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How to Start a Freelance Writing Business

Miranda MarquitIn this episode of the Part Time Money podcast I sit down with one of my own freelance writers, Miranda Marquit.

Miranda’s work can be found all across the personal finance blog-o-sphere.

She’s been able to take her writing business and expand it into a full-time money maker that helps support her family and allows her to spend more time at home with her child.

Listen to the Podcast

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Miranda is not new to this business. She’s been at it for at least 6 years and has really mastered what it takes to do this at an optimal level. We talk about how she got started, what makes her most successful, how she spends her time during the day, how she generates content ideas, and what mistakes to look out for. Miranda has written a book, Community 101: How to Grow an Online Community that I think any online business owner would enjoy. Be sure to check that out and visit Miranda’s website at www.MirandaMarquit.com if you’re in need of freelance writing services, or if you want to talk to her more about how she manages her business.

Miranda’s Story: Working From Home

Being able to stay at home to raise children is important to a lot of parents. After getting a Masters degree in Journalism, Miranda Marquit didn’t even consider looking for a job outside the home. She wanted to stay home with her son, and freelance writing was a perfect way for her to increase her family’s income yet be the primary caregiver for her child. If you’re a stay at home parent, read this article for more work from home ideas.

Miranda knew it was important for her to be able to write quickly, and she knew that if she wrote about areas she was passionate, her words would flow faster. Research wouldn’t bog her down as much either. In the beginning of her freelance career, she didn’t solely focus on personal finance writing; she thought she was going to be a science writer for a while. After several people asked her to write personal finance pieces, she naturally gravitated towards those and has now developed a reputation as a personal finance freelance writer.

As a mom, Miranda had to be strategic about finding the time to write her articles. When he was younger, she often wrote early before her child awoke, during naptime, or at night after he had gone to bed. She also sent him to daycare a few hours a day and used that time to work as well. Now that he is in school, it’s not an issue.

Watching Her Business Grow

Miranda earns anywhere from $20 to $150 an article. Much of the difference is dependent on the client and their budget. She can also earn more depending on revenue sharing or traffic bonuses, if they are offered. Since Miranda can typically write a 500-word article in 15-20 minutes, she can usually earn around $300 a day if she’s working on 10 articles that day.

As her client base has grown as well as her ability to write faster, she’s seen her income grow. Miranda hasn’t had to actively search for writing jobs in over 3 years. She’s quick to point out that it has taken a lot of hard work and time to get to where she is, but she does little-to-no marketing of her services anymore. Read about other successful freelancers in this article.

Miranda’s Advice for Getting Started

For someone wanting to get started on a career in freelance writing, Miranda gives the following advice:

    1.Create a webpage: Even if you don’t have a blog, create an online portfolio of your work and contact information so clients can learn more about you.
    2.Apply for jobs: She recommends online job boards like ProBlogger, Freelance Writing Gigs, Guru, and eLance. Find a place where you can write regularly, even if it’s for less money at first.
    3.Stick with it: Miranda says she wrote a lot of pieces she didn’t enjoy writing for a year and a half or two years, but continuing to do the work it took to build her online reputation was important.
    4.Take a writing class: Even if it’s just a community education class or auditing a composition class at the local university, Miranda says brushing up on the fundamentals of writing is helpful for anyone who is just beginning.

Links mentioned:

Want to get started as a freelancer like Miranda? Check out this course, Get Paid to Write for Blogs, by my friend Catherine.

