This is my story on becoming a writer. When I got out of the military I moved to Calgary to become a personal trainer. But I struggled getting clients and started to become desperate for money.
That’s when I wrote this in my journal…
That general malaise.
When all the work is finished at the end of the day.
Board but listless on a Sunday night.
Knowing and preparing for my upcoming plight.
The struggle to profit and make the months rent.
Each moment not productive costs another cent.
Second to hour and hour to day,
Time expires past 30 and then its time to pay.
I could brush it off and enjoy my time,
But I can’t relax when I count every dime.
The truck is squeaking, the gas is low,
So where are the clients, that’s what I’d like to know.
If I were a squirrel, I’d be scrambling for nuts,
But I can’t find enough to get out of this rut.
One of these days, I’ll start my car from inside,
And even feel proud to offer someone a ride.
I wont stare at the gas each time I drive,
Or scramble for nuts, just to survive.
Sometimes I feel like I’m hanging off a cliff,
Struggling for a hand hold that I always just miss.
I wrote this back in 2002. Those were some tuff days. I remember coming home from the gym to find a bag of groceries hanging on my door. Being this way was not something that I was proud of so I kept it pretty quiet. Someone knew and someone cared enough to help out without hurting my pride.
I also remember my friend Tim who worked the counter at the gym giving me some credit to buy my protein powder for the month. He said he knew I would make it and I could pay him then.
It was shortly after that when a client decided that he wanted to sponsor me to compete in the southern Alberta bodybuilding championships. With his help I went on the win the light heavy weight title. During that time I wrote two books, Your First Competition and The Fat To Fit Program.
Fast forward to present day. I woke up this morning at a time of my choice to do a radio interview with Don Russell from WBT- AM 1110 to talk with the folks in Charlotte, NC about my book on Getting Started Working Out. One of many I have done over the last couple of months as part of my media campaign.
I checked my clickbank account to see how many copies of my program I sold while I was asleep. Then I logged in to see how much my adsense account had made.
I finished a cup of coffee as I sent out a few new clients to my personal trainers that I have hired over the last couple of years and then typed out this article before going back to bed for a nap.
As I went through my binders and notebooks from a couple of years worth of goal setting and dream lists, I realize I have become what I set out to be. I am healthy, have an abundance of time to use as I like and 90% of my income happens no matter if I step into the office or not.
Wherever you are now, you can get to where you want to be. Write down what you want and put today’s date on it. Start working on something that you love to spend your time on that you know will help other people. The amount that you can help other people is directly related to the amount of money you can make.
Start with the intention that every bit of work you do will be used infinitely to create income without your physical presence. Automation is the key to unlimited wealth while still having the time to enjoy life.
How do you know what is the thing that you should be spending your time on? Something I read in the book ” The Alchemist” was a big help to me. “Where your tears fall, your treasure lies”. If you find something that really moves you and creates an emotional response deep in your soul, you have found your passion. Anything else you spend your time on will fill you with tension and unhappiness.
You have to follow your heart and your intuition. This is the only way you will make it through the tuff times and still be happy until your finances catch up with your dreams.
This is when I thought I was going to retire and live in Mexico at the ripe old age of 28….
But Then Everything Went To Shit
I got kicked out of the gym I was running my business in. They saw how much my personal training business was making and wanted to keep it in house.
Amazon kindle came out and my $39 pdf books were selling for perceived as a $2 value now.
The bottom fell out of my google adsense revenue when they went public.
I started teaching boot camps outside and was making good money but had to shut down in for the Canadian winter.
So I decided to open my own gym financed by my own line of credit.
Here’s how I got into debt…
Back in 2011, I was sitting in my gym you see above, staring at the excel spreadsheet in front of me.
I saw no way to dig myself out of the $55239.00 business debt I’d created, and had scrambled around like a squirrel looking for a nut for months.
Facing facts, I mustered my courage and went upstairs to talk with the landlord.
Sitting in front of him I swallowed my pride, “I’m not going to make next months rent. I’ve already used all my line of credit to make last months rent.”
He just stared at me, so I continued. “I wanted to come talk to you and see if there was anything we could do about the 5-year lease agreement I signed.”
