benefit to doing all this is that writing for myself and a site that I own is ultimately more valuable and more profitable than writing for a client or somebody else's site. Freelance writing is fantastic because it can get you experience and your name out there, but when you build something you own, you can earn more and still accomplish your creative goals.
In this episode, we discuss:
Become a Writer Today Source Links for Further Information:
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If you enjoyed the show please leave a review on Apple. And if you have any questions you can find me on Twitter @BryanJCollins
Thanks for listening!
Bryan: Writers sometimes forget that those who don’t practice the craft every day find it exceptionally difficult to communicate in the written word, but if you are listening to this podcast episode, you already understand how to communicate in the written word. Chances are you know how to hit writing deadlines. You know how to research articles and how to publish them. So, rather than just doing it for someone else and letting them reap all of the rewards and you get paid 5 cents or 10 cents per word, why not also build something for yourself that can become much more valuable?
Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: For years, I worked as a freelance writer but I haven’t written for a client or worked for an editor in a long time. Hi, there. My name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast.
So over the past few years, I’ve interviewed all types of writers for this show. I’ve interviewed nonfiction authors who are earning a good living from their books, courses, and coaching. I’ve interviewed fiction authors who are earning a good living from writing a series that their readers can enjoy. I’ve also interviewed lots of freelance writers who found lots of success through the art of freelancing for profitable clients. And I used to work as a freelance writer for a number of years. All the way back in 2000, when I had a lot more hair and when I was 18, I enrolled in journalism college because I wanted to earn a living as a writer. And I spent more time in journalism college going out and getting drunk and going to parties and trying to meet women than I did actually in class and figuring out how to get a job. And to nobody’s great surprise, I just about graduated and I was lucky to do it. It was only after graduation I realized that I should have spent more time in journalism class trying to figure out how to actually get a job as a writer, because I struggled for a few years to land any freelance writing gigs.
Now, I’ve always been into the latest gadgets, gear, and tech. I’ve always been a little bit nerdy, so I was eventually able to land a freelance writing gig writing for a newspaper in Ireland reviewing everything from printers to headphones. And at the time, I thought it was great. I was finally getting paid to write and I was seeing my name in print and I was getting a bit of work as a freelance writer. That work eventually transitioned into working as a subeditor, a freelance subeditor. So if you’re not familiar with what a subeditor does, they basically work in the back room of a newspaper. They review the work of other journalists, check it for grammar, mistakes, typos, and other issues, they add headlines, they’re kind of like the last line of defense before a newspaper article goes to print. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a very good subeditor, and I remember my horror once on the afternoon when I opened up the tech supplement that I was supposed to be a subeditor for and there was a few typos in a caption that I had been supposed to fix. So, suffice to say, my subediting career didn’t last very long.
After that, I still managed to get a few freelance writing gigs, writing for local newspapers, the occasional magazine, again reviewing technology, gadgets, and gear. But at the time, Ireland was going through a painful recession, so if you were a journalist or a freelance writer, chances are you were going to lose your writing gig before the permanent writers on staff, and that’s what happened to me. And I actually spent a year or two on social welfare and as a stay-at-home dad. I eventually gave up on freelance writing altogether and I went into another career. I worked as a care worker in the health care profession. But then one day, somebody reached out to me over email and asked if I could copy write some articles for them where I would interview entrepreneurs about their businesses and how they were turning things around after the recession. It certainly wasn’t a full-time writing gig, but I did earn a couple of hundred dollars or a couple hundred euro each month from this freelance writing gig and it was good to have and a nice supplement to my income.
Now, eventually, I found work as a copywriter working for a British software company writing about accountancy software, amongst other things. I didn’t freelance much then but I still wanted to see my name in print for prestigious publications. I guess that’s the draw of freelance writing. You know, you get an opportunity to write for publications like Empire or, in my case, it was Forbes. I always wanted to write for Forbes because I thought it was a prestigious publication to write for. So, a couple of years into working as a copywriter, an opportunity came up to join the Forbes contributor program. So I applied to join the Forbes contributor program and I wrote for them for I’d say 18 months writing articles about business, leadership, productivity, and so on. The whole thing didn’t really pay that much, it was more about writing for Forbes and the opportunities that would it would unlock. And I started getting pitched by companies and by PR companies and executives who wanted to see their name in Forbes and wanted me to interview them. At first, I thought all of this was great and I was getting an opportunity to connect with people, interview them, learn from them, and also create content and get paid for doing it, and it was a way of building a name for myself. But I quickly found that the cost of freelancing for Forbes didn’t really equate to the amount of effort or work I had to put into it.
