How I’m Earning Big Money Ghostwriting for Tech Startups
How a summer of non-stop hustling and over-delivering to clients took me from utter obscurity in the startup world to in-demand ghostwriter earning $500-$775 USD per article. Plus, a practical guide featuring three ultra effective, experience-based strategies for excelling as a stranger in a new market space, building up a solid reputation, and making significant money within a short period of time.
[*Update*: be sure to read the 2019 version of this post here.]
You wouldn’t be able to tell simply by looking at my Medium profile but the truth is that:
Since the beginning of June 2017 I have written far in excess of 100,000 published words for a number of tech startups and established businesses.
I’ve produced content for new companies that are just about to launch their first products or services as well as for hugely profitable ventures that are bringing in yearly revenues in the eight figures range.
If you’re a regular reader of content posted to Medium’s Entrepreneurship sub-section then you’ve likely read one or more articles that I’ve ghostwritten.
I mention all this not to brag but rather because I want to convince you of the following key idea:
It’s entirely possible for a total “outsider” with little-to-no experience or connections to enter a new market space, work really hard to understand the “rules of the game”, make a solid impression on potential clients, and start earning significant income in exchange for providing a truly valuable product or service.
In order to demonstrate this, I’d like to tell you a story.
It’s the story of how I undertook an entrepreneurial journey this past summer.
How, in less than four months, I successfully transitioned from a complete stranger in the startup world to an editor of the biggest startup-related publication on Medium and a prolific ghostwriter whose content generates real sales for real businesses.
If you’re interested in learning how to become a highly sought-after business writer — or, really, a successful independent writer of any kind — then this article is for you.
(Note: this is a long piece and so you might want to bookmark it for future reference.)
“I’D LIKE TO HIRE YOU…”
It’s the last week of August 2017 and the following email from “Andy” arrives in my inbox:
“Subject: I’d like to hire you…
I’ve been reading your work on The Startup. I’m the Marketing Director at [company name]. We’re building a Medium blog and we need great writers to help out.
We’re looking for writers for weekly, bi-weekly or monthly posts.
If you’re interested, let me know. I’d love to talk more”.
Andy’s email represents a significant “stepping stone” in my marketing and sales efforts up to that point:
His message is the first 100% organic inbound email from a potential client interested in hiring me.
Andy and I send several messages back and forth, sorting out how we can work together.
After determining the specific needs and goals of Andy’s company from a content creation standpoint, I get to work on researching and writing the first of several long-form articles.
The blog posts will seek to accomplish two key objectives:
- Provide expertly written, thoroughly detailed, and high-value content on various issues currently defining the market space in which Andy’s business operates; and
- Establish Andy’s company as an authority figure in his niche and thereby create some buzz for, and trust in, his upcoming product launch.
In the middle of September I send Andy the first piece of ready-to-publish content.
The article offers a comprehensive exploration of:
- How the workforce in general and Andy’s industry in particular (i.e., software development) have been changing over time;
- What new market developments are currently unfolding in Andy’s niche; and
- What major problems exist at present and the reasons why available market “solutions” don’t actually solve those problems.
The content accomplishes two crucial objectives:
- It teaches valuable information by helping Andy’s readers better understand, for one, the evolution of work in the Digital Age; and
- It demonstrates the existence of a real need for a specific product by establishing the reasons why Andy’s company exists in the first place.
Here, then, is the first major lesson of writing content that connects with readers and satisfies your clients:
Provide lots of genuinely useful information for free whilst organically introducing readers (over time!) to particular business solutions on offer: that’s the key to creating high-value content with the potential to convert readers into paying customers.
After completing the first article, I email Andy an invoice for $775 USD.
A day or two later I receive a very pleasant response —which starts with the words, “Thank you. Thank you. Great post” — alongside confirmation that payment has been made.
