Paid to Blog is a comprehensive guide to successful freelance blogging. It contains everything you need to know in order to earn in excess of $100 per hour.
With that in mind, you may be wondering what qualifies me to teach you how to become a successful freelance blogger. Alternatively (or additionally), you may be interested in finding out how I became a successful freelance blogger. There are usually lessons to be learned from other people’s experiences and my story is no exception.
If you’d like to know how I went from barely even having read a blog before to earning in excess of $150 per hour as a freelance blogger (and now ~$400 per hour as a writing contractor) in just two years, you’re in the right place.
Quitting my job was the biggest (and best) decision I have ever made. It has defined who I am and enabled me to pursue the lifestyle that I craved.
Some entrepreneurs might talk about their “big break” – the moment when they reached a critical point of success. For me, my first “big break” was deciding to quit my job. Not because I immediately made a lot of money (far from it!). My decision to quit was a “big break” not due to anything related to money, but because it was the moment when I became committed to success on my own terms. It was a psychological triumph that set the stage for everything that came afterward.
In December 2011, I did it. I quit my job and started freelance writing fulltime. But in the time leading up to that (and in the many months since), I have learned a lot and travelled an incredible path filled with twists and turns that I could never possibly have predicted.
It all started in May 2011.
I had been floating through my academic and professional life, not really thinking about my goals or how I wanted to achieve them. I studied History & Politics at college and just about managed to graduate with a degree. After that, I was lucky enough to land a part time job working for my father in his property business. At first it was a part time administration role, but over the course of a few years my responsibilities grew until I was managing an eight figure property portfolio. But while I had gotten somewhere, it had happened to me as much as I had caused it. For the most part, I was floating through life.
To be absolutely clear, I did not hate my job. I had great autonomy in my role and I enjoyed a lot of the work. But I felt directionless. At heart, I was an entrepreneur, but so far I had spent most of my life sliding from school to college, college to job, event to event, without much in the way of focused ambition. Simply put, I wasn’t happy.
But in May 2011 that all changed. I decided that I needed a new approach. I knew that I had to quit my job and strike out on my own. It was as if this desire had been growing in me for many years and had finally erupted to the surface.
I didn’t know how I was going to do it. At that point, I barely knew what a blog was and I had no idea that freelance blogging was a viable career. The concept of being paid to blog was foreign (and a little absurd, if I’m honest) to me.
On June 27th I launched Leaving Work Behind. I didn’t have any intention of making money from it at the time and I certainly had no idea that it would help land me jobs as a freelance blogger.
I was reading many blogs from the people that I looked up to, some of whom wrote about their business experience and even published monthly income reports so that others could learn from them. However, all of these bloggers had started publishing the income reports after they were already successful. Nobody had a blog where they released income statistics for their online business from the very beginning. Seeing an opportunity, I decided to fill it. My idea was simply that Leaving Work Behind would serve as a complete online accountability journal for my efforts to earn money online and quit my job.
At that point, I had no idea that my blog would later became integral to the success of my online business.
On the passive income front, my first niche site was slowly but surely climbing the Google Rankings. It was then that I set my goal: to quit my job within one year of launching my first niche site. Having created the site in May 2011, I committed to being self-employed by May 2012. Of course, I had already decided to quit my job, but this was the point that I gave myself a definite deadline.
That said, the path from goal to reality was littered with failures. In August, my first niche site reached the magical #1 spot in Google’s search results. After months of hard work, it had finally happened.
But little came of it. Despite being in the prime spot for the keywords I had targeted, the site didn’t become an instant money maker. It didn’t really become a money maker of any sort. The earnings that I had hoped for did not pour in.
I was left disappointed and frustrated.
Then disaster struck. Due to excessive artificial link building to the site, Google punished me, pushing the site way down in the rankings. My fading hopes of making money from that niche site had been completely crushed.
Looking back, I see that it was a blessing in disguise. Frustration from that incident led directly to my choice to apply for freelance writing jobs.
Getting My First Job and Finding Success Through Writing
A few weeks after my Google disaster, I reached my second “big break” when I secured my first freelance blogging job.
