P8's Guide to Being a Well-Paid Content Writer

Discussion in 'Newbie Section' started by potentialeight, Feb 12, 2016.

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  1. potentialeight

    potentialeight Member

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    Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Necessary Writing Skills
    3. Necessary People Skills
    4. How to Present Your Work
    5. How to Present Your Invoices
    6. The Best Text Editor to Use
    7. Other Tools

    1. Introduction

    I have a case study/journal type of thing going here at Apex Forum where I'm helping someone to build out a writing business from scratch. She's going for the "people who want good content and good service without going broke in the process" demographic, and she's currently accepting new clients at $0.04/word, so if you'd like to email her at msmerriam@msmerriam.com, have at it. She's a good writer who has all of this shit covered that I'm going to talk about here because I've trained her personally.

    In the case study thread, I was asked the following:
    I can't speak to the legalities of structuring your business in different ways since I don't have a fancy LLC or something (though I'll probably need to structure my business differently in 2016). However, what I can speak to is the content writing game and "freelancing" in general and what I've done to see the level of success that I have seen doing this full-time for the past four or five years.

    2. Necessary Writing Skills

    You need excellent grammar and spelling, but you also need to be able to present information in a way that doesn't sound like you have a stick up your ass. Most people have much worse grammar than they think, especially if you should be trying to write according to a particular set of style guidelines. If you can't point out dependent clauses, independent clauses, the differences between a phrase and a clause, adverbial clauses and so on, then you need to step your game up regardless of how good of a writer you think you might be.

    Now that I think about it, most people don't have any idea what style guidelines are. Style guidelines tell you things like whether you should write out the number nine or just type 9. According to AP style, you would write "nine" except in certain situations like if 9 percent of people actually knew what AP style was (Associated Press).

    I suggest people who want to get going in this writing thing learn Associated Press style, and the easiest way to do that is to purchase a Associated Press Stylebook and read it. People who read this are going to blow off this suggestion anyway, but it is what it is. This should be your default style unless a client asks for something different specifically.

    3. Necessary People Skills

    There's a really easy way to set yourself apart from the majority of the competition in the content writing game: Be reliable. For some reason, people seem to think it's easier to make up a bunch of excuses and complicated lies than to just do the damn work on time. If something does come up where you're going to have to push back a deadline, let your client know as soon as you do. It's pretty simple stuff, but the vast majority of people just don't do it, so that's an easy way to gain a repeat client.

    Have an email address that's used only for your work and nothing else. Have a folder for each client, and set up a filter so that their emails go directly into their respective folder. This will save you a ton of time and issues searching through emails, and it reflects well on you when you can quickly look back at your previous correspondence with a client without coming across as a disorganized mess.

    Be responsive and do not let your clients just sit around wondering what's going on with you. If you get an email asking for an order, even if it's from a regular client, make sure to email them back and let them know that you received their order. Give an idea of when you expect to have it ready while you're at it. It's something that seems small, but it will help you to avoid miscommunication issues that can shake your clients' trust in you.

    Present yourself in at least a somewhat professional way. I'm going to give you two examples of emails that are trying to get the same point across, and you tell me which one you think is going to inspire the most confidence:

    While you're at it, get all of that goofy shit out of your email signature. It doesn't make you look professional, and it just makes you look like an insecure douchebag. If your client needs to see your signature to know your website, phone number, Skype and whatever else, then you're doing it wrong.

    4. How to Present Your Work

    There should be an understanding ahead of time of how you're going to format and present your work. For my own clients, some want just plain text with no markup, some want headers of some type before every single paragraph, some want meta titles/descriptions, some want you to use HTML for headers/paragraphs/lists, etc. What you need to do ahead of time is make it clear how the client wants the work formatted.

    Typically I just tell the client something like, "Alright so I'll be delivering this in text files with a meta title and description using <p>, <h2>, <h3> and list HTML tags. Let me know if this is good or if I should format differently," when I'm asking them about their order. Once you have an established way to format for a certain client, you don't need to keep asking them over and over. Instead, just make sure you keep notes about what each client wants, and they'll appreciate you delivering it exactly how they want it.

    The way you name your files is pretty important. If you have a group of 15 different items that you're working on for a single order, my suggestion is to name them something like "Client Name - 01 - Name of the Item You're Writing.txt" and just change the numbers to 02, 03, 04, etc. for each item in the set. Then when you deliver an invoice, you need to number things the same in the list so that it's really easy for your client to see exactly where everything is. If you keep this list in the order they give you the items to write, it makes things a lot easier for both you and your client.