My experience with Andy convinces me of two things:
- That long-form, meticulous, and engaging content is incredibly valuable to contemporary startups; and
- That talented and ambitious writers — if they can effectively separate themselves from run-of-the-mill content creators — can make lucrative livings in today’s tech-centred labour market.
With all the “noise” currently available online — i.e., poorly written, hastily slapped-together, copycat articles that offer little-to-no original value — Bill Gates’ famous declaration that “Content is king” has perhaps never been truer than in 2017.
Jeff Goins is, however, exactly right to point out that content without engagement, i.e., publishing content without explicitly trying to establish meaningful relationships with others, is virtually destined to fail.
Writers, therefore, must double as effective marketers today — I’ll say more about this shortly.
(ALMOST) TOO IRONIC TO BE TRUE
I’ve neglected to mention one crucial — and rather ironic — fact about writing long-form blog posts for Andy’s startup:
Less than four months before earning $775 USD for a single piece of business content, I had never written a business article before in my life—not once.
At the beginning of summer 2017, I was brand new to the world of content creation — a total unknown with zero connections and no audience whatsoever.
By the end of the summer I was earning more money writing for tech startups than I ever thought possible.
In order to explain how I went from utter obscurity to in-demand content writer acquiring paid gigs via inbound leads, I’d like to briefly trace out the marketing and sales actions I undertook this past summer.
I want to focus especially on the specific mindset I embraced and the concrete techniques I used to begin the long and difficult process of becoming an authority figure in the content creation space.
(A quick disclaimer: I sincerely hope that nothing in this article unintentionally conveys hubris, self-centredness, or any sort of “know-it-all”- or “look-how-successful-I-am!”-type attitude.
I merely wish to share some insights into how I’ve thus far managed to exceed my own expectations as a paid content writer in the hopes that such insights might help others achieve success with their own writing or related entrepreneurial pursuits.)
THE ONE THING I WANT YOU TO REMEMBER
The basic yet incredibly potent idea that I hope people will take away from this article is the following:
If you hustle by creating opportunities for yourself rather than waiting for prospects to “drop into your lap” and if you over-deliver every single time you complete a piece of work then you absolutely can achieve substantial success in a new market space by charging your clients what you’re truly worth.
It doesn’t matter if you’re well-connected with a huge existing network and an impressive portfolio or a complete newcomer with no audience or meaningful past work of which to speak.
If you match the value you deliver with the amount of money you charge then it’s entirely possible to start earning “big bucks” in a relatively short amount of time.
THREE WINNING STRATEGIES
Ultimately, there are “only” three things you need to do to become an in-demand and highly-paid writer.
As a preview of what’s to come, these three strategies consist of:
- Doing whatever it takes to connect with, and make a solid impression on, the “right” people in your industry;
- Working as hard as you possibly can by writing exceptional articles that exceed your clients’ expectations every single time; and
- Marketing yourself effectively by actively creating leads and landing new sales rather than passively expecting paying clients to somehow find their ways to you.
I explain each of these three techniques in detail about halfway through this article, i.e., under the heading Three Strategies for Becoming a Highly Paid Writer.
Feel free to jump to that section of the post now if you’d like to skip over my personal journey and immediately learn how to apply these actionable strategies to your own work.
Otherwise, let me share with you what 2017 has looked like for me so far.
Developing and Feeding My Entrepreneurial Spirit
About two years ago I began feeling quite uninspired by what I was doing with my life (i.e., working in research).
I started developing a deep desire, a hunger, to exert much greater control over my work and income.
I realized that I wanted to create something — a service, a product, some sort of business, I wasn’t yet sure — that would add value to the world.
I also wanted to earn more money doing something I enjoyed.
I wasn’t clear on how to start but I was “thirsty” for knowledge and so I turned to a couple of my go-to mediums for (quick) information, i.e., audiobooks, podcasts, and blogs.
I threw the audiobook on a USB stick and started listening to it whenever driving in my car.
I listened intently and finished the book in a few weeks.
