Two years ago, I quit my job at a Fortune 100 company to pursue my passion as a nutritionist. I went back to school to do a master's degree and very quickly went from being a financially stable, got-my-life-together 24-year-old to just another directionless, penniless millennial.
I now earn $10,000+ a month as a full-time freelancer writer because of Instagram (no, I’m not Instagram famous). I used Instagram to market myself to work with some of the biggest brands in the health and fitness industry, and here’s how.
It all started with a lil vanity.
I’ll be totally transparent: This whole journey started with a lil vanity.
I went to Thailand just before I quit my job (a classic tale), and I met a photographer. We became friends and she took some pictures of me. Prior to Thailand, I had been painfully insecure in front of a camera, but the Thai air just really brought it out of me (see below). I posted the pictures on Instagram and I started to gain a little baby following.
I worked hard at the gym and was physically fit, which led to me receiving some messages regarding my workout routine and diet, which to me was wild, why would anyone care, right? But I was an avid gym junkie and prospective nutritionist, plus I had a bachelor’s in science — I knew what I was talking about, so I decided to answer the questions in my Instagram captions.
Lesson 1: Add value — By posting free, useful, and well-thought out information on social media — without asking for anything in return or advertising any paid service — you add value in a distinct and trustworthy way. If you start your social media journey with advertising your service BEFORE adding value, how will your audience know that you’re legitimate?
Many marketers traditionally add value via customer service, inspirational visual content, blog posts, infographics, video content, etc., but Instagram captions are widely underutilized as a way to effectively add value for writers. In the beginning, no one wants to read your 2,000 word blog post. Prospective clients want snippets of your writing skills, like a quick 300 word Instagram caption.
After quitting my job, going back to university, and qualifying as a fitness coach, I continued snapping selfies and posting captions about my fitness and diet hacks. I never had more than around 10,000 followers, and in the grand scheme of Instagram, that is miniscule.
However, as per Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 true fans theory, all you really need to be a successful creator is 1,000 true fans. Or, in my case, Instagram followers.
I was approached online by a popular boxing gym who explained that they had read my Instagram captions and wondered if I would write a full-length article for them. Of course, I obliged and was paid £25 to write a 500-word article — which to me was awesome because I had been writing 350 words (roughly the limit for Instagram) for free, just for fun.
Finding My Niche
After writing a few articles for this gym, I began advertising my services as a writer. This wasn’t my initial intention or career goal — but at this stage I needed money. I was living back at home and had burnt through my savings.
I should preface this by saying I was a naturally capable writer. I’m right-brain dominant so throughout school and university I aced essay writing and creative tasks (but could barely cross multiply…it’s not all sunshine and rainbows).
Writing about nutrition and fitness was what I did for fun. I spent hours each day reading fitness blogs, books, and watching YouTube videos and documentaries about anything relating to health and fitness — my mom thought it was a bit weird.
But getting paid, albeit not much, to do what I love was an electrifying feeling after spending the last year as a corporate zombie doing tax. YES, TAX.
Lesson 2: Your niche can be anything, but it has to be something that makes you feel ELECTRIFIED. I’m driven to constantly learn and stay updated with all things health and fitness, which made me a great candidate to write about it. When you’re a niche writer, you’re dedicating your life to this pursuit, so you better choose something you would do even if you weren’t paid for it.
Tips on finding a niche: If there’s a market for it, there’s going to be a group of people interested in learning more about it, thus requiring the need for a capable writer. Golf? Sure. Korean skincare? Absolutely.
Using Instagram Captions as a Portfolio
I consistently posted on Instagram with long, well-thought-out, evidence-based captions (see above). I then advertised these on freelancing platforms like Fiverr, PeoplePerHour, and Upwork and despite not having a solid portfolio of published materials, I did have hundreds of mini-articles that were doing well, based on the metrics.
After a while, fitness influencers, gyms, athletes, owners of wellness brands, and publishers came across my Instagram. Here’s how:
- Consistent posting — Every day on your story, posting on your feed. Ideally every day, but at least four times per week.