Now, to be honest, after writing for Forbes for a few months, the novelty wore off, and some 18 months into writing for Forbes, because I stuck with it for probably longer than I should have, the editor for Forbes called me up and said they were killing my column and they were letting me go. They were letting me go because my articles weren’t getting enough views and reads and, at the time, I was pretty annoyed about it, but a couple of weeks later, I actually felt pretty good about the whole thing because it actually freed up a good chunk of my week. Because, remember, I was trying to do all of this on the side with three kids, because by now I was in my late 30s, and also building Become a Writer Today, which is the business that I have.
And that actually brings me to the main kind of point for this podcast episode. If you’re working as a freelance writer, you know, it’s fine to freelance on the side to get a little bit of extra income for yourself, it’s fine to freelance if you want to build a name for yourself, and it’s fine to freelance if there’s a prestigious publication that you want to write for because it’s a writing goal. But I’d encourage you to think about building something for yourself that you own. In my case, building something for myself has meant a couple of different things over the years. For a few years, it meant writing and self-publishing books and I wrote and self-published a series of books on Amazon about everything from the craft of writing to productivity to my latest book which is called I Can’t Believe I’m a Dad. Because, to me, books have a greater sense of permanency than any article you can read online so I saw books as a type of personal creative project or a personal creative pursuit and something that’s more substantial than writing for a client or an editor.
These days, building something means building a content website, like Become a Writer Today and I’ve also set up another website recently called the NFT Brief which is all about NFTs. Now, you might not be interested in NFTs or building a site about writing, but consider what’s your area of expertise or what do you know most about and what have you written most about as a freelance writer. Because writers sometimes forget that those who don’t practice the craft every day find it exceptionally difficult to communicate in the written word, but if you’re listening to this podcast episode, you already understand how to communicate in the written word. Chances are, you know how to hit writing deadlines, you know how to research articles and how to publish them. So, rather than just doing it for someone else and letting them reap all of the rewards and you get paid 5 cents or 10 cents per word, why not also build something for yourself that can become much more valuable?
A few months ago, I caught up with Mushfiq. He’s based in Chicago and he has a lot of experience building and selling content websites. In fact, he’s built and sold so many that these days, he likes to acquire them, add some additional revenue on to content websites, and flip them for a profit. So I wanted to catch up with Mushfiq to ask him if he had any advice for a writer or a content creator who’s interested in building out their first content website.
Bryan: If I was listening to this and you’ve convinced me that I wanna start a content website but I don’t have a budget to buy one or at least a larger one, what would you say to me? What advice would you offer to get started in this business?
Mushfiq: Yeah, build a site from scratch. I build my first site from scratch and then, you know, I learned the ropes. So I would say pick a niche that interests you, let’s say, for example, gardening or something, you know, that you have an expertise in, or finance or something, and just start the website, take a course, there’s plenty of courses out there for beginners. John Dykstra’s Fat Stacks course, the AuthorityHackers course, The Affiliate Lab, anyways, there’s different courses that you can purchase. And that’s essentially you’re paying for your education, which you would do if you go to school so why not do it for starting a business? And then start up a website, understand all the intricacies of that, add content, I will say write your own content from the beginning because you can control the quality, you understand keyword research, you’ll understand how to format and structure content so that it ranks in the search engines., and after that, you know, if that’s starting to work, you can either sell that site or keep it but then you know what to look for when you go and acquire a site.
(interview snippet end)
Bryan: Now, when I say how much more valuable, well, let me give you a couple of figures to put things in context. So if you build a content website, and it can take between 12 and 24 months to do it by writing articles for it, you can sell that content website for a 37 to 47 multiple of monthly profits depending on your expenses and so on. So, if you’re earning $1,000, which is really doable from display advertising, from selling a digital product, or from some affiliate programs that you’re promoting, you could sell that website for between $30,000 and $50,000. And that’s not a bad return. And, of course, it increases exponentially because making your first $1,000 from a content website can take a little bit of time, but believe me, it’s much easier to make that second $1,000 per month and that third $1,000 per month and so on. And if you can get to five figures per month, then you have a content website that’s worth far more than a freelance writing career. And you can do all of this on the side because you have the skills to write already. What’s more, you can leverage some of the income from your freelance writing and use it to invest in your content website.
