Can You Make Money Freelance Writing? – Well…

The broad term “freelance writer” applied to me way back when I began my career. I had just moved to a new country. I survived off odd jobs and savings. One of those odd jobs was writing articles online. Although the dollar I got in return (especially when converted to euro) wasn’t much… it upped my income significantly.

peanuts
I was still earning peanuts… but enough to get by.

As I wrote more and got paid more, I slowly started to appreciate the situation I found myself in. The feeling of freedom and independence was intoxicating. So, I made freelance writing my full-time pursuit for the next few years. Like a lot of writers these days, I started at the bottom with low-paying clients (read: horrible content mills).

The desire to earn more money pushed me to market myself and find new opportunities (all online). I thankfully landed myself a handful of well-paying clients. Being treated like an actual person (what!?) was… refreshing.

london brokers content mill
My first “content mill”… Not as fancy as its name.

“Can you make money freelance writing?” comes up a lot on Google, forums and social media. Successful freelance writers and bloggers have already answered this with a resounding Yes!

Those (successful) bloggers and freelance writers are right. You can make money as a freelance writer. The thing is… That’s not the question you should be asking. In fact, forget that question entirely. It would be more relevant to ask…

Can I make enough money as a freelance writer to fund the lifestyle I want?

By “lifestyle” I’m not referring to yachts, chauffeurs, multiple residences and 35+ servants. I mean a good standard of living: the ability to comfortably pay your rent/mortgage, cover basic expenses (healthcare etc.), save money and occasionally travel/go on holiday. I’ve seen many freelance writing projects advertised that wouldn’t cover the cost of a Happy Meal.

pikachu squirtle happy meal
All that work and not even a toy…

The answer to this question is trickier. You see, there’s something many budding freelance writers forget and it’s this: freelance writing is a business like any other. Don’t have business aptitude? Well, you’d better acquire some.

DON’T quit your day job – What to do instead

Forget the cliché of quitting your job to do the thing you love. Unless you’re independently wealthy or have another source of income, that kind of bullshit doesn’t fly in the real world. The first thing you need to do is know your expenses.

Back when I was starting out, I’d bring in US$1,200.00/month on average (that was a bit less in euro). I had luck on my side: I lived in a “cheap” city and in general, Germany’s cost of living (groceries, going out, etc.) is relatively low. On an hourly basis, I could earn between US$10.00-20.00. It seemed like a good wage at the time – until I factored in how much I worked. Some days, it was 10+ hours. Others, I barely worked three.

If you aim to be a proper professional (as you should), the standard fee a freelance copywriter should charge is around US$50.00 or more.

For anyone starting out (especially if you don’t have much experience), that can seem like a lot. Almost too much, in fact.

Well – get over it.

You’ve got costs to pay. Just like any other business. Even though you’re mainly running it from your laptop, you should consider…

  • The cost of equipment: This includes your smartphone, laptop and other add-ons such as a comfortable place to work (desk & chair – if that’s how you roll) as well as Internet and phone bill (mobile data if you work on the go a lot), hosting for your blog/website etc.
  • Health insurance: Varies by country – but for most people, you’ll have put some money away. One of the few exceptions I know of is the UK – unless you opt for private insurance.
  • Income protection: Again, some countries may have sufficient social welfare to fall back on making this not so much of an issue.
  • Contributions to social welfare/security: Even in countries with good social welfare, you’re required to pay contributions to social welfare.
  • Pension scheme: Even if your country has a state pension, it’s still good to put some money away for retirement.
  • Taxes: Obviously!
  • Other business expenses: Meetings with clients (if they insist on physically meeting in person), etc.
  • And of course, your own wage: How much can you comfortably live on once you’ve subtracted everything else?

Once again, the exact amount you should be charging also depends on where you live. If you’re in Scandinavia, it would cost you a lot more than it would in Thailand. Either way however, US$50.00 per hour is the minimum you should charge.

Will Clients Really Pay Me That Amount?

Any client who tries to stiff you for the lowest amount isn’t a client worth having. There is of course nothing wrong with your client negotiating a slightly lower rate. There’s also nothing wrong with being a little bit flexible, but don’t go too low. Not only does this ruin things for other writers, but it also means lowering your own expectations.

