Get Paid to Write with No Experience
Remember the summer of 2015? Everyone was outside, blasting ‘Trap Queen’ by Fetty Wap on the radio, at a party, on the beach. I was stuck inside rubbing pennies together and dreaming up get-rich-quick schemes. The prevailing mantra for job searchers then was to keep playing the “numbers game”.
The one where you spray applications across the internet, hoping one sticks.
But I didn’t want to chase down leads by reading walls of text at home. So I closed my laptop, got in a car, and drove to the city.
Build a community, not a cave
I caught wind of a seminar happening nearby on Meetup, and dragged a buddy along for the free food. We huddled into a room with a panel of four agency owners.
All had inspiring stories, but one lady‘s passion for public relations struck me. During the lunch break, I followed up with her to ask a few questions and learn more about her work. She shared recent projects, reminisced about her career, and asked about mine.
I told her about my journey as an unemployed college student. Revealed ambitions of being a writer and agency owner one day. Mentioned that her work excited me, and asked how I could help. She handed me a business card.
The next week I was drafting a press release for one of her clients. I had never written one before. Not my best work. But she was happy, and it led to two more years of collaborating and getting paid $10 per hour to learn.
At some point, that evolved into a project-based fee of $250, which got me to around $25 per hour. It didn’t feel special or smart. But reflecting back, that experience sent me down the path of least resistance and greatest return.
Prioritize conversations over applications.
People will usually help you if you’ll let them. Just by asking, I was able to score a lifelong client and mentor during college. This sparked a series of events that led to more opportunities. The chicken-and-egg problem of finding a job without any experience?
Cracked and starting to sizzle.
Choose exposure over shiny perks
Fast forward to the summer of 2016.
Everyone and their cousin had found an internship. I wanted one too if it meant having an excuse to be in the city all summer. After mindlessly scrolling the web, I went back to the drawing board. The university job board.
“Paid internship at Chicago startup”. Sold. So was the hiring manager. She offered $15 per hour and hired me after a short phone screen. I was in.
We were a team of ten. All trapped inside the “office” of an accelerator, no bigger than two bedrooms combined. Our CTO worked on a treadmill desk and tinkered with gadgets in his spare time. A product engineer ranted about the perils of machine learning jargon. The business development guy revealed his best-selling book written under a pen name.
It’s hard to get that kind of exposure when you’re part of a big team or large company. It takes time. Everyone is “busy”, and it’s much easier to slip through the cracks. Especially when you’re at a junior level.
Get to know people who’ve been where you want to go.
Like really get to know them. Why they choose their job, what makes them tick, how they like to work, who they listen to. And let them get to know you.
“Through others, we become ourselves.” — Lev Vygotsky
That level of transparency helps scale learning curves faster. Teaching is learning and learning is teaching. Spending time with the right people helps you meet mentors and friends. To build a circle of positive influence.
Let’s not forget about how many hats you get to wear. When you’re part of a department of two, there’s enough work to go around. Customer discovery. Industry research. User guides. Marketing automation. Blogging. SEO. Paid search. Design. Analytics.
As fall came closer, the startup asked if I’d like to continue managing their blog on contract while finishing up school. $25 per hour. That’s where I discovered my love for writing and got my first taste for freelancing.
Search for the highest perspective
The summer of 2017 was a blur. Enter, real world. I had years of practice and some inklings of a network under my belt, so this was going to be a breeze.
Right? Wrong. Yet again, everyone else had beat me to the punch.
Here I was again, dialing up an old professor to beg for tips. He connected me with an alum who was hiring. Dylan was only a few years older than me, and we hit it off right away. The offer came the next weekend. An exciting email with a boring salary attached.
$54,000 per year. I wasn’t too happy about it, but the learning potential and team fit excited me. So I negotiated up to $56,500 and accepted.
Trust the process and look for the bigger picture.
Within a year, I had soaked up as much as possible about market research, collaboration, and content strategy. It truly was an environment that fostered rapid growth, enabled by incredible leaders and coworkers. One promotion later, the doors started knocking on me.
An incredible lady that I worked closely with at the startup had moved to another company. They needed a writer to support a monthly newsletter, blog, and LinkedIn advertising. I needed a side-gig to keep me sane.
$3,500 per month. Probably around 10 hours of work. Why so much?
There was a resume of proven experience that showed I knew exactly how to engage with the target audience and speak the industry lingo. Also, I had to measure the opportunity cost of spending free time on this work.
Build leverage and “social capital” to leapfrog
A former colleague and I caught up over lunch.
She was working at a new agency that was hiring, and it was right next to my new apartment. More importantly, there was a position open for a job I had been looking to get into for awhile.
After an initial phone screen, I chatted with my would-be manager. Ironically enough, he also freelanced part-time. We chatted about how important it is to find convergence between the “day job” and freelance life.
That’s when I realized that it was time to recognize that there were two divergent careers at play. Full-time strategy by day, freelance writing by night and weekends. The writing suffered until I began working with other incredible writers and transitioned into an editing role.
A year and a half went by. I got bumped up to Associate Director. Fancy. But I also felt like I was hitting a plateau in the learning curve. After stumbling upon an exciting company and job posting on LinkedIn, it was obvious.
Read the writing on the wall to optimize for your rate of learning.
Don’t wait around for half-baked promises of future promotions and learning opportunities. Get what you deserve and leave before your growth is stunted. That doesn’t mean you can’t be loyal to a good company. It just means that you should leave if and when the incentives aren’t fully aligned.
But most importantly, you don’t need experience to get experience.
You just need curiosity.
- Stop applying online. Favor conversations over walls of text.
- Learn from people doing what you want to do. Find a circle.
- Invest in your long-term potential. Figure out what you like most.
- Leave before it gets boring. Free yourself from unnecessary constraints.