This post is a semi-sequel to Freelance Writing: Ten Steps, Tons of Resources. As ever, I’d be delighted if you’d share it on Twitter. It’s pretty long (over 5000 words) so you may want to bookmark or print it, too.
I get bored quickly.
While I love writing, I’ve got no intention as carrying on as a freelance writer for ever. I enjoy all the work I do for clients – but I get really excited about projects with a more entrepreneurial flavour.
For me, this isn’t about making a ton of money. It’s about having a particular lifestyle – one where I can work on things which I love, and have plenty of time for all sorts of non-work activities.
So what’s the difference between being a freelancer and being an entrepreneur?
Freelancing means being paid by the hour or by the project. A client hires you when they need something done – blog posts written, advertising copy edited.
Entrepreneurial activities involve building something bigger. You might spend weeks writing an ebook – but that ebook can sell hundreds or thousands of times, even while you’re asleep or on vacation.
Clients advertise for freelancers. You don’t find adverts for entrepreneurs.
Is one better than the other? No. But adding entrepreneurship to your freelancing will bring extra income – and may even take you in a whole new direction.
Unlike becoming a freelancer, becoming an entrepreneur isn’t really a step by step process. So instead of steps, I’m giving you a bunch of ideas to try out. I’ve started with ones that’ll be accessible for most people, and ended with ideas which may or may not work for you.
After that, I’ve got a section all about getting your name out there: essential for entrepreneurs, as typically your income will be from a broader customer base than a freelancer.
Idea #1: Sell Products, Not Just Services
(Image from Flickr by Håkan Dahlström)
As a freelancer, you’re selling services. A client comes to you, and you write something just for them.
It’s not too huge a step to start selling products: something which you write to be applicable for a wider audience. These can be pretty much anything which you create in advance, rather than something you write to order. It might be:
- A set of articles which you sell Private Label Rights to
- An ebook which you sell to your blog audience
- A set of audio recordings or videos – these may be pre-scripted
- Physical products (t-shirts, DVDs, workbooks, anything!)
One of the best places for writers to start out is with ebooks:
- You’re a writer, so ebooks will probably be easier for you to produce than audio, video or physical products
- Overheads are very low on digital products, compared with physical ones
- There’s tons of great advice online about writing and marketing ebooks
- Most ebooks are in .pdf format – easy to produce (see “Software” for details)
(Of course, there’s nothing stopping you starting up a business to sell hand-knitted scarves, but I’m focusing on writer-specific ideas here.)
Before you launch into your amazingly cool ebook idea, it’s worth checking that there’s actually an audience for what you want to write. That could mean:
- Producing an ebook which helps with typical problems that you see your clients having with their writing
- Running a survey on your blog to ask readers what they’d find useful
- Using forums, Twitter and sites like Yahoo Answers to check out the sorts of questions that people are writing in your area
You can go a lot further than ebooks. Depending on your audience, you might want to create audio self-study programs, video content, or more…
Thirteen Steps to Write and Publish a Free Ebook In Thirteen Hours – by me, on ProBlogger. In-depth guide that focuses on short ebooks, but all the steps apply to longer, paid ebooks too.
How to Write an Ebook That Doesn’t Suck – by Michael Martine on Remarkablogger. Great guide to the basics of ebook writing, particularly on working out what there’s a demand for, and on writing to teach.
Supplementing Your Freelance Career With Blogging and Expert Content – by Raj Dash on Freelance Switch. Great look at the sorts of free and paid content that you can create, with a handy Venn diagram.
The Sticky eBook Formula ($27) – Kelly Kingman
A great, no-fluff guide that I go back to every time I’m stuck on an ebook! Kelly has tons of experience with helping clients write ebooks.
The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Passive Income ($27) – Thursday Bram
A set of thoroughly-explained ideas from Thursday Bram, pointing you towards diverse income sources. Easy to read, and bound to give you some new thoughts!
eCover Software Pro ($27)
This is a simple, effective way to turn flat graphics into 3D ones for your products. It’s basic but does the job well, letting you choose from a bunch of different templates (books, boxes, CDs, etc) and add shadows and reflections.