    One more thing: If you have more than about five items to send to your client, make sure that you put them all into a zip file instead of sending an email that has a ton of attachments. That's a massive pain in the ass to deal with, and the less you are a pain in the ass, the better of a relationship you're going to have with your client.

    5. How to Present Your Invoices

    If you're sending informal invoices, then my suggestion is to keep a spreadsheet of your work and just copy/paste the items you're billing for into the email. Most email clients and platforms will just create a simple table based on that information, and it presents it really well with a minimal amount of fuss. Each row should have the name of the item, the word count and the cost. After the table, you can just include a line with a total like, "This comes to a total of X words at $X/word for a cost of $X."

    Some clients will require more formal invoices. You can create a simple template using Google Docs, LibreOffice or OpenOffice and export it to a PDF, or if they want you to send an invoice via PayPal, you can create a template for that as well. You don't have to go all-out and try to look like some tryhard over it, but you also don't want to look like a fifth grader did it either.

    Make sure that you're clear about how you accept payment from the very beginning. My recommendation is that you have at *least* two ways to get paid. The most common option in today's market is PayPal, but Skrill and Neteller are also a couple of good options. Directly on your invoice, whether via email or PDF, include how your client can pay you. Make sure you list every option they have.

    6. The Best Text Editor to Use

    You need a reliable text editor that will give you a live word count. My suggestion for a free program is LibreOffice Writer, but you need to do a few things to it:

    Go Tools -> Options -> Load/Save -> General and you'll see an option for "Always Save As" that you should set to "Text" so that you don't accidentally save as some other document type.

    Set your font face and size to what you want it, and then remove all of the toolbars (but not the status bar).

    Go View -> Web Layout to get rid of the white bars around the edges for the margins, and go uncheck View -> Text Boundaries to get rid of those dumb little marks on the edges of the document that show where the text is going to go to.

    Finally, File -> Templates -> Save As Template and save the current document as a template, and then go in and make that template your default. That will make sure these settings load each time you run LibreOffice Writer.

    7. Other Tools

    You need to be organized, or things are going to turn into one hell of a mess as soon as you get multiple clients going. You need a spreadsheet that keeps up with everything that you've written so that you can track your earnings and have easy access to the information you need to create invoices (see the section on that above). A second tab in that spreadsheet can also hold lists of exactly what you're supposed to be writing on an item-by-item basis, and that's good for keeping up with what you've written and what you haven't. Note that it's stupid to try to keep all of this in your head instead of having a record of it somewhere because you'll eventually screw up and either miss something or write something twice, and you'll feel like an idiot.

    You also need somewhere to keep your notes for each item you're writing. I suggest doing that in Microsoft OneNote (which is free now) or some other similar application where you can just copy/paste in text, images and whatever else.

    Have a stopwatch for your work as well, and record how long it takes you to write each item in your earnings spreadsheet. This will help you to calculate your hourly for when you're actually doing the writing, and though that won't be your true hourly including time spent researching, having a stopwatch on you will help you to focus a lot better (and I mean a lot better) and stick with what you're doing instead of getting distracted.

    You will probably also find it helpful to have a program that either turns off access to the Internet for a period of time (like Freedom) or at least some browser extension(s) that will limit the websites you can view. This will help you to avoid getting "sucked in" to distractions instead of getting your ass to work. Even a 25 percent reduction in the time spent screwing off translates to a big boost in your productivity, so don't turn your nose up at the idea.
     
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  2. dzianis

    dzianis Moderator Staff Member

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    Great post, thanks! Writing well is an invaluable skill.

    As someone who purchases (and writes) content often, I'm all for plain text editors like Notepad or Notepad++. Each time I get my content in a Word document I cry a little inside because before posting it to the website I need to substitute every quotation mark for a regular " and fix other Word formatting "peculiarities". Probably not a deal breaker but still a preference I know some other people share too.
     
  3. potentialeight

    potentialeight Member

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    I usually only use LibreOffice to write the content, and I use Notepad++ afterwards for everything else like submitting content to a CMS.

    In LibreOffice, it's really easy to turn off the stupid "smart" quotes and other dumb crap like that. I also always save in a regular text format. I can't stand getting it in some flavor of Word and then having to go through and edit like 20 things for each file, so I make sure my clients don't have to either.
     
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  4. cardine

    cardine Administrator Staff Member

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    It always amazes me at the lack of professionalism in a lot of the independent contracts you work with for things like this. There are so many turn offs that people trying to run a one man business do: emails coming from personal emails, fluid deadlines, lack of any attempt of professionalism in communications... all things that make it seem like the person doing the work doesn't view what they are doing as a real job or a business. It's especially off putting because none of those things are particularly hard to do. If you aren't willing to put in a couple seconds making sure the easy things are done professionally, why would I believe you are going to take any time to make sure that anything else is going to be done professionally either?
     
