We take a look at how you can supplement your teaching income from freelance writing and how to get started
With ESL teaching being seasonal, you may be looking for opportunities to supplement your income during the offseason. We’ve talked in the past about teaching English online. But, this too can be seasonal depending on which companies you work for. It can be helpful as a teacher to have other means of income to get you through off months. Freelance writing can be a fantastic option.
Since you are already knowledgeable of the grammar and mechanics of the English language, freelance writing can be a natural fit. So, let’s take a look at how you can get started. First, we’ll look at how to get started immediately. Then, we’ll look into getting your own clients, followed by some tips to help make the process easier.
How do you get started?
When we talk about freelance writing, there are really two skills at play here, writing and marketing. As a new writer, there are avenues you can take if you do not yet have the marketing skills to begin finding work. But, we will warn you in advance, these avenues are going to be lower-paying.
This may not be a significant issue if you are just looking to supplement your income. But, if you are looking to make a full-time income during certain months of the year, you will inevitably find yourself needing to market your skills and find your own clients. So, let’s first take a look at how you can get started immediately. Then, we will examine how you can progress to making more money with your own clients.
The best way to get started immediately as a new writer is through content mills. You should know that this isn’t going to be the glamorous life you might dream of when it comes to writing.
Most content mills offer low pay and tedious work. Take one look around Google for what other people have to say about content mills. Many of the reviews are heavily slanted in the negative.
Many of the people who speak badly about content mills do so when they are trying to use it as a sole source of income. Other times, these will be less experienced writers who may not have the skills to make it into the upper paying tiers that most content mills have set up. They easily become discouraged and the end result is giving up. But, it doesn’t have to be this way for you.
If you are just looking to supplement your income with a little bit of extra money each week then this can be a great starting point. Yes, the pay is low but you can still quite easily bridge the gap between what you are making now and what you want to make. Usually, with only a few extra hours of work each day. The best part of this is that you can do it from just about anywhere in the world. Stable internet is helpful but, unlike teaching online, isn’t mandatory.
So, what are content mills?
These are companies that act as a middleman between clients and writers. They take a chunk of the fee the writer is being paid. Content mills usually operate in one of two different ways. The first is as an open order listing. This means that clients post open orders for what they need and writers accept these on a first come first serve basis. These are the easiest to get started in but will often be the lowest paying.
The second type is content mills which work on a bidding system. Clients will put orders out for what they need done and clients will bid for how long it will take and how much they can do it for. Many times, these turn into a race to the bottom. But, you can make more money per article in the long run if you do get jobs.
Now that you understand the basics, let’s take a look at some different content mills you can start out with:
- Textbroker – this is one of the largest content mills and oftentimes the easiest to get started on. If you are looking to make a little extra money each day without too much hassle then this is a great option. You aren’t going to get rich and it will be very difficult to make a full-time income using just this. But, combined with teaching at a school or teaching online, you can easily bridge the gap in your income without too much difficulty. They have an open order system where writers accept orders on a first come first serve basis. If a client likes your work, they can also hire you directly at a rate you have set.
- Constant-Content – if you are already a part-time writer with a lot of articles sitting around, this can be a good starting point. You can load your articles onto the marketplace and if a client likes your work they can buy your article from you. They also have an open order system where writers can bid on orders currently needed by clients. This is going to be more difficult to get started with but will pay slightly better than Textbroker.
- Crowd Content – this is another open order content mill. But, they are known for paying much better than sites like Textbroker. Because of this, they are also much more selective about who they hire to write for them. You need to be a solid writer and meticulous with grammar and punctuation.
- Writer Access – this site operates similar to Textbroker but with higher pay and more stringent requirements for being accepted as a writer. They have both open orders that writers can apply for as well as a board for first come first serve jobs. Clients can also hire you directly if they like your work. This often ends up netting you more money per article.
- Writers Domain – this is a great option if you are not from the United States. They accept writers from Canada, the United States, Australia, and some European countries. They pay higher than sites like Textbroker but operate in a similar fashion. You can choose articles on a first come first serve basis from an open order pool.