His face didn’t change at all but he put down his pen, sat back and looked at me. “The lease is a legally binding document. The fact is that you owe me four more years of rent at $4500 a month,” he paused, “Having said that, I appreciate you not doing a midnight move.”
I felt a sliver of hope as he continued, “I’ll let you out of your lease if you move out and lock the doors immediately… and agree to pay $1500 a month, for the next ten months to buy out of your agreement.”
“Done,” I said.
So that’s where we started. From here I’m going to share with you both the mistakes and the wins as I write my way out of debt.
On with the journey.
Totally Confused About How To Fix This Debt Mistake
A cold wash of failure melted over me as I headed down the stairs out of his office. I now had a large debt and no income or place to do business out of.
“What now…” I sent an email to all my clients telling them that boot camp was now outdoors. I refunded personal training and membership fees for those people that only wanted to work with me at the gym.
Then I got on Kijiji and got a job as a Framer swinging a hammer. I framed houses during the day and taught boot camps at night.
The math was brutal. $1500 a month I owed on the lease buy out. Line of Credit at $30,000 and credit card at $14,000. The dessert was $11,000 owed to Canada Revenue, a combo of taxes from personal as well as when the dividends I was taking as an owner were reassessed as employee income.
The numbers said I was going further into debt despite working full time as a framer and doing boot camps at night.
I picked up a job doing data entry, then a motorcycle apprentice, then an electrician apprenticeship. I was miserable the whole time and frantically tried to find a job I loved that paid well.
It was while doing data entry that I started writing Cullers War on my lunch hours and doing personal training at night. After finishing Cullers War I would have one fiction book and two non-fiction fitness books I could sell “How I Won My Second Bodybuilding Contest” and the previously mentioned book on how to start working out.
Then when I started the electrician apprenticeship I added the Rise From The Ashes podcast for some after hours fun reading my fiction like old radio broadcasts. No one really dug it though so I stopped doing the fiction and started recording some thoughts on philosophy and how we can use it to improve our daily lives.
The electrician apprenticeship started at $18/hour and after 6 months I still wasn’t quite making ends meet.
Canada Revenue called demanding payment. If I agreed to a mandatory $200/month, they wouldn’t dock my pay.
“Enough is enough,” I thought.
A man should be self-sufficient and financially prepped to take care of his family. I was against the ropes and went for a meeting with a bankruptcy guy. He laid it all out for me but I couldn’t pull the trigger.
I wanted to fix the problem by becoming better at whatever it was that I sucked so hard at that got me into this position. I felt like doing bankruptcy would fix everything now, but I still didn’t know how to “make it” on my own. It would be a patch on an already shitty blanket.
The electrician apprenticeship would pay around $40 an hour by the end of my four-year apprenticeship. If I could just make a bit more now, this was a workable long term plan for getting out of debt.
I kept teaching boot camps at night in the park. It helped but I had to shut it down each year when I went to school for electrician training and also the Canadian winter.
From closing the gym doors to getting a workable plan that would allow me to just barely pay the bills stopping further debt increase, took two years.
I wrote in fits and starts. Sometimes I was motivated and often I just gave up.
I thought, “Now I just have to get through four years of electrician training or figure out something better…”
Cutting Costs And How I Promote My Writing
As I blog into the future about this, you can expect an account of my adventures as I cut costs and look for supplemental income from writing to pay down this enormous debt weighing down my balance sheet.
How will be different from other “Fuzzy-Feeling-Half-Truth” blogs? I’m 42. I read on financial blogs about people who avoided debt, saved money and invested. The reason? Because they didn’t want to be wage slaves at 41. Well, I missed that train.
There are a lot of people that have everything humming along perfectly until a bump in the road. A hospital bill, a failed business, car repairs at the same time as the furnace goes down, etc.
Things get sideways. Figuring out how to get everything back on the rails is the groovy part.
From the time my finances went sideways to the time I am sharing this with you is around 6 years. The first draft of this article went live January 4, 2017, and my debt was at $44,910. It took six years to pay off $10,329. $1721.5/year. I needed to do better.
That small dent in achieving my goal of no more debt also indicated my level of financial success as a writer. In other words, poor.
In those 6 years, I had my corporation dissolved and my taxes reassessed as well. This added a few more thousand to the debt. Up and down, back and forth.