Microsoft Office “Save as PDF” add-in (free, but only for Office 2007 or higher)
An incredibly easy and hassle-free way to make PDFs from any Office program (e.g. Word). Keeps tables of contents links and other hyperlinks intact.
Idea #2: Consulting, Coaching and Mentoring
(Image from Flickr by trekkyandy)
This area overlaps with freelancing: after all, you’re still selling a service. The different is that a consulting or coaching relationship can feed into other areas – like teaching a course (see the next section) – more easily than a freelancing relationship.
If you’re a good writer, there are plenty of people ready to learn from you. You may work with companies or with individuals.
Consulting and coaching often commands a higher rate than freelance writing. It’s also a good way to reach a broader audience – while most individuals don’t have much need of a freelance writer, except perhaps as a one-off, there are lots who do their own writing and could benefit from your help.
I never planned on being a writing coach. But after years of working with other writers in workshops (both informally and as part of my MA course), and after quite a few fellow writers around the net asked for my help, I realised how much I enjoy working with other people on their writing. It’s been one of the best steps – for my business, and for my own growth – that I’ve taken this year. And I’m far from the only writer branching out in this direction:
There are days when I do just as much talking about writing as I actually spend writing — and I’m okay with that. One of my goals right now is to focus as much of my writing time on my own projects (rather than client work) as possible.
(Thursday Bram, Why, Yes, I Have a Company, ThursdayBram.com)
Your First Coaching Clients
Start out by offering your help for free: it’s a great way to get experience, to figure out whether you actually enjoy it, and to get some testimonials and feedback.
If you have a mailing list or blog, you could offer free coaching there. When I started offering writing coaching, I asked in the Third Tribe forums for willing volunteers.
How to Coach – Practicalities
You’ll probably want to get coaches to send you some information in advance. Depending on the sort of coaching you’re offering, that might be:
- A sample of their writing
- A piece of writing which they want you to help them redraft
- An outline or notes for a project they want to brainstorm
- A list of questions, or problems that they’re currently having
The easiest way to coach is over the phone; I use Skype along with a handset so that I can make overseas calls cheaply and so that I’ve got my hands free to jot down notes during the call.
How To Get Coaching Testimonials That Make You The Monies – by Naomi Dunford on IttyBiz. No-nonsense guide to getting great testimonials from the folks who you coach.
Nine Tips to Becoming a Better Writing Mentor – by Laura Spencer on Freelance Writing Gigs. Straightforward advice on being a good mentor, most of which applies to paid coaches too.
Mentoring: A New Business Opportunity For Writers? – by Thursday Bram on ThursdayBram.com. Thoughtful post on why offering mentorship (or other forms of teaching) can be very valuable for writers.
Develop Your Writing Career With A Mentor – by Sharon Hurley Hall on Get Paid to Write Online. Although this is aimed at people looking for a mentor, you can apply the advice to make sure you do a great job at attracting clients.
You can download Skype for free. You’ll need a microphone (as a standalone, part of a headset, or part of a Skype phone) in order to talk on Skype.
If your client doesn’t have Skype, you can call their landline. If you’re calling another country, this doesn’t cost anything like as much as a regular phone call – when I’m making coaching calls landlines abroad, it costs me under $2/hour.
I use the Plantronics .Audio 325 headset, which now appears to be unavailable. You can get the very similar 326 from Amazon.com (RRP $24.95, currently $14.85) and Amazon.co.uk (RRP £20.42, currently £13.90)
Idea #3: Teaching a Course
(Image from Flickr by _rebella)
This is a natural step on from coaching: teaching a course.
Instead of working one-on-one with someone on their specific challenges, you’ll be helping a group of people through a particular process – like writing their website copy, or polishing the first two pages of their novel.
That could be done as a physical, face-to-face session – perhaps a half day or a whole day. Lorna Fergusson does this, in my home city of Oxford, with her fictionfire courses. If you’ve got access to a similarly awesome location, that could be a great selling point:
The courses will be held in the elegant, wood-panelled Sutro Room (which has excellent disabled access) at Trinity College, Oxford. Trinity, which was founded in the 16th century, is situated on Broad Street at the heart of the city, close to the Bodleian Library, the Sheldonian Theatre, Balliol, Exeter and Jesus Colleges.
