Does blogging pay the bills? For many blessed bloggers, the answer is yes. The luckiest bloggers can make enormous incomes if they work hard enough.
For most of us, making a living just with our blogs and related activities (ebooks and other products) doens’t quite pay the bills. If it does, there isn’t much left over for the fun things in life.
You’re not thinking about shutting down your blog, are you? That’s not such a smart move. Even if a blog itself doesn’t pay your bills, the skills you learn from blogging can help you move towards a lucrative career.
As Robert Greene says in his bestseller Mastery, you should always look to the skills you have already built when seeking change. It wouldn’t make sense to go from a blog about cooking to a career in finance. There isn’t much skill translation, so you might find the transition difficult.
A blogger to a freelance writer, though? That seems like a reasonable enough transition. Think about the skills you’ve built during your years as a blogger:
- The ability to write clearly
- A nose for interesting stories and tidbits
- The structure of a well-told story
- A knack for building relationships with a community
- A storytelling voice that is all your own
If you hadn’t built these skills, you wouldn’t have become a successful blogger in the first place.
So why not search for a career where you can leverage those valuable skills? It’s one more way you can use your blog to make money, rather than making money from your blog.
You will, of course, need to learn a few additional skills in order to make the transition to freelancing. The greatest skill is discipline. Why? Because in order to market yourself as a freelancer, you’ll have to continue blogging. It can be rough at times, but know that if you put in the effort, you can handle both tasks and still have time left over for the finer things in life.
(Which you’ll now be able to afford, with the additional income from freelancing.)
1. Pitching and querying
When you have a blog, pitching is easy. Who does the pitching? You. Who decides whether to accept or reject the pitch? You. Chances are you’re not a very picky editor when it’s you who does the pitching.
Insert just one more human being into that equation and it becomes immeasurably more difficult. Any other human being will have a more discerning eye when examining your ideas. If that human being is a professional editor, chances are they will reject most of your ideas.
It’s not you, per se. It’s the nature of the job. Editors need to find the best of the best. Chances are your daily blog posts just don’t make that cut. So you’ll need great ideas, something we’ll cover in a few moments. But you also need the skills to successfully convince an editor that your idea is, indeed, great.
Just as you have to develop a unique writing voice, so do you have to develop a unique pitching voice. You’ll fail a lot in the beginning and learn in the process.
But soon enough you’ll learn trough repetition and craft expert-level pitches that editors will love to read. Because make no mistake: nothing makes an editor’s job easier than a perfect pitch.
2. Invoicing and accounting
Do you take care of basic accounting on your blog? Or do you just let the electronic payments hit your account and leave it at that? With the exception of personal finance bloggers, in my experience bloggers are pretty poor at handling the money they receive from ads and affiliate sales.
(I can attest to this personally as well. For about two years my biggest site, a New York Yankees fan site, haemorrhaged cash. It wasn’t until we realized that we were wasting thousands per month that we finally cauterized the wounds and better handled our money.)
There is one hard-and-fast rule to invoicing and accounting for freelancers:
Do not use Word and Excel templates.
They are not scalable. They might work for a while, but once you start to get more business they’ll get unwieldy. You’ll forget which invoice goes to which client. You’ll forget your numbering system. There will get to be too many rows in the spreadsheet.
Get professional software. You are a professional, right? The least you can do is look like one.
My advice to freelancers, and even bloggers, is to get on a free accounting system that can grow with you. I always go with FreshBooks, because you can keep your books and invoice one client for free. They even have a free invoice template that you can experiment with.
Why FreshBooks? Because you start with one client and build from there. Use their free system to invoice your first client. Then upgrade when you get paid. That’s the way all software should be, really. Get beginners hooked, so tha they pay you when they’re more able.
Even if you go with one of the thousand other accounting programs out there, make sure it’s pro and not Excel templates. That just looks Bush League.
Chances are if you’ve had interviews on your blog, you’ve published them in straight Q&A format. There’s nothing wrong with that, and in a blog setting it works very well. But when you’re trying to get freelance articles published, it’s not a great look.
People want story. When you interview people for freelance articles, you’re looking for an underlying theme. How can you bring together everything the interviewee says? How can you combine that with other interviews to create a narrative?
Once you realize that you need more than a Q&A, interviewing becomes an entirely new skill. Now you’re not just looking for interesting questions. You’re looking for questions that might lead you to some interesting tidbit that you can use in a larger narrative.
Again, we should turn to the pros here. Learn how journalists interview their sources. What can this source say that might be interesting? What questions can you ask to elicit that perfect answer, that perfect quote?
This isn’t a podcast. It’s not a Q&A format blog post. It’s a feature article that requires quotes from real people to drive the narrative. You have to approach interviews in a completely different way to get that kind of material.
4. Juggling projects at different stages
At some point in your freelance career — probably near the beginning, but certainly after you have a few wins under your belt — you’ll end up having a seemingly unmanageable workload. Newbie freelancers can’t get that many gigs at the same time. Experienced freelancers know that they need to find fewer jobs of a higher quality. They learned that, because they hit a phase where they took on more than they could handle.
Don’t think that you can avoid that stage by reading this. It’ll happen, and it’s a good thing. You’ll learn from it. But you’ll need a tip-top organizational skill in order to power through it.
The secret, in my experience: bundle projects. Are you researching one project, working on the rough draft of another, interviewing a source for yet another, and passing edits back-and-forth with an editor on the last? Cool. Sit down with your calendar and schedule when you’ll work on each.
You might not get to work on all of the projects every day. This takes discipline. When you freelance, everything seems urgent. It’s your job, as the skilled freelancer, to take a step back and see the forest. What is the most important task you can complete right now? Start there, and work down the list — accounting for time-sensitive activities, of course.
You will undoubtedly learn a ton while juggling multiple projects. But juggling projects is a skill unto itself. Learn how to prioritize, and you’ll do just fine.
5. Finding the next idea
Maybe, at some point in your career, people will come to you with ideas. That might seem great. But let me share a secret: most people come to you with half-baked ideas. So even when someone comes up with a writing idea for you, and will pay you for it, you have to do the heavy thinking.
That means you’ll have to come up with ideas constantly. Not every idea think of is a winner. Chances are you’ll come up with eight or nine losers for every winner. Sometimes when you sit down and write down 20 ideas, they’ll all stink. Where do you go from there?
Where you don’t go is to your couch and sulk. You need to come up with more ideas. You need to come up with ideas every day. Make it part of your daily routine.
James Altucher, a successful blogger and writer by anyone’s definition, challenges us to become idea machines. Sit down every day and write down 10 ideas. It doesn’t matter what the ideas are about, or whether they’re any good. If you can’t come up with 10 ideas, then you need to come up with 20 ideas. It’s that important.
No matter what the context, you’ll always have to come up with the next idea. Even if someone hands you a fully baked idea (hint: no one will), you still have to turn the idea into a cohesive bit of writing. Which takes, you guessed it, ideas.
Become an idea machine. No one will come up with them for you.