Time to shove a stick in this revolving bicycle wheel.
Why Am I Telling You This Dear Writer?
I’m telling you this because I want you to know that if you feel like you are getting knocked around like a ping-pong ball, I understand. As a writer, it feels like you are playing tennis against doubles without a paddle and breathing through a half plugged straw.
I know know that having money doesn’t relieve money stress. Spending less than what comes in the door does. This applies to those who make very little, and to those who make a lot.
How To Make Money Writing – 4 Ways With Pros And Cons
Over the next 2000 words I will answer the question of “How to make money writing” from my personal experience. In 2013 I refocused on writing as an income source in order to write my way out of the $54000 business debt and become financially free.
Here’s what worked and what didn’t.
There are 4 ways I make money writing. Some of them are better than others when it comes to the cash flow they can bring in. I’ll explain each in detail.
My writing arsenal breaks down into four basic chunks. They are;
- Creative Fiction
- How To Non-Fiction
- Commercial Writing I.E. Copywriting
- Content Marketing – Blogging And Articles
I will start with the lowest income producing, and end with the highest income producing writing. Please note that while you sometimes write for pleasure, the main focus here is writing for income until your debt is fully paid off.
Writing solely for money is instinctively wrong to me because I am a big fan of Ray Bradbury and in his book Zen In The Art Of Writing he talks about (page 140) The benefits of working without making money, writing for joy and how it all works out in the end. I love the sound of it, but just can’t bet the farm on chances anymore. (Note From The Future: Maybe I should have listened to Mr.Bradbury)
So here we go…
Creative Fiction Writing – This is the writing that most authors want to succeed at. Self-publishing on Amazon has certainly helped some achieve that goal. Not me. (Check out fiction vs nonfiction writing and reading for the lifestyle factors.)
When it comes to making money writing, creative writing is my loser of the bunch. It’s not for lack of potential but the fact that a lot of the steps to success are outside your control.
Battlefield Barren is the only creative fiction book I have for sale, and maybe the lack of quantity and quality is the problem. Most authors have multiple fiction books self-published before they hit the combination that really starts to pay off.
Time and guesswork is not a luxury some of us can afford.
The main problem is that creative fiction is a “Want” purchase and not a “Need” purchase. Getting your name and marketing to the point where people WANT your fictional writing can take years. For some, it never happens.
Fictional writing is speculative (ya, I did) and you don’t control much of the process when it comes to the income you make. You create a book out of thin air and hope, even with market niche research, that someone will want to buy it.
Hope is not a plan.
Because of these things, there is a lot of time invested with hardly any solid evidence that the effort will pay off. The upside is that if a book does take off, a one-time effort will allow you to continuously make money from the same time investment, for a long time.
How to Non-Fiction Writing – This one has the same pro upside as fictional writing. It continuously pays if you have written something people want to buy. The way it differs is that there is more of a “Need” factor when it comes to the customer’s buying decision.
People will instantly buy a book by someone they’ve never heard of if they think it will show them how to solve a problem they are having.
For example; writers sit all day to write, this makes them gain weight. So a lot of writers want to lose weight. That can be both a want and a need depending on the outcome of their last doctors visit.
As a personal trainer turned writer, I have the skillset to write such a book. A book called “Weight Loss For Writers,” that answers the question once and for all, “How To Lose Weight When You Sit For A Living.”
If you can identify a group of people that want a book written, and there is a gap in the market, and you figure out how to let the people know you can solve their problem… you’ll make money writing.
If someone wants to know how to do something, or how to fix a problem and you can write a solution for them to solve their problem, then they will gladly exchange their money for your expertise.
The trick here is finding a real need in the market. One that is being underserved and then providing a solution at a price that people will feel is a value.
Copywriting and Freelance Writing (Content Writing) – This is the new kid on the block for me but also the one with the greatest upside potential. You can make more on a single copywriting job than some of your books have made since you published them. The only con of copywriting is that it is work in the traditional sense. It takes time to write and it’s a one-shot.
Copywriting and most types of commercial writing require that you put effort into learning the client’s needs for each specific job. It requires conscious thought to get down the correct information in order to achieve the correct outcome. In other words, it is not semi-enjoyable escapism like fiction writing, nor is it regurgitating what you may already know about (unless you are a niche copywriter like I am with fitness copywriting.)
