Writing can be a business.
I didn’t start out writing, thinking it would ever be a business. I am proudly an unprofessional. I love the unprofessional status because it allows me to just get on with writing and not get caught up in status games.
My original plan was only ever to write for free. I never intended to turn writing into money. Technically, my writing is a business, although I rarely use the business label because it makes it sound out of reach.
Writing and making money isn’t out of reach. If a dumb Aussie from Melbourne who doesn’t understand grammar can do it, then you can too.
Here is how you can turn your writing into a tiny little business that pays your bills and allows you to never work a normal job again if you choose. You don’t need genius thinking. Or entrepreneurial thinking. Or the Steve Jobs and Elon Musk billionaire rules to do it. You can write your dreams into a business exactly like this.
Write for Free
It all starts with free. Recently, I surveyed the 3000 people on my email list who have told me they want help with writing. Do you know what their biggest pain point was?
They wanted to know how to build an audience.
The hardest part about writing is building an audience. You can’t turn your writing into a business without an audience. If you don’t have an audience then your main option to make money as a writer is to sentence yourself to a lifetime of freelancing. Freelance writing using marketplaces like Fiverr is a low paying job you wouldn’t want your mother-in-law to do.
The plan to make money from writing must start with writing for free to build an audience. How do you build an audience?
You place a link at the bottom of every blog post you write that leads to a landing page. The landing page allows you to collect email subscribers.
The strategy is to write for free, in one place, for a year or more. This process will teach you how to build an audience. With an audience, you can start a business later on.
How to do it:
- Write a one-sentence call to action link. Place the call to action at the end of every blog post.
- Link the call to action to a landing page. Use a product like Unbounce for your landing page if you have no idea.
- Give away a free digital product — an email course, a free eBook, a checklist or a template — as a reward for people signing up to your email list via your landing page.
- Direct the email addresses from your landing page capture form into professional email software. I use ConvertKit.
A follower is a one-time reader who you will probably never talk to again.
Followers are vanity metrics for deeply insecure people.
Writing that leads you to start a business out of it requires fans. A person who reads your work is a reader. You stay in touch with a fan. You lose touch with random readers quickly, due to the overwhelm and firehose of content coming at everyday people. You want fans. This is how a reader can progress on a journey with you as a writer.
Reader — a person who reads your work.
Follower — a person who follows your work on social media.
Email Subscriber — a fan who you can talk with whenever you want.
$20 eBook buyer — a fan who shows they need help from you in the future.
$99 email course buyer — a fan who has put their hand up to learn from you.
$500+ big-ticket purchaser — a fan who has been reading your work for a long time and feels like they have a relationship with you as a writer.
Multi-purchase fan — a fan who will likely buy most of what you have to charge money for.
Turn 10% of fans into superfans
A superfan is a person who stays in touch with you regularly. Everything you do, they’re behind. They leave comments on every one of your posts. They give you feedback when you ask for it and when you don’t. They send you a message when you’re about to go to hospital and are scared shitless.
You can build a writing business from just superfans alone.
How to create superfans:
- Send out a weekly newsletter to your email list that is helpful.
- Survey your superfans using google forms to understand their list of problems.
- Send out a second semi-regular email addressed to your superfans. Write a solution to one of their problems. Make it personal. Make it feel like you’re writing a letter specifically for them. Pro tip: be extra vulnerable because you’re not in public like you are on social media.
- Respond to messages from superfans. Always be appreciative of them because you’re lucky to have even one superfan.
Write lots. Build the list. Email the list.
This is the 3-step formula. You’ll need a process to make the activity of writing and building an email list a habit. A habit just means you switch to auto-pilot, which doesn’t require willpower or motivation that are in short supply.
Three questions to formulate your process:
What day are you going to write every week?
What day are you going to email the list?
What other task are you going to do to grow your email list?
You can grow your email list like this:
- Guest post on blogs that have an audience and place a link to your email at the bottom of your story as payment. I do this on Business Insider.
- Write Twitter threads. Make the last tweet of your thread a call to action that leads back to your email list.
- Place a link to your email list on every social media profile you have. I have a link to my email list on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, my Facebook Fan Page, and my personal Facebook.
- Be a guest on podcasts and get them to link to your email list in the show notes. Choose podcasts who can show you data about their audience, not the hype mongers who have zero listeners.
