Write a guest post for free? When you’re trying to make a living writing, it might seem counterintuitive to give your best effort to a piece that won’t put any money in your pocket.
But you can’t look at it that way. One of the first things I tell writers who are new to the freelancing world is that opportunity is unpredictably predictable.
You never know where writing opportunities will pop up. But if you cast enough lines in the water, you will inevitably reel something in. Some good marketing strategies you should be using to land freelance writing gigs include:
- Send query letters and LOIs
- Make cold calls
- Create a direct-mail marketing campaign
- Introduce yourself to prospects using social media
- Use LinkedIn to connect with prospects
- Attend in-person networking events
When you focus your efforts on marketing and do it consistently, you’re going to get results. But there’s at least one marketing strategy that sometimes gets overlooked:
Write a guest post. For free. For a popular blog.
If you’re looking for a way to throw new lines in the water, start pitching and writing guest posts, even if you won’t be paid. It’s a smart marketing strategy that can help you land new clients and lucrative gigs.
Here’s how I turned an unpaid guest post assignment into a $4,000 per month contract in three steps.
Step 1: Write a guest post in your niche
The most well-paid freelancers all specialize in one or just a few niches. Finance, healthcare, travel, business, technology, etc.
If you already know your niche, great. If you don’t or you want to tap into a new niche, you’ll need to study the market to find the businesses and people who are key players. Then you’ll know where to pitch your guest post ideas.
Writing a guest post in your niche is both a great networking exercise and an effective advertising tool. Everything you publish as a writer doubles as a big ad leading people straight to your services.
Write a guest post where you know prospects you want to work with hang out, and you’ll get free exposure to an audience you might not be able to reach otherwise.
A few years ago, I went all-in on writing guest posts on sites that feature content about business and marketing. I hustled and wrote a ton of guest post articles and content for free for high-traffic sites like Kissmetrics, CrazyEgg, Mirasee, and others.
It was a lot of work, even exhausting at times. I accepted dozens of guest post assignments, and only got paid for a few of them. But the effort wasn’t a waste. Every guest post I wrote was relevant to my target niche. I may not have been getting paid, but I did get something in return:
- Relevant backlinks that helped me rank for several competitive keyphrases
- Invitations to submit guest posts on other prominent blogs in the marketing space
- Connections with editors, writers, and entrepreneurs in my target niches
- Numerous requests to hire me for paid work on new and mid-sized marketing blogs
One blog liked my guest post so much, they asked me if I’d be interested in paid writing assignments as well. Sweet, now what?
Step 2: Go the extra mile on paid assignments
When a guest post I wrote helped me land a new client, I was excited. We worked out the contract details, and then I had to write and deliver the content. Even with a lot of experience, writing that first piece for a new client can feel like a tall order. Here’s how to handle it:
I know that the “right” thing is to say that you should do your best on every single piece you write.
And I mean… yeah…do that.
But let’s be honest. When you’re breaking into the writing game, you end up doing an insane amount of volume. INSANE. And frankly, it’s not realistic to treat every single piece of content the same.
Hell, half the time, you won’t even know if anyone is going to read that piece you submit.
So here’s my point. When significant opportunities arise, especially paid opportunities, don’t treat them the same way you treat your run-of-the-mill writing assignments. Work overtime to make sure you deliver your best possible work.
Find the most popular, most successful content in that space and do your very best to create something better than that.
That’s what I did. I made sure that the paid content I produced for this site was some of the highest performing content on their blog, which made me quite popular with their team and put me in a fantastic position for the final step to turn an unpaid guest post into a gig that pays $4,000 a month.
Step 3: Find the problem and upsell your solution
You can hit six figures doing nothing but writing. I’ve done it. Carol’s done it. And many other writers have done it. But there are some downsides:
- It’s a ton of work.
- It can’t scale past your available hours.
- It gets insanely repetitive.
In order to hit that next milestone, you have to provide something more than just writing. If you want to make more money, you have to solve more lucrative problems.
I realized while writing for the aforementioned agency that their content marketing had no clear direction. They didn’t know what topics to focus on. They didn’t know how to promote their posts. They didn’t know how to optimize their posts for relevant key phrases. They didn’t know how to setup internal links.
Landing this gig from an unpaid guest post opened the door to an opportunity. Instead of offering to be the editor to solve the problems I began to identify, I did something different.
I pitched my client the idea of a turnkey content management service at $4,000 per month to keep writing content and get their marketing strategies back on track.
That might sound like a large investment, but when you’re doing business with an agency charging each client $10,000-plus per month, they’re happy to invest that money if you can deliver results. They gave me a shot. I doubled their monthly blog readership in 6 months. And we’re still working together to this day, thanks to that unpaid guest post I wrote.
Going from guest post to paid gig
Writing a guest post for free can lead you to new prospects and clients, more assignments, and better-paying gigs. Here’s a few things to keep in mind to go from guest post to paid gig:
- Pitch guest posts in your niche with the most influence. Identify the niche you want to break into and go after the most prominent publications in that niche. I recently interviewed a fellow writer charging $1,500 per post, and he wishes he would have targeted sites like Forbes, Inc., and Harvard Business Review much earlier in his career.
- Don’t hesitate to bite off more than you can chew. But when you do, bend over backwards to deliver the goods. When paid opportunities or even hard-to-get unpaid opportunities come your way, dig deep and knock them out of the park.
- Upsell your services. People paying you money are happy to pay you more if you can solve their problems. I’ve stopped taking on one-off writing assignments for the most part, and now offer a content marketing package starting at $2,000 per month that incorporates content strategy, promotoin, and on-page SEO. This model is a lot more scalable, and I’ve found it to be in high demand, as have several of my writing students.
With a focused effort on writing guests posts for popular sites, I was able to land assignments with a client that turned into a lucrative gig. And so can you.
Jacob McMillen is a copywriter, content strategist, and freelance writing mentor. Learn how he earns up to $4k per week by targeting high paying gigs.