As I write this I am up North working in a Gas Plant. This is a necessary evil to slash down my previous business debt as fast as possible, but the days are long and physical. All said and done, it’s a 12 hour day, then supper, shower and the rest is free time. There just isn’t much wiggle room to write except by waking up at 4AM.
So with content writing and copywriting, you use up the remaining free time in your day to make more money. If you stop writing, you stop getting paid. There is no living, just working.
This is when it really hit me.
What if I did content marketing myself. If my copywriting, content marketing, email landing pages and sales funnels are so good that others pay me to write them… then why don’t I do more of it for MYSELF?
Now I do. I write more for MY business than other businesses. My content continues to work for me. The sales pages for my own products sell the products and are little oil wells producing income every day.
If you are good at what you do, then every day you write for someone else you’re doing them a paid favor. If you spent the time writing for your own business, you’d be investing.
Which leads to your fourth type of writing that earns income.
Content Marketing i.e. Blogging And Articles -Your website or blog is so important for you as a writer or business owner. It brings in job opportunities but it also acts as a passive source of income especially if you are good at what you do.
Eventually, the money you make from blogging can surpass the business it was meant to promote.
What you do is create engaging content that is sharable, interesting, or that sells a product to someone that needs and wants it. If you can do that, then not only are you in demand to do it for other people, but people will want to learn how to do it from you.
And it makes money for you while you are out in the gas plant connecting electrical wiring for exhaust fans up north in -30 freezing your butt off.
How To “Consistently” Make Money Writing
Getting Paid – Regardless of which path you take as a writer, it always comes down to getting someone to buy your work. This, of course, requires customers. If you are writing to make money then you need the most predictable way to find customers that want what you are providing.
For me, this has now become a “Marketing as if your life depended on it” situation. I am 42 and there is only so much youthful life left. I don’t want to be out in freezing weather, sitting on steel beams any more. You’re reading this because you need to figure out how to make money writing, so I’ll assume you are of the same mindset. You must do what is required, and not what you want, in order to pay off your debt and get to the point of being a full-time writer with physical and financial freedom.
The Goal: To live the ultimate self-reliant, enjoyable and free lifestyle.
Writing Specifically For Money And Not Pleasure (no pleaure at all…)
Upwork is a mixed bag. I tried it and got more work than I could handle, it just didn’t pay that well. I’ve since stopped being active there but maintain a profile for visibility. The great part about Upwork was I went through a process… THE process of querying a job, winning the bid, doing the work, getting a 5 start referral and getting paid.
It’s like graduating from writing for money school. You check all the boxes and are now ready to step out to the real world. The processes are the same, but now it’s for the real money.
The methods I chose were the most reliable methods for myself. The ones I consistently did to make money writing.
My 4 Methods Of Getting Writing Clients:
- LinkedIn Connections
- Content Marketing
Lets look at each of the options and my experience with them…
How To Make Money Writing Online Using Upwork
The day I was laid off from my job (the first layoff of 3 layoffs) as an apprentice electrician I decided to really crack the code on how to get freelance writing jobs for beginners. I had time on my hands so I started with how to get work on upwork. Long story short, I built a business on Upwork but decided that freelancing on my own is better (read on to learn why.)
Why Upwork? If there is low hanging fruit, I’ll eat it. At the time it was the only thing that got me copywriting clients on repeat. I put a resume on Indeed for new clients.
I’ve been copywriting for my own business since 2002 but when I lost the day job and experienced a huge dent into my income I decided to go all in on this freelance writing business.
I like making money with words. So I applied myself more to what I enjoyed doing, than what I didn’t.
The goal was to make a minimum of $40,000 that year from copywriting. I did not succeed, but you will be able to skip my mistakes and take action on only what DID work, and save yourself some time.
First thing my brain did was go into damage control. I had been doing research on how to get work on Upwork for a while and thought, “Well, it’s now or never.”
I purchased two books from Bob Bly that I used to increase my offline copywriting clients. These books were:
- The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Copy That Sells
- Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How to Make $100,000 a Year or More
Setting Rates As A Beginner Writer
I’ve been blogging since 2002, so I had writing experience. It just wasn’t specific to freelance writing and getting paid.
