I’ll be honest: At some point in your writing career, you’re going to hit a monetary ceiling with your typical freelance writing jobs and “one-off” gigs.
Blogs might pay up to a hefty $150/post, especially if you can crank out interview-containing posts that garner many comments. But guess how much time you’ll spend creating and polishing such blog posts?
Similarly, there may be local to medium-sized newspapers that pay you $80+ for articles and perhaps $15-$20 for enclosed photographs. That’s not bad either, but it’s not steady work. The same holds true for those glossy and glamorized magazines that pay $1-$3/word.
Aside from pitching yet more blogs, newspapers, magazines, etc., what can you do to find high-paying freelance writing jobs?
You need to completely change how you search for writing work.
Where the real high-paying freelance writing jobs are located
Here’s the truth about freelance writing: The real money isn’t in blogs or newspapers or one-off magazine articles. Sure, there are the big-name blog sites on Entrepreneur and Forbes and the big-name newspapers and magazines that say otherwise. But the competition to land these “golden gigs” is huge.
I’m not telling you to give up on your dream of writing for The New Yorker. What I am telling you is that you don’t have to flip burgers until you make it big.
Where’s the real money hiding? In copywriting.
Hidden deep within corporate marketing and sales departments, copywriting is a highly lucrative niche of the freelance writing world. Contracted copywriting projects can span months or even years, providing the freelance writer with a stable income. Even better, many copywriting projects are paid by the hour, which is a good deal if you’re just starting out in the field and can’t churn out white papers and web pages as fast as a seasoned copywriter might.
Most small businesses employ or contract with at least three copywriters. Bigger companies may keep a “stable” of 10 or even more copywriters.
Sometimes, these copywriters exist under the title of technical writer. However, I’ll bet you $50 that these “technical writers” are writing more than simple user manuals and spec sheets.
How to find copywriting work
If you can open a LinkedIn job board and find a job listing for a technical writer, you’re lucky. Because, in reality, the most lucrative writing jobs don’t talk much about writing or writers. In fact, most copywriting jobs aren’t advertised as freelance writing at all. Instead, these jobs are titled “social media manager,” “communications specialist,” “ad campaign writer,” “PPC professional” or “marketing expert.”
When looking for copywriting jobs, you’re going to have to change how you search. To begin with, just forget about plugging in the phrase “freelance writer.” Doing so gets you nothing but low-paid and “write for exposure” gigs. “Content producer” and “content creator” are also duds and bring up mostly content mill-laden results.
Instead, use search terms like “per word,” “ROI” and of course “copywriter” and “copyeditor.” Other good search terms include “marketing writer” and “business writer.”
How much does copywriting pay?
In the high-flying world of billion dollar product industries, most advanced copywriters easily clear a six-figure salary. This quick salary scale guide notes that the copywriting salary floor is $35/hour, with copywriters making an average of $83/hour.
Most copywriter jobs are located within the marketing communications area of the company. If the company is really big, there may be further subdivisions, including technical communications and scientific communications.
Why does copywriting pay so well? Because it makes sales happen. It turns a prospect into a customer. Copywriting is the catalyst that transforms stocked products and untapped services into company revenue.
Examples of copywriting are everywhere, from the direct mail flyers that arrive in your mailbox to the emailed newsletter you receive from your grocery store to the special offer you hear about on TV or the radio.
The copywriter’s fingerprint can be seen in other media as well, including movies, TV and cable network programs. For every commercial product placement, there has to be a copywriter who “directs” the action, putting words in the mouths of actors and planning the overall message scene-by-scene.
Interestingly, the better you become at copywriting, the less actual writing you’ll do. Many expert copywriters take on the role of a marketing consultant and spend much of their time developing marketing strategy, not writing. And if they do write, it may consist of a 30-word banner ad or a 100-word landing page.
You see, the most lucrative writing is not about writing at all but about crafting a message that sells products and services. In other words, the type of writing that makes money.
We’re all in sales
If you think your freelance writing gig is above and beyond the money-grubbing world of copywriting, think again. If you write for a blog, that blog is probably promoting a product or service. If you create a monthly newsletter for a nonprofit or religious organization, that entity most likely uses your newsletter to bring in donations, grants or other funding.
Because you’ll never get away from sales and marketing, you might as well learn a thing or two about the fields. In doing so, you’ll definitely generate more income for yourself as a result.
Become familiar with SEO, SEM and SMM, beginning with what these acronyms actually stand for. Learn to distinguish direct from indirect marketing as well as B2C versus B2B markets. Know what an ROI is and what differentiates revenues from profits. Brush up on e-commerce, which is the main destination of most copywritten content.
The good news is that you don’t need an MBA or marketing degree to become adept at marketing. And forget about those useless “Internet marketing” degrees that keep getting advertised through fly-by-night online universities.
If you want to know about marketing, first read about it, then get out there and get the experience. Some immediate online sites I recommend are Copyblogger, Moz and Search Engine Land. Also, check out the blogs of marketing automation platforms such as Marketo and Act-On. All these sites are in the business of copywriting and helping you improve your copywriting skills.
As an added bonus, most copywriting sites teach you the basic tenets of consumer psychology. Yeah, consumer psychology…in other words, the psychological tactics you can use to make people buy your stuff or your client’s stuff. For examples, check out Good Copy Bad Copy, Gary Bencivenga’s Marketing Bullets or Psychotactics.
Selling your biggest (and best) product ever: You
By getting up to speed on marketing and sales, you’ll also learn how to best market and sell yourself. Learning and applying marketing lingo can be highly effective when it comes time for you to haggle for a raise, for additional (and more lucrative) work tasks, etc. Likewise, if you ever get into project management, understanding goals and metrics will be fundamental to leading a team and staying on-task.
So, even if you don’t end up as a professional copywriter, you’ll at least have accumulated an arsenal of tools and skills that can be leveraged in whatever field you eventually end up writing in.