This is just a few of the many content mills that are out there. But, it is a good starting point. As we said before, if you are just wanting to make a little extra money each day then you can stick with a site like Textbroker which is easier to get started with.
But, if you are a solid writer, you can venture to some of the other content mills on this list which pay better but are more difficult to get started with. As we mentioned before, working with a content mill isn’t glamorous and isn’t going to make you rich. But, if you are already making a comfortable amount from teaching English abroad or teaching English online, this can be a great way to add some extra money to your salary each month.
For all of these content mills, the process for getting hired will be similar:
- Fill out application
- Take a grammar and / or writing test
- Wait for 3 – 15 days for a response
- Start working
It really is that easy. But, this is also why they pay so little. They are getting the clients and allowing you to work at your leisure. If you want to make better money and don’t mind putting a bit of effort into it, you will need to find your own clients.
How do you find clients?
If supplementing a small part of your income is your sole reason for writing then working for a content mill can be a good option. It allows you to focus on working without worrying where the work is coming from. It may be lower pay but it will save you immense amounts of time trying to find work.
But, if you are looking for higher pay or, if you want to completely replace teaching, then you will need to find your own clients. There is no way around it. This can be quite tricky and is the most frustrating part of freelancing for many writers. If you are patient though, and you are persistent, you will be able to get through it.
When going the route of looking for your own clients, blogging job boards can be a very attractive option. These are job boards where individuals or companies looking for writers post a job listing. You then apply to the listings which interest you the same as you would any other type of job.
The job postings vary quite greatly. Some can be for individual projects where a certain number of articles are needed. There are also other listings for longterm writing positions for a website. You can even find full-time positions being advertised on some of these sites.
Freelance writing job boards can be a good way to get started finding clients. There is one glaring issue with them though which is competition. You can safely assume that the average listing on one of these job boards receives hundreds to thousands of responses. It isn’t impossible to get a job from one of these, but it takes persistence and you will likely have to apply to many jobs before you land one.
The most important thing you can do to increase your likelihood that your application is even read is to follow instructions. Most of the listings will have very specific instructions about what the person hiring wants to see. This could be some kind of format they want your application to follow or specific samples they want to see.
Some of the listings may even ask you to write a specific title to ensure you’ve read all of the instructions in the job ad. Needless to say, it is important that you read everything and follow all of the instructions.
In our experience, the best blogging job boards are:
The last one can be a particularly good resource as they not only have a job board but also daily postings Monday through Friday with jobs listings from all over the internet.
Aside from these, you can also hunt for work on sites like Craigslist. You never know what you will find. Don’t spend too much time going through every website. But, it is always worth it to take a look at the available jobs on Craigslist as there are occasional quality clients who post there.
Getting Your Own Clients
This is where writers make real money. It isn’t easy to do though. Look around writers forums and Reddit groups for even a few minutes and you will see people trying to figure out how to get clients. The truth is, there is no magic bullet or unicorn method for securing your own clients. It takes hard work and persistence.
If you want to get into the more lucrative side of writing, and potentially make just as much from this as you do teaching, if not more, you have to have your own clients. There is no way around it. You are going to have to brush up on your marketing skills to get started here. This is the real moneymaker when it comes to freelance writing.
But first, you need to ask yourself a few questions including:
- What can you write about?
- What other skills can you offer clients (SEO, social media marketing, etc.)?
- What is your unique selling point (expertise, quick turnover, insider knowledge on a topic, etc.)?
When it comes to finding your own clients, you will be competing with thousands and even hundreds of thousands of writers around the planet. You will need to have a specific area that you can write about and a unique selling point that distinguishes you from the rest of the pack.
The good news is, most writers don’t have these things. That is one of the main reasons they struggle to find work. Many people who break into writing try to be general writers and approach a wide variety of clients. But, that will never work.
No client is going to hire you just because you are generally good at writing. They will hire you because you have expertise on the topic they need to be covered and you can deliver high quality work by a specified date.