I decided that with a little specific study into copywriting and writing white papers, perhaps I could be a third as good as Bob Bly.
So I copied out his rate sheet (price schedule) and then divided everything by three. Those were my rates.
This helps immensely when you bid on a project or someone offers you a job. Just stick to your guns and turn down any freelance writing jobs if they don’t match or exceed your rates. Unless you don’t have a single job yet. If that’s the case, you need to get at least a few so you can afford Mac and Cheese.
Freelance Writing Jobs For Beginners On Upwork
I was on the verge of buying a $475 Upwork course taught by someone when I first started out. I thought it would show me how to get work on Upwork faster. I held back on pulling the trigger because they never responded to my email or when I tweeted them a question. Both were a response to a question they asked in their newsletter welcome email. It must have been an automated tweet and autoresponder.
Lesson 1: As a self-employed business owner, do what you say you will and do it when you say you will. This will put you ahead of the hucksters and fly by night people. You will eventually stand above the crowd by standing on the shoulders of this one principle.
I also noticed after the initial launch of their Upwork course, they stopped doing podcasts and new articles on their blog. It’s a good thing I didn’t buy the Upwork course right away. I would have mourned that loss of cash as the layoff went on for months.
Because of this, everything I will share with you are free things I learned online.
I’m Sharing This How To Get Work On Upwork Journal For A Couple Of Reasons:
- To keep track of what works and what doesn’t as I try different things. I can forget sometimes that I’ve already cracked a code… only to realize later that I already knew it.
- I’m pretty pissed about all the people that say they know how to get work on Upwork and I can’t separate the fact from the fiction. I really want to find out the truth about how to make money on Upwork
- You may be in the same situation. If so I hope this helps you short cut the process so you can feed your family.
- I consider it my #1 task/mission to write my way out of debt as a freelancer and leave the 9-5 grind. Then show others how to live free as well.
How I Started On Upwork Doing Copywriting
My first client was right after I opened an account. I had my friend hire me through Upwork to do a simple email opt in form on their anti-aging spa website. I did this instead of having them pay me personally. It was worth the hassle just to get on the Upwork client radar and get a review in the system.
For my Upwork profile, I looked at my best selling fat loss program’s salespage and pulled that to display as proof of my copywriting ability.
Next thing I knew, I was invited to a job by a non-profit organization to design a landing page, lead magnet and series of follow up emails. I did the work and then the client went silent and wouldn’t respond to any communication. After enough time, the Upwork default payment protection kicked in and I was paid out by Upwork automatically. (Coincidently as I write this over a month later from getting the initial job, the client messaged and wants to talk. There was a family emergency on their end.)
I was over the moon and couldn’t figure out why everyone thought this Upwork thing was so hard. I decided to tweak my profile and see if I could attract even more clients… and I heard crickets. I didn’t get a new job until a month later.
Getting More Freelance Writing Jobs For Beginners: The Action Plan
I was doing a couple of proposals a day and wasn’t hearing back from anyone. So I tweaked my profile again and kept submitting proposals. Finally, I heard back from someone to edit and smooth out their “About Page” for them. I completed the work on Upwork, did some edits in response to their messages and returned the final work. I waited on them to read over my completed work and release the payment.
While waiting, I fired out as many proposals as I could. At the end of the day, after 8 hours of working on proposals, I completed TWO. That shows you how long I took on each and the quality I put into them. Looking around at other posts, I realized this was not nearly enough. If that was the case, I realized proposals take a lot of time which is better off spent doing other forms of marketing to get clients.
What You Should Do To Get Freelance Writing Jobs On Upwork
Instead of wasting time with a lot of proposals, I suggest:
- Filling out your profile 100% with examples of your best work
- Have 3-4 examples of what you do best in your portfolio
- Have a half decent headshot.
- Make sure you include the keywords of what you are good at in your title and profile. The Upwork search engine will display this in a list of “specific freelancers” to clients searching for what they need.
- This is all I did to get jobs. It was all the strength of my profile and invitations to work. A very small amount of work came in due to proposals and it was not worth the time spent writing them.
