How to NOT Get Paid to Write Online
(And Make Money Doing It)

Writer for hire

Fresh out of college, I landed a job writing one-page sell sheets for a marketing company for $50 each. On a rare excellent day, I might do as many as two of these.

Soon after, I found a freelance gig that would pay me $300 per article I wrote for an inter-organizational newsletter. I got to interview people for that one. It was more work, but better money.

Eventually, I hooked up with a pretty big industry magazine and was being paid $1300 for 2000-word feature articles. That was the big money.

Magazine pay doesn’t go much higher until you get into the really big-name publications. I could often get two of those assignments at a time, but I needed to coordinate and interview around ten people for each article, so doing two in a month was a hell of a task.

Today, I’m doing much better in my writing career. Since I started blogging, I’ve written hundreds of posts, both for myself and for other blogs. I don’t have to interview people anymore, so it goes much faster and I can write much more. The combined total I’ve been paid for all of those posts (including what I’ve been paid for writing sales copy, promotional emails, and so on) is zero dollars. And really, it pays the bills better than my magazine writing ever did.

How to make “not getting paid” pay off

I just recorded a call with Copyblogger Associate Editor Jon Morrow entitled “How We Make $2000 per Guest Post,” and the funny thing about that call was that I’d had the idea to write the post you’re currently reading before Jon came up with the hook for the call. I guess great minds think alike.

See, newbie online entrepreneurs often want to “make money blogging,” and seasoned writers often come to the internet to expand their freelance businesses by doing online what they do offline: selling words for dollars. Both of those approaches assume a straight line between composing paragraphs and getting a check, but that straight line hasn’t reflected my experience in the blogosphere (and I’m in good company).

To put it succinctly, I don’t make money writing. I make money through a business, and that business does its marketing almost exclusively through writing.

Writing for me is a means to an end. It’s a way to gain exposure, gain popularity and authority, and build trust. Once you have enough exposure, trust, and authority with your audience, they’ll consider buying products and services from you if what you offer them is good. The cool part? It almost doesn’t matter which category or niche those products or services fall into.

It works like this:

Writing -> Readers -> Exposure, popularity, authority, and trust -> The ability to sell stuff.

Need a fancy term to make it legit? Call it content marketing.

Notice that I’ve used the very specific noun “stuff” to describe what you’re able to sell to a well-matched, receptive audience with enough of those preceding magic ingredients.

  • Information products? Yep.
  • Software and services of all kinds? Yep.
  • Hats? Maybe.

Want to sell hats? Then write enough, in places where people who like hats congregate, to become a popular and trustworthy personality who happens to sell hats. Or makes hats. Or wears interesting hats. Or at least likes hats, and talks about hats a lot.

Your audience has to be willing to pay for hats, but if they are, they’re going to buy from someone. If your writing has put you in front of them, and made you popular and trustworthy, they’ll buy from you. It works for just about anything.

This is all about thinking outside of the nine dots. I came to the blogosphere as a humorist, but what I found was that people wouldn’t pay for humor. So what could I do with my funny writing? Why, sell consulting and website services, of course.

I remember asking my readers at the time, “Can I be the funny guy who writes about business, and also build websites somehow?”

Give what attracts, sell what people want to buy

And the answer was apparently that yes, I could write humorously about business — and tattoos, and unschooling, and The Matrix — and build a large readership who seemed to like and trust me. And at that point, I could offer websites. And consulting. And info products. And likely waffles. If those folks needed a site and/or were hungry, they’d work with me rather than finding their website guy or waffle house on Google.

When Jon and I did that call about making $2000 per guest post, what we meant was that guest posting is our primary (almost our exclusive) marketing strategy, and that on average, each post — each performance in front of a blog audience to build trust and exposure — resulted in around $2000 of income. That’s income that was created through writing, but wasn’t income we received for completing a writing assignment.

You want to be a writer? Well, don’t confine your thinking to the obvious example of putting words together for pay. There’s a whole world of ways out there to make money as a writer… and the interesting part is that most of them mean you’ll be writing for free.

About the Author: Johnny B. Truant is apparently a writer or something and is one of the two guys behind The Charlie and Johnny Jam Sessions. If you’d like personal help on getting paid to write for free, he’s got you covered.

