Earn More From Writing With These 7 Great-Paying Gigs

photodune-3846820-three-seven-jackpot-on-slot-machine-xsAre you earning peanuts as a freelance writer? I recently took a survey that showed more than one-third of my readers are earning under $25 an hour.

That’s not good.

One of the big ways to earn more from writing is to learn more specialized writing types. Many writers I know are just writing Web content or blog posts, which often pay low wages.

Learning to do more sophisticated projects can change your whole income picture. But exactly what sort of writing assignments pay more?

Below are seven of the best-paying writing niches I know:

  1. Case studies — If you can tell a story about how a customer benefited from a company’s product or service, you can write a case study. The format is quite similar to writing an article, except that it’s always a glowing success story about how great the company is, rather than balanced journalism. The least I’ve ever been paid for one is $750, for just a few hours’ work.
  2. White papers — These position pieces build authority, discuss industry issues, reveal industry research data, or compare product offerings — all with the clever end goal of pointing out that the client’s thing is the best choice. Sectors that use a lot of case studies and white papers include technology, finance, and healthcare. Rates range from $1,000 for a 2-pager on up. We’ve got great resources on both white papers and case study writing in Freelance Writers Den.
  3. E-books — Yes, there are plenty of lowball e-book writing offers floating around Craigslist — and you should ignore those. But if you target bigger companies or more successful consultants, there’s real money to be made writing, rewriting, or ghostwriting e-books for clients. As I write this, I’m working on a light rewrite of an e-book that’s just 60 pages long. Price? $4,000.
  4. Annual reports and research reports — These chart-filled company reports must be done each year by every publicly held company and large nonprofit — and many privately held companies create them, too. Depending on length, annual reports can be $10,000 projects. Research reports can be a blast, and pay well. At one point, I was getting $3,000 a pop doing quality-of-management reports, where I found former co-workers of CEOs and got them to dish about the guy. Fun corporate espionage work! And a great rate for about a week’s effort.
  5. Business plans and sale memorandums — These are similar documents that discuss a company’s growth plans. The first types is often created in order to attract investors, and the latter in order to sell the company outright. I did two of these projects earlier this year, at $3,000 and up.
  6. Technical writing — If you understand technology or have an interest in it, writing user manuals and product documentation is a terrific niche. Most writers in this field have some sort of tech work experience or training. The biggest problem technical writers usually have, in my experience, is that it’s hard to kick this niche once you get into it, because nothing else pays as well!
  7. Sales pages — Here’s one part of companies’ marketing budgets that never gets cut: creating Web pages that bring in more income. The basics are fairly simple to master, too. I’d never sold anything to anyone before about 2010, and didn’t find it hard to get the hang of it — here’s an example. Writers make up to $2,000 a page writing these for clients…and it’s a great skill to have for selling your own stuff, too.

How do you get started in these specialized writing niches? In quite a few of the above cases, you could begin by writing a sample for your own writing business — a white paper, case study, e-book, or sales page for a product or service you’ve got. Small nonprofits would probably love to have your writing help on their annual report.

To earn well at them, look for bigger companies, mega-successful consultants…in general, follow the money. If they’re making lots of money, they’ve got a real marketing budget and probably appreciate the value a freelance writer brings to the table.

It’s well worth doing a first project in any of these niches for cheap or even pro bono, as having done it once will really help you land good-paying gigs in these writing types.

What’s the best-paid type of freelance writing you do? Leave a comment and tell us how you broke in.

 

  1. Carol

    I love that phrase ‘follow the money’.

    Over the years I’ve met loads of people who’ve had seemingly easy jobs. Yet they’ve been earning a fortune. And all because they’ve gone where the money was.

    One word of warning to readers about writing business plans: I recently had a start-up venture approach me to write their business plan. They said they’d pay me once they’d secured their funding.

    I told them expressly this wasn’t going to happen.

    I can imagine prospects try this on quite often with business plans. Avoid like the plague.
    Kevin Carlton recently posted..Trade secrets: How to craft bullet points like a superstar copywriter

    • Carol Tice says:

      Oh yeah, I’ve heard that one before, too. DO NOT write a grant proposal, RFP, or business plan based on the idea that they’ll pay you when/if it gets them some funding.

  2. I’m trying to break into those lucrative writing niches, Carol! For my services and websites at first, then I plan to ask a couple of friends to work for them pro bono to get a couple of clips. :)

    Last week one of my friends green-lighted my idea of helping her improve her LinkedIn profile and build her professional website, so that’s two additional points for my portfolio.

