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How to Become a Freelance Writer and Quit Your Full-Time Job

how-to-become-a-freelance-writer-Typewriter

If you are tired of your time and your income being tied together, you might have considered a career as a freelance writer. But can anyone actually make money writing? You can, and I do. I finally quit my full-time gig and now work for myself. I’ll show you how to become a freelance writer and quit your full-time job.

Many people dismiss freelance writing, considering it not a real career. But a career is something you get paid to do. And if you can crack how to become a freelance writer and get paid a decent amount for it, guess what? You can have a career as a writer.

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How to Become a Freelance Writer

You can begin to make money writing by starting your own blog and monetizing it. The problem is, this takes some time. You often hear about “overnight successes” in blogging or lots of other careers, but that is rare, very rare.

It’s much much faster to get someone else to pay you to blog. That’s how I get paid to blog. You still need to start a blog though. Your blog is your personal portfolio. It’s a way to show potential clients what you can do.

What’s Your Passion?

how-to-become-a-freelance-writer-passion

It doesn’t matter. I enjoy writing about money because it helps people, but I wouldn’t call it my passion.

If you want to make money freelance writing, find out what people are paying for. If one of those things happens to be something you’re passionate about, great!

But telling people, they will automatically make money by following their passion is bullshit.

So spend some time on freelancing sites and see what topic people are hiring bloggers to write about and start a blog about that. The more niche your topic, the better.

If you want to blog about vegetarian cooking, guess what? A million other people already did it, and there are a handful of big, well-known sites gobbling up all the traffic. A Google search for those words brings up 15,900,000 results.

You can still write about vegetarian cooking but how about vegetarian cooking for children or for menopause? Those bring up 2,800,000 and 802,000 respectively.

The more niche you are, the faster you can make an impact.

You don’t need to be an expert on a topic though. Here’s a secret. I didn’t know hardly anything about personal finance when I started writing for LMM.

I listened to tons of podcasts, read tons of articles and books on the subject and learned as I went.

how-to-become-a-freelance-writer-Typewriter

You’re Not a Techy

Great, you have your topic all picked out, and you’ve been educating yourself about it. Now you need to design your site and get it up on the web. But you don’t know how to do either of those things.

You don’t have to be a web designer or developer to start a blog. Your grandmother could make a blog using WordPress. A staggering 30% of all websites were made with WordPress.

WordPress offers hundreds of templates to choose from, and you can customize them with your branding. And WordPress is free to use. If you want to use some of the premium plugins, there is a cost but to build your site is free.

You need to host your site too. You can do that at HostGator starting for just $2.75 a month, and HostGator is compatible with WordPress.

Engage Your Audience

get paid to blog audience

Let’s be honest. Personal finance is not the most scintillating subject. It’s a vital one, but it can be pretty dry. But if I do say so myself, LMM takes a dry subject and makes it funny and interesting while providing easy to follow, actionable advice that will improve your finances.

That’s what you want to strive for no matter what subject you choose to blog about. Use your own voice. I write as I speak (that’s why there are so many swear words in my articles) and it makes my posts more conversational.

No one wants to be lectured to no matter how much you know about a subject. Write to your audience in the same voice you would speak to them.

Don’t be afraid to get personal. People want to hear your story; they want to hear about your mistakes and your triumphs. It makes you relatable.

Your blog should teach people something and improve their lives in some way whether it’s teaching them to be better with their money or showing them how meditation can reduce stress and improve sleep.

Keep a Mix

LMM sometimes takes a deep dive into complex subjects. The back door Roth episode comes to mind. I think I had to listen to that one three or four times before I understood it. But that is good for the audience. I have to understand a subject enough to explain it to other people who might not grasp a subject immediately.

So I sort of dumb it down for myself because I know that if I can understand something, pretty much anyone else will be able to understand it too.

But the core of LMM are people who might very well flunk Personal Finance 101. Those are the people who helped us build LMM and the ones who have been with us since the beginning have come a long way. Now they can understand concepts like backdoor Roth strategies.

But new listeners and readers find us every day, and we never want to forget that. Most people come to us not knowing much.

So while we cover high-level stuff for those who have been with us for a long time and for new people who have a pretty high level of personal finance information already, we also continue to cover the basics.