Thereafter I felt that I had acquired some much-needed new terminology and conceptual scaffolding with which to better grasp the essentials of business.
In terms of podcasts, I began listening enthusiastically to Neil Patel and Eric Siu’s Marketing School.
I didn’t know much about Neil at the time but after realizing that he’s a bit of a big deal in the digital marketing world I started listening closely to what he and Eric had to say.
One tactic in particular that really “struck a chord with me” is Neil’s cold email technique, which he uses to boost the social shares of his content and increase traffic to his websites.
I have, in fact, adopted and modified Neil’s approach, customizing it for my own needs.
For months now I’ve been using personalized and targeted cold emails to not only successfully convince others to share my content across their social channels but also to land new paying clients.
I’ve written an entire article describing my experiences with cold email, which I encourage you to check out if you’re interested in learning how outbound marketing — when done right — can be highly effective in 2017:
Getting back to my learning-business-through-podcasts experience, I also began listening to:
- Gimlet Media’s Startup;
- John Lee Dumas’ Entrepreneurs on Fire;
- Pat Flynn’s The Smart Passive Income;
- Tim Ferriss’ The Tim Ferriss Show; and, later down the road, to
- Chris Guillebeau’s Side Hustle School;
- Gimlet Media’s The Pitch;
- NPR’s How I Built This with Guy Raz; and
- Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale.
In addition, I started reading lots of Medium articles on entrepreneurship and personal development.
Some of my favourite Medium writers then, as now, include Ali Mese, Benjamin P. Hardy, Brennan Dunn, Dave Schools, Gary Vaynerchuk, Jeff Goins, Jon Westenberg, Josiah Humphrey, Laurence McCahill, Nicolas Cole, and Nir Eyal.
At the time I felt as if I was finally developing an informed, practical understanding of business, and of marketing and sales in particular.
I also believed, however, that I was learning all sorts of really effective techniques without knowing how I could actually apply them since I hadn’t yet figured out any sort of concrete product or service that I wanted to provide.
I kept saying to myself, “Okay, okay, I understand how to get people to visit my website and to buy my product or service but what exactly am I going to market and sell?”
Even though I continued to struggle with answering these questions, I believed I was on the right path: I could sense within myself a growing passion, enthusiasm, and drive to learn and to create something special.
More and more I began thinking to myself, “I want to be an entrepreneur, that’s what I want to do!”
So I kept learning — listening to audiobooks and podcasts and reading tons of information online — about business principles and tactics in general and Internet entrepreneurship in specific.
I knew that I didn’t want to try and launch a business or create a product or service based on something about which I had little knowledge or real-world experience.
For me, this meant that dropshipping, programming, web design, and a whole host of other possibilities weren’t appropriate avenues to consider.
Fortunately, however, there is something at which people tend to say I’m uniquely gifted: the art of writing.
I AM A WRITER
Above all else, the one dynamic in which I have total self-confidence is my ability to write well.
I’m very lucky to have had a number of life-defining educational experiences whilst growing up that allowed me to cultivate the power to express myself clearly and convincingly through the written word.
Naturally, I’m very passionate about writing, believing in the importance of helping others develop and refine their written communication skills.
That’s why I wrote the following article, which to my utter surprise went viral a couple of months ago and made it to the very front page of the Medium platform:
5 Strategies for Becoming a Better Writer That Actually Work
Writing is absolutely essential to modern life. From news stories, social media posts, and art to politics, academics…
At the same time, I recognize that some people simply don’t have the freedom or inclination to improve their writing skills or to write long pieces of detailed content.
This seems especially true for many entrepreneurs building startups these days.
They understand that high quality, accessible, and long-form content is crucial for growing their businesses but as founders, CEOs, marketing directors, designers, developers, etc. it’s not their job to create that content.
Thinking about these sorts of issues during the winter and spring months of 2017, I began realizing that my writing abilities would, in some way, be the key to unlocking my entrepreneurial potential.