Good clients will pay good rates. The real challenge is finding those clients. That’s where the “business” part of freelance writing comes into play. You are a business and you are selling a service. Get out there and do your marketing!

megaphone
Feel free to yell at people with a megaphone if you think that works. Personally, I’d recommend networking, blogging and getting creative online.

It’s easy for me to say that any client who tries to stiff you isn’t a client worth having. I mean, it is true – but there are certainly times when you’ll feel desperate. However, that’s where having a business plan comes in. That’s why you shouldn’t quit your day job: you may very well need that job to help you get your freelance business up and running.

Making a living as a freelance writer is far from impossible. Many writers consider it a rewarding career. Yet the takeaway here is to never stop thinking of yourself as a business. The job of a writer is more than just typing and sending documents. Work won’t fall into your lap, at least not in the beginning.

Are Online Side Hustles Worth It?

Online side hustles are tempting, especially if you could do with an extra couple hundred bucks a month and want to fill up a few extra hours. What’s more, there are plenty of ways you can (theoretically) make money online.

However, before moving on I would really like to get one thing straight:

There’s no such thing as ‘quick’ money.

The Internet is full of promises and most of them are bogus. Generating cash isn’t impossible but having a plan is still paramount. Even as a fulltime worker, you’ve got to think of yourself as a business. Naturally, that means having a business plan.

Sounds boring, doesn’t it?

Or maybe it’s a lot more effort than it’s worth…

Well, tough luck. That’s business.

Not to discourage you, of course. Having an online side hustle can mean exercising your abilities in a totally different area. If you’re particularly talented at something, it could mean making “easy” money (to an extent) just for doing something you love.

Anything is possible, but where to begin?

Online Side Hustles: Finding one that suits you

What are you good at? If you’re only so-so at coding/programming, even intermediate coding tasks/jobs won’t bring in much profit. Sure, you’ll learn and practice (not at all a bad thing – in fact, I’d encourage it if you want to perfect your skill) but you won’t see much financial return on your time investment.

On the flipside, if you’re a whizz at Photoshop there may be quite a few lucrative side gigs for you.

Can you throw together a couple of images to a high standard within a short space of time? That’s an online side hustle that can prove to be very profitable. Are you great at creating snappy headlines or writing killer blog posts within minutes?

What about explainer videos: can you shoot/edit one in less than hour – a well-made one, that is?

In short, the best online side hustles are those that can net you a reasonable sum of money in a short amount of time.

If you are stuck for ideas, maybe consider the following (online) roles:

  • Writing advertising copy for small companies and businesses who need it. Since people need copy that converts, this will always be in demand.
  • Social media management is great if you’re good at planning, strategizing and implementation. You may also have to engage with customers. You can do it for prolific bloggers, companies, start-ups…etc.
  • Creating simple websites can definitely be lucrative if you’re able for it and can do it in accordance with a customers’ needs.
  • Basic or advanced video & image editing work is always in demand. Creating/editing a video here and there can land you a few dollars in your account.

What about paid online surveys and other sources of side income?

Now I have to be blunt. The vast majority of these online side hustles are shit. The likes of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, Paid Online Surveys and “micro tasks” (whatever…) pay an absolute pittance. You are better off investing time setting up a more specialized and in-demand side hustle and doing some basic marketing (go on Upwork, Fiverr etc.). It won’t bring you money straight away, but then again “get cash quick” will always remain a pipe dream.

Conclusion

With online side hustles, you become a mini-freelancer. You’re setting up a small side business and you need to let people know about it. You should also consider your network. If you’re on social media, ask around and say that you’re offering your skills in a certain area. You may be surprised by the response.

So are they worth it? Absolutely: if you play your cards right and know when and where to hustle.

Europe Remotely – A Jobseeker’s Review

I decided to do a review of Europe Remotely for one simple reason: I live in Europe.

Germany, to be more specific.

During my job search, I found plenty of telecommute positions located in far-flung places. The United States, Canada, Australia… Even New Zealand (not that there’s anything wrong with that…).

I have no problem working for a company in a different time zone. I’m quite happy to compromise occasionally and work a few odd hours during the week. However, certain remote companies do seem to have an issue with me being in Europe.

How do I know?

Well…

’Remote – US & Canada Only’ frequently appears on job advertisements.