Whatever subject you cover, you should strive for the right mix of low, medium, and advanced information for your readers.

Don’t Break Trust

Once you start to get some recognition, you will be inundated with offers to promote and advertise products and services. And some of the proposals will be very lucrative. And some of them will be for sketchy products and services.

Now, you can take those offers and recommend these things to your readers. And you can make a lot of money. But if you are pitching things that are not genuinely good for your audience, the trust you have built up with them is going to dissipate and fast.

Don’t throw away the trust of your audience for a quick buck because you will not get it back and you will have damaged your reputation and your brand.

LMM would have been profitable a lot sooner if we had accepted every offer that came our way but we only promote and advertise things we trust and believe in.

A quick buck wasn’t worth taking advantage of and abusing our listener’s trust. We want our listeners to trust us and building that trust will grow your blog and your income in a sustainable way.

Consistency is Key

get paid to blog consistency

Your blog is going to be your portfolio. You want to put out consistent, high-quality material. But you have a full-time job, a family, and a social life. How can you meet that demand?

Before you launch your site, write a few weeks worth of posts. The minimum you want to publish is once a week. So write a month or two’s worth of posts and then drip them out.

This is what we strive for at LMM. It doesn’t always happen, but it makes everyone’s lives easier when it does. Part of the reason you want to get paid to blog is for the flexibility it gives you if you can turn it into your full-time gig.

None of us wants to work on LMM when we are on vacation, but all of us have.

Get Seen

get paid to blog get seen

You need to get eyeballs on your site. Easier said than done, but there are ways to drive traffic to your site.

SEO

How do you get people to read your blog? SEO which stands for Search Engine Optimization. You can go Mariana Trench deep on this and Andrew and Laura have. When LMM started, we all podcasted or wrote about pretty much whatever we wanted as long as the topic could be tied to money.

But now the topics are chosen primarily based on SEO research. You can be the world’s best blogger, but if no one is searching for the subject you write about, you’re shouting into the void.

You type a search into Google. Let’s say you’re searching for “chicken breast recipes.” Google has a crawler that scours the internet for content based on what you are searching for. The information brought back is indexed. The index gets fed through an algorithm that matches that data with your search.

There is a lot that goes into it which you can see in this chart.

get paid to blog SEO

You want your site to rank high in those searches. Use Google Analytics to do keyword research. It shows how many people search for that keyword and you want your site to rank high when they do.

Keywords have a sweet spot. If too many people are searching, you have no hope of ranking. There is already an authority site sweeping up all that traffic. If too few people are searching, it’s not worth your time to write on that subject.

So find the sweet spot keywords for your topic and write content based on them. This all sounds confusing, and it is. You can certainly go into the weeds learning about all this and you should. But there is a little shortcut.

Wait, What?

I know. SEO and keywords is a lot to figure out. You want to get started right away! There is a WordPress plugin called Yoast that will show you if your articles are SEO friendly.

There is a little box at the right that will give you a red, orange, or green check. Red means SEO is bad, orange is okay, and green is good. You always want to make sure your posts have a green check.

At the bottom of the page, you can see what improvements need to be made to go from red or orange to green.

There is a similar box for readability. It works the same way the SEO box and suggestions work, and you always want a green check in this box too.

Finding an Audience

While SEO is an essential part of finding an audience, it’s not enough. You are going to have to do some old-fashioned hustling too.

Who are the influential bloggers in your niche? Make a list of the top five or ten and start engaging them. Don’t just cold pitch a guest post. They don’t know who you are so why would they let you write for them?

I can tell you they won’t because we get lots of cold pitches for guest posts on LMM and they go straight to the trash.

You have to build some kind of relationship with these people. Post thoughtful, engaging comments on their posts, reach out to them on social media, meet them at conferences. Once they do know who you are, then you can approach them about things like guest posting or cross promoting.

Ask if you can interview an influential blogger for your blog. This is a kind of fast-forward button to building a relationship because most people will be flattered by the request.

get paid to blog influencers

Another good way to connect with influential bloggers is to do an article where a few of them offer something to your readers, their favorite piece of advice on your topic or their favorite useful tool for your topic.