(Lorna Fergusson, fictionfire)
Of course, you can also teach courses online – you may even have taken online courses yourself. These could take a number of formats:
- A self-study course, essentially similar to an ebook, perhaps with a forum or email support from you. Students can start at any time. Example:
- A short-term course (e.g. six weeks) with students taking the course as a cohort, and studying at the same rate. Example: World Changing Writing Workshop 2010 (now packaged into a “workshop in a box” and reviewed here)
- An ongoing course – often called a “membership site” – where students pay monthly for access, and receive regular lessons. Often includes question and answer sessions and forums. Example: Third Tribe.
A course is a major undertaking, both for you and for the students. It’s typically going to take a lot longer than an ebook to produce – and cost a good bit more. I wouldn’t recommend creating a course as your very first foray into entrepreneurship – but if it interests you, it’s definitely something to work towards.
Design & Teach a Course – from Carnegie Mellon. Pages of comprehensive advice about teaching an in-person course. It’s quite academic and aimed at those teaching in a university, but there’s a lot of in-depth advice here.
5 Easy Tips for Teaching Online Courses – from Renee Robbins on Learning Putty. Straightforward advice on how to make sure your online course gives your students a great experience.
How to Launch a Membership Site – free and in-depth series from Yaro Starak on Entrepreneur’s Journey. Dates from 2007, but the advice is mostly still current (apart from the section on Technology):
- Part 1: Build Your Preeminence
- Part 2: Communication Channels
- Part 3: Technology
- Part 4: Content and Pricing
- Part 5: Triggers
- Part 6: Prelaunch and Launch
Engaging eCourses ($97) by Kelly Kingman and Pace Smith
A fantastic set of audio guides about creating eCourses (from small to large) – Kelly and Pace have interviewed a bunch of experts, including Scott Stratten, Sonia Simone, Charlie Gilkey and more.
There are dozens of different pieces of software that you can use for a membership site or online course. I’ll cover a few of the most popular ones here.
Audacity – a free tool for recording and editing audio content. I’ve tried it out briefly and found it very intuitive and easy to use.
Aweber – has a $1 trial for your first month, then from around $19/month (up to 500 subscribers). I use this for my own newsletters lists and love it. If you want to deliver an email-only course, this is an easy way to do it.
WishList plugin for WordPress ($97 for one site / $297 for unlimited) – I’ve heard great things about this but haven’t yet used it myself. This plugin lets you run a whole membership site on WordPress. Great if you’ve got a WordPress site or blog already.
Learnable from SitePoint – currently in beta. Handles all the techy side for you, but takes a hefty cut of your earnings. Being used by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett to deliver ProBlogger courses.
Idea #4: Writing a Book (the paper kind)
(Image from Flickr by » Zitona «)
Maybe, at some point, you’ve harboured the urge to write a book – the kind that sits on a bookshelf, not an ebook.
And a book is definitely an entrepreneurial project: you write it once and sell it multiple times. In most cases, you’ll have a publisher for your book – who organises the distribution and sales. If you’re self-publishing, think hard about the logistics and whether or not you’ll get a good return on your effort.
I’ve been interested to see several prominent bloggers release books – which I’ve bought or been given – over the past couple of years:
- Trent Hamm wrote The Simple Dollar (he blogs at The Simple Dollar)
- Chris Guillebeau wrote The Art of Non Conformity (he blogs at The Art of Non-Conformity)
- Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett wrote ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income (Darren blogs at ProBogger and Chris at ChrisG.com)
- Ramit Sethi wrote I Will Teach You To Be Rich (he blogs at I Will Teach You To Be Rich)
Most of these authors have emphasised that this is not a particularly lucrative project in itself, but that having a published book lends extra credibility to other areas like coaching or speaking.
If you’re planning on writing a book, you’ll face the choice between traditional publishing (when a publisher buys the rights from you, bears the costs of printing and pays you royalties) and self-publishing (where you take on all the costs yourself – but also take all the profit).
