Getting Freelance Writing Jobs at $250 an Hour — The Brainy Way

The Brainy Way to Get Freelance Writing Jobs for $250 an hour. Makealivingwriting.comI wasn’t always a freelance writer. In fact, I used to be a brainy corporate accountant who made a six-figure income. But I wanted out in a bad way. And I made up my mind that I could earn a living by booking well-paying freelance writing jobs.

Here’s how it all went down. I raided my 401(k), a very un-CPA-like thing to do. I bought a townhouse, renovated it and flipped it. Pretty smart, right? But I still needed freelance writing jobs lined up before I could quit my day job. And not the content-mill kind.

So I joined the Freelance Writers Den. Then I went through the bootcamp, “Learn to Write White Papers,” by Steve Slaunwhite. That was my light-bulb moment. Writing white papers was the perfect match for my skills and goals to get freelance writing jobs that paid pro rates. Without hesitation, I named my new business “Savvy White Papers,” and launched my website.

With that done I busted my butt until I had a $250/hr contract in my hand and a check in the bank. Want to know how to land freelance writing jobs that pay top dollar? Here’s how I did it:

Finding your first client

It wasn’t a sexy process. I scoped out companies that earned between $5 million to $50 million in annual revenue, and spent a decent chunk of money on marketing. Selling a functional product at a high cost was pretty important too.

My need to bring home the bacon drove me to quickly blast out 126 LOIs (letters of introduction) which resulted in…nothing.

Learn from tracking your marketing efforts

Well, that obviously didn’t work, smarty pants. I plugged my corporate accounting training into my freelance business. I started tracking every move I made on an LOI tracking sheet. It was my home-grown way of showing myself progress before money from freelance writing jobs started coming in.

And I used it to identify prospects, find the right people to contact, and track the response rate to LOIs (which pretty much sucked at first).tammy-loi

I wised up and finally figured I needed to solicit companies related to my background for freelance writing jobs: accounting, fraud, and tech.

Remarkably, the very first company I contacted became my first client (106 days, 33 emails and 2 phone calls later). I lured them in with an email I sent to marketing@XYZcompany.com with the catchy title of “[for James Smith, VP of Marketing] Need a White Paper Expert?”

Be confident: Quote pro rates

I had read a ton about value pricing so I created a menu for specific writing pieces and thought I was prepared for the scary pricing discussion. But James had a different idea. Before getting to the actual writing, he wanted me to meet with his PR firm, brainstorm with his staff and help him decipher survey results.

Those activities screamed ‘consulting’ to me and when asked, I gave him a $250/hr rate. I was floored when he said, “That seems to be about right,” and asked me to work on retainer for 10 hours a month.

Things worked a little faster with my second $250-an-hour client. It took only 91 days, 22 emails, and 2 meetings. Amazingly, the winning pitch had also gone to a generic email address (contact@ABCcompany.com). “[For John Doe] Freelance Writer/Fraud Examiner for hire” did the job of getting to the owner of the startup who had recently received venture capital funds.

I followed that up with a phone call and later re-wrote their entire website in 14 hours, just in time for their first trade show.

Brainy strategies to get freelance writing jobs

In the world of corporate accounting, the number crunchers are always looking at data to help C-suite leaders make decisions. It’s a skill that served me well when I was an accountant. But it’s been even more useful to help me track, measure, and analyze my efforts to land well-paying freelance writing jobs.

Want to know what I learned in the process? Here’s what worked:

  • Pitch prospects in your niche. Both clients had customers that work in fields I’m intimately familiar with.
  • Present yourself as a pro (even if you don’t have any clients yet). My company name established the anchor point of my pricing. Companies expect to pay handsomely for great white papers.
  • Keep the conversation going with prospects.The number of emails exchanged might seem insane but many asked or answered fairly quick questions. I kept the conversation going and follow up was essential in both cases.
  • Customize LOIs. I made my emails personal, not cookie-cutter. I wanted prospects to know that I researched their businesses and was the best person to work with them.
  • Charge pro rates. I charged consulting rates, not writing rates for my first few gigs that led to freelance writing jobs. The feedback and insights that I provided my clients about their products, marketing materials, training videos, and such, went well beyond what a typical writer provides.
  • Do your homework to find profitable niches. I discovered a virtual gold mine in marketing to trade show and webinar sponsors. I found that they had already heavily invested in marketing and needed materials for events and lead generation. Take a closer look at the niches you write in and look for the type of businesses that have the revenue to pay pro rates.