People like being asked for their opinion and expertise and because all you are asking is for a quick two or three lines; it’s fast and easy for them to participate.

Let your readers do some of the work for you. Be sure to add social share buttons on your blog. Don’t overdo it though. There are endless places to share content, but no reader is going to click twelve share buttons.

Just add the big ones, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Pinterest.

Building a Community

It should be easy for readers to contact you. Clearly publish your email address and encourage people to write with questions and suggestions.

And be sure to answer reader emails. As your audience grows, this can seem like a full-time job in itself, but it’s worth it. It helps build a relationship between you and the reader.

You should provide a comments section on your blog. This is where your audience can engage with you and with one another.

Comments, or lack of them, can show you what your audience is interested in and will provide feedback, some of it good and some of it bad.

Try not to take criticism personally but as long as it’s constructive, learn from it.

To encourage comments, ask a question at the end of the post. If it’s about a specific tool or product, ask readers what their experience with it has been. If it’s advice on a subject, ask readers what advice they have.

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Monetize Your Blog

Even if you just started your blog as a hobby, it would be nice to make some money from it.

While it is faster to make money blogging by blogging or writing for other people, it is still worthwhile to monetize your blog, and there are a few ways you can do it.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing means putting a link to a product or service in a blog post. The link is specific to you, and when a reader clicks on that link and buys the product or service, you get paid.

Sponsors

Sponsors pay you to put an ad on your site. The ad can be a sponsored review, a link in the sidebar, or a guest post.

Displayed Ads

Advertisers pay for ads on your site. For each click, you earn money.

Sell Something

Andrew wrote an ebook called Mastering Mint about getting the most out of Mint, the budgeting tool. The book didn’t generate tons of income, but it did provide some passive income.

Some bloggers sell courses, but that is a lot more work and a harder sell than an ebook. You would need to be a real authority on something before other people are willing to pay you to teach them so while it can be done, it’s not likely to happen until your blog and voice are well established.

A Trickle Here, a Trickle There

For most bloggers, there is no one massive source of income that allows them to blog full time. Rather, there are several small trickles of income from various sources; affiliate marketing, selling a product, displayed ads, etc.

Focus on building as many income sources on your blog as you can. Whether you are a blogger or not, we should all have more than one income stream.

Blogging for Others

get paid to blog freelance

So you see the importance of having your own blog and how that is one way to make money blogging. But it isn’t what I did. I know a lot about it because it’s what LMM did, but I still don’t have a blog although I do have a website.

Blogging for someone else is the lazy person’s alternative. I was able to cash in on all of the hard work Andrew and Laura put into making LMM a success and turn blogging for others into my full-time career.

This is how I did it.

Ass-Backward

I’ve told the story before, but here it is again for those new to LMM. Ass backward is how I became a blogger. I turned 38 and didn’t know anything about money and thought, “Damn, I’m not getting any younger or cuter so I should probably do something about that.”

I love podcasts, so I searched on Reddit for personal finance podcasts. That’s how I found LMM. I started listening and enjoyed it. It was funny and informative and made what to me is a boring subject, interesting and engaging.

Andrew encouraged anyone with questions to email, so I did. I asked how I could play catch up since I was so late to investing. We started emailing back and forth about that, and he and Matt thought I had a good voice.

Andrew was in Hoboken, Matt was in Philly, and I was in Manhattan. Matt was going to drive in, and they asked me to meet them in a bar, where else? We met at a bar in Tribeca, they asked me to start writing show notes, and that’s how I got my start.

At first, I just wrote show notes that were around 300 words and just basically summed up the podcast topic. Eventually, that became two articles a week and show notes that can stand alone as an article.

Now I also help answer the dozens of emails we get a week and one-off projects like re-writing and improving old show notes and articles.

Getting Clients Online

About three years ago I decided to leave New York City and move to New Orleans, a place I loved instantly and felt at home in from the first minute I came on vacation in 2011.

To make the move, I needed to make more money so decided to try and get some work from various freelancing sites.

There are several freelancing sites that have postings for bloggers. The two I have had the most success with are Upwork and Guru. There are many more out there including Fiverr and ProBlogger, but I prefer Upwork and Guru.