To see the full transcript, just click show

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PHILIP: Welcome to the Part-Time Money Podcast Episode 18: Taking Your Freelance Writing Business to the Next Level. I’m your host, Philip Taylor, creator of PT Money Personal Finance.
(Musical Intermission)
PHILIP: Part-Time Money Podcast is designed to help you discover new and interesting ways to make extra money and to learn the ins and outs of those money making methods – not from me, but from the people that are actually doing the work. Along the way, hopefully you can pick up a few entrepreneurial skills to help you in whatever moneymaking pursuit you take on.
All right, today we have a special interview. We are here with Miranda Marquit. And Miranda is … you’re probably familiar with on my blog, because she is a contributing writer to my blog. I’ve been working with her for over the past seven months, and she’s produced some really high-quality content for my site. And she does this on a freelance basis, so I’m going to talk to her today about how she manages her freelance writing projects, how she got into that business and manages all that. So, welcome, Miranda.
MIRANDA: Thank you for having me.
PHILIP: My first question is usually, how did you start making … or what made you decide to start making part-time money? But I understand this has really always been your fulltime gig, so maybe just share with us what motivated you to get into freelance writing.
MIRANDA: Yeah, well, what happened was, when I got my Master’s degree in Journalism, my husband and I decided that it would be a good way for me to stay home, and I wanted to be able to stay home and take care of my son. And so, I just decided it’s all or nothing; just go for it. And so, I just never looked for what people would call a “real job,” and I just went for the freelancing right from the beginning, because I knew that I wanted to be able to stay home.
PHILIP: Okay. So, when you had the Journalism Master’s degree in mind, was that sort of your thought process as well, or did that develop as you finished up the degree?
MIRANDA: It actually happened before I decided to get the journalism degree. I already have a communications degree, so it just seemed like a natural progression. And I knew that if I got the journalism degree, I would be able to write, and it would equip me with the tools I needed to be a freelance writer, so …
PHILIP: So, what are those tools?
MIRANDA: Well, one of the questions that really embarrasses me is people ask me how long it takes me to write a post. And I always just answer, you know … and one of the things I learned how to do when I took this journalism course of study was to write fast and to write with a minimum of grammatical errors—I mean, I still make mistakes; everybody does—but I do try to take those things, and it really helped me learn to write concisely, to write quickly, and it taught me how to do research quickly, so that I could pull together my writing on a deadline. And so, it really helped me learn how to write in a way that was efficient for my time and help me to get things done a little bit quicker.
And also, the school that I went to—Syracuse—provided me a great network of alumni and fellow graduates to get me started. Some of the gigs I had when I first started freelance writing came as a direct result of my time in school.
PHILIP: Sweet. Was it other classmates you were talking about?
MIRANDA: Yeah, it was other classmates and also other Syracuse alumni.
PHILIP: I see. That’s cool. You gave me a lot to chomp on there.
MIRANDA: Sorry.
PHILIP: No, no, no. That’s good.
MIRANDA: It was a long-winded response.
PHILIP: No, no, no. So, you obviously … you love writing?
MIRANDA: I do.
PHILIP: You like it so much you studied it. You’ve learned how to be good at it. I know you can’t give me a master’s level course here in 15 minutes, but maybe talk to me about a couple of tips that would help a person if they wanted to write faster. I know for me, personally, I write pretty slowly, so maybe just like a couple of tips for how to write faster and minimize those errors.
MIRANDA: Well, I think one of the things for writing faster, or part of it, is practice, of course. The more you write, the faster it’s going to be and the more you’re going to be able to … yeah, the more you’re going to be able to write faster; I mean, part of it is just practice. But on top of that, it also helps to kind of stop and think about what you’re going to put in your post before you start writing.
PHILIP: Okay.
MIRANDA: Usually, before I start writing a post, I take two or three minutes to take a deep breath and think about the way I want the post to flow, you know, what I’m going to cover first, middle, and last. And really put it together like a story. Like kind of like we learned in basic composition. You have your intro, you have your body or points that support your intro, and then you have your conclusion. And kind of following that formula can really help you write a little bit faster, get your thoughts organized and just go for it.