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  5. potentialeight

    potentialeight Member

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    This is exactly it.
     
  6. ...

    ... Established Member

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    How much money can a well paid writer make without contracting? I can only write 1000 words an hour or so and much slower if I needed perfect grammar and everything. So that means $80k is the top you could make with this assuming no time was made with finding clients or anything like that. Is my math right or can you get more efficient or charge more than that?
     
  7. potentialeight

    potentialeight Member

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    You aren't giving enough information for anyone to know where your $80k number is coming from, and I don't know what you mean by "without contracting." If you're writing web content in this capacity, then you're acting as an independent contractor.

    With that having been said, let's suppose for the sake of discussion that we're providing web-style content writing at 1,000 words/hour for 30 hours/week and that we're working for 50 weeks/year. We'll write 1.5 million words in a year at this rate. That would mean you're making $15k/year for every $0.01 per word that you charge.

    Yes, it's possible to get up to the dizzy heights of 2,000 words/hour and maintain good quality, and yes, it's possible to get paid anywhere in the range of $0.04/word to $0.08/word relatively easily (and higher if you put the work in) if you consistently bring quality content, if you're consistent with how you handle your clients and if you're in an industry where high-quality content is valued.

    Also keep in mind that we're not writing glossy magazine copy here, and we're not writing sales letters.
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2016
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  8. ...

    ... Established Member

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    For my question I wanted to know the most that someone could make writing content in this style.

    I got $80k from $40 an hour. I got $40 an hour from $0.04 per word and 1000 words written each hour.

    I meant getting other writers to work for you when I said contracting. By yourself you can't make more than the hours you work.

    If you can do 2000 words an hour and get paid $0.08 each word then you could make $320k. That is not bad at all for a max you can make but I think you would have to be on amphetamines to do that every day.
     
  9. potentialeight

    potentialeight Member

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    Keep in mind that the idea isn't to do this as a full-time job indefinitely. Ideally, someone would use what they learn through specializing in an industry to make more money writing, build their own properties, etc. and have their own endgame.
     
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  10. xepa

    xepa Member

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    Do you still write content for money and if so are you in the process of moving onto your endgame?
     
  11. potentialeight

    potentialeight Member

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    I do, and I am.
     
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  12. potentialeight

    potentialeight Member

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    To elaborate on this, I should point out that I think a good way to go (but not the only way to go) for a content writer is to specialize in writing for a particular industry or set of industries. This has the benefit of speeding up your writing times and increasing the amount you can charge per word for your expertise, so your hourly shoots up quite a bit. Aside from that, you also get to build relationships with people in that particular industry, and you can eventually apply what you learn to developing your own sites, launching your own products, expanding the services you're able to offer, etc.
     
  13. Anaconda

    Anaconda Established Member

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    Is any of this realistic? There are some things you simply cannot do every hour of the day. This assumes you have a constant flow of articles to be written and that you know about everything that anyone would need an article for. The reality is that you would need to research at least some, if not the majority of times. That's time consuming, you need to find info, read it, understand it and then write about it. Eventually you would have a broad knowledge of many things but that could take months or years to achieve. I estimate overall that you'd lose at least 20% of your time to research - if it was me I'd lose 50%.

    To get the best money you need to do it yourself rather than working through and agency. So you need to market, deal with clients; find out exactly what they want, explain what you offer etc, send the article and bill them. More time.

    Don't forget the added expense of the amphetamines :) - probably not a legit business expense either. Time to find the dealer, go to the bank for cash, meet them in a dark alley ... more time out of your day.

    This works better - eventually less time on research, not so stressful. A better business model but you still need to get that start and get the reputation as a great writer for on-going business.
     
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  14. Anaconda

    Anaconda Established Member

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    @potentialeight - great thread. OP has really useful real world info. :thumbs up:
     
