6 Figures in Year Two: One Writer’s Success Tips

Ring the BellBy Shawndra Russell

If you’re a writer, you should be skipping in the streets, because we are needed more than ever.

Evidence: I was able to ramp my writing business to six figures by the end of my second year freelancing.

Some writers bemoan the fact that magazines and newspapers pay less per word or that attention spans are shorter.

If you want to write books, well, that’s a lost cause, too. More books than ever are published every day, so you have no chance of standing out, and fat advances have disappeared.

Plus newsrooms are shrinking, and becoming a staff writer is nearly impossible because no one hires salaried writers, right?

Snap out of it

Wrong.

This is the best time to be a writer because our words are needed more than ever. Copyblogger boldly declared  2013 The Year of the Online Writer, and I wholeheartedly agree.

As everyone desperately tries to make their voices heard, well-written, useful writing stands out.

The never-ending need for high-quality content means professional writers can write not only for media outlets but every single business on the planet — everyone is now in the business of storytelling and content marketing.

Maybe this isn’t the kind of writing you had in mind, but why not embrace it?

I’ve rapidly built a six-figure writing business because I write freelance articles and publish books — and provide content services for businesses. The content might be a tweet, Facebook post, or blog post, but no matter what it is, each item boils down to delivering stories in clever, engaging ways.

Expand your horizons

So how did I start landing these business-writing gigs? I pitched entrepreneurs the same way I do editors.

Small business owners are so overwhelmed that they aren’t creating job postings seeking writers. They just continue to push this need aside or slap something together and publish it themselves. The business owners I’ve approached have all been thrilled to hand over their content to-do lists.

I’ve written newsletters, blog posts, social media content, emails, website copy, brochure copy, guest blogs, and press releases for these busy entrepreneurs, and you can, too.

The very first entrepreneur I pitched was someone I’d read about in a local magazine. I emailed saying I loved his product and asked if he needed help with digital marketing. I worked for a low rate so I could get one client under my belt, and the rest is history.

I continue to work with small businesses but have also worked as the social media manager for a $2 billion global snack food brand. As writers, the possibilities for new sources of income are all around us.

Be the hero

You can be the hero for these business owners.

You can see if they don’t have a current blog, don’t have a solid social media presence, or need new website copy, and then approach them with your services. And you can deliver what they need because you are a content master.

Maybe this type of content is different than what you typically tackle, but if you want to break into six-figure earnings, you’ll accept the challenge and embrace these alternative revenue streams.

Have you tried online writing for businesses? How did you land your first gig? Tell us in the comments.

Shawndra RussellShawndra Russell is tourism and lifestyle brand journalist and the Savannah correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.  

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39 comments on “6 Figures in Year Two: One Writer’s Success Tips
  1. Alex says:

    Well, writing from England, I can say I had three solid years of unemployment after finishing my English and then Journalism degrees. There was no work. There are writing opportunities, but as for journalism it’s an almighty struggle with many unpaid internships. My advice is, if you want to study it, don’t bother. Take up something else.

    Novel writing’s straight forward as you can e-publish, but there’s no guarantee your book will get any notice. However, you can try through literary agents and publishers of course. Even the best writers faces years of rejection letters before they had a success, so it’s best to just keep at it and not give up. There is no easy way in.

    • Shawndra says:

      Hi Alex, it’s definitely a challenging line of work, but hopefully this post helps writers see some alternative ways they can use their writing skills and make a good living. Even if the ultimate goal is to be a novelist or journalist, helping businesses with their content marketing can be a lucrative path to those bigger dreams.
      Shawndra recently posted…First Udemy Online Social Media Course Live!My Profile

  2. Good information – I have actually heard of this before – to approach local small businesses. I haven’t yet, though, so maybe this is something I need to do!
    Lorraine Reguly recently posted…What Am I Doing For NaNoWriMo? I’m Going To “Pitch Clinic” – I Won!My Profile