PHILIP: So, do you actually do … you said you sort of think about in terms of that structure. Do you actually write down the, what I would call, the outline, as well?
MIRANDA: I do not.
PHILIP: Okay. So, you don’t actually write that down. That’s good. That’s good to know, rather.
MIRANDA: Yeah. Yeah, I don’t write it down. I stop and just kind of think about it before I get started.
PHILIP: Gotcha. That’s good stuff.
MIRANDA: And then another thing that I think helps, too, is writing what you know about. If it’s something that you know, something that you’re interested in, something that you feel passionate about, then you’ll be able to write a little bit faster. You won’t have to look up so many things or do as much research. I still like to research my posts and I still like to make sure that I’m as accurate as possible, but part of it, too, is since I know a lot about personal finance at this point in my life, it’s a little bit easier to write faster. When I first started writing about personal finance, I didn’t know as much and it took a little bit longer.
PHILIP: You think it’s important for a new freelance writer to pick a niche, like you did?
MIRANDA: I think that it helps a little bit. I actually, kind of, fell into this niche. I originally started out … my first permanent writing gig was for a physics website; I still write for them. And then, I also wrote for Discover magazine for a little bit, and so, I actually thought I was going to be a science writer for a while. And then, I had a couple of people ask about personal finance and I just sort of gravitated that way. In fact, I found I really enjoyed learning about it. It helps me in my own life, and I saw that it can help other people. So, I just sort of gravitated toward personal finance. I think that if you want to be a specialist in one area, it really does help to pick a niche, and it helps you kind of develop, I guess, a reputation in that area.
PHILIP: Yup.
MIRANDA: Whereas if you’re all over the place and doing all sorts of different things, it kind of … I guess there’s pros and cons to each. I mean, if you do all sorts of different things and you’re a little bit more broad-based, you can fill more needs for more people. So, I guess there’s that kind of flip side, but I’ve never regretted, myself, being in this niche.
PHILIP: Well, that’s certainly how I found out about you. I was reading you on other personal finance blogs, and I know you had quality stuff, so your stuff was naturally marketed to me, because you were within my niche. So, I think it’s helps from that, you know, getting clients’ perspective.
MIRANDA: Yeah, and if you want to go after a certain segment of, I guess, the market … I don’t know. You really do need to say, “Well, this is what I do, and this is what I’m good at. And this is what I know.”
PHILIP: I noticed you write for allbusiness.com. Are you in ownership there, and is it important to have sort of your own platform like that?
MIRANDA: I am not in ownership of allbusiness.com at all, and in fact, they just mixed it up. They just redid their entire website and redid their entire platform, so I don’t even have as much of my own voice in there as I used to. For a while with the AllBusiness blog, I mean, they had it divided up into separate blogs, and I could do pretty much what I wanted, even though I didn’t own the blog. And now they’ve redone it, so that we’re not writing as many posts, and we kind of have to go through an approval process, so it’s not really the same. I’ve been … what?
PHILIP: Oh, no. Go ahead.
MIRANDA: Oh, I was going to say I’ve been really lucky. A lot of the blogs that I write for don’t mind that I kind of interject my opinion sometimes and use my own voice. I think it is important to find your own voice to a certain extent, but I don’t think that you need to own your own website. And I have to say that because I don’t. I mean, I don’t have my own personal finance blog.
PHILIP: Gotcha. But I noticed you do have a website at mirandamarquit.com.
MIRANDA: I do.
PHILIP: And so, you at least have a place to maybe reference some of your articles and for folks to find out a little more about you.
MIRANDA: Yeah, and I think that that is important. To kind of have a home, where even though you may not necessarily be … you know, it doesn’t have my blog posts on it, but just a place where you can have sort of a landing page for yourself, where people come and find you, see what your resume looks like, see some samples, and see what you offer.
PHILIP: So, you’ve been doing this about six years, right?
MIRANDA: Yes.
PHILIP: So, why … what do you think has allowed you to be able to do it so long?
MIRANDA: Oh, dear.
PHILIP: To have success with it, you know?
MIRANDA: I think a lot it is just keeping with it and being consistent. A lot of people give up really soon. For me, giving up wasn’t an option. I’ve been the primary breadwinner for years now, while my husband was going to school, and giving up wasn’t an option.