Upwork Update January 31 2017 I believe I started looking for freelance writing jobs in September of 2016. That’s when I set up my Upwork profile. Writing this four months later. I just received Top Rated Status as a freelance writer on Upwork. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of this. I also received an email from a past client that has more work for me again. Looks like Upwork is one side hustle that is paying off for me.
Setting Rates On Freelance Writing Jobs For Beginners
One important note here on setting your rates on freelance writing jobs for beginners. I took a second look at my rates when this client came back because of the excellent job I did. Instead of blindly using a third of Bob Bly’s rates, I looked at my time carefully. I made $27/hour as an electrician at the time. When I get an electrician job again there would be no point in writing if it didn’t make the same amount. If writing made less, I’d be better off doing electrician overtime work if I wanted to get out of debt quicker.
At any rate, the clients job was a very technical white paper. I needed at least 4-7 days to research and then write. Multiplying 4 days x 8 hours x $27/hour I came up with $864. Holding my breath I quoted $750. The first white paper freelance writing job I did was $450.
As simple as that, I gave myself my first raise.
Choosing Freelance Writing Jobs For Beginners: Be Picky
I don’t take low paying freelance jobs anymore at 4 months in. If I get a weird vibe from a job invitation I simply decline it. This allowed me to work less but make the same money. I was also able to work with high quality clientele instead of bargain shoppers. The thing about bargain shoppers on Upwork is that they usually offer no concrete parameters to work with, pay a low rate, then expect a lot of revisions.
How does that differ from a good quality copywriting client?
A good copywriting client on Upwork has a specific job for you and a result that they want from it. For example, “I need a health and fitness sales page to sell *this* product to *this* audience and I need it by Tuesday. Can you do that for $1200?” That would be an easy client.
A bad freelancing client is vague despite your attempts at getting clarification of expectations. The thing about Upwork is that if you get a bad client right off the bat who gives you a low star rating, it will affect you for a long time. It pays to be choosy about what jobs you take on there.
Pulling The Plug On Upwork
Update: 13th November 2017
I’m all done with upwork now. Nothing drastic happened but I feel it is much better to be 100% control of my freelance writing business then worry about Upwork policy changes. A good example would be how they can change the commission they take from your work.
I built a business that relied on Google Adsense years ago and I heeded the lessons learned there. You should not build a business that can be wiped out overnight by someone else making a decision. It is better to put in the legwork and do all the accounting, sales and marketing and customer relations yourself if you want to run a real freelance writing business.
If you take 100% responsibility you also keep 100% of the money and don’t have to pay out 20% of it to upwork. If you desire, you can pass these savings onto long term clients as thank yous.
SEO And Content Marketing
SEO is trying to be pretty enough at the dance to get asked onto the floor. While warm emails are “Working the wall” and asking everyone that makes eye contact, if they’d like to dance.
If you can take the “No’s” you’ll end up with a lot more “Yes’s.”
To predictably get clients you must be proactive. A pretty website sitting in the nether space of the Internet is hoping at best. It worked ten years ago, but now the competition is fierce. Although you can’t ignore SEO for getting clients, it’s not the controlled way of scaling up your business.
So if SEO is just icing… what’s next?
Using LinkedIn And Cold Calling Prospects
My plan in a nutshell? Actively go out and make connections on LinkedIn with companies I would like to work with. Build a connection with them and then pitch my service/ideas to the places I want to work. Be able to withstand the emotions of ten rejections to every single yes. Go get my 100 rejections as fast as possible. Do this continuously until I have 10 long-term clients. Then get their referrals. Also use the testimonials and clips and put them in my author/copywriter website to build even more business through my own content marketing.
The Result? I contacted hundreds of people through email and phoned a hundred local specific businesses as well. I came up dry. If I’m honest, I didn’t really want to write for other people. It’s just what I thought I had to do. But if I hated doing that… then why shouldn’t I just hate something that paid more and keep the writing for my joy.
For now, I continue to write about things I like and make some money with my Amazon books. The reality is I make more in a day as an electrician then I do all month as an author online.
BUT THAT COULD CHANGE… 🙂
Next Steps: On Becoming A Better Writer – this is where I start to get my shit together and found out where I was going wrong. It’s a journal of activities. Don’t expect much.
The Bookish Burton Newsletter
Books I read + Nature in need + Fitness 4 speed