I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about how to get your freelance writing business to six figures, but what happens once you get there?
My online circle is full of six-figure freelance writers, and we all have one ironic thing in common.
We all want to spend less time writing.
Part of this is a time issue. Great writing takes time, and there’s a cap on how much you can charge for it, so at a certain point, you start to bump up against a ceiling, where you can’t really keep raising your rates and you don’t have more time to give.
The other part is an endurance issue. Great writing is a mentally intensive process, so unless you’re just a human machine, writing 20-30 hours per week begins to wear you down.
For these reasons, and probably a few more as well, a lot of writers will consider pivoting their career at some point. Fortunately, writing is one of the best possible skills to pivot from, and you have a large number of lucrative opportunities in front of you when you get the itch to make a change.
In this guide, we’ll cover what I consider to be the eight most lucrative career pivot opportunities for freelance writers.
Table Of Contents
This article is 4,000 words short, so if you want to jump straight to a particular pivot opportunity instead of reading about them all, click the one you’re interested in below:
- Offer Content Marketing As A Service
- Offer Conversion Optimization As A Service
- Offer Email Marketing As A Service
- Build A Marketing Agency
- Use Your Writing To Sell Affiliate Products
- Use Your Writing To Sell Your Own Products
- Launch An Ecommerce Store
- Turn Your Own Lead-Gen Process Into A Service
1. Offer Content Marketing As A Service
Offering content marketing as a service is probably the most natural transition on this list.
One of the staple services that nearly every freelance writer ends up offering is blog post writing. The demand for blog writing is unlimited in every niche, and nearly every online business is either actively engaged in blog writing or wanting to start at some point.
The problem is that most of these businesses have the following gameplan:
- Publish blog posts
They have no clue what goes in the middle. They are just hoping that with enough blog posts, money will begin sprinkling down from the heavens.
They’ve seen statistics like, “31% of B2B marketers say that blog posts and short articles were the best types of content for building brand awareness” and they want in on the action.
Look at this blog for example. I found it on a “top 100 finance blogs” list. It’s been live since 2016 and gets less than 200 visits from search each month, despite having around 50 posts published.
There are blogs like this EVERYWHERE.
And many of them are actively paying freelance writers and getting zero return on their investment.
In fact, several of them are probably paying YOU for writing and getting zero return on their investment, not because your writing sucks, but because they don’t have any content strategy in place.
They are paying you for articles, but that’s not what they really want. What they actually want is profitable content marketing. They want a content-driven marketing channel that makes them money, and if you can supply that to them, you can make a lot more money than you would make from just blog writing alone.
How much more money are we talking about?
Well, the most I’ve ever made in one month from blog writing was around $4k and consisted of multiple clients and blog posts. My largest content marketing client paid me $30k per month.
Having this understanding and the track record to prove it also opens up some opportunities in the consulting and strategy departments. I currently charge $1,500 to put together a 12-month content strategy, which only takes me around 6 hours to do, and I’ve sold quite a few of these since I started offering them.
So how do you go about pivoting from blog writer to content marketer?
Same way you became a blog writer:
- You learned how to do it by reading about it or taking a course.
- Then you convinced someone to pay you to do it.
- Then you learned from doing and got better over time.
It’s a lot easier than it sounds.
In fact, here’s a quick little video I made to show you how to land new blog writing clients that you can upsell to content marketing clients in the next 5 minutes. You can also use the second part of this strategy to scope out your current clients and see if they’re a good fit to upsell.
That said, if you’re a writer, you’re probably also a reader, and you’ll want to develop an academic understanding of content marketing before you dive in and develop an experiential understanding.
Start here: How to Build a Content Marketing Strategy in 7 Steps
Then head on over to the Grow & Convert blog and read everything… everything. It’s all gold. If you are a really motivated self-learner, that should be enough, but if you benefit from more structured learning, I’d highly recommend their premium course, which should be opening up later this month.
Next, when people approach you about writing blogs for them, ask a few questions to get a better feel for whether they are running a real content marketing campaign or just publishing and praying. If the latter, let them know that you are happy to write posts for them, but without a content marketing plan in place, they aren’t likely to see an ROI. Then pitch them your content marketing package.