Those two have pretty consistently given me work. Sometimes they were one-off projects, but all of my other steady clients found me on those sites.

get paid to blog upwork

Your Portfolio

I posted a kind of half-assed profile, but because I had such a significant portfolio thanks to all the writing I’ve done at LMM, clients started contacting me. It does pay to put a little more effort into your profile though especially if you don’t have a big portfolio.

A good profile and portfolio are more than just a collection of your writings. Detail the type of writing you do, the type of audience you speak to, how you help that audience, and how by doing that, you help the client.

In the beginning, your blog may be the only source of portfolio material you have. So long as your own blog writing is of high quality, this won’t matter too much. LMM was the only source of my portfolio material, and it hasn’t hurt me.

A lot of people claim these kinds of freelancing sites are a waste of time, that all of the clients want to pay peanuts for a lot of work. And while there indeed are plenty of clients like that, it hasn’t been my experience.

I posted my rates, and in most cases, the clients did not try to negotiate them lower. The kind of clients you want to attract want quality work and they know that doesn’t come for free. These clients are typically not writers themselves so are willing to pay someone good money to do something they can’t do.

I had a few clients who said my rates were more than they could afford on these sites but I’ve had more who refused to pay my asking price who are bloggers themselves and even though they want to outsource work they could do themselves, they aren’t willing to pay what I ask.

Getting Real-World Clients

Cat Alford is the master of this. She hustles hard to get real-world clients. Cat attends conferences like FinCon and works hard to make connections and follow up with them and sends out at least three “cold call” emails a day, pitching her services to fellow bloggers and businesses.

Meet Ups can also be a good place to connect with potential clients.

Word of mouth is the easiest and the hardest way to get real-world clients. Easy because current clients refer others to you. Hard because you have to do work so good, that people are willing to recommend you.

I have gotten several word of mouth clients. Be sure to make your clients happy, so they are happy to refer others to you.

What are You Worth?

In the beginning, the answer might be, “Not much.” No ones time is free but if making low ball offers on freelancing sites gets you some more material for your portfolio and some good reviews on those sites, earning less than what you are worth, or even less than what is fair, can pay off.

A lot of freelancing sites only let you post an hourly rate. I don’t like to be paid by the hour and clients don’t like to pay by the hour. I don’t remember ever being paid by the hour for any of my writing even though an hourly rate is what my profiles show.

You and potential clients can work out a per project price. The easiest way to do this is to show a range of prices based on word count. Something like this;

500-750 words $100
750-1000 words $150
1000-1500 words $175
1500-2000 words $200

Some clients will want fewer than 500 words, and some will want more than 2,000 of course, but this gives potential clients at least a blueprint to work from.

$100 Won’t Change Your Life, $1,000 Might

get paid to blog pricing

A big name personal finance blogger whom I admired contacted me via Linkedin out of the blue and asked about my rates. I flipped, I was so excited. Andrew knew him, so I asked Andrew for advice which is something he has always told me he was happy to give.

The tagline of this paragraph is what Andrew said to me, and I never forgot it. This happened not too long ago, so I was already a pretty well established personal finance writer and didn’t have to work for crappy money anymore.

If this had happened three years ago, I would have probably written 5,000-word articles for this person for $50.

Because Andrew knew I was excited, he gave me that advice. It takes me the same amount of time to write an article for $100 as it does for $1,000 (I don’t make $1,000 per article).

But at this point, I only had so much time. I was writing for LMM, writing for a few other clients, and working full time.

So I gave the potential client a price that while fair, would make writing for him worth my while. $100 was no longer going to change my life. $1,000 would mean I could quit my 9-5.

The price I required was more than the client could or was willing to pay. I was disappointed, but I was not sorry that I hadn’t made a lower offer. Andrew was right. $100 is no longer going to change my life.

Take Your Ego Out of It

You have probably read more of my work than you realize. It’s because a lot of my writing has been ghostwriting. I have heard a lot of personal finance writers bemoaning the lack of good-paying work, but I haven’t found that to be true.

