The last three years have been full of memorable events, both personal and professional.
While I’ve been in the content creation field for a while, I’ve only been doing it full-time since 2016.
That was the year I started taking on jobs from the ProBlogger job board. And since then I’ve been using it for landing gigs almost exclusively.
Between 2016 and 2019 I earned six figures from jobs I landed on ProBlogger alone. And during a three-month period in 2018 I made $58,000 from just one client.
This is how I did it, and how you can replicate my success.
Getting Lost and Gaining My Freedom
I started working in my late teens, managing a small hospitality outfit my late parents had established. Later I worked in customer service in a large telecom company in West Africa. And then I moved to Nairobi, Kenya and became a charity volunteer.
So I’m used to holding a regular job.
But I was about to become completely lost.
Lost in New York
No, I’m not talking about the movie (although I was home alone).
I managed to secure a fairly lucrative job as a due diligence researcher in New York City, working on projects for the likes of IBM, Microsoft, Shell, Deloitte, AT&T and others.
Life was good.
Then I received a letter stating I’d unintentionally violated some company policy and had to leave.
But I had nowhere to go.
A couple of years earlier a friend of mine had suggested starting a side hustle and writing for websites. Before the NYC job I’d conducted interviews and written content for Blueprint Entrepreneur Mag, a magazine based in Australia.
At the time I thought, “Why create stress for myself?”, and ignored his advice.
But as I stood on that New York City street feeling cold and broken, his words came flooding back.
It was time to take that advice.
Finding My Freedom
Luckily, I joined a mastermind my friend started a few months before I lost my job. So I quickly brushed up on creating content, pitching clients and landing gigs.
I set up my website, email address and PayPal account, and then published a few articles on my blog.
Next, I started pitching to media platforms that accepted contributions. I wanted to write for free to get my name out there.
I was lucky. Arianna Huffington had just left The Huffington Post and was launching her new venture, Thrive Global. So I got her email address and pitched to her directly.
And she replied.
After writing my first article for Thrive Global I got an author login, which meant I could contribute to the platform at any time.
Things were beginning to add up.
But there was still one place things weren’t adding up – my wallet.
Break the Rules Intelligently and Succeed Eventually
Needing to earn money fast, I set myself a goal to replace my income in a month.
I had to break a few rules to do it. But I also made three critical decisions:
- Pro-level from day one: I made sure I delivered pro-level work (and charged pro-level rates) from the word go.
- Not niching so fast: I broadened my scope, and wrote for three to five niches I knew well. And then I chose the niche that brought me the most clients – and the most pay.
- Pitching daily: I pitched to potential clients every day – even when I had enough clients to earn a steady income.
As for proof of my writing ability, I used the work I’d done for Blueprint Entrepreneur and TopTenz.net. These were a bit dated, but they got the ball rolling. And then I created new articles for my site and published them on Thrive Global.
I was good to fly. And fly I did.
My Mistakes and Fixing Them
But it wasn’t all butterflies and rainbows. I made my fair share of mistakes, such as…
I once lost a client because he felt misled on who was getting paid for the work.
Without asking for permission or giving prior warning, I switched my known PayPal email address to a friend’s PayPal account. I was away for the summer, and wanted my friend to receive payments on my behalf so I could get the money quickly.
So the client paid to my usual PayPal email address. But the confirmation email included some Chinese characters because my friend lived in China.
The client didn’t find it funny.
I tried to explain what had happened to my client. But he wouldn’t have any of it and stopped working with me, saying it would affect his tax reporting.
And my $800 a week income stream became a dried-up creek bed.
Lesson: Tell your clients about any changes that might affect them (directly or indirectly) before it happens.
The Video Interview Gaffe
Confidence is good. But overconfidence can kill.
And I once died from it.
A potential client was thrilled with my work, and set up a video appointment with me. He also emailed some documents in preparation for the video session.
But when they arrived I just skimmed through them without paying much attention to the details.
We started talking, and he began making references to the documents he’d sent me. Or at least I think he was, because it soon became clear I wasn’t following.
I realised I was far from ready for our online meeting. And I’m sure the client realised it too, because he never got back to me.
When I emailed him about the work a few weeks later, he replied with, “We’ve filled the role, thanks”.
Lesson: Be ready, and pay attention to everything. It will work either for or against you.
Don’t Just Beat Deadlines
It was the first article I wrote for my new client. Unfortunately, it was also the last.
I pitched the topic, and he liked it. I gave him an outline, and he liked that too.
So as far as I was concerned it was a done deal. I just had to write the piece so I could get paid and move onto my next assignment.
But everything ended at “write the piece”.
In a rush to beat the deadline I’d set with the client, I submitted the article without checking it for errors. That’s right. No grammar checks. No Flesch readability checks. Just the intuitive belief that everything would be okay as long as I beat the deadline.
But I woke up the next day to find this heartbreaker in my inbox: “I’m sorry, but this isn’t what we’re looking for”.
I never got paid, and never got another assignment from him.
Lesson: Delivering error-free posts is just as important as beating deadlines.
Other Mistakes That Hurt Writers
Despite all my mistakes, I count myself lucky. I learned from them quickly, didn’t make too many of them, and seldom repeated my mistakes.
But many writers have killed their careers on an altar of errors such as:
- missing deadlines
- not learning about AP Style early enough
- over-promising and under-delivering
- being a writer and nothing else.
Let’s talk a little about the last point.