Back in 2020, I caught up with John Dykstra, who is a content publisher who has built dozens of niche content websites over the years. So, I got into specifics with him about what exactly a niche content website is and whether a writer should go broad, as in pick a general interest like writing or technology or productivity, or whether they should go deep and pick more specific niches like best running shoes or best productivity software. Here’s what he said to me.
John: A site that discusses automobiles is a niche site. Some would argue, “Well, that’s not really a niche, that’s like 50 niches inside one site.” So, it really depends who you talk to. I liken that to a new site. I tend to prefer the word content sites or online publication but whatever, niche site, that would be a niche site, I would say a hyper niche site would be something that discusses crossovers or sports cars. But some would say, “Well, yeah, that may be a niche site, a hyper niche site would be something that maybe focuses on Toyota minivans.” You keep going down and down and down, right? And when you talk to different people, you’re gonna get different ideas. For me, a niche is generally I would qualify automobiles as a niche. Some would say, “Well, that’s essentially like an entire vertical or sector or market.” Yeah, you could be right, but that’s why — the reason I think of it that way is because I tend to — if I were gonna go into the whole — let’s say I was gonna do an automobile-type site. Well, I would go at the automobile level. I might start with a Toyota crossover and do a bunch of stuff on that, or a Toyota minivan and just do a bunch of stuff on that, but the goal would be to build it out to cover many different types of cars and potentially trucks and so forth.
(interview snippet end)
Bryan: Look, I’m not knocking freelance writing altogether. In fact, I work with freelance writers every day. I couldn’t build sites like Become a Writer Today without the help of expert freelance writers who know more about topics than I do. These days, here’s what my writing day looks like. I usually get up and write an article for one of the sites about a topic that I’m interested in. So I’m kind of like an editor assigning myself an article. Then when I’ve written the article, I’ll either edit it myself using some software like Grammarly, or, if it’s a longer article and I feel like there’s mistakes in it, I’ll actually give it over to another editor on the team who will fix those mistakes for me, then I’ll publish it on the site. So I still feel like I’m writing regularly. Then, typically, I’ll spend the afternoon assigning articles or researching articles that I want to brief to the freelance writers for the sites that I run. And this way, I can scale up content production for the site but I can also continue to learn more about the topics in question because I’m writing about them as well.
The benefit to doing all of this is that writing for myself and for a site that I own is ultimately more valuable and more profitable in the long run than writing for a client or writing for somebody else’s site. Freelance writing is fantastic because it can get you experience and it can get your name out there, but when you build something you own, you can earn more, as I’ve just covered, but it can also help you accomplish your creative goals. So when I started earning money from Become a Writer Today, I was able to invest in some of my creative goals over the years. So, for example, when I recently wrote the story-driven parenting book, I Can’t Believe I’m a Dad, I wanted to take narrating the audio version to the next level. Now, typically, I’ll record a podcast like this in a home office where I write, but for this audiobook, I wanted to rent out an audio recording studio and work with a producer who would help me polish the audio and really take the production values up a notch compared to previous books that I’ve self-published. And thanks to revenue from Become a Write Today, I was able to do just that. So I’d get up in the morning, I’d assign articles for the week to the freelance writers, and then I’d spend the rest of the day in an audio studio narrating the book, safe in the knowledge that the site was continuing to be built out while I was free to work on other creative projects. That’s probably not something I could have done if I was working solely as a freelance writer.
The other thing you get when you build something is you get to write and employ yourself. Now, sure, if you’re a freelance writer, you could technically be self-employed in that you’re spending time pitching clients, invoicing, and so on, and, yes, some of those things are a chore. But when you’re truly writing for yourself, you’re writing for something that’s yours and something that will pay you greater dividends than simply a PayPal payment at the end of the week or at the end of the month.