Not all of them, mind you – but this notice appears enough for it to get tedious. So I dedicated part of my job search to finding jobs specifically located in a European time zone.

When it came to platforms focusing on Europe… It was slim pickings. Then, I found EuropeRemotely.com.

Is Europe Remotely any good then?

I guess it depends on your definition of “good”. As a job board, it’s laid out in a pretty standard manner. This is the first thing you see when you log on:

europe remotely first page

I mean, it’s pretty much what you want. A list of remote jobs based in Europe… No fancy frills, nothing. As a job seeker, I didn’t really give a hoot. I scanned the list and looked for positions in my field (namely, marketing/copywriting).

And damn… There are a lot of tech and software jobs.

Which is good news for software developers, web developers and IT people. Seriously. If this is your industry, and you either live in Europe or don’t mind working for a European company then keep this platform in your bookmarks.

Scrolling down a little further though, Europe Remotely showed me this:

europe remotely first page 2

Ah, so they do divide it into categories. That’s handy.

After that… There’s not much else. Well, a blog with three posts. Thankfully, the jobs are regularly updated. Even for techies though, they are rather minimal. This platform’s definitely worth a look now and then but don’t rely on it!

The Burning Question for Writers: Should I work for content mills?

Getting paid to write on the Internet – sounds like the best gig ever for some people. And I’ll admit: there were times when I really, really did feel like I had it all. I could set my own schedules, and everyone I worked with was behind Skype and/or email (no one used Slack in those days… I think).

As a budding copywriter, I needed somewhere to hone my skills. As I mentioned in a previous post, the first place I started was at so-called “content mills” or “content farms”.

To be honest, I don’t really like the sound of the name. They sound a lot like “puppy farms” or “kitten farms”.

cute puppies from a farm
And no, puppy farms are not as pleasant as this picture. Look them up if you have too… I won’t be held responsible for the ensuing tears.

Tell us this much then… what are content mills?

In the broadest sense, content mills are money grabbing bastards who suck honest workers dry a business that makes most of its money selling content. This could be content for SEO, press releases, advertising copy, blog posts… You name it.

In essence, the business model is pretty sound. The client pays big, fancy monies for a batch of articles – the more well-written they are, the better. The company then gets money and, of course, pays the writers. Some many content companies/agencies that also hire writers full or part-time and given them stable hours and pay. How nice.

But this particular breed of company, known as a content mill, will almost exclusively outsource all of its writing to freelancers. Not necessarily a bad thing.

But then we get to a rather touchy subject…

How much do content mills pay?

Yuck. The truth is, the vast majority of these word farms (in my experience) pay very, very little. It’s pretty normal to be paid US$3.50 per 500 word article (bear in mind, these articles are churned out one after the other… And fast. Although I don’t do it anymore, I could still easily churn out five or six basic, 500 word articles an hour).

So, in theory, I could be making US$10.50 per hour. Convert that to euro and I’m getting… About 8, almost the same as “minimum wage” jobs.

I’ve also written for platforms which paid upwards of 12 euro (yes, euro!) for a 500-word piece.

And of course, it depends on the content farm itself.

A decent few pay pretty well – but normally at the higher levels (depending on the score you get in their test… which many will give you). Often these companies are more than just content mills, though. They usually have their fingers in many pies.

So, should writers work for these companies?

Let’s phrase the question differently. Ask yourself: What will I get out of it? This is business after all, and you’re a business if you’re looking to do freelance work. If there’s a healthy supply of articles most of the time and you can do them with an average level of effort… Go for it. When I started getting real clients, I kept the content mills for slower times (interspersed with TEFL training work).

The real danger of content mills comes from when you’re earning all your income from them: and have no time, space or energy to find other clients/jobs. But that’s a danger that goes far beyond copywriting – all freelancers are prone to this trap.

I work full-time now, but I run my own projects on the side and pick up the odd bit of freelance work here and there… When I have the time and energy. I would absolutely do some work for a content company again – but only if it were a bit of easy money for a few hours work here and there. Never again will I write for $3.50 an article.

Ever.

Digital Marketing for Beginners: How to (Not) Get Overwhelmed

Even if it isn’t your main field, selling anything online involves at least some digital marketing knowledge. You don’t have to be a SEO expert or even the world’s best copywriter (you can hire people for that).