There’s no right or wrong way. Most authors still go the traditional route, for the recognition from the book industry. Publishers will look for:
- A well-written, professional, book proposal and sample material
- Credentials or qualifications. If you have a degree in English or Journalism, or if you’ve held a job for several years in a writing-related field, make sure you include that.
- A clear idea of your target audience – and, ideally, an existing audience to market to. Most publishers will pay more attention to an email list than to your blog readership, so if you’re trying to build a platform online, focus on getting sign-ups for an email newsletter.
What Is a Book Proposal For Non-Fiction Writers – by Jessica Faust from Bookends LLC. Great, in-depth guide to exactly what you should include in your book proposal.
How to write a book – the short honest truth – by Scott Berkun from ScottBerkun.com. Scott has written three best-selling books, so he knows a thing or two. There are a bunch of useful links at the end of this article, too.
My Book Writing Journey: From a Dream to a Deal and a Finished Manuscript – by Trent Hamm on The Simple Dollar. This is the account of Trent’s first book (365 Ways to Live Cheap). A great inside look at the landing-a-book-deal and writing-a-book process.
Idea #5: Advertising
(Image from Flickr by Chuck “Caveman” Coker)
If you’ve got a blog (or, indeed, any website) with a reasonable number of readers, you can sell advertising. Unless you have a huge audience, you’re unlikely to make a living from this – but it could pay a bill or two each month.
Warning: Don’t put ads on your business website – it looks unprofessional, and potential clients will leave your site if they click on an ad, meaning they’re unlikely to stick around long enough to hire you.
If you have a page about your services or products on your blog, it’s fine to have ads running too. Just watch out that the ads aren’t from competitors (other people providing a very similar service or product).
You can get started with advertising using Google AdSense. It’s incredibly simple to get going with, but isn’t likely to make you a fortune unless you have a lot of traffic. It can also make your site look a bit cluttered or amateur.
You can also approach advertisers directly, or make it clear on your site that you take ads. For your own use, you may want to have a policy on advertising – for instance, what won’t you accept?
It’s up to you what you charge – typical rates vary hugely, depending on the size and topic of your website. I tend not to publish my rates, so that I can be a bit flexible if someone’s on a tight budget.
Warning: You can sell text links ads (and many small advertisers will ask about these), but Google frowns on this. If you sell text links on your site, rather than image-based adverts, you may get penalised by Google.
22 Ways to Find Advertisers for Your Website – by Daniel Scocco on Daily Blog Tips. Useful links to various ad networks, and plenty of beginner-friendly ideas.
9 Tricks I Used To Triple My AdSense Earnings In 30 Days – by Daniel Scocco on ProBlogger. Good intermediate to advanced ideas to try out, if you’re already using Adsense.
Google AdSense has plenty of help on getting started.
The Parable of the Lemonade Stand: Is AdSense Costing you Money? – by Kevin on ProBlogger. Explains why you might not want to use AdSense.
Idea #6: Affiliate Products
(Image from Flickr by ginnerobot)
Ever recommend great books, products or services to your friends? I definitely do – and almost all online products will have an affiliate program that you can sign up for, meaning that you get a bit of commission if someone buys by going through your link. (It doesn’t cost them any extra.)
You can be an affiliate for huge companies (Amazon, for instance) or for tiny ones – I offer affiliate programs for my ebooks, and most other ebook authors do the same. (You can find details about mine, for instance, on the Blogger’s Guide affiliate page.)
Some “affiliate marketers” get a bad reputation for promoting any old rubbish (sadly, there’s a lot of crap out there). I’d very strongly recommend that you always read/use/trial a product before becoming an affiliate for it. You might even want to put an explicit policy on your blog about the conditions under which you’ll recommend a product – mine is here.
How to Promote an Affiliate Product
Step #1: Find a product you already own and like – for example, an ebook that you’ve read and enjoyed.
Step #2: Search for their affiliate program. If you can’t find it, email the author and ask if they have one.
Step #3: Sign up as an affiliate. You’ll often be given banners (small graphics) to help you promote the product.
Step #4: Write an honest review or recommendation.
If you write a glowing recommendation, you’re more likely to get sales – but you may lose your readers’ trust if they feel the product isn’t as good as you made it out to be. I use a standard format for all my reviews (you can see it on any of the reviews listed here) where I make sure I mention any bad points, as well as giving a clear overview of the contents.