If you want to find your own clients, the best thing to do is to find the exact area you can write thoroughly about and start there. For some of you, this may be education. There are plenty of websites and magazines which regularly hire teachers. Or, maybe you are an expert scuba diver or rock climber, start there.
Find what you know best and begin researching every website and magazine that exists in that niche. You obviously want to focus on the ones that are regularly publishing content as the odds are they need writers. Once you find these sites, make a list of all of them, these are going to be your prospects.
Here is where the tricky part comes in. You need to go to each one of these sites and look for how you can submit content. Make sure to read carefully. Some of the sites on your list may not accept pitches from writers. These will usually be sites where the site owner is producing all of their own content. Other websites may have a strict format they want you to follow when pitching articles. Fail to pay attention to these requirements and your pitch will have a one-way ticket into the trash.
Once you have a list of each of the websites you are going to pitch to and you know the requirements for each, it is time to start pitching. You need to create a template that you can refine for every site you pitch to. Do not make your pitch boilerplate content that anyone could write. You need to show in your pitch why you are the best person for the job.
You want a template that will allow you to convey your expertise in the field and your past experience. But, you want to make sure that you can easily change parts of the template to fit each of the sites you are pitching to in a more personalized way. This is a process that will take time.
Once you have your pitches done, send them out and keep this process up until you find work. It is a pretty straight forward process. If you can keep it going you will eventually start hearing back from clients.
Make sure you are regularly fine-tuning your pitch. Don’t just find a hundred websites and send the same pitch on the first try. Instead, send your pitch to a few sites. Wait for a few days, then update your pitch and try a few more. Keep doing this until you begin to see some positive results. This is when you will know you’ve got a winning template and you can begin to go full force.
So, let’s simplify this process down into a few easy to follow steps:
- Make a list of all the websites in your niche that regularly produce content
- Find their requirements for pitching articles
- Tailor your pitch template to each website
- Send pitches to no more than five sites at a time
- Wait to hear back and adjust your pitch as necessary
- Repeat until you have clients
We will warn you upfront that this can be an incredibly frustrating process. You are probably not going to get tons of responses early on. Instead, you have to be persistent. This is one reason you see so many frustrated people complaining about freelance writing. It is hard work. Especially in the beginning when you are still looking for clients. Once you have a few, things become much easier. But, getting those first few can be a monumental challenge.
Do not buy into the people who try to sell you a magic formula for pitching or who say that you can get rich quick. You can supplement or even completely replace your teaching income if you want. But, it will not be quick and it most likely will not be easy.
What are some tips for writing?
#1 Write some samples
You don’t need to find work to have writing samples. Instead, if you know you will need samples when applying for jobs but don’t yet have any, write some. It is safe to assume that the majority of jobs you will want are going to ask for writing samples. It’s the only way they can get a feel for your writing.
When you first get started though, chances are you won’t have many samples. So, the best thing you can do is create five samples in the field you want to write in. Even better, as you apply for jobs, write articles that are in the voice of the site you are applying to.
This significantly helps the person who will be reviewing your application as they know you can follow instructions. Also, they can see you are capable of writing articles that suit their website and their audience. You will instantly have a leg up over other people who have submitted a wide variety of samples not necessarily related to what the client is looking for.
#2 Be patient
Writing is a lot of hurry up and wait. You are constantly marketing yourself to people who may or may not accept your application. It is entirely possible in the beginning to send out a hundred pitches in a week and not hear back from a single person. Usually, this won’t happen. If you consistently send out pitches and applications you will begin to land clients. But, don’t get discouraged if you don’t immediately land jobs.
If you can be patient and push through the first few months of looking for clients, you will eventually land some. You only need three or four good clients to work with to make a comfortable full-time salary. Depending on what niche you are writing in, this can be easy or a bit more difficult.
#3 Don’t rely on one client
We cannot stress this enough, especially if you are wanting to make a full-time income from this and replace your teaching. Having only one client is a recipe for failure. If that one client ever decides they don’t need you anymore or if they go under, you are back at square one. You want to have a minimum of two clients but better to have three.