  15. potentialeight

    potentialeight Member

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    I'll offer some bullet points:
    • To answer the bold in plain language: Yes, it's realistic to make six figures while working less than 40 hours/week, including research, accounting, dealing with clients, acquiring new clients and other admin work, as a web content writer. No, someone reading this isn't going to start making $2,000+/week without putting the work in.
    • Most people won't do it for some of the following reasons (which are analogous to building any business):
      • They don't want to struggle at the beginning to build up a reputation and client base.
      • They don't want to put the work in to be able to write faster with a higher degree of accuracy.
      • They would rather spend their time looking for excuses not to start than looking for ways to win.
    • I've written everything in this thread with the goal of maximizing earnings while minimizing stress and minimizing the time spent working. A few examples of how to make this work:
      • Learn to type faster with a higher degree of accuracy.
      • Focus on acquiring clients from a specific industry that you become an expert on.
      • Build a reputation and put the time in marketing so that you stop having to chase clients and have them come to you instead.
    • People can either put energy into looking for excuses, or they can put energy into getting it. Whatever they choose is up to them.
    I have a blog post from this week that's pretty relevant and explains a number of things that people can do in general to maximize their productivity that's not writing-specific, but it might be useful to someone reading this thread: http://www.potentialeight.com/how-i-stay-organized-and-implement-gtd

    I could probably write an addition to this thread that includes things like what software to use, what tools to use and how to track your work to maximize your productivity.

    Edit: I just want to throw out an easy way to find clients to solicit to. Get a list of companies with affiliate programs in your industry, and find their Twitter profiles for those affiliate programs. Pitch to the people who follow those Twitter profiles.
     
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2016
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  16. Anaconda

    Anaconda Established Member

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    My questions were more directed at @... , I can see you have it totally under control. @... looked to have some (what I thought) unrealistic expectations of how many focused hours you could spend writing.

    I guess it never occurred to me that you could make decent money writing articles. I've used Fiverr and oDesk in the past and I doubted you could make a real living on Fiverr. Jumping to conclusions like this closes my eyes to the potential.

    I've run businesses, brick and mortar and online, so I'm aware of time and effort required in the beginning of any business. I wonder if it's something I could do for a couple of reasons
    • I love researching and I easily get lost in interesting research for hours. It's a personality flaw :)
    • Building websites taught me that I'm not that fond of working with clients. Apart from being a bit of a hermit, clients used to drive me bonkers because they couldn't make decisions and had unrealistic expectations. But .... maybe this is completely different.
    • My time management is rubbish although I used to be really good. Just laziness in not getting my shit together really. Setting the habit requires effort but once you have the habit life is so much easier.
    Have you tried Dragon Naturally Speaking - voice to text - for added speed? It's quite accurate although it doesn't suit everyone.

    Great post on your blog. I see you focus in three 1 hour bursts on your writing each day - even I could do that !! The question is more about if I'd be any good at it, I'd need to do some serious research on 'how to write' first. Also the time and effort required to get started and find the clients - you've given a good tip on somewhere to start.
     
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  17. ...

    ... Established Member

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    I can write college essays faster than that... under 5 hours for a 5,000 word essay and that is even with research. I couldn't spend 40 hours a week at that rate but I could mayybe get close if the money was good enough.
     
  18. Anaconda

    Anaconda Established Member

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    Kudos to you. I don't think I'd have the focus required. Certainly worth having a go at especially if you enjoy that type of work. This forum has been a real eye openers as to possibilities - loving it :)
     
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  19. NNN

    NNN Member

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    I agree with P8's approach - professionalism goes a very long way in the writing industry.

    The majority of my current client stable came from craigslist, and when I started out on CL I was converting clients at like 50-75% or something absurd.

    It was probably due to the quality of my website and my self-presentation. Later on, when I went to CL to hire my own writers, I saw how amateur most of the responses were. Many didn't have portfolios, published work, or anything else that indicated they knew what they were doing. One girl's writing sample was part of a vampire romance novel she was working on.

    My opinions:
    • I think an email signature makes you look more professional. Signature-less emails or "sent from my iPhone" hardly convey professionalism. Cardine made a good point about the personal email thing - when johnny.boy83@gmail sends you a pitch it looks pretty amateur.
    • Sales copy is one way to move up in the business writing industry. Writing for corporations is money. If content is your game, then shoot for value-added skills like content marketing and content strategy and SEO. Focusing on niches, like P8 said, is another solid move.
    • A content-rich website with portfolio items & testimonials & high quality clients will help you stand out against the crowd.
    • I use Google Docs for everything now. It's easy to share Google Drive folders, keep everything organized, and collaborate with the clients without having docs floating around through email.
    • Regarding speed, I don't go as fast as I could or as fast as some people say they do. Quality trumps quantity. Research more, pack information & your "writer's voice" into a piece to make it real writing...not just words on a page. Go too fast for too long and fatigue and burnout set in. Also, the better work you produce, the more you can put on your resume.
    • I just do PayPal invoices...tried other accounting software but had several failures.
    • To get in with corporate clients an LLC is the way to go. If you're not into sales copy or content marketing or business building, it's probably unnecessary.
    • I don't charge per word, but use "word range" or "word minimum" when I write content.