The problem I think is that they want to be more than a writer, they want to create a whole brand. They want to be the person that The Today Show calls to discuss couponing or to be interviewed on CNBC about robo advisors.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

Developing and growing a brand is one of the ways you can make money as a blogger. But I don’t care about that. I want to get paid. And there are a lot of people who own blogs who don’t particularly enjoy writing or already have more than they can do alone.

So they want to hire someone to write for them. But for their own reasons, they don’t want someone else’s name associated with their blog. If you are willing to write under someone else’s name and help to polish their brand, you can make some pretty good money blogging.

Making Sure, You Get Paid

I have been very, very lucky in this regard. I have not had a single client refuse to pay me. The safest method, in the beginning, is to stick to the freelancing sites. They have processes in place to make sure that writers get paid and can help mediate any disputes.

That said, some of them charge what I consider to be an outrageous fee. Upwork charges 20% to the freelancers on the first $500 billed to each client. With a brand new client, I am actually happy to pay that. They found me on Upwork and Upwork can help make sure I get paid.

What I have always done is worked on the first few projects with a client through those sites and then once we had established some trust, gone offline and had the client pay me directly through PayPal. For really big projects, I use a generic contract, and that has probably saved me a lot of headaches. 

It might seem odd that a freelancer would work without a written agreement. Although oral contracts are enforceable, it’s more difficult to get a judgment based on emails or conversations, especially if a deadline wasn’t specified. But particularly in the fast-moving restaurant, tech, and arts worlds, asking for a formal document can mean you miss out on precious work. Freelancers are sometimes pressured into lowering their rates retroactively when clients say they can’t pay, rather than going through the time and expense of a lawsuit.

If you are working with real-world clients, get a deposit and a signed contract before you start working on a project. Most legitimate clients won’t balk at that. If they do, you can require a smaller deposit, maybe 25%. If they still refuse, something is off, and I would decline the job.

Taking the Leap

get paid to blog take the leap

So how do you know when it’s time to leave your day job and blog for a living full time? It took me five years, a bit less actually. I started writing for LMM in April of 2013; the site had started in I think October of 2012. I quit my day job January 11, 2018. Not bad in the bigger scheme of time I think!

Lower Your Cost of Living

One of the things that made it possible for me within a pretty short time frame is moving from New York City to New Orleans which I did in May of 2016 with a three-month layover at my ever-indulgent parents’ place so I could do nothing other than work and save money.

My studio apartment in New York cost $2,300 a month. My one bedroom in New Orleans is $875, and it’s entirely renovated and in a great location in the Lower Garden District. It even has a washer and dryer! Anyone else who lives or has lived in New York City knows that this is a great luxury indeed.

I am going to write a whole separate article soon about all this with much greater detail, but for this article, I will tell you to lower your cost of living.

You don’t have to move to New Orleans to do it (although I highly recommend it. Moving here is the best decision I have ever made. Life is good in the Big Easy.).

There are lots of other ways to lower your cost of living; move to a cheaper apartment, get a roommate, get rid of your car (people always gasp like this is some impossible ask, but I have never owned a car. Walk, bike, use public transit, get a job closer to home, Uber, Lyft, ask friends for rides, use Zipcar. If you want to do it, it can be done).

Cut Expenses

Cutting expenses sucks so my best advice is “Don’t give up what you want most for what you want now.”

Every time you are going to spend money on something unnecessary, ask yourself if you want this pair of shoes, phone upgrade, $100 dinner, etc. more than you want to quit your job and blog for a living.

There are some pretty easy things you can do to cut expenses. If you have student loans, look into refinancing through LendKey. Lowering your interest rate even 1% can give you huge savings.

Use Billshark to negotiate lower rates for things like your cable, phone, internet, and home security. Billshark saved me about $60 a year on my cable/internet bill. Use Trim to find and cancel recurring payments for things you aren’t using like gym memberships and subscription services. Trim saved me $65 a month.

Bring In Extra

Because you’re working full time and blogging at least part-time, you need a way to make money that doesn’t involve a lot of your time. Rent your home on Airbnb, sell the clothes and accessories you don’t wear on Poshmark, sell your old books on Amazon.

Every extra dollar you bring in this way gets you closer to your goal of blogging full time.