For the most part, my day-to-day work as a corporate accountant was pretty straightforward. There was a process for everything (and a paper trail). And that’s a smart way to run your freelance business. I put this process in place to land well-paying freelance writing jobs, and it paid off in more ways than one.

Smart writers keep marketing

The finish line isn’t reached when you’re done with a writing project. Smart writers keep marketing. I keep in touch with my clients and leads throughout the year. For example, when they win awards or get press releases into big publications, I send them an email to congratulate them. And I look for opportunities to add value, like sending along an article, resource, or information that can help them in the future.

If you want to be a smart writer who charges $150 to $250 an hour, develop a strategy, be persistent, and know the value that your writing and knowledge brings to your clients. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the stack of business cards exhibitors gave me at a trade show in Las Vegas proves there are plenty of highly-paid freelance writing jobs out there. The $49,000-plus that I’ve deposited into my bank account from my very first client is pretty convincing as well.

What strategies have you used to land well-paying freelance writing jobs? Leave a comment and tell us how you did it.

Freelance writer Tammy Farrell is a busy mom, CPA and self-described furniture junkie. Grab her free email course on getting B2B clients at SavvyWhitePapers.com.

Freelance Business Bootcamp: How to Launch, Earn, and Grow into a Well-Paid Freelancer. By Carol Tice and Neil Tortorella

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62 comments on “Getting Freelance Writing Jobs at $250 an Hour — The Brainy Way
  1. Carl says:

    Great article! I come from the other side of the table and have previously used a lot of freelance writers. I have very often “traded up” from lower priced writers to pro writers simply because I got the feeling that they were more capable of completing the writing tasks successfully. The marketing related to that was especially that they understood my business (had done their research well) and pitched actual writing pieces that they thought could be appropriate for me. As you mentioned, I believe those are crucial elements for how you make people like me pay a lot of money for good writing!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks for checking in from the other side of the fence here to confirm that yes, better writing CAN pay more!

      I personally think that increasingly, pay IS going to be tied to performance, so I focus a lot of my energy on training writers how to get traffic and engagement with what they write online — because that IS the point of content marketing. And that’s measurable. At Forbes, I was paid partly on traffic, and it was a great learning experience for me. 😉

    • Thanks for the compliment Carl. I’m glad you enjoyed my article.Keep hiring well-paid professional writers! 😉

  2. Richard says:

    Hi Carol, you have been an eye opener and a blessing to me. Before now I’ve been writing on content mills at very loow rates. I however would love to ask some questions.

    1. I have written a lot of articles and blogposts. I would love to create my website but I dont know how to go about that. Do you think you can help with what to include on the website and all? And how do I incoporate my portfolio?

    2. I have decided to choose the health niche, am lost on how to find companies to write for. What exactly do I google?

    Thanks

  3. Meagan says:

    Great article, Tammy! Super actionable and I think many writers can learn from your systematic approach. I got a few new ideas from it, too!

  4. Ms. Dean Robertson says:

    I have read and re-read the definitions and the distinctions among white papers, copywriting, and content writing, and it’s still not entirely clear to me. Could somebody give me a simple example of each one? I’m remembering a line from the movie “Philadelphia”–something along the lines of “Explain it to me like I’m a three-year-old.”

    And another question I probably should be able to figure out: I identify some vendors, let’s say, following Tammy’s advice about looking at the Education and Academia industry, I write a dynamite LOI and send it out, I keep at it. At what point does it become really important to have a website just devoted to my freelance writing?

