This is a guest post from Kevin Casey, The Jet-setting Copywriter from Australia. He explains to us how he travels all over the globe – and pays for it all with his writing business. Know more about him in his guest blogger profile at the end of this post. Thanks by the way Kevin, for sharing your inspiring story with us.
I just had my most lucrative year ever as a freelance writer, which was awesome – and I only had to work two-thirds of the year to do it. I spent the rest of the year travelling.
I played digital nomad in South America for 5 weeks, snorkelled with mantas on the Great Barrier Reef, rented a penthouse apartment in Milan for a while and enjoyed summer weather in Portugal and Spain. I also explored Tasmania and spent a month in the Bolivian jungle tracking and photographing wildlife with an indigenous guide.
The profits from my freelance writing business pay for three distinct types of trips – part-time digital nomad adventures in interesting foreign cities (when I write a lot), normal holidays (when I write very little) and serious wilderness explorations (when I leave the laptop at home). I enjoy a truly location-dependent lifestyle – I can work from my home in Australia or travel for as long as I like whenever I feel the urge.
I became a freelance copywriter in 2013 because I thought it might be a good way to pay for my rather expensive hobby: I like to explore the wildest and most pristine rivers on earth. I’ve been doing this for over twenty years in places like Borneo, Gabon, Guyana, British Columbia and the Australian tropics. I have wanted to explore remote river systems since I was ten years old; these days, I get to live that dream.
Like many new freelance writers in their first few months, I made the mistake of starting out by writing for a couple of ‘content mill’ writing sites. I soon realised, however, that I was never going to make real money writing fluff pieces for four cents a word. The best thing I ever did for my writing career (and my bank balance) was to ditch writing sites and online writer job boards entirely and start pursuing my own clients.
How my one-man writing business makes money
As a professional copywriter, I write copy for businesses: articles, website landing pages, eBooks, product descriptions, blog posts, case studies and much more. About the only thing I don’t write is fiction (although I’m happy to edit other people’s novels). Copywriting is all about persuading people to take action of some sort – to buy a product, use a service, download a newsletter, subscribe to a course or whatever the client wants their customers to do.
I target large, growing businesses because they tend to offer steadier, high-paying work. I’ve crafted online brochures for app developers, home pages for conservation organisations, articles for insurance companies and product descriptions for e-commerce businesses. Many writers like to have a specific niche but I’m a generalist. I like variety – I don’t want to get stuck writing the same thing for every client.
Once I gave up on writing-as-a-commodity websites and aggressively went after my own clients, my income skyrocketed. I went from no clients at all to earning $7000 per month within my first 6 months. These days, I turn away as much work as I take on. I normally set my own deadlines and can adjust my yearly schedule to fit in my travels while keeping my clients happy.
These days, I consider $10,000 a good month and $2500 a poor one. The key to a steady income in freelance writing is to nurture long-term clients rather than going after small individual jobs. I have one client that has been providing steady work for over 18 months. With long-term clients, you don’t have to spend so much time marketing yourself.
Where are all the high-paying writing clients?
I often hear writers complain about how they can’t get decent-paying, quality clients. I believe the reason is simple: they’re not contacting the right people with the right pitch. There is no magical formula for getting clients – it’s a simple matter of letting solid prospects know you’re available and being clear about what you have to offer.
There’s a never-ending supply of lucrative writing work all over the world right now. You needn’t confine your search to your home town or even your own country, either. The guy down the road who sells car tune-ups may not be able to access clients in Scotland, New Zealand or Canada but as a writer, you can. This global marketplace is a huge advantage. I write for clients in the US, Australia, the UK and elsewhere.
If you’re going to get serious about writing, treat it like a profession – not a hobby. Create a writer website, expand your range of Linkedin contacts and start reaching out to the types of businesses you really want to write for. I’ve used several methods to obtain new clients since I started out three years ago: snail mail letters of introduction, cold calling, networking and cold emails. Emails work best for me – my highest-paying clients so far have come from targeted email campaigns.
As a professional copywriter, the ability to market yourself is at least as important as your writing ability – and this is where so many writers fall short. They simply don’t know how to ‘put themselves out there’. Promoting your business is a never-ending process. You should keep doing it even when you’re busy because eventually, the bundle of work you have at the moment will dry up.
