Freelance writing is a rapidly growing field, which makes finding high paying gigs difficult. Profitable niches are hard to come by, and it’s hard to make a lot of money off of just the odd article or two. I’m here to show you today how I expanded my freelance writing business, finding a niche that I love writing about and that makes me money. My story is about marketing for financial advisors, but these nine steps can be molded and transferred into almost any type of writing, and whatever niche suits you best. Here are the tips I learned on how to find a freelance writing niche.
Financial advisors are trained to manage your money. When it comes to marketing their business, they are generally lost. I learned that when I was selling performance reporting software to registered investment advisors. They’re really knowledgeable when you talk about cost basis and ROI, but mention content marketing? Forget about it. I’m a writer by trade. I ended up with the sales gig when a close friend asked me to write some content for his new fintech firm a few years ago. Before I get into the details, it’s important for you to understand what I brought into this gig. My skills are entirely self-taught, so you don’t need to be a content expert or have a college degree to do what I do. When I started this, I’d been writing at online freelance sites for fifteen years, struggling to make a living wage. I learned to build WordPress websites, but jobs were few and far between.
Step #1: Inspiration Comes To Those Who Think
As an online writer, I read every piece of content I could find on SEO and online marketing. By the time I wrapped up my sales gig, I was an expert in multiple areas, but I still didn’t have that one intangible I needed to take myself to the next level. Sales paid well, but I hated it. I enjoy writing, and wanted to be a full-time freelance writer again. How could I do it and not struggle financially?
Write. Content. Struggle. Financially. If you’ve ever done any serious writing, you know that words sometimes just float in space before coming together in no particular order. These four terms morphed into an idea for me. Write financial content and don’t struggle. It just came to me one day. I had finally found my freelance writing niche.
But great ideas are a dime a dozen. If every would-be inventor followed through on a great idea we would have had social media in the 1980’s. Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to pursue his dreams. My path wasn’t quite as dramatic, but I did make some sacrifices. My freelance writing niche idea was not unique. I needed to separate myself from the field.
Step #2: Making a Commitment to Do it Right
I had a long conversation with my wife. In order to make my dream a reality, I had to quit my job. That was a big step. As much as I hated sales, the profession was earning me over $100K a year (getting paid to write articles isn’t quite as much). You don’t throw that out the window without having a discussion with your spouse. Those who skip this step end up in divorce court.
Thankfully, I’m married to a wonderful woman who had my back the whole way. She knew I was struggling, and she actually thought I had a good idea. Freelance finance writing paid well. I would have to build a client base, but I had industry contacts and experience working on freelance sites. I also had ten grand in a 401K plan that would pay bills for a while. I gave my two-week notice and made it clear to my employer that I was retiring from sales, not going to work for a competitor. That built me some goodwill which paid off a few months later. I’ll get into that in a bit. At the time, I could only afford to spend about $1000 to get started and I had two months runway at home to make it all work.
Step #3: Building a Professional Profile
The first step in starting any business is to establish a brand. I was already registered on Upwork and Textbroker, so I built profiles on both sites advertising myself as a “Freelance Financial Writer.” I’d later evolve that by adding more skills, but in the beginning, I just wanted to score a few writing gigs and get the cashflow going. It took less than a week to get my first client. I also updated my LinkedIn profile and created a business page on Facebook. The latter doesn’t generate much business for me, but it does provide me a forum to build readership. My website, which I also built for this project, is a WordPress site with plug-ins that auto-posts all my blog articles on social media. Between Facebook and Linked In, I have over 10,000 readers.
I learned a valuable lesson in this step. No one likes to work for free, but I needed to write some professional samples if I was going to score any jobs at all. I started reading the Wall Street Journals, Barron’s, and the business section of my local newspaper. Using what I learned there, I put together half a dozen killer articles and attached them to job bids for potential clients.
Step #4: Establishing a Reputation
You can’t just jump in and start making $50 – $75 an hour as a freelance investment writer. There are some really low-end jobs in the beginning. Textbroker pays roughly $10 for 500-word pieces. Beginners on Upwork have to take whatever they can get. I didn’t have much money to promote my creative writing website, so I had to rely on organic traffic, which takes time to cultivate. The first job in my new freelance writing niche paid $60 and took me three hours to write. Upwork grabbed $12 of that, netting me a whopping $16 an hour for my time. That wasn’t going to cut it. The client offered me more work. I took it. This time, it took me two hours, same rate. Now I was at $24 an hour. Today, those pieces take me an hour. Net: $48. Get the idea?