Step #5: Mention that you’re an affiliate.
If you live in the US, this step is crucial – it’s now a legal requirement that you mention if you’re being compensated in any way for promoting a product.
In other parts of the world, you don’t have to do this, but it’s probably a good idea for transparency’s sake.
You can post your review/recommendation on your blog, or send it out by email. It’s also worth mentioning it to the product owner (if appropriate) – they may well share the review with their own audience.
What is Affiliate Marketing? – by Darren Rowse on ProBlogger. A straightforward introduction, aimed at bloggers but useful for anyone looking into becoming an affiliate.
6 More Tips for Affiliate Marketing on Blogs – by Darren Rowse on ProBlogger. Great advice here, with a link to a previous post of ten tips – check that one out too.
How You Can Become A Dominant Affiliate – by Yaro Starak on Entrepreneur’s Journey. Good guide to knowing what to promote and how often to do promotions.
Idea #7: Hiring and Partnering
(Image from Flickr by ralphbijker)
As a freelance writer, you’re going to pretty quickly hit a barrier: your time and energy are limited.
Some freelancers choose to expand their business by bringing other people on board. That could be by:
- A partnership with another freelancer (not necessarily a writer – maybe a designer) where you split profits jointly
- Outsourcing administrative tasks, either to someone hired locally or to a virtual assistant
- Hiring other people and paying them a set salary
Many partnerships are quite informal. Thursday Bram and I are partners on our blog Constructively Productive, and on our Creativity Toolbox which we created together – but we both run our separate businesses most of the time.
You can partner up for a long term project, or for something one-off. Ideally, a partnership means finding someone who has slightly different skills and resources to you. For instance, you might write an ebook and partner with a blogger with a large audience, in what’s usually known as a “joint venture”.
Partnerships may or may not involve creating a company. They might be public (with details on your website of your business relationships) or they might only be known to the people within the partnership.
Where do you find partners?
- Conferences – although Thursday and I knew of one another before we met in person, it was at South-by-South-West 2010 that we really connected.
- Friends and family – I’m partnering with my brother on a new project, and I’ve partnered with a friend to write a non-fiction book
- Forums, Blogs, Twitter, etc – often, all it takes to find a partner is to ask
As your business grows, you’re likely to have more and more admin – emails, customer support, bits and pieces to tweak on your website, and so on. You can outsource this – either to a local assistant, or to someone online.
There are several ways of outsourcing, including:
- Using a virtual assistant in your own country (ask around for recommendations)
- Using an individual or team overseas
- Using your spouse, or another family member
There are pros and cons for each, obviously. If you live in the West, hiring someone local will be the most expensive option – outsourcing overseas can be impressively cheap, but don’t expect perfect English.
You may well be able to get family members on board for free, or for a share of profits – though working with friends and family isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds.
Hiring Other People
This is usually only an option once your business has grown large enough (and stable enough) to pay out a salary. You don’t necessarily have to hire full time, though: you could potentially hire a writer and pay them per piece, in just the same way as editors pay you for your freelance work.
Men with Pens has one of the best-known writing teams (see the Men with Pens “About” page), with James overseeing a number of other people – they occasionally advertise to hire new writers or designers.
If you are going to be hiring people, you’ll need to check into applicable employment laws, particularly regarding any extra taxes and responsibilities that you’ll have.
Earn More Money by Growing Your Freelancing Business – by Laura Spencer on Freelance Folder. Covers the three main areas looked at in this section – outsourcing, partnering and hiring.
How To Find the Right Freelancer for Your New Project – by Brian on Freelance Switch with important considerations to have in mind when looking to hire someone.
Find a Collaboration Partner That Fits Your Style – by Patrik Larsson on Freelance Switch. Aimed at designers, but with plenty of general advice that works for writers too.
The Unlimited Freelancer ($19) – by Mason Hipp and James Chartrand
Great book aimed at freelancers with some experience behind them (rather than total beginners). The focus is on how to take freelancing further – with a whole chapter on building a team, plus sections on good systems and “revenue-generating assets” (like ebooks).