On the flipside, you may find online marketing interesting and want to break into the field. Additionally, you may want to learn as much as possible.

And that’s when many people find…

…that with the amount of information out there, learning even the basics of online marketing can seem overwhelming.

Most books and articles about digital marketing (especially for beginners) often seem to skip this rather important lesson.

But it’s true – there is a TONNE of info out there. It can seem intimidating for anyone starting out. So, whether you’re a beginner, want to promote your services or sell a product… Take these three points into account.

Endgame & Experience: What digital marketing beginners must consider

1. Remember – It’s all about the goal

Forget about becoming an online marketing wizard. It’s a tool: learn to use that tool effectively in a what that it helps you achieve your goal. If you’re setting up a blog for example, your goal is to get readers.

And in this case, there are two things you can do:

  • Write/create engaging, helpful content that speaks to your target audience.
  • Share it – that’s where you can look into relevant social media sites, and simple strategies to attain more readers.

Helpful Tip!

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about where to begin, sit down with a blank piece of paper. Think about what you want to achieve, then write it down. Now, think of at least two ways you could reach that goal.

If you can’t think of it, search for the information.

For example, if you’d like to expand your blog’s readership, you could search “ways to expand traffic to a blog”. Don’t completely ignore any other information the resources supply to you, but don’t get too bogged down in it. Stay focused!

 

Wisdom comes with age (aka., experience)

Of course, this advice isn’t just for digital marketing beginners. I’m talking to the more experienced marketers out there, too. Sometimes it is helpful to sit back, reflect on experience and realize that you already have the resources to tackle the current problem. You’ve just got to pull it out of your mental filing cabinet.

The more you promote, the more you research and think of different ways to expand your product’s reach, the better you’ll get. You WILL make mistakes along the way. Don’t fret if you’re not reaching your goals in the early stages.

Using blogs again as an example, don’t worry if your first ten posts only get a couple of views/likes. You can always recycle old blog posts – if the content is still relevant. You can still update them.

If your site isn’t optimized well, you can run an audit and fix the issues. With time, testing and seeing results… You’ll get better and develop a feel for what works and what doesn’t.

KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

Simplicity is the key to being focused. Even in digital marketing, where many things seem hopelessly complicated. If you’re settling down to write an engaging post – focus on that post’s topic! Don’t go off on tangents. Don’t suddenly panic and start adding more keywords, shoving them in places where they decrease the quality of the content.

(Tip: You can do that later, in peace and quiet. If you feel it will add something and increase traffic!).

In terms of keeping things simple, I’ll use affiliate marketing as an example.

By design, affiliate marketing is ridiculously simple. You’ve got a link to a product or service. Another person clicks on it, makes a purchase… Voila! Fancy monies.

Your task here is to promote that link as much as possible. To maximise profit. It’s done in countless ways, and that’s where it gets complicated – paid advertising campaigns on various networks (Taboola, Outbrain, Facebook) or through organic search, or through social media… The list goes on.

It’s just important not to lose sight. Digital marketing can be overwhelming to beginners due to the volume of what it encompasses, but in the end the goal is the same – expand reach, promote presence and sell. Focus on these goals, educate yourself and it will come to you.

Remote.co – A Jobseeker’s Review

Remote.co stands out for me because it’s more than just a remote job board. They actually style themselves as a resource for digital nomads and remote workers.

It’s not just for employees, either. Their blog contains a lot of information about managing remote teams.

After applying through jobs on this platform, I found it useful to skim through a few of their articles. Which was a nice break, especially since applying for jobs can really take it out of you.

So, how is Remote.co useful to work at home job seekers?

Beyond providing general advice, there’s a section on Remote.co dedicated to remote workers. In fact, there’s a list of remote workers who’ve shared their insights on various questions people ask. Which I think is really important: sometimes, you can get really bogged down in your search and forget about other perspectives.