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Twitter or LinkedIn to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. That line says it all “give what attracts and sell what people want.” I am slowly creeping my way to figuring out how to do this on our blog as we our getting ready for a big product launch. Another great post from copyblogger.

    • Hey Ian,

      That was the same line that caught my attention as well!

      Give what attracts and sell what people want!

      Notice that he uses the word WANT instead of NEED? Clever little words of wisdom!

    • It is a clever line. People are always being told to buy what you need but sometimes they just want to be told it’s okay to buy what they want! Great way to make a sale.

  2. When I think about it being an excellent blogger is a lot like training to be a great athlete. You may have some talent but it takes an extreme amount of patience, learning and hard work to get to the top.

    • I completely agree.

      Bloggers can’t become successful overnight. The successful bloggers, like Darren Rowse of ProBlogger for example, have spent long nights and countless hours blogging and working to build authority around their blog. It really takes hard work to get closer to your goals, but, once you do, it’s a wonderful experience.

      I have been experimenting with my blog and learning as I go. However, no one can deny the hard work I’ve put into it.

      Bloggers who are looking for the easy way to become successful will surely fail, but those who are willing to work and put tons of effort into their blogs will succeed, even if it’s gradually.

      Christina

  3. Having spent nearly 20 years getting a paycheck for sitting at a desk, interviewing people and writing newspaper stories, writing for free is definitely more fun. More freeing. More stressful. More to learn to navigate.

    Understanding that writing is your exclusive marketing strategy for your business is the key.

    Thanks for the succinct article.

  4. This is an extremely timely post for me, as I was just explaining to someone yesterday that my blog is a way to expand my business, not the other way around. Having an amazing online presence doesn’t equal money unless you know how to leverage it. I understand the concept and am working on the amazing online presence part so I can learn how to leverage it. Thanks for a great post.

  5. Hey Johnny,

    You said it best…”It’s a way to gain exposure, gain popularity and authority, and build trust.” That is all I’ve done and I have been able to build my business. I am glad that I understood this early on when I got started.

    Chat with you later…
    Josh

  6. Great article… Article writing is my main marketing strategy for all of my Blogs and websites.

    Stuart
    http://stuartmcminigal.com

  7. This is an excellent follow-up to yesterday’s post about how blogging doesn’t make you money. The blog builds followers, and gets those followers to trust you, and then you can sell them stuff because it feels safer to buy from someone you recognize as trustworthy than from an unknown.

  8. It wasn’t until I started taking my blog seriously, as in committing to a number of posts each week, and having a focused content plan based on what people were telling me they wanted to know, that I began to see the rewards of really putting effort into my blog.

    More people are reading it, i’ve been hired based on clients finding my blog and enjoying it and I’m hoping that when I release a product for my audience next month, they’re going to be hapy to buy it. ;-)

  9. Johnny: Forget “per guest post.” I want to know how much you get paid per egg.

  10. I think I have been writing for “free” for a few years now and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    There is nothing like being able to connect with your customers throught your content. McDonald’s isn’t asking me what I think. Coke doesn’t care how my day is going. Hoever, I can do all of that with just a few mouse clicks.

    When you write content to get sales, you are connecting on a completely different level with your audience.

    It’s a conversation, someone that is standing there in your living room with one hand on the mantel, listening to what you have to say.

    No other industry connects this well to its customers and I’m glad to be a part of it…just got to get past the writing for free part… oh yeah, I forgot that it sells a TON of stuff in the process.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  11. I had searched for a long time on “how to make money online”. That phone call with the two Johns made it so friggin’ simple. I now have a clear(er) picture of what I want to do, and how I’m going to do it.

    Todd
    PhitZone

  12. The most intriguing thing to me about this discussion so far is that Joshua Black didn’t get in here until comment #9. You’re slipping, dude! :)

  13. All this goes back to the “because effect” Doc Searls identified a few years ago. Your blog won’t make much money. However, you and your business can make money because of your blog.

    This and yesterday’s posts have been timely. I’ve benefited by forwarding these posts to specific individuals who want to get it, but don’t. It’s nice to have an authoritative source like Copyblogger say it and show it!

