Francesca has always loved writing. So when she graduated from college in 2009 she knew that she wanted to write for a living. She moved to LA and applied to all the movie studios in the hope of landing a job as a screenwriter only to realize that no one wanted to hire a recent college grad with no previous work experience.
However, Francesca didn’t give up, and today she is an established writer who makes a living doing what she loves.
How did she go from being unable to get paid for writing to charging $300 to $400 per article?
“Turns out, people didn’t care much that I loved writing.”
As you can imagine, being rejected from all the writing jobs she had applied for was not a pleasant experience, but it taught Francesca a valuable lesson.
“Turns out, people didn’t care much that I loved writing or that I was part of the school paper. What they wanted were actual published works and real world experience (I didn’t have any of that at that time).”
Here are three things she did to get that experience:
- She got a job as a receptionist/administrative assistant to pay the bills.
- She got an unpaid internship at a marketing agency that she knew would look good on her resume.
- She started writing for examiner.com about social media in Los Angeles.
“At the time, I wasn’t concerned about how I was going to get paid. I just wanted to get experience, build my portfolio, and put my work out there.”
Francesca landed her first paying client in 2011. The founder of a local startup called incentiBox noticed her work on Examiner and asked her if she’d be interested in writing about them in her column. She checked them out, like what they did, and agreed to cover them. They also asked her for some advice on social media and content marketing, which she was happy to give for free.
incentiBox founders reached out to her again a few months later and asked if she’d be interested in writing for them, and Francesca said yes. She charge them $40 to $50 per article.
“At the time, I thought $40 to $50 per post was a lot. I was already pretty happy with that. Of course, I still had a day job, I couldn’t pay my bills with writing yet . . . But it propelled me to start trying to figure out how to build a serious writing business.”
Around that time Francesca came across a book called The Well Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman. “It opened my eyes to the fact that you can get paid $100, $250, or even more per article. I really was not aware of that prior to reading that book,” she says. She read The Well Fed Writer cover to cover in a few days, and once she was done, she decided to put everything she learned into practice.
She set up a legitimate company, Credible Copywriting, created a professional website, and started cold-emailing potential clients. Soon, she doubled her rates and started charging $80 to $100 for 500 to 700 words articles.
- Don’t go into freelance writing with expectations of overnight success. Building your portfolio, increasing your rates, and establishing yourself as a writer takes time. So stay patient. Play the long game.
- Take your business (and yes, it is a business) seriously. Many people say they want to be professional writers, yet they treat writing as a hobby — which, of course, gets them nowhere. You want to make a living writing? Then you have to stop treating it as a hobby and start treating it as a business. Get serious.
- Build a solid portfolio. Clients don’t care about your passion for writing, or your experience in a school newspaper, or even about your college degree – what they actually want to see is your published work. So don’t worry about getting paid. Write for free if you have to, but get your work out there. Building a solid portfolio should be your #1 priority.
How Francesca became a Retail Expert
Francesca stumbled into retail in 2013. She was already pretty active on LinkedIn at the time, and one day when she checked who’d viewed her profile, she noticed that a marketing professional from Vend had. So she did her research on the company and sent him a message asking if they were looking for a writer . . . and Vend hired her!
“It started as a freelance gig, I was getting paid $100 to $150 per post (depending on the length), but we had such a great working relationship that those occasional articles turned into blog posts and LinkedIn posts once a week.”
However she didn’t have any previous experience in retail, which presented a significant challenge… given that she now had to produce high-quality retail-oriented content on a regular basis. How did she handle it?
Here are three things Francesca did in order to become a retail expert:
- She used a tool called SmartBrief. “It is a service that curates studies, articles, and news and delivers them straight into your inbox. They do this for several industries: finance, tech, retail, etc. So I’m subscribed to their retail newsletter and get a daily email with curated content that’s relevant to the retail industry. That really helps me to keep in touch with what’s going on in the space,” Francesca says.
- She joined relevant groups on LinkedIn. “LinkedIn is a great resource. I joined several retail-centric groups, so I get to see what people are talking about, and it helps to understand what’s going on in the minds of retailers,” she says.
- She talked to people who work in retail. “I went beyond just reading content. I made an effort to actually speak with retailers and retail experts. Sometimes it was as simple as starting a conversation with a retailer at the mall. Other times, I asked Vend if I could speak with their retail customers, and they happily allowed me to do that. All that allowed me to hear people’s stories and ask them questions, which gave me a much deeper understanding of the industry.”
On top of that, she also interviewed retail experts for her pieces, which made her content more credible. “I use a tool called HARO (Help a Reporter Out) to find experts and sources.”
In 2015, Vend offered her a content strategist position which she gladly accepted. “I didn’t have any previous experiences as a content strategist, but developing ideas for content was sort of what I did anyway, so I thought, why not?”