    And thanks, everybody.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Here’s some white paper samples: https://www.thatwhitepaperguy.com/white-paper-guys-samples/

      Copywriting is a very broad term — some think it means writing persuasive, ‘sales’ copy for businesses. The rest of us think it’s really any writing you do for businesses, information OR salesy…including blog posts.

      “Content writing” usually refers to either blog posts, or blog posts AND Web pages. Hope that helps!

      As for when it becomes really important to have a website for freelance writing the answer is…yesterday. You’re invisible without it. Put one up as soon as you can.

  5. Nida Sea says:

    Loved the info in this post! I remember when I finally tracked my LOI performance… it was disastrous, to say the least. But it made me realize why I wasn’t getting any responses. After Carol’s Pitch Clinic (though not fully finishing it), I did learn how to better my LOIs, and now my rate is much nicer. Great tips, Tammy! Thanks for the post!
    Nida Sea recently posted…Make your About Page Stand Out Now with These Top 3 TweaksMy Profile

  6. I am retired from 30+ years as an English teacher in independent secondary schools and small private colleges. I write a weekly blog and have published one book. I will be seventy-one next month and have a first, only, unexpected grandson–born in April of 2015. I do freelance editing (not proofreading but personal, intensive editing of manuscripts from a few thousand words up to 90,000, using Track Changes, email and phone consultation. I charge a ridiculously low hourly rate. I am capable of writing just about anything and badly need supplemental income. Where should I go?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Perhaps begin by simply charging less ridiculously low rates?

    • Hi Dean, I agree with Carol on your rate of course, you’ve got to show that you know the value of your work before your clients can. Highlighting the benefit of using a great editor to your leads rather than your methods of doing it (track changes, etc.) is another aspect to consider.

      Congrats on the great book reviews you’ve got on Amazon! It’d be easy to reference them or put an excerpt of one or more in your LOIs (letters of introduction). You could also play off your experience in secondary and higher ed. Think of who markets to them and consider offering them your services.

      • Carol Tice says:

        Totally — I use screenshots of some of mine on my books pages!

      • Ms. Dean Robertson says:

        Thank you, Tammy, for two good pieces of advice–raising my rates and changing the emphasis from the techniques to the benefits. And other than the breathtaking sum of $250/hr I see here, I am woefully lacking in the kind of experience that involves actually asking for what I’m worth. Teaching, even in the ideal circumstances of independent schools, doesn’t exactly train you to make money 🙂 So, I have to learn that first. You’d probably have to go to bed for a week if you knew 1) what hourly rate I’ve been charging and 2) how many elaborate book reviews I’ve done for free. Don’t ask. Anyway, I am reading and learning and thinking and I am already grateful to this wonderful place. I actually followed the yellow brick road from my most recent AARP Bulletin to this site!!

        • Carol Tice says:

          Dean — I was in the AARP Bulletin?? Or…how did you get from there to my blog? I’d love to know!

          • Ms. Dean Robertson says:

            Hi, Carol, I can’t remember whether your site was in the AARP Bulletin or if it was a reference from a site that was. I know my first research into sites mentioned in this month’s bulletin netted exactly ZERO. In any case, I am profoundly grateful to have found you. Also, the whole “article” amounted to nothing more than a small paragraph in the January-February issue (the one with the Medicare situation on the cover) so it should be easy for you to track down where your free publicity came from :-‘

      • Ms. Dean Robertson says:

        Hi, Tammy, I realize I continue to show my ignorance here but when you suggest offering my services to those who “market to” secondary and higher ed., what kinds of outfits did you have in mind?

        I’m hoping you mean that, say, something as simple as a company bidding on a copy machine for an independent secondary school would benefit from a writer who knows the territory and could write a pitch that would be more likely to work??

        • Dean, you’re exactly on point. I’m suggesting you sell your writing and/or editing services to companies that sell products and services to schools. Rather than writing a pitch, doing content marketing can be a longer-term path with potentially higher wages for long-form copy.

