Tom: the following is a guest post by Gina Horkey – a freelance blogger and a friend of mine.
She’s made incredible progress since she started on her journey back in April 2014, and in a recent Skype call I asked if she would be interested in sharing that story with the Leaving Work Behind audience. She was, which is why I am delighted to introduce her story today!
If you are looking to break into freelance blogging, or looking to increase your rates, Gina’s story offers some invaluable lessons.
Last week I got my dream freelance writing gig – I’m the blogger for a personal lending startup getting paid $150 per post.
We’re starting with two posts per week, but have a schedule to be at 5-7 within a few months. That’s at least $1,200 per month to start, with the potential of $4,000 per month in the near future – from one client. Wanna know how I did it?
How I Got Started
I’ve only been working at this freelance writing thing since April of this year. Through some pleasant trick of the universe I stumbled upon this little site of Tom’s and furiously started ingesting as much content from LWB as I could. I especially connected with Tom’s Manifesto and the story of the fisherman.
Through his course I set up my website and Hire Me page and drafted my pitch email. Paid to Blog was delivered in an awesome format for me – a step by step guide to get me from where I was (a complete newbie) to someone that looked like a legitimate freelance writer.
I started and finished the course within a month. I set a reasonable schedule for posting to my own blog on a weekly basis. It was (and still is) my goal to have my website serve as an online portfolio of my work, rather than something I want to monetize.
My First Sample
I knew that I needed to develop some samples (besides just my own blog) to advertise my writing skills as I pitched for jobs. I somehow came across an ad to blog for The Huffington Post, which was one of the other key cosmic things that moved my career forward.
The Huffington Post is one of those immediately recognizable media outlets. I pitched, they accepted, and a beautiful new relationship was born. In my opinion, gaining this (unpaid) writing opportunity solidified my reputation as a legitimate writer.
After my first post was reviewed and accepted, they gave me the freedom to blog as often as I’d like. I chose monthly, as it’s doable for my schedule. It’s my goal that every piece is of upmost quality, since it’s such great exposure.
Pitching for Jobs
It wasn’t until June that I landed my first paid gig.
I took Tom’s advice to heart and sent out loads of pitches. I started with the usual places like ProBlogger and the like and then got an email that Paid to Blog Jobs was now available to the masses after its beta testing.
After Paid to Blog and the HuffPo, Paid to Blog Jobs was probably the third big thing that propelled my business forward. For a few bucks per month I can log in and see all of the decent freelance writing jobs available from a huge variety of sources.
I could go out and try to find the same offerings, but it would take me hours every week to do this. I don’t have any extra hours in my day. All of these jobs are prescreened and titled with a description, so I know what to click on and look into further and what to just scan and skip.
I sent out 10+ pitches each week in the beginning – although I don’t send out quite as many now, I still send out at least two per week. I probably log in every other day to see what’s new and have perfected my job pitch, which I’ll slightly modify at times to match the job I’m applying for.
Two Useful Pitching Tips
One useful tip I’ve learned is to always follow pitch guidelines precisely. If they want a short email about your background and your resume, make sure to keep it short – and include your resume. If they want three samples, provide three samples. If they want you to put something specific in the email subject line, make sure to do it! If you don’t, they’ll just move on to someone that did.
I had read in the past that women are known to only apply for jobs that they know they are 100% qualified for, while men will apply for things that they are approximately 60% qualified for. I decided I needed to act like a man in this circumstance and applied for any job that was even remotely interesting/that I had the experience for.
My First Writing Job
It worked! The first paid writing job that I got was ghostwriting about WordPress theme descriptions (something I was barely qualified to do) – for Tom! He had the job posted on P2BJ and I applied, hoping he’d take a chance on me.
I was probably pretty horrible at it, but I took it very seriously and used it as an opportunity to learn my craft and become a better writer. Tom was great at giving me feedback, while still encouraging me. I didn’t even know single spacing was how you wrote for the web, for example!
Getting paid to write was also a big turning point for me. It gave me the confidence that I could do this. It is possible. Things just got better from there. I continued pitching, started landing more jobs and learned a ton in the process. I made some mistakes, received plenty of feedback and instead of taking it personally, I made it my mindset to take it as constructive criticism and make the changes the client wanted to deliver the product they expected.
I’m a financial nerd. My background is in personal finance (I’m quitting my job at the end of this year!) and I’ve kept track of all of my income and expenses since getting started. Here’s what it’s looked like so far:
- April-June: $0 income – $205 expenses = -$205 profit
- July: $805 income – $191 expenses = $614 profit ($409 rolling profit)
- August: $1,540 income – $264 expenses = $1,276 profit ($1,685 rolling profit)
- September (to date): $1,620 profit – $541 expenses = $1,079 profit ($2,764)
I only count income that I received that month (rather than my billables). Expenses include things like my domain name, hosting fees, any business books I’ve purchased, research I’ve farmed out, Paypal/Stripe fees (yes, you have to pay to get paid!), my recent Chromebook purchase, Paid to Blog Jobs membership, online courses, etc.