Importantly, I had to decide for whom, and about what, I was going to write:
- Who would my ideal clients be? How could I discover and contact them? And
- What issues/topics would my articles address? How could I add value to the world through my content?
Moreover, I needed to figure out how I could effectively monetize my writing.
I had no interest in pursuing an entrepreneurial project merely as a hobby.
I knew from the beginning that I wanted to create a profitable side hustle or, if possible, build a successful full-time business that would earn significant revenue and open up new possibilities in life for me.
Thus, I “jumped” into the market — or, more accurately, into several markets — and began experimenting.
Experiment #1: Editing Content on Popular Blogs
My first strategy was to target the owners of popular blogs and try to convince them to hire me to edit their posts.
I focused on websites that blogged about, well, blogging, e.g., building WordPress sites, setting up online stores and using affiliate links, maximizing SEO for posts, etc.
I went after the “biggest” blogging websites out there, the ones that virtually always appear on page one search results whenever you Google anything related to blogging or Wordpress.
Two of my experiences are worth mentioning.
First, I contacted “Beth”, the owner of a very popular WordPress tutorials site.
Introducing myself via the contact form on Beth’s website, I utilized the Delivery of Free Work strategy to send Beth a fully re-written piece of content based on one of her most popular posts.
Prior to reaching out to Beth, I searched her website for a trending article that was in need of a more sophisticated write-up and presentation (in terms of grammar, spelling, and syntax, clarity of expression, quality of evidence cited, etc.).
I copied the text to a new MS Word document, re-wrote the entire post line-by-line, corrected all errors and improved the prose, uploaded the new document to Dropbox, and sent Beth the link.
Alongside the file, I provided Beth with a brief explanation of why I was contacting her, noting that I would love to help her polish her website’s content so that its form and style could be as impressive as its substance.
I waited around two weeks for a response but a reply never arrived.
I sent Beth one final email in which I politely reminded her that I had previously contacted her and I emphasized that I believed I could help her with her business.
Later that day Beth sent me a response.
She said she appreciated my hustle and tenacity, i.e., that I had done quality work for her for free and had demonstrated persistence in trying to get her attention.
Unfortunately, after a few more exchanges Beth and I realized that we weren’t a proper match for each other from a business perspective.
As for the second experience, I followed the same basic strategy with “Ken”, the owner of a second very popular blogging website.
This time around, however, I offered to complete a free piece of work rather than send over a finished edit straightaway.
Ken took me up on my offer: I completed the trial edit, sent it to him, and earned his praises.
A few days later, Ken interviewed me in real-time over Skype for an editor’s position.
Again, however, it became apparent that our respective visions and expectations weren’t sufficiently aligned.
WHY DID THIS APPROACH FAIL?
My first experiment at selling my writing failed for two main reasons:
- 1. I wasn’t offering my potential clients enough value.
Whereas I felt that the time and expertise I’d be applying to the edits would justify charging a decent amount of money, my potential clients seemed to believe otherwise.
Because they were doing most of the work by writing the content themselves, I would merely be performing a “clean up” service of sorts, which entitled me to only modest payment.
Lesson learned: The real value that a content creator provides is just that, i.e., content creation — not correcting errors present in already-existing content.
- 2. I had no personal interest in, or passion for, the blogging niche as such.
I had shortsightedly targeted these how-to-blog websites purely for monetary reasons.
I knew that the sites I had contacted attracted lots of traffic and therefore I concluded that their owners must be well-positioned to pay editors good money.
However, even if I had been hired by one or both of these websites, I likely wouldn’t have lasted very long in my new role(s) because I had no interest in the actual content, i.e., the concrete issues, being discussed on the sites.
Lesson learned: When attempting to build something sustainable with the potential for growth, pay attention to the need to find a solid fit between skills and passions on the one hand and specific opportunities for paid work on the other.
These two experiences, thus, demonstrated that I needed to re-think several aspects of my approach to selling my writing.
