Bree is a freelancing veteran, by all accounts. She started her freelancing career in 2012. She took a full-time staff writing position in her niche (online media) to then return to freelancing full time after a year and a half. And one of her ongoing gigs is a column for Forbes.
How does a freelancer get published on Forbes?
Bree is here to share her story and lots of advice from the trenches.
Thanks for joining us, Bree!
Have you been dreaming of getting on Forbes ever since you became a freelancer?
I bet you have. A lot of us have.
There’s a certain prestige that the mention of Forbes brings to a freelancer’s portfolio. We believe it will help us build our reputation in our specific niche, and that it might even attract more clients.
All of that can be true, but how do you even get to that point where your work is regularly published on Forbes?
Well, you’re in luck. I’m going to share with you how I became a Forbes contributor and provide actionable steps to help you do the same. I’ll show you step-by-step how I pitched my editor, what you can do to become a contributor, and how to improve your chances of an editor saying, “Yes, we want you!”
Why I First Avoided Pitching Forbes
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I need to be honest with you.
I initially avoided pitching Forbes about my idea for an online video column because in online freelancing communities, some writers believe the publication is a scam. They say that since Forbes only pays $200 for five articles per month, you’re wasting your time writing for them when you could be making more money writing the same amount of articles for a private client.
It was a fellow freelancer, Lauren of OtakuJournalist.com, who’d been writing for the publication for a while, who made me realize that writing for Forbes makes you look good to potential clients and build your reputation, both on- and offline.
In addition, Lauren said her “articles” were more like blog posts; she mostly writes about her analysis of the business of fandom. She told me you don’t need to produce 1000+ words with three or more expert interviews for each post.
This made the $200 for five articles seem less displeasing. Heck, many bloggers with their own hosted blogs don’t even earn $200 per month!
At that point, I realized I didn’t mind if Forbes was getting lots of content and not paying writers very fairly for it; most other publications don’t even pay at all, like The Huffington Post. The value of writing for such sites is not the money, but the perks that come from having your name attached to them.
As such, I was willing to give Forbes a shot. I asked Lauren to introduce me to her editors, who covered the technology and media categories.
How I Pitched a Column Idea to Forbes
Now, since you’re here because you want to give Forbes a shot, let’s go over what I said and did to convince the editors that I was someone they wanted writing for the site.
1. I did my research.
I scoured the Forbes website to see what content, if any, other staff writers and contributors were writing about the online video industry (my niche). To my delight, there were many one-off pieces from the past year, but no one was analyzing or addressing online video topics or larger industry issues on a routine basis. This meant my proposed column idea about online video would be filling a void on the site.
(Gina’s Tip: I know that we’ve already mentioned this a couple of times in the How I Got Published On series, but knowing the publication that you’re pitching, really knowing what kind of material they publish, is an important step in crafting a pitch that fits their audience.)
2. I spoke directly to their requests.
One of the editors told me she was looking for writers with a “distinctive voice” and who “aren’t afraid to call shenanigans.”
In my pitch, I told her I definitely wasn’t afraid to call shenanigans, and linked to a previous article of mine about the niche I was pitching. This article had dredged up some inflammatory, upset comments from readers, so it was the perfect example to show them I was fit for the job.
3. I connected with them on a personal level.
The editors also told me they wanted columnists who “know how to explain what’s awesome and why to a Muggles audience.”
Well, as a geek and Harry Potter fan, I let them know Muggles were welcome in my wizarding world, which they both appreciated. Connecting with these editors? Check.
Also, one of the editors has a first name matching my sister’s, and a middle name matching mine. When I told her I loved her name, she replied that both our parents must have had good taste. Flattering future editors? Check.
These steps were all I did to prove to my Forbes editors I knew what I was writing about and how it would help their site attract more readers, and land a position as a monthly online video and digital media contributor.
What You Can Do to Get on Forbes
I know what you’re thinking. “How am I supposed to get on Forbes if I don’t have a contact like you did, Bree?”
Fair point, but don’t stress over it. There’s actually plenty you can do to get on Forbes without any sort of connection to the site or its writers.
Just follow these steps:
1. Do your own research.
Not a regular reader of Forbes? Then you should become one.
Follow some of the categories you write about, or search the site once a week to see what’s being written about your niche. Determine where your voice and blogs could fill a gap in the site while also benefiting Forbes readers.
