How to Build a Business Around Your Writing
There’s nothing quite like turning a passion into a real, paying gig. Few people are lucky enough to be able to turn their favorite pastime into something that successfully pays the bills.
But if this is something you’re looking to do with your writing (and you certainly wouldn’t be the first to make a go of it), there are some things you can do to write your way to success.
When we talk about building a business around your writing, we don’t just mean success as a freelancer or part-timer. We’re talking fully-fledged writing to the point where you’d be ready to establish a company based on creating written content.
Below is a set of twelve pointers that will help you get your full-time writing career off to a flying start.
Create a business plan
This is pretty much the first thing you should do when you decide to take the plunge into becoming a paid writer. It’s also a great idea if you’re looking to take out a loan to start your business up with. The business plan comes in particularly useful if you’re looking to work with newspapers, websites and/or businesses who need content for publicity (you’re essentially going freelance). It’s essentially that set of short- and long-term goals that will define:
- How your business develops;
- What you plan to achieve by certain dates;
- Where you are likely to be by a certain date;
- And how much you expect to be earning (or your project that you will be earning) by a given date.
Think of this in much the same way as someone who’s trying to set up any other business. your plan will help you remain focused and on track, rather than grabbing at any opportunity that comes your way.
You will need a clear picture in your mind of what you want to achieve and how each project you take on will help you achieve that goal. It may sound quite corporate, but it does mean you can see a basic outline of how much money you can afford to invest in your business, how much you expect to make in your first year, and how you aim to position yourself.
Remember – the business plan shouldn’t be complicated. Think of a successful start-up such as Taboola, a company that focuses on recommending online content to users on the back of items they are currently viewing. They’ve turned the simplest idea into one of the most highly successful companies in the world (in its niche) in terms of revenue.
You may find that there are other writers out there who aren’t particularly clued up on how to sell themselves or how to promote their services. So being able to sell yourself effectively is the best thing you can do to further your chances of success.
Pander to what people want
Wouldn’t it be great to get paid for all those pet or preferred projects you have cooking away? Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way, as the cliche goes, and it’s important to take this into account at the beginning.
When you’re still trying to build up your reputation and gain a reliable database of clients, you’ll find your success as a writer depends on cashing in on people’s wants. Just look at any successful company or entrepreneur around you – they’ve achieved their success because there is someone out there who needs their services. Their success came when they were able to identify and zero in, on that need. You may not always be happy with it, but stick in there long enough and you’ll get to the greener side.
Even for established and seasoned writers, it’s always best to find that point between what you’re good at, what you love doing, and what others want to shell out their money for.
Whether it’s helping businesses use their content to grow or helping businesses simply clean up their websites and other materials, sometimes it’s best to put aside a personal preference for paying jobs. Another obvious (but nevertheless important) point is – learn through mistakes. Don’t let yourself stagnate and get pulled down by criticism. You’re not always going to see eye-to-eye with clients, but it’s as well to take action when problems or criticisms come up.
Treat your business as a business
This might, again, seem an obvious point, but when you’re working for yourself (and not necessarily in a “traditional” office), you can end up getting lazy.
The thought of cutting out a daily commute, not having to invest in corporate attire, even being able to work in your pajamas, and the like can sound like a godsend. But it’s best to remember that your writing is still your work. If anything, you may find that you have to work as hard for yourself, if not harder.
If you’ve taken your writing full time, you no longer have the monthly salary coming in, no matter what. Your salary is now commensurate with the amount of time and work you put in. Trying to keep yourself motivated, especially when you may feel underappreciated and “just freelancer” is a hard thing to do. This is why your attitude and mentality towards your work is more important now.
Get your work onto as many platforms as possible
Even though you might feel a bit dispirited at the thought of keeping yourself motivated all the time, you do at least have technology on your side.
One of the major benefits of technology in the 21 st century is that writers aren’t confined to just one platform or constrained by how their work is viewed. It’s not like people will only view your work on one website or one blog post. Once you’ve created a niche for your writing, it’s time to choose how that writing will reach out to people.
It doesn’t have to be confined to such well-known platforms such as WordPress, Blogspot (or any number of newspapers and magazines if you’re writing articles) that provide instant article-style posts for your writing. There’s now a glut of websites, such as Wix, Squarespace, Weebly or Writing.com where you can upload, produce and showcase your work.
Although work may mostly end up published on a blog or a website, you’ve still got the likes of social media to help you advertise and highlight your work. Even if you’re the shy kind, you at least have the benefit of being able to quickly share your work to a wide and varied audience, at virtually no extra effort.
And programs that analyze the number of click-throughs and views (as well as actions are taken if applicable) can show you just how well your work is doing. The power of modern technology and the outreach to like-minded people will help you attract the kind of audience that wants what you offer.
If you’re a budding author, there’s always the option to self-publish in ebook form through sites such as Amazon. Think back to the case of Amanda Hocking, who, in 2010, needed $300 to travel to a Muppets show and ended up with over $20,000 in 6 months. All due to the power of self-publishing her writing in ebook form.
Be open to consultations and coaching
This is particularly useful for writers who have published a nonfiction book. You can position yourself as a go-to expert in a given area, whether it’s the art of creating a start-up, writing a ‘how-to’ guide, creating a self-help guide, a business survival guide and the like.
On the basis of this, you can then take your expertise to the next level via consulting classes either in person or through telephone/video conferencing. This has the benefit of giving your work (and your knowledge) greater publicity at the click of a few buttons, as well as helping clients expand on their own skills and knowledge.
As a consultant/coach, you have the power to reach out to people on your own terms, and work according to your own schedule and desired salary.