Experiment #2: Writing Content for Startups
EVERYTHING CHANGED ONCE I STARTED TARGETING STARTUPS
By the end of the spring I had got into the routine of reading articles about business and entrepreneurship for several hours each day.
I read widely, trying to soak up and apply as many insightful ideas about and tactics for Internet entrepreneurship as I could.
The more I read, the more I realized that there were real opportunities for me to start selling my writing to businesses:
I recognized that I could offer immense value by providing startups with exceptional, actionable, and ready-to-publish content that they could use to build their audiences, gain and enhance the trust of their readers, expose more people to their products and services, and land more sales.
Understanding that founders and CEOs depend on — but are usually too busy growing their companies to personally create — high-quality and engaging blog posts, I believed I had identified a crucial pain point in need of a solution.
Moreover, ghostwriting business articles would be sustainable over the long term for two reasons:
- I’m a passionate and capable writer who’s genuinely interested in entrepreneurship; and
- There’s a strong and growing market demand for the creation of top-notch, accessible content that explores effective techniques and strategies for building and scaling startups.
If I could sell long-form content to tech startups then not only could I earn money doing something I enjoy, i.e., writing detailed articles, but I could also “learn on the job”.
Indeed, the very topics about which I’d be researching and writing — economics, financing, fundraising, marketing, mobile tech, sales, etc. — would be the very issues that I’d be studying anyways as a budding entrepreneur.
Thus, I took action to turn my plan into reality.
I started re-writing popular Medium blog posts on entrepreneurship, startups, and other business topics.
Then, I emailed the polished and expanded articles to the editors at the major Medium publications that had originally published the content.
Here’s the straightforward email template that I created for this purpose:
I recently came across an article by [name] that your platform published.
I found the article extremely informative and interesting but also difficult to follow at times.
The post contained various errors, some awkwardly written sentences, and sections that seem to end too abruptly.
I really think [name’s] article offers lots of important and actionable information but it’s overshadowed by grammatical mistakes and problematic writing.
I took it upon myself to re-write the article from scratch; I fixed all the errors and added lots more content, filling in gaps where necessary.
I’ve attached the re-written post to this email. You’re free to use it however you like if you think it worthy of publishing/sharing.
I’m not seeking any credit or compensation whatsoever.
However, if you’re impressed by the quality of the work then perhaps we could work together at some point in the future.
It wasn’t long until these ambitious outbound efforts started producing solid leads.
I then converted these leads into paying clients and began earning money as a writer.
It may seem like I’m “glossing over” one or more crucial steps here but I assure you that I’m not.
I did nothing more than deliver exceptional work to the right people for free and then negotiate opportunities to provide more work of the same calibre in exchange for a fee that matched the value I was providing.
WRITING ALL DAY, EVERYDAY
Throughout the months of June, July, August, and September, I ghostwrote and sold nearly 50 pieces of content (each 2000–5000 words in length) on a variety of topics related to entrepreneurship in general and to building and growing tech startups in specific.
Amongst other subjects, the articles explored:
- Designing, building, testing, marketing, and monetizing mobile apps;
- Creating solid co-founder relationships, startup teams, and company cultures;
- The financial realities and legal dynamics involved in running a startup;
- Growing and scaling a “lean” business;
- Destructive myths about modern entrepreneurship;
- The changing nature of contemporary labour in general and workplace collaboration in particular; and
- Securing investments, working with advisors and mentors, and attracting positive PR.
I’m still deeply humbled by the fact that Medium Staff spotlighted my ghostwritten content on many occasions throughout the summer.
Indeed, clients were ecstatic to see their articles featured on the front page of the Entrepreneurship sub-section more than a dozen times throughout these months.
Halfway through the summer I became an editor at The Startup, the biggest startup-focused publication on all of Medium.
This provided me more control over what I published, when, and to whom.
Specifically, it gave me access to a very large audience (i.e., 250k+ people) with whom I could share content published under my own name.