- Make sure that you are visible enough for potential clients to find you. The demand for writers is higher than ever. Companies are constantly looking for people who are able to produce quality content on a regular basis. So have a LinkedIn profile, have a portfolio website, and get your work out there. Give those potential clients a way to find you.
- Be reliable, communicative, and responsive. Clients value people they can rely on, so if you show that you are easy to work with, they will be inclined to keep you around and give you more responsibility. “I showed a genuine interest in what they did, I asked a lot of questions, and whenever I’d get an assignment, I’d make sure that we’re on the same page, so that I could give them exactly what they wanted. Plus, I was really responsive. Whenever they’d send me an email, I’d respond to it within 24 to 48 hours. Vend appreciated all that.”
- Go the extra mile to produce outstanding content. Pay attention to how Francesca committed to educating herself about the retail industry so that she could write great articles on the subject. Is it any surprise that Vend was so happy with her work that they eventually offered her a content strategist position? Don’t be lazy when it comes to writing. Put in the time and effort required to produce top-notch content even if you aren’t getting paid that much (or anything) for it. It will pay off in the long run.
150,000+ LinkedIn followers
Francesca positioned herself as a retail expert on LinkedIn when she started working at Vend.
Here’s what she did to position herself as a retail expert:
- She shared relevant, high-quality content via LinkedIn updates. “Whenever I wrote an article on retail, which I did pretty much every week, I posted it as an update, and also submitted the link to the retail groups I participated in.”
- She published original content on LinkedIn once a week or once every two weeks.
Francesca did that consistently for over a year, and eventually attracted the attention of one of the LinkedIn editors, who then decided to include her profile in their new “Who to follow” feature.
“At the time, LinkedIn was doing a major update of their mobile application, so they wanted to include my profile for people who were interested in the retail industry. Naturally, I agreed, and since then my follower count on LinkedIn has increased exponentially – when the editor contacted me, I had maybe 9,000 followers, and now it’s over 150,000.
That has made a real difference not just in terms of my credibility as a retail expert, but also in terms of business, because that meant that I was reaching a wider audience with my content, and as a result more people are interested in working with me.”
- Establish yourself as an expert. It’s not enough to be an expert, you also need to be recognized as one, at least if you want to use your expertise to advance your writing career. So pick a platform, publish quality content, and build a following. That way, you will establish yourself as an expert, and will be able to reap the benefits of being recognized as such.
Francesca’s Top 3 Tips for Writers in Charge Readers
Today, Francesca works as a content strategist at Vend, writes about retail for freelance clients, and runs the Be a Freelance Writer blog. She’s actually glad that the movie studios rejected her all those years ago. “I love what I do. I’m really happy and grateful for where I am now. No regrets!”
What advice would she give to someone who is just starting out as a freelance writer?
1. Change your mindset. “You really have to get out of that state of mind where you think that $50 per post is a good deal because it’s not. I charge $300 to $400 per post, which might seem like a lot, but I know other writers who charge close to $1,000 per post. You need to realize that it’s possible to get paid well for writing.
Again, what really helped me was “The Well-Fed Writer” by Peter Bowerman. It’s a great book. It offers practical advice as to what you can do to get started in freelance writing and puts you in that mindset where you know that you can get paid a lot of money for writing content. Reading that book changed everything for me.
2. Build a solid portfolio. “Okay, so let’s be realistic here: in order to land those high-paying gigs, you need to show those clients that you are great at what you do. That’s why it’s so important to have great writing samples from reputable magazines and websites. Don’t have them yet? Approach those publications and offer to write for free, and then use those posts to get paid clients. For example, when I was targeting startups in the tech space, I knew that a lot of founders read sites like Venture Beat, so I tried to get published there. Then I’d use those clips to make my cold emails and pitches more compelling. Having a solid portfolio makes it much easier to land clients.
3. Specialize and become an expert. “Now, I’m not saying choose one topic and get married to it, but it’s best to pick a handful of topics that you are genuinely interested in and focus your efforts on them. Once you build an expertise, it will be easier to come up with ideas and produce content, plus establishing yourself as an expert will allow you to charge more.”
What’s Next for Francesca?
“On the retail front, it’s continuing to produce retail-specific content. Right now I’m sort of laying low because I just had a baby and I’m on maternity leave from client work. But I’m coming back to work in April, and it’s going to be business as usual, writing content, talking to retailers, etc. I also hope to increase my LinkedIn follower count from the current 150,000 to maybe 250,000, or even more than that if that’s possible.
I also have big plans for my Be a Freelance Writer website. I’m in the process of producing a course that will help other freelance writers break into the industry and get started. It will cover things like how to build a portfolio, how to get clients, how to get paid well, etc. I’m hoping to launch the course later this year!”