Building something you own also enables you to connect with other creatives. So having run Become a Writer Today for several years, I get pitched all the time by people who want to appear on the show and people who have interesting writing tools and software that I should check out. Now, some of these pitches are, you know, pretty irrelevant and I ignore them, but some of them are great and I like getting in touch with writers who are doing something interesting. But what I really like is if I read an interesting book about the craft of writing, you know, I can turn some of those ideas into content for the site. I can cite the author and then I can invite them on the podcast. So this is a great way for me to learn about the craft of writing and also to build up the site as well.
Working for myself by building a site that I own also means I’m less vulnerable to the whims of other editors and other publications. So I mentioned at the start of the episode that I wrote for some national newspapers in Ireland as a freelancer for some magazines and websites, and then when the recession kicked in, I was let go like many freelancers. These days, it’s more difficult for me to be let go unless I stopped doing the work so I do need to be motivated to turn up and work on the business every day. And, yes, content websites are vulnerable to a Google algorithm update, but I don’t have to worry about chasing an editor for more work because all I have to do is fire up a keyword research tool, and these are pretty easy to use and I’d encourage every writer to learn the basics of SEO and also copywriting, figure out what their search volume for and what’s relevant to my site and start producing, writing, or briefing content about it.
And, look, if you still like freelancing, you can freelance on the side while building something that you own as well and that’s something that I did so when I was writing for Forbes, I was still building Become a Writer Today as well, but I wanted to write for Forbes for a little bit, although, granted, I stayed for too long at that particular publication.
That’s my take on freelance writing today. If you’re listening to this and you haven’t even started freelancing, I’d encourage you first to start on a platform like Medium. That’s where I wrote for a few years and many authors that I’ve interviewed for this show and writers I have interviewed for the show have found success there, particularly nonfiction writers. You can write on Medium and if you get into a regular cadence of publishing your work, you can easily earn several hundred dollars per month. And not only that, but you’re gaining a little bit of traction in terms of your personal profile or personal brand, and some of your readers may go and join your email list once you’ve set one up or they may go and visit your website once you’ve set one up. Then once you have a loyal following of readers, then you can start to increase content publication on your own site versus Medium. Because at the end of the day, Medium, like other platforms, is simply another site that’s owned by somebody else and they’re paying freelance writers, because that’s what you are when you write for Medium, to produce content for them. So rather than relying on big tech companies to give you the scraps from their table, why not build something that you own that you can write for and then work with others to take it to the next level?
Those are my thoughts on freelance writing to date. Freelance writing is fantastic. It’s something that introduced me to all sorts of creatives and to all sorts of talented writers and it also helped me build Become a Writer Today years ago, but these days, the greatest expected returns lies in building a content website or in following creative goals like publishing a book. So, ask yourself what’s most important to you and then pivot your writing life around that.
I hope you enjoyed this short episode all about the topic of freelancing. If you did, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes store or you can share the show with another writer or another friend on Overcast, Spotify, or Stitcher or wherever you’re listening. I have plenty of episodes where I’ve interviewed freelance writers on the Become a Writer Today Podcast so just go on to iTunes and search for freelancing and a few of them should come up and I’ll also include some resources in the show notes that will help you with your freelance writing career.
Finally, if you’re serious about building content websites, I don’t have a course or an offer that I’m going to pitch, I simply offer some resources which can help. I’d encourage you to check out the blog called Fat Stacks Blog by John Dykstra, who I interviewed a year or two ago on this podcast, and he’s found great success to building content websites. You should also check out the excellent podcast Niche Sites Pursuits where they talk about content websites and buying and selling those websites for a profit. I’d also encourage you to follow the Empire Flippers Blog, and at least browse their marketplace so you can see what the potential returns look like.
That’s it for this week. Next week, we’ll go back to regular interview format, but if you do have feedback about this particular type of episode, let me know on Twitter, @bryanjcollins.
Bryan: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. If you did, please consider leaving a short review on the iTunes Store or sharing the show on Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. More reviews, more ratings, and more shares will help more people find the Become a Writer Today Podcast. And did you know, for just a couple of dollars a month, you could become a Patreon for the show? Visit patreon.com/becomeawritertoday or look for the Support button in the show notes. Your support will help me record, produce, and publish more episodes each month. And if you become a Patreon, I’ll give you my writing books and discounts on writing software and on my writing courses.