Attaining editor status at such a large publication effectively boosted my online reputation and credibility.
Not only did I begin receiving emails from writers inquiring into how they could get their content published on the platform but I also started receiving inbound messages from startups looking to hire me to write for them (as had happened with “Andy”).
FOUR MONTHS’ WORTH OF METRICS
By the time fall 2017 had arrived, the articles that I had ghostwritten for my numerous clients had officially accumulated:
- 300k+ views;
- 20% read ratio; and
- Close to 13k shares.
According to official Medium data:
Approximately one out of every five people who comes across an article I’ve written takes the time to read the piece; of those, a full 22% then share that post with others.
Thus, four out of every 100 people who encounter my content online go on to share it with others in their social networks.
Let’s now explicitly discuss the three most important strategies for effectively entering a new market space, growing your reputation online, and landing high-paying clients.
These are the specific techniques I used throughout 2017 to establish myself as a successful ghostwriter.
Three Strategies for Becoming a Highly Paid Writer
1. Write exceptional content and make others take notice.
The first, and by far most important, strategy for becoming a successful writer in the business world — or any kind of successful entrepreneur for that matter — is as much a mentality as it is a concrete practice.
When I was much younger than I am now, somebody very wise told me:
“Nobody is ever going to give you anything in this world. If you want something then you have to go out and get it yourself”.
I’ve internalized this idea and it’s driven me to “make big things happen” in my life many times over the years.
You must convince yourself that life-changing opportunities will never merely “fall into your lap”.
You’re deeply mistaken if you believe that you can publish a couple of articles online and then simply sit back and wait for all sorts of powerful businesses to contact you and ask you to write for them.
That’s not how this “game” works, not in the slightest.
You have to find the “fire” within yourself to work as hard as you possibly can to convince others that you’re worth their time and money.
This means doing incredible work and working incredibly hard to get people to notice your output.
In today’s world, successful writers must also be successful marketers — plain and simple.
It is, thus, essential to dedicate as much effort to getting your content in front of the “right” people as you do to creating that outstanding content in the first place.
Indeed, if you’re trying to “set up shop” in an existing market as a total stranger then it’s virtually impossible to start recruiting new paying clients without first attracting their attention by doing something “special”.
Here’s a vital principle to always keep at the forefront of your mind:
You must go above and beyond what others are doing if you want to make a solid first impression and convince people to hire you.
How did I do that?
I applied the Delivery of Free Work method over and over again to show potential clients not only how serious I was about the prospect of working with them but also how skilled, disciplined, and driven I am as a writer and creator.
Before I ever earned a single dollar as a content writer I sent out at least half a dozen super detailed, high-quality, long-form articles to a number of influential people for free, people with whom I had never spoken before.
A number of those individuals didn’t even acknowledge my emails.
You’re probably thinking, “Doesn’t it suck doing all that work for free and then having nothing to show for it?”
Yes, it sure does.
But you know what would have sucked even more?
Not having earned the thousands and thousands of dollars I’ve since brought in from my new paying clients, i.e., the folks who responded to these initial (and other) outbound marketing efforts.
Here’s the key point I want you to remember:
You must create the reality that you want for yourself. Merely wishing for success to come “knocking at your door” leads nowhere.
If you want to be a paid writer then create the very best article you possibly can and do whatever it takes to get it in front of whichever company or professional you’d like to hire you.
Do it again and again until you finally land a paying client. Then repeat the entire process and secure your second paid client, then your third, your fourth, etc.
Creating the very best article you possibly can is not going to happen in a couple of hours — no chance.
You need to dedicate serious time and effort to adding real value to the world, to becoming truly exceptional at whatever it is you do, if you want to separate yourself from others and have a meaningful impact.
That’s how you’re going to achieve real success.
This brings me to the second key strategy for making it as a writer in today’s competitive (business) world.
2. Over-Deliver every single time.
I wholeheartedly believe in the value and importance of over-delivering whenever you engage in any kind of service-based transaction.