PHILIP: I see.
MIRANDA: I couldn’t just say, “Oh, well, I’ll just dabble here and there, and we’ll see what happens.” I had to do it, and I had to do whatever it took to do it. And I think that a lot of people give up too soon, and part of the reason I’ve been able to do it for a little bit longer is just sheer determination and refusal to say no.
PHILIP: That’s awesome. So, you still just have one kid?
MIRANDA: Yes.
PHILIP: Okay, great. So, how do you find time as the breadwinner, but also as a mom, to sort of fit your schedule in?
MIRANDA: Well, because I do only have the one child, it is a little bit easier. He’s school-aged now, so he’s at school all day. When he was younger, though, before he was in school all day, I actually … people thought it was strange, but I sent him to daycare and preschool for part of the day. Not for very long, just two or three hours a day, but it was something I could do to make sure that I had time to get the most important things, as far as my work went done. And I could get them done and get them out of the way and feel a lot more comfortable about spending time with my son, without having to worry about what was hanging over my head.
(Doorbell rings)
PHILIP: Yeah. I think that’s smart. Do you need to get the door?
MIRANDA: I do not. My husband’s capable.
PHILIP: Talk a little about that time period, because I know there’s a lot of stay-at-home moms who might be listening to this and who want to maybe do freelance writing. What was your day like? How did you schedule for your writing time?
MIRANDA: Okay, well, so my day was I would get up early. I would get up before my son got up. I would get up and I would get started. And I would start writing, and I would get my inbox taken care of, figure out what was most important to get done that day, and then start writing. And then when my son got up, I would get him his breakfast, and get him started playing. And one of the great things about working early in the morning with kids is, a lot of the times, kids are much happier first thing in the morning right after breakfast, and they’re willing to play by themselves. My son would just bring his toys in the office and just sit and play, while I worked. And then after an hour or so, he’d want some attention, so I’d take a break and we’d play a little bit and have a little fun. And then after that, I would work a little more, then we’d have lunch, and then he would usually have his daycare.
PHILIP: I see.
MIRANDA: And so, then he would go to daycare, and I’d finish some things up. Then, he’d come home and want to talk about his day. Sometimes, he had time for a little bit of naptime, so I could work during his naptime. And then, he’d want to play a little bit more, so he’d play with me a little bit, then I’d ease him out, and he’d play by himself, while I worked some more. And then after we went to bed, I’d work a little bit. So, it was a lot of little things during the day where I sort of … but I think the real key was just having that daycare and paying for that. It sounds weird to say, “Oh, well, you work from home. You work from home. You don’t need to get a babysitter. You don’t need to get daycare,” but really just two hours a day of the daycare was very helpful. And it helped him get ready to go to school later, so it was helpful for him for playing with other children, getting socialized, and it was helpful for me getting some work done.
PHILIP: I like it. And so, now your day’s a lot more wide open, and you can work more and, I’m sure, have taken on some more clients, as well.
MIRANDA: Yeah, during the summer, things get a little bit nuts, but …
PHILIP: Oh, that’s right. It is summer, yeah.
MIRANDA: Summertime comes, and so I send him to day camps sometimes during the summer. And then, there are days when my entire schedule’s upside down, and that’s just the way it works, and I get up and I do what I can. And then, we have whole days where my son, my husband, and I, we go to the lake or we go do other summertime things. And so then, I just work at night. I mean, I don’t particularly enjoy working at night, but during the summer when family’s all home and it’s very important to find that balance between family and work, then I do. I switch my schedule up, so a lot of the time I work at night.
PHILIP: Yeah. I’m sort of in a similar mode. So, let’s talk about … would you mind discussing how much time it does … or how much you make per article usually? Does that vary from client to client or …?
MIRANDA: It actually varies from client to client and how long it takes—how many words, I mean, the articles are—but it does vary a little bit from client to client. I make anywhere between $18/article and $150/article, so it’s a pretty wide range. Some of it depends on how big the client is. If it’s a really major client and they have the budget, then I have no problem charging them more. If it’s a small client, though, and a lot of the … if it’s a small client, though, I’m willing to be a little more flexible. And then also, some of it depends, too, on revenue sharing or traffic bonuses, and that kind of thing.