Once you have your first content marketing client, go above and beyond to get them results. You might fail… in fact you’ll probably fail, because the budget you pitch those first few clients is going to be way too small to succeed in content marketing, But you’ll learn along the way, and a few years from now, you’ll be pulling in $30k per month clients of your own.
2. Offer Conversion Optimization As A Service
Let’s take the same concept we just discussed and apply it to copywriting.
What do people want when they hire you to write their copy?
They want a website that converts sales. They want the site to function as a 24/7 salesperson that does a great job of turning visitors into buyers.
Copywriting is the biggest piece of this puzzle, but it’s not the only piece. It’s part of the broader discipline of conversion rate optimization (CRO), which seeks to make any and all adjustments to a site that can increase total sales, whether that includes copywriting, design, speed, layout, funnel flow, or anything else.
If you can expand your services to meet this need more comprehensively, you can make a lot more money.
How much more money?
It’s very rare for me to break $10k on a copywriting project, and that’s a one-time fee. A relatively small conversion optimization agency I worked with awhile back charged $15k per month with a six-month contract minimum, and most of their clients remained with them after the initial six months.
Additionally, all the copywriters I know averaging over $10k per engagement are operating as something halfway between a copywriter and a conversion optimization consultant. They work on projects where performance data is tracked religiously, more research is required, and their copy is part of a more systematic process being used to increase conversions.
So whether you want to become a full conversion optimization specialist or operate somewhere between copywriting and optimizer, there’s a lot of opportunity here for those will to put in the work.
How do you go about pivoting from copywriter to conversion optimization specialist?
- First, you have to dig in and learn conversion optimization. Buckle up, you’ll be here awhile, but this is easily the best guide online.
- Next, you have to learn all the tools that go into conversion optimization. Here’s the definitive list of need-to-know tools from the leading experts in the field.
- Finally, you’re going to have to start finding notably bigger client than you’re catching right now. Conversion optimization is a much more intensive process than simply writing new copy, and you’ll need to find much bigger budgets in order for it to be worth your while.
Getting into this type of work is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. Anyone can do it with a bit of practice, but companies looking to invest this much money in their copywriting and optimization want proven experience, and you can’t get the experience with lower paying clients, because they don’t have the infrastructure in place to track and test.
If you are really serious about getting into this type of work, you’ll probably need to find a conversion optimization agency and either offer to do some copywriting for them for free or join as an entry-level employee. It’s either that or the old school route of knowing someone in a key position who is willing to give you a shot.
The initial learning curve here is notably steeper here than for any other pivot opportunity on this list, but if you are a more technically inclined person with a passion for using data to inform decisions, you can make a lot of money here. Peep Laja, the most well-known expert in the space, makes a minimum of $80k from every client. And if you want to learn about conversion optimization, his guide to conversion optimization is THE best resource on the internet for this subject.
Once you’re done with that, check out the rest of his blog ConversionXL and read everything you can find. And if you are really serious about CRO, joining their CXL Institute and going through the premium training is probably going to be mandatory.
3. Offer Email Marketing As A Service
Rinse, repeat… this time with email.
If someone is hiring you to write emails, there is a lot more going on there, and while there are a much larger number of potential objectives at play, the concept remains the same. They don’t want a good email. They have some business objective they are seeking to accomplish through email marketing.
And yet again, if you can take full ownership of helping them reach their objectives, you can make a lot more money than you would by simply writing the emails themselves.
On the one hand, there’s a strategy side to this. Effective emails are nearly always part of a strategic sequence. And there’s a lot of different sequences out there:
- New subscriber welcome sequence
- Product validation sequence
- Product launch sequence
- Product onboarding sequence
- Re-engagement sequence
- Paid ad marketing sequence
- Lead nurturing sequence
- Instructional sequence
There’s a lot of possibilities here, and most businesses don’t have the first idea of where to begin with any of them. They need someone who can come in, hear the objective, determine what sequence they need, and then create the sequence from scratch.
And that’s just the strategy side of things. There’s also a technical side. These businesses also need someone who can set all this stuff up using the leading email software and its notoriously garbage UX.
And we haven’t even touched on newsletters or any form of ongoing email-based lead nurturing and education. Just like blog post writing, this entails a literally endless demand.
I digress… but as you can see, there is a ton of opportunity here, and it’s probably the easiest to grasp out of any of the opportunities on this list.