Having two clients gives you the assurance that if one leaves you there is another there so you’re not completely at a loss. But, with only two clients, if one leaves you, you are in stress mode. With three main clients, if one leaves, you still have two there and can find a third to replace the lost one without too much stress.
If you are only using content mills you should still have this in mind. You want to work for at least three content mills. It is important to think of these mills as clients. If one doesn’t have work you have two more you can work with. Or, if one of them fails, which does happen, you can pick up the slack with the other two.
#4 Don’t accept work if you can’t deliver on time
This is a big one. Many new freelancers fall into the trap of being over-optimistic when it comes to accepting work. They take on too many projects and end up not being able to deliver on all of them by the set date. This creates a reputation of unreliability and clients will be less likely to work with you in the future.
Only accept what you are 100% sure you can complete within the given time frame. Even if it means turning away money. It is more important to consistently deliver high-quality work on time, every time. If you can do this you will eventually develop a solid reputation and will have no trouble finding higher-paying clients in the future. Always put future profits ahead of short term gains.
#5 Don’t be afraid to say no
Continuing with the idea that if you deliver quality writing consistently on time, you will be able to charge more. This means finding new and higher-paying clients. Inevitably, you will find yourself in a position where someone wants to work with you, but doesn’t want to pay what you are quoting. Tell them no. Never undervalue yourself out of a sense of kindness or for any other reason.
Always remember that both you and the client are conducting business. Most likely, they are hiring you for an article that is going to make them money. Why should you accept less than what you are asking when they are going to be making money off your work? You shouldn’t.
This doesn’t mean you should have unreasonable expectations about earnings. If you are just starting out, it is always best to do some research to see what other new writers in your niche are charging. Remember what we said, this is about the long game. Charge more when you have the reputation and the client testimonials to back it. Till then, use the market as a guide to help you price yourself accordingly. Even if you think you should be getting paid more remember, everyone has to start from somewhere and it is usually at the bottom.
#6 Consider making a website
This is one that can be quite intimidating for many people. But, having an easy to find website that clearly markets your skills can be a great way to convince clients you are the perfect writer for their needs.
After all, you are marketing your ability to write content that is going to drive traffic to a clients website. One of the first things they are going to do is try to find out more about you and your writing. If they can’t find anything at all, chances are they won’t work with you. There are far too many writers out there that are easy to find either through their website or through bylines.
If you are just wanting to work with content mills and don’t want to worry about marketing to new clients, don’t worry about this. But, if you are looking to find clients and plan on pitching them, having a website will improve your chances significantly.
Your website doesn’t need to be extravagant. A simple site that shows off your work and helps clients to understand what you have to offer will do. Even better, you can accomplish this kind of website for fairly cheap. In the beginning, you can even do it yourself and hire a site designer later on when you are making money.
If you are going to design it yourself, remember that this is a business. Even though your website is going to be simple, it still needs to accomplish its intended purpose. It needs to convert visitors into clients. So, if you have zero web design experience or don’t feel comfortable with your ability to create a website that converts, hire someone.
You don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get a simple personal website. Find a few different designers and see what they have to offer and what they will charge you. Then go with the one you like best. But, be reasonable. Just like you want to be paid for your writing they want to be paid for the hard work they do. If you try to go as cheap as possible you will get the exact results you paid for.
Your website should be simple with a few main pages:
- Home Page
- Prior Work (regularly updated)
- Blog Page (regularly updated)
- Contact Page
You want to have a prior work or portfolio page to show off what you have accomplished for others, especially if you have written articles published on major websites. The blog page helps visitors to see your writing style and, if you update it regularly, lets them know you are active.
Don’t let yourself get too caught up in the technical details though. At least not in the beginning of writing. It is more important to focus on pitching clients and optimizing your marketing skills.
Writing can be a great way to supplement your income. But, make sure you have clear goals going into it. You can easily find yourself cooped up in your house all day teaching and writing. If you are there to supplement your income then set a number and stick to it. If you want to replace your income, do the same. Whichever route you decide to take, remember that if you consistently deliver high-quality work on time, you will always be able to find work.