I could have bootstrapped even more and only had processing and my domain/hosting fees as my only expenses, but I’m investing in a new career – that costs money at times! There’s nothing that I’ve purchased yet that I regret, so I think I’ve made smart investments in my business so far. With the exception of my startup fees, I’ve also always had the income to pay for the expenses from my freelance writing, so I haven’t had to use my day job income to fund my new venture.
Failures Along the Way
I’ve learned a lot from trial and error. I think it’s easier for me to put myself out there via the interwebs for some reason – email is definitely “safer” than a phone call or in person interview for example. I haven’t heard anything back from numerous pitches and I’ve also heard a lot of noes. Like any other business, it seems to be a numbers game. The more I put myself out there, the more pitches I send, the more people get back to me and the more gigs I ultimately land.
I’ve done trial articles only to not get the ultimate job. I’ve done one-off posts that haven’t resulted in any further work. I’ve gotten really excited about jobs, only to hear they got over a 100 applicants and aren’t going to use me. It’s okay – there’s always another job right around the corner.
As I mentioned above, asking for feedback and being open to making changes has been one of the best things I’ve done for my freelance business. I still have a lot to learn and am always appreciative of editors or others that are willing to give me a few tips on how to become a better writer.
Upping My Confidence
I started out with a Minimum Hourly Rate (MHR) of $50. Like most other freelancers, I took my current wage and inflated it a little to come to this number. $50 per post seemed like a decent starting point – it’s enough to make it worth it to me, but not too high to be unreasonable.
I think this was a good level for me to start at, but it’s not where I want to be long term. Part of my goal with starting a freelance writing business was to be able to work from anywhere – but also to work less overall. I have a young family (a one and almost three year old) and my husband is a stay at home dad.
I’m the breadwinner and we have this crazy idea of buying a used RV to tour the US for a month next year. We’re not planning on making it a lifestyle and need to earn enough to maintain our current household. $50 per post isn’t going to cut it long term.
I recently stumbled upon the brilliant Brennan Dunn and his Double Your Freelance Rate course. Even though his background is more geared towards web developers, I still found a lot of the content super useful and applicable to my freelance writing business. Subconsciously I switched my mindset from $50 per article to $150 (tripling, rather than doubling my current rate).
Landing My Dream Gig
This all brings us full circle to how I landed my big fish of a client that is willing to pay me my new MHR of $150 per post. Through Paid to Blog Jobs I found a writing gig that was right up my alley – a startup that was looking for a blogger to start and run their blog. This individual would basically have free reign and creative control over the blog and write about all things health – from financial health, to physical and mental health, to relationships, etc.
Being that I got my degree in Psychology and worked for a major weight loss company in the past (as well as my current role in personal finance), I knew I was a shoein! I applied and within a couple of hours saw that I had a missed call on my cell phone. I listened to the message (and subsequently read an email from the same individual) saying that he had read my pitch and email and was interested in talking further.
Long story short, we had a nice chat and he said he’d get back to me after talking with his business partners. He then asked me to write a trial article and after review, they gave me the job!
I then had to start negotiations. I had in my pitch email that my rates ranged between $.12-25/word. I did the math on the 1,176 word post that I had written for them and the range I quoted them came to $141-294. I suggested a per article rate of $150, figuring that not all articles would be this long and due to the potential volume (ideally ramping up to 5-7 posts per week in time) that coming in on the low end would give me the best odds. I figured I could write a quality piece for them in under an hour, giving me an hourly rate of $150+.
I replied with my suggestion, crossed my fingers and hit send. He came back within minutes with an approval. Through our contract, I flushed out our agreed upon schedule (2 posts per week month one, 3 per week month two and 4-7 thereafter), asked for a $500 deposit and added a “30 day notice” clause for either of us if the relationship wasn’t working out. This is the first contract I put in place. I’m glad I suggested it.
Keeping Their Business
This relationship is still new (we’re in our first month), but so far they really like the content that I’m putting out. The one risk that I see is that this is a startup – if things go well for them and they continue to like my posts, I see a bright future for our relationship. If things don’t go so well with their launch, it might end prematurely.
I can only focus on what’s in my control at this time though: the quality of my post ideas and writing, and providing value in any way that I can. I plan on doing this by increasing my knowledge of SEO practices and making sure that I apply it to my writing.
I also want to make things as easy as possible on their end. I’m going to try and only ask really important questions and not bother them with the small stuff. They want someone to run with it, not someone they have to micromanage. I want them to be able to trust my intentions and work and be able to count on my regularly producing awesome content.
Dream Big and Ask for Help
I’m excited to share my journey with you thus far. It’s a wordy one! The only thing I haven’t mentioned that has also been integral to my success is the work I’ve done with my mentor. There is a lot to know in the freelance writing world – a lot! I know Tom is also getting into coaching and if I weren’t already working with someone, he’d be my first choice!
I’ve already informally learned a ton from him, but he really is one smart cookie! This post might seem like a promo for his business – and in an unintentional way it is. There are some key people and experiences that have brought me to this point – a mere five months from when I stumbled upon his site and started learning about the world of freelance writing.
Now I’m gearing up to quit my job and make this my full-time thing. I can honestly say that without him, none of this would have been possible. So, thank you Tom! You really are changing lives with your corner of the internet.
I’ve covered a lot about the details of my own journey – feel free to ask me any questions or share your own!
Photo Credit: Unhindered by Talent