So how do you go about pivoting from email copywriter to email marketing expert?
- Get some sequence templates
- Build sequences using the most popular software
- Start pitching yourself as an email marketing expert
First, go find some great templates for all the most commonly needed sequences and get a feel for them and their purpose within the broader marketing funnel. Here’s a tool that will give you a free batch of templates, several of which I’ve used with great success.
Second, sign up for the most popular email service providers and create a sequence or two in each one. This will take some time, and if you want to save money, you’ll probably want to do this one at a time, so you can utilize free trials for each tool.
Finally, start pitching yourself as an email marketing expert and learn on the job. After a few gigs, you’ll start to become more confident, and you’ll definitely be more knowledgeable, and then it’s uphill from there.
If you want to learn more about all things email marketing, start with this excellent overview from Backlinko and then head on over to Val Geisler’s blog FixMyChurn and dive in.
4. Build A Marketing Agency
If you’re doing the whole writing business thing correctly, at a certain point, you are going to have more leads than you can handle yourself.
There are a number of ways to handle this.
The simplest way is to raise your rates until you’re about to reach the point where you will no longer close enough clients to fill your desired schedule.
Another way is to refer your leads out to other copywriters and take a commission if they close the sale. In practice, it’s hard to find people you really trust for this, and even when you do, leads are often less interested in purchasing after being passed off in this way.
The solution to this is to try and pass off the project without advertising it to the customer, and this is essentially the basis for an agency.
When you build a marketing agency, you are looking to bring in people to do parts or all of the work itself, and you sell that work to the client for less than you pay your employees, making your own income from the margins in between.
You can also look to hire people to perform tasks in other areas of the business as well if you desire. For example, you could hire sales staff or an in-house marketer to handle the lead acquisition side of things, or you could hire an editor to develop and oversee the work of your team’s writers.
With enough sales and high enough margins, you can theoretically hire enough people for you to not have to do any work yourself. This allows you to scale “infinitely” past your own freelance income cap, because each additional client doesn’t directly take away from your available time.
Practically, hiring and management often comes with more problems than it solves, and you end up just as busy as when you were freelancing. There’s an ever grow roster of roles and departments to worry about as you grow, and managing it all can become a fulltime career. Sure, you might be able to find someone amazing to take on the CEO role and manage it for you, but as they say, “If you want something done right, do it yourself”, and you’ll never be more aware of this reality than when trying to run an agency.
Furthermore, It’s not always as lucrative as it sounds.
For example, this last year, instead of trying to fulfill that $30k per month contract I mentioned earlier by myself, I built a small agency of my own to do most of the work.
That meant the $30k wasn’t going straight in my pocket. With freelancing, for every $30k in gigs I landed, around $28k went straight in my pocket. With my agency doing a big chunk of the work, less than half that $30k was reaching my bank account. At the same time, my workload on that project was significantly lower than if I was trying to fulfill it by myself. It’s a give and take, and I ultimately decided that I didn’t want the long term stress of being responsible for other people’s full-time livelihoods.
That said, if you’ve reached the point where you’re bringing in more leads than you can handle, an agency might be the perfect solution for you.
Here’s how to pivot your business into an agency:
- Identify which parts of your business activity could be done by someone else.
- Identify what skills those people would need and make a plan to train and manage them.
- Find, hire and onboard the needed employees or contractors.
- Focus on adding new clients and improving retention until you are achieving your goals.
There’s a lot to it, and it won’t happen overnight, but this is one of the only options on this list that allows you to completely remove yourself from the equation and still make money.
If you want to learn more about starting and running an agency, check out this overview from Jason Swenk then dive into his podcast focused entirely on growing small agencies.
5. Use Your Writing To Sell Affiliate Products
As we’ve already alluded to in this post, every business these days depends on some form of writing, and for some business models… writing is the entire business model.
One of those business models is affiliate marketing.
It’s legitimately 100% writing. Well… okay… there’s a bit of research and link building involved, but only if you want to be efficient with your time and maximize your earnings. You could literally just sit down and start publishing articles about any product with an affiliate link, and EVENTUALLY, you’d make money.
The point I’m trying to make here is that if you can write, you can become an affiliate marketer and sell other people’s products through your website for a commission.