    - Luana

  3. Susan Sommer says:

    I recently did a journal editing project that landed me just over $7K. The whole thing took about 140 hours of work over a three-month period (at $50/hr) and included initial edits of science and culture articles plus lots of back and forth with the designer after layout. The project was for a national government agency and published by a local nonprofit that acts as the educational arm for many similar agencies. They publish two of these journals a year, and I’m hoping they liked my work enough that they’ll hire me for future issues. I heard about the need for an editor from a friend and immediately sent off an introductory email letting them know I was interested. After a couple of emails and a face-to-face meeting, we signed the contract.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Interesting! I do think editing gigs are very referral/recommendation driven, since it’s so much harder to quantify what you did.

    • That’s what I do, Susan! Editing is 90% of my business right now, because it’s what I have been doing in my day jobs for the past six years. I wrote on the content mills for a year, then returned to editing to try to up my pay rates more quickly. Editing projects are awesome, but I find the value of an editor is often underestimated in the business world. Freelance writing is much more widely known that freelance editing, and looking at the suggested rates on the Editorial Freelancers Association web site, it seems like it pays more to be a writer as well! A lot of editors charge per page and can up their per hour rate that way, but I am slow and find I am best charging a fixed hourly rate and not stressing about getting more done per hour to up my income. Oddly I used editing to come off the content mills, but it looks to me like getting back into writing using traditional, non-content mill/non-bidding site opportunities could raise the ceiling from there.

      Carol, I have found you’re right that editing jobs tend to come by referral more than anything. Most of my existing and prospective clients are business contacts from previous jobs. Many business clients require educating, don’t understand how an editor is limited when asked to work without a style guide, or simply don’t understand the value of an editor (e.g. think their prose is perfect without you or want you to work for pennies). But those clients who understand the value of your work and are willing to pay for it is awesome – and so are the results. :)

  4. Rachel says:

    I’m wondering Carol, if you think it makes sense to specialize in just one of these niches? Lately I’ve had a spate of sales pages – I think I’ve done close to 15- and I really enjoy doing them.

    So does it make sense to choose that as a niche, or should I specialize even more, and choose writing sales pages in my niche (educational technology)?

    Thanks!
    Rachel recently posted..Language Development: 3 Tips On How to Raise an Optimistic Child

    • Carol Tice says:

      I think it limits you too much, Rachel. Definitely flaunt your expertise in this writing type, but unless your freelance career is at a very advanced stage, I think it’s tough to only write one type of thing. Also, gets boring!

      Hope you’re getting well paid for those sales pages — I think $1,000 is about the least you should take for those.

      We had Chris Marlow on a Den call not long back, and her survey data was that people who specialize in an INDUSTRY, while remaining diverse in the types of projects they did within that industry, were earning far more than those who tried to specialize in just one type of writing.

  5. Rachel says:

    Thanks Carol. That really does make the most sense. I’ll stick to edu-tech, then.
    Rachel recently posted..3 Lies Schools Like to Tell About Learning to Read

  6. Amy says:

    The best paying gigs I’ve gotten to so far are in the special quarterly inserts our local newspaper publishes. There are two, for a total of 8 pubs per year, plus their annual visitor’s guide. Depending on the piece, I get paid anywhere from $250 – $650. I responded to a Craigslist ad they posted and never heard anything for a year, but since hiring me for my first gig (for the $650 visitor’s guide piece), I’ve had at least one, sometimes two, pieces per magazine. My kids will start full-day kindergarten in the fall so I’m slowly building a good portfolio so I can start pitching bigger publications and taking on more work when I have more time.
    Amy recently posted..Can Children Divorce Their Parents?

  7. Allen Taylor says:

    Since January I’ve been doing case studies for one client at 30 cents per word. I’ve done one or two a month. I’ve discovered that I really like doing them and plan to pursue more case study work. I was going to ask where you can find clients who need case studies, but you mentioned you have some information on that in the Den, so I’ll take a look and what you have there. I’d love to have 2 or 3 clients with recurring work involving case studies.
    Allen Taylor recently posted..Why ‘The Content Letter’?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Then think big, Allen — clients that products many case studies each year tend to be major corporations. And they should pay more than 30 cents a word, too!