Take online courses and read ebooks
This refers to a slightly different concept than the point above, as your audience and your interactions with them here is likely to be much wider. Although slightly less personalized than consulting and coaching, you can still gain a good outreach (and income) through webinars, teleseminars, or videos.
The benefit here is that your work will get to many people at the same time, and with a good chance of good monetary returns. Here, you’re also more likely to win feedback and testimonials which you can then roll out for your own publicity. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved – just as clients who take part in your online course gain added skills, your reputation and expertise grow.
With resources such as online classes, you have the option to protect your work and either make it available only to people who have paid a fee or accessible for only a set period. This measure ensures that people can access the excellent information that only you can provide, whilst ensuring that your income doesn’t suffer.
If this is an area you’re planning to pursue, websites such as JigsawBox, Academy of Mine, or Ruzuku can really help you reach out to potential clients in a one-stop-shop.
And just as you can use the power of webinars, ebooks can also strengthen how your work is received. People always like ebooks, especially when they are free, as it gives them an easier option to access the information they need when they need it.
You can immediately start creating your own interactive ebooks completely for free using tools like Kotobee Author or iBooks Author (discontinued in 2020). You can even convert all your existing content and documents into interactive ebooks in minutes, so you don’t have to start from scratch. Then, you can create collections of ebooks and either sell them through an online library or something similar. Or you can publish them for free, but make money off the ads displayed inside, instead.
Learn more about creating interactive ebooks by reading this article:
How to create an interactive ebook: a step-by-step guide
Make your name synonymous with success
In an ideal situation, your audience will be so impressed with your work, they will refer back to it (whether it’s a book, a website, or a blog) on a regular basis. Another of the many benefits of 21st-century technology is that you can also keep in touch with your audience and keep them up-to-date with your latest work.
Get their email addresses so you can constantly keep in touch – and this means developing an e-mail list! There are several ways you can do this, whether it’s a plugin on your website that people can fill in to sign-up to a newsletter, or simply taking their contact details via business cards and the like.
This e-mail database essentially forms the list of all those people who want to come back to your content again and again. The more proactive you are about reaching out to them, the more likely it is they will be loyal to you.
It may be a buzz-word right now, but collaborating with others who serve the same market as you has numerous benefits for both sides involved. Collaborating with the right people means that each of you can build on the strong points of each other without compromising on your reputation or losing clients.
Think of a website such as yogajournal.com, which focuses on Yoga practice and lifestyle. The website frequently invites video and written contributions on specific areas of Yoga practice from practicing yogis and yoginis in particular areas, such as lead ups to postures or practice and anatomy. It’s a great way to bring in various aspects of expertise and raise the profile of those who are well informed on particular subjects (it also raises your credibility).
This can mean that you brainstorm all products, services, facilities etc, and support each other by providing services and skills that the other doesn’t have. It could be something as simple as getting a shout-out or reference as a resource in your book in exchange for their announcing your book to their audience; there’s also the possibility of guest articles/features in an area you have less (or more) expertise in, and the like.
Either way, if you choose your collaborations carefully and wisely, you can find like-minded colleagues to help build up on each other’s strengths for greater writing success.
Invest in yourself
Investing in the right equipment and training courses ensures your long-term success in your chosen field. As the proverb goes, “A bad workman always blames his tools.” Don’t be a bad workman – it doesn’t mean throwing money around to get the latest gadgets and gizmos, as it is likely you’ll just end up in debt.
Instead, you’ll need to wisely invest in the right equipment and training (and this is where your strong business plan is your new best friend) to get ahead and find the success you seek. It will enable to get your work done properly and stay on top of the game, whilst also ensuring your reputation becomes stronger with every project.
Whereas you obviously don’t need to put yourself in debt, a good computer (or other such equipment) or relevant training courses will help you develop your skills and ensure you keep control of your business. And if you’re wondering how exactly you’re going to fund all of your wise investments, simply use go step-by-step and use money you’ve earned from writing gigs. One thing to consider is “how” to sell your ebook, which is why learning a bit more about sales should help you out. For a good place to start, click here.
Get a down-payment from clients before you start writing
This is a classic mistake for newbies on the scene, but it’s certainly a practice you should put in place early on. As a standard starting point, you should expect about 50% in advance before the project begins.
It protects you, as a writer, from being taken advantage of, especially if you’re working with a client for the first time. Unfortunately, not everyone can be trusted. When you’re just starting out in writing, it’s easy to argue with yourself that you don’t have the reputation yet to argue your way into a down-payment.
Don’t sell yourself cheaply! Even as a newbie on the scene, don’t put yourself in the position of making unsecured loans. Once you become a bit more savvy on who’s good and who’s not, go for those clients who will give you that down payment (or give you payments at specific milestones).
Stick to deadlines
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that people don’t talk about it when you miss a deadline. Missing deadlines is like freelance writing career suicide, especially if you’re writing for a newspaper where deadlines are the difference between a scoop and being relegated to second-best.
You’ll just earn yourself the reputation for being unreliable, and your clients will start to dribble away. To avoid word getting around that deadlines aren’t your strong point, miss a deadline at your own peril.
Most clients will understand if a delay happens due to a genuine problem (like a death in the family or you’re seriously ill) – otherwise, it’s best to avoid.
Keep up a blog or online presence to establish your public persona
This is another example of how 21st-century technology can really help you build up your reputation and your bank of published work.
Keeping an online presence to publish your work, even if in a blog, ensures that you can establish a public presence for your writing. It’s especially useful if you come from a non-writing/journalism background. In other words, get your writing out there and known, even if it isn’t paid at the beginning, so you at least have some evidence of your writing skills.
By taking on board the above points, you should be well on your way to creating a lasting career as a freelance writer. Once you’ve found your groove and your goals remain firmly in sight, it’s now a matter of playing your cards right and maintaining your online public presence.
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