- Targeted hashtags — #Instagood isn’t going to get you in front of your target audience. I researched the right hashtags that I knew my prospective client would be using that would be specific for each post depending on the content.
- Engagement and outreach — Want to be seen by a gym that has 1 million followers? You need to make your page visible to them. Duh! But many people forget this. Comment on their posts, direct message them, tag them in posts. If you want to be their new content writer MAKE YOURSELF KNOWN.
This is also a great way to build your social media page. The algorithm favors the most authentic and active pages, so no bots!
- Solid work — I didn’t just write 100 words on how to lose weight with phrases like ‘eat less.’ I maxed out my word count by citing the most up-to-date valid weight loss research and gave unique, actionable advice to directly benefit my audience. When my prospective clients saw that people were interacting with these posts and I was directly providing value to them, I had legitimized myself as a capable fitness writer.
Lesson 3: You don’t have to follow the conventional path as a writer, you just have to work with what you’ve got. Instagram is a visual platform, and for better or worse, so is the fitness industry. By posting typical #fitspo pictures but then adding value in the caption, I was able get myself seen by the right people AND prove myself as a fitness writer.
Turning a Hobby Into a Career
You may be questioning the jump from £25 per article to $10,000 per month. Firstly — I moved to the U.S., hence the changing currency. Secondly — I worked HARD.
Here are my top 6 tips on making it as a freelance writer:
- Find a niche — As mentioned, your niche needs to be your lifelong, die-hard passion. It needs to be something you’d do even if you weren’t paid for it. For me, that’s health and fitness. Because of that, I’m staying on top of my game; constantly researching, learning, and exploring the industry, which leads to great content.
- Be different — Advertising myself on Instagram made me ‘different.’ I wasn’t emailing boring proposals to fitness magazines, I was direct-messaging the head of marketing with examples of my writing (in my captions) and the metrics of how the post did. While this wasn’t always successful, it was appreciated as a unique approach and did get me into contact with some of the best in the industry.
- Be a lil bit corporate — I hated working as a corporate zombie, but I did learn some invaluable lessons that I believe have helped me grow so quickly as a freelance writer:
▹ Attention to detail — No spelling errors, no false claims, no bad grammar, the devil is in the detail.
▹ Underpromise, overdeliver — If a piece of work is going to take you three days, quote five. When you deliver it earlier than expected, you’ve already pleased your client.
▹ Be professional in every interaction — Many creatives fall short when it comes to professionalism. There are no ‘yeah’s’ or colloquialisms in my emails. To be taken seriously as a writer, you need to assert yourself as a marketing expert, less as a creative writer.
▹ Never, ever, ever be late — No more explanation necessary; if you’re ever late delivering work or attending meetings, they’ve already fired you.
- Put yourself out there — It may seem awkward and you will get rejected 99% of the time, but putting yourself out there — whether through ads, social media, or word of mouth — is essential. You never know who might respond.
- Try freelancing platforms — As I said, I used Fiverr, PeoplePerHour (PPH), and Upwork. I never made a penny on PPH or Upwork despite putting in hours of time sending proposals. But just on Fiverr alone I’ve made $35,000 in two years and have more than 220 five star reviews.
- Be a thought leader — My passion for health and fitness extends beyond my advice on weight loss or muscle gain. I have strong opinions about nutrition and fitness and I don’t shy away from talking about them on social media, forums like Quora, in person, and at events. This deep-rooted connection I have to my niche appeals to prospective clients who want my insight.
Lesson 4: To make it as a successful freelance writer, you need to be an extremely competent AND passionate writer. It’s not enough to know how to construct sentences, you also need to write in a way that evokes feelings and inspires thought. That could be through humor, insight, or enthusiasm. Be disruptive.
I now write Instagram captions for some of the biggest brands in the health and fitness space, including many professional athletes and influencers.
Sometimes the unconventional path to be a writer gets you noticed. In an oversaturated market of writers looking for work, try the lesser utilized platforms, like Instagram or TikTok. You never know who might be watching you put in the work.