  3. Angie says:

    I love this post, Shawndra! I’m nowhere near your six figures, but I’m currently in the middle of creating an actual marketing plan (I have to confess, I’ve been going at it by the seat of my pants until now). I don’t necessarily need to get to six figures, but my goal is to at least be living comfortably by the end of next year — and my entire strategy is built around creating content for businesses.
    Angie recently posted…Can You Spot the Bully? Early Warning Signs of Workplace BullyingMy Profile

    • Shawndra says:

      Thanks Angie! Sounds like you are on the right track and don’t worry–my first year was flying by the seat of my pants too! Once you get a couple of clients under your belt, it becomes so much easier because you can then reach out to their networks. I’ve also found that it’s good to help businesses that are growing but just don’t have the time to manage and develop their online presence. Even if things are going well right this minute for them, the ones who “get it” realize that it’s important to future-proof their business, and having writers like us create content for them helps increase fan loyalty and grow their online presence.
      Shawndra recently posted…First Udemy Online Social Media Course Live!My Profile

  4. Kerry C says:

    Great article, Jennifer, thanks! I don’t know if this is taboo as I’m still trying to learn as much as I can about freelancing before seriously diving in, but how do you set rates for businesses, especially for things like tweets and SMM? Obviously – I’m assuming – they’re not paying you per tweet, but how do you go about determining a fair and reasonable rate?

  5. Dava Stewart says:

    I’d like to add a word of caution, though. Pitching business owners who either had or needed email newsletters was my first foray into freelancing, and I made some critical mistakes:
    1. I called companies that were too small and didn’t have enough money to pay me.
    2. I called companies that didn’t KNOW they needed content — as Carol said above, it’s too hard to convince a business owner that she needs a blog.

    Otherwise, this is a fantastic post, and even when the business you write for isn’t glamorous, it’s fun getting to know entrepreneurs.
    Dava Stewart recently posted…Bad News for Everyone: A Guest Post by Charles BarouchMy Profile

    • Shawndra says:

      Hi Dava, great advice. As Carol mentioned, people that have in their website menu “Blog” or “Newsletter” but then only have a few posts, haven’t updated in a while, or have never posted obviously see the benefit but just don’t have the time/manpower/etc. to carry it out and are excellent businesses to reach out to. Best to work with forward-thinking companies that value what we as writers can bring to the table for their business.
      Shawndra recently posted…First Udemy Online Social Media Course Live!My Profile

  6. This is such a fantastic post and not just because it reflects my own excitement about a writing career at this time! Recently, I have begun writing for a local business in exchange for a membership that they provide. This is a small step but it has really opened my eyes to this kind of opportunity. Now that I’ve read this, I can see so much opportunity in front of me, especially taking into consideration the interest I’ve seen during previous conversations with other local business owners. It’s so true–the world of writing is full of possibilities and creating that virtual presence for busy entrepreneurs is one of the best ways to begin. Thank you for sharing this!
    Valerie Strawmier recently posted…Book Review: Over the TopMy Profile

    • Shawndra says:

      Hi Valerie, I’m so glad this post was informative for you! Content marketing isn’t going away, and who better to produce quality content than professional writers like us 🙂 Make sure that you try and leverage any of the relationships that business has too. I have a new client that I landed as a result of another client being happy with my work. Good luck!
      Shawndra recently posted…First Udemy Online Social Media Course Live!My Profile

  7. Victoria says:

    This post has made me feel like a complete idiot. I pitch to companies everyday to review their products on my blog. I have very high success rate with this. However, I have never pitched to a company about starting a blog for them or anything of that nature. Now I am going to update my pitch letter to include those services as well. Thanks for this very informative post.
    Victoria recently posted…Is Twitter A Worthwhile Investment For Your Small Business?My Profile

  8. Shawndra, this post is perfect timing for me. I am at the point where if I don’t come out of my comfort zone and actively seek work, I’ll be singing the blues. I will now pay more attention to what I read in the papers, watch for new businesses coming to town and check out who’s got what going on as far as online presence. Direct mail is a good option, too. I recently upgraded my OS to include Publisher so I can develop a flyer for my business.