If you suck at it, you will still make money with enough effort, commitment, and time. If you’re really good at it, you can make some crazy money.
How much money?
My friend Bill Widmer has been working on his RV affiliate blog for the last four years. It only took him six months to start making money, but it required another 3 years of grinding before he crossed the $10k per month mark. Half a year later, he’s already up to $25k per month net profit with no sign of slowing down.
So what does it take to succeed at affiliate marketing?
The process is fairly simple:
- Identify products that people are searching for online.
- Write really good content related to those products and include affiliate links.
- Rank the content for the terms people are searching.
So for example, when someone Google’s “RV rentals”, they see Bill’s 2,500 word article on the best RV rental companies. Each link on that post is an affiliate link, so anytime someone clicks the link and makes a purchase, Bill gets a small percentage of what they pay. With over 400 in-depth posts and well over 200k visitors per month, these small purchases and percentages add up to $25k per month net profit.
All you have to do is figure out a topic to create a blog around and then get to work putting up your 400 in-depth blog posts.
If affiliate marketing is intriguing to you, check out this great introductory guide from Smart Blogger and then click here and join Wealthy Affiliate. Their free membership includes better information than you will get anywhere else on the subject of affiliate marketing.
6. Use Your Writing To Sell Your Own Products
Okay okay okay… take everything I just said, but instead of selling other people’s products for a teeny tiny commission, you sell your own products for ALL the money!
Hell yeah it sounds good. And it only requires a few extra things:
- Coming up with a product people actually want
- Figuring out how to design it
- Figuring out how to create it
- Figuring out how to manufacture it at scale
- Figuring out how to market it effectively
- Figuring out how to distribute it efficiently
- Building your brand reputation to be able to sell it
- Dealing with all the customer service nightmares
- Dealing with quality control
- Dealing with any problems that pop up between design, manufacturing, and shipping
- Etc etc etc etc
Okay this is a bit of sarcasm, because realistically, I’m not going to recommend that you manufacture your own product from scratch, which eliminates 90% of the problems here. That said, it does give you a good feel for some of the added hassle that comes when you go from an affiliate seller to an actual product creator.
If you do decide to create physical products, there are a lot of things you can do to eliminate the work on your end, like outsourcing fulfillment through Amazon FBA or a similar program, or outsourcing customer service through a 3rd party provider.
The ideal scenario, however, is to sell information based products, like an ebook or course, that don’t cost anything to manufacture or distribute.
This business model looks very similar to affiliate marketing, but with more of an educational approach:
- You create blog posts on topics your target market is searching for and rank them.
- You offer a helpful resource in exchange for their email and build a subscriber list.
- You create more content to further help your subscribers over time.
- You create products based on what your subscribers request.
This is the business model I’m currently working on.
My target market is freelance writers. I’ve spent the last 6 years experimenting with helping them in a variety of ways and learned what works and what doesn’t. As a freelance writer myself, it’s also easy for me to understand what they want and need.
Blog posts like my guide on how to become a copywriter bring new readers to my website from Google. As you can see, it’s ranking for some pretty popular search terms and moving up every week:
When people land on this page, they are encouraged to sign up for my email list and download my free career blueprint. From there, I offer two products, my copywriting course and my writing community.
Freelancers who are newer to the scene and still working on reaching $2k-4k per month typically are lacking information and a step-by-step game plan for reaching their goals. For these readers, I’ve put together a copywriting course intended to be the best and most current available anywhere online. For freelancers who have crossed that threshold, I’ve found that ongoing access to knowledgeable people and a community of similarly skilled freelancers is much more helpful than a course, so instead, I invite them to join Write Minds, a $60 per month, application-required community of successful freelance writers and marketers.
These are my two products, and they are the only two I have planned. Once both are live, the only two things I will work on related to this business model are continuously updating the products to make them the best they can be and continuously posting new content to help bring in new readers and provide free education to my subscribers, whether or not they ever buy a product. Similar to affiliate marketing, I need to get my own 400 blog posts up.
If you’re interested in pursuing this business model yourself, hopefully this behind-the-scenes look has given you a great idea of how simple it can be. I talk pretty candidly about this stuff in my emails and posts, so if you want to continue following along, subscribe to my email list.