    Thank you.

  14. Very interesting. I only recently discovered that writing (blogging in particular) is more profitable if used for building popularity and trust than used for making money.

    I’m now trying to build up my authority through my blog and, once I get enough readers (or what I consider is enough), I plan on creating an eBook or book and offering it to my readers.

    I’ve also been hearing from many bloggers that guest posting is the quickest way to build authority and popularity, since you’re putting yourself in front of readers who will be interested in what you have to say.

    I’ve only done a couple of guest posts in the past. But, since hearing how successful guest posting can be, I’m thinking about stepping it up and writing a lot more guest posts.

    In the end, it will all work out. Thanks for the good read!

    Christina

    • Hello –

      This post is very insightful and thought provoking. In considering the advice giving, I was wondering, does anyone have any great tips or best practices for researching and finding the right types of blogs and websites to write for?

      Time is of the essence and a lot of hours are put into the work that we do, so we definately want to make sure we make the best use of our time and efforts. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated. I believe we all would like to know the best ways to approach this strategy.

      Best,

      Crystal Watts
      http://www.wattspublishinggroup.com

  15. Sounds like good work if you can get it. I’d invite you to see how much more you can make not writing anything at all, but I don’t think those of us in your audience could afford it…

  16. That´s the way to live and work, isn´t it? Do what you like for free and receive something back naturally.

  17. Awesome post Johnny B.
    You really make some valuable point giving what people want and also showing them what that product can do.How it can help

    Thanks For Sharing Awesome Post
    -Abhishek

  18. Johnny, I don’t have anything really witty to say. Just wanted to say I got sucked in to reading this one solely by seeing the Headline on Twitter.

    Totally makes sense what you said about writing being a means to an end. So I guess writing is more the “Medium” and your business is the “Message”?

  19. Great article!

    One thing I noticed and not to be picky, but in the second sentence I found a typo:

    “On an rare excellent day…”

    Sorry, but I can’t resist giving myself points for finding typos on Copyblogger. That one was worth +3 I think.

    • Nah, that’s just your eyes playing tricks John. Look again. It says extra-rare ;)

    • Either your eyes ARE playing tricks on you or those editors are FAST because it’s right now… but otherwise, my answer is that I meant it in the same pompous sense that people say “an historic occasion.” :)

      • ;)

      • I don’t think it’s so much pompous as because the “h” was traditionally silent, so the “an” was correct before the “i” sound.

        Sorry, I’m a closet English major and I just can’t help myself. Gonna go crawl back in my closet now. :)

        • Pam, you know that’s an historically correct way to write, that “an h…” business. I think Dr Johnson would agree: we’re in good company, here in the closet.

          • I’d say it’s okay to say, “an ‘istoric,” but everyone pronounces that damn H! I still say it’s something people say to attempt to sound smart while doggedly enunciating “an HIS-toric.”

            BTW, that’s a nice picture of you with an horse! :)

  20. I agree with Pam – this is a fantastic follow-up to Taylor’s article.

    As I said then, it’s all about your goal and the strategy you use to get there.

    And Johnny has just laid out the smart path to take, so now no one should have any excuses, right? ;)

    • Totally! The path couldn’t be clearer. You can’t argue with the cash difference between the longer term vision of building up your audience versus just pulling down short-term writing gigs with a quick payout.

  21. Wow! Really great post Johnny.

    This post is probably the best I have read this week!

    You are absolutely right! Writing for free might be the best ways to pay your bills. I haven’t really given guest posting for big blogs a trial and I will try to get something done right away.

    Thanks a lot for the great post,
    -Onibalusi

  22. This is truly an excellent article.

    I read it all the way through, and then found myself navigating through Johnny’s personal website for about a half hour, scouting prices of products and reading his articles.

    This article is honest, and communicates the thesis for success in business with content marketing:

    Write killer articles to market your brand, develop strong relationships with readers and other website owners, offer products and services that people can buy.

    All I can say is wow. This is by far the best article I’ve read in months.

  23. On further review of this post, I’m disappointed that my mention of Jon Morrow’s idea to mint “the Copyblogger hat” was edited out. Irrelevant? Quite. Hilarious to consider? Definitely.