Do the Math

This is the real answer to knowing if you are ready to make a full time living blogging. I was working Monday-Friday 8:30-4 with every other Friday off. After about a year, I asked for every Friday off to have enough time to write.

After about six months of that, having every Friday off was no longer giving me enough time to do as much writing work as I had coming to me. I worked out how much I was getting paid an hour at the day job and how much I was making per hour writing (that was just for the calculation, I don’t get paid by the hour for writing).

When I looked at the numbers side by side, it was costing me money to keep the day job. Even the time it was taking me to commute, about four hours a week via walking, was about the time it takes me to do LMM show notes.

Sometimes they take a lot longer and sometimes a lot less, but on average, they take about four hours. Without going into my own numbers, just that commute was costing me $30 an hour.

So merely by not having to get back and forth to a job, I created the time it takes me to do a job I have to do every week.

That’s all there is to it. I didn’t have some magical sense that it was the right time and I didn’t have a vast runway built up (although I do have an emergency fund). I just ran the numbers, and I make more money blogging than I was making at the day job.

Do it Right

My day job was not exactly down the salt mines. It was a comfy desk job where I was actually able to get a lot of writing done, I liked my boss, and I liked my coworkers. It just made financial sense for me to leave and I wanted to go because I wanted to have a massive degree of flexibility in my life which writing gives me.

So I gave notice, lots of it, about six weeks worth as it turned out. I agreed to stay until they found a replacement and then agreed after being offered a generous bonus, to train the replacement.

I also offered to help out from time to time if they got in a jam. Don’t leave your job like a jerk. You never know, and you don’t want to burn any bridges or make other people’s jobs and lives difficult.

You Guys, It’s So Awesome!

get paid to blog relax

For real. I get paid to blog. I can work from home or anywhere with WiFi. Later this year I am going to NYC, Bar Harbor, Maine, and Cannes, France. No asking for permission to take time off. Traveling whenever I want, means traveling is cheaper.

I wake up when I want. Well, for me that is about 5:30 in the morning because I love getting up early. But the point is, I don’t have to get up at a particular time. I drink three cups of coffee, read the paper, lift weights, run, and eat a good breakfast all without being rushed.

Food shopping when the store is empty. Getting a hair or doctor appointment whenever I want because I am flexible so I don’t have to wait until they have an opening that is convenient for my work schedule.

If I want to go to happy hour for a drink and $0.25 oysters on a Tuesday at 4:00, I can.

I’ve started working on my French again and doing ten minutes of yoga a day, The food I eat is good for me because I don’t come home from a job too tired to cook.

No coworkers who annoy me, no getting dressed up unless I want to, if I indulged a little too much in all that New Orleans has to offer; I can lay around reading magazines all the next day.

You get my point. Not being stuck at a 9-5, even a good one, is just so great. I can’t recommend it enough. If more people knew how great it was, they would work harder to make it happen.

But Still

I still have to make a living, and I still have bosses and deadlines. Occasionally I have to turn down an invitation because I have work to do.

Working from home gives you much more flexibility than working a conventional job, but it’s still a job. I don’t have a huge problem motivating myself to work because I like my work, but if you’re new to working from home, it can take some getting used to.

Dreams don't work unless you do.

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Get up at a reasonable time, shower and get dressed. Set aside an area dedicated to working. If I really want to get a lot done, I put my laptop on the stove and stand working in the kitchen. I don’t know why I’m more productive when I do this, but I am. You might have to try out a few work spots to find what works for you.

There can be a lot of distractions at home. Some people like going to a café or even a shared office space like WeWork. Getting out of the house and going to “an office” makes them more productive.

Anyone Can Do It

There is nothing special about me, any of you can do what I did. I have always been a naturally lucky person and finding LMM is probably my most significant stroke of luck.

I have bosses you have always paid me well, treated me like a friend, been patient with me when other parts of my life were keeping me from doing as much work as they had for me, and have always given me good advice about money, working, and lots of other things besides.

But I have worked hard and been a reliable writer. I have never wasted an opportunity. If you can do those things too and have a bit of luck on your side, you can make a living blogging too. How to get paid for blogging? Start blogging!

Show Notes

Budget Blonde: Cat’s money blog.

Mint: The easy way to budget.

Betterment: The smart way to invest.

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