Want to Earn More Money for Your Writing? Give it Away!

Want to Earn More Money for Your Writing?  Give it Away!

Tired of making pennies a word – and losing jobs to other writers regardless of how little you charge? That means it’s time to change your marketing strategy, and I can’t think of a better time than the beginning of the New Year.

If you want to make more money for your writing this coming year – a lot more – start writing for free.

I don’t mean caving into client demands for free samples or letting deadbeats off the hook.  People who ask for freebies or those who take advantage of you are typically trying to rip you off, and unless you’re independently wealthy, you should walk away from both. Content may be king, but you’ll remain a pauper as long as you allow others to control you.

But you can’t wait for the economy to improve your finances or luck to change the type of clients you attract. More money is yours for the taking, and all you need to do is change your approach: give your writing away.

One Million Reasons to Write for Free

Before you think I’ve gone crazy, consider this: I’ve earned more than $1,000 a word and nearly $1 million for a single manuscript.  I made myself worth these fees by carefully choosing when and why to give my talent away.

I still give my work away today. Not because I have to, but because I know it will pay dividends.

Your rates – cheap, reasonable or exorbitant – should always be flexible.  And you should base them not just on your immediate needs but on your long-term goals.  Sure, you have to pay rent this month and need cash flow for your business.  Everyone does.

But if you only work to pay the bills, that’s all you’ll ever end up with, give or take a few dollars.

To make freelance writing a successful career and not just a pajama-clad alternative to working at a coffee shop, you need to develop a long-term marketing strategy.  You need to think of yourself as a business owner first and writer second.  This includes envisioning the career you’d like to have 5, 10 or 15 years from now and taking calculated risks to make that writing career happen.

Free Writing = Free Advertising

You know that every company needs content.  But company owners don’t necessarily know they need content and they especially don’t know they need you to write it for them. You can wait for company owners to come to their senses – three months, six months or a year from now – and wait for their job posting on one of the online freelance sites.  Then, you can bid along with dozens of competitors, hope that your proposal gets read and hope some more that your bid gets picked.

Or you can skip over all those painful, often-defeating steps and pitch a company directly. Do that, and the only one you’re competing against is yourself.  

Want to eliminate yourself as the competition?  Write something for free.

Don’t wait to be asked about your fee.  Don’t discuss your rates at all.  Just say you want to show them what you can do.

Then do it. Give them your best work – a brilliant blog post, copy for a captivating landing page, ad text so powerful it doesn’t need visuals to support it – and then thank the company for the opportunity.

They might be so impressed they’ll hire you on the spot, at the rate you name. It happens.   Chances are, though, they’ll look skeptical, dazed or blank.  They’ll send you on your way with a few mumbled words and a sweaty handshake (or its email equivalent, a perfunctory emoticon.)

Start smiling, because this is where the real fun begins.

Free Writing + Free Promotion = High Paying Contracts

Now you can promote your work to key people inside the company, as well as to influential people outside the company via email or social media.  And they will convince the company decision-makers to hire you.

How should you promote your work?  Publish the piece you wrote on your own website and share it on your social media platforms, tagging company executives and board members when you do.  Post your revised content on your LinkedIn or Google+ pages and link to the original for a before and after view. Then ask your followers — and the potential client’s followers — to judge which is better.

Want to take a less public approach?  Put your work in the body of an email and add a personal note.  Send emails out one at a time – no spamming – and offer it as a gift each time.  Do some name-dropping: “I shared this with X on Tuesday.  Did she show it to you yet?”

Follow up.  Be polite, persistent, and helpful.  Make yourself a topic of conversation among company decision-makers.  Get them talking about you and your work.  Pique their interest.

The offer to engage your services may not come immediately.  It may not come at all.  Don’t buy a Maserati on credit while you’re waiting.

But make gifting content a regular part of your marketing strategy, and you’ll get enough work, at high enough rates of pay, to make the effort and waiting more than worth your time.

Make the Investment

The writing-as-a-gift strategy pays off if you’re confident about the quality of your work and savvy about the writing market you wish to enter.

Unsure about your writing skills?  Read a good book, take a course or consult a writer you admire.  Do whatever it takes to gain the confidence and skills you need.

Then study the market.  An eBay retailer probably has a far smaller content budget than Macy’s.  A Fortune 500 firm expects to pay more for writing services than a start-up does.

And don’t base your rates on what you think you’re worth. Base your rates on the value you bring to a particular company.  You may find that your rates may be substantially lower – or higher – than the price you think you’re worth when you look in the mirror each morning.

Also, look beyond the immediate payday.  Is this a one-off assignment that will never lead to another?  Push for the highest price possible.  Is there potential for a long-term contract or some other benefit, like prestige, shared business interest, a case study, or entry into a coveted niche? Quote your rates accordingly.

The Freebie Alternative

If you’re not quite ready for the in-your-face approach of direct pitching, here’s another to try that beats relying on job boards for work:

Write an article about a company you’d like to work for, and then get it published online. Aim for a high-authority site but if you can’t get it placed, publish your article on your own blog and share it on social media.

Tag the people you’d most like to read it – the CEO or head of marketing, for example – and express some enthusiasm.  If no one writes to thank you for saying nice things or profiling their company in your article, move on.

If you receive even the briefest note of gratitude, add them to your social networks — you’ve just made this person an audience to your fabulous content.

Wait for the company to contact you.  It will likely come in the form of a request for something small or cheap. “We need a simple press release…”  Politely decline or set a high price for the “simple” task.  Send some ideas about what really great things you could do for them if they put you on retainer or a multi-month contract.

Keep in touch.  Make the occasional, gentle pitch.  When the company needs a writer, they’ll think of you first. And before they post a project online, they’ll ask you for a proposal.

The job is yours, if you want it.

Writing for free is dumb if it serves no purpose.  But make free writing a part of your overall marketing strategy, and you’ll get more of what every freelancer wants: financial freedom.

Post by Katherine Kotaw

Katherine Kotaw honed her expertise in corporate and personal branding while working at a major New York advertising agency and freelancing for Fortune 500 companies and start-ups. She's also the founder, spirit and chief storyteller of a boutique digital content-marketing agency in LA and has become one of our most favorite blog contributors.