    Great advice. Thanx!
    Shauna L Bowling recently posted…Dream Catchers vs. Dream ChasersMy Profile

  9. Vicki Hodges says:

    This is great advice. I’m not super savvy with how to go about this exactly, though. Do you set up websites for these businesses? Or just add content? Do you have a book in which you spell out specifically steps on how to do this? Thanks so much!
    Vicki Hodges recently posted…It’s time to shape up my writing world! Welcome!My Profile

  10. Nina says:

    Hello Shawndra,

    Thanks for your insight. We have similar businesses. I have been writing for businesses for over 5 years now. The way I landed my first gig was through cold calling. I was completely uncomfortable with cold calling, but as they say: get comfortable with being uncomfortable! I landed a gig with on SEO firm, and he has been sending me referral after referral ever since. one client was a big time lawyer that I worked for a little over a year. Other ways I have landed clients have been Facebook marketing, email marketing, networking and hosting my own workshops. And, oh let’s not forget : direct mail. However, I am not at the six figure mark yet, my next goal is to raise my prices and minimize my hours to create true freedom. Thanks for sharing!
    Nina recently posted…Facebook Marketing: 7 Quick Tips to Increasing Your Profits on Facebook Without SellingMy Profile

    • Shawndra says:

      Nina, thanks for your response. You never know what can come of cold calling, and I’ve had some good response lately by reaching out to people on the fringe of my network (i.e. clients of my clients). It’s a never ending hustle, but so worth it when you get those clients that are just right–especially when they send new business your way like some of yours. Best of luck with grabbing more freedom!
      Shawndra recently posted…First Udemy Online Social Media Course Live!My Profile

  11. Rob says:

    I also liked your “Secret to Writing Brilliantly about a Boring Business.” It’s amazing how fascinating any topic can be when you get into it. Take material handling, for instance. Incredible – history, logistics, importance to industry. I could go on and on and have been for about 3 years now.
    Rob recently posted…What is the Most Destructive Suffix in the English Language?My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, this one is a guest post, Rob, and not my story. But you know I wrote 8 sexy feature articles all about logistics & shipping in the past year, Rob. I AM that dork, that can find something interesting in almost any aspect of my beat of business. Materials handling…that’s hot! Bet you’ve got that all to yourself if somebody needs a writer on that topic. I love these dorky niches!

      • Carol, I loved your reply and I’d love to see the article he was talking about–you made me laugh but it’s so true. Sometimes, you really have to find those “sexy” details and turn something mundane into an engaging topic. It’s a challenge but I love it!
        Valerie Strawmier recently posted…Book Review: Over the TopMy Profile

        • Carol Tice says:

          Hey, after you spend five years doing nothing but writing about lumber yards and hardware stores, like I did in my first staff job…you learn how to make ANYTHING interesting. 😉

          It was really a terrific training ground for my writing. And as has been mentioned above, talking to entrepreneurs is fun and highly educational. I learned a ton from those hardware guys, and eventually got to spin some of those tales into my Pocket Small Business Owner’s Shoestring Startup Guide business book.

          Never think any story you’re pursuing is a waste of time! I find you use it all in the end.

        • Shawndra says:

          It’s fun to do, right?! Every business, person, process, etc. has interesting stories to share, and that’s why blogging for businesses is something I’m pursuing more aggressively these days. To the right audience, every business is interesting 🙂

          • Carol Tice says:

            I know when I first got into business writing, I thought, “This is going to be so boring.” But it just wasn’t! Because behind every business is a person (or people) with a story, and it’s usually a pretty interesting one. Every business that succeeds has a story about why they won where others failed.

            Back when I wrote for the business journal we had to do a small business profile every month or so…and in 7 years of doing that I never left and interview and thought, “Oh, no, what will I write? This business story is so dull!” Never happened. It was always a question of how I could compress all the juicy parts into my assigned length.

  12. Why do we constantly forget the basics? Thanks so much for these? Will be putting these into practice this week.

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