  8. The best gigs I’ve gotten were case studies. I’ve had higher paying jobs, but as far as hourly rate goes, case studies win every time. If you ask the right questions, the customer gives you the story. All you have to do is write it up.
    The first one I ever got was on Elance which I did for pretty cheap. However, the client brought my case study to a trade show and referred me to several other people. It turned out to be pretty lucrative. That’s the other thing I love about case studies they’re an easier sell. Who can’t use a great customer satisfaction story?
    Adrienne Andreae recently posted..7 Ways to Prepare for the Social Media Apocalypse

    • Samantha says:

      Just curious – what does the customer get out of it? I assume they’re not paid for their story as that would compromise the point of the process.

      • Actually Samantha, I understand your concern, but it’s never been a problem for me. The customer gets some free promotion. As I tell my clients, a case study is not a Dateline expose. The trick is to make both businesses look fantastic. I wrote one case study that the customer promotes on the home page of their website. In this case, the customer was concerned about maintaining accuracy and keeping their products Made in the USA. My client’s machines allowed them to do that. If both businesses are proud or excited about the end result, the case study can work for both of them.
        Adrienne Andreae recently posted..7 Ways to Prepare for the Social Media Apocalypse

      • Carol Tice says:

        Often, the customer does it just because they love the brand so much they’re happy to help them out. Other times, as Adrienne notes, it promotes their company as well.

        And they are definitely *not* exposes — this is about telling the story the client wants told.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I love case studies too, Adrienne! If you like writing stories, they’re great.

  9. Margie MD says:

    I fell in love with the idea of writing case studies after listening to the Den call with Casey Hibbard. If you can write compelling articles, then you can write case studies.

    Only thing is I didn’t have any copywriting clients that I could upsell on case studies and I didn’t even have any prior experience writing case studies, but I knew I could do it. I decided to start going after small to medium technology companies near where I live, targeting just a few I saw profiled in a local business magazine, all of which were up-and-coming. I only sent out about three LOIs, but got one nibble and the CEO asked to see some of my samples. I did have some career profiles I’ve written of women in the tech field, which were basically success stories.

    That one nibble finally turned into a gig–except they want me to help out with *all* of their marketing copy, not just case studies! I think this will keep me plenty busy, along with my other regular projects, but just wanted to share that you don’t even have to have case study experience. Sometimes you just go for it and use what you’ve got to show what you’re capable of.

  10. Willi Morris says:

    I’m so glad one of these doesn’t sound dreadfully boring! I just did one “About” page pro bono for someone and enjoyed the process, but she isn’t using it right now, so I feel like doing more for pay. Case studies sounds like the most interesting to me, though. I will definitely look into this more.

    I’ve made the most editing a trade magazine. (Well, about to make. Hopefully getting my first check as an editor soon.) And it’s funny, because I used to think that “editing” meant just that, but really I’m just writing and re-writing a bunch of stuff. Which I heart. A lot. I’m about to have my first post-issue meeting with my editor and hoping she totally raves about how super awesome I am. LOL
    Willi Morris recently posted..2 Easy-Peasy Ways to Beef Up Facebook Fan Reach

  11. Mike Johnson says:

    These are all good, high paying writing niches. You can make these niches even more lucrative by targeting your marketing to clients with reoccurring work. One good client can rock your world.

    I still have a copy of the first check I ever received for writing, $7.89. In my mind, that check took my writing from being a hobby, to being a career. Seven bucks made me legitimate – a professional writer.

    So I strung together numerous other one-time assignments for a variety of clients. But I eventually learned that trolling for work all the time wasn’t a very relaxing, dependable or efficient way to generate income.

    18 years ago, I got lucky and saw an ad searching for a freelance newsletter writer. The assignment would be needed every two weeks. So I put all my talent and energy into that cover letter and even created a mock-up of what the newsletter might look like if I was selected. Complete with 8 pages of fresh copy relating to the topic – customer service.

    I impressed the publisher, got the gig and landed a regular bi-weekly freelance paycheck that lasted six years. Over those years, the publisher had me write five different titles, pushing over $300,000 in writing paychecks to me. That income allowed me to create an amazing new life.

    Over the years I acquired several clients with years worth of reoccurring work. One good client can rock your world too. If you’re going to market for clients in these well-paid niches anyway, why not target clients who have reoccurring work? I suggest the following prospects:

    Newsletter Publishers. They publish daily, weekly, bi-weekly and/or monthly. If they have one title, they might have many other titles. And they need them written on a regular basis. Thanks to your prior employment and experience, you may already be an authority on one of their topics.