7. Launch An Ecommerce Store
Every business needs great writing, and that’s why writers have an advantage even when pivoting in a direction that takes them somewhat far away from the role of a freelance writer.
Perhaps the furthest pivot on this list is launching an ecommerce store, but the truth is, it’s really not THAT far of a leap.
Ecommerce businesses depend on a number of copywriting disciplines:
- Value proposition copy
- Product description copy
- Email marketing copy
- Landing page copy
- Organic and paid social media copy
If you’re a copywriter with experience in these areas, you have a massive leg up over your competitors. And that’s not even counting the blog side of things. If you decide to seek traffic for your ecommerce store through content marketing or SEO, 80% of the work is writing content, and there again, you have a huge leg up over the competition.
And there’s some great money to be made in ecommerce. If you browse Shopify’s store marketplace, you’ll see stores that have recently sold for anywhere from $1,000 to over $100k.
For a closer look into the overlap between ecommerce and writing, I spoke with Rachael Pilcher, a copywriter who builds and sells ecommerce boutiques in her spare time.
Here’s the process we can extract from Rachael’s advice:
- Research niches you are interested.
- Find and connect directly with manufacturers or suppliers.
- Decide whether to handle fulfillment and delivery yourself or outsource it.
- Use your writing skills plus an intuitive ecommerce platform to setup a great store.
- Use your writing skills to market your store.
Steps #3 through #5 are something you could probably do within a single month. Based on my own previous experiences, steps #1 and #2 are where the bulk of the learning curve will be. You could probably invest a good six months figuring that part out, easy.
But if launching an ecommerce store appeals to you, it will be worth the effort, and you’ll be able to incorporate a ton of the writing expertise you’ve spent so long developing.
To learn more about ecommerce, check out this great blueprint from Shopify and then dive into A Better Lemonade Stand’s blog for some of the best resources you’ll find online.
8. Turn Your Own Lead-Gen Process Into A Service
The truth about succeeding at freelancing is that you actually have to develop two distinct skill sets:
- You need to master the service you offer
- And you need to master one type of lead generation
These skill sets are not really related. Just because you are a great writer, doesn’t mean you are great at getting leads. There are a number of lead generation methods you can try to master, and to be honest, I probably don’t know the half of them:
- Guest posting
- Agency partnerships
- Onsite content marketing
- Longform content writing
- Climbing to the top of a lead platform
- Systematic referrals
The moment you master one of these channels, it becomes a service you can offer.
Do you get 20 leads a month through Linked? There are thousands of businesses out there that would love to get 20 leads per month through LinkedIn?
Do you get 30 leads per month through SEO? There are thousands of businesses out there that would love to get 30 leads per month through SEO.
Do you get… well you get the picture.
Lead generation is something every business on the planet has to master in order to succeed. If you can help them, you can make a lot of money.
It’s that simple.
This article’s previous sections on content marketing and email marketing sort of overlap with this, and in that vein, if you offer a lead-gen service that incorporates writing or is a good fit for your writing clients, you might be able to simply upsell your current clients and leads to the lead-gen service. Alternatively, if there isn’t much crossover, and you decide you want to offer lead-gen as a service, you might have to develop a separate business around the offer, which is obviously going to be less convenient.
For an inside look at how I turned my own lead-gen process into a service, grab the mini-guide below.
We’ve covered a lot, but hopefully this has given you a variety of ideas for how to take your business to the next level with a strategic career pivot.
If you’re like, “Jacob, I’m just trying to get my copywriting business up and running”, click here to learn how to become a six-figure copywriter.
If you’re like, “Jacob, I’m digging this content marketing shit; tell me more”, then I got something cool for you below.
By the end, I realized, nobody had time to read a 16,000 word article, so instead of giving the other 7 pivots the same treatment, I decided to turn the already written mini-guide into a nice little PDF. If you want to learn exactly how I do content and also get a feel for the sort of depth my comprehensive course goes into, click here to download the content marketing mini-guide.
This was very useful to me, because I’ve been working for an agency that has me writing tons of blogs posts for various companies. None of them are my actual clients; I get low pay; and I don’t think the clients get much marketing value out of the posts. I want to master technique #1 above.
Awesome Lem! Glad you found it helpful! And yeah, that’s basically how an agency works. It’s just landing clients and having employees who will do all the work for about half (or less) than what the client is paying.