Certain industries are more profitable than others for copywriters. The ‘big three’ markets are health, wealth and technology. If you can write well on these subjects, you’ll never be out of work. Most of my writing is B2B (business to business) rather than B2C (business to customer) because that’s where the big money lives. Here are some promising B2B markets for writers:
- Advertising and marketing
- Design and print
- Educational materials
- Exhibitions and events
- Finance and investment
- Information technology
- Management consultants
- Safety and security
- Software development
- Training services
The B2B market is important for writers because it’s huge and constantly growing. It’s estimated that B2B e-commerce alone will reach $6.7 trillion dollars in gross merchandise value by 2020 – making it more than twice as big as the entire B2C market ($3.2 trillion). Just by itself, the pharmaceutical industry is predicted to make up 20 per cent of all sales coming from online sources by the year 2020.
Good B2B copywriters can enhance the reputation of a business, make it more competitive, improve its profits and make its marketing process more cost-efficient. They can help explain the benefits of a company’s product/service, create a whole range of marketing content, make e-commerce sites more user-friendly, make technical information understandable, boost brand awareness and crank up SEO (search engine optimisation). All these skills are extremely valuable and writers who perform them well and consistently can command impressive fees.
I know from personal experience how lucrative it can be to write for insurance companies – I made tens of thousands of dollars doing exactly that in my first year of business. Well-established non-profits should also be approached. They’re often in need of marketing and fundraising copy. And don’t forget parenting, dating and relationships – there’s plenty of work out there for specialist relationship writers too.
Show me the money
Many wordsmiths dream of becoming popular travel bloggers or making a career out of writing dollar-a-word articles for glossy magazines. But fewer people make a consistent living from this sort of writing than you might think. Income levels for self-published authors aren’t too inspiring either. I recently read a survey showing that the average annual earnings for DIY authors was around $10,000 – and half of these writers were making less than $500 per year!
Copywriting, on the other hand, is a reliable source of income – an income limited only by your ability to market yourself, improve your skills and keep clients happy. And the global need for good copywriters is showing no signs of slowing down.
According to statistics from payscale.com, the typical income for Aussie copywriters is between $40,000 and $85,000AUD and has been rising over the past decade. In the US (according to indeed.com), the average is $57,000USD. A mid-weight copywriter in London can expect to earn over £41,000GBP.
One thing these figures don’t tell you is that many of these writers work for PR firms, web designers and other agencies, where writers are paid a capped salary. The income situation is less limiting for freelancers, who can chase down their own clients and create their own income goals.
My Top 5 Tips for freelance writers who want to start making real money
If you want to explore the world and pay for it by writing for a living, here are some steps you should take:
1. Don’t write for bidding sites or content mills – they’re a financial dead end.
It’s very crowded at the bottom of the writing opportunities barrel. You’ll find that most writer-focused job boards are pretty low-paying too. You’re much better off creating your own writer website and going after clients yourself so you’re in control of your own financial destiny.
2. Set a minimum acceptable rate (MAR) and stick to it.
You have to draw a line in the sand about how much you feel your services are worth. Once it’s set, don’t ever budge on it. If a client can’t afford you, don’t haggle like a desperate fish monger. Find another client.
3. When you email potential writing clients, keep it brief and personal.
Compliment something they’ve done on their website, be helpful and offer them a glimpse of some of the things you might be able to write for them. Make positive suggestions and include links to your best relevant work.
4. Market yourself constantly.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I try to have three or four solid clients going at any one time to keep my income flowing at a steady rate. The more people you reach out to for work, the more choices you’ll have when it comes to deciding who you want to write for.
5. Fear is your biggest enemy and will seriously limit your income.
Don’t be afraid to try new things. The most successful writers are those who constantly challenge themselves. I wrote for a major app developer despite knowing nothing about apps. I’ve written copy for hunting websites but I’m not a hunter myself. Recently I wrote a product guide for a home construction business specialising in steel frame construction. What did I know about the subject beforehand? Absolutely nothing – and that didn’t matter at all. Being a good copywriter means being a good researcher and asking your clients the right questions.