  24. I think I’m starting to see the point now. Hardly making any money writing for content mills and waiting on magazine query rejection or acceptance is pointless in my opinion. It’s a never-ending gerbil treadmill. I feel like I don’t have time to wait on magazine editors to come around, I want to help people now because it’s fulfilling (and make money at it would be nice too). I think your post hit home for me and helped me confirm that a business is what is needed. I like how you integrated writing with your business instead of depended on writing as the only means for income.

    I agree with Marsha that writing for free is freeing. After dealing with content writing for about 10 different subjects each day, I’m ready for a change. It’s much more satisfying writing for my blog and giving out information for free. Now it’s time to work on building a business around it, like you said Johnny. That makes sense.

    Good for you on your hard work and accomplishment. Thanks for your post!

  25. Here’s the surprising thing for me – the content that attracts can be way different than what you sell.

    I write a blog giving career advice for people who work in the entertainment industry. However, I’m finding that the people who gobble up most of my content per visit found my site through a link from an entertainment site.

    I’m guessing they will also be the people who buy. Yet, what first attracted them into my “funnel” wasn’t education but entertainment. Cool, right?

  26. Wow…Thank you. That was so simply said and enlightening. I am not a writer even though I would like to write more. I know that is the one step that is missing for me and my business is putting articles and posts out there that truly demonstrates my expertise and skills. I think at times it’s that fear of success and rejection. Your post really reinforced some things I hold onto in the back of my mind. I appreciate all that I have read from you. I LOVE Copyblogger!

  27. Johnny,
    This is a great article. I’ve sort of known this principle in the back of my mind. Writing is an expression of who we are and attracts those who are like minded. The connection will result in a possible business relationship. I’m just starting my coaching practice and this is valuable knowledge for me. Thanks.

  28. Like a couple have said, good follow up to the last post so, thanks.

    It’s interesting reading the post and comments too, and where the emphasis is, and how it applies in other areas. For all the years I worked in mental health and all the clients I saw, it was the first and most important thing. Now I’m in sales. Same. Here, while you could argue the endgame is sales for some, it isn’t for all but, still the same thing.

    It is this: the quality of the relationship you build with your people.

    Funny how people don’t change much.

    Cheers

  29. Content marketing is a great, current, relevant term. In traditional marketing-speak (oh no, not that!), this is really efficient sampling for professional services. Blogging allows your audience to meet you, get to know you, and understand your approach before they buy.

    As a food marketer in my past corporate life, I learned quickly that sampling was the single most influential marketing tactic. Tasting before you buy removes all the risk – you get to know if you like it before you part with your hard earned cash.

    Over time I came to think that sampling was the single best marketing tactic for virtually any product where it was possible. Test driving cars, rent-to-buy housing options, software free trials are all forms of sampling, allowing someone to try with no obligation to buy.

    While doing a consulting project for free would entail a very high cost for professional services sampling, blogging allows sampling on a large scale so that on a per sample basis, the cost is much less. It also allows you to write one post that appeals to all, regardless of where the various recipients are in their relationship with you (newbie or seasoned follower).

    Efficient and fun at the same time!

  30. Attn Copywriters! Stop what you’re doing! Read this post! I worked as a professional copywriter/ghostwriter for years, and I can honestly say when you confine yourself to those barriers you’re eliminating a whole world of possibility knocking at your door-and when you’re forgetting that what you do sells and establishes credibility you lose an angle your writing desperately needs.

  31. Makes perfect sense. The blogging adds exposure for your products. It also helps you find a network of people who would be interested in your products. I love your posts they are so informative and have been very helpful!

  32. It can kind of mess with your head when you’re doing a lot of work and nobody is waiting around with a paycheck to exchange for it. It’s no fun feeling like you’re “working for free.”

    Getting around that means focusing on the big picture. Only when you have a crystal-clear idea of how your efforts will be compensated can you remain motivated.

    I think that’s why people “over-educate” themselves when they’re getting started in this. No one wants to feel like they’re wasting their time.

  33. I’ve pushed that sequence all the way up to the “sell” point, and done fairly well considering the size of my audience and the price of the product. That is, conversion rates were good.