          If you look up trade show network news (or any other trade show list consolidator) and choose the industry “Education & Academia” four pages of conferences come up. If you click to get to the website of the first one, EDspaces2017, then go to Exhibits then Floor plan,…once you enlarge it… you’ll see hundreds of companies that are trying to sell to education administrators.

          Groups that you’ve been a part of or are aware of, like the NCTE, have a ton of resources for their members and host conferences with similar floor plans you could mine.

  7. Alvin Leong says:

    It seems like how you market yourself and your network matters more than what you know .Specialised knowledge like law and finance really matters little if you can’t sell it to the clients..IMHO

  8. Debbie says:

    Hi Tammy! I love this blog! I am also an accountant and I am hoping to get off the corporate rate race. I gave myself a 10 year timeframe but I think I have to get out soon…the stress and pressure are finally catching up with me! So I completely understand when you said you wanted out in a bad way! Thank you for giving me the encouragement that I can really leave all of this behind!

    Debbie

    • Thanks Debbie! Yeah another accountant! 😉 We’re definitely needed in the writing world. I hear from my prospects that the turn around time for white papers can be 3 months when they go through an agency. That’s enough to blow the wind out of anyone’s sail.

      Make a deal with yourself (or an accountability partner) to start working out your exit plan. Working toward it will make your day-job more bearable and ready you in case the change is imposed on you sooner than you plan.

      Good luck!

  9. Hi Holly! I’m glad you’re inspired by my article. (Can’t wait to hear how you put it into action!) 😉

    1. Yes, it was a little bold of me to put myself out there as a white paper expert but I had gone through the Freelance Writers Den bootcamp on White Papers, had done the homework and gotten feedback and had written excerpts of white papers. I also wrote one on spec on Corporate Transparency that I was able to provide as a sample of my writing.

    2. My first client’s revenues were $3 million but their advertising expenses were between $100k and $250k so I thought it was worth my effort to get in touch. I’m glad I did. 🙂

    3. I was a bit nervous about the first meeting with the PR firm but I checked them out…being a fraud examiner, I check everyone out… and it’s a 2-person team so it didn’t intimidate me but I did wonder about their expectations and how they’d feel about working with an ‘unknown’ writer. They turned out to be great to work with and I’ve got another meeting with them next week to brainstorm on pitching articles to two more publications.

    For the survey, I wasn’t nervous, I was excited. I’ve been on the filling-out survey side plenty of times and know my way around spreadsheets and pivot tables as well as the terminology so it was fun for me to play around with. I even gave them some graphs that they hadn’t asked for but I thought would be helpful. They used them in their post and I’ve referenced the survey in some articles I’ve ghost written for them.

    Have a great evening!

  10. Holly Bowne says:

    Wow. Just wow. This was super interesting and quite inspirational. Thank you, Tammy. I do have a few questions for you, though.

    1. So you were writing LOIs with the subject line “Need a white paper expert?” Even though you hadn’t written one yet? Really?!

    2. You mentioned that you were targeting businesses between $5 million and $50 million in annual revenue. Just curious about your first client, what was their annual sales that they didn’t even blink at a $250/hour rate?

    3. Did you flip out at being asked to meet with your first client’s PR firm, brainstorm with his staff and help him decipher survey results? (Or are you one of those naturally confident people that was thinking “Ah, no worries. I’ll just fake it till I make it.)

    Thanks again!

  11. I totally agree Lars. I treat my job as marketing my services as much as I do writing (if not more so). I learned a long time ago when I was applying for positions that hoping and praying are great, but you often need to take action as well to make those two work.

  12. Very interesting to hear about your process, and how you got to where you are. I think that attitude of not resting on your laurels after a win is very important when it comes to reaching long term, sustainable success and income.

  13. Williesha says:

    The power of determination! Very inspiring to someone who wants to build a career in this area of writing. Excellent!

  14. Cindy Kelley says:

    Very well written and inspiring article. You rock!!!