PHILIP: Gotcha. And how long does it take you … you mentioned you could write an article fast, so that’s a big player in this equation, so how … for a 500-word article, how long would that take you to write, typically?
MIRANDA: It takes me anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes.
PHILIP: That is awesome.
MIRANDA: So, it just sort of depends; some of them, for a 500-word article, between 10 and 20 minutes. If I have to do a little more research, it might take longer. It might take half an hour or so, but it doesn’t take me a terribly long time.
PHILIP: That’s amazing. So, it’s easy to see how you write ten articles a day. You’re talking about … what? Even if it’s 30 minutes of your time each, what’s that, 300 minutes, five hours of your day? You’re making $300 a day off those articles, kind of. So, you can really build up a nice income at that level.
MIRANDA: You can, yeah.
PHILIP: Have you seen your income fluctuate over the years?
MIRANDA: Not really. Well, I mean, it’s grown as I’ve had more clients, and I’ve gotten better at writing and a little bit faster at writing, so my income’s actually grown a little bit and everything, but I haven’t really had a lot of like fluctuation and a lot of hard fluctuation. Kind of the rise of the Internet as a marketing tool and the rise of an interest in personal finances has really helped, as far as keeping things kind of steady.
PHILIP: So, where do you find your clients, and how do you find the highest paying clients?
MIRANDA: I don’t try.
PHILIP: Okay.
MIRANDA: Isn’t that awful? I haven’t actually applied for a writing job probably for three years, and I don’t actively look for the highest paying clients. If somebody comes to me and asks if I can write for them, if I have room for them in the schedule and—gosh, this is going to sound awful—if they can afford me, then we go forward. I don’t really actually worry about trying to pick and choose the highest paying clients.
PHILIP: Gotcha.
MIRANDA: Does that sound awful?
PHILIP: No, no, no.
MIRANDA: I know this is like not very helpful, but I don’t try to find certain clients.
PHILIP: Well, that’s a … there’s two things there: That’s a testimony to how well-positioned you are in the niche, how good your writing is, and how long you’ve been at it here. So, I think the lesson learned here is it may take some time, but eventually you can get to a point where marketing yourself may not even be necessary.
MIRANDA: Yeah. And I think really, too, if you want to look for some of the higher end clients, I mean, there are places like mediabistro.com that have kind of those more major clients that you can go and look and apply for jobs there. But, of course, once you start getting into those kinds of places, the competition for the job openings is much higher. It’s much fiercer.
PHILIP: I would imagine it’s pretty tough out there right now for writers.
MIRANDA: Yeah, I think it probably is, yeah.
PHILIP: So, if you were getting started today—and I know it may be hard to answer this question—but if you were just going to get started, if you just graduated with your master’s degree there and were going to get started today, what would be some of the steps you would take to establish your career?
MIRANDA: Well, first, I think, like we talked about a little bit before, getting that web page where you can put who you are and people can find you, and there’s that landing page that has all that information about you – who you are, your qualifications, what you’ve done so far – I think that’s important, first off, just so you can establish a presence.
And then next, you need to start writing. You need to have some sort of way to showcase your writing, whether that’s starting your own blog and blogging on your own, to just sort of establish your writing and to establish, I don’t know, I guess, a portfolio. I think you need to be able to showcase your writing, so that people can see your writing and what you have done and what you are capable of.
And then, you just need to go out there and you need to apply for jobs. And keep at it. When I did first start, I remember, I visited job boards every single day. I visited the Pro Blogger job board. I visited the freelancewritinggigs.com, their job board. I visited … I mean, I even spent some time on those paid sites, like Guru and Elance. I didn’t do a lot there. I don’t think it’s necessary to, but I did check them every now and again. But, I did …
MIRANDA: Keep coming and keep coming, and you have to find a place where you can write regularly. And for me, it was Associated Content. It was when Associated Content was just starting up, and I know it’s not the most high-quality, fabulous place to be, but that, for me, was where I could get writing up there and be consistent. And every single day I posted, you know, I was posting three or four articles, I was submitting three or four articles a day to Associated Content, and that’s when I was noticed. And that’s when somebody said, “Well, this is consistent work and of a reasonable quality. Let’s ask her if she can do something for us.”