Over-Delivering means doing more for your client than what he/she expects from you.
Whether you’re a growing business or a budding entrepreneur, you must consistently over-deliver to your clients.
Ultimately, this is the only path to effectively developing a solid reputation, building a trustworthy brand, and generating substantial revenues that can fuel future growth.
This is especially vital for “solopreneurs” like writers, who must go beyond what’s expected of them if they want to break away from the masses and achieve success.
Examples of over-delivering include:
- Writing more than what’s required (e.g., citing 10 studies when your contract stipulates that you must reference seven);
- Submitting work before it’s due (e.g., delivering an article on the fourth of the month when your client expects it on the sixth); and
- Completing additional tasks at no charge (e.g., adding supplementary images, audio files, or videos to a piece of content).
Regardless of the specific form that it takes, over-delivering is all about impressing your clients by effectively conveying just how important their complete satisfaction is to you.
The point is not to undervalue yourself by doing lots of work for free but rather to add a little “extra” to each project you finish in order to fully please your clients.
For instance, I came up with a brand new headline and subtitle for every article I re-wrote for one of my clients during the summer.
Rather than merely copying and pasting the existing headlines and beginning paragraphs, I created original headlines that were much more enticing (and SEO-friendly) and I wrote all the introductory paragraphs from scratch to better reflect the major selling points of the content.
I also tripled or quadrupled the number of authoritative links and quotations contained within the posts, thereby giving greater evidentiary support and social proof to the ideas being discussed.
Finally, I made sure that all the content I delivered was error-free, accurate, up-to-date, and well-referenced.
If, at some point down the road, I managed to spot a very small mistake that I had initially overlooked then I always took it upon myself to make the necessary correction.
I could have simply said, “Oh well, that’s last month’s content anyways — who cares if it has an error?”
But that mentality right there is the antithesis to success.
Markets don’t reward entrepreneurs who do only the bare minimum.
Rather, markets bestow opportunities on ambitious people who reject the “Meh, it’s good enough” mentality and who consistently deliver more value than their competitors.
This calls forth the third and final essential technique.
3. Provide immense value and charge clients accordingly.
The last strategy for becoming a highly-paid writer involves understanding the true value of the services you provide and having the confidence to charge your real worth.
(Note: I’m not affiliated with Brennan in any way.)
Brennan offers a free, nine-part email course that explores many key issues concerning how to price and sell your services as an independent operator.
I consider it to be a highly valuable and insightful resource with which all up-and-coming solopreneurs should familiarize themselves.
- It taught me to reconceptualize myself as a consultant (not freelancer), investment (not expense), and business partner (not hired help); and
- It helped me better understand how to present myself to potential clients to thereby increase the likelihood of landing paid gigs.
Amongst other nuggets of wisdom that it contains, the free version of the Double Your Freelancing course teaches the following core principles:
- So-called “market rates” are ultimately meaningless because they wrongly suggest that what you offer is identical to what everybody else is offering;
- When speaking with potential clients you should focus less on your technical abilities and more on the unique results that only you are positioned to deliver;
- Do not call yourself a “freelancer”; rather, describe yourself as a consultant and, more specifically, as a possible partner/ally to the business with which you’d like to work;
- Recognize and emphasize the fact that as a consultant your ultimate goal is to help your client secure more business and thus make more money;
- Encourage your potential client to explicitly state the specific problem(s) from which he/she is suffering and what it would mean, in practical terms, if that problem were to be resolved;
- Demonstrate that you’re aware of the massive responsibilities your potential client faces and that you’re not taking the situation “lightly”;
- Market yourself not as somebody who’s going to deliver this or that technical solution but rather as a qualified, dependable, and honest professional who will effectively eliminate the problem(s) currently plaguing your potential client’s business; and
- Confidently ask for the sale by stating your full price at the end of a conversation (or email). Remind your potential client 1) how you will solve his/her nagging problem and 2) of the positive consequences that will follow. Then, present the price, ask for the sale, and explicitly schedule the next concrete step(s) to be taken.