    Ad Agencies. They have multiple clients with multiple assignments that occur 24/7/365. They need everything from case studies to sales letters to press releases to website copy to executive speeches to award nominations to ghost-written articles from their client “experts.” Agencies love to have freelancers they can count on to delight their clients.

    Trade Magazines. Publishers of one magazine, often have many others that focus on different industries. Once they trust your work, you could end up writing for them all. Regularly. The best place to start is with a publication that writes for an industry you already understand from working in it yourself.

    Why do I suggest these three types of clients? They pay extremely well for the content they buy. Because they are business-to-business and business-to-consumer firms, their return on investment is higher, so they can pay more. And, they have many reoccurring projects that need to be completed. Your past employment experience in their topics or industries gives you an advantage over other writers. You’ll have a comfort level writing about what you already know. Once you’re in and prove yourself, you’ll gain dependable, predictable freelance income. You’ll also gain fantastic clips, interesting experiences and fascinating new learning as your assignments expand to new areas.

    With one good client, you retain all the liberty of freelancing but gain the dependable income you used to get from a job and salary. It truly is the best of both worlds. And it’s out there waiting for you if you just expand your goals to land that one good client.

    - Mike Johnson

    • This information is just what I have been looking for. I love writing and have been wanting to get started as a freelance writer, but just did not know how or what to do. I will definitely take your suggestions and go for it. Thank you.

      • Carol Tice says:

        Welcome aboard, Malinda — check out the sidebar for some useful nuts and bolts pieces on how to get started! Also be sure to subscribe and get my free marketing ecourse – lotsa help in there.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Great tips, Mike! I totally agree — once you’ve got a couple samples, pitch UP. Find clients with ongoing work. Bigger really is better, in freelance writing.

    • Lee says:

      A gazillion thanks to you Mike!! These bits of information are truly gold nuggets, and that recurring pay check seems well within reach of even the greenest of freelancers out here
      in the Wild West. I am most definitely going to follow your trail. Thanks again.

  12. Erika says:

    I found a niche about a year ago writing e-learning courses for businesses. I’ve mainly been doing them for one company, but I’ve done them occasionally for others.
    Erika recently posted..It’s not all about you…

    • Carol Tice says:

      Interesting, Erika! So how did you get started in it?

      I think e-learning IS an exploding niche and there is some real opportunity there, especially for writers with a teaching background.

      • Erika says:

        I got into e-learning through outreach + using the “I haven’t done that but I’ve done something similar…” tactic.

        1) I got in touch with someone from grad school to let them know I was freelance writing, and they put me in touch with the contact who was in charge of the e-learning division of his company, which produces courses for pharmaceutical firms.

        2) I “sold” myself with my script writing experience + B2B and health writing experience. Each written piece from me typically has scenarios with “characters,” a narration portion and suggested visuals. This is how I typically write video scripts.

        Since working there I’ve gotten a lot more experience and advice on how to write these courses, and they’ve definitely helped improve all of my other writing — pretty much everything I write, from blog posts to case studies, “teaches” somebody something, so it’s been great learning for me.

        There are e-learning communities on LinkedIn for anyone wanting to know more. I also read a blog by Cathy Moore (http://blog.cathy-moore.com/). She doesn’t post much, but she has a good archive to go through.

  13. Hi Carol, “Great-Paying Gigs” – the writing business seems very much the same as the music business – where you’ve got song writers, singers, and singer-songwriters.

    Do you share that perspective?

    If you can sing, why write for other people (other than a friend) – is there more money in writing for others, or because that’s what one loves to do, or so much time on prolific writer’s hands it’s merely extra-income?

  14. Hi Carol,
    Thanks for the great advice! I’m completely new to freelancing and still trying to figure out where to find good gigs and what pays what. I just happened upon your website today, so it looks like I have plenty of catching up to do on your past posts.

    So far I only have one low-paying blog gig, so I’m really looking for ways to increase my income.

  15. Halona Black says:

    I actually really love reading white papers. The way the writers persuasively discusses industry problems then tells them why their company is the best — all without hard selling anything — is fascinating to me.

    I wrote one white paper for a doctor’s office late last year and had so much fun. It was only about 3 pages and took less than 2 days to complete. I am too embarrassed to even say what I got paid for it. However the only reason I did it was to get it in my portfolio. So now I am approaching natural ingredient supply companies as clients. Many of them use white papers to sell their ingredients to other food and cosmetic product companies. Haven’t gotten a nibble for the white papers yet, although I have been paid well for other types of writing. So I’m still trying.
    Halona Black recently posted..Nonfiction Book Writing Tip: Tell Your Story of Transformation

  16. Samantha says:

    Anybody have comments on whether it’s worth taking the time to educate potential clients on the value of white papers and case studies if they’re not yet convinced?