PHILIP: Who was that?
MIRANDA: It was actually Robyn Tippins, the co-author on our book, Community 101. She actually discovered me, I guess, and introduced me to blogging, and she just saw me on Associated Content. She’s the one who got me started on blogging, and it’s been great ever since.
PHILIP: Oh, very cool.
MIRANDA: But I think that’s key. I think you have to get there and you have to just keep coming and coming and coming. And I did a lot of things I didn’t enjoy doing for a year and a half, two years, and you just have to stick with it and keep writing, work to improve your writing, and then keep applying for jobs.
PHILIP: That’s good stuff. Good tips.
MIRANDA: It gets frustrating, and it does. I mean, there are times when you’re just … you know, there were a couple of times when I was just, “Oh, why don’t I just go get a real job?” [Laughter] But, you know, I just stuck with it, because I had to. And if you power through and just keep doing and have that discipline, then eventually I think you can make it.
PHILIP: So, what about outsourcing? Do you outsource any of your work?
MIRANDA: I do not. There was one memorable occasion, in which I gave some work for my brother to do, and he did such a poor job that I had not … I had to redo it and fix it, and fix the problem. It was almost a reputation killer. I have not had the guts to outsource anything ever since.
PHILIP: Gotcha. What about maybe partnering with other writers? Have you ever considered that?
MIRANDA: I have not. I actually had somebody offer, “Maybe we could partner, and I’ll do this and you can do that.” It’s something that’s been suggested to me, but I haven’t given serious thought to, but I guess maybe more and more, I’ll have to think about it.
PHILIP: Gotcha. And then, talk about the book a little bit. You mentioned you worked with Robyn Tippins, and the book, I believe, is called Community 101.
MIRANDA: Yes. Community 101: How to Grow an Online Community. And we just wrote … it’s just a really thin book. It’s just kind of like a handbook about how you can use the internet to grow an online community for your business. The idea for the book was Robyn’s, taken from some presentations she had done at Blog World and other community events, and I just pretty much helped her turn her presentation into something a little more long form and kind of helped her flesh it out more. So, we wrote this book. It has ideas about how to attract people to your blog or to your website, and then also how to keep them there and kind of build a community around your particular company or business.
PHILIP: Awesome. I see Robyn’s at sleepyblogger.com, right?
MIRANDA: Yeah, she’s at sleepyblogger.com, and she is also a community manager at Current TV.
PHILIP: Oh, okay. Yeah, the community manager role, I’ve seen that sort of really pop up over the past year or so. Have you ever considered some of that work?
MIRANDA: No.
PHILIP: No? Not your thing?
MIRANDA: No, that is not my thing.
PHILIP: Okay. Well, maybe I’ll have to get someone on to talk about that.
MIRANDA: Yes.
PHILIP: Well, that’s good that you’re able to work with her and establish that initial relationship early on and then have that relationship now. And now, you’re selling books on Amazon. Congratulations!
MIRANDA: Thanks.
PHILIP: That’s really cool. So, is there anything I didn’t ask that I should have about freelance writing?
MIRANDA: I don’t think so. I think you …
PHILIP: No? We covered it all?
MIRANDA: I think … well, I don’t think you can cover it all, but I think you asked good questions. I don’t know how well I answered them, but …
PHILIP: Well, good. Well, I think … any other thoughts or tips for maybe newbie writers out there? I mean, you’ve given us some good stuff, but just any other pieces of info for them?
MIRANDA: Yeah, I think, too, actually taking a writing class is quite helpful, even if it’s just a community education class or if you audit a composition class at your local university. Honestly, I think that taking a writing class and just sort of brushing up on the fundamentals is really helpful for anybody who is just starting out.
PHILIP: Good advice. Well, Miranda, thanks so much for being on with me.
MIRANDA: Well, thank you for having me.
PHILIP: Yup, and if people want to know more they can go to mirandamarquit.com.
MIRANDA: Yup.
PHILIP: Or check out your book Community 101. And yeah, thanks so much. I’ll talk to you soon.
MIRANDA: All right, well, thank you.
PHILIP: That does it for this week’s episode. Thanks so much for listening. You can find more episodes at ptmoney.com on iTunes under the Part-Time Money Podcast. See you, guys, next week.

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