Some of the insights include…

  • All about going remote (the how, why, different motivations people had, etc.)
  • What it’s actually like to work remotely (Do they keep a regular schedule? What are the pain points and how do you address them?). These insights are especially useful for those starting out in their remote careers.
  • The best way to find a remote job, what industries these remote workers’ companies are in, etc.
  • Remote life: how their job has impacted their lives outside work, how work/life balance in general compares to being in an office.
  • And a section that addresses digital nomads

As stated before, Remote.co puts an emphasize on providing advice for employers who have remote teams/individuals working for them. It’s not only focused on those looking for a telecommute position. So even beyond a job board, it’s a pretty holistic resource.

What remote jobs are on offer?

I was quite impressed with the selection of jobs and industries available here. As well as how regularly it was updated. As usual, the most frequent remote positions were those in the area of tech, IT and software.

There was a substantial number of ads in the following industries as well:

  • Accounting
  • Customer service (which is a pretty big telecommute industry anyway…)
  • Design (in some cases, can also be considered “tech”)
  • Online Editing
  • Healthcare
  • Marketing (mostly digital marketing, though)
  • Project management
  • Recruitment & HR
  • Sales
  • Online Teaching (not as many…)
  • Transcription
  • Virtual Assistance
  • Writing
  • …and a “miscellaneous” section.

Evidently, Remote.co’s job categories are very, very detailed. Which is good – although if you have a number of different transferrable skills, you may want to search in several categories. Restricting yourself to one will seriously limit the job suggestions.

Conclusion

I’m keeping Remote.co on my list of top remote job sites. They were invaluable to me during my search – and I managed to get into two interview processes through this platform. Although I haven’t joined it yet, they even have a community you can join. Definitely useful!

Becoming a Virtual Assistant: Here’s What You Should Know

Before we talk about becoming a virtual assistant, let’s have a quick rundown of what a VA actually is:

Often abbreviated to VA, a virtual (office) assistant is a professional who provides technical, administrative, creative or social assistance to other in a remote work environment. Essentially, a remote administrative job.

That’s my definition, anyway. Many VAs work as freelancers, often for one, two or more clients. But more and more companies are willing to hire many of their admin staff virtually. Simply because it saves on space.

Becoming a VA has a lot of perks: it’s a pretty flexible job, and it can be done from anywhere (which is the whole point). Additionally, many virtual assistants work as freelancers. Unlike copywriting however, you’ll usually have a chunk of hours each day where you work for a specific client. Which means that the gigs you land are usually long-term and have a certain amount of stability. Handy!

What you should know before becoming a virtual assistant

The job description “virtual assistant” actually encompasses a wide range of different skills. No two VAs have the exact same skillset: in fact, some may specialize in particular types of assistant (technical, administrative, emotional support… well okay, the last one was a joke but may be true in some cases. Watch out!).

Becoming a virtual assistant shouldn’t be viewed as a single, step-by-step process. Instead, you should consider yourself a sort of a “jack of all trades”. At the very essence of the job, you’re providing assistance to an individual. Basically, you have a set of skills and offer to use those skills to make another person’s job easier.

For example, a virtual assistant could…

  • Work as a content manager, uploading content to websites and various other platforms.
  • Set social media strategies.
  • Write content (if they’re good enough…)
  • Deal with technical issues on a website.
  • Do online research.
  • Book flights and holidays, schedule meetings, answer emails (very much in the realm of a “traditional” assistant).
  • And much, much more…

The tasks of a VA really depend on the needs of your client/company. Which is why when applying for a job or pimping yourself out, you should be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. And then focus on your strengths.

Equipping Yourself to Become a VA: The core skills needed

What I just gave was an overview of what VAs do. But there are “core” skills and traits that you need to have if you’re interested in becoming a virtual assistant. Many of these skills can be learned. You of course need to have some clerical office skills (at the base of it, a VA is simply an office clerk that doesn’t sit in the office). You should also be computer literate – you don’t have to be a tech wizard (very few in the “online” industry actually are), but you should know your way around a computer.

Being able to learn and adapt are also highly important. Technology changes rapidly, as do many online industries. You’ve got to be able to move with the times and learn new software fast. One client may require you to work with Excel, the other with some bizarre open source program. You as a VA must be able to adapt – quickly – to appease all your clients.

Conclusion

If you’re an experienced professional, you probably already have a significant number of skills that’ll help you work as a VA.

The best advice I could give you is to do your research. See what the most in-demand skills are for VAs and assess whether or not your skillset is good enough. If not – well, get learning!