  15. That’s wonderful Linda. Believe me, I’m plenty impressed with $800 gigs. Congratulations on scoring another client!

    I’m glad you found a good take away for pricing and writing contracts. Best wishes!

  16. Thanks Tammy.

    Inspiring and encouraging, while giving a clear outline of how-to processes to succeed. Plus a realistic approach to building your client base and the amount of work and effort it takes to make it work.

    As a freelance writing friend of mine said after meeting Carol personally, it takes working 18 hour days and working your butt off to achieve the success you may have in sight. You’ve supported this.

    I’m going to print this article for reference when I’m discouraged. Rereading your post will encourage, excite and entice me to work my butt off and “git ‘er done”. You even gave me an idea on how to price and write a retainer contract for a current client. Nice!

    Just scored another new freelance client for an $800 gig, which isn’t much but it’s s lone professional with a big project. Combined with a retainer for 3-months, I’ve got a good starting base and will gain multiple clips for prospective clients. Haven’t been this encouraged in ages.

    Thanks for posting your experience. Much appreciated.

  17. Carol Tice says:

    I hadn’t seen this post until today, our editor handled it…just heard about it anecdotally in the Den. So fun to hear all the details!

    I think the big takeaway here is the PERSEVERANCE Tammy showed in identifying a niche and marketing until she found the angle and the prospect she connected with.

    And kudos on selling consulting ahead of the writing! GREAT idea. 😉 Thanks for sharing this story, Tammy!

    • Thanks Carol. I think the insight that we bring to our gigs is as valuable as our writing. Taking the time to learn about prospects (an hour or more each is normal for me) and speaking to their needs on their level was critical.

      And thanks Carol for hosting the Freelance Writers Den and to Steve Slaunwhite who made me believe it was possible.

      Stay warm!

  18. Rohi says:

    Thanks, Tammy!
    I got my first big assignment this month – I haven’t kept track of my marketing efforts as meticulously as you have! {:-) Your perseverance and never-say-die spirit are incredibly inspiring. All the best!
    Rohi recently posted…Beyond Satisfaction – Book ReviewMy Profile

    • Congratulations on the first big one Rohi! That’s awesome.

      I’ve never been accused of being organized but following routines and visually giving myself something to show progress was something I knew I needed to do.

      Keep it up!

  19. Love this post! Especially the idea of pitching services to companies that are going to be exhibiting at trade shows. I’m off to a trade show in my niche in June so I’m definitely stealing this idea!

  20. Emily says:

    Tammy, this is possibly THE most encouraging post I have read so far in my freelancing efforts. Not only do you offer good advice that I intend to follow, but it’s a relief to know that it took a few months and a lot of following up before getting your first well paying client. I’ve been learning more about niches and the business of freelancing and sloooowly ramping up my marketing efforts since October-ish, and the lack of responses has been discouraging. It’s good to know that it’s not just me and that it really does take a lot of time as well as effort.
    Emily recently posted…Guest Post on The Change BlogMy Profile

    • Thanks Emily! I’m so glad it was helpful to you. I do a lot of things to keep my motivation up and count things as ‘wins’. If I find the VP of Marketing’s email address it’s a win…If my email gets opened it’s a win…If they reply it’s a win…and if the conversation keeps going, even better. 🙂

      The picture with my home-made LOI tracking sheets served that purpose also. I’d write in who I planned to contact when I came across someone, then date it when I sent it, highlight it when it was opened, highlight with a different color if it was replied to.

      I’m soooo glad I stuck with it! Keep at it Emily!

  21. Ann Walker says:

    Great, inspirational article, but what if you don’t have a built-in stepping stone from a previous career?

    Is it possible to break into this level of work without having years of experience in a specialist area (and a sizeable, sustaining bank balance)?

    • Thanks so much for the feedback Ann. I think it is possible to earn good fees if you carve out and market to a niche group.