    I’ve casually checked with some acquaintances who own medium-sized businesses and they’ve never heard of these types of content and therefore aren’t sure about spending much on them! Maybe that’s down to the nature of their line of work, though.

    I’m thinking it might be better the spend the time on clients who are already actively looking for this type of content and are willing to spend the $$$. On the other hand, I see some writers try to make a case for the value of this content on their websites.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I think it doesn’t work if you’re coming in cold to start talking about products they’ve never done before, when they don’t yet know your skills, Samantha. But once you’re in and they like you, absolutely you can up-sell them new products.

      I’ve done that with blogging clients more than once — upsold them a white paper or special report, or web content revamp. Once you’ve got one area of their marketing ramped up a notch, it’s easy to point out how the rest of it now needs to be brought up to that level, too. ;-)

  17. Nadia McDonald says:

    I would love to write a sales page or case study. Unfortunately, I haven’t written either. These two types of niche intrigue me. As indicated in the article, a sales page can be written in a style or tone that resonate with the client and their voice. I am naturally good with people, therefore, I can strike a chord to capture their tone.
    Additionally, questions are pertinent as well as research. Researching and doing one’s home-work can help build long term relationships and rapport with the client.

  18. Kerry Mc Donald says:

    Hi Carol,

    This is an interesting and informative post. I have two stories published thus far in a local magazine. I am from Trinidad, the Caribbean (English speaking country)

    I should have my website up in July and would like to focus on specialized writing soon. Could you provide some advice for someone who is from the Caribbean – the advantages & disadvantages of getting gigs. In addition, what tutorials/courses can aid in doing these specialized writing, such as case studies etc.

    Can I get your views on SEO writing too, is this a lucrative niche and would you suggest Yuwanda Black’s ebooks, newsletters etc?
    Your views on copywriting vs SEO writing, in terms of popularity, well paid etc will be greatly appreciated too. Thank you.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Kerry, I think you’ve got about 4 blog posts’ worth of complex questions there!

      I’m not familiar with Black’s products…but in general, “SEO writing” is a low-paid, shrinking niche that I don’t steer anyone toward. SEO increasingly isn’t a successful strategy, thanks to Google’s changes. Authority and delivering valuable content is ever more important — writing for people to read, rather than search robots to read.

      I’m not from the Caribbean, so I can’t speak to the particulars of writing from that country. But within my Freelance Writers Den community, we have many non-US writers, and even have a forum for them to connect on, so you could probably get a lot of questions answered there from others based around the world.

      We also have training recordings you can listen to on case studies, white papers, PR writing, and many other lucrative niches. Have a website bootcamp too, so you can make sure your website is effective in getting you clients.

  19. Crissie says:

    Hi, Carol:

    I once attended a seminar where the real estate investment guru host advised that “money is not attracted … but PURSUED.”

    I guess that concept applies across the board, eh? ;) Thanks for the guiding light about where it might have been hiding from me for last 3.5 years of F/T freelance writing.

    BTW, what do you think of me writing a great whitepaper about content writing to feature on my fledgling website?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Great idea, Crissie! Then you have a white paper sample.

      • Crissie says:

        Actually, Carol. I do NOT have a whitepaper sample. That’s b/c I’ve never (to my knowledge) written one. I say “to my knowledge,” b/c some content mill assignments about technical and scientific subjects might have been part of a larger whitepaper project.

        Where can I learn more about how to break into the whitepaper market to bring in big piles of printed “greenback” paper!! (LOL! – but very serious, too ;)

    • Crissie says:

      BTW, I just realized that I misquoted the guru. It should have been stated exactly the opposite way as:

      “Money is ATTRACTED – not pursued.”

      IOW, his basic point was to find a good idea and implement it with the right strategy, then money comes to YOU – in copious amounts after a diligent hunt!

  20. I am particularly interested in case study gigs how do I procure those gigs? I mean what kind of Google search or what kind of websites to visit and whom to contact?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Better-quality gigs like case studies aren’t procured by finding a website, Kersasp. These are clients you get by doing your own prospecting and marketing. In my Freelance Writers Den community, we’ve got a bootcamp called Get Great Clients that talks about this process, as well as sample case studies and a one-hour training all about case studies with specialist Casey Hibbard.

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