Before that point, everything seemed to be going downhill – I had tried hard for months to build up a website that would generate passive income but had failed. Out of pure frustration more than anything else, I submitted a bunch of applications to listings featured on the ProBlogger Job Board. I did it on a complete whim, not really expecting anything to come of it.
To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect. I hadn’t set out to be a freelance blogger. In fact, I had never even considered it. The idea of making money from the simple act of blogging was bizarre. After trying in vain to earn income through passive niche sites but failing miserably, I had seriously a hard time believing that it would all be so easy.
But it many ways it was. In October I heard back from James Farmer at WPMU.org (now WPMU DEV). He offered me a paid trial, and shortly after, he gave me an ongoing gig. That was the beginning – I had secured my first freelance blogging job. However foreign the idea was, the WPMU role had opened up a whole new world to me.
That was only the beginning. Another opportunity quickly followed. After landing the WPMU role, I sent out another batch of applications. In November I got a response from Vladimir Prelovac, the CEO of ManageWP. Between WPMU and some other things I had going on at the time, I hardly had space in my schedule for more writing. But I didn’t want to ignore what seemed like a great opportunity, so I quickly sent him an article.
By mid-November, I had the job.
Taking the Plunge – How I Finally Quit My Job
While all this had been going on, I had still been working at my father’s property business. However, my initial success in landing the WPMU and ManageWP roles gave me the impetus to take things to the next level. I told my father that I planned to quit my job.
Conventional wisdom indicated that I should have waited longer and stayed with my day job until I was making an equal amount of money through my online endeavors. Had I listened to that, I would have had to wait for much longer before quitting my job. It may never have happened.
I used simple logic to make my decision. The equivalent hourly rate that I was making through freelance writing ($15) was roughly equivalent to my hourly rate at my job. Quitting my job would free up a lot of time each day, so if I could find writing work to fill those extra hours, I would make enough money to sustain myself.
The math made sense – I could make money if I could find more work.
However, I was cautious. I knew that I needed savings or some other sort of safety net in case things went awry. To make sure that I would have some wiggle room during the time that it took me to find more work, I put enough money away to cover me for several months.
Besides putting away those savings, I accepted that sacrifices would be necessary. As I prepared to quit my job, I took a long hard look at what I was spending each month and reduced my expenditure by 30%. That’s right – I was able to eliminate an entire third of my expenditure. It’s certainly a lot, but by giving up extra stuff that I wanted but didn’t really need, I was able to reach my goal.
Having taken these steps, I was ready. December 23rd was my last day of employment. I had finally quit my job. I could barely have imagined it just a few weeks earlier.
A New Era
After I quit, I went on vacation for a few weeks before diving headfirst into the frightening and rewarding world of self-employment.
After the trip, I kept writing for WPMU and ManageWP while at the same time looking for more clients. I also spent $275 on Carol Tice’s Blast Off Course (now defunct), which I hoped would help me learn more about getting some well-paying clients. While I don’t dispute that Carol’s approach works for some people (including her!), I was not at all interested in cold calling clients or employing some of the other techniques that she advocated. I needed to find an approach that worked for me.
During this time, I was careful to keep my spending in check. I wanted to make sure that my savings didn’t disappear too quickly as they were already fading at a fair rate. At my lowest point I got down to about $3,000 in the bank. My monthly outgoings were close to $4,000 at the time, so I was cutting it a lot closer than I would have liked.
But I persevered. I remembered my original thinking: if I could find more clients, I could make enough money to stay afloat.
Unfortunately, even as I began to focus more on freelance writing, I was not done with my failed foray into niche sites. In February, I made a plan to create a large number of them – apparently I figured that if one niche site couldn’t make money, multiple sites would.
Because of my growing writing responsibilities, I did not have the time to work extensively on the mass niche site project myself. I hired a Virtual Assistant to write the content for me and hoped that everything would soon take shape.
Two months later, my Virtual Assistant quit without notice. After not hearing back from her for several days, I emailed to ask what was going on. Only then did she inform me that she no longer wanted to work on the project.