      Everyone has their own story and attaching that to your writing is likely the easiest entry point. Take a 10 minutes to jot down all the different roles you play and demographics you fit into. Mom, sister, daughter, millennial, former fast-food worker, whatever. Every business has their trade magazines and conferences and looking for the people who have already spent sponsorship dollars also helps.

      • David Throop says:

        Hi Tammy,
        As I read the comments, are you saying to target the trade magazines and conferences within your niche for possible clients, or target the businesses with trade magazines and conferences as a good resource?
        David Throop recently posted…4 Simple Keys To Creating A Successful Marketing CampaignMy Profile

        • I’m all for anything that works David! 😉

          I’ve had success with looking at what conferences are coming up in my fields (accounting tech, insurance, fraud, fintech) and contacting companies on that are listed as sponsors and exhibitors for those conferences.

          I look for new (or new to the U.S.) and mid-market companies and if I like their product and it fits my general parameters I usually sign up for their newsletters and follow them on LinkedIn or Twitter, then shoot them an LOI referencing the upcoming conference, a new product launch, or securing VC funding, etc.

          For the conference in Vegas, I was contacted by 2 companies before I even sent out LOIs. They say my business name in my email address and checked out my site and called me. I attended that conference and met up with the folks who called me. More than a dozen other exhibitors who saw my company name on my badge made small talk with me and it worked into them asking to sending them clips and case studies.

          I have also contacted some association hosting conferences and asked them for vendor lists in Excel or whatever and thanked them and let them know to get in touch if they or the sponsors need help with their marketing materials. I’m an introvert so these subtle ways of connecting are the least stressful for me and seem to be working fine. 🙂

      • Thank you for an inspiring article. I have a profession as a background but am not sure how to source the websites in my niche area. I am getting tired of bidding to jobs from job boards that come out as minimum wage or below. Can you share how you searched for suitable companies to approach for writing opportunities?

        Many thanks

        Shoshanah

        • Carol Tice says:

          Shoshanah, I’ve shared ALL my tips for identifying good prospects (and staying OFF those job boards!) in this ebook: http://www.makealivingwriting.com/get-great-freelance-clients/

        • You’re welcome Shoshanah! You’re going to find much better success (and pay!) when you reach out to companies who need your services rather than being one in the mass that applies on job boards. As you can see by my story it took me a while to get things going but it’s worth it!

          Carol’s information will definitely get you moving in the right direction. Maybe take a look at the aota.org website to see which companies sponsor their conferences and educational sessions. Their 100-year anniversary is this year too so the association themselves may need additional help with outreach materials.

          Good luck!

          • Hi Tammy

            I am very impressed that you looked up AOTA. I’m not in the US but AOTA is an incredible association. Their journal is AJOT but they don’t usually pay for articles. I was in touch with a professor at one of the universities who said that most OTs don’t get paid for the articles we write. I have been asked to write an article for a journal that will require quite a lot of research. The topic is excellent but not for pay.

            I have approached quite a number of those who advertise with AJOT or OT Practice for corporate sponsorship of my book that I just self-published. So far not been successful.

            I was in touch with a company of equipment used in OT to write articles for their website, they were very interested at minimum wage, not what I am looking for. I have not yet figured out how to connect with them for freelance writing.

            Once again, I am very impressed that you did some research or do you know of AOTA anyway?

            Shoshanah
            Shoshanah Shear recently posted…Occupational Therapy and Sleep DisturbanceMy Profile

            • Going a step beyond the norm is what it takes to stand out (..and earn higher pay). Making your emails not generic makes you stand out. It just required a few clicks for me to see what your profession was then see which association or conference is most applicable to your situation.

              If I had asked an accounting professor how much I could earn writing I’m sure I’d have received the same answer you did, not very much. Instead of going down that path (which we’ve ALL been down), I look at how much a company will make with just one sale or with a customer’s lifetime value. If one sale is for $5k then they’ve got incentive to put some good content out.

              I didn’t know of AOTA by my youngest saw an OT and a PT for months when he was a baby. All is well now. 🙂