Writing isn’t the only thing clients pay for when they hire you. They’re paying for your knowledge, your skills, your experiences, and whatever else you can bring to the table.
So go out and do things you haven’t done much. Learn about:
- pay-per-click campaigns
- social media marketing
- anything else you can use to increase the value you bring.
And if you established a professional career path before becoming a writer, that’s another value-add you can offer.
Making $58,000 in Three Months
July 28, 2018. A Saturday, and a day I won’t forget in a hurry.
Without much to do on the weekend, I searched for open jobs on the ProBlogger job board. In no time, I found a posting that matched my abilities and experience.
And I applied.
Little did I know that I’d just signed up to receive tens of thousands of dollars over the next three months.
Fast forward to November 26, 2018. I’d completed the project, and earned $58,000.
Here’s how it happened.
The Job Posting
The job had been up less than 24 hours when I turned in my application. So I knew my timing was relatively good on this one.
Job advertisers are usually pretty specific about what they expect from your application. So I read the job description carefully.
And then I crafted my pitch to address the criteria on the job post.
The request was almost unbelievable. I assumed the client was going to pay pennies for the work, so I was slightly hesitant to apply.
But I had a simple rule for job applications. “Don’t make unfounded assumptions. Apply anyway.”
So I did.
In my application, I wanted to show this client that I knew my stuff. So I provided eight examples of my published work.
Some advertisers specify how many examples they want to see. But this one didn’t ask for a specific number.
So I provided as many examples as possible. I wanted this advertiser to say, “Yes, this candidate knows what I want”.
Next, I introduced myself and showed in my cover letter that I had all the qualities this client wanted. I also pointed out my other desirable qualities that he might appreciate.
My cover letter showed that I had:
- had two years of writing experience
- extensive WordPress experience
- demonstrated knowledge of SaaS products
- experience and competency in SEO techniques.
I used a premium grammar checker to proofread my application to keep it error-free, and closed the pitch with my desired rate per word.
And I also demonstrated that I’d beat their deadlines, and responded to their follow-up enquiries and emails as soon as they hit my inbox.
A couple of days later, I got the first follow-up email. I replied. We exchanged a couple more messages and then finally reached the contract stage.
At this point, their choice of payment channel was almost a deal-breaker. They wanted to pay me via cryptocurrencies. (I’d only used PayPal and direct bank deposits up to this point.)
I felt that cryptocurrencies were too volatile, and that it was too early for me to consider being paid that way.
(I’m not sure why I thought it was too early, or even what I thought “too early” meant. I guess it was just fear.)
I’d typed out an email to call off the job, and was ready to send it when I had second thoughts and deleted it instead.
I took the job, then opened a Blockchain.com account and created a bitcoin wallet to receive the payments.
By the time the contract was over I’d earned $58,000 from writing 290 articles at $200 each.
My payments came in bitcoin. But as you know, bitcoin fluctuates. At the time, a bitcoin was worth about $6,000 to $7,000 apiece.
And at the end of the project, the client said he’d keep my WordPress account open on his website for other projects to come later in 2019.
My Biggest Takeaways
It’s been a pleasant journey for me, albeit one fraught with challenges. And I’ve learned some valuable lessons that I’d now like to share them with you.
That’s right. Every day. Even when you have clients beating paths to your door.
Okay, maybe not every day. But don’t miss it two days in a row.
Pitch relevant targets
Pitch only to relevant prospects. Shooting everyone an email won’t get you clients, and may even discourage you.
Don ‘t have enough relevant experience or published work? Write more on the topics you’ve noticed are in high demand, and post them on your blog.
Clients come and go
Do your best work, and do your best to keep your clients happy. But don’t expect the romance to last forever.
Everything that has a beginning has an end. And things don’t always end well.
Learn from unpleasant experiences, and appreciate and enjoy the pleasant ones. They’re all part of the journey.
Observe and take notes
Make notes from the ProBlogger job board and use them to raise the amount of value you can offer clients.
Job posts can show you new ways to improve your value offering. For example, a job posting that asks for published work with significant social shares should inspire you to promote some of your posts and get them shared on social media.
A lot of social shares can be a massive plus to your work. They add to your credibility, and tell potential clients that your work resonates with readers.
Develop a pitch template
Your pitch template is like your resumé. By using one you’ll always show the value you can provide potential employers.
Having a pitching template means:
- you’ll never forget an element of your pitch
- your pitching time will fall
- the number of pitches you send will rise
- you’ll never have to worry about what you’re going to say
- your pitches will have a clean structure.
Keep tweaking your pitch template
As your experience and value offering grows, update your pitching template to reflect this growth.
Write for free
Writing for free can be worth it, providing it has value. Appearing on high-traffic websites can give you and your work credibility and exposure.
Find websites in your niche, or with significant media authority, and write for them. Fast Company and other media outlets have guest contributor guidelines if you’d like to write for them.
Writing for small blogs can also be an excellent addition if you’re just starting out.
Pitch to websites with a domain authority of 20 or less and write for them so your work appears on other platforms as well as your blog.
Write a resumé
Some clients ask for it. So have one ready.
Rewrite your resumé often
As you gain more experience and your portfolio of work grows, make sure you update your resumé accordingly.
Let your author bio sell you
When someone has enjoyed reading your work, where will they go next?
Chances are they’ll want to know who wrote the piece they just read. So use the author bio to tell them about yourself and what you can offer.
Now, what will you do differently today?
My advice is to start pitching every day. It’s the first and possibly most crucial step to take. Everything else stems from there.