When we made the decision to move to Dallas almost four years ago, I reached out to all of my contacts in the city to feel around for jobs. This wasn’t a new concept for me; I’d been pivoting jobs for my entire career. It did make phone calls awkward, though. My resume was divided into sections: Communications Experience, Teaching Experience, Other Experience, Random Experience, Education. No one, including me, knew what to do with it. “What kind of job are you looking for?” they would ask. I didn’t know.
I had one particularly embarrassing phone call. A friend worked at an advertising agency and set me up on a phone call with an HR coordinator. I knew she was going to ask me what I wanted to do with my random assortment of experience, and I decided to be honest. I looked at the agency’s various openings and departments, and there was one that looked the most attractive to me: copywriting.
Of course, I had no copywriting experience.
When I told the HR person I was interested in copywriting, there was a pause on the other end.
“Are you making a career change?” she asked.
My life is a career change, I thought.
“Do you have a portfolio?”
I can’t even remember how I responded. (Probably with heavy breathing.) We left the phone call without resolution. She didn’t know what to do with me. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I moved on to other opportunities.
I think about that phone call a lot. Four years ago, I didn’t have a portfolio or any experience writing professionally. Today, I make about 75 percent of my income writing copy for myself and other people. What happened from then to now?
I’m writing this post to answer one of the questions I have been asked the most over the past month: “I want to make money as a writer. How do I do it?”
And, I’m sharing this now because if I could do it all over again, I would have done these things sooner to get where I am now.
1: Write something.
Groundbreaking, I know. Please don’t stop reading my post.
For some reason, though, this was the thing that stopped me before I could even get started. Do you have a portfolio? I was asked, and I could think of nothing to send but outdated college essays and blog posts that were six years old. If you want to be a writer, have a few things on hand to send as writing samples, even if they aren’t published anywhere except your Google Drive.
My problem was that I didn’t know what to write. I waited around for someone to give me an assignment, and when no one did, I wrote nothing. Are you waiting for an assignment? I’ve got you covered. Here’s a list of things you can write:
Break down something complicated (your profession, your hobby, your passion) into easy-to-understand steps. I wrote about public speaking here to help me get started.
Write a review or create a listicle of your favorite books, podcasts, or new Netflix releases.
Interview someone in your community or family and write their story. I do this monthly for Dallas Doing Good, and it’s so much fun.
Offer to write someone’s bio for their LinkedIn profile or website. Everyone wants this, and no one thinks they are good at writing their own. (And if YOU need one, there’s a free worksheet on my homepage you can download that will get the job done!)
Are you wanting to start but struggling to find your writing voice? Take this handy quiz to get unstuck. And then move on to step two.
#2: Create ways to publish yourself.
This sounds more complicated than it is. Publish on your own blog, website, or social media. Or, you can start sending those posts you already wrote to other people with blogs and websites.
I started with the latter. I found three outlets that I could write articles for (for free). Every single one came to me through a networking connection, not through an online submission.
I wrote public speaking content for a colleague’s website. It was a win-win, since we both taught public speaking and would assign our students to read the articles we wrote. The writing was so easy; all I had to do is think about the public speaking questions the students asked most often, and provide them answers and strategies.
I wrote marketing content for my husband’s company’s blog. And get this: I wrote, “How to Market to Pregnant Women” right after I had a baby and “How to Market to College Students” as I taught them. Not rocket science.
I wrote (and still write) articles for a local publication whose mission I love called Dallas Doing Good. A college classmate connected me to them when they were first getting started and looking for writers. Check out one of my favorites here!
After writing an article or two a month for different publications, I had an up-to-date portfolio of published work that also showcased my expertise in different areas. I could send links to my writing samples if potential clients asked for them.
Do you know what else helped? Writing a TED talk. It’s not a traditional writing sample, but it was published work that showcased my voice, told my story, and gave me instant credibility. Look for places in your community where you can submit content.
#3: Call yourself a copywriter, and tell your network.
I’m going to let you in on a secret: zero of my paid writing jobs have come from someone who found me online. ZERO. Every single person or organization who pays me as a writer has come from a personal recommendation within my network.
In order for that to happen, I needed to put myself in networking situations often, introduce myself as a copywriter, and follow up with every single person I met. Creating quality, free content served me well in this. One of my first paid copywriting jobs came right after I gave my TED talk. (What did I write? A LinkedIn bio. I swear. Just become a LinkedIn bio writer and you’ll never go hungry.) The publications I was writing free content for started recommending me to their networks. Another job came from someone I met in a coffee shop. “What do you do?” he said. “I’m a copywriter,” was the response that got me an offer.
Four years ago, I had no idea what a person would even put in a writing portfolio. Now, I spend the days I'm not teaching writing articles, blog posts, podcast episodes, email marketing campaigns, speeches, presentations, and websites. I no longer have to do it for free, and I have enough business that I get to choose which clients I want to take on.
Here’s the main thing I’ve learned: so many people feel insecure about their writing abilities. They don’t like writing, they think they write too slowly, and they ultimately aren’t happy with what they produce.
If you can show that you can do it for them quickly and effectively, you can make money as a writer. If you can take some writing off the plate of any person or organization who has to consistently publish great content, you are valuable.
There is *definitely* someone out there right now sitting in a coffee shop being paid to write articles who isn’t even very good at writing. But, they’re writing. If you have been waiting for someone to invite you to write something, this is the sign you’ve been looking for. The only thing you have left to do is start.