What does it take to call yourself a professional writer? Does it have anything to do with the time you spend writing … or with the number of clients you have? Not really. It’s all about a change in mindset, and the decision to turn this “writing hobby” into a profession and a business.
This week’s guest writer, Annie Beth Donahue, shares the journey to making that shift in mindset, and the transformation that she’s been through during the past year.
Those two words are powerful. Anything we place after them names or describes us. And the words we choose reveal what we think about ourselves.
For years, if you had asked me about my writing, I would have answered with, “I write.” Blog posts, poetry, newspaper articles – I write those things.
Even after self-publishing my first children’s book, if called “a writer,” I would most likely have responded with, “Yes, I do write.”
For some reason, the bit of money I made from book sales and local publications was not yet validating. Until one day I sat down with another writer friend, Vanessa Infanzon, and was introduced to Gina Horkey’s 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success.
The course immediately appealed to me. The step-by-step process of forming an official writing business with a personal brand and a web page was clear.
The action items were simple, but not necessarily easy. They required a shift in mindset. You had to go from being someone who writes to being a writer.
Not sure what niches you can specialize in as a freelance writer? We’ve done some research and brainstorming for you, and we came up with over 200 niches to choose from. Here’s the list:
How I Became a Professional Writer
One of the first things I did as part of the course was to create a website.
Just as no plumber in their right mind is going to make a website that says, “Hi, my name is Bob. I like to plumb. Sometimes people pay me for it,” no writer should make a site that says, “My name’s Annie Beth. Occasionally, I write.”
As I developed and advertised my identity, I had to state, “I am a writer.” Not just one time on the “About Me” section of my webpage, but many times over. On my resume. In my emails.
Gina provided pitch templates for sending emails to prospective clients. I followed her advice and sent ten pitches a day. Ten pitches that all said, “Hi! My name’s Annie Beth, and I’m a freelance writer.”
I started to “niche down” as I made decisions about who to contact about potential jobs. I looked at my life experience and the topics I found interesting. I thought about areas in which I might be able to position myself as an “expert.”
Every email sent improved my confidence and improved my communication skills as a professional content creator.
It’s Not About The Word Count
Previously, I had been writing for peanuts, and sometimes even for free. I felt like others were doing me a favor by allowing me to write for them. (Who was I, anyway?) And if they wanted to pay me anything at all for it, I thought it was a good deal.
There is a point in most people’s careers when they should be grateful for any opportunity to write. Your writing skills may be emerging, but still underdeveloped. You may need to take a brief trip down something akin to internship lane.
But at this point, I had written enough words in my life that I knew how to construct a sentence. I also had a college degree and almost twenty years of life experience in a specific niche.
Gina helped me realize that pricing myself low, even for a short piece, didn’t just hurt me, it hurt all writers.
My clients weren’t paying for me to sit and type a specific word count on a page. The proverbial monkeys at typewriters could do that.
My clients were paying for my area expertise, my skill at writing, and my ability to provide other original content, such as photos or graphics.
The course helped me acquire, through cold pitching, new clients that provided me with a lot of work. Now that I had a professional mindset about my writing, I was able to analyze what I was doing in light of what types of business skills were required to accomplish those tasks.
In just a few short months, I had built up quite a few writing samples and documented work skills. I started pitching larger businesses, confidently stating my skills and higher rates.
I also started working with a textbroker in my niche who did some negotiation with corporations. The textbroker acted as an intermediary, reaching out to large companies to secure contracts for writing jobs. She set a rate that was generous enough for her to be able to take a percentage off the top while still giving me fair compensation.
This allowed me to start letting go of the “old” new clients and onboarding even newer clients that paid several times more than my old rate.
Diversifying Your Income Streams as a Writer
As the year progressed, I went from advertising myself as a “freelance writer” to a “professional writer” to a “content creator.”
The first change came when I realized that some people subconsciously associated the word “freelancer” with “free,” and wanted to pay me accordingly.
The final evolution happened when I realized my skill set was larger than what “professional writer” implied. I wasn’t just writing. I was forming content strategy, handling SEO, doing photography, adding video, and making graphics. Through a natural process, my income streams had started to become more diversified.
I saw that Gina wasn’t afraid to grow and change within her brand. She started as a freelance writer then used those skills to springboard into affiliate marketing, course creation, and VA services.
My writing often turned into social media management situations. I was creating graphics and videos as supplements to articles. It made sense to keep the voice consistent for the client across all social media platforms.
My niche also wanted someone who could write staff trainings and articles that needed more research-based writing skills. My ability to understand industry language but still write to the layman opened doors for these projects.
I also started teaching online writing and grammar classes to children. This led to the development of a few classes for adults as well. My website underwent a change from being a static site for contact information to having a consistent blog that started attracting followers.
Almost exactly a year after beginning the 30 Days or Less writing course, I was invited to my first speaking gig, acting as the representative “expert” in freelance and nonfiction writing.
The Red Sneaker Writers convention, which typically focuses on fiction writers, wanted to add some more diversity to their event. I had been in conversation with co-host and New York Times-bestselling author William Bernhardt through email, and we had discussed some of my writing ventures, so when the time came to find an expert in online content creation, he reached out to me.
In one year, 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success changed me from someone who couldn’t even say, “I am a writer,” to someone who was being sought out by others as a “freelance expert.”
Following the course exactly as directed changed my actions, but more importantly, it changed my mindset.
When first getting started, you may need to “do your time” on the lower paying jobs as you develop your writing skills. But that time doesn’t have to be long.
Own your identity as a professional writer, consistently develop valuable content creation skills, and don’t be afraid to go where the market leads you.
If you do these things, not only will you see your first bit of success in “30 Days or Less,” in a few months you’ll find you’ve had a total transformation.
Annie Beth Donahue is a Content Creator and Consultant. She offers writing services and business content strategy in Healthcare and Agriculture. She is also a journalist, children’s book author, teacher, and nonprofit founder. Annie Beth lives with her husband Brad and their four children, near Charlotte, North Carolina. You can find her at www.anniebethdonahue.com or actively tweeting @anniebdonahue.