Do Brennan’s principles work?
Indeed they do: a couple of months ago I used his ideas and tactics to successfully convince one of my clients to triple my rate.
HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU CHARGE?
There’s no one correct answer to the question, “How much should I charge my clients for content?”
What you charge depends on your abilities as a writer, on the length and sophistication of the content you’re creating, on your level of professionalism, on your willingness to consistently over-deliver results, and on many other factors.
I have personally progressed through three different payment structures over the past half year.
I began by charging clients by the hour but I soon realized that this is the least profitable way to earn money as a writer.
Not only does it require that you officially track your time spent writing (which can be a bit of a pain) but it also serves to financially “penalize” you if you’re a “slow” writer.
I then switched to charging my clients according to a per-word basis.
So, for instance, if you charge 0.10 USD per word then a 1500 word article would result in a payment of $150 USD.
If you’re an inexperienced writer with little-to-no existing social (or material) proof of your talent then you might find it difficult to charge any more than 0.03–0.10 USD per word.
Writers with more extensive professional experience and refined skills and reputations can afford to charge much higher rates.
I’m currently utilizing a per-word payment structure for most of my clients.
However, I’ll be transitioning to a package-based business model when I formally launch my content creation agency in the near future.
This third system involves charging your clients a flat monthly fee in order to produce a set number of articles for them, with each piece of content meeting specific stipulations (such as minimum requirements for word limits, sources cited, quantitative data included, etc.).
For instance, you would charge a rate of $6000 USD per month to create six highly polished, expertly researched and written, evidence-based pieces of original content, each measuring at least 2500 words in length.
TARGET YOUR IDEAL CLIENTS EXCLUSIVELY
Here’s one final bit of advice with which I’d like to leave you:
You must 1) determine who your ideal clients are and 2) set ambitious prices and stick to them.
Remember that not every paying client is a good client.
Just because somebody is willing to give you a bit of money to complete a job doesn’t mean that you should automatically accept that gig.
My goal is to work with high-growth tech startups and established businesses that are serious about content marketing.
Knowing this, I market myself to companies that have the resources to pay top-dollar for world-class content.
In effect, I miss out on opportunities to work with less established businesses but that’s perfectly fine with me because they’re not my ideal clients.
Indeed, I price my services strategically: high enough to discourage less-than-ideal clients from contacting me but not so low that healthy startups and big companies underestimate the value of the content I’m creating.
So, who do you want to attract with your prices?
In summary, establishing yourself as a highly-paid writer within a new market space can be achieved by applying the following proven techniques:
1. Write exceptional content and make others take notice:
- Do the very best work you can every single time and do whatever it takes to get it in front of the “right people” in your niche;
- Put as much effort into creating exceptional content as you do into marketing that content to others;
- Get people’s attention by doing outstanding work for free; and
- Actively bring your ideal reality into existence — don’t wait for prospects to come “knocking at your door”.
2. Over-Deliver every single time.
- Go beyond what’s expected of you by always delivering more than the bare minimum to your clients;
- Provide greater value than what your competitors offer; and
- Make your client’s complete satisfaction your number one concern at all times.
3. Provide immense value and charge clients accordingly.
- Understand the true value of the services you provide — ask yourself: how, exactly, do I make it easier for others to secure more business and generate more revenue? — and confidently charge what you’re worth;
- Target only your ideal clients, i.e., those to whom you can provide the most value and from whom you’ll receive the fewest headaches whilst earning the greatest amount of money; and
- Educate yourself on how to — and how not to — market, price, and sell your services by signing up for Brennan Dunn’s Double Your Freelancing free email course.
Final thought: at the end of the day, virtually anything can be achieved with enough hard work, dedication, and perseverance. Create the life you want for yourself rather than simply waiting for it to arrive.