Part Two: Get Your Name Known
In your freelance work, you may have the same clients for months or years – they need new blog posts or articles or advertising copy on a regular basis. They might find you through word of mouth, or through Google.
As an entrepreneur, you’ve got a tougher job. People don’t necessarily have a conscious need for you – even though they may be delighted to buy your products. And you’ll typically need a much larger customer base than you did as a freelancer.
Think about it this way: you hire a plumber when you need one, but you might buy a magazine or a sweater or a new gadget just because you happen to see it advertised.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get your name out there without paying for ad space.
Write a Blog
As a writer, you’ve got a big advantage online: you can string words together engagingly or, at the very least, coherently.
This puts you a step ahead of rather a lot of the blogosphere.
You certainly don’t have to blog to promote your business, but blogs have a number of advantages over static websites:
- Blogs end up with lots of individual pages, which means people are more likely to find you via search engines
- Because blogs are frequently updated, readers will keep coming back – making them more likely to buy your products or services
- You can build up a relationship with people through a blog. If they like you and trust you, they’ll be willing to buy from you.
What should you blog about? Anything related to what you’re offering. You can even have several blogs on different topics, if you have a range of interests – and run advertising, affiliate promotions or sell products on each.
There is a huge wealth of information on how to run a successful blog, so rather than reinvent the wheel here, I’ll link to some of my favourite articles, books and ebooks below.
Use Social Media
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and similar sites are all great ways to make connections online. Don’t spread yourself too thin – pick one of these to focus on to begin with. (I’d recommend Twitter.)
You can certainly use Twitter (et al) to promote your products and services, but don’t just do that. Find people to chat to and focus on building up relationships and simply having fun. Don’t feel that you should only talk to writers or people who might need writers, either; the wider your circle, the more opportunities will come your way.
Market Yourself Offline
Of course, the online world isn’t the only place to find customers, blog readers or fans. Physical connections can be a great way to spark up a new friendship, or to cement an existing online relationship.
Offline marketing includes:
- Going to networking events (these don’t have to be stiff, formal affairs – you could go to a tweetup or similar).
- Attending conferences and striking up conversations there – or even speaking
- Handing out business cards – I love Moo.com for great quality at a great price
A non-fanatical beginner’s guide to Twitter – by Deanna Zandt on DeannaZandt.com. Straightforward instructions and advice, aimed at everyday folks rather than fanatics or scammy marketers.
Becoming Yourself and Growing Your Blog – by Charlie Gilkey on Productive Flourishing. I recommend this to a lot of bloggers who’re trying to find their blogging voice – it’s a great look at how lots of top bloggers’ voices have developed.
There are so many blogs full of posts about blogging and social media that I’d really recommend getting hold of a good book or ebook, like:
ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income (RRP $24.99, currently $14.04 on Amazon) – Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett.
Great read, taking you from absolute basics to in-depth, advanced topics. Both Darren and Chris are very successful bloggers – and also lovely, down-to-earth guys. The book is packed with what they know and put into practice themselves.
Grymm & Epic Blogging Guide ($37) – Steff Metal
I read a lot about blogging, and particularly loved this ebook because (a) it’s not only for “make money blogging” bloggers and (b) Steff’s a great, engaging writer.
Beyond Networking: How to Get the A-Listers on Speed Dial ($44) – Jade Craven
Set of four mini-guides by Jade Craven. Great advice on online networking. Jade’s one of the most awesomely-connected people who I know – a natural networker – and there’s absolutely no sleazy techniques or tricks here, just honest and practical advice.
Blogger – free, basic blogging platform. Very easy to get started, but not such a flexible or robust long-term option for your blog. I’d recommend trying it out with a small test blog (which you can happily ditch, or carry on purely for fun) before graduating up to WordPress.
WordPress – free and very powerful blogging platform. Can be a little overwhelming at first, but there’s plenty of documentation and support, both on the WordPress site and around the web.
Twitter – connect with people in 140 characters or less. Great for chatting, sharing interesting links and promotions.
Facebook – create pages, for yourself and your company. Allows lots of space for filling out information, adding photos, etc.
LinkedIn – re-connect with your former colleagues. You never know who might be able to put you in touch with your next customers.
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