    Now, it’s time to begin again at the “write” end. Really making it requires being a really good writer. “Half decent” doesn’t cut it. And the standards are going up, fast. I’ve seen the overall quality of writing improve in the 18 months I’ve been taking this blogging stuff more seriously.

  34. Thanks for the encouragement.

  35. This is such a great article! Blogging really should be about giving value, building trust and growing our personal brand. The more efforts put into those will pay off later. I’m in my fourth month of blogging and building those (value, trust and brand) are my main focus.

  36. Great post!

    Curious – How long did it take from the time you started your blog (this blog) until you started consistently getting traffic?

    When you were first starting out, what were the 3-4 things you found most effective for getting your blog discovered?

    Content marketing is king…

    Ben

    • If you’re talking to Brian about Copyblogger, I don’t know.

      But for me, it took a handful of months to figure out what I was doing. Once I zeroed in on this, though, it happened relatively quickly as I got more big guest posting slots. Every single time a guest post ran, I got a nice big spike in traffic.

  37. Thanks for the thoughts, Johnny. As a fellow humor writer, I’m slowly discovering this truth, myself. And I find so many ripe opportunities to offer pithy, humorous thoughts as I connect through social media.

  38. I’m a work in progress. My writing has improved tremendously since I started blogging back in 2004. Practice truly does make perfect.

    It’s the trust and authority that help rake in the dough!

  39. Thanks so much! You explain this so perfectly and it is a message that many people desperately need to hear! I’m amazed by how many people think that blog writing IS the business.

  40. That’s what works for me. I’m not a writer. I’m an SEO specialist. I like writing, so I focus on content and blogging as a means to gain search engine traffic and to present to non-internet-savvy customers as a marketing tool. I get paid by clients to optimize their website, which happens to includes writing.

    I’ve never been paid to write directly; but I do pretty well selling internet marketing services.

  41. I am one of those that once started to blog without any idea what the business model should be. It was kinda blogging on whatever I felt like at the moment and then thinking visitors would click on an ad or buy something. When you shoot blindly in a closed space sometimes you hit something but usually it’s not what you wanted to hit.
    I’ve been known to mention hats upon occasion but only occasionally.

  42. Really dug your post, Johnny. Crisp, relevant, authoritative, educational, enjoyable.

    When it comes to your writing, ‘free’ sure don’t mean ‘cheap’! Many thanks for the learning! P. :)

  43. I gave up trying to sell people long ago. Now I just try to have some fun while being informative, and hopefully somewhat entertaining.

    I’ve found that rather then creating a customer I end up creating a sales force. Word-of-mouth is unbelievably powerful.

  44. Truly an inspiration article.
    I must admit, writing in English doesn’t comes easy for me as English is not my first language. But I try, and I try..
    ;)
    Amit

  45. Thank you for a very insightful post. I also had this phase when I thought, “Will I ever have regular readers?” ;) I enjoy writing but I was not sure if people enjoy reading my posts! But I just stopped trying too hard to advertise my blog and simply write. Receiving comments from my readers also me inspired and grounded. Thank you again!

  46. Interesting post!

  47. You hit the nail on the head. All the work I do on blogging doesn’t pay me anything, but it makes me an authority in my niche, which pays off handsomely.

  48. Looking at this stack of posts tells me you sure hit a relevant nerve. Sign of a profound blog with a valuable ‘take away’. Huzzah!

  49. I thought the post was extra special…and then I read the comments. Time well spent. It’s an ‘istorical event, right here on Copyblogger.

  50. Great post. I agree completely, and would add that blogging like this is in the same category as being quoted in the newspaper, or giving a keynote speech. Both are excellent ways to fill your sales funnel.

  51. A really thought-provoking post. Thank you.
    Not a step by step idiot’s guide, but just enough description and hinting to make the synapses sparkle back to life.
    Nice one.

  52. Posts like this just hits the nail right on the head.
    As a new blogger, sometimes i tend to drift off and wonder what the whole end result of this seemingly endless writing will be? It’s not so easy having to do the same thing over and over again without knowing for sure when the results will start pouring in …this really is the whole idea of blogging – to use writing as a marketing instrument for whatever it is your do and represent.

  53. Hey, I like hats. So, you sellin or should I? :D