Making money writing for the internet, published by Morris Journalism Academy
Published by Morris Journalism Academy
The internet has revolutionised the publishing industry, from top to bottom, bringing the ability to distribute your writing to a mass audience in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago.
Every day, thousands of new websites, blogs and entries to millions of sites are posted online, making the internet the single biggest opportunity for writers to be read.
But when it comes to getting paid for your work, what should you do? It seems like a fantastic marketplace - so many options, so many companies and organisations needing to fill their websites - surely it isn't hard to get a piece of this giant pie?
The reality is that the bulk of website content is either free or extremely cheap. The vast majority of blogs are written for free (a tiny minority earn money through selling advertising space, such as banners, alongside their blogs). Companies fill their sites with material posted by employees, more often than by professional writers.
Even so, there still remains a great opportunity for journalists and writers to earn money writing for internet sites. It's just a matter of knowing where to look, who to approach and how to present and market yourself. Here are some insider tips on getting started and the kinds of writing that clients are looking for.
Gather up as much information on journalist and writer directory websites as possible. There are at least a dozen main directory sites in the UK alone, including www.journalism.co.uk, www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk and listings from professional bodies such as the National Union of Journalists. Some of them charge a subscription fee, some are free and others (like the NUJ site) are only open to members.
These are a great way to start looking for work. You can put your contact details, areas of specialisation and the titles of publications or websites you've contributed to. But even if you have little or no experience, you can still post your details on many sites as a way for editors and website publishers to find you. Trawl around these sites to see what other writers have put, to get an idea of what works.
Get a website
This may sound an obvious thing to do, but it's amazing how few online writers actually have their own site. It's not easy and can be expensive, which puts a lot of people off, but the benefits can be enormous. In the first year after I put up my website (www.davidnicholson.com), my income from journalism tripled. Let me take you through my experience of creating the site.
1 Put together a team
You need a website designer, who will provide the visual look of the site. In my case, my girlfriend was an artist and designer. She had the idea for the frame of the site, the use of cartoons as illustrations (which she drew) and the way that icons were placed along one side of the site.
Then you need a technical designer, who will create the pages in html and link them all together. I hired a colleague who did this in his spare time for a discounted fee. He made sure that each page contained plenty of key words and phrases that the search engines would pick up (like 'journalism' and 'writer').
Hire a website hosting company and register the url address, once you've made sure that nobody else has taken it. Set up email addresses attached to the site, so that it becomes your business identity.
2 Write the copy
Finally, you need to write the website copy yourself, or else hire someone to write it for you. This is clearly a key ingredient, since you are showcasing your writing skills to potential clients. It's important to keep the content brief, write in clear, plain English, and give the reader a sense of how you are different (and better) than the competition.
In my case, I highlighted my education (good university), strong list of publications (like the Wall Street Journal) and added a bit of fun at the end, saying that I don't write "about cars or fashion". There are lots of sample articles on the site, which are abstracted into a couple of sentences, letting visitors click on a link to see the full article.
Marketing yourself and your site
Once you have a website, make sure that it is listed on as many directory sites as possible and then try to create links to other relevant sites, such as fellow writers' sites. This helps to push it up the search engines lists.
Next, get out and meet potential clients and fellow writers. In my experience, freelance writers are not hugely competitive with one another. They actually enjoy each other's company and are happy to pass on tips, or even pass on work. Many writers get more work than they can handle, or get invited to events or press trips that they can't attend. Recently I've passed on a trip to the Costa del Sol, a spa trip to Austria and a tour of Florida to other writers because I was too busy.
Events organised by groups such as Business Link can be helpful, along with exhibitions and conferences dealing with online content - there are a few of these each year at places such as Earls Court in London. Take along lots of business cards and seek out companies that might fit your profile, looking for content on business issues, science or travel for example. The World Travel Market is also held in London each year, which is another great chance to meet potential clients.
Types of content
The two main kinds of online writing for companies are website content (such as 'about us', 'history' and 'case studies') and articles to appear in a 'news and features' section. Basically, website content is copywriting and article writing is journalism, and they each have different rules and traditions. But if you are putting yourself forward as an online writer, you'll probably be asked to write both kinds.
In brief, the differences are:
Website content needs to be firmly based on the company's brand image and message, so you need to talk through each section with a relevant executive (normally the marketing manager). Each company has a certain vocabulary which is important to them, emphasising key issues such as reliability, experience or fast response times.
Use short sentences and short paragraphs, maybe just one sentence per paragraph, along with bullet points and subheads to make each section as clear and readable as possible. Readers should be able to grasp the main message straight away. Try to keep each section to one screen shot - no more than about 250 words.
Online articles split into company issues, such as announcements of new work, a new appointment or an industry award, and general articles on subjects of interest to website visitors about the industry sector. For example, a bank might want to put up articles about the work its customers are doing. Company type articles are a form of public relations (PR) writing. You may want to consider whether you really want to go in this direction, since it is a different path to real journalism. General articles on the other hand are closer to real journalism, even though you're being paid by a company to write them.
Getting paid for this kind of work is done either by the day or by the word. If you reckon that there will be lots of revisions and discussions about the work, it's better to quote by the day. Typically writers can expect between #250 and #500 per day, depending on their experience. If you quote by the word, then expect to charge between #200 and #400 per 1,000 words, again depending on experience, in addition to the amount of research needed (charge more if you need to conduct lots of interviews, for example).
Guides (such as this one) are another popular form of website content, created by companies either as stand alone publications which customers will pay for, or as a kind of marketing tool to encourage new customers to buy a company's services.
In this case, I'm writing from a position of knowledge and experience (as I hope you can tell!) but sometimes you may be asked to write about something which is quite new to you. Don't panic.
Search for an expert in the field - perhaps an academic at a university - and persuade them to let you interview them for 20 minutes or so, just as though you were researching an article. Then put their views into your own words in a format which guides readers through the main issues. People are generally keen to impart their experience to writers and journalists, even though it may not benefit them financially.
Other types of content
Although I mentioned blogs at the start of this guide, I've kept away from the subject overall. You may feel differently, but my sense is that the great blogging frenzy is already starting to die away. If you're a soldier on the front line of a war, then scribble away and in a few years you may win a few thousand dollars for the world's most fascinating blog. Otherwise, think of it as a curious hobby, rather than a career move.
Writing for user-generated sites is more helpful for an aspiring journalist. If you fancy being a music journalist, apply to contribute to www.ukmusicsearch.com for example, which publishes unpaid reviews. Or try contributing travel articles to www.tripadvisor.com or some of the many similar websites.
It's important to have a portfolio of work to send off to editors to back up proposals. The higher profile the publication or website, the better, but an unpaid-for article is better than nothing.
The ideal situation - the pot of gold as it were - is to find a large corporation that needs to fill hundreds of pages with news and features and recognises that it needs a journalist (you) to write them, while they get on with running their business. With a couple of colleagues, I had a contract with a large UK bank to write around 20 articles a week, which added up to around #120,000 per year. That's when you discover that there's proper money in writing for the internet.