For example, if your specialty is travel, but no one seems to be talking about a particular region of the country much, you could be the one writing about that region instead.
2. Follow the appropriate editor on Twitter.
Most of Forbes staff is on Twitter, and many will even have their titles listed in their bios. You can use Twitter’s advanced search function to look for accounts with the word “forbes” in them to help you find the right editor to follow for your niche.
If the editor you want to get in contact with isn’t on Twitter, check for them on other social sites they may have profiles on and actively use. Follow them, and interact with them for a while by replying to their posts, offering help when requested, or sharing articles you believe they’d be interested in.
(Gina’s tip: We did a roundup of how you can use Twitter for your freelancing business.)
3. Follow a Forbes contributor.
If you’re hesitant to follow an editor (which you shouldn’t be — you’re a biz owner now, so go get what you want!), another route you can take to get on Forbes is by finding one of the publication’s staff writers or contributors on social media and interacting with them instead. Once you feel like you’ve built up good rapport with them, ask very kindly for an introduction to their editor, noting your idea for a column or specific article you think would fit Forbes well.
(Gina’s tip: Janet Berry-Johnson also shared how she got became a Forbes contributor only two months after taking the 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success course. Check out her tips.)
4. Pitch an editor, strongly and personally.
Once you’ve figured out how you can contribute to Forbes and which editor to contact, send them your short pitch, making sure to quickly explain how your proposed article or column will benefit the site and its readers and why you’re qualified to write it.
And as you saw above, it can’t hurt to try to find a personal connection to start off your pitch; it can even be something as simple as “You tweet a lot about hiking; have you been on the Angel’s Landing trail at Zion National Park yet?” The warmer you can make your email, the less likely it’ll be ignored!
5. Respond promptly and thoroughly.
When an editor gets back to your pitch, make sure you answer any questions they may have as soon as you can (at least within 24 hours, if possible). Also be sure to note any specific requests they’ve asked of you, and provide that information. Don’t send over unrelated links, portfolio pieces, etc., because Forbes editors are busy people and don’t need to sort through content which doesn’t relate to your pitch.
How to Make the Most of Your Forbes Experience
If you follow the steps above, you’re very likely to get a single article or even a recurring column published on Forbes!
Here are a few more tips to improve your chances of landing on Forbes and make writing for the site even more successful:
- Avoid pestering editors. If you’ve pitched one editor and they’ve rejected you, find another who may be open to your idea. Don’t keep badgering the same editor with new ideas unless they’ve requested it. Alternatively, you can find a new angle and see if an editor in another category would like to publish your original idea.
- Keep bridges unburned. That’s just another way of saying don’t burn your bridges with any editors, staff, or contributors you may build relationships with. The same goes with any other editors or writers you may know, actually. You never know when one of them will reach out to you and become a lead, either for contributing to Forbes or to another publication or company site.
- Never compromise on ethics! Forbes doesn’t let you accept gifts, services, or really anything for free from a company in exchange for a published piece which mentions that brand. Don’t break this rule. Also, make sure to disclose any relationship you have with companies you may already freelance for if you write about them on Forbes (this is allowed, but check with your editor how they prefer you do this).
- Prepare a calendar in advance. If you’ve agreed to five monthly posts with Forbes, I’ve found it’s much easier to stay on top of this requirement if I can pre-plan at least three posts per month and then use my remaining two slots for last-minute press release coverage or my own thoughts about the online video industry. Planning in advance is especially important if you’re going to conduct any interviews for future posts.
Since becoming a Forbes contributor in May 2016, I’ve landed two new clients, and I’m in talks with one more. My editors and I work well together, and so far the only trouble I’ve gotten into is from forgetting certain style guide rules (like using serial caps and avoiding the Oxford comma).
During November, I chose to pause my Forbes contributions because were undergoing a major kitchen remodel before Thanksgiving… which were also hosting this year. Needless to say, my sanity was taking a hit, but guess what? My Forbes editors understood, and they were completely okay with my request.
That’s the kind of site I like writing for.
Wouldn’t you like to, as well? Do you have ideas for pitching Forbes?
Bree Brouwer is a professional online video and digital media writer, content marketer, and consultant who’s contributed to sites like Tubefilter.com, OnlineVideo.net, The Next Web, and The Daily Dot. She blogs about her freelance journey and how geeks can make a living doing what they love at Geek & Prosper; visit the site to grab your free video email series where Bree interviews self-employed and freelancing geeks!