Building My Freelance Blogging Business
The sudden halt to my mass niche site project jarred me. I had secured more writing clients, so things were looking a bit better financially, but I knew that I needed to reevaluate my approach. In May I took a vacation to Bulgaria.
It was an amazing decision and led to my third “big break.” Away in a foreign country, with little to worry about, I found myself in a relaxed and creative frame of mind. Having spent most of the year immersed in the daily noise of hard work and money management, frantically trying to keep up with deadlines, the vacation was a hugely positive change. Finally, without the constant stress, I had the silence that I needed so that I could think.
I decided that my blog should be more useful to readers and so I turned to Corbett Barr’s Start a Blog That Matters course. I didn’t regret the decision. In fact, when considering the idea of creating the course that you’re reading now, I deliberately decided to focus on freelance blogging rather than blogging in general because I believe that Corbett’s course is top-notch. It is one of the best purchases for my online business that I have ever made.
When I returned from Bulgaria, I was down to writing just two posts a week for my blog. But that was okay, because it was a key part of my new strategy. I wanted to concentrate on delivering as much value as possible with each post. I had finally taken up the old mantra: quality over quantity.
One example of this was Freelancing: a Complete Guide to Setting and Negotiating Rates. The post was an experiment of sorts – I wanted to see if there was interest in content that got down to the specifics of freelancing and gave tips from my own experience. There was, and so I decided to create this course.
By July, my freelance writing business was going strong. I was amazed that I had not needed to chase work since I landed the ManageWP role – all clients had come to me, either directly through Leaving Work Behind or via my bylines on client sites. I was no longer worried about making ends meet each month – I had enough money to stay afloat. While I had finally acknowledged that niche sites was not an area I would be successful in, I still wanted to diversify my income somehow.
In November 2012, I finally launched this course (in its original format as a PDF guide).
I continued to work hard, and when the new year rolled around I was lucky enough to be named to ProBlogger’s 15 Bloggers to Watch in 2013 list.
Transitioning To a New Business Model
In July of 2013, I took a trip to Turkey. As vacations tend to be, it was a great opportunity for me to slow down and think about the direction I wanted to take. My reflection led to another shift in the way I do things. My latest “big break” was the switch to a subcontracting business model.
The idea was pretty simple: if I could outsource some tasks to other people for less money than I earn from the tasks, I would be making a net profit.
In August, I launched Clear Blogging Solutions, a content marketing agency guided by that principle. I hoped that the company would serve as a vehicle for me to put subcontracting into action and prove that freelancing (with a few tweaks) is a scalable business model.
But things didn’t quite turn out the way I had expected them to. In the month following Clear Blogging Solutions‘ launch, I had not gained any new clients. I had taken on new writing gigs with Flippa and WooThemes, but I had secured those opportunities as an individual, not through the company.
I realized that the problem with Clear Blogging Solutions was that it lacked my key selling point: me. I know that sounds rather arrogant, but let me explain.
My success as a freelance writer stems from the Leaving Work Behind brand and the wide presence I have on the web: on websites from FreelanceSwitch, to WooThemes, to ManageWP, to Mashable, to Lifehacker and more. Without that branding and presence, I wouldn’t be anywhere right now.
With Clear Blogging Solutions, I had taken myself out of the marketing strategy. Of course, I corrected that. In September I decided to go back to my old way of doing things: a good, old-fashioned Hire Me page.
With all of that in mind, there is one element of Clear Blogging Solutions that I have retained: subcontracting. Instead of subcontracting under the guise of a company, I do so with myself as the key selling proposition by highlighting the benefits of working with me (and by extension, my team).
Freelancing is the reason I was able to quit my job and build a successful online business. My journey has been incredible, and the best part is that it’s not over yet. In two and a half years I went from a job where I felt directionless to a state of self-employment that has empowered me to take my life in the direction that I want.
Like anyone, I am still dealing with the problems that face me. Freelancing brings with it a whole new set of freedoms – but it also carries a whole new set of challenges, too. Even with all of this, I can’t stress one simple fact enough: it is worth it.
People occasionally ask me if I have ever regretted quitting my job and my answer is always the same: not once. I hope that by following my lead, you will be able to say the same in the future. Good luck!