I could have dropped that first client after delivering my inaugural article, but reputation is
everything when you’re a writer. I held on, refined my writing and research style to be more efficient, and now I write three articles a week for the guy. I even got him to raise his rate to $75 an article so my net per hour with him is over $50. That’s bare minimum for me today.
Step #5: Expanding my Service Offering
This is where I learned my next lesson. My former employer reached out to me with some referrals, but financial advisors want more than just great articles. Most of them can write those themselves. I did score a few gigs doing blogs posts for $100 a pop, but that burns you out quickly. Once again, I needed inspiration. How could I up my game? Financial. Writing. Articles. Content. WordPress. There’s that word cloud thing again. The answer to my dilemma had been in front of me the whole time. I just hadn’t seen it.
Among the many skills I’ve picked up along the way is the knowledge of how to build WordPress websites. What if I coupled that with my writing and re-branded as a “financial advisor marketing” firm? The idea almost put me out of business, because I did it wrong in the beginning. I changed all my profiles, re-wrote my home page, and started bidding on digital marketing jobs. No one hired me. I’m a writer. It was clear by my freelance work history. This was an entirely new niche for me. By “switching” everything, I actually lost business.
Step #6: Learning from My Mistakes
I did some online research and read a few books. That’s been the key to success for me in everything I’ve done professionally. What I learned was that instead of rebranding I should have set up the web design service as a separate entity. I had built a reputation as a top financial writer and needed to continue building on that.
My home page and profiles went back to their original design. Writing jobs started flowing again. Web design and online marketing became upsell services for me. The key to scoring those jobs was to hook new clients by doing what I was best at, which is freelance finance writing. I had my first $5000 month ninety days after I signed my first client. Sales was never my preferred profession, but I did it for so many years that I’m actually pretty good at it. You can be too if you’re selling something that you’re passionate about. For me, that’s finding as many readers as possible. When I talk to a financial advisor about building a WordPress site, I’m thinking about how he or she can use it to share my content.
Step #7: The Power of Email Marketing
I started my business on a shoestring budget and worked long hours for short money to get it to the first milestone, which was the $5000 a month mark. Unfortunately, that’s not a business. It’s a job. I didn’t give up $100K a year to make sixty. With the business model firmly in place and my identity established, the next step was to add some growth technology.
Don’t waste your money on Google Ads or Facebook Boost. I’ve used both and the ROI is so minimal it’s nearly non-existent. I do recommend email marketing though. I maintain a Constant Contact account that I use to send out a monthly newsletter. In each edition I’ll focus on a specific service, like “financial advisor email marketing” or “advisor websites.” I also use a lesser-known email tool called Mailshake. It does cold emailing. I had to set up a separate domain and email for it because I don’t want my primary to get blackballed as spam, but the tool pulls in a couple of good leads a week. Once someone opts in and replies to me, I switch them to Constant Contact and activate the newsletter cycle.
Step #8: Endorsements and Referrals
Don’t write your own reviews and never fire a client. Fake endorsements will always get exposed somewhere down the line. On Upwork, a request for a testimonial has to be accompanied by a link to the endorser’s Linked In profile. Personally, I like that. Every review of my work has been written by a satisfied customer. That’s what you want to strive for. Referrals are the best business you can get, but they come with high expectations. If you go too far above and beyond for a client, any friend or associate they refer to you will expect the same treatment. I have learned that the best way to avoid this is to use uniform pricing and treat every client equally.
My new business growth today is almost entirely by referral. The best way to earn an endorsement or referral is by doing a good job. Don’t be afraid to ask clients to talk to others about your work. Put a line at the bottom of your email signature that says, “referrals are welcome.” I ask for them in every monthly newsletter. Don’t offer discounts in exchange for referrals. Take my word for it. That tactic doesn’t get you good clients.
Step #9: Promoting the Client’s Services
I write articles for financial advisors. They manage people’s money and help them save for retirement. Remember those 10,000 readers I have on social media? That number grows every day. I share my client’s content and service offerings with all of them. It’s part of the package I offer when I upgrade a client to one of my financial advisor marketing systems. This was the final piece of the puzzle for me. I started out as a financial writer and still offer that as my primary service. I’ll build a website for a client if needed and I have multiple ways to promote them using content marketing and SEO strategies. My approach is to get the client to view me as a partner who can help them grow their practice.
This nine-step plan can work for any freelance writing niche, from finance to real estate to even credit cards. I made a few mistakes along the way which you don’t have to make if you follow this outline. Choose a niche you’re comfortable in, build an online profile, write some samples, and you can score some gigs. Add more services that you can upsell to grow client revenue. If you don’t have any, learn something new- and always keep improving.
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