Segment Your Email List
Your email list continues to grow while you write for free. Congrats.
Now it’s time to divide up your email list into segments. When I send writing emails to the writer segment of my email list they have a 45% open rate. When I send broad emails to everybody on my email list they have a 24% open rate. See the difference. Hyper-focused emails to the right audience, on the right topic, crush it.
There are three ways to segment your list:
- Survey your list and ask them which topic they care most about.
- Create a custom landing page for every topic you write about.
- In the first email you send a subscriber, ask them to click a button to signal which topic from you they want to hear about.
Move from Free Content to One Paid Piece of Content
You’ve written lots of free content. You’ve built an audience on somebody else’s platform and grown your email list.
Now it’s time to get uncomfortable. It’s time to make your first $20 and prove to yourself that writing can be a tiny business.
Here’s exactly how: look back on all your free content. What content did readers find the most helpful? What content generates the most number of email subscribers?
The content you’ve written that has the most number of shares, likes, or comments is your blueprint for paid content. Successful content is data you can use to make paid content.
All you have to do is take one of your popular stories and expand on it. It’s literally that simple. If you wrote about your morning routine, then it’s time to do it again except this time be more intentional about it.
Turn your morning routine story in an eBook. Each chapter of the eBook is a subheading from the original article. Then you add bonus chapters that weren’t in the original story and expand on it. Add the magic of research to the eBook. Get some custom illustrations or diagrams done by paying an artist from a marketplace like 99 Designs.
If eBooks aren’t your thing then you could turn your morning routine story into a checklist, or a productivity email course, or a daily Zoom call with you helping people kickstart their mornings.
My friend Joel created the “Morning Motivation Call.” It was just a daily call with people which he charged a small monthly subscription for. If people couldn’t be on the call live with him, then he would email a recording of the call right afterwards.
The key with your first digital product is to make the price point extremely low. You’re trying to prove a point to yourself, so the cheaper you make the price the quicker you get to tell yourself that you can make money from writing.
Proving yourself right with a $20 sale of a digital product is the start of your transition from free writer to paid writer.
Add More Digital Products
A paid digital product allows you to continue to validate who is a customer and who is a fan. Don’t forget a fan can become a customer at any time. Some fans take five years before they become customers, as I’ve found with my writing. Business is about patience.
Once you’ve got a $20 product you want to offer something else and build out your library of paid content.
A paid newsletter is an excellent idea. You could do this via Substack. I am going to give it a go with ConvertKit’s newsletter feature in the coming months. The difference between a newsletter and a blog post is you invest money in it.
In my case, I’m going to invest money in research or custom graphics, so the experience is different for a customer vs a fan. Customers expect a little more from you than a fan who reads your content for free.
Go Beyond an Email List
The problem with email lists: inbox overwhelm for fans.
The open rate on emails is going down. Everybody with something to sell wants to email you. Many of those people abuse you by only selling and never giving. The opposite works: give a lot for free and occasionally include a sell.
You can go beyond an email list with an online community. Use a group chat community via a Facebook Group you create, to know who your customers are and listen to their conversations like a friend, not a stranger.
A Facebook Group creates a community. Communities have regular catch-ups. Communities have educational sessions. Communities are full of people who like to buy things they find helpful.
Communities of fans are better than an email list full of strangers you barely know who you’re trying way too hard to turn into customers.
Use Less Automation to Create Relationships
Automation has taken the human out of a writer’s business. It’s easy to get carried away with email sequences and using tools like Buffer to pre-schedule your social media posts.
I recently had a bug on my website. Every time someone bought my eBook they weren’t automatically being sent it. I found myself having to send eBooks one by one. Then I realized, “Hey this is freaking awesome.”
Now, every time someone buys my eBook they get an email from me with the eBook attached and a personal thank you from me. This simple little hack creates some weird and whacky conversations. People feel that like they’re more than a customer when they get a personal email that isn’t automated from the writer they enjoy reading.
You’ll Need to Create an Online Course. Sorry.
An online course is just a blog post. Except, it’s more personal. And ideally, the students are able to learn from each other.
The business of writing is to be helpful.
The most helpful thing you can do for a reader is walk them through step by step, how to do something using videos. These videos are private and not littered with comments from trolls. These videos are specific, well shot, and feel like you’re sitting in the teacher’s bedroom. Invite a friend along for the ride to teach the course with you.
Writers are scared to create online courses. How do I know? Because I was scared. I overthought online courses for years. I thought I needed some complex eLearning software to do it. Then a friend showed me Teachable.
The way you create an online course is weird.
You start with the course name (the headline).
You write down the benefits of the course (the subtitle).
You write titles for 10–12 lessons you’re going to teach (the subheadings).
You write points under each subheading (the body of a blog post).
You include a list of takeaways at the end of each lesson (same as blog posts).
You finish the course with a conclusion, then you let the students execute.
Creating a course is really just writing a blog post, filming it, sharing your screen as you do it, setting homework, and getting paid for it.
I’d recommend you add an online community to your course so the learning can continue after the lessons are completed. You can go from being a writer to a business owner when you become a teacher and sell a course.
You can teach a reader something the way you would a family member. You can get a friend to interview you and ask you how you do something, and make that a course.
The best advice I can give you is to overdeliver. Give students a lot more than they expect. Undersell. Make the course long and in-depth. Sweat it out. Bleed for your students. Don’t leave anything out.
Big secret: many writer’s biggest source of income is online courses.
Even writers who make millions from their actual writing, like James Patterson, have taken time to create online trainings
Additional Income Streams for Writers
So you’ve written free content, built an email list, and launched a simple course based on one of your best-performing blog posts. You’ve also set up a paid product like a newsletter where you can separate fans, from readers who don’t know you well enough yet.
The next step is to diversify your income. Here’s how:
- Speak for a small fee at online summits.
- Launch a second paid eBook. Write more eBooks when you get time.
- Write on websites that pay you a small royalty. Newsbreak dot com have a creators program where you can make $1000 a month. You can even repost your content from other platforms.
- Write content for business blogs and charge a fee per article.
- Ghostwrite for people who don’t have time to write. Study how they write and speak and then craft emails, blog posts, and social media posts for them. Charge a decent fee for doing so.
- Become an affiliate like Tim Ferriss. Tim sends out an email once a week called “5-Bullet Friday.” It’s an email where he recommends content he loves, and products he has used and recommends. Each product has an affiliate link that pays him a commission. He does it in such an honest way. He doesn’t flog affiliate links as a published author, blogger, and podcaster. He talks about helpful products in a non-salesy way and how they’ve improved his life. You can too.
- Do 1–1 coaching. Some people want their hand held while they learn a skill. They don’t want anybody else to teach them except you. Coaching is a business any writer can start. If you can schedule a weekly Zoom call, send a PayPal invoice for ten lessons paid for in advance, and come to each coaching call prepared, then you can be a coach. A coach is a paid teacher with one student in the classroom at a time.
Avoid This Temptation: Employees
Once you build a writing business the temptation is to hire employees. My friend, Nicolas Cole, did this when he went from being a writer to creating a business called Digital Press.
After 10 months he had a dozen full-time employees and 7-Figures in revenue. 18 months later they crossed the $2M mark and had 20 employees. Quickly, he became exhausted.
Cole’s goal as a writer was to reach financial freedom. Hiring loads of employees for his writing business took him away from the thing he loved. So he walked away from it all.
Business lesson: know why you want to write and how much money you want to make. Employees often add stress and don’t necessarily make you more money as a writer.
Invest Your Writing Profits so You Never Have to Work a Normal Job Again.
You can turn unprofessional writing into a 6-figure business at any age when you add in the final step: invest the money.
If you don’t invest the money you make as a writer then you’ll always be on the treadmill of writing, desperate to make a buck, while the government deploys the hidden tax of inflation to make everything you need to live your life more expensive.
My biggest secret as a writer is I invest a lot of the money into:
- Real assets — Bitcoin, Ethereum, stocks, gold, etc.
- A productive business I own that generates revenue.
- My own learning. (Like financial education memberships.)
- Food that gives me high levels of energy to keep writing.
- The underdogs who will one day replace me.
It’s not how much money you make as a writer. It’s how you invest the money you earn, to have it grow all by itself, and the ability to make a difference in the process that outlives you and your money-making dreams.
Start writing for free. Build an email list. Test one digital product you charge money for. Remember that writing can become a business when you find ways to be helpful.
And finally, the highest paid